John Riley: The Loon and two more : Flash Fiction : April 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement When I finally big enough to work the tobacco fields, tractors and sometimes mules pulled a long sled through the wide rows that were placed every sixth row. Sled rows were wider than the rows we moved down, bent at the waist, gathering the bottom three leaves and any others we saw tinged brown, then carrying our loads to the wooden sled. When we placed the tobacco in the sled we had to keep it fairly neat with all the leaves lying in the same direction.

The Loon

I lie here on this floor, my mouth muffled by milky sheep fleece. It’s hard to decide what to do with my face when I’m stuffed like this. I should have paid attention to the signs that things were changing when I saw the long-legged crane come walking up the dirt road. He didn’t look as though he’d seen water for days and didn’t seem to miss it. It was sunrise and he wore a tiny shoes as he took small steps circling my cabin. The summer sun was beating down on the tin roof. I figured he’d hit me up for free room and board, maybe some of the bars of luxuriant soap for sensitive skin I use when I bathe in the water tub back behind the shed. No, instead the bastard told me I had to leave. That a week for me to stay in the Settled Hotel was paid for and after that I had to make out on my own. I said hell no you skinny-legged creature and he said maybe I’d prefer a room with bars on the windows. Then I got nice and tried to sugar out of him what in the hell was happening. Seems like my deed to my property has been superseded. That’s the word he said. He was a scout for new resorts, the type that have bathing beauties sitting around the swimming pool. When I said “What the hell, Mr. Crane. You can’t just toss a man out of his home, even if it ain’t much” he nodded his head and said, “OK, we’ll move to plan two,” and out from behind my cabin came the strangest mix of cranes and herons and peacocks and even a loon that I reckon was in charge since he had the deepest voice. Before I could turn around they were on me. You might know how skilled these critters are at making nests. They set out using the same skill on me to tie me up so I can barely move. “We’ll just let you rest inside your shack, Silly Human,” the crane said. The spooky loon watched me from behind the crane. He hovered over everything. I don’t know how animals with no shoulders can be so damned strong. That’s what I’ve taken away from the experience so far. I’m sure more lessons will follow but it’s hard to think trussed up like this.

Sarsaparilla

The girl with a face that said “Antarctica” came walking out of the bush behind the mall. She was holding a kitten. Maybe it was the reason she was there. Could have been digging up worms in the dusky light and biting them in half or feeding them to the kitten mouth to mouth. Her face was cold and I was just there trying to pay off my debt to society. Seems when your heart comes apart and falls to the floor with a clatter you still gotta maintain your dignity. I forgot and now I’m wandering through chores while holding myself together by lashing a leather strap around my chest and keeping it shut with my teeth while I pick up garbage with my hands. It was the time of day when the sky is most likely to be pink when I saw her. This time it had more of a yellow, dull yellow like a vomit scream, patina. This is where the romance starts. I knew she saw me from her shadow up against the store’s white block wall, there at the end of the shrubbery line, but I kept my eyes looking straight up. First out of fear but then I sensed she liked something about me. Maybe it was my top, or the wear and tear on the leather strap my teeth had cut over the past six weeks. She knew somehow I was going to get all this taken care of and would soon be back together like a car the cops said was totaled. She may have even been able to see the darkening sky through my squinty eyes and we all know how rare that is. All I know is now we’re sitting in a booth at the rear of the Gunslinger Cafe. I ordered a sarsaparilla and she joined me.

Blackbirds Calling

A blackbird’s call is not shrill at all. There a lilt and sometimes a chatter but always a squeaking as they gather in trees and hide from the crows and wait for their end. I once bought a machine that made blackbird sounds but it was a placebo. I didn’t gripe, hadn’t spent much on it, just retired it behind the bust of Grandpa on the mantel. It’s a creamy bust that is so soft and white it’s hard to believe it was made out of what was once mud. I made it when he was alive and I was an artist. I left the mole off the end of his nose and his head is held in classic proud man’s position. It’s a good looking bust. My problem now is I don’t remember Grandpa. They say he built this place with money he made griping in front of a judge. I hear he was the most famous courtroom griper in the history of this county. I’m glad he’s gone though. I’m sure he wouldn’t approve of me digging holes all over the property so the water will puddle. I sit beside the holes in my mermaid swimsuit and try to imagine what it was like before the river dried up and left the county completely devoid of water and Grandpa was in the old courthouse every day getting people out of the trouble they probably should have been shot for.