Flash Fiction: East of Eden by Ed Taylor

Polo excited, bouncing, barking, and when the man pushed on the driftwood bones of the porch door he heard the singing and Polo nuts and under the gray bench a rattler, in the shade; twice last week, and now.  Maybe a female with young somewhere, or coming.  Not calling the relocation service; do it himself, get something and something, tennis racket and a beer; wake up, hello, might as well get a smoke too—stand outside and blaze up some tobacco, watch the scrub shimmer at nine, air wrinkling like clear plastic, get some beer down, the jeweled bottle.  Match’s smell—why he liked them.

Lizard over on the tin shed roof, lifting itself up and down, pushups to cool off.  Finish cigarette.  The beer.  Don’t forget the snake.  Shoes too much trouble: maybe just one on the closer foot.  He snorted.

Get Polo away, him only making it worse.

Inside, Harriet’s hospital bed in the living room—her awful looking, mouth open, skin yellow.  Need to change the pan.  Change the world.  Right.  Just change the pan.  He stood beside the bedrail, cigarette in hand, and touched her with the other, two fingers on her bare forearm, her skin cool, a bruise curling around at the wrist; like a decoration, a bracelet.  He exhaled; get on with it, lifting the sheet.

The smell.  Even with windows open.  Nurse by later; she was funny.  She kept talking to Harriet, talking the whole time, hustling around, slowing down, slipping needles in and out kind of like a dance.  She sang once, mouth in an O, but low. He didn’t hear the music.  He just leaned in the door watching.  He hated the needles.

Any time now.  Any time.  The nurse touched him every time she left now.  Made that face.

Polo panted, tongue out, at the screen door, barking still, wanting out.

Everything around them, around the house, like a big dark thing in which they were a smaller thing of darkness—the VA, the shit, papers with numbers that kept coming, second, final, stacked under a rock on the middle of the dining room table.  And outside of all that was what.  He looked at the horizon, the Sawtooths and the big white X of two planes, white bellies like fish, like snakes.

He pushed the door back open, pushed Polo back with a foot but easy, don’t be a dick.

He swallowed warm beer, then spit off the porch.  Dug out another cigarette.  The snake stayed,  rattling kind of half-assed, like bad tambourine playing.  First two match heads crumbled; then the charm.  He stepped back and pulled the door open a little and slipped back in, blocking Polo.

He got another beer and walked back—37 steps from kitchen through big room to the front door, pushed open the screen door and closed the inner door, Polo muted but not shutting up.

He sat in the white chair, rust like blood on it.  Snakes sound like sprinklers, a kind of song; he thought of water in Vegas.  Harriet liked the slots.  He watched the red tip, imagined the smoke in him like a ghost.

Open mouth, not white like a cottonmouth.  A yawn, or a scream.  He laughed; Lucifer whispering, psst.  The hiss.

He thought about the shovel, scooping it up.  But like sand, that hiss, just comes pouring back.  Drummers talk about a good roll like pouring sand.  Talk.  All the talking.

He fingered the cold bottle neck, closed his eyes; the rattle nearer now, vigorous, like rain.

He stood, blank for a minute.  Drum roll: drink, moving past a blur.  Turn back and in:  the screen door, another mouth closing fast, a sudden message, on his bare heel.

Ed Taylor is the author of the novel Theo, the poetry collection Idiogest, and the chapbooks Rubaiyat of Hazmat and Cardinal Directions. His prose and poetry appear in a variety of U.S. and U.K. periodicals.
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