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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Fiction #77: J.W. Burns

Before Breakfast
Balloons under his eyes burst.

Inside one nostril the street was bitterly cold, deserted save for a small figure paupered in Dollar Store has-beens and struggling against a nomadic municipal wind.  Each step warned of the agony locked in the next. Yet the form persisted, a yellowish haze sinking buildings in an almost putrid flood.

Then the one in bed sniffled and the street cleared. First a stray cat frothed from the sidewalk, crossed the street in tail high triumph.  Then two middle-aged woman, clicking, talking. The wind had trapped itself in a trash barrel which rocked once or twice. Then traffic, buses, a dump truck, cabs, SUVs, even a four door sedan. Pedestrians mixing on the sidewalks--

Then he sneezed and the street was gone. Without opening his eyes he knew there was no friendly hand on his shoulder. And that he was alone, a discomforting catch under his ribs. Eyes open, gazing down the bridge of his nose there was another bridge, this one spanning San Francisco Bay. Walk across that in the wind holding your vital organs hostage; the pearl that is your face having been rubbed into existence now being rubbed away, oooh shit, something, please swallow me whole—his pillow watermelon rind, the bed covers gingerbread.

'Good morning, way down at the tip of discards echo, I'll take three. Or can I take four/ Hell, yes!'

Turned his head crushing goo on the slick, hard pillow, a moment of blurred vision giving way to a brown lamp with dancing pastel oysters on the shade, a black clock sheltering black on white digits, wallpaper faded pink flowers drying on gray. Eyes again closed there was the droll howling of Murray pinching perimeters.

Wobbling, wobbling, one hand smuggled around his hard penis, seemed to cling like warm dew. There had been a a small choir of Eskimos. The Mall. A classical string trio provided the music, violin, viola and cello. The choir slowly sashayed about the stage outfitted in fur parkas, boots and mittens, their voices hopped gently back and forth, rabbits of the slightly paranormal variety searching for a place to find acceptance within the confines of the starched melodies.

Though he couldn't understand the literal sense of what was sung, he knew the sounds reflected some kind of loss, orphaned letters strung together in chains of sorrow.

His wife was standing beside him and he asked her if it was Latin. She shook her head but said nothing.

Now the choir had procured a new voice: weathered, guttural, the canine wail added an avowed  apotheosic flair causing the performance to render a broader expression of what all life could harbor in its quivering grab bag. As a slew of tiny pastel fishes fluttered from the triangular mouths of the singers, Murray was airborne, trying in vain to snap the wispy creatures from the numb light.

His organ gone faint, the bathroom mystic quickly overpowered it and him. As the yellow bubbles expanded and burst, he saw a small turquoise airplane winging around the bowl. Strapped in the cockpit he could hear the splash and feel the wind spying out another soul for eternity. Then he was dizzy from the rolls, loop-de-loops, backassward sweeps, the earth full of uncanny angles, sequined sharp edges, billowing, stinging. He forced himself to focus, lining his aircraft up with an approaching glide path, leveling the wings and reducing his airspeed. Touchdown was achieved with hardly a thump.

The flush receded in a gifted swirl. Down the hall through the den he heard his wife, Lisa, singing. He climbed out of the plane. Stood on his toes, danced four circles on the tile.

Melted sky. Dry dusty sand. Around a bend and she was lounging nude near a pond crocheted with reeds and floating lilies. Beyond her gleaming breasts the stream feeding the pond seemed to be coming from solid rock. All at once her arms began to move forming what at first appeared to be shapes but then letters. He said each letter aloud but failed to attach them in sequence. No matter. Lisa smiled and waved him to her. Her black hair weaved a net to catch pollen free-floaters; before he touched her this pollen had imprinted both their bodies, settling in such quantity that his lips spit and his eyelids fluttered.

Avoiding the kitchen, he went out the front door and around the house.

Under a large oak impatiens trafficked with asparagus fern. Further on a sunlit patch of small exquisite roses. Even before he was visible he knew that Murray had begun his frenzied back and forth hop-skip-romp behind the fence of his enclosure, spewing an elliptical squeal tangled in a cavernous nasal huffing. When she was dying, his mother had made almost exactly the same sound, her bald head a steely rehash of the rocket ships in the 1950s Flash Gordon serial. He held her hand tracing the depressed purple veins until she was quiet. Several times he checked to see if she’d stopped breathing. When she finally did he put her hand on her chest, bent to kiss her forehead but drew back under the withering onrush of putrid last exhalation.

When he reached the pen Murray was mute, using all his resources to repeatedly launch himself off the worn dirt floor. From a liquid stream the dog became more of a woozy vapor before settling on his haunches in a feverish stupor. The echo left by the dog's bark played tricks here, there, everywhere, nowhere. When he knocked back the bolt, Murray's lowered head was a missile, splattering molecules in all directions as he charged through the open gate and out into the yard.

Grass scattered. Murray blurred in front of scrubs, bushes, wooden fence. Then stopped, head shaking side to side. Running. Stop and start Stop and start.

'Murray,' He looked up from rinsing a stainless water dish. 'Goddamit.' Telling tone, firm

The dog froze.

‘Come here.’

Two elongated yelps carried Murray across the yard. He turned his back, refilling the water dish then watching a bumble bee hover above morning glory blossoms. Without hesitation Murray’s kaolin-colored snout found the man's hand, nuzzling the calloused palm, front paws prancing in place, hind legs affecting a submissive squat aided by the dog’s almost prehensile tail. A whimper brought the slobbery hand to rest on the canine skull. After receiving a vigorous scratching behind the ears, Murray was off on a second round of yard racing, biting the air with his exposed teeth. Dry food disposed in a second stainless dish.

When he looked at the oaks, a single symmetrical evergreen, fortunate cherry, snowballs, iris, the fresh lawn, bright blue sky in morning crispness, he stole the benefits of breath from a corpse riding in an ambulance toward the wide crater on a moon other than the one which belongs to the earth. His vision went from shimmer to boil to his sister's voice talking to a member of the public in her official capacity. When she was finished they both gurgled laughter lingering like blinking neon.

‘Murray. Murray, come on.’

The dog came quickly, stopped just short of the pen, the joy of freedom oozing in heaves and snorts from his mouth and nose. Harold rubbed the lowered head, lead him inside the enclosure, backed out and secured the gate. He walked slowly to the house, stepped inside the kitchen. Cups hung on hooks, knives comfortable in wooden block slots, springy green molding framing yellow walls.

Lisa stood in front of the stove.

‘Murray’s good.’ Words wanted to decompose before they left his mouth. ‘Take him for a walk later.’ Dispensing his breath in shallow bursts, Harold found a grin.

‘He’ll like that,’

‘You might want to come.’


She carried a plate loaded with pancakes and link sausage. After placing it in front of him she lifted each pancake to deposit pats of butter. His tongue was smart as a whip.


J.W. Burns lives in Florida. Recent publications in Rivet, Sierra Nevada Review S/WORD, and Ginosko Literary Review.

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