Topless and potbellied, Elmer glugs on a beer. He is sprawled across the butterscotch sofa. Still, he listens for Pinky, for the girl who hides above him. The plunks of her remote control. A
toilet’s swill. A closing cupboard. Elmer, though, only finds bleak silence.
His door unlocks, the hinges keening.
Reggie shuffles through. He strips off his loafers and wriggles his toes. Reggie points to the brew. “How many you had?”
Elmer pats his belly. “Only, like, two,” he says, and belches. “Maybe three. Is it a sin to be a drunk like me?”
Elmer always becomes amped when tossing jest and jabs at his cousin.
“Enough,” Reggie says.
“Am I going to burn? Am I going to catch fire?” Elmer gut-chuckles. “Ha! I’m going to hell!” he shouts.
Reggie folds his arms. “No. You’ll be fine. I pray for you because you won’t pray for yourself.”
“We’re all going to be dead, like, just asleep. Cold in the ground.”
Reggie sits by Elmer’s feet. He says, “You can believe what you want to believe and I can believe what I want to believe.”
Elmer stammers, “You’re too good, Reg. You’re too wound up. Like a nun. I mean…don’t you wanna be bad sometimes…just a little.”
Reggie’s face softens and quickly becomes void. “No.”
Swigging back the last of his beer, Elmer burps again. He toe-taps his cousin-laughs once more-springs up-locks an arm around Reggie-wrestles him to the rug.
“Let me go!” Reggie squeals, amid giggles.
“Not till you’re bad. Not till you swear. You have to say something.”
“Just say ‘shit.’”
“Say ‘ass’. Say ‘asshole’.”
“Get off me!”
“Swear, then,” Elmer commands.
Gasping, tittering, wheezing, coughing, Reggie finally whispers, “Shit.”
Elmer rouses with victory. “Ha! See! It’s easy, right?”
“I’m just having fun. Don’t add this one to your list. Okay? Don’t. It’s my fault.”
Elmer says, “You haven’t said anything about my sign out front.”
“So…you’re running for president?”
“Yeah. I’d do better than those dickholes they got. Bunch of liars.”
Reggie asks, “Okay. What party have you joined?”
“Neither. They both blow. I’m starting my own party. I’m checking the box that says ‘other’ and I’m writing in my own name.”
“What would you do as president?”
Elmer drums his paunch. “I’d feed the hungry. I’d kill AIDS. I’d build houses for bums. I’d make the USA…awesome.”
“Then I’d vote for you.” Reggie plops down on a vinyl hassock.
Elmer asks, “Are you registered?”
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think so. No.”
“That’s a sin.”
“Yes, Reg. You want these jerks running our country?” Elmer asks.
“I guess not. No. I’ll register. Promise. For real.”
Elmer scratches his armpits. “You better, cous.”
“Do me a favor. Come with me to a wedding next Friday? I hate going alone.”
“Who has a wedding on a Friday?”
“These people, I guess.”
Elmer asks, “Who are these people?”
“Don’t know them,” Reggie says. “But I know that she’s gonna have these glass angel things and a glittery carpet thing. I heard them talking with Father Fink.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll go.”
Reggie glances at the VCR’s flaring, gleaming digital clock. “It’s 10:10. Time to make a wish.”
I have watched this ritual, since they were small boys. Reggie is dazzled by double digits as if they are charmed. A chance for prospect. He has always begged Elmer to join him. I do know that, despite his protests, Elmer enjoys this.
Reggie pleads, “Come on. We only have a minute. Please?”
I see both boys lid their eyes. While the room becomes hushed, they cast out their wishes with clamped fists and earnest souls.
After some time, Elmer finally asks, “What did you wish for?”
“For Christ to forgive me,” Reggie replies.
“He doesn’t have to forgive you because you haven’t done anything wrong. You always ask for the same thing.”
“Well, I really want it to come true. What did you wish for?”
“Well, you always wish for the same thing too.”
“Did you get a walk today?”
Elmer’s shoulders hike up, then flop back down. “Nope.”
I feel Elmer bury his fuss, his worry, his defeat.
Reggie whispers, “There’s something wrong with her. I mean no one is perfect, but…”
“She’s just scared.”
Elmer flicks his hand. “She’s agoraphobic. I looked it up. I think she’s getting better, though. She is.”
“Maybe she’ll come out tomorrow,” Reggie says.
“Maybe,” Elmer replies, guzzling a new can of beer.
“Can we watch my show?”
“I wanted to see the debates again. Funny. I didn’t get an invitation.”
“Fine.” Elmer nabs the remote control and presses the ‘ON’ button. News of five more heat-soaked days dart across the screen.
Elmer says, “Global warming. Also a sin.” He clicks by sitcoms, reruns and a breast cancer commercial. To channel fifty-eight.
The boys watch a dark round, roaring man howl to a pack of elders, screaming with threats of damnation, loneliness. Reverend Rockwell thrusts his hands into space. He howls, “The Lord will absolve you! The Lord will embrace you. He looks beyond cruelty, spite, malice, sloth. HE knows that we are faulty. We fall. We fail. We create ruin. We make a thousand mistakes every single day…and it’s okay…because the Lord will welcome YOU!”
Reverend Rockwell conjures roars and loud, loud ‘amens’.
I see them listen.
I see them watch.
Read Michael’s exclusive essay for STORGY: ‘I’ve Learned a Thing or Two: Lessons from My First Novel’
Look out for our STORGY Exclusive publication of Michael Grave’s new short story ‘Jump Rope Girls’ on Friday 26th October.
Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications and anthologies. Visit his official website: www.michaelgravesauthor.com.
To purchase a copy of Parade and/or Dirty One click on the images below:
Reggie Lauderdale suffers from a crisis of faith. His cousin, Elmer Mott, dreams of becoming their hometown mayor. Both boys are stuck in suburbia trying to be adults… but they aren’t sure how to bethemselves yet. When a twist of fate sends them fleeing in a stolen limousine, the cousins escape to Florida where they meet a retired televangelist, who inspires them on a path of glitzy sermons and late night parties. But are the celebrations sincere or deceptive? And who is keeping tabs? Who is watching?
Parade is a tour-de-force, comic tale of religion and government.
Set in the 1980’s, Dirty One follows a pack of adolescent characters who live in the acid-drenched, suburban town known as Leominster, Massachusetts—the plastics capital of America, as well as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. In the story, “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch has his first homosexual tongue kiss during a monster truck show and, after a bout of the flu, he is convinced he has somehow contracted AIDS. With “Curls and Curls,” nine-year-old Lee hates his kinky, brown head of hair and is seemingly possessed with magic, casting spells to unfurl his evil tresses. In “A Snow Day,” eleven-year-old Cassidy longs to be the next mega-watt, teen pop star, but is forced to deal with her crazy classmates, her gay father, and her dog that continually vomits in the driveway. “Do It” follows a tween named Denise as she seeks her first sexual experience with a boyfriend who can never remain erect. Denise strives for high school greatness while her gay best friend is crowned king of all local paper routes. These selections join five more, constructing the remarkable world of Dirty One.
Read more of Michael’s fiction below:
Eclectica – ‘Black Doll’
Soft Cartel – ‘The Keepers’
Post Road Magazine – ‘Balloons’
You can find and follow Michael at:
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
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EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
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