The skeleton sat at the orange counter of the donut shop with its head bowed over a cup of coffee, its skull in its bony hands. Refuse littered the hosed-down streets and people trickled out of the dark alleys to find their cars or apartments that they rented for the weekend. The skeleton looked as if it were waiting out a migraine, though 4:30 a.m. might be a little too early to be suffering the consequences of a white night. Masculinity could be assigned to his figure by the fraying leather shoes poking out from under his costume. A kind of get-up you rarely see anymore. It fit his body snugly: white lines on a puppeteer’s black velvet pajama, capped off with a tawdry plastic mask. It was only the beginning of the night in a town filled with party goers, cops on horseback, and the siren scream of ambulances. Horse shit steamed in the gutters like freshly baked bread.
Hours ago, when the hoards were parading and the gaudily clad women on the balconies were dancing and raising their blouses to expose already hardened nipples to night air, he was singing along with the mayhem too. He had fallen in love an innumerable number of times but nothing coalesced from his vagrant desires other than some healthy flirting and speculative innuendo. Sex was not the real reason for his journey this far southward, though the prospect of it would most likely do wonders for his accumulating tension and the pain he looked to be closely guarding in the little corner store lit with too bright fluorescent light. The donut shop was occupied by himself and a bag lady or at least a woman dressed like one. She was looking out the plate glass window and tapping the ashes of her cigarette into a creased soda pop can.
Was it only a week ago when he decided to pack up the remains of his existence two days before the expiration of his lease to try to find a job, a place, some friends in this queer and out of the way location? He wasn’t sure about the specifics of time. It had felt like months that he had been uprooted and alone in this city of thousands. He had been kicking around the idea of leaving his dental practice and going back to school or freelancing the odd job market until he could satisfy his wanderlust and take up in an apartment. The daily routine of meeting strangers, learning their occupations and hobbies, then intimately fondling their most private and unique orifice left him with a dulled outlook on life. But teeth are bones and this was something he couldn’t seem to get out of his head.
CLEOPATRA The bag lady stepped out of the drugstore, fingers poking from of her one glove that she found sticking out of a mailbox on Franklin Street. She had managed to scrounge up enough change to buy some cigarettes and a candy bar– her dinner for the evening. Her existence was metered by the rising and falling of the sun and by the steady march of tourists along the streets. They seemed to pick up in numbers near the city’s closing time. Her daily wandering was delineated by landmarks such as mailboxes, coffee houses with their intermittent, odd hours, Catholic churches that from time to time sponsored free meals, and parks and squares that occasionally had open-air festivals where there would be crowds preoccupied with buying trinkets and food. People who would almost always be oblivious to the change and small bills that would find freedom in the uneventful moment of transaction from pocket to vendor or wallet to hand. These were the gestures of her sustenance. Trinkets and food were all people wanted anyway.
She mostly collected things. Aluminum cans and empty liquor bottles of course, always a dependable staple. Her resolute scanning of the ground found her such items as gold-plated charm bracelets, hotel keys, notes in cursive posted to doors and blown off, even compacts and baseball caps. She kept her treasures in a plastic shopping bag that she would hide outside the few businesses and shops in which she could find the courage to seek refuge. The glove she had found today was in perfect condition, only two fingers of it missing.
SHANGRI-LA Sir Thomas Elroy, honorable Knight of the Round Table, clanked into Joe’s Tavern on Paris Road amidst the din of a television broadcasting a basketball game. His princess had excused herself of his company to freshen up in the maids’ room while he ordered two glasses of ale to keep the chemical festivities flowing in his brain. The dance that had come to a head had finally run into the wee hours and they made their departure before the city had closed down for good. They had an hour drive home for which he would have to remove his very expensive rented suit of armor and in which he was beginning to feel comfortable. The rush of isolation, anonymity, and power he was enjoying would also dwindle back into a stream of reality that would sink in after he finished his last glass of beer. His maid’s dress had gotten quite stained while she danced and whirled her silks among the partygoers in the ball room. There was a treacherous cognac blotch in the shape of Africa near the frills about her waist which would probably cost them a pretty penny to remove. As she came back to the table, her eyes acknowledged the imperfection as well as his thought on the matter and she shrugged and shook a dash of salt into her beer. She sipped at her elixir and twirled the locks of her auburn curls between her fingers adorned with clear nail polish and plastic rings. She glanced at the digital clock blinking behind the bar and suggested that they begin their journey home. Sir Thomas agreed, attempting to check the hour by raising his forearm to observe his watch that for some reason he wore and could feel on his wrist. Although, he begged of his companion, he would need a shot of java before tackling the highway. She consented in expectation of the none too distant moment when she, the not quite virgin princess and her errant-knight, would soon be free from the ravages of the feast and could, with much clamor and strain, denude.
INSHALLAH The single naked buttock of the light bulb illuminated Raymond’s loft overlooking the triangular, iron-fenced park. His interior decorating was as sparse as the lighting: two movie posters he found in the garbage can in an alley and some photos torn from the newspaper, taped to the refrigerator. Along the walls painted white for nearly the fifteenth time, (each layer visible in the cracks around the window panes), and about the varnished wood floors, were stacks of encyclopedias that were his in the meantime of possible, but improbable, transaction. He had ten collections of Britannica to sell in a month. He also had a telephone at the foot of his futon and a box of Indian cigarettes that sported an effigy of Ganeesh the elephant. Tonight, with nothing else to do, he would page through the telephone book in hopes of locating a few choice neighborhoods in which he could solicit come morning. The radio was turned on to an all-night talk show whose participants were discussing the fate of wooden roller coasters in the northeast. He cracked open one of the beautifully bound volumes and began reading about an endangered species he had never heard about: the narwhal.
PEGASUS The mutt, half schnauzer/half unknown, ran from its owner at the sight and smell of a pretzel thrown to the ground on the other side of Canal street. Dragging its leash behind, it instinctively knew there were no cars coming, and bolted. It was hungry and this hunger was liberation. The pretzel even had some mustard dried in a blob on the plastic wrap it was enmeshed in, which the dog greedily licked up. It ate so fast that it vomited the meal three blocks down the street, but the dinner was gratifying nevertheless. The tags on its collar jingled as it traipsed down the street not knowing where it was going, just enjoying the sounds and odors of an area defiled by humans. There were the scents of piss in every sewer much like around the base of every tree in the park. There were more partially eaten morsels near garbage cans and empty containers of sweet and sour liquids on every street corner. A paradise for a highly evolved nose.
Where to go. Where did the stray cats it had seen prowling through the back yard sleep at night? Why were the streets wet when there wasn’t the tang of rain’s iodine in the air? And why were the rare clumps of grass and bushes in this part of the neighborhood locked in cages? Without a master to gesture the answers, it didn’t know. It would have to read the subtle signs of abandon. A traffic light blinking red. Litter and leaves blowing at random intervals through the streets. A bus’s breaks hissing with the release of air. The ringing of a bell down the street seemed to signal something as a human exited from the building. The lights inside the building lit the sidewalks and the scent of food wisped out. It must be someone’s home.
The dog walked toward it, lured by its possibility and goaded by the strange sound of metal clanking on the pavement behind it, then voices. Stopping for a moment to look behind, it saw the silhouette of a human, but the shape was shining, looking like it was made from of the skin of a car. When it approached the light, it found a window with people inside. No couch, no carpet, no fireplace. There was a woman like the ones it saw sleeping in the alleys, a young human with its face in a big book, and near her, a dead human that the others ignored. The armored one with his mate had passed the dog with the woman making kissing noises at it. The bell of the door masked under the sound of metal on metal. The dog sat for a moment waiting for a gesture from any of them, smelled something good, scratched its ear, then, with a ringing of its collar, was gone.
-- Philip Kobylarz is a teacher and writer of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and essays. He has worked as a journalist and film critic for newspapers in Memphis, TN. The author of rues, a book of poems concerning life in the south of France, he has recently published a short story collection titles Now Leaving Nowheresville.