Mrs. McGillicuddy

 

Annually she appeared

in tandem with the crocuses

to ward off the weightiness of winter

with whimsy and color nicked from

a box of Crayolas.

We called the duck Mrs. McGillicuddy,

a cognomen grabbed from

the Golden Age of Television

still received on grainy UHF channels.

The feathery frau inhabited the haven

between the holly bushes with prickly points,

an organic rendition of an electric fence,

and the red-brick faćade

that flirted with the family room window.

We'd slurp the citrusy sweetness of Mello Yello

while watching her waddling

when she wasn't lounging at the lagoon

four traffic-saturated blocks away

swapping gossip and

riding the glimmering ripples

with her fellow fowl.

 

 

Definitions

 

She's limp

like Maria Tallchief's tutu

long after

the famous Firebird flitted before

adoring audiences.

He's wilted

like a leaf of romaine lettuce

in the gooey August gloaming

until the coolness of green goddess

plumps out its appeal.

She's confused

like Swedish drivers

forced to switch sides

from left to right

during the Summer of Love.

He's tired

like a marshmallow-stuffed stripling

who's missed slumber on

spider-ridden soil in

an itchy sleeping bag.

They're persistent

like a mantis that keeps praying

even as the lawn mower

roars and rolls

ever closer.

 

 

A Goody-Goody No More

 

You need not say or do anything,

but anything you do

or say

may be used as evidence in court.”

Those were words

he never thought would be directed at him,

the angel of Hammersmith School,

the obnoxious obeyer of crosswalks,

the foe of fat and sugar,

the mayor of the friend zone.

In transit between brick-and-mortar homes

in a haze of white-collar homelessness,

he opted to renew his ID--

early of course--

using a PO box as an address,

arguing that he lived there

when the snotty civil servant

contested his choice of domain.

What caused him to snap?

If he could've shrunk himself to the size of a gerbil

prove the plausibility of his argument

he would have done so.

Was it his bout of bronchitis

or virtue fatigue

and a subconscious desire to

speak the words a rebel?

Clueless about the stakes--

since short and chubby citizens

have been known to add inches and subtract pounds

to ID renewals

without any adverse consequences,

he retched with shock when he received

the officer’s email.

He cried in solitude under a blanket,

just as he did when reprimanded for

taking too many cookies from the cookie jar

and e-begged a lawyer to help him

stay out of jail

and avoid a crushing fine

for apparently violating the Motor Vehicles Act

despite never driving.

 

 

Zack's Habit

 

An Ultra-Light Marlboro is marvelous

when it slithers--its speed depending on how

urgently Zack needs that nudge of nicotine--

from its white and silver pack

just before his calloused thumb thwacks the Zippo.

Zack began courting his tobacco-crammed comrades

as a college junior plunking down a dollar nine

for seductively nauseating Basics at the service station.

His cigarettes are is cherished chums,

an MAOI that lets him eat cheese

while staying slim

and upbeat,

functioning even when friends and fuckbuddies and

at least one fiancé drifted away.

Smokes cement Zack’s confidence

as a sophisticated suburbanite

who’s tenacious and tough,

just like John Wayne, only Zack,

spared a smoker’s rasp,

reckons that the habit won’t annihilate him.

And even if it does,

death would beat the boredom

and depression he’s ditching due

to the dedicated efforts of Philip Morris.

 

 

The Catfish

 

Barry had always been favorably inclined

toward catfish--

he’d thought they were cute with their whiskered faces,

not unlike the three cats who shared his duplex with him

on elm-lined Waterman Circle,

and he always made it a point

to order fried catfish fingers

from the steakhouse with

the faux-Texan motif

since there was nothing better to nosh on

while watching Forensic Files,

so he was shocked when the wrestling coach from Wisconsin,

seeing past his screen name of Alyssa and the pictures

of the pretty brunette stranger he’d lifted

from a Google photo search,

called him a “fuckin sick catfish.”

Gripping the mouse to his 15-year-old Gateway computer,

he denied the accusations before blocking the coach

out of embarrassment.

Disguises were not new to Barry, who had

shed his identity as a rail-thin, hirsute,

chain-smoking telemarketer with a nose too big for at least

two of his faces and a voice like a chainsaw slicing a pineapple,

except when he focused and contorted his voice into that of

a smoky-voiced housewife cheating on her husband

when he ran up his phone bill to simulate sex

with that computer programmer in Rio de Janeiro.

Sometimes Barry just wanted to chat

and had posed as a witty sophomore in a college forum

and a fantasy football expert in a Yahoo chatroom

because, just as his nebbish, henpecked father had learned

on CB radio as “Bossa Nova Casanova,”

sometimes the illusion of life

is better than life itself.

 

 

Mindys Cassette

 

Mindy had discovered the cassette

in a distorted shoebox shoved into her hands

by her dad after the last of the

preparations for the parents’ move

to the warmer, cheaper life.

Once Violet and Camille had

been prodded into their bunk beds,

and Luis had fallen asleep

in the La-Z-Boy after another

evening of problems and pie,

she pressed the tape into the dusty Walkman,

placed the headphones over her

graying mane,

and eavesdropped, three decades too late,

on the slumber party attended

by no fewer than twenty girls,

a mere fraction of her entourage

enhanced with greasy pizza,

prank calls to social outcasts,

home perms gone awry

and hours glued to Friday Night Videos.

The shrieking laughs about hot he-men

and imitations of unhip parents,

made Mindy wonder

whether she’d peaked at puberty

as she considered her life

as a mom-who was no longer a MILF--

with too much fibromyalgia

and too few friends

and played the tape again.

 

 

Gym Rat

 

Alex grinned with a bargain-hunter's glee

when he grabbed the gym offer

that would bleed his bank account

just five bucks a fortnight.

Savvily commencing his

commitment to fitness on February first,

just as the fleeting fervor

of resolution fanatics was fading,

Alex, flexing his rumbling muscles

while trotting on a treadmill,

smiled lasciviously as he savored

the heady scents of cotton and polyester

and terrycloth rawly eroticized

by nostril-puckering splashes of

mansweat anointing the fit lifters

who came to atone for Toblerones and beer

and vie for everlasting sex-worthiness

the way their forefathers had flocked to

the Church of the Little Flower

over on Hammerschmidt in hopes of

eternal life.

 

 

Recess

 

Chip--whose cruel birth name, Philemon Nease Reed IV,   

could have easily merited beatings from 

Jasons and Marks and Steves but didn’t

because emotionless shunning can be more effective

than a vomit-inducing fist to the gut--

hated recess

almost as much as

he hated running the mile

as part of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test

(it was almost enough to switch him on to

Enver Hoxha’s signature totalitarianism--

which Chip already knew about

because he was a nerd)

in his t-shirt and Toughskins

around the baseball field

in September and May

and coming in last.

The boys instantly dismissed him

too flabby--inherited by

a raft of paternal relatives

who had also gone flabby at an early age

and too clumsy to play

King of the Mountain or Smear the Queer

(because queers were still smearworthy

in those days).

The girls may have been gentler at play,

opting for hopscotch or Charlie’s Angels,

but they were fairweather companions,

sometimes charitably assigning Chip the role of Bosley,

which he didn’t understand but lapped up the inclusion

as a starving piglet lapped up a surprise meal,

and sometimes deeming Chip too fat or too gross

and banishing them from their mean-girl gynecocracy,

leaving Chip to wander under tree branches,

watching full-size American and tiny Japanese models

cruising down North Avenue,

grinding his teeth--both milk and permanent--

and vowing alternately to get revenge

or to forget all about his classmates,

sometimes slipping on stealth ice patches

or struggling with a bee caught in his colossal plastic-framed eyeglasses,

or getting his Sears corduroy coat shit on by

a crow, proving conclusively that

some birds can learn

to be marvelous mimics.

 

 

Debbie Was From Pennsylvania

 

Debbie was from Pennsylvania,

where she languished

with lifeless hair the color of

a spoiled banana peel,

gigantic glasses designed to

mitigate myopia,

the old-fashioned metal braces

her parents were convinced were

tried and true

and the worst case of acne ever witnessed

in Lancaster County, so she thought.

The summer after graduation from

the middle school she thought of as a

friendless gulag.

She moved here

just after having the metal extricated from her mouth.

She pushed her transformation further,

persuading her parents

to get her contact lenses

after finding an article defending their effectiveness,

spending her babysitting money on boxes of hair colorant,

and miraculously discovering an acne treatment that works

after seeing a TV program about it

while she was home with the flu.

By the time she started high school

in a building full of strangers,

she attracted attention as

new blood with new beauty,

fueling the confidence to

become a cheerleader

and an honors student

and a gymnast

and a student reporter,

with a new Facebook account full of new followers

and new dates,

with parties and dances dotting her agenda,

but after the high of her honeymoon in the in-crowd

dissipated,

she realized her myrmidons cared only about her image

but not the fact that she liked poutine

or swimming under waterfalls

or that her favorite star was Polaris,

and she realized that

she was lonelier than ever,

having to maintain her look

in order to keep Pennsylvania

from encroaching.

 

 

Vacation

 

He wore a guava-colored Hawaii t-shirt

ordered from a nondescript Nebraska-based catalog

over a loose cerulean swimsuit

purchased from Harrison’s department store

two days before he piled in at daybreak with Mom, Dad and pesky Anthony

into the maroon Buick LeSabre

dripping with MadLibs and Twizzlers

plus the pomegranate-red piss jar

and cruised down CB-connected highways

to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Before the Internet, the South was exotic,

with palm trees, Piggly Wigglys, and Waffle Houses,

and maybe other misfits who'd understand him.

He bodysurfed as best as he could, wiping out on

shell-studded sand the shade of bones,

ate biscuits with red-eye gravy and grits,

and collected quarters for the smoky video game room

where tanned thin kids in Nikes

from Biloxi and Pascagoula

prattled about Poltergeist--which his mom wouldn’t let him see--

and skateboards and nearly getting lucky.

Every drawled word was vacuumed up by his ears,

but fears of jeers-well honed at home-

muted him til the kids skedaddled,

and he spent the sputtering rest of the evening

with Q*Bert and a nine-year-old redheaded

Valley Girl in training named Hannah

who looked like an overgrown Cabbage Patch Kid

and hoped to hear her jaws flap

at anyone who'd listen.

 

 

Annettes Friends

 

Annette leaves the sleekly designed office complex

where she works as an insurance claims adjuster

and tells the security guy-Rob, Ron or Roy something like that-

it doesnt matter-he forgets her name, too,

about ten seconds after she flashes her ID-

that shes going to spend the weekend with friends

after he politely asks her if she has big plans,

which is what he asks everyone who doesnt scowl at him

or walk fast too quickly to engage in mindless chit chat.

And Annette isnt lying--

shes going to listen hour after hour to Bonnie

and her daughter Christy

elaborate on how they cope--sometimes divinely, sometimes disastrously--

with recovery from addiction to booze and drugs. And Annette

wont have to go through the mental work of

offering advice--though she usually does anyway as

she listens because she cares about the two women

more than she cares about her own sister

whos married in Michigan with two toddlers

and doesnt remember Annettes birthday

and never calls or emails.

It doesnt matter. Bonnie and Christy are there

every weekend or weeknights

ready to open up or drink coffee with her;

sometimes their friends hang out too,

which is fine with Annette, the more the merrier.

Annette has even spent Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas

eating and laughing across from Bonnie and Christy,

and theres no judgment, no awkwardness,

no criticism of Annettes outfits or wrinkles or waistline or choices.

And when Annette has had enough togetherness

and needs to be alone to process what shes heard,

all she has to do

is to remove the Mom DVD du jour

from the laptop slot

and acknowledge the prevailing silence.

 

© Adrian Slonaker

 

Bio:  Adrian Slonaker currently works as a copywriter and copy editor in Urbandale, Iowa. Adrian's work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has appeared in The Bohemyth, Queen Mob's Tea House, Pangolin Review, Montana Mouthful, Algebra of Owls and others.