A Man Without Evils

Contributor: Jon Wesick

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Joseph K got fired from his job standing in line at O. Henry’s Market. He wouldn’t miss the customers’ dirty looks when he pretended to pay with a check. No, he would only miss Stella, the cashier with the musical laugh and breasts like the fluffy, pet-store rabbits he’d so wanted when he was five. But that was all over now. Resolving to leave the smell of Rabbit Chow behind, K made his way home to a brownstone apartment in a shtetl on the outskirts of Iowa City.

“Did you remember to pay the assassination tax?” his roommate, a cockroach named Sid, asked.

“Damn!” K opened the wall safe, broke off a piece of gold plaster, and placed it in an envelope addressed to the Federal Reserve of Hope. After bribing the mailman he returned to the apartment where Sid was rehearsing his role in Streetcar.

“You want lunch?” K reached for the boric acid under the sink. “There’s Pol Pot Pie and Top Dog Ramen.”

“No, I had some wallpaper paste an hour ago.”

“You sure? I’d hate to see you pass out from hunger on stage. How about I blanch some carrots?”

“Whether I succeed or fail in insect monolog isn’t up to you,” Sid said while shaking his chitinous head and making his antennae flop like rabbit ears. “The die was cast nine million years ago when my ancestors traded opposable thumbs for lick-able hands.” He fumbled with the script. “Stella! Stella!”

The mention of his lost love brought back K’s teenage fantasy about Nazi war widows. As always he imagined them infiltrating the country by U-boat, that most phallic of ocean-going vessels. Lost in an onanistic reverie he failed to realize that he had less than an hour before his creative writing class when his semester project had to be turned in.

K wiped the monkey glide from his palms, dashed outside, and hailed a pedicab. After a thirty-minute tour of Iowa City’s canal zone, where gondolas of field corn plied rivers of Karo syrup, K arrived at his destination. As he pranced up the granite steps, K marveled at his decision to enroll in the MFA program at the Iowa School of Mines instead of at that other one across town. True, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop had a few good teachers but the School of Mines inspired him to write stories about real people, stories about anthracite and tungsten-carbide drills.

The classroom loomed heavy with the daily roll call while Rocco Mukasey, the instructor, paced like a panther in a daycare center. He’d been head writer for The Barney Fife Show so he damn well wasn’t likely to water the seeds of mediocrity in his students. Like a Hellfire missile targeting a Pakistani wedding he zeroed in on the eighty-year-old woman in a plaid skirt and bowler hat sitting in the front row.

“Maude.”

Maude Lawson stood and read a meandering character study about the malaise of an aging writer. Since it had little to do with erosion control or acid mine drainage, K’s thoughts drifted to the Nazi war widows and how before leaving the Fatherland their diets had consisted of twenty thousand calories a day: sauerbraten, spatzels, German chocolate cake…

“Enough!” Rocco fired his Browning automatic into the ceiling. “That really isn’t a story, Maude. Is it?”

“Sorry.” She curtsied and tipped her hat. “I was just making noise with my mouth and couldn’t stop.”

The next reader was a former actor who’d debuted in Rocky 3 and had had a supporting role in an eighties TV show. His poetry was so full of gold chains and Mandingo haircuts that an enraged Rocco emptied the Browning’s magazine into the actor’s chest. This only angered the actor who then beat Rocco into meat paste with a filing cabinet while shouting, “Be somebody or be somebody’s fool!”

As K stared at Rocco’s blood pooling on the Linoleum, he reflected on how the modern short story no longer ended with a climax that tied all its stray elements together. Instead it ended with the protagonist on the verge of some monstrous insight. He thought of rabbit ears, how craisins reminded him of cremains, and whether casting a cockroach as Stanley Kowalski was a radical postmodern statement or merely a way to save money. He thought of Tennessee Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Tennessee Tuxedo. But most of all he thought of his grade point average and whether Rocco’s tragic death meant he’d have to take the class over.


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Host of the Gelato Poetry Series, instigator of the San Diego Poetry Un-Slam, and an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, Jon Wesick has published more than fifty short stories in journals such as Space and Time, Zahir, Tales of the Talisman, Blazing Adventures, and Metal Scratches.
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One Response to this post

  1. Anonymous on February 20, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    Brilliant!!
    I would definitely pay to see a cockroach play Stanley...

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