Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous venues, including Le Scat Noir, Offbeat/Quirky (Journal of Exp. Fiction pub,), Permafrost, North Atlantic Review, Witness, and Xavier Review. Published books include: Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF pubs (2018), Sunday Dinner With Father Dwyer (2018), and several more. Details at: www.jimmeirose.com
Shopping cart rattling down buffed up shiny floored aisle in great big greatest of all toy store in this brand new state of the art wired up and wireless you take your pick shopping complex. Leave for Bern in three more days. Eight years in. Janie eight; just snapped from seven, but no discernable behavior changes. The left front wheel is rattling, the cart is not too easy to push and here and there the steel is rusty. Now, if this store is brand new which it is and the carts were all brand new a week ago when the consumer sucking complex was opened, why are the carts all beat up this this? Why indeed. This really nagged at me Jamed, it kind of seeped in and plugged in and—yes, yes—it was just like some Claymation monster was slowly formed before me and each rattle of the wheel was a command to the monster to throw out a tendril, and plug it deftly into and to the bottom of a pore in my cheek. The wheel rattled and rattled so fast that I finally stopped, because the thicket of twisted tangled writhing tendrils had popped out and plugged in my face and became too thick and bulky and uncomfortable that I had to stop the cart which stopped the wheel rattling which dried up the mass of twisted tendrils and they unplugged from my face and dissolved into thin pink dust all gone even before they were able to land at my feet and mar the perfect nearly new, precisely laid, buffed, swept and polished ceramic very ceramic yes ceramic; the most expensive materials and workmanship the entire complex smelled of the smell of brand-new top-notch building materials knocked nailed and built together to make the great store that had come in and over and around me and stopped me dead in the toy section devoted to children seven to nine and since Janie is eight, it is the exactly right spot to release the cart handles and slowly take in the items their prices and even maybe to find out that there are some slashes of prices and here and there an item marked down in some deep discount. Yes, let me see look see what look you--
Can I help you ma’am?
Oh! Turn no turn yes there’s a sweet-faced store-boy of about twenty or around that spiral of ages that range yes see I am a judge of age ought to have taken up guessing ages and weights and all, on the boardwalk for several consecutive summers in a row, developing several consecutive suntans and here and there some very mild twinge-spots akin to real sunburn and--
Ma’am? Can I help you? You looking for toys? Is this the right age group? Or can I show you to another section if the age group is wrong, you know.
Oh, yes—I said through my jagged fingertips pressing to the plastic and steel cool of the defective shopping cart’s push handle—Me and my husband and our eight year old Janie are taking a trip to Switzerland week after next, and I want to surprise Janie with some neat new toys to bring along on the flight and also to play with after Ma comes home and then we can get up and go, could even sleep a while in the plane if Janie is busy making little friends attracting them with her neat toys as would some old-school ventriloquism midget of two or three or five days in a row outside laying food traps all rotten and stenchy with maggots hatching and knowing like I do that poor greedy creatures of all kinds will come and grasp and feel, Wow what a sky above and what slimy skunk cabbage below but out parents you know were too careless with climbing their rapidly dissolving to vapor corporate stepladders, to think to plan and do an assessment of anything they were too busy to snag down away from the great thick heavy crushing tsunami of a continuous eternity of the future pouring over now and then back to the wide astonished but unaffected face of the store-boy who had asked if I needed help because, as always in bustling places like this, I stood alone frozen lost and forlorn—having thusly thought his question over, I said to him, Yes, what do you recommend? Toys for five to eight days, some in close quarters like a plane seat or waiting room standing to the side forest green tall garbage cans in the office we need to stop by and visit for a few which is okay because I really am supposed to be in the office now, anyway but this needs to get done get done yes get done now!
Oh, yes, no problem ma’am. Let me pull a few items from the shelf. Here.
He moved as a thin slippery lizard and pulled down a very minor tiny imperceptible slide of colorful small toys in boxes and bags each of which I look at I cannot understand what you so with each one but it seems like kids today are you know they’re—hey! What are these?
Those? Oh. Those are Koosh balls.
Koosh balls. Kids love them—and see, you spotted them in the bargain bin, everything in there is buy one get two free. See there?
What? Oh—yeah. I see that. What do kids do with these?
Play catch, pretty much.
Huh? He stood waiting to get an answer but the answer would have to be, God, that is ridiculous you can’t play catch to keep busy on a plane where once in a while they’ll let Janie play in the aisle but where most of the time she’ll be between me and Jamed, plus so what they’re soft and all that, number one; you can’t play catch good with less than a solid hard ball, and, number two; so what they’re soft and won’t hurt anybody they go off course go askew from a bad throw or whatever, nobody in a cramped airplane on an intercontinental flight will take kindly to being pummeled at random intervals by a featherweight yucky little wisp of a ball, no matter how cute the players, because on a long flight everything around everybody turns black-hearted ugly--
What about it, ma’am? Like the Koosh balls?
Not sure, spit from my lips, as the final and worse problem with playing ball in tight crowded spaces full of bad air and bad vibes broke all surf-like and foamy, obliterating the store-boy fully, erasing his fairly unimportant question, flowed down and down showing its reason for having appeared to me; yes, it needed to come and tell me, curving down before me like a scroll, upon which words came in great black block letters, yelling up into my face there is one more problem about playing catch for air travel amusement, that being that it assumes you have friends to play with; and no, yes, we don’t know for sure if we will; as stated previously yes stated previously, it’s a not too much of a logical stretch to think her happy manner brand new toys and the smiles her parents, yes her parents, in the real world outside this loopy thought-stream being me and Jamed, will go out of our way to coo and ahh and grin and nod and make the other parents crammed in on the plane sure that their prayers have been answered and here is a way to get a break from the twenty four seven strain of minding unruly children, yes, unruly and slow to learn like unsocialized young adult dogs, a strain to train indeed, and the strain varying by breed and it’s not like choosing a breed at the shelter since people-breeds come out and what you get is the deck you’re dealt, it’s like saying at the pound to the pound people give me a dog any dog any age my eyes are closed I will conceive this child and take the roll of the dice, even though if the possibility exists that I may receive a dog too large too evil non-housebreakable stinky drooling noisy super-shedding hard-to-handle and no good actually at all. Is not conceiving like a Russian roulette spin? Here, we put one in the chamber go on and spin and spin and point to your head and click the orgasmic trigger and hang on through what seems the eternal nine-month wait to see if your head blows off being given a child with the genes of a serial killer, or with the hollow click and the pee-in-your-pants relief that you will give birth to a smart honest healthy trainable maybe even already trained blasted from Zeus’ blood-splattering forehead as-goddess style fully formed and perfectly perfect Athena-like ball of effortless and perfect and no work at all child—you know—the couple in the seat two rows back on the other side of the plane will nod to their perfectly trained Jesus-like superclean in body and mind, child fit to play with Janie, to come over to play.
Or maybe not. You can’t tell a serial killer at first sight. Love at first sight doesn’t work out, either. Haste makes waste and all that too. The answer is given. The store comes back from the surrounding pondering hard-thinking mist, and I tell the slithery-slick sales associate if I’ll buy the Koosh balls, without looking at his gleaming white shirt whiter than white he looks like he standing at the superhot focal point of the world’s largest new BrightSource solar power plant in California’s Mojave Desert that burns birds down from the sky like some god-damned real life Flash Gordon death ray—sure look it up if you don’t think that’s true, look it us yes up and yes up yes—then for some reason, everything went scalding hot and I recoiled and saw the store-boy again, and ran for safety in the cool gap between us throwing out words to grapple the cool back and over and around me, to survive. I listened to what I found myself saying as the scalding peeled back away to cool.
No, I don’t think that’s what I want. I’m sorry.
Right—but what else would you recommend?
Oh, yes, well then right here right here yes here it is yes, wait--
He grabbed out into the blur around us, and brought out a hazy item somehow hazed over like people in a true-to-life COPS show get their faces blurred because they are unwilling to be identified for some reason, it was not definable until a surf of words foamed all splashy out over the blur and made it so any footprints in the sand could be seen clearly at the beach, at least until the next wave foamed out over to erase them all—I said the name of the thing in his hand quick, before it would be washed away and be gone, never was, forever.
Ah, Playdoh. That’s Playdoh. I see. Yeah, that’s a good idea—Playdoh. Only thing is, are you sure that’s not too young for an eight year old?
Oh, no. It would be fine. And also--
Also, studies have shown it will occupy a child on a plane for at least forty minutes.
Okay, wait a second, let me think; Sure, take your time; I blinked away and pictured little Janie sitting in a cramped airliner seat with a postage stamp sized tray table folded down before her, puzzled as how to get lost in Playdoh-play on a surface almost as small as a three by five card, but my hand went to my face and tilted down, smacking me silly with the sudden sight of a stain in the linoleum floor at the tip of the store-boy’s pointy shiny loafers, shaped roughly like the state of Texas; any thought of how Janie would handle the Playdoh sank onto and into and past the stain until it was gone—the stain was the important thing; one does not see this kind of thing every day; but, roughly the shape of Texas is not good enough, no—as somewhere in a pitch-black compartment way back in a corner of my brain, little Janie continued struggling to play correctly with a dozen round containers of Playdoh, that once the Doh was removed from them, there was nowhere to put them aside to make way for the play with the actual Doh, without them rolling away toward a fall to the floor under the airplane seats. Remember round smooth cumbersome children’s toy items have embedded in their DNA the instinct to not stay where they are put, to always strive for an excuse to fall over, roll away, and drop off the play surface—just as surely as someone with skill and taste and time and tools would have to get down and define underline outline and boldface the stain on the toy store floor, so that not just I, who has been solely quite focused on the stain for nearly a full minute now, would see; like the pain in my belly from trying to squeeze down to reach a dropped object beneath an airline seat with no legroom to begin with and with a seat belt strapped on because round plastic children’s toy items strive always when rolling to come to rest in some jet-black place where it would be an extremely difficult effort to bent down twist around grunt and groan to retrieve them, and—sure enough it hits me again and again like a jackhammer of dismay that Texas being much more interesting a mar in the floor when it’s only nearly shaped that way, is not true at all. The stain yelled at my face, No, yes, pay attention, I have a purpose, yes, I do, yes, I do, I must be known I must be noticed—I must be more a really sharp Texas one glance at me should spear them with Texas—must try to get it where did they roll all but one rolled ugh must bend down pain pain—I need to catch my breath, and I straightened to see a sweating fat bald man’s face above the seatback that said, Ma’am, could your child play with something else? I did not buy a ticket to have little girl’s playthings rolling under hitting my feet and taking my legroom—droplets flew off from his quivering cheeks, I had never seen anyone sweat so much, but it must be made so that every person passing by the stain growing from the airplane’s complaining fat man slinging down his impure string of pearly sweatdrips all spattering the floor, who knows what Texas looks like on a map, would stop and gape and get hit with a club in the mouth to say, Hey! That stain equals Texas! Sure, see there, I was right! That over, good. Yes—and I say back, I am glad you agree; the little cheap Playdoh jars are open and Janie’s smallish but nicely tapering hands worked the dough into some unrecognizably unique shape she had in mind, and—the uneasy need to doublecheck something pushed my hand down an inch from my face again, and up came Texas. Texas! I was testing the concept, and yes; it’s Texas yes, it is yes. It. Is. Woof!
But, Ma’am, could your child play with something else?
No! I shouted back. And I saw the crumbs of what I’d been wrestling with since this odorless and colorless and whitepressed supersinnning store-boy, who probably pleasures himself three or more times a day down in the basement thinking he’s hiding thinking no one knows his secrets; the parents, whose thundering footsteps a mere yard or two above his hiding as he sits in the halfdark quivering and pounding wanting to do it yes but no knowing it really doesn’t need to be done at all, all he needs to do is to ignore the urge, push it down minimized to the right bottom corner of his mind and looks elsewhere at something also most exciting but the physical manifestation of it is perfectly acceptable to be done out in public in the light of day no hiding no rushing the job rushing, ah oh, no rushing which is necessary for any young man ah oh hiding in the basement doing the nasty to himself—ah oh--
Ma’am, please answer, could your child play with something else?
—so the store-boy strives not to extend the time required to complete the act oh ah the time must not be extended to overlap the time required for Mom or Dad to ultimately come down racing to the wide freezer for icy pops for the tinier upstairs children whose pitter-patter stepsounds stitch the floor up with each childlike run this way or that or around and around, et cetera, stitching the always ready to collapse floor and in fact whole building together and tight again and again but no one imagines that when they stop being children the running and pounding noise they make if stopped with cause the house to fall; stop it boy put it in your pants—or you will cause the house to fall oh ah--
Ma’am, I am being nice, I must ask again. Could your child play with something else?
—and boy you get, get no, get and kick back upstairs because if the small ones stop stomping around up above, which they will someday for sure everything dies in the end, it will all fall around you and you will be crushed, and here I am where was I oh yes I’m back now, considering the question of do I want to buy the Playdoh or not and so maybe yes or no--
Well, Ma’am? What do you think. Want the Playdoh?
Ma’am, could your child please play with something else? If you don’t answer I will ring the stewardess!
What? I, uh, no. No. No, I don’t think so, no, as; the safest answer when the last thirty seconds or so of pondering the answer cannot be remembered and thus must be thought over again to make sure, is, in the interim, No.
Why not? I’m curious to know?
Ma’am, could your child play with something else? Answer now!
No, no, not come back again step aside, it is way before we’re behind you flying, let me say let me answer the young man, as, oh, yes, oh yes yes yes; messy much too messy. Plus, there’s not enough space on a seatback fold-down tray on a cramped no-legroom plane to really be able to let loose and play right. And there’s more I knew but just because I can’t remember what it was doesn’t mean it isn’t true I wish I could tell you, but—the reasons exist. I just don’t know what they are. Understand?
—Ma’am, for the last time; could your child play with something else?
Not really, said the young gleaming store-boy, but that’s okay. There’s more ideas I have for you. Wait, let me see.
He twisted and reached displaying a huge underarm sweat-stain for the first time, but though I used to think him so clean, something somewhere that I’ve also forgotten makes me unsurprised that he is really so unclean. He’s very good at hiding it; he had me fooled good, ‘till now. He repositioned the Playdoh box on the shelf with the other dozen or so, then pounded his hand down through the next shelf down and the next and the next and his hand moved so fast that all the limited non-eagle eyed human self could follow was the Playdoh box transforming into another box of an entirely different color shape and size which triggered the brain above and behind my eyes to slam down on the register right there right then quite noisily with much rattle and roll, and to ring up the word, Lego, which I then repeated aloud, yes thusly; Legos? Oh, right, Legos. I think I’ll definitely buy that. Sure, why not. Everybody’s okay with Legos. I’m too worn out, it’s already a long day, sure what the hell; I’ll take them. What else you got? I need a lot more by the end of the day. So let’s go we got to get there.