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david vardeman

New Fiction


by David Vardeman

      My grandmother raised and protected me and fed me meals with meat and yeast rolls and five side dishes. She used the term Beloved for God. She said that God was her Beloved. Grandma was a country women raised in the mountains and I guess the kind of religion they had there encouraged you to be that familiar with God. Or maybe that was just Grandma. She was warm and affectionate. I’ve wondered what she would think of me now and have been afraid to know.
       If I had a grudge against anyone or I expressed a desire for revenge or to do something spiteful she said to me, “The Beloved of my Beloved is not to treat another in anger.”
      She was saying to me in that roundabout mountain Bible way, “You Floyd are God’s love and you should not behave in a manner unworthy of your Lover’s love.”

                                                                                                * * *

      Tony Calderone is one of the maintenance men for the building where I work. He has jet black hair and light blue eyes. Even his ears are beautiful.
      He got engaged to a woman named Penelope Stockton. Penelope Stockton is rich. Her family owns Stockton Marina. So everybody in our company got invited to the wedding even nobodies like me. Tony Calderone delivered the invitations personally to each employee at Pierson’s. When it was my turn he came right up to my desk and said, “Come to my wedding Floyd. I’m not going to have it unless you come.”
      That’s the way he talks to people like it all hinges on them.
      I summoned all my courage and said, “Tony Calderone.”
      “Yeah what?”
      “I pray you’ll be happy. I want you to be the happiest man on earth. I mean that.”
      He looked at me funny like I’d touched a nerve that’d been aching for a while. “Yeah. Well. Thanks. I appreciate it. So you’re religious?”
      “I guess. I go to church every Sunday.”
      “Just checking.”
      That night my phone rang for the first time in three weeks. Before I could say anything he said, “Yeah, this is Tony. Tony Calderone?”
      Some angel must have told him, “Call the fat man from the office and make him feel good. Say anything. It’ll make him feel good.”
      I felt good. I thanked the angels that looked out for fat men.
      “Is this a bad time?” he said.
      “For you to call? No time is a bad time.”
      He hesitated. I worried I’d made him suspicious.
      “So I called for a reason.”
      “I kind of want to be a religious man now I’m getting married. When you said what you said today about praying for me it touched me. I’ve got to tell you. I thought about it ever since. This crowd I run with they’re not religious. It’s a big joke to them. But I’ve always been kind of interested and I think maybe now’s the time since my life is taking a turn. Yeah. So I’m talking it over with Penelope she’s pretty impressed with what you said about praying for me. So this is what we thought. Here, let me put her on the phone.”
       There was some phone jostling and then Penelope Stockton was on the line.
       “Call me Pony.”
      She handed Tony Caldrone back the phone. I heard her say, “This isn’t going anywhere. You talk to him.”
      “Hey, it’s me again, remember me? Let’s wrap this up. Is tomorrow night OK?”
      “For what?”
      “For you to invite us over.”
      “Over? For what?”
      “We don’t care. Whatever you want to fix.”
      “Sure that sounds great. What the hell is it?”
      “Something I dreamed up.”
      “That’ll be great. We’ll come over and eat that thing you dreamed up, howabout that? Penelope and I are talking to people of various faiths to find out which one we want to be. Sound crazy? Neither of us comes from a religious background and frankly we find religious people disgusting but we want to be one we admire like you.”
      “Her and I we’ve done our share of reckless living and we both feel God or something had a hand in bringing us together.”
      “I have a tiny ugly apartment. I have a bird. He spits seeds.”
      “I’ll win him over in ten seconds. What’s his name?”
      “Diana Ross. I’m nervous,” I said. “I’ve never represented my faith before.”
      “Floy-doy Floy-doy Floy-doy sure you have every day you just don’t know it. Of all the people I know you’re the kindest and gentlest. I’ve admired you for years. Of all the people at work you stand out and not just because you’re huge no offense. What time?”
      “What time what?”
      “Seven? I live at 72 Morningside third floor.”
      “Is there an elevator?
      “No. Sorry.”
      “Shit. Sorry.”
      “For what?”
      “Saying ‘shit.’ Sorry. OK g’bye.”

                                                                                                * * *

      After he’d hung up I dusted the furniture four times. Every time I finished I sat down on the couch to relax but then I thought I saw dust collecting again because it’s a losing battle like the one against aging and loneliness. Dust comes from everywhere constantly. Whole cities civilizations get buried under dust because people are too lazy to get up off their butts and take care of it. I’d be OK for a few minutes but then my dust rag hand would start twitching again. It has a life of its own.
      I was so upset I forget whether I’d eaten so I ate again. I had cornflakes and a bloody Mary but that didn’t satisfy me so I had a pickle and then I saw my leftovers from when I’d eaten earlier so I ate those.

                                                                                                * * *

      I am very quiet they say but I sound loud to myself. The last time I had anyone over was seven years ago. I invited the Pastor Merritt and Mrs. Pastor Merritt over to thank him for doing the eulogy at Grandma’s funeral. Over dinner Pastor Merritt kept saying in his stern pulpit voice, “Speak up, Boy, speak up. Who can hear you?” I yelled as loud as I could at him, “I’m not angry with you, Sir, so I do not know why I should have to shout but if you want me to I will.”
      Mrs. Merritt shot me a smile quick as a shot and then glanced at her husband who stretched his cuffs. None of us spoke the rest of the meal.
      I don’t like having company. I have a hard time guessing how people want me to act and what they want me to say when they pause for me to speak.

                                                                                                * * *

      When Tony Calderone and Penelope Stockton rang at seven sharp and I opened the door they looked in like they wondered if we’d all fit inside. Then Tony slapped me in the back and that made me cough and he said, “Hey Man thanks for having us over. I’m glad we didn’t have anything planned and could come.”
      I shuffled backward. “I’m sorry it had to be so last minute. Come in come in.” My voice shook.
      “What? I can’t hear you,” Penelope said in a loud voice.
      “He said we could come in,” Tony said in a loud voice.
      “Oh OK. Well let’s do that.”
      “You’re both so beautiful,” I said.
      Penelope wrinkled her nose like I’d touched her backside and it was repulsive that someone like me would do it but it was flattering too. “Thanks.”
      She took her purse off her shoulder and flung it to the couch. Then she gave me her hand like it was something dead she’d found in the hallway and I was supposed to get rid of it in a hurry.
      “You’re very quiet,” she said.
      “Have a seat wherever you want.”
      “I’ll sit where I can keep an eye on my purse thanks. Tony told me one of the first things he noticed about you is how soft-spoken you are.”
      “Yeah,” Tony said, “most fat people are loud but you’re not. That was a nice surprise.” He thrust a bottle of wine at me and I was glad because I needed something to do with my hands.
      “This is a nice color,” I said.
      “So where’s this bird that spits seeds?” Tony said. “I want to have a talk with it. Hey Baby guess what Floyd named his bird.”
      “You’ll never believe it.”
      “What? What?”
      “Diana Ross.”
      “What did I tell you you wouldn’t believe it.”
      “But I do believe it. I do.”
      “Where is she?” Tony said.
      “He,” I said.
      “He?” Penelope said. She squealed. “You named a boy bird Diana Ross? I guess it kind of makes sense. She is kind of draggy faggy with that freaked out up-your-ass drag queen mop of hair when she sings with Lionel Ritchie.”
      “I put up a picture of my grandmother today.”
      Penelope shot up out of her seat when she heard that. “Where? Where? I love pictures of old people. I’m a photographer.”
      Tony took the bottle of wine away from me and took the three steps into my kitchenette to uncork it and pour us each a serving. The wine looked funny in the orange plastic tumblers I’d set for us.
      “Is this her? Oh, she’s cute. Look at that little smile. And that powdered wig kind of hairdo. That’s that old lady kind of hairdo that makes old ladies look like George Washington. Look Tony! Floyd’s Grandma looks like one of those ladies that looks like the father of our country. Come look.”
      Tony came and handed Penelope her wine. “Here Baby drink this.”
      He turned his attention to Grandma. “Yeah,” he said. “How about that, Floyd. That’s your grandma huh? Yours looks like a President. You’re lucky. Mine looks like Dean Martin at 6 a.m.”
      “It’s true it’s true it’s true,” Penelope said. She nodded her head fast and laughed. They both liked the wine and were glad to have some. I tried to calm down by being glad the wine was something they liked.
      We all sat down. I sat down by Penelope’s purse and then Tony came and sat by me and Penelope was already sitting in the stuffed chair on the other side of the TV tray that’s my coffee table. The arrangement felt weird but was fine by me but I thought as the host I’d better say something. “Here Penelope.”
      “Pony let’s change places. You sit by Tony.”
      “No. I’m fine right here in this comfy jelly-roll of a chair.”
      I suddenly got it. “Oh, I get it. You chose Pony as your nickname to rhyme with Tony.”
      “No. Pony is my given name, not a nickname. Penelope is my nickname.” She sipped her wine.
      I said, “There’s something I’ve never told anyone.”
      Pony looked straight at me. “You can tell me. All kinds of people confide in me the weirdest kind of stuff and I’ve never busted out laughing or repeated any of the hilarious things people’ve told me. Not once in three years.”
      “I sucked my thumb until I was thirty-three.”
      She squinted. “Why did you stop?”
      “I don’t remember.”
      “My God that’s the interesting part and you forgot? But you’ve got a nice shaped head really. You’ve got beautiful symmetry. May I?”
      “May you what?”
      “Touch your head. I love to touch beautiful things.”
      “You think my head is beautiful?”
      “Beautiful? Beautiful? Come on, it’s not beautiful it’s perfect. I mean I love the head on this guy Tony don’t you?”
      Tony slapped his knees and looked around. “Where’s this Diana Ross anyway?”
      “Answer me Tony! Isn’t his head perfect?”
      “If you think I’m going to sit around and talk about how perfect the guy’s head is that you’ve got your hands all over and watch it too you’ve got a stink coming.”
      “I — I don’t think she means literally to put her hands on my head.”
      “Oh yes I do. Here I come.”
      Tony got up and let Pony sit down next to me. She threw her purse under the TV tray. She put one hand under my chin and cupped the other behind my head and turned my head various ways looking at it. Tony looked too. He cocked his head. Pony got up and we changed places so she could see my head from the other side. Then she got up and stood behind the couch and saw my head from back there and above. I thought any second she’d start laughing but she was dead serious. She truly admired the shape of my head. Nobody said anything while she was admiring my head and the silence made the beauty of my head all the more official.
       Tony gave me the thumbs up. “She really likes it Man.”
      “I could photograph you you know. It’s all the better that you don’t have much hair. What does hair matter when the skull is as perfect as a lightbulb?” Pony said.
      “Diana Ross is in my bedroom. I covered him up so he wouldn’t make noise. He’s probably asleep. If you see a stiff cat on my bed it is not dead it is just stiff.”
      “No. He’s alive.”
      “Tony! Tony!” Pony shouted as he walked the few steps to my bedroom.
      “Is it this door?”
      “You don’t mind if I poke around in your inner sanctum?”
      “Turn on the light.”
      “Tony!” Pony whimpered. Her hair was so fine and straight and shiny it appeared to be a single bolt of silk, not made up of individual strands. “You don’t really mind if I feel Floyd’s head do you?”
      “Naw Babe I was only joking. You know I love to scare you. But it’s all joking.”
      “It doesn’t feel like joking. It’s mean.” She continued to use the pathetic voice. She’d sat down beside me on my right and taken up my head again. “I fall for it every time.”
      “Aw Pussy Cat” he said. “What’s Pussy Cat’s name again?”
      “Death Warmed Over.”
      “Aw geez.”
      “It was a joke at the time. He was in good health then.”
      “You men and your jokes,” Pony said.
      “Do you really think my head is beautiful?”
      “As a shape,” she said.
      “What about the features?”
      “The shape is so beautiful.”
      “Nobody’s ever described anything about me as beautiful.”
      “So many things about you are beautiful Floyd. This is my philosophy as an artist: the desire to see someone as beautiful is promptly rewarded.’ That’s my philosophy. Check it out. Try it yourself. If you look close,” she brought her nose close to mine and my eyes were about to cross, “at individual parts of people you’ll be amazed what you find buried there.”
      Pony not only continued to explore my head but to drink as well.
       “I am now going to see other parts of you as beautiful. Oh my God. Any newborn baby would kill to have skin this soft. Hey Tony?”
      “Yeah hun?”
      “Floyd is really beautiful.”
      “Zat so?”
      “I mean really beautiful. There’s this little bit of his eye that’s just about the prettiest little bit of any eye I’ve ever seen.”
      “Hey Floyd you sure this cat is alive? I can’t find any pulse.”
      “You know Floyd if certain of your features were isolated or eliminated entirely or arranged with more discipline the features themselves could be on par with the shape of your head. Or if like if one of your features was put on somebody else’s face. But what you have cannot be torn apart can it. Why even dream of having your face torn apart?”
      “Hey Cutie.” Tony had found Diana Ross and uncovered his cage and was whistling and verbally chucking him under the beak. “Hey chickie chickie wake up now it’s Uncle Tony AW SHIT. Sorry.”
      I stood.
      “Stay put,” Pony demanded and pulled me down.
      “Diana Ross just spit in my face.”
      “I was afraid he would,” I said.
      “Pony said. “Listen to him it was just a little bird seed in his face and he gets hysterical. Hey Hon! What about your manliness?”
      “Hey what about it?”
      “How does it figure in when a bird spits in your face and you scream?”
      “I’m going to put soap and water on my face.” Tony came out of my room looking winded and demoralized.
      Pony twisted around. “What is the big deal Tummy Rub?”
      “That bird pecks on its shit sorry.”
      “Why do you keep saying ‘shit sorry’?”
      “Because our host here is a gentleman that’s why.”
      “Really?” Pony said. She looked at me and hiked one eyebrow.
      “The bathroom’s through there,” I said.
      “How would you like it if Diana Ross pecked shit and spit in your face? What if you had seed and shit stuck in your precious eyelashes?”
      “Oh that is so condescending. I would quietly walk in there and lather up.” She poked me. “Have you noticed how men flare up over the tiniest little bit of nothing? That is why we have wars. This is it right here. This is like the perfect demonstration of why wars happen and this planet is about to blow sky high. You see it right here: Diana Ross spits in another little boy’s face and he’s ready to kill him. Sometimes I think you quiet soft-spoken harmless gentlemen have it all over the grunt grunt men.”
      “But many of us are flaccid.”
      “What does that matter? You!” Pony pointed at Tony, “get in there and get soaping.”
      “Don’t order me around. You think I can’t take spit in my face? I’ll show you who can take spit in his face.”
      “Floyd wants you to wash your face.”
       “Floyd do you want me to wash my face?”
      “I want you to do what works for you.”
      “See how that works?” he said to Pony. “Men just naturally know how to let other men decide about their own hygiene. Men make each other feel good about being men. Women try to undercut that. That’s all they do.”
      “Oh yeah? If men make each other feel so good why do they come to women to feel good?” Her eyes were wide. They had a triumphant gleam.
      A rubbery artery pulsed on Tony’s neck. His face was red. “Men don’t come to women to feel good. They come out of pity to give them back a piece of what they’ve lost.”
      “Lost? What have women lost?”
      “Thank about it Penelope. What do men have that women don’t?”
      “The guilt for all the wars and most of the crimes in history.”
      “Is anyone hungry?” I said.

                                                                                                * * *

      Tony never did wash his face but he did wash his hands at the kitchen sink. Pony poured her third tumbler of wine and Tony his second. I made them vacate the kitchenette and wander the apartment and drink while I put the finishing touches on our dinner. I had stewed prunes because no meal is complete without them. I had learned that from Grandma. I had a new jar of sweet pickles, red Jell-O with cinnamon red hots in it, and a beautiful purple eggplant. The sampans were colorful and beautiful. They are hot-dogs split open and fried. As a final touch I melt cheese on them. Then come the exotic drink umbrellas I stick into the sampans.
      Pony went into my bedroom to love on Diana Ross. Tony went with her. Pony made clucking sounds but then she shouted, “You dipstick,” and Tony said, “See? Who’s so tough now with the spit and shit hitting her? See? It’s not such a pleasure ride it is.”
      “You’re right Hon. That damned bird’s a menace.”
      “Are you OK?” he said.
      “No thanks to Diana Ross. I think that bird is laughing at me.”
      “Birds can’t laugh.”
      “This one can. Look. Look at its beak. It’s laughing at me. Hey Buster you better wipe that smile off your beak!”
      “Whoa! Back down Hon. You’re overboard. It’s only a bird.”
      “It’s not a bird. It’s a shit shooter.”
      “Sh. Sh.”
      “Oh yeah I forgot our host is a gentleman.” She raised her voice to make sure I heard this but she was already speaking so loudly I could have heard her from the hall.
      “You can say that word if you want,” I called out.
      “Listen to him,” Pony said. “Isn’t that cute? He won’t even say it. He calls it ‘that word.’ You’re so doggone cute I’m going to come out there and examine your ears.”
      “She means it too,” Tony shouted. “She’s pretty exploratory.”
      “Explorational,” she said.
      They came out of my bedroom holding hands.
      “Explorational?” he said. “Is that a word?”
      “No. Duh. It’s a tennis racket. Of course it’s a word. What do you think? Words come out of our mouths. We say them.”
      “No. I mean a real word that professors and shit would use.”
      Pony opened her mouth to a huge O and gave me a wink. “That’s ‘that word’ again. It’s around more than flies on —” She winked again. “Hey, Everybody. I know! Let’s wink every time we come to ‘that word’ in stead of saying it!”
      “Wow it looks like Floyd can really cook. Look at all that smoke!”
      “Brace yourself Floyd! I’m coming to examine your ears!”
      Both of them had had plenty to drink in a hurry.
      I moved the sampans onto our plates and jabbed the umbrellas in and said, “OK dinner’s served. Pony you’re blue, Tony you’re yellow, and I’m pink.”
      “Sensitive men of the new millennium aren’t afraid of pink,” Pony said. “Pink is the new red bad of courage. I hope more and more men get next to pink.”
      “You’re drunk,” Tony pointed out. “I hope you know what you’re saying.”
      “Pink pink pink,” she said. “I’m saying, ‘Pink.’”
      When they came past the divider and saw what was actually on the table doing all that smoking they both stopped and said, “Wow!”
       “You’re just saying that,” I said.
      “No. I really mean it Man. Wow!”
      “Yeah really wow,” Pony said.
      “Do you see all the colors? I know the chef isn’t supposed to brag but do you see all the colors?”
      “I sure see them,” Pony said. “Do you see them Hon?”
      “Yeah I see plenty of colors.”
      “Let’s count them,” Pony said. “You count them Hon. I want to look in Floyd’s ears.”
      Tony said, “I’ll sit if nobody minds. Sampans? Is that what you mean by sampans? Little fancy weenie boats? Man this is so —” He couldn’t think of a word. He gasped. “Aw Man what am I thinking? Where are my table manners? I meant to pull out your seat like a gentleman Dear but I completely forgot and sat down. I think I’m going to stay down.”
      “That’s OK Sugar Baby. Floyd can do the honors.”
      She was busy running her index finger lightly around inside my right ear. She was so close I could feel her breath on my neck.
      “Yes. Those are sampans,” I said. “I invented them.”
      “No kidding. Come to think of it I’ve never see them in a restaurant.”
      “I could look at your ear for hours,” Pony said. “It’s a fascinating ear. I’ll continue to look at it while you two eat if you don’t mind. Remember how you used to pull your ear out when you were a kid and shine a flashlight through it and all the other kids were entertained because they saw the light through your ear?”
      “I never did that,” I said.
      “Sure you did.”
      “You’re going to miss a lot if you spend all dinner looking in Floyd’s ear Hon.”
      “Floyd doesn’t mind do you Floyd? Look at him. The skin inside his ear is silky smooth like a pearl. You wouldn’t have any trouble getting dates if women looked in your ears Floyd. Do women ever look in your ears?” She kissed me on the cheek. “I’m done looking in your ear. Thanks. I am kind of hungry I guess. Let’s eat. Oh my God is that an eggplant? Oh my God! This bottle of wine we brought is big as a fire hydrant and it’s almost empty.”
      “Penelope likes her grape. You got a spare bottle?”
      “No no no. There’s enough here for another tumbler. That’s enough for me. You can just do without Sweet Meat.”
      “Floyd be the man. Pull her chair out.”
      “Well would you look at that. Isn’t that the cutest little thing. Have you ever seen such a cute entree? Tony? I haven’t. I’m wild about this meal. This meal is about color and taste and adventure. This meal is all about sailing down the Yahtzee River and seeing eggplants in native hands.”
      Penelope squatted and I pushed her up to the table. She tilted to the left.
      “Hon don’t fall out of your chair there.”
      “Am I?”
      “I’ll say grace,” I said.
      “Would you? Aw, that’s so sweet of you. Shall we hold hands? Tony take my hand. Floyd take my hand. You boys hold hands.”
      Tony held his muscly rough hand out to me and I took it. I closed my eyes and bowed my head and all I could see was white. I fished for a thought beyond the feel of my beautiful Tony’s hand in mine and trusted that when I opened my mouth the right words would come out and they did. I prayed, “God you are our Beloved and we are your Beloved. Feed us and forgive us. We are grateful. In Jesus’ name we pray Amen.”
      “Amen,” Pony said. She sniffled. “That was the most beautiful prayer ever. Hey! You’re going to pray that prayer at our wedding! You are!”
      “You can let go of my hand Man.”
      “Oh sorry.”
      Pony cut her fork into her sampan and put the slice in her mouth and chewed and chewed and chewed and smiled at the same time and dipped her head to swallow and then said, “This thing is rubbery like scallops and I love scallops so I am going to pretend I am eating scallops.”
      Tony looked at her. He had moist love in his eyes. He was thinking he was the luckiest man on earth to be marrying a beautiful blond. He was thinking it didn’t take an act of will or study of her small parts to see his beloved as beautiful.
      Pony was right-handed but continued to feed herself with her left so that Tony could caress her right hand. She wasn’t very good at working with her left hand and missed skewering her next piece of sampan and then missed her mouth with the fork and forked her chin and screamed.
      “There’s something in that piece!”
      Tony kissed her hand and said, “Babe I love you so much with your artistic temperament.”
      “Keep me out of the gutter Baby keep me out of the gutter with your love that’s all I ask.”
      “Is the food good?” I said.
      But they were lost in each other and didn’t hear.
      Pony put her finger in the cleft of Tony’s chin. “I can’t stop looking at you. My eyes are sewed to your face. I don’t think I’m going to be able to look away. If you leave me you’ll pull the eyes right out of my head.”
      Tony got up and walked out of the kitchenette to a place where Pony couldn’t see him and Pony put her hands over her eyes and kicked her feet like a baby throwing a tantrum and screamed, “No! No! You’ve yanked my eyes right out of my head. Now I don’t want to live.”
      Tony hopped back into the kitchen and spread his arms and said, “Babe I’m back!”
      “Yay! Yay!” Pony took her hands from her eyes and clapped. “I’m healed! Yay! Now I can see again. Now I know what they mean by that darned old cliché ‘a sight for sore eyes.’ That’s you Loverboy. You can feed my fish any day of the week.”
      “Who wants eggplant?”
      Pony pouted and went back to eating.
      “Who wants pickles? There’s Jell-O. We’ve got chips in a bowl.”
      Pony perked up. “Are they fried in canola oil?”
      “They are not fried. They are hot-flashed,” I said. “Hot flashing is something new. You can read about the process on the bag.”
      “Maybe later. I’ll have some of those chips though.”
      “You did a bang-up job on this Jell-O,” Tony said. “Look at this Jell-O Hon.” He cut some Jell-O and put it on her plate.
      “Oh my God! You’re right Tony. That is a beautiful piece of Jell-O. And it’s mine all mine. I can’t take my eyes off it. Look at that pretty red color. Look at the light shining through it just like your ear when you shined the flashlight through it when you were a kid Floyd!” She shook it with her fork. “I can’t possibly eat this. It’s too beautiful. I can’t take my eyes off it. If I ate this beautiful piece of Jell-O I’d have to eat my eyes too because they would follow it right in.”
      “But we really came here to discuss the meaning of life,” Tony said.
      “Why did you put this beautiful Jell-O on my plate so that now I have to eat my eyes?”
      “Babe I guarantee you you’ll wake up tomorrow feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck but your eyes will still be in your head. Life is a serious deal. Let’s think about that for a while instead of how you’re going to get out of eating your eyes OK?”
      That sobered her up. “Why is everything in this meal kind of rubbery?” she said. “Was that intentional?”
      “The dessert will not be rubbery.”
      “I can hardly wait to get to dessert. My jaws are aching. They’re killing me. They’ve never been this tired.”
      “I’ll fix dessert.”
      “What are we having?” Pony asked.
      Pony was eating with gusto now. She shoveled it in and breathed hard. “I’m earning my dessert,” she said.
      “Hon now you’re a maniac.”
      She held her hands on top her head and waved them. “Now what am I?”
      “You’re a rabbit,” Tony said.
      “I forgot the syringe,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
      “Where do you keep your syringes Floydie?”
      “In the bathroom.”
      “You should keep them in the kitchen. It would save you a step or two. Bring the whole package in.”
      “I might.”
      I came back with just the one I was about to use. Pony was disappointed. “Ah Floydie should listen to Pony.”
      “We’re done eating this stuff,” Tony said. “It was some meal. Man. You could taste every bit of it. It was tasty. That food was what food is all about.”
      “Didn’t I tell you this meal was about an adventure?” Pony said. “About Mystery and Change and New Life?”
      “You hit a bull’s eye every time you open your mouth, Babe. You’ve got a sure-fire tongue.”
      I cleared the table and brought the plate of Twinkies out of the refrigerator and set them on the table.
      “Watch this,” Pony said and bounced with excitement like she knew what was coming.
      I put the can of chocolate syrup on the table and said, “We are having another of my specialties called Injected Twinkies.” I put the needle in the can and filled the syringe with chocolate syrup and then gave each of the three holes in the top of each Twinkie a shot.
      “Oh look Tony he’s mainlining chocolate syrup into the little toot holes. I call those little round spots on the tops of Twinkies toot holes.”
      “Oh Man that is so clever. I never would have thought to do that to my Twinkies.”
      “I couldn’t figure out what else to do with these syringes. I bought them on a whim in the pharmacy one day.”
      “I do that,” Pony said. “Buy things I can’t use and figure out later how to use them. I call it Inspiration Shopping.”
      “You can each take a syringe home with you if you like and then figure out what to do with it.”
      “Not me Man. I’m scared to death of needles.”
      “Me too,” Pony said. “Even though I like to watch people gets shots like on doctor and emergency programs. Do you ever read true crime books? Like about brutal slayings and shit? I guarantee you if you read one brutal true crime slaying book you’ll never read anything else. You’ll be hooked for life. You’ll be a changed man. I’m thinking of writing one myself. I just need to find a really gruesome crime to call my own.”
      “I think we should talk about spiritual things pretty soon,” I said.
      “Yeah like I’m serious about that too. God and stuff. Let’s go there while we eat our Injected Twinkies.”
      “Like I said,” Tony said, “we’re trying to get serious about some kind of faith.”
      “But not too TOO serious,” Pony chimed in. “We still want to have good times and laughs and shit like tonight. Good clean fun but fun. We want faith and fun. A nice mix. Like those churches with gyms and bus trips and sports teams. You know what I mean. We’ll take our God with some fun please. I just want to know one thing. Let me see if I can get this out without choking up.” She pressed her hand to her chest and closed her eyes to calm herself. “OK. What does it mean when they say God created us in His own image? I kind of don’t get it and that’s beat the crap out of me for years.”
      “Good damned Twinkie by the way,” Tony said. He pounded his fist on the table. “Damn good.”
      “Oh so good SO good,” Pony said.
      “‘In His image’ means with emotions,” I said. “At least that’s how I interpret it.”
      Pony bunched her mouth to help her concentrate: “With emotions. With emotions. Hmmm. With emotions.”
      “Didn’t I tell you this guy’s thought about some pretty serious shit? Man! Hmmm. He’s pounded out some subjects our gang’s never heard of. You don’t get into this stuff unless you’re bona fide.”
      She nodded. “Yeah yeah yeah I mean like we want the smiling God of the ‘suffer the little children’ picture. You know the positive juiced-up God not the stuck-up hellfire and damnation finger-pointer. We want the with-it God. The today God. Not the yesteryear God. We’re not nostalgiacs. Shoot up another Twinkie for me.”
      “And we want our children to be upstanding citizens,” Tony said. “You know moral and all that, not potheads that pull some of the shit Penelope and me did. We want our kids to know religion.”
      “We’re not talking Scientology. Or Kaballa or Satanism,” Pony said. “None of the freak shit. I keep forgetting to wink. Sorry. ‘Shit’ just comes right out. It so natural off the tongue you know?”
       “Here’s your Twinkie.”
       “Thank you so much. And I’d like to keep them away from Wicca although I know all little kids go through a wand and fairy phase.”
      “So what it really boils down to,” Tony said, “is we want something major. A real contender religion. You know one of the major religions with the God with the capital ‘g.’ Not some small ‘g’ for god religion. None of that half pagan half powderpuff shit I mean. You’re looking a little strung out there Floyd.”
      Pony said, “It’s because you come on strong Tony. You know what kind of God we want Floydie: a good sport with high ideals and a vision.”
      “A safe investment,” Tony added.
      “A team player?” I said.
      Tony hit the table. “Man! You got the words. They come right out of your mouth. He’s the man with the words Hon.”
      Pony said, “ We’ve talked about what kind of big g God we want. Now what kind of God can you give us?”
      I stuttered:
      “I — I — I used to call Grandma every night at bedtime to tell her goodnight. But one night she didn’t answer and instead of going over there I went to bed and the next day the lady next door, Frida, went in and found Grandma lying on the basement floor. She’d hit her head on the concrete and her head had bled and stuck to the floor in the dried blood.”
      “Was it a crime?” Pony said.
      “She wasn’t dead. But she never recovered. She never spoke to me again. The doctor said she could speak. But she wouldn’t. She shook her head ‘no’ no matter what I said to her. She died a few days later. Every day I beg God to forgive me for not going over to check on her. Grandma would have checked on me. She was lying on the basement floor all night waiting for me to come check on her. And that’s the God I have to give you.”
      Pony scooted forward. “What? What God? I missed it.”
      “The God I pray to every day.”
      “Man she’d be gone by now anyway wouldn’t she?” Tony said.
      “Well then your sentence would be up. Right? Man get over it. Your crime — if it was a crime —”
      “Neglect,” I said.
      “— whatever — it’d be off the books by now.”
      “Yeah Floydie. Get over it. She’d be dead by now. Sweet little old George Washington-looking lady.”
      “I was her beloved.” I wept. Fat men are laughable when they cry. But I couldn’t help what I looked like to them. “She would have done better for me. That’s the God I have to give you. The only God there is. The one that would drop everything and come to you. The one Grandma was like and I wasn’t. The one I miss.”

                                                                                                * * *

      They did not want to take with them the God I offered them. My God’s not juiced up, He just keeps me company and encourages me to do better than I might be inclined to do.
      Surely by now He’s forgiven me for thinking that one night, “I’m so tired of calling Grandma. She never has anything to say. What’ll it matter if I miss one night and go on to bed?”
      He’s forgiven me but every day I live my life over again. I have the same sorrow in my heart each day and so I have to ask for His forgiveness again and again and I guess I’ll be asking till the day I die.
      Sometimes a person’s life is only one long day. The same day over again every day.
      But the day Tony and Pony came to dinner with me was a different day for once. It was nice because it was different and because it was Tony. And it was nice because it was part of a new kind of day I could live over in my mind.
      “This has been one of the nicest evenings in my entire life and I’ll never forget all you’ve done for me,” I said as they were leaving and Pony hugged me and Tony shook my hand and slapped me on the back and said, “Hey yeah it was fun we’ll do it again real soon,” but he didn’t really mean it for himself and Pony. But for me he was right. I would do it again over and over in my mind.
      The chair he sat in for supper would forever be Tony’s chair.
      As soon as I’d shut the door and done a little cleaning I put on a tape called “Island Romance” and picked up Death Warmed Over and carried him to the couch and set him in my lap and turned out the lights.
      I cried and when I’d had enough of that I went in and turned on the lights and uncovered Diana Ross’s cage and he stretched his legs and his wings and chirped because he thought it was morning. Silly bird. I loved that silly budgie thinking it was morning at ten o’clock at night. What does he know? I’ve got to protect the little budgie, he’s so easily fooled. I get tears in my eyes when I think of that bird because if someone besides me owned him they might hurt him. What if someone else had Diana Ross and hurt him? I’d get so angry with that other person I might stalk him and kill him. But that wouldn’t do.
      I teach Diana Ross words. I put my lips up to his little budgie cheek, lip to cheek on the left side. I hum and he presses to my lips to pick up the vibrations. He makes a low vibrating bird sound. He bounces his head and gets cocky. Then I say a word over and over and he listens while I put the vibrations into him and then he starts practicing and after a while he’s able to say the word.
      His talking sounds like bird throat-clearing. I’ve taught him to say, “Floyd,” and, “Diana Ross.” He says the syllables of his name very distinctly.
      I took him out of his cage and took him perched on my finger to the living room and sat with him on the couch. Death Warmed Over looked up and yawned.
      I’ve taught Diana Ross to say whole sentences. His longest is eight syllables. That night I taught him to say, “Beloved,” and, “Tony,” and, “Beloved Tony,” together. I felt happy afterward. I was still so happy the next day that I did something stupid.
      I called Tony and when he answered I nudged Diana Ross and Diana Ross said, “Beloved Tony,” and Tony said, “Man Floyd is that you?”

David Vardeman is a native of Iowa and a graduate of Indiana University Southeast and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His one-act play plays have been staged by New England Academy of Theatre, Bellarmine College, Acorn Theatre’s Maine Playwrights’ Festival, Mad Lab Theatre in Columbus, Ohio, and the Theater Company of Lafayette, Colorado. His full-length play “Because It is Bitter, and Because It is My Heart” was one of six finalists at the Palm Springs International Playwriting Festival in 2004 and received a staged reading. His short fiction has appeared in “Crack the Spine,” “Glint Literary Journal,” “Life As An [insert label here],” “Little Patuxent Review,” and “Menacing Hedge.” He lives in Portland, Maine.

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