by Mike Linaweaver
Crooked people with crooked smiles and kids on leashes haunt the streets and strip malls. It is late Summer. The hot concrete absorbs everything.
The grocery store is the worst. People move about sluggishly. They drop cans and boxes into their carts without looking at them. My cart is a train wreck. The caging on the side is bent inward as if it has been hit by a vehicle in the parking lot. There is rust where the gray paint has chipped away. One of the front wheels spins a millimeter above the white tile. Another wheel barely turns and makes a terrible noise. I know that to choose a different cart would be a waste of time. I decide I don’t need groceries. I leave the cart at the fish counter.
In the afternoon light everything seems covered in piss. My car is filled with piss and other things: cans, bottles, check stubs, old shopping lists, sweatshirts, receipts, sugar packets, plastic bags, parts of a Gramsci book, blank paper, crayons, pens, a styrofoam cup full of ashes, a jar, an unopened birthday card, 17 cents, two lighters. I key fuck the ignition until the car starts. The muffler rattles loudly. On the radio is NPR.
During the news break the radio commentator talks about bombings, drone strikes, the collapsing economy, the unemployment rate, the election cycle, the debates, the labor strikes, the candidates, immigrants, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the prison industrial complex, the wars, the Russians, the North Koreans, the South Koreans, the Chinese, the death of whoever, the life of whoever and how far we have come as a nation. It’s a three minute progress report. Then it’s back to chamber music.
I drive without a destination in mind. I stop at a convenience store for cigarettes. I quit smoking. I am like Beckett. I cant go on. I must go on.
As a child I was plagued by terrible dreams and nightmares. I was always dizzy. I used to imagine I was an ice king on an icy world filled with knights and faeries. Great tales were told around the great fires that burned in my citadel. Then everything would collapse back to reality. It was only third grade. I would be sick to my stomach. I spent recess alone on the perimeter. I spoke very little. I spoke to very few.
I spent hours in local libraries. I became an addict. The smell of books was always with me. I read Call of the Wild. It is the first book I ever fell in love with. I put a copy in the time capsule a neighborhood kid and I buried in his back yard. We recorded a tape for the future. We only stared at the recorder. There was nothing to say.
The day is dipping toward evening. There are more cars on the roads. There are more people. There is more noise and more concrete. There are more traffic jams. People are angry. They want to get home even if they don’t. A driver beats on his steering wheel after missing a green light. Semi-trucks pull dangerously into traffic. In the fading sun the palm trees look like giant primordial weeds. The department stores and cash registers are filled to capacity. A homeless man carries a sign that is illegible. I hold out a dollar bill to him. He looks away. I let it go and the wind carries it briefly upward then it settles and disappears into the throng of traffic.
I park on a street that isn’t my street. I park in front of a house that isn’t my house. The owners aren’t home. I use a hammer to open a window. I climb through into an untidy bedroom. It is very quiet. The fridge and pantry are full of groceries. There is expensive bread and and top shelf tortilla chips in the bread box. There is foreign beer in the refrigerator. I take one and open it. I make a sandwich with the expensive bread. It goes well with the tortilla chips. I take my sandwich into the living room. The furniture is a pale tan. The coffee table is steel and glass. There are three remotes. I push the power button on each. The TV is on a news channel. There was an earthquake in Japan. There is an earthquake in the back of our skulls.
As I finish off the sandwich the owners arrive. I hear them enter. There is a teenage girl. She hates her parents. It is written on her face. The father is telling her she needs to pay attention. He is telling her that she will never be anything at this rate. The mother is silent. She goes to the kitchen and pours a glass of wine. The daughter is silent. Her face is flushed.
They notice me all at once. The father demands to know who I am. I say I am no one. He demands to know what I am doing in his house. I say I am doing nothing. He crosses the room towards me. When he is close I hit him in the the head with my hammer. The skull makes an eggy sound. He falls and catches his face on the corner of the coffee table. The mother runs to him. I hit her in the top of the head. She falls over him. They look like they are hugging. I look at the daughter. I take her father’s wallet from his pants pocket. I give it to her. I tell her I am sorry about what happened to her parents. She looks over my shoulder at them then back at me. I return to the couch and the news on the TV. I’m not paying attention when she leaves.
When the police show up I am still watching the news station. There is a prison riot somewhere. The police enter with their guns drawn. They tell me to get on the ground and put my hands up. I try to explain. I tell them I am the ice king of an icy planet filled with knights and faeries. I tell them great stories are told around the great fires that burn in my citadel. They shout. They don’t believe me. I stand up and show them my war hammer. Their guns go off sharply. Then there is nothing.
Mike Linaweaver is an IWW member, poet and zine maker originally from the Smoky Hill River region of Central Kansas. In December 2012 he founded the Strike Syndicate collective with a small group of artists and writers. His written work has appeared in Red Wedge Magazine, ditchpoetry, Sleet Magazine, The Magill Review and is forthcoming in Epigraph Magazine. The short story “Are You Alright?” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. A series of his photographs was featured in Anti Heroin Chic. He resides in South Texas.