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?"
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
"A number six. I was done anyway."
"It was all a conspiracy!" Spike loons, apparently to himself.
"Can I get you anything else?"
"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!"
"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
"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
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
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."
Spike empties his space and ducks into the lunchtime crowd. "Be
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