stories

Hoppy Toad

Hoppy Toad go down the road slow.  I see him.  Over by side he stop to make water, bless his member.  Then go fast, one leg the other, tilty bang.  Old hurt bad on him.

Hoppy Toad drive wagon before.  He did.  I see him.  Up on seat he hold reins.  He say giddyap.  Hoppy Toad say loud giddyap.  Horse go giddyap fast.  Do that long time.  One day Hoppy Toad fall off.  Get all broke up.  He not Hoppy Toad before.  Something else.  Don’t remember.  Then he Hoppy Toad, but he not go up on seat no more.  Not say giddyap.  Somebody else say giddyap.  Hoppy Toad stay on ground.

Hell where Devil live and Hoppy Toad too.  Ground be hell for Hoppy Toad.  He walk and say damn and shit.  I hear him.  He say damn and shit most always.  Even when not fall down.  When Hoppy Toad make water, bless his member, he say shit.  Then walk fast, tilty bang, say damn and shit very much.  Devil like Hoppy Toad say damn and shit.

Who drive wagon, who make things go right places?  Pox on it say Mr. Lijah when wagon late.  When wagon late, things for store not there.  Mr. Lijah stand at store and face hang down.  Before Hoppy Toad be Hoppy Toad, things there for Mr. Lijah.  Always.  No pox on Hoppy Toad.  Much pox on Hoppy Toad now.

Hoppy Toad live over under bridge.  Feet hurt.  Take shoes off, put them down.  Pinch his feet.  Put feet in water.  Ooh, oh, say Hoppy Toad.  Leave him ham sandwich, me, under bridge.  Hoppy Toad look around, bite sandwich, bless his teeth.  Bite bite bite, all gone.  Hoppy Toad cry, go to sleep.

I take his shoes.  Clean shoes in water and put back.  Hoppy Toad sleep.  He say damn and shit when shoes wet.  Old dirty shoes.  Get new shoes for Hoppy Toad.  No shoes for me.  Never have shoes, me.  Who need shoes?  Hoppy Toad need shoes.  Don’t know why.  Mr. Lijah need shoes.  Mrs. Lijah have green shoes, blue shoes, red shoes.  Purple shoes.  Hoppy Toad shoes brown and dirty.

Put Hoppy Toad shoes in water and fish swim in.  Little fish.  Minnow fish.  In and out.  Pick up Hoppy Toad shoes with fish in them.  Water go out, fish stay in.  Dump fish out.  See them swim away.

No big fish go in Hoppy Toad shoes.  No shoes for me.  Use big old can to catch fish.  Big fish not go in old can.  Big fish bite on worm, bless their teeth.  Little minnow fish go in can.  If little fish, me, not go in can.  Why go in can?  Why go in old dirty shoe?  Little silly fish.

Hoppy Toad go to store.  Stand by store.  Mr. LIjah with face hang down say pox on Hoppy Toad, pox on wagon.  No things for Mr. Lijah.  Put Hoppy Toad back on wagon, no pox.  Lots of things again.  Hoppy Toad hide face when wagon come.  Horse come over by Hoppy Toad.  Hoppy Toad make water in pants.  Bless his member?  Not like water, me, in pants.

Peanut butter taste bad.  Not give Hoppy Toad peanut butter.  Put ham sandwich, put cheese sandwich, put tomato, put cucumber under bridge.  Hoppy Toad not see me.  Never never.  Eat and eat and cry and eat.  Never see me.

Old lady help Hoppy Toad.  Hoppy Toad say damn and shit.  Old lady smile.  Hoppy Toad make water on old lady shoes.  Old lady say damn and shit.

Mrs. Lijah give Hoppy Toad big steak.  He take and eat under bridge.  Tilty bang all way.  Try to eat bone.  I see him.   Dog come, Hoppy Toad give bone to dog.  Hoppy Toad smile.  Not have steak to give, me.  Never have steak, no.

Crayfish good.  Pull up rock, catch crayfish, easy.  Hoppy Toad not catch crayfish.  Put crayfish under bridge for Hoppy Toad.  Hoppy Toad not eat them.  Put back in water.  Silly Hoppy Toad.  Crayfish no good after under bridge.  Float away, not go back under rock.  Crayfish good to eat.  Frogs very bad.

No one put crayfish for me.  Mrs. Lijah hiss me with mouth.  Put crayfish, me, for Mrs. Lijah.  Not see me.  Mr. Lijah say pox on me.  Not drive wagon, me.  Pet horse, old horse.  Old horse eat sandwich.  No peanut butter for horse.  No pox on old horse.  Who drive wagon?  Man who drive wagon eat peanut butter, give it for me.  Silly man.  Pox on him.

Little boys go to creek.  Take off clothes, make water into creek, bless their members.  Jump in, splash.  Hoppy Toad hide.  Sit, hold knees, back and forth, back and forth.  Little boys push heads under water.  Ha ha.  Jump, splash, splash.  Hoppy Toad run, tilty bang bang.  Swim far into water, hold head under.  Silly Hoppy Toad, forget to bring head up.  Hoppy Toad float away like crayfish.  Go catch him in big big can.

END

Pillows

“Too many soft,” said Richard, half waking from a dream.

“What?” asked his wife, still in her own dream, where she heard a voice calling numbers, like an auctioneer.

“Soft,” said Richard. Then his dream continued.

In the morning he placed two frozen waffles into the toaster, forgetting that the toaster had died three days earlier. He waited patiently while nothing happened to the waffles and thought about his dream. An angel had descended from heaven and offered him a pillow. Richard had accepted the pillow and placed it on the dashboard of the car to use as a receptacle for his coffee cup. But the coffee cup, he discovered, would not release from his hand, it had become an extension of himself. In his dream he smiled, because things had come so far.

Emily, his wife, stood remarkably straight as she looked out the window at the flat scape of the back yard where it led to the lone mound of the septic system. Richard realized that his wife always stood remarkably straight, as though trying to observe something happening at a distance and slightly above the heads of those in front of her. But in this instance there was no one in front of her, just the bland grass of winter. Bland. A word Richard did not recall having used before.

“What do angels bring?” he asked.

“Good tidings,” said Emily authoritatively. Richard realized that she always spoke authoritatively, even when nothing was at issue.

“I had an angel bring me a pillow in my dream last night,” said Richard, then immediately wished he had said nothing. He did not want his wife to know about this particular dream. Even though nothing of importance had happened. Because nothing of importance had happened?

“No, they don’t bring pillows,” she replied.

“Soft,” said Richard, softly.

At work, Richard looked wide-eyed from his window 53 floors above the confluence of two rivers. A helicopter flew below his level, perhaps carrying a trauma patient. Looking out, looking down, looking up, he began to perspire. It was an awfully long way, an awfully long way to anywhere.

That night he dreamed that something with hairy arms tried to reach through into his room, the familiarly unfamiliar room he shared with a woman who might have been his wife though he could not, on waking, identify her as anyone he had seen before. The thing was an ape, a vampire, a primal being that wanted to disrupt, to flay, to invade, all without the least thought to consequence or conquest. It was a being of will and desire. Then as suddenly it reduced in size and aspect to become a comic dog, frolicking around his feet. Richard kicked it.

He tested the glass of his 53rd-floor window with his hand. When he leaned solidly against his hand, placed all the force and will of his body into the fingers, he felt the glass give ever so slightly, as a tree will give before the wind. The desire pushed up into his shoulders to soar into space, to fly at high speed like something propelled from a slingshot, then drop with a high-pitched scream. Where was the pillow now that he might need it?

A great deal of evidence falls, like ash, into life. You climb the stairs and it is tracked ahead of you by your neighbors’ shoes. You park in a public parking lot and it lies by the drivers’ doors of those who have parked before you. It accrues, the way dustballs accrue under sofas, the way money accrues to those who understand it. But unlike the dust or the money, it is inconclusive. It is only the evidence of something, never the song of the one true thing.

A dead caterpillar had dried onto the sidewalk leading to Richard’s brownstone. He remembered seeing it one day and did not know how many days previously it had lain there while he had not seen it, how many days before that it had not lain there while the concrete had anticipated it. What did it mean for a caterpillar to be alive and then, later, to be alive no more? What did it mean to fall 53 stories, screaming, waiting for the ape to wrap its arms around you?

“Richard,” said Emily.

Richard gazed into his reflection in the non-functional toaster, wishing a demon to take him.

“I don’t dream any more,” said Richard.

“I have an appointment with my lawyer at two o’clock, Richard. I will ask for half of everything.”

“I would give you the moon,” said Richard.

“You wouldn’t.”

“I would give you the moon, the stars, the interstellar spaces, the black holes, the white nebulae, the Lesser Magellenic Cloud.”

“What has happened to you?” Emily stood as she always stood, straight as a reed, but she shook slightly in a non-existent wind.

Richard turned from the toaster and held out his hands. “I can’t carry things any longer. I can’t hold them. I don’t know what they are when they touch me.”

The septic mound in the back yard had developed a slow, seeking ooze.

Something blue floated below his window in the space that was sometimes taken by a helicopter. It looked like Superman carrying a fallen figure in his arms. Richard spread his own arms wide and watched his reflection on the inside of the glass as he swooped and swirled and pivoted. Behind him, his secretary, in the doorway, sipped decaf and bit her lip.

“That’s very effective,” she said.

“What?” asked Richard, suspended in mid swoop.

“It’s like an ad.”

“Today is like an ad. Tomorrow will be like an ad. Everything is like an ad,” said Richard.

In the rear seat of a compact car operating as a pirate taxi, Richard’s knees pressed in toward his chest. He could not stop the tears that ran down his cheeks and bled into his suit jacket. He longed for a tune to hum, a personal theme song. Where was the pillow the angel had given him? As he reached to tap the driver’s shoulder, a great hand with coarse-haired knuckles plucked him from his seat. It pulled him upwards, 53 stories, then released him. His scream was a piercing quaver, like the note of a schoolchild’s violin.

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