Thursday, April 10, 2014

April A-Z: Eating Grapes with the One-Armed Man

Fair warning: I took this phrase as a prompt and threw a short story together. It's a bit long for the recommended scope of A-Z blogging. So no offense if you choose to skip it!

Waylin walked briskly down the dark road on a quiet night. Tall trees and sparse clouds intermittently masked the stars and crescent moon. In dark clothes, one arm of a hooded sweatshirt hanging limp, he turned up an empty driveway toward a freestanding garage.

He stepped before a dark window and aimed a flashlight into it, catching a reflection of his own face; two reddish eyes a thin beard and faded black ball cap with graying white playboy bunny emblem. A glimpse through the garage window revealed patio furniture, hoses, a pool skimmer and no automobile.

He clicked off the flashlight and regarded the dark house. Between the back door and himself stood a small creature, stone-still; a brown hare in profile, one round eye regarding him.


He stepped forward over the spongy lawn. The rabbit bolted away. As a matter of course he tried the back entrance. The screen door opened with a minor squeak and the doorknob within turned with a pleasant click.


He slipped inside, softly closing the screen door and leaving the other ajar. The tiny foyer was clogged with coats hanging off pegs and shoes all over the floor. He rifled through coat pockets, fondled keys and kleenex tissues and no wallets. He gently climbed a short flight with legs splayed, feet at the side edges of the steps.

Closed doors stood down the hallway to his left. The flashlight led his way to the right, into a tidy kitchen. A set of canisters stood in file by height. In grade eight he'd had to stand at one end of the back row for the class photo. Mrs. Fletcher sidled right up beside him; the only time she'd done so without shaking her finger at his face. Fletcher Fingers they called her. The containers were labeled sugar, tea, flour and cookies. They were never labeled weed but that's what some folks put in them. Here he found sugar, tea, flour and cookies, all in their proper places; their assigned cells.

Oh, you're too adorable, people.

He peaked into the cupboard. What was that? The creak of floorboards? A soft click and the kitchen flooded with light.

"Jesus!" he yelped, spinning around. The flashlight flew from his hand and hit the linoleum with a thud. It's light expired, redundant now.

"Sorry dude," said the teenager. An errant spike of his hair jutted skyward. Waylin stood frozen, staring. "It's okay to raid the fridge. You don't have to creep around." The kid wore Bart Simpson boxers and a motorcycle t-shirt proclaiming, MY OTHER RIDE IS YOUR MOM. He turned his back and rattled through the fridge. "The folks don't mind. They got deep pockets." A skinny arm swung out and a  half wedge of brie cheese landed on the kitchen table. A package bundled in pink deli paper then followed the same flight plan and then a network of plump green grapes. One broke away, rolled off the table and landed next to the flashlight.

"Grab some crackers there," said the kid, waiving over Waylin's shoulder. The man didn't move. "I see you, you know. You're not invisible."

Waylin cleared his throat. "What do you mean?"

The boy walked up to the bearded man and reached by him to open a cupboard. "You look like a deer in headlights." He took a box of crackers to the table and sat. "Except that herbivores always have eyes at the sides of their heads. You know what I mean? 'Cause they're always on the lookout for predators. Predators have to focus on their prey. Their eyes are at the front." He made a V of his fingers and drew them to and from his eyes. "Like us. We're predators."

"Are we?" said Waylin.

"Don't you think so?" He gestured toward the empty chair.

"I might."

"I'm Beryl as you probably guessed." He pulled a branch of grapes from the bunch. "You probably have a name of your own, eh?"


"That's different," Beryl said, nodding. "Does it come with a last name?"

None of your business. "Banjo."

Beryl seemed to chuckle silently. "You're shitting me, right?"

"Why would I do that?"

"Come on. Wailing banjo? That's a piece of comedy, that."

"If you say so."

"You gonna sit or what?"

"I better not."

"Look man, I'm sorry for laughing. I thought you were joking. Honest." Waylin moved to the table and sat. "Help yourself. These pepperoni sticks are the bomb."

Waylin ate.

"So when did you arrive?" said Beryl. "Had to have been in the last week while I was away."

"Today," the man replied with his mouth full.

"If you don't mind me asking, how'd you lose your arm?"

"I do."


"It's a long story."

"Yeah? So just tell me the last chapter. The climax part. Where you fell off the train. Or the pterodactyl ripped it off."

"Another time." Waylin looked around as he stuffed his face. Framed needleworks adorned the walls; cute pictures and cuter captions. Life is fragile. Handle with prayer, said one. Another: God bless this mess. He smirked.

"My mom makes them."

"I like that one," said Waylin, gesturing.

"Yeah? Take it."

Waylin froze, eying the boy. Beryl stood and released it from the wall. "Take it. Hang it in your room. Take it with you when you go. Keep it."

"That's okay."

"I insist. Mom gives 'em away all the time. She'll make more." He dropped it on the table near the stranger and sat again. "You look familiar, you know? Like that actor; the wolverine guy; the X-Men guy." The man nodded. "You get that often?"

"Once or twice."  

"You're really hungry, aren't you?"

"I missed dinner."

"It must be hard to cut a steak with one hand, eh?"

"I guess. I wouldn't know."

"You don't care for steak?"

"I wouldn't know."


Waylin picked up the little needlepoint arrangement and gave the boy a long look. The boy looked back. Waylin stuffed it into his hoodie pocket where it just fit.

"How'd you get hooked up here? With my folks, I mean." The man searched Beryl's eyes. "Through the church?"

"Yeah. Through the church."

"Think you'll stay long?"

"I doubt that very much." He clutched a string of grapes in his only hand and awkwardly separated one at a time with thumb and forefinger.

Beryl stared at the network of branches and little green orbs. "Do you know how many different kinds of molecules there are?"

"Never counted them."

Beryl laughed.

"One for every element on the table, I guess."

"The periodic table, you mean?"


"No way, man. There's like tens of billions."

"You don't say."

"Every permutation is possible. So you can theorize molecules that haven't actually happened yet, so far as we've seen. Here on Earth anyway."

"I gotta use the bathroom," said Waylin. He glanced down at the floor, bent and retrieved the flashlight. He stood and managed to slip it into the far pocket as he left the room.

Beryl sat and listened; heard the creaking of stairs and of the back door. He sat at the table a long time.

Out on the dark street Waylin trod soft and swift. He pulled the handicraft from his pocket and read it again. God bless this house and all who enter.

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