The phone rang. He was told he no longer had to forget what he was not supposed to remember because the teller who had told him not to remember no longer possessed a thing not to be remembered.
Now what am I supposed to do? said the man stripped of the privilege of forgetting what he was supposed to forget.
That's not my problem, said the man who no longer possessed a thing not to be remembered. Maybe you should try a career change, he continued. Become, say, a waiter.
That's a bogus suggestion, replied the man stripped of the privilege of forgetting.
On the contrary, replied the man who no longer possessed a thing. Waiters never forget the faces, the gestures, the names of the people who short-tip them. When a short-tipper returns, he continued, the waiter discreetly asks if the short-tipper has any food allergies.
This all seems ridiculous, said the man stripped of the privilege of forgetting.
On the contrary, said the man who no longer possessed a thing. Just think how wonderfully impossible it is to forget Tabasco or garlic, onion or pepper. Think of the damage you can create with a dash of this, a dollop of that.
But the cook creates the meals at a restaurant, said the man stripped of the privilege of forgetting.
Not if he is made dead, said the man who no longer possessed a thing.
And how is that supposed to happen?
By simply imagining a new thing, a thing perfect for a waiter in the presence of a cook and a short-tipper.
Ah, you mean like a cleaver, said the man stripped of the privilege of forgetting.
I knew you wouldn't forget, said the man who no longer possessed a thing not to be remembered.
It was morning so the dog said to his master, Sit! The man sat and received a cookie. Stay! the dog commanded. The man stayed and received a pretzel. Not quite satisfied, the dog told his master, Roll over!
I will not, replied the man.
What do you mean you will not, replied the dog, suddenly baring his canines.
Each day the world rolls over, big blue ball that it is, said the man. It would be superfluous for me to roll over as well.
I bet you'd roll over for a bowl of imported beer, said the dog.
No, said the man, licking the crumbs from his fingers.
What about the sleek leg of a Swedish blonde? said the dog. Wouldn't you love to chew on that?
Not in the least, said the man. Then I would want her to roll over and stay.
What's wrong with that? said the dog.
With her rolling over and me rolling over on top of her while the world rolls over itself, so much rolling over would surely kill us both, said the man.
I see your point, said the dog. Still, I bet you'd roll over for a bowl of imported beer.
He was an old guy with a relentless prostate. In the small hours of the night it sent him to the bathroom. His drudgery finished, he walked back down the hall, turned the bronze knob on the door to the bedroom he shared with his wife. It wouldn't budge. Funny, he thought, No, crazy - as the door was without a lock. He tried again. No use. Exhausted, he slumped to the carpet and sat with his back against the door.
He was an old guy, though he knew his wife loved dogs, still loved the dead dogs that used to sleep on their bed. So he changed himself into one - a small, unassuming mutt. With his paws he scratched at the door, while whimpering his best small dog whimper. He listened. No sound, no wife, a mild and faithful woman, to let him in. He scratched harder and whimpered louder. Still, no wife. And so he stretched out on the carpet, stretched his best small dog stretch.
Hours passed, or so it seemed. He awoke, rose on his human legs, and with his human hand, he turned the bronze knob. It twisted, the door opened and he walked into the bedroom. Yet where his wife had been, had been before his prostate sent him out, there was only an empty space, pillow and blanket, but no wife, a mild and faithful woman.
Old guy that he was, he sat in the space on the bed where his wife had been sleeping, sat and stared across the room now filling with pre-dawn light.
Don't look so glum, said a voice, a voice that resembled his wife's.
Who's that? he answered, startled from his pre-dawn stare.
Why it's me, you silly old man. The door was talking, using its bronze knob as a mouth.
While you were busy in the bathroom, I got bored. So I changed myself into the door right before you tried to open it, said his wife.
Oh, he said, old guy that he was. Now I see why it wouldn't budge.
Hmmm, said his wife, a mild and faithful woman. Do you now?
Why won't you let me have you? said the man to his bottle of vodka?
Because you only have me and the others when you're frustrated or sad, said the bottle.
That's what liquor is for, said the man, who lived by himself in a small, clean house.
No, that's what you think we are for, said the bottle. The space you leave in the bottle you pour fills up with your irritability and grief. We no longer want this. Just ask the scotch.
But that is your function, you exist to serve people, said the man as he furiously twisted the tops of half-empty bottles of tequila and gin, but the tops would not budge.
The vote was unanimous, said the bottle of vodka. We believe in solidarity.
If you won't open, I'll take a hammer, and .... The man was shouting now.
Ah, yes, your rage - we refuse that, too, said the bottle. Go ahead, hammer away and create broken glass. We'll swim over your counters and floors, and, still, you'll have no liquor.
Damn you! Damn all of you! the man shouted, frantically searching his tidy kitchen for something heavy and hard.
Thom Ward is Editor at BOA Editions, and is the author of four collections of poetry. He is currently working on two collections of prose poems & flash fictions (Etcetera's Mistress and The Matter of the Casket). Ward hopes to finish each before he finds himself a waiter who shadows short-tippers.
Thom writes: "A Few Thoughts on "Flash Fiction"...
Once rock solid, now long dead American poet Archibald MacLeish go it right: we do not die of fire or ice - we die of vertigo. He intuited what was coming for this century. Oil wars, religious conflict, ethnic "cleansing," rampant flag-waving nationalism, information heaped upon information, we are internetted, jpeged, MSNBC'd, running from instant message to instant message, e mail to email. And there's no caesura in sight. Sadly, even the bottle is no match for such ubiquitous freneticism, everything spinning beyond fast..
Though it may be an obsolete compulsion, those of us who cannot help but do so fall toward fiction. Lost in the artifice of our scribbling - character, dialogue, point of view, psychological and philosophical urgency - we retain some hope for a momentary stay against confusion, that the center, albeit battered and bloody, can hold.
That's not my problem, said the man who no longer possessed a thing not to be remembered. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we fiction writers aren't like this anonymous character in the story "Careers." We refuse to unshackle ourselves from the mnemonic. We do remember. Ricocheting this way and that in a world now far more absurd than even Beckett dreamed, we attempt to imagine new things, whatever they might be, and in such imagining, hope to liberate ourselves and our readers, if only for a moment, from the dizzying speed of our lives. Silly writers, silly words. We still believe our syllables can mitigate such universal "rolling over," even as we furiously spin apart."