A Slick Six from Camouflage Country

by Ryan Ridge & Mel Bosworth

Istanbul
Outside birds dive-bombed cats. Cats pissed and moaned. Their alliance with dogs had meant nothing. The dogs didn’t care. They’d abandoned their owners, returned to the woods, and rekindled their fellowship with bears. The bears slept through the spring that spring with the dogs at their sides. Speaking of sides, everyone had picked them, but it did us no good in the end because the end came from above and not from the side. There we were, you and I and the girl, on the balcony of our Coral Gables condo, watching the winged crocodiles all swooping and swarming and storming the beach. You muttered something in a dead language and so I turned away from you and to the blonde ingénue I’d been finger-banging on the side and she said: “Professor, I have something to tell you.” I said: “Yes, dear. Please tell me.” So she told me: “For as long I can remember I’ve thought science was the ultimate arbiter of reality and that we lived but once, and died but once, and that was all, and that was it, but now, as my time draws near, I’m distinctly remembering another time. It must’ve been Istanbul in the rain on the pier around the time of the invasion. I remember the soldiers lined us up like chalk outlines minus the chalk as they shot us, but before that, you held me to your chest and I succinctly recall inhaling your nipple like a cigarette. You were my mother. I was your son. I was two years old. I had an infant erection. We were about to die. It was all so Freudian and fucked. It was Istanbul in the rain on the pier in a previous life.”

The Lollipop Guild Breaks Bad
The cops were coming. Again. And so again we hid, all twenty of us, inside the kitchen cabinets. We heard the cops knock on the front door. Then we heard them smash through it. Then we heard them inside the apartment. They scuffed and laughed, occasionally falling silent to admire the finer points of our meth operation maybe, perhaps our glorious beakers or fanciful hotplates. There was much to admire and this police interference was nothing new. So we waited. We all waited—the cops waited, too. This time something was different, though. We waited for days, then weeks. Some of us died waiting. I couldn’t help but wonder what the LPAA (Little People Association of America) would have to say about this, how the papers would report it, what kinds of punishments, if any, would be handed down. But I too was committed to die hiding like my comrades. I was well aware of what happened to little guys like me in the big house.

Hot Date with History
I dozed on the lime green backseat of Dad’s Chrysler New Yorker, my face tight with whiskey. My father would be back any minute, or so he said. He needed to see a man about the future. I watched the sunset melt behind a candle factory. The moon rose and fell and dropped into the trees. I passed the time with some pills until I passed out. Dad returned at dawn, holding a box of condoms and a TV antenna. I said, “Jesus. You took forever. What’s all that all about?” He held up the antenna: “Son, this is the final piece of the time machine.” He shook the condoms: “And these little guys will fix it to where you and your sisters never happened.” He tossed me the keys. “Come up here and drive,” he said. “I’ve got a hot date with history, my boy. I need to rest. I need to sleep.”

All Talk and No Follow Through 
The flight attendant told us we were now allowed to use our portable electronic devices. The man next to me pulled out a miniature time machine he didn’t know how to use yet. I knew it was a miniature time machine because I’d built it two thousand years before. I also knew how this flight would end: on a damp tarmac in Texas after a lousy film starring that guy who is in everything, always. And I knew how this world would end: smothered by too many beginnings.

Vanishing Act
Your water broke backstage. Behind the curtain the crowd roared. You said we still had enough time to do the show so we did the show. We started with the Flaming Sword Cabinet bit and transitioned into card tricks and then I escaped from a straight jacket while you juggled kitchen knives in the corner. “And for my next trick,” I said, “I will saw a woman in half, and not just any woman, a pregnant woman.” You lay flat on the table. I fired up the circular saw. You screamed and screamed. This wasn’t part of the act. The crowd gasped. I stopped the saw and walked around to your legs and lifted your skirt. “Oh,” I said. “I see. I’m going to need a volunteer from the audience ASAP. Is there a doctor in the house? She’s having a baby! A little help.” A man leapt onto the stage and told you to breathe. He said, “Just breathe.” He said, “You’re doing fine.” He said, “It’s crowning.” He said, “Here it comes.” He said, “Congratulations. It’s a girl.” The crowd went wild. I fired up the circular saw, cut the cord, and handed you the baby. The crowd went wilder. Then I fired up a cigar and disappeared. Years later, you told me it was my worst trick.

Last Decade
The year the world split open and bared its teeth. The year sharks grew wings and erupted from the salt water. The year the taffy strangler hung himself forever to avoid trial. The year the skydivers landed on the moon on television. The year you could recognize the astronauts by their epitaphs. The year the Humanities became the Roboties. The year the dog walkers walked themselves and house cats hacked the Internet. The year that the pursuit of happiness led to indefinite detainment. The year that spring break finally broke. The year the nines rolled over and the clocks stopped at midnight.

Ryan Ridge is the author of the story collection Hunters & Gamblers, the poetry collection Ox, as well as the chapbooks Hey, it’s America and 22nd Century Man. His next book, American Homes, is forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press as part of their new 21st Century Prose series. His work can be found in places like PANK, McSweeneys Small ChairFLAUNT Magazine, theNewerYork, Santa Monica Review, Salt Hill, DIAGRAM, and Sleepingfish. A former editor-in-chief of Faultline, he now serves as managing editor for Juked alongside his wife, Ashley Farmer. He is currently a visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Louisville.

Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight and the poetry chapbook Every Laundromat in the World. His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Per Contra, New World Writing, and Melville House, among others. Mel’s book reviews have appeared in HTMLGIANT, The Lit Pub, and American Book Review. He is the series editor for the Wigleaf Top 50 (2014) and the creator and curator of The Small Press Book Review.

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