Prose Header

You Crack Me Up

by Leonard Schlenz

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

She slouched at one of four plastic tables under an awning that flapped in the morning breeze and advertised Greek food that was cheap. She sat alone sipping at a coffee and staring at a notebook. She reminded him of what he’d left behind, except he sensed kindness embedded in her heart. What he’d left behind was... well, it was left behind. It no longer mattered. He was sad where he used to be happy. He needed to do something.

At the corner, a groaning truck heaved a big greasy dumpster up onto its back, and he thought, There’s got to be a deep dark poem there for this girl with a couple hooks in her lip writing nonsense in her notebook. He knew it was nonsense without reading it. He was prescient after all. He said, “My name’s Genghis... Genghis Nomad.”

She said, “So?”

“You writing a book or something?”

He saw disconnected ideas in her eyes, and loneliness, and in that he saw a hope that he might fill that vacuum. Her eyes were wide and blue. They were liquid lakes, and then she said, “Get lost, creep,” and the blue liquid lakes seemed to search inside the restaurant’s window for a management person.

“No, really, I’m not a hobo or anything. I just want to talk.”

“Well, I don’t want to talk,” she said. “Maybe you should just move on.”

He said, “It’s just that I’m from out of town, that’s all. I don’t know anybody here,” and he noticed through the old warped glass the wavy image of a man in a white shirt moving his way. It made him nervous and he began to stutter, and his molecules began to hum, and he said, “Oh damn,” and instinctively grabbed his own wrists trying to hold on to his disintegrating atoms, then he grabbed at the plastic chair as if it would anchor him, and his last observation was of a mean morning glint in her crossed eyes.

He reappeared down the street, off Acoma, next to a fire hydrant nearly two blocks away, unperturbed but embarrassed. He began his walk back, noticing from the distance the gathering of men in suits with serious intentions. Immigration officers. Had they found him so soon?

He stepped behind a granite planter with spring blooms and squatted, and he watched from afar as they questioned his newfound love. There were two of them, with one more waiting in a car on a cell phone. They all wore short hair and self-important frowns. The girl bobbed her head like a trucker’s dashboard hula girl as one of them spoke; the other wrote in a notebook. The rubberneck in the car surveyed the wider scene.

And then they were gone with a squeal of tires, their white car blending gracefully into the morning rush.

He would be okay now, for the time being. He approached from behind; a bus groaned to a stop and belched a puff of air, a dog barked, a bird whistled, a jackhammer hammered far away, and he said to her backside, “May I join you again?”

“You never joined me in the first place,” she screeched, turning. “Where did you go?” The where hit a faulty note, like the unintended goof on a fiddle.

“I got nervous,” he said, “and my atoms broke up.”

She dismissed his comment with a click of her tongue, “Those men were looking for you! What did you do?”

“I didn’t think they’d find me so quickly. They think I’m an alien or something. I really don’t know what they think.”

“How did you... you know... disappear like that?”

“I didn’t do it on purpose, but I guess it’s a good thing I did. My nerves were acting up.” He shrugged his shoulders. He wanted to tell her everything, spill his guts, let her know he could be the book she was writing. Tell her he loved her. He liked her vulnerability.

He introduced himself again and her posture slumped into a maybe I’ll talk to you and maybe I won’t. He had taken the dullness out of her day and just maybe she sensed a poem in the making about a disappearing man.

“What did the men say?”

“That they were from Immigration or something... If I knew you and how long and stuff about hiding you and if I knew that you were from Mongolia, and I said ‘Gee, I don’t even know you,’ and I think they finally believed me and... Just who are you anyway?”

“Do you like the purple hair?” Genghis said.

“Don’t change the subject,” she said, and the waves of blue in her eyes clashed with the purple in her hair. “These men were serious, and there were too many of them just looking for some nobody... I mean this is like some movie where you stole government secrets and the... hey, they weren’t CIA or something, were they?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Can I sit down?”

“You’re not worried they’ll be back?”

“Nah. I have a feeling. So then, you are writing a book?” He pulled out the plastic chair and sat opposite.

“No... well, maybe, but it’s not your concern. You can’t just go up to someone and start talking. I could get in trouble, you know. Those men were serious and they carried guns; I saw them. And they wore suits.”

She paused, obviously confused, pecking out her silent thinking on her coffee mug with long nails that were sprinkled with stardust, and her purple hair moved wonderfully in a slight breeze. Having spent hours near Little Rock reading the novels of love written by Nora Roberts, he said, “I think I love you. I knew it the moment I saw you.”

“You’re creepy.” She took a log breath, “But you’re funny. I should call the police, you know. I have a cell phone.” She patted the purse on the table as if it held a small firearm and not a cell phone.

A kid with crooked teeth and an awkward grin appeared, and Genghis ordered coffee. The kid had to be wondering what the men wanted and men behind the window seemed to wait for the kid to report. Genghis and the girl revealed nothing. Genghis turned back to the girl and said, “I’m not trying to be funny. I’m trying to be serious.”

“My name is Spring,” she said, holding out a limp hand, “And I must be out of my mind.”

She had friends. Weird friends by her own account, and a sister called Solstice... and there was Clarence who was big and muscular from working in his metal shop making horses out of iron that nobody bought... and there was Spook who was tall and thin, with pop-bottle spectacles. It only made sense that the group would accept a man who disassembled when he got nervous.

But they stood out, the five of them. Even on South Broadway they stood out, always drinking coffee and eating pizza by the old art deco theatre. It was Genghis’s summer of love. But summer turned to fall and with fall came a sense of foreboding.

The gang told their stories and they drank their coffee from warmer places inside. Genghis was from Mongolia and did magic. That was that. They would take their turns and tell their stories as Genghis and Spring held hands. Genghis would kid with them, more and more looking over his shoulder. He should have moved on. But he was in love.

Winter brought snow and cold. The trees were gangly and sparse, a few wilted mums still peeked above the snow in their concrete pots along Broadway. Genghis had known for some time that things could change but he had done what he came to do.

He counted his blessings as he came to know Spring and her gang and they came to accept that from time to time he might disappear for a spell. He always came back, a little embarrassed and paler by a shade.

Spring continued to write deep, dark tales set in the future without punctuation while he washed dishes at the diner and at times even stepped in for a hung-over fry cook. To strangers he was the man who did magic, not only disassembling at times but putting his remarkable prescience to work as a mind reader who saw things while peering into his antique bubble-gum machine at the local fairs with a bandana on his head.

The air buzzed with tweets and twitters about his talents, and who would know that Homeland Security studied such traffic, filtering and collating, and matching it to their big databases.

And so of course they finally came, the men with porcupine hair, armed to the teeth. Genghis had refused to hide. He liked his place in the sun, this sun, at this time. He would have sensed their presence but his thoughts were filled with Spring. He was working late. His back to them, his arms full of dishes.

“Freeze!” one of them said.

Genghis dropped the dishes. They shattered loudly. They weren’t there to arrest him; they were there to kill him, and one of them shot his barb and it stuck in his arm like a misguided fishhook, and another man shot his with the familiar pop and it stuck in Genghis’s lower back, turning him into a jellyfish. He felt himself melting, out of his body and out of his apron. He fell onto the floor that smelled of stale mop water and ammonia.

The girl he loved screamed. Her voice was shrill and distant. She’d been waiting outside in the cold for his shift to end, breathing steam onto the window and writing I love you backwards. She saw it all through the window. She screamed again. He felt himself floating and he heard her weeping, and it filled him with joy.

He was one with Spring, now writhing on two knees, and he felt himself swimming in her warm tears; then heard the crack of his own atoms imploding.

By midnight he’d not reassembled but somehow there he was, floating bodiless, the owl-eye moon discerning him.

By daybreak he began to feel the tug of what could only be gravity. By noon he was somewhat aware of the sun’s warmth, and presciently understood that the posse from Homeland Security would consider him dead and gone forevermore.

By nightfall his atoms were slowly reassembling behind the bakery on Cherokee.

Copyright © 2012 by Leonard Schlenz

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