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Postmodern Village
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Literary Illusion
by Daniel Callahan

for Roger Berger

A farting rips across the room. Stately, plump Spike Mulligan waves his hand before his nose, then crosses himself.

"Oooh," hooting softly, "it's good to be alive!"

Homer's forkful of banana bread pauses knowingly before finally reaching its end. "Charmita."

"I'm a prisoner to myself," Spike winks at a school of cheerleaders floating by and empties his milk in a swallow. "So, Mr. Tinasky, you never told me how you got this new nickname."

"I was the home run leader, two years running." Homer catches the eye of a waitress half his age (so it seems). Great middle and end. Needs a bag over the top. Bag Lady.

"What happened? Weren't you a Shocker a few weeks ago, or something?"

"Yeah."

Spike nods, beckoning to continue. Homer reaches for his OJ and nearly spills everything. Hands scramble for cheap paper napkins. One hand, wrinkled, descends from above, bearing a white towel. She smiles as she mops and soaks, off-rose uniform bobbing as she wipes.

"Anna!" Spike proclaims. "Pattie Saintroness of Greasy Spoons! Timely entrance!"

"Thanks," Homer nods vaguely. The white towel sops orange.

"What did you have?" queries Anna, twenty years of waitressing bearing fruit.

"A number six. I was done anyway."

"It was all a conspiracy!" Spike loons, apparently to himself.

"Can I get you anything else?"

"Coffee, decaf."

"The bean that launched a thousand ships?" Again, Spike. Anna winks and smiles.

"Be right back." Her broad backside busies away like a strange sunset across a dark sea.

"What is it with you and bad puns, anyway?" Homer asks, not expecting a straight reply but glad for the relief of just asking.

"Trust me, I haven't even started on the bad ones, yet," licking the last of the eggs from his fingers.

"What were we talking about?" Homer leans back, coffee-expectant.

"Why you no Shocker now."

"Oh," Homer leans forward, rubs a hand across his brow, "Aggie, the head-coach, really pissed me off. We were coming home from this away game, right? And someone stole his Playboy while he was taking a piss. Could have been anybody, right? So he took mine -- right out of my hands!"

"Oy!"

"Yeah. Didn't even return it later. He can fucking apologize, or I'm gonna sit out the rest of the season."

"And do what?"

"Train for next year's Riverrun."

Both nod and suffer a six seconds' silence.

"So how's the lit business?" Spike reaches unsuccessfully for a cigarette from an empty pack, then rests his chin in the cup of his hand.

"Bad. They're all pretending to be so deep. Either they're completely unread or their stories are submerged under allusions from anyone they can think to rip off. No one's turning out a real story."

Homer pushes his glass away and leans back. "I don't get it."

"Someone needs to come up for air, huh?" Index finger tapping an impatient beat on his cheek.

"It seems so lifeless now, you know?"

"Well, you know what some people say: you have to touch bottom before you can come back up."

With a sigh: "Somebody would say something like that sooner or later."

Spike nods, watching his hand move the salt and pepper shakers in a slow-motion, miniature minuet.

"Sounds pretty bad, then, huh?"

"Maybe I should write my next novel about hating my life. At least I'd be following tradition."

"How Life Sucks in America, Vol. 1132?"

"If I pretend to be an ethnic minority lesbian, I might get it published." Homer rubs his eyes. Blurry again. "Don't mind me. Tired. Just babbling."

"Well, why not come back to the band?" Spike fingers his air-trumpet, revelry, and leans back, hands clasped behind his neck, in momentous silence.

Homer stares out the window, the shaded ground beneath the scrub pine by the concrete bench. Only a
few clouds, today. A blank stall, staring.

Beethoven's Fifth erupts from Homer's beltclip.

"That would be V," he mutters, taking his phone like a live grenade. "She should know by now."

"Hey, listen-- I still have to give Byron a hand with those bulbs. Give me a call tonight."

Nods.

Spike empties his space and ducks into the lunchtime crowd. "Be seeing you."

"Uh-huh."

Homer piles the rest of the dishes and leaves what's left of the mess for Anna. No coffee yet. As if the ringing could stop, he waits for that perfect moment which may never come, until inevitably his thumb touches bottom.

"Yes?"