First Sunday Scrabble
Karl says, How strange it is they call it a BINGO. He plays “filanges,” stealing the “g” from the end of my “fog.”
We don’t keep score. Karl believes scores are the number one cause of disappointment.
I know, I say, it should be called an EMPTY or something.
I add “regal.” Karl says, I think you’ve got it backwards.
I pull new squares one at a time. Karl is a handful kind of guy.
It’s strange to recall the board we’ve created: “human” and “roller” and “crave.” And my “fog.”
Karl has taken one tile extra. As is life, says Karl.
I take the fourth one from his tray, a “z.” Karl doesn’t look away from the gap I’ve made.
He was mouthing “craze,” then changed it to “crane,” his voice gone softer.
I reach for four more tiles, stretch my pinky for the spot where I stashed the “z.”
Karl tightens the bag around my wrist, repeating each word on the board.
Something My Father Showed Me
Karl is having sex with a girl we met at Arby’s. She passed our table with her half eaten box of curly fries. She had no one to share with. Karl stood up, grabbing the tray with one hand. The other he put on her shoulder, said his own name. He asked if she wanted dessert. The three of us got ice cream.
I’m on the porch. A truck backs into the tomato plant with those drawn-out beeps. I want to say how someone had to manufacture that noise for instances like this. I have no one to share this with. I hear the girl’s voice mutter “Karl,” then a few more sounds. I’m on the porch sitting in a blue lawn chair.
Shoeless I scrape my heels on the concrete. I play solitaire. I hold the final card, Ace of Hearts. A kid bunnyhops his bike onto the sidewalk. I say, Wanna see something cool? Of course he does. I grab a clothespin from the neighbor’s line. I pin the final card to his spoke. He rides away and says, This sucks.
Take Three Trains
Out my back door is a train track. I’ve never seen one of these trains, am told they come by when I work. It is 11:16 pm on a Friday and Karl says, It’d be cool to not be here on the double. Then, a train passes by.
The next town is 68-cent fountain pops and the next next town is empty shopping centers and a crowded gun range. And beyond is a community called Normal. We hop off the train into Normal. The moon is a satellite dish and the channels are dark houses with beautiful porchlights.
On the other side of our town is a train track splitting a cow pasture. Karl stands on the back of a cow. I am near a small stream, a cow on each side of me. He does that thing where he puts a hand over his eyebrows and squints. I say, I hear a train coming.
This one goes through more cow pastures. Some of the cows are black and white-spotted like back home, but more and more they are those brown solid ones with the white down their fronts. I have something to say about this, but Karl exchanges gambling stories with two men in strange hats in the boxcar corner.
Again the train track behind my house. Again middle of the night. This time we pack. I bring a box of the granola bars and a jug of water and a book about THE WILD. Karl wraps playing cards and a wad of $1 bills and a sack of circus peanuts in his Little League baseball jersey. Grasping for the dark of the train we leave the packages in the gravel.
Karl and I hold staring contests. I always win. There is no one else on the train. As we pass through Normal, we wave at the porchlights.
Karl At 65
Karl in his cabin in the woods. His retirement checks paperclipped next to the forks. Each day he pulls on a yellow t-shirt and khakis. He walks to the river plucking mushrooms. The smoke from the chimney is the color of his eyes. The cabin echoes a photograph his father carried. He waves through the open front door as if catching fireflies. I’m on the porch with a sack of mushrooms, deciding which way to leave.
Not Sure It’s True
The waitress says, Hey Karl. He nods like a horse testing an electric fence. I want to ask if they have any specials today. Karl orders. He says, We’ll have your largest pizza. Pepperoni. He requests the pepperonis stacked along the edge of the crust. First, we have to work, then we’ll get the meat, he says.
I put in 75 cents. Karl plays the claw game. I say, Thank you for ordering for me. A boy spends a quarter in the gumball machine next to us. The gumball shoots out the flap and rolls into the dust. He puts another quarter in, cupping his hand under the hole. Nothing comes out. He puts a third quarter in. Karl claws a football. The kid chews, smiles. No, thank you, says Karl and hands the boy the football.
A splat behind the counter. Karl worked here last April. He’d take a slice from each pizza, a sackful by end of the shift, one slice left every hundred feet on the walk home. The next day, they’d all be eaten, gone. The boss knew for three days, collecting them for the next day’s buffet. There he is, says Karl, a man rising with an armful of dough behind the counter. He starts spinning it again.
The waitress brings Karl a Coke he didn’t order. She stands how I imagine Karl’s sister did. Sis was more confident, Karl says. I want to tell her I like her apron, how it complements her figure, but I’m not sure it’s true. Karl finishes his Coke. The waitress looks at me and says, Hi there. What can I get you to eat?
What Flies Off
A pickup truck with tinted windows seems to drive itself, I want to say.
But if I open my mouth, I’m not sure what’ll come out. The dust tonight sucks at me for more dust.
Karl squats on the bump the right wheel forces into the bed.
Karl says, If you lean out far enough the breaklights will show you more of what we’re leaving behind.
I puke over the side and notice the truck is red. A necklace of rocks kick up and shine and separate.
Karl pounds on the top of the cab.
We continue for three or four minutes. Karl says, I expected this road to be bumpier, says this three or four times.
The truck stops and I roll onto my back. All I see of the truckbed are the wheel bumps. Karl is missing.
I see a shape made by stars I recognize and then one flies off.
Karl lowers the tailgate. Karl puts a cage with three or four chickens at my feet. Karl says, Pull up your knees so I can close this thing.
Then I fall asleep, the truck not moving.
When I wake up, the truck is still not moving, but the chickens are gone, only a few feathers stuck to the bottom of my shoes.
Tyler Gobble is a member of the Magic Helicopter Press team, lead editor of Stoked Journal, and a contributor with Vouched Books. He is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Goodness is a Fine Thing to Chase, part of The Fullness of Everything featuring Christopher Newgent and Brian Oliu (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012).