29 June 2012

Theater of Another Sort

If you would please hand me that long, silvery implement right next to the bottle of soda-water, we could have this procedure completed within minutes. I need only to spread the thorax-aperture a little bit in order to get to the pustule. That long, silvery implement is exactly what we in the industry refer to as a “thorax spreader,” you see.

Thank you. There we go.

While I force my entire gloved hand into this most disagreeable place, let me tell you the story of the “Gooseberry Pantomime” that used to frequent these parts. Wilbur Chopstick was a man of extreme virility who had developed an appreciation – a fine, fine appreciation – for barbed-wire undergarments and pantomime shows. His lovely creation, then, the “Gooseberry Pantomime,” traveled a circuit of rural towns and villages some twenty-five years ago, spreading joy and something he called the “tubular arm salute” to the inhabitants thereof.

Please hand me a sponge, if you would. This extraction is getting bloodier than I thought.

I am sorry. I meant to say “juicier.” It is not blood – only juice. Reddish, salty man-juice.


The “Gooseberry Pantomime” opened one evening in June in the tiny village of Squeaker's Hollow. It opened to a crowd of mostly toothless hog-rapers who had never seen such a pantomime show before, or ever dreamed of such undergarments. Wilbur was only too happy to broaden their horizons and put on such a show as left them sweating and grinning from ear to hairy ear. After the show one night, Wilbur reclined in his dressing room, slowly removing his barbed-wire undergarments. There was a knock at the door.

I do believe I can almost feel the pustule. If you could just please hold this vein betwixt your thumb and forefinger, I think it would slow the trickle of man-juice. Please ignore the odor. That means we are drawing close to the pustule.

Where was I?

Oh yes. There was a knock at the door, and Wilbur covered up with a piece of typing paper that was lying nearby. He opened the door. 93 and a half square inches of twenty-pound cotton watermark were all that stood between his gorgeous, virile manhood and the vivacious Miss Anita Rhumbalessin of Squeaker's Hollow. She blushed, as did he.

Retraction. Retraction, please. The pustule is slipping deeper into the thoracic cavity.

The two stood and looked at each other for the longest time. It was days, in fact. They stood staring at each other for the better part of a three-day weekend, and Wilbur missed the next night's performance of the “Gooseberry Pantomime.” Wilbur and Anita only took breaks from their vigil long enough to heed the call of nature and to snack on small bits of cheese and a few capers. Not a word was spoken. They drew no closer than an arm's length from one another.

Only twice did Wilbur need to reach for a fresh sheet of typing paper

When morning broke on the third day, Anita and Wilbur both took deep breaths. Anita licked a film of capers from her lips, turned, and walked away, whistling a melody by Strauss. Wilbur collapsed into his dressing room chair, exhausted. He fell asleep and dreamed dreams that he never shared with a soul, and he awoke in time to shower, dress, and prepare for that evening's performance of the “Gooseberry Pantomime.” It was a splendid show, replete with hats and horns and petroleum jelly. All the populace for miles around turned out for the grand performance.

At the final curtain, Wilbur Chopstick took a deep, deep bow,and then turned to the theater attendant coming toward him. No doubt she was bringing a bouquet of roses for him, given by some admirer of his thespianiacal and pantomimical abilities.

The attendant handed him a bottle of correction fluid, wrapped in pink cellophane. The card attached to the bow read simply “dries to a paper-like finish.”

I do believe this has to be the largest pustule I have ever removed from a thorax. I will leave you to close the incision while I enjoy a nice, cool soda-water.

22 June 2012


I slipped the skin right off his hand with a grasp so hot and grit-sandy; lifeless skin-glove came right off in my hand and it reminded me of that woman my mother told me about. It was a woman rushing to close the door of her garage, and it was before the advent of electric openers. It was a cold winter day and she was wearing light woolen gloves, tooled in the most exquisite tan wool yarn. As she pulled the door down, the tip of the little finger of her left hand got pinched in the great, hinged seam of the door and pressed flat. With a cry and a jerk she pulled it free, removing nail, skin, and glove-tip in the one frantic motion.

The staff in the emergency room found the skin of the fingertip and the perfectly manicured nail to be in fine, fine condition, although cold and pale. All of the blood had been squeezed out of it, and the woman had the good sense to pack both her protruding bone and the tip itself in fresh, new-fallen snow. This preserved the fine manicure, as well, and made the scene more pleasant.

The grit-sandy dry-slipped skin that had slipped off into my grasp was not well-manicured, and it had not the benefit of new-fallen snow. Lifeless eyes looked at me and the odor of the place was most offensive.

Pete the Marine touched my shoulder, although his hand was thousands of miles away. “C'mon, man, let's go,” he said.

I looked at the slip of flesh in my hand.

“Hadjis over the next berm. You'll never know it, though.” His words were raspy and as grit-sandy as the skin-glove that I held.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“I'll take care of it. You sleep.”

The staff in the emergency room found the skin of the fingertip in fine, fine condition.

21 June 2012

To Dance With a Bear

Sizzle-wet and sweating drops and drops of precious salt-fuel skin tears, Oleg is a man of action. A man of action and a man of many, many words. “Babble-dee, babbe-dee,” he says and snakes his way past the sugar cane and asphalt.

“Oleg,” says the toothless lizard of a suntanned, defrocked crossing guard, “you got 'dat Slim-Jim you said you's bringin'? I's hungry and I needs my Slim-Jim.”

“Mitty, I left the Slim-Jim back in my office.”

“You mean yer car, slickweed?”

“Yeah, my car.”

The toothless lizard moves from cheek to cheek in his not-so-lofty perch, making a sound like a sunken ore-freighter shifting on the lake bottom.

“Oleg, I smucker you on de puss if'n you don't gimme somethin' right now. Ha!”

“Ha, Mitty. You need to move along and find a new place to sit your sorry ass. I don't have any Slim-Jim or anything else for you.”

Mitty the toothless lizard looks angry and he lifts his middle finger with the dirty nail. This dirty-nailed finger he places on his nose, thumb in mouth and eyes rolled back in his balding, toothless lizard head. If his eyes could pop, they would. His stare is dry and the crumbs of dirt in the corners of his eyes are bits of pop-tart and chocolate jimmy, vintage 1972 through 1977. The golden years. The salad days. The age of wine and roses. Summertime of youth and of Chico and the Man.

His crumb-y eyes blink.

“Precious Oleg,” he says through a productive cough and sputum on the lip, “you 'member how that one little kid done sucked down de' whole packa' pop-rocks and den sucked down de' whole bottle a' soda? He blowed up'n his stomach stuff went ever'wheres. Shit, it was awful.”

“Mitty, that's what they call an urban legend and it isn't true, and you know it. That little kid became the governor of a state or the manager of a Lumpy-Burger in Missouri. He was fine. Those pop-rocks don't blow up your stomach.”

“You sure 'bout 'dat?”

“Absolutely, Mitty. Now get going, OK?”

The sound of a shifting sunken ore-freighter echoes across the parking lot. Oleg and Mitty the toothless lizard stare at each other. Mitty shifts again.

“Bring it tomorrow, you got it?”

“Sure Mitty, whatever.” Oleg identifies the eye-crumb as being from a Zagnut Bar he ate in the autumn of 1976. Precious and unique, but grotesque in its own way. Oleg smiles, and then wrinkles his brow.

Toothless lizard with the balding skull and eye-crumbs creaks to his feet, shambles, disappears. Goes to the liquor store across the street and later in the alleyway pukes up all the spare change he had begged over a salt-soaked morning. Spare change looks like malt liquor in the afternoon light.

Sizzle-wet and sweating drops of action and precious memories like razor-cut lines on a tainted face, Oleg goes back to work and wouldn't even miss the $1.29 for the Slim-Jim.

18 June 2012

Mikey Starts the Rest of the Story...

On a Monday morning like almost any other, three large windows opened in the sky – one for the child, one for the loss, and one for the memory. The child cried, as an orphan cries. The loss loomed low and heavy. The memory was bitter like soil.

The windows had no panes, but were free and open to the zephyrs of whimsy, yet no whimsy dared show itself, and the apertures remained clear and even inviting. The windows winked; they stared; they grew dry. The widow of the memory fluttered a little bit, showing its weakness and nearly speaking to the window of the child, for it was only in the memory that the orphan-like cries made sense. But the three windows in the sky remained, holding themselves at attention – looking as thought they needed to squat and relieve themselves. That is how windows look when they are full of filth.

Little Mikey Nitrous saw the windows and feared the worst. He had always been a happy young boy, but the windows scared the living colon-filth out of him and he decided to duck into a nearby delicatessen and clean himself up. As he was wiping his hands on the shirttail of a homeless watchmaker, he spied a full-page ad on the cover of the “Weekly Shopper”, and it caused him to pause, reflect, and then continue wiping.

“Ain't never gonna' be the same again,” said little Mikey Nitrous, “it ain't ever gonna' be the way it was, before the drought. Before I grew up. Before I became a man.”

Michael Nitrous walked away. The windows in the sky stayed open.

15 June 2012

300-Word Smoke Break

“I need a smoke. You got one I can bum off yeh?” Milly Liver draws that smoke through dirty lips and dry lips and tired lips that would rather clutch a bottle and clutch a glass and a fork full of pulled pork pride. The sun burns down but the shadow stays cold and Milly Liver flicks the ash to the dry, dry ground. Ash turns to air before it hits the sacred soil.

In a harbor of a hope and a shadow lined in sin and stink there lives a life in secret and a thought – passing thought of a life and living and something different and big-city nights and cold drinks and food with fancy names and no more stink and a stinking heap of toil and tears folded on the dry, dry ground of a dusty pea field. Pounding on her heart with folded fists, banging away and banging, banging, banging like a knocker with the screws going right through and no pig tail of a powdered wig on the backside, like the teacher told in school. Ghost of a knocker, and Milly Liver pounds hard upon the door, swinging, swinging her fists like dry and dusty hammers of a heaped up mound of flesh folded in a dry and dusty heap on the dry, dry ground. The harbor holds, and shifts, and fades. The harbor is gone.

Back to the dry, dusty pea field, and the ghosts of harbors give up diurnal visits, peripatetic horrors coming soft and quiet; going soft and quiet. The ghosts give up and abandon to a hope of a bottle or a glass or a fork full of pulled pork pride the dry, dirty, and tired lips drawing the smoke past the sacred soil.

14 June 2012

A Happy, Sparkly Birthday!

“Over 4,000 pounds of sequins, Tom...you should have seen it.” My brother Pat was having a great time telling me about his newest project, set in the wilds of deepest, darkest North Dakota.

“So who is paying for this thing, anyway?” I asked, sipping my martini.

“Some foundation based in Fargo, I think,” he said. “As long as the checks keep coming, we keep going.”

Pat's firm had recently begun work on a Liberace memorial theme-park, complete with mini-golf, water-slide, and wildlife exhibit. He had just flown in from Bismarck after inspecting the site, and we were relaxing at Limpy's Place, enjoying cocktails in preparation for the coming evening's festivities. It was Pat's birthday, and I had some very special things planned. Pat was on his third water-tumbler full of single malt and I figured I could talk him into nearly anything. Dwarf-tossing, a Slovakian tapas bar, and jell-o shots would make just the beginning of a great evening.

“What are the sequins for, anyway?” I asked.

“The reef, mostly,” he answered.



“What kind of reef? And why do reefs need sequins?”

“Don't be silly, Tom,” he said, “it's not the reef that needs the sequins. It's the sharks.”


“Well, we have a complete life-size model of the Great Barrier Reef that we're building in this farmer's field – it was the biggest excavation I've ever seen, in fact. But to top it off, the foundation in Fargo asked if we could put in some sequin-covered sharks. I guess Liberace was a great fan of sharks.”

“And sequins,” I added.

“Without a doubt,” said Pat. “So we received a shipment of over 4,000 pounds of sequins this week, and we had to build a special sequin-containment facility for them. It seems the EPA has got involved again.” Pat was continually running afoul of the EPA for one reason or another, be it manatee liver, mint-flavored steel girders (for his “Juleps in the Sky” project in Louisville), or bulk storage of sequins.

“Pharisees,” I said. “Remember what we used to say about 'crazy people looking like assholes to smart people'?”

“It was 'smart people look like crazy people to dumb people,' Tom”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Anyhow, we got the sequins safely stored, but it turned out we paid for 3,500 pounds, but they shipped over 4,000, and the facility we built wasn't big enough.”

“Couldn't you just cram the extra sequins in there? Or put them in another building?”

“Don't be silly, Tom. You can't just leave sequins lying around. The stuff is closely regulated.”

“So what did you do with all of it?” I asked.

“Well, Tom...I know you have a big evening planned for us tonight, and I really appreciate the personalized ergonomic blender you got me, but I wanted to do something for you, too, on my birthday.”

“You have always been big on that 'more blessed to bunt than to steal', haven't you?”

“That's 'give than receive', Tom”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“Anyhow, I have a little surprise for you today. Something I know you'll like. You'll see it if you go in to work sometime.” Pat knew I was trying to improve my health by avoiding stressful situations like honest work.

“Pat, I don't know how to thank you,” I said, raising my glass to his. “I can't wait to see the gift! What is it?”

“Well, Tom, lets' just say I thought your office walls were looking a little drab...”


“Yeah. And you'll be surprised at how much surface area 500 pounds of sequins will cover.”

“Happy birthday, Pat...” I said, bewildered.

“And a sparkly Flag Day, Tom!”

11 June 2012

Ashley and Peter (part two of chapter four)

(Excerpted from the forthcoming A Switchback Tale)

The road to the Switchback place wasn't that long, but it took what seemed like ages to get there. For the life of me I could swear that at almost every turn in the road, and every driveway, and every crossroads I found myself ponderin' what could be and what I wanted to be and what probably could never be. And I felt as though the car was almost floatin' at times, like it was almost on air and that there wasn't anywhere that I couldn't go – like I coulda' driven that car right to the moon had I wanted to, or like I coulda' made a right turn or a left turn and shot right through the fencelines and skimmed like a bird over one of them pea fields and the trees or nothin' ever woulda' touched me and I'd be free like a spirit bird like I felt I was. Damn, but it felt good.

It seemed like forever to Peter Switchback's estate, but I got there and I pulled into that long, long driveway that kinda' snakes its way around the house and makes a long approach from one side. It was probably only ten in the morning by this point and I didn't even know that I'd find him home, but sure enough I could see him from the last turn of the driveway. He was sitting in the little gazebo off the side of the house and it looked like he was working on something.

I pulled up to the house and parked, and I got out of my car feeling like I was on some kind of pain medicine, almost. I felt like I was ten feet off the ground, and I didn't even feel like I needed to hobble or limp as there wasn't a bit of pain in my foot. I walked past the front step and that strange door knocker and I even looked down to see if my blood was still there, which it wasn't. I followed the pathway all around to the side of the house, and as I got past the flowerin' dogwood, I saw him sittin' there in the gazebo, talkin' on his cell phone and typin' on his laptop. He looked up at me with a pretty surprised look, but he smiled, and my heart just stopped and then leaped right outta' my throat, I mean to tell you.

I heard Peter say “OK, I'll call you later,” and touch his phone. He stood up, smiled, and kinda' cocked his head a little and just said “Miss Ashley.” I coulda' died.

I walked up to him and I didn't know what I was doin' and I suddenly felt all kinda' dumb standin' there still in my PJs this late in the morning. He noticed that, of course. “You're into that 'driving in your pyjamas' thing, too?” he asked. I laughed and I think I almost cried.

And I walked up to him, out of my mind and not knowin' what I was doin', and I grabbed his pretty silk tie and I got up on my tiptoes and I kissed him, and he put his arms around me to lift me up to him and I coulda' felt our hearts poundin' outta' our chests right together. And I mean to tell you I was lost as I never been lost before in my life, but at the same time I was found. I felt our lips together and it was hot and moist and perfectly minty-sweet and I didn't ever want it to end, I mean to tell you.

I don't even know what I said, if I said anything, as I started cryin' so much and he held me and I just was shakin' and cryin' and he held on to me and said he was never gonna' let me go and I said I would never let go a' him and would he hold me forever? and he said he would and I was just dyin' and could hardly breathe. And the thing I felt was my heart just burning right up as he held me and I knew that his heart had to be burnin' just the very same way. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

Burn, a heart does, sometimes.

The morning passed us by right there on the gazebo. We sat on a wicker love seat with a big white cushion. I curled right up, sittin' on my legs, and I rested my head on his chest. He had some kind of music playin' – music that I since have learned is called 'jazz', and he told me it was by a man named Duke Ellington – a man he said was his brother, but when I asked about his family he just kind of laughed and said “not like that, though.” Peter held me and we talked about the strangest things, but it was all like I imagined the best kind of dream should be. Soft, dry, warm, safe. With a strong man holding onto you. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

For the second time that day there were words that crept right into my mind without me really doin' anything about them, and like before I found these were words that just kind of burned themselves right into my brain and into my memory and probably would never dare to leave.

Dropped and dropped and dropped
like a potion of hope
and a drug of love
my heart-vein holy-hopeness of heavy, heavy load
drained to weak and weaker
weakest drain of knee-strength
saved for kneeling
and praying
and praying
and yelling at a god who finally hears and knows
he knows what I need
I need this hope and this holy-hopeness of heavy, heavy load
potion of hope
drug of love
the same old cliché
never bites or sucks or rolls its tongue around and softens with the
softest word.

softest word

I thought my heart was gonna' damn explode or burst and dry up and blow right away. I'm sorry to use language like that, but I mean to tell you it was like nothin' I ever known before, and there weren't a whole lot of words that I could think about that were gonna' let me say what I felt that day curled up in my PJs on a soft white cushion on a wicker love seat in the gazebo behind the Switchback house with my head against Peter Switchback's chest and with Peter Switchback tellin' me he would hold me forever.

I told him I had always loved him.

He told me he had always loved me, too.

I told him I wanted to be at his side forever.

He told me he wanted me to live right here on this beautiful old plantation all the rest of the days of my life. He told me there was no one else he would ever say that to.

I reached my lips up to his again. He kissed me ever so softly, and it felt like it lasted forever.

I wish it would have.

08 June 2012


The rains let up and Parentheses Miller took note of the sand between her and the shore. It was bone-dry, as was she. The sunlight played on the surface of the waters of the Hambone Sea and great Gulliper birds dove low for shallow-swimming prackle-fish.

Parentheses looked at the most peculiar object in the palm of her pale, fragile hand, and then raised her eyes to the horizon. Her gaze was lost in the sunlight and the clear, blue skies that stretched for miles and even unto eternity. Something like the perfume of sourwood blossoms floated through the salty breeze and a warm breath like that belonging to God almighty broke the chill of a new Autumn day on the tiny archipelago. Parentheses stood up and slowly walked back across the dry white sand, suddenly hot beneath her feet. Gulliper birds smiled down upon her.

The strangely dark, wet footprints that she left on the dry white sand marked Parentheses' path to the water and disappeared into the sunlight-dappled waves. With a kick, she slipped beneath the waves and gently returned the most peculiar object to the place amongst the rocks where she had found it. Parentheses surfaced once again and made her way to the shore, the prackle-fish this time granting a reprieve to her raw, bony ankles. The sunlight felt warm on her shoulders as she stood at the water's edge.

Parentheses turned to look again at the horizon. The confusing symbol was clear in her memory, as it would always be. The clear, blue skies stretched for miles and even unto eternity, and for the second time that day she felt content to be the eldest daughter of an English teacher on this little archipelago in the Hambone Sea.

06 June 2012

In This Sign

Parentheses Miller was the eldest daughter of an English teacher with rickets and a harlequin birthmark. When the autumnal rains came to their little archipelago in the Hambone Sea, Parentheses would wade out into the surf and look for a dry place to lay her weary head. Parentheses did this almost daily during those times, and she would frantically lurch about and leap as the prackle-fish nipped at her ankles.

On a day like most any other, with the prackle-fish nipping her bony ankles raw, Parentheses looked into the shallows of the cove and spied a most peculiar object amongst the rocks. The clear, cool water was splatter-dappled with raindrops, making for a wobbly lens through which to view this most peculiar object, yet Parentheses knew that she must have it. Like a platinum-haired diver-bird she plunged into the water, her body forming a graceful arc as she slipped beneath the tiny waves. In a heartbeat her pale, fragile hand was on the most peculiar object, which felt strangely warm to the touch. She curled her fingers around it and gently kicked for the surface, leaving a school of confused prackle-fish in her wake.

Back on shore, Parentheses took shelter from the rain beneath the fronds of a holy taco-tree that dripped a saucy aroma. She curled up with her knees against her chest and looked at the small, peculiar object in the palm of her pale, fragile hand. A confusing symbol stared up at her, a symbol that spoke of royalty and of sacrifice; a symbol of victory, a symbol of blood. A most confusing and most peculiar object, and it was warm to the touch.

Parentheses looked back over the dark, wet sand that she had crossed on her way to the taco-tree. Her footprints were small and white, perfectly dry and evenly spaced. No drop of rain lingered on them.

The rain picked up and thundered on the waters of the tiny little cove. The prackle-fish dove to the depths to escape the onslaught.

Parentheses Miller sat beneath the fronds of the holy taco-tree, warm and dry and with her knees against her chest, content today to be the eldest daughter of an English teacher on this little archipelago in the Hambone Sea.

05 June 2012

Cross-Link Tuesday

Hello everyone.  This is just a reminder (or a heads up for folks new to this site) that there are two other sites that Mr. Andrews writes at that you should all have a look at from time to time.  Please have a peek at the following (click on the titles to follow the links):

"The Martini Tumblr,"  in which Mr. Andrews explains some of his writing, talks about writing, writes about writing, posts photos of food and  his dog, and just has an all around good time.

"the lost beat,"  in which Mr. Andrews collaborates with his cousin from Milwaukee, Natasha Gdansk, in writing and sharing poetry.  No bongos are allowed.  Unless you ask very nicely and politely.

That about takes care of it.  Mr. Andrews is ensconced in his "9 to 5" work at the present moment and wishes you all a pleasant day.  He has a new piece up at "the lost beat" (please see above) today that you could all read in your free time, and there should be new flash fiction up here at "A Martini and a Pen" tomorrow.  We appreciate your patronage, and we thank you in advance for coming back.


Mr. Linus Janikowski,
Office Manager

04 June 2012

Thursday in Whitsun Week

(For commentary on desensitizing, please continue reading. Let the reader understand.)

The crowd of people milled about the body and the hubbub and the babbling yakkage made a noise like cardboard boxes being crushed. One tall man in a dark homburg stood taller than the rest of the crowd and he continually shook his head, muttering “it always ends like this...it always ends like this.”

The people would not clear away, even when the pacification officer fired shots randomly into the air and ordered the people to disperse. The sound of the shots ringing out only attracted more passers-by, and soon most of the people on the street were huddled together, trying to get a glimpse. It was only when the television crew arrived that anybody had the good sense to give the poor victim some air.

By the time the television crew had assembled their elaborate camera-contraptions, the emergency wagon arrived, with Doctor Darcy and Loopy Lou the night nurse joining Johann and Mark the paramedics. All four of them posed for promotional stills, and the television crew eagerly filmed them pulling on their rubber gloves and hairnets. Johann eagerly rubbed sanitizer gel into the others, and attempted to place hot stones on Loopy Lou's back, but she protested. Doctor Darcy placed himself in a most compromising yoga pose that he described to the crowd as the “Yawning Bolus,” and as he did so the crowd began to gradually drift toward him in order to get a better view of this yogic spectacle.

Binder. Bynder,” said Doctor Darcy, thrusting his tongue into his cheek and allowing the skin beneath his arms to wobble ever so slightly. “Binder. Bynder.” Johann tried rubbing some sanitizer gel into these patches of particularly flabby skin, but Doctor Darcy shooed him away.

The crowd had now entirely gathered around Doctor Darcy and his performance of the “Whistling Aglet,” and it was possible to see the poor victim lying on the ground. The television crew took a quick peek at the pile of flesh and clothing and decided that the “Whistling Aglet” was more newsworthy.

Suddenly there arose a cry from Doctor Darcy as he attempted to twist his body into the “Gothic Chinstrap.” The crowd closed in as he cried in pain, and the television crew leaned ever closer, trying to get some good video and maybe a newsworthy soundbite.

One tall man in a dark homburg stood taller than the rest of the crowd and he continually shook his head, muttering “it always ends like this...it always ends like this.”