Two Stories by Ben Slotky

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Two Stories by Ben SlotkySports Support or Something

Today I came into work wearing a black wrist brace. I purchased it early this morning at a CVS. They sell these there, braces. A whole aisle. Sports Support or something. That is what the sign said, the sign for the aisle. One time I was in Arkansas. I was with my family at a Walmart. This was a while back. We had four kids back then. Or maybe three. Three or four, doesn’t matter. We have six now. Six boys. Two or three of them hadn’t existed then, but the rest of us had and we were in Walmart  and I saw a sign that said Lice.  Plain as life, big as day. Black letters on a yellow sign. There were other signs in that Walmart, too. They said things like Bread and Milk. They said Shoes and Women’s and Electronics. Supplies and Asian Foods and Cereal/Hot Snacks. A sign for Eggs. This one said Lice. A whole aisle. So specific, I thought. So many lice, I thought. This is what I was thinking about when I saw the sign that said Sports Support or something in the CVS this morning. About lice in Arkansas. There were so many braces to choose from. I was surprised. Braces for wrists and knees and legs. Braces for thumbs. Thumb braces, I thought. So specific. Some of the boxes were yellow. Yellow like the sign. Pictures of the braces on them, the respective braces. A woman walked by me. Her glasses were pointy. I looked for braces for my wrist. I felt a dull throb. I had hurt my wrist opening a door. A sliding door that leads to my backyard. The back yard door had been stuck. It had been jammed, it would not open. I yanked it and hurt my wrist somehow. Ligaments and swelling. This was about a week ago. After a week of ligaments and swelling and hurting, I decided to get a brace. To immobilize, to stabilize. This would stop the swelling and the ligaments, I thought.

The brace cost $23. I had no idea if that was a good price or not. I had never bought a brace before. I stood there in the middle of the Sports Support or something aisle and thought about how I had no idea whether I was getting a good deal. It never occurred to me that I would someday need to buy a wrist brace.

I also bought some eye drops because my eyes get dry. This is known as dry eyes. There is a sign for this. It says Eye Care. I went to pay for my dry-eyes drops and my right-hand wrist brace. The pointy glasses lady was ahead of me in line. She was buying one chocolate egg. An egg wrapped in purple paper. Tiny and small in the middle of the counter. The woman behind the counter hiked her pants up and asked the pointy glasses lady if she had a CVS card. She did not. A man came behind the counter. The hiking-up-pants woman said, Can I get some change? I only have tens and twenties. The man said, yes. She said, I thought I had fives, but I don’t. The man got her the change. He was very tall. The man didn’t say anything. He seemed tired. The woman said, thanks, I thought I had fives, but I didn’t. She said this while she was ringing up pointy glasses who took her egg and left. I set my wrist brace and dry eye drops on the counter. I thought about putting them in the exact same spot where the tiny egg had been. I thought egg marks the spot. The hiking-up-pants woman did not ask if I had a CVS card. I wondered if that had anything to do with the fact that she now had fives. I wondered how the lack of having fives impacted whether or not she would ask people if they had CVS cards. I wondered if I’d ever seen a woman hike up her pants before or not. I probably had, but I couldn’t remember if I had. I wondered if that was something somebody would remember, a woman hiking up her pants, and I realized I had no idea.

Today I came into work wearing a black wrist brace. I have said this already. I walked in with my black wrist brace. I was wearing a black sweater. I sat down at my desk and did what I do. I did that for a while and while I was doing it, I talked to some people. I do that a lot. I am a fun person to have around, I think, but am not sure. Nobody said anything about my wrist brace. Not one person. Not Joe who has an Amish beard. Not Matt, who is bald and has those new Apple air pods. Not Cathy or Tom or Troy. Nobody said anything. Nobody is saying anything, I thought. About wrist braces, about lice. About eggs or hiked-up pants. I thought about this and thought about this. I thought about what I would say if anybody asked why I was wearing a wrist brace even though I knew they wouldn’t ask.

 

Anthony Kept Going

Right before he got shot in the face, John Wave was thinking about boats.

Always wave at people on boats, John Wave’s grandfather told him once. Wave didn’t remember where this was, didn’t remember when his grandfather said it. It could have been anyplace, Wave thought, any time. The where didn’t matter, Wave thought. It’s the what that does. Wave liked the sound of that. It’s the what that does. It made sense. Sounded practical, sounded wise. Something he could tell his own grand-kids someday, except he would never have grand-kids. Except he was about to be shot in the face. He heard words, remembered where he was. He looked up. It looked like Anthony was talking.

“So now’s the part of this thing where you wonder why this is happening. You start to question, you start to what if. How did this get to be this, you think, and I get that, I do. Makes sense. You’re tied up, head bleeding. A gun in your face. Payback for a thing you did or didn’t do. Maybe I’m going to live, maybe I’m not. A basement, a warehouse, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, and you know why? It doesn’t matter because it was always going to be like this anyway, let’s face it.”

Anthony was smiling.

John Wave was tied to a chair.

Anthony kept going.

“And if you’re going to try and tell yourself something, if you’re going to look back and try and go maybe I could’ve done this or if I’d only done that, then I’m telling you now, I’m fucking telling you now not to. I’m not telling you not to for me, I’m telling you for you.”

Anthony was smiling with his whole face.

John Wave was scared shitless and didn’t move a muscle, not that he could have if he wanted to.

Anthony kept going.

“This is where I go on and on about something,” said Anthony. “I talk and I theorize. I keep going, and it sounds smarter than it really is, and that’s because of who I am, right? Who I am and where we are. You and me.”

He pointed the gun at himself.

He pointed the gun at Wave.

Back and forth and back and forth.

“This is all situation and context. It’s like this. It’s like here’s this guy, this criminal, this me, and he’s saying these things and he’s talking this way. A soliloquy, and this is supposed to do something, prove something. A contrast, maybe, I don’t know. What I do know is I’m walking out of here.”

He pointed the gun at himself.

“You’re not.”

He pointed the gun at Wave.

Back and forth and back and forth.

“I’m walking out, getting in my car, I’m driving to Antoine’s or maybe Cap’s, I’m getting me a thick-ass steak and a whiskey on ice. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m doing that. You? You are not doing that.

You are gonna sit here, you are going to tell me what I want to hear, you are going to tell me what I know you know and then? Then I’m going. I’m going and you’re staying. You’re staying in here, in this basement or warehouse, and you’re going to wonder, Wave. Wonder whether you did the right thing. Did you make the right choice, the right decision? Was this thing the right thing? This telling thing,” and John Wave thought about the kind of grandfather he’d like to be. Quiet and sly. Weathered face. Lines etched around eyes, on his forehead. Hands calloused from work. He thought of the word clapboard. He wondered what it meant. He thought about saying the where doesn’t matter, it’s the what that does. He thought about switching the doesn’t for a don’t. His face soured. Too much, he thought. Keep it simple, he thought. That’s the kind of grandfather he would be, he decided. The kind that goes just far enough.  This was something his grandfather would have said, Wave thought. This was advice, Wave realized now. Wisdom was being imparted, he thought as the gun roared. Imparted all over the place.


Photo used under CC.

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About Author

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Ben Slotky’s first novel, Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy was published by Chiasmus in 2010 and was re-released by Widow & Orphan in 2017. His work has appeared in Numero Cinq, The Santa Monica Review, Golden Handcuffs Review, McSweeney’s, Hobart, Juked, Jellyfish Review, Barrelhouse, and many other publications. He lives in Bloomington, IL with his wife and six sons.

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