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.
like Maria Tallchief's tutu
the famous Firebird flitted before
like a leaf of romaine lettuce
in the gooey August gloaming
until the coolness of green goddess
plumps out its appeal.
like Swedish drivers
forced to switch sides
from left to right
during the Summer of Love.
like a marshmallow-stuffed stripling
who's missed slumber on
spider-ridden soil in
an itchy sleeping bag.
like a mantis that keeps praying
even as the lawn mower
roars and rolls
A Goody-Goody No More
“You need not say or do anything,
but anything you do
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.
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
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.
Barry had always been favorably inclined
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.
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
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.
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
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--
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
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
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
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
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.
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 doesn’t matter-he forgets her name, too,
about ten seconds after she flashes her ID-
that she’s going to spend the weekend with friends
after he politely asks her if she has big plans,
which is what he asks everyone who doesn’t scowl at him
or walk fast too quickly to engage in mindless chit chat.
And Annette isn’t lying--
she’s 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
won’t 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
who’s married in Michigan with two toddlers
and doesn’t remember Annette’s birthday
and never calls or emails.
It doesn’t 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 there’s no judgment, no awkwardness,
no criticism of Annette’s outfits or wrinkles or waistline or choices.
And when Annette has had enough togetherness
and needs to be alone to process what she’s 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.