The amoeba’s sense of self is keeping me up at night. How can he just lie like that (I use “he” as a convention) and ooze all those pseudopodia out into the world fluid, as if to say, “Here I am. This is me!” on the right side, while over on the left side of this microscopic, supercilious, clear snot being another pseudopodium is greeting bacteria it wants to ingest with all the insincere warmth, the hot come on, of a used car salesman. A used car salesman who is trying too damn hard and who you just know owns only one pair of sneakers, which are really way too bright for his age. If you’re dying, don’t wear neon. That pseudopodium on the left is trying to shake protoplasmic hands too, saying “Why, Howdy! Glad to meetcha!” to any animalcule that gets anywhere near it. And so it is at the north pole of the amoeba. And so at the south pole of the amoeba. But here’s the thing. Probably every single one of us has dated that amoeba at one point in our lives, slept beside that amoeba for a night, or a few nights or more than a few years. Or maybe you’ve been him. The amoeba doesn’t really have a bad life. He doesn’t really even have to keep his stories straight. When he’s found out, he can just split. If you walk into a bar at night, there are amoebas everywhere.
In the Dollar Tree located right across the small street from the rather deadly housing projects, there is an interesting cashier.
She is young enough to be a natural artist. She is old enough to feel death crowning in her. In other words, she’s an aging kid.
Whenever she gets a customer all by himself or herself, young or old, when there’s no one else in line, no one else in the store, she pauses before handing them their merchandise in those depressingly bright cellophane bags with the store’s name printed on them.
She clears her throat in an almost undetectable way, and then she launches into this fantasia: “You are standing in your grave. This is as good as it’s going to get. The happiest days, all the most oblivious ones, are well behind you. It will not get better. It will get worse. At first, it will be like a record skipping. It will happen subtly, it will happen slowly. You’ll have little dips, little trips to the emergency room, little jaunts to the psychiatrists. Then it will increase. The aftershocks will outdo the earthquake. You will spurn friendships as nothing more than shared miseries. You won’t even possess the imagination or willpower to cheat on your spouse. Parts of you will begin to turn to Playdoh and other parts to steel. Your pubic hair will look like a dead ferret. And then you will realize, near the end, self-stripped of all friends and family, that someone is standing on your head. Someone is standing on your head as you stand in your grave and you begin to sink. You can’t even tell who it is. You can’t look up. But they’re there for sure, and you have the pain of those constantly shifting shoes on the top of your skull to prove it. Because the floor of your grave is wet mud, it’s quicksand, and you’re just going down into it. Like dogshit. Inch by inch. And your hands are tied up. Your hands are holding these cellophane bags full of shit from the dollar store. Your cat food and batteries and off-brand pudding boxes are causing you to sink deeper into the final quagmire, which will probably be a struggle for breath and a prayer to a nonexistent deity, beseeching him for merciful help in stabilizing your skipping heart, which is now like a stone sent skittering over a rain pond in an auto graveyard. Your fate is ricocheting off other’s people’s faces, they’re talking behind your back in your hospital room, and your sinking blood pressure won’t let you even argue with them. You will no longer be able to even do the basic things a body must do to remain a viable blood balloon floating around this planet. That’s it. The earth like a too-thick chocolate milkshake closes over your head and then the top of your head, which is bald anyway, already showing your skull through its skin, and you begin drinking that milkshake of death through all the holes in your face and skull. You sink down into nothingness It’s the best day you ever had. The End.”
And she always ends with “Thank You. Have a nice day.”
The respectable thing is that she delivers this in a really dead monotone. It’s like she doesn’t even care whether you’re listening.
Most of the people just say, “Thank You” back like being dead is no big deal. Probably most of them already knew all this shit. She did cause a few to go into deep depressions. But probably she thinks that is good for them. Maybe she’s right. Who knows.
One day, she will be gone from that Dollar Tree. In her place will be a man who has all the spirit of a broken calculator on a card table at a yard sale.
And that cashier will attempt to smile, and it will feel as though someone has just stapled your body. It will feel as though someone has just stapled your body somewhere very unpleasant to be stapled.
This story is 5002 words.
I have just thought it into your brain using extrasensory perceptual push.
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Some young men are playing pool and watching as the sails of a small boat become pure distance out on the bay. When the sun gets low enough, it breaks up their syntax. Their young women are holding their babies in hard chairs, in dark corners of this room. The young women are going deep inside themselves and watching, jogging their babies on their knees as young printers will do with sheaves of paper. The room’s high ceiling is covered with a ridiculously ornate, white boiserie that fell from a high style so long ago that nobody can even remember. It looks like swallows should nest in it. Drinks move at an agreed-upon level in space, and space is agreed upon too, except where certain emotions flare up like sunspots or the fringes of a corona. A handful of hours later, after night puts a bandage to this scene, the thing mistakenly called silence plays like the faintest old record in there. The smoky bay is the last to leave this room (and, really, not until morning). The bay turns the blue walls of this room even bluer, gives out many somnolent shades that percolate in drizzled dark, and when the light finally comes around like a headache, it collects all these synonyms for the night and leaves.
There is a blue glass parrot in her picture window Dead people are often doing things They won’t stop The sunflowers out back still expect her hands The birds feel like waifs without the bread crumbs she would dispense from a battered old aluminum pot The apple trees behind the old, blistering house she climbed naked in moonlight when she was fourteen years old are still scandalized
and now have no one to tell
I am wearing a shirt I named Bryce. My name is not Bryce. The shirt just looks like a “Bryce.” So I named it that. I think I bought this one drunken, summer afternoon in Kohl’s. I don’t know how many years ago. I was probably talking to the shirt. I was alone. I was probably very happy. That was the way it was then, euphoria in-between the hours like broken windshield glass cutting through me. I mean when I was an alcoholic. But I did have a shitload of credit cards then. I was responsible. Because I wanted my addiction to continue. I was probably wearing sunglasses inside the store. I was probably sexually attracted to Bryce. What does Bryce even look like? Bryce looks like a hideously ugly tattoo. Let me take off the shirt and stare at it. Let me study Bryce for you. Let me pay the horror forward. There is a big electric looking dragon, blue body againt egg yolk-yellow background, snaking across the back of the shirt. Below this dances a series of higgledy-piggledy human skulls that look a little like they were applied as drab, white spray-paint. If Bryce was a human being and not just a shirt, he would probably have to pay for sex. He’s that ugly. But I found him just now in the back room of my house; he was convenient; he was there. So I am wearing him. If this were Chinatown, if it were 1974, Bryce might just get lucky. If there were any sexually ambiguous bikers out on the block. Bryce would probably wilt in the Chinatown heat. He would melt as his cheap, synthetic fibers would under an iron, if that man were to just reach over and put his hands through the holes of Bryce’s sleeves. He’s a terribly shiny, terribly easy shirt.
A man had turned to cheese.
It had happened gradually. The man began to find a certain cheesiness to his most cherished beliefs. Then holes began forming in him. He became mindful of these holes and started to think about them constantly. Soon his self-esteem went over.
He was a man like Swiss cheese. There were so many holes in his surface, you could play miniature golf on him.
The man figured he could just keep it a secret. If he didn’t tell anyone his private thoughts, didn’t confess, maybe people wouldn’t notice. And there was always the possibility that this was a delusion. It’s the sort of thing you’d rather struggle with for years, for decades, than suffer the risk inherent in telling any doctor or health professional or friend.
This conviction that he was turning to cheese came to dominate the man’s life. When he was busy during the day, he could avoid the thought for large periods of time. But the free hours of each evening waited like a long trial carried out in excruciating installments. It was like having a Great White Shark waiting in the bathtub each night. He just climbed in with the shark of this idea each evening and wrestled with it. He would curl up with this horrible idea as he fell asleep each night the way others curl up with a good book. This is the hell of cheese.
But then it got worse. Strangers started trying to take little bites out of him. He knew the jig was up then. He knew then he wasn’t delusional. He didn’t feel safe in his own office. Why, one Thursday he was talking to Jarvis when Hower behind him tried to take a bite out of his ass. He spun around just as Hower spun his spinnable cubicle chair quickly back away, attempting to look innocent, pretending to be lost in the spreadsheets on his computer screen. But he had felt the young temp’s teeth.
His wife left him about that time. She didn’t even take her wardrobe. She said it was too cheesy to take with her. She insisted their relationship had undergone caseination long ago. The marriage had just turned to cheese. It was edible but unhealthy. You wanted to put something wholesome to it, like a cracker, but you realized that you were using the cracker to cover up the cheese guilt. She didn’t want the cheese guilt anymore. “You didn’t taste like this when I met you,” was all she said. She looked away, sobbing through plate glass.
The man didn’t date again. The cheese took the nursery rhyme’s advice to heart and stood alone. He became a hermit and took to serious aging as cheeses often will. He dedicated his life to merely existing without being consumed by others. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially if you are cheese and feel that insane desire to nourish others with a thickness and unhealthiness for which you must constantly apologize.
Erik and I got stoned down by the the golden field where you are supposed to be able to see the ghosts of the two horses that got shot. We got stoned and we waited at the edge of the golden field, leaning on the golden field’s split-rail fence. That’s all going to pieces. It’s going to shit.
The golden field was even even golder tonight, later on this July evening. The grass is nearly as tall as the fence. Nobody really mows it anymore, except the township sometimes, now that the house has been abandoned so long.
The pipe we were sharing had a broken stem. You had to hold the stem in place with your mouth while you sucked the smoke. If you didn’t do it right, you could lose some of the sweet smoke to the gap where everything else was, air and sky and universe. It made you aware of something. It was hard to say.
The horses were supposed to be ghosts, well, just because they were dead, but also because they were shot, I guess. Remember The Amityville Horror? Like that. Except it happened local. This dude had killed his entire family right before Christmas. Guns to their foreheads. They all died in bed. The weird thing is that some of them had their shoes on when they were found dead. Like they wanted to be ready to run if they suddenly woke up to something horrible. Poor bastards. They must have seen it coming. Then he shot the two horses. I used to see him shopping in Giant all the time. Mass Murder Dad pushing his grocery cart just like everybody else. Remembering just what everyone liked best to eat. Buying it for them like a good dad. Was he thinking “final meal” even then, one of those times I saw him, and made eye contact with him?
Where we are now isn’t that far from my house. I went to school with those kids. Now I have dreams of him buying things that should be steak, but in the dream they aren’t. They aren’t steak. They’re his family. The white forms bleeding under the clear plastic in my dreams. As he puts them on the black belt for the cashier’s pretty elf hands to pick up and read. Well, people think he shot his horses after he slaughtered his family. Maybe the horses were first. Who knows. I guess the horses do.
“What did he have against the fuckin horses?” Erik asks. It’s the only question anybody really cares about. We understand that people can drive you crazy. They just will. But horses are like medicine. They’re like calming medicine.
“I don’t know,” Erik said. “I bet horses can be assholes too. Or the money. Feeding them, taking care of them. Vet bills. Whatever. Plus, he was just batshit scrapings-insane.”
What was weird, and really it all was, was that the one horse had died on top of the other horse who must have been dying at that point or already dead. How ‘eckin romantic. Like it was looking down at the other horse, mourning it, which I’m sure a horse could do, and then fell on it. Like in a movie. Romeo and Juliet type doomed horses. Drama queen horses. I wouldn’t want some dead horse lying on top of me if I was dead or dying. Even if I was a horse myself. They seem pretty intelligent, horses. They’ve been warriors for centuries, going right into death with us. I guess they have personalities. I bet some horses hate other horses. I bet they wish they could talk about other horses behind their backs. But they stay noble. Because they can’t talk shit about horses. They can only run their bodies into them to say fuckoff without using words. Sometimes nature gets things right.
We lean on the fence and talk about who’s getting it and who isn’t in our circle of jerkoff frenemies, about Nascar and a little bit about vampire sex, how we think vampire sex really is. Then I rest my right elbow on the fence and stick my hand in my hair, it’s long again, now that Asshole got out of my mom’s house, the deadbeat pedobear. I stare as hard as I can and try to see the ghost horses. They’ve gotta be there. It’s not about the dead family anymore. They’re…the people, they’re just…gone.
Maybe the horses are just more poetic, even if they’re dead in the same way their family is.
It’s now about the horses, this little overgrown yard next to the cabin style house where the two horses seemed to be all the time, mostly just chillin, chewing grass, looking down at the earth, as we drove past, as we often did for so many years, they’re right on the intersection of these useful country roads, and no, I don’t know what kind of horses they goddamn were, if they were Missouri Fox Trotters or Florida Crackers whatever the hell. Probably they were just the horse equivalent of mutt.
Because I’m stoned, I’m feeling great and don’t really care if the horses appear or not. It would be nice though. I stare at Erik staring into the pen of golden grass, waiting for the horses who took bullets to their brains to jump around, cavort, whinny their supernatural shit in our faces.
Then I jump over the fence and I throw my body down to the ground, right in the middle of those thick grasses and it feels like a mattress store. It feels warm and good. Erik can’t believe I did it like an asshole and says, “Snakes!” and laughs and I say, “Don’t. gib. a. fuck.”
And I don’t. I lie there and feel the ghosts of the horses running all over me. The pit-a-pat of their metal horseshoes, which I wonder if they buried them with. Do horses get buried with shoes? Do people? I lie there and feel the horses running across my stomach. I am just some pervert who gets off on horses running over his body, back and forth. I can almost feel them now and believe they are here, horse ghosts. They are all the sensation in the world, the best sensation in the world, and it is like a second skin you can shed, but somebody else will just pick it up and wear it. Somebody who doesn’t care about how gross it feels. And you will miss it. Because after the feeling of the gross starts to wear off, it starts to feel good. And then you’re a freak, at last. Thank God or the flying spaghetti monster Cthulhu. And I know that’s what I want to be. What I always wanted to be. I want to be a real man who is not afraid to be a freak. This world is full of pipsqueak freaks who hide in the shadows and I just don’t want to be one of them. I’m not vain but I do a little enjoy being on display. Even when girls or guys I like recoil from me it makes me feel sexy. That stank of me. I just want to learn to wear it well and then I know I will get good and hella laid.