Better Than Starbucks
Poetry and Fiction Journal
. . . if you love diversity and creative writing in any and every form, then you’re in the right place . . .
Vol VI No III
February, May, August,
by Jim Mack
Knock Knock Knock.
Knock Knock Knock.
Two sheepish parents stood outside the bedroom door: Hunter Jorgenson, wearing a pear sweater vest and bone khakis, and the polyester-clad Farve Gonnuckle, whose chain-linked brow piercings spelt the name “Apollo” in Burmese.
“Minion?” asked Hunter. “May we come in?”
“Not now. I’m playing Overwatch.”
“Well, alright. We’ll wait.”
After an awkward eighteen minutes, the teenager let them in. His room was decked in tinsel and original oil paintings in homage to such animes as Hesperus Mirth and Angelic Breach Engineer. The room smelled of jasmine and breath spray.
Minion, sporting an undershirt and plaid pajama pants, cast a gaze of suspicion onto his parents.
Farve began, “Well, we’ve got some news —"
“— not good news or bad news, necessarily! Just . . . change news,” interrupted Hunter.
“You see,” said Farve, “your standardized test results came in the mail. And, well . . . I’ll be frank. It turns out you’re inadequate.”
“Woefully inadequate. Not that that has to be a bad thing,” added Hunter. “Lots of people lead perfectly normal lives of woeful inadequacy! But I’m sorry to say it’s just not what we had in mind when we had you.”
Minion sighed. “So that means —"
“Yes,” said Hunter. “We’ll have to put you back in the test tube.”
“Does Susan know?”
Farve spoke, “Oh yes, we consulted her on the tube’s user agreement first. Had to make sure we’re doing this by the book.”
Minion stared at his feet. Farve rested a hand on his lover’s shoulder and the men locked eyes. A moment passed.
Farve turned back to Minion. “I’m happy to say there is a silver lining.”
“Oh yes, the silver lining! You did place out of ‘waste of space.’”
“Well!” said Farve, puffing out his chest. “No son of mine would ever fall into space-wasting. Of that, I had every confidence.”
“Still,” said Hunter, “it’s the test tube for you.”
“Can I . . . can I at least say goodbye to Susan?”
“She’s waiting downstairs.”
One floor below, Susan held a test tube above her forehead, peering through it in the lamplight. Her pantsuit and chic hair bun belied her nine years, as did her legal acumen. She heard Farve, Hunter, and Minion descend the staircase.
“I’m going to miss having a brother,” she said, turning to face them.
“It’s been great,” said Minion. He worked his voice around the lump forming in his throat. “Just really sorry I came up short. I had no idea. I guess not everyone can be a child prodigy.”
“Sadly, no,” said Susan.
“I wanted to spend more time with you. You make me so proud, always will.”
Susan smiled away her emotions. “I’m gonna be a mess if we turn this into a long goodbye.”
“She’s right,” said Farve. “Let’s proceed.” He took the test tube from Susan.
Hunter cracked his knuckles and took hold of Minion.
“Wait,” said Minion. “I dunno . . . it just feels like something’s not right. Like we’re missing some big important thing. Susan, are you sure there’s no other way outta this?”
“So sorry, really. The family has no obligation to you now,” she explained. “That test tube’s user agreement is a thing of legal brilliance. I’d want to shake the contract attorney’s hand but . . . under the circumstances . . .” She looked away.
“It’s ironclad, huh? Just my luck.”
Minion gave a nod to Hunter, who took a wide preparatory stance.
“Are you okay if we hang onto your baby pics?” said Farve. “I just . . . I need a memento, y’know?”
“That makes sense. Yeah, I guess I won’t need to take them. They’re yours.”
“What a relief. I can’t imagine us not keeping something to remember you by. Something noticeable. Something so we can’t forget, ya know?” said Hunter.
“Can’t forget that way, no chance of it, yes. We’ll put them in an obvious spot,” said Farve.
With that, Minion regarded his family. They gazed back, breathless, and their silence aged too quickly.
Susan offered a doleful wave. Then Minion nodded again to Hunter.
By the looks of it, the boy should not have fit into the thing. But Hunter was the Emeril Lagasse of folding, and in his traveling days he’d stuffed the most petulant carry-ons like so much Cajun Turkey. And so it was with a whimper and a BAM that he squeezed Minion deeply into the tube.
There, the crumpled teenager waited. For how long, he could not have said. When at last he felt safe, he braved his crease-by-crease unfolding: he freed an ear and heard the bass urgings of a subwoofer. He unraveled his eyes and faced a frenzied strobe light’s blink. His feet touched the tiled floor, and pulsing vibrations worked a rhythm through his legs and up into his chest.
The room was a music hall, and Minion was a rave of one. The theme song to Hesperus Mirth was playing, so he danced like origami blown off a garbage scow. The fog machines bellowed, Susan’s giant face pressed on one side of the glass walls, and Minion didn’t need to miss a soul.
First published in Thunderzine.
Jim Mack is a disabled writer and co-host of the educational podcast “Pineal Express.” He enjoys writing poetry and short stories, some of which have been published in Stonecoast Review. Jim lives in Binghamton, New York.
Fell asleep for a minute and when I awoke my right leg was burning or felt like it was. This is not exactly the place to take a nap, someone said, far off. I wasn’t crazy, at least I didn’t think so. Nevertheless, the sky in my head soared and whirled. I could taste iron on my tongue. I wondered how long I had been in that little white cubicle. I cradled my head with my hands. They smelled like dead fish. I felt my skull, half-shaved and numb. What the fuck did they do to me? I thought with alarm. I looked about. A nurse sat across from me with a severed leg in her lap, patting the thigh reassuringly.
Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto. His short prose has appeared in a number of periodicals and online publications.
It stormed the night before Carson broke his neck. An oak trunk shattered over the water gauge and waited for us to show up the next afternoon. We talked it over. Why don’t you dive off, Big Balls, Carson said to me. I looked at the jagged trunk end. It only stuck out over the edge of the creek. Could I dive out to where the water was deeper? My balls are too big, I said. Might get caught. If only I had on trunks. Carson smirked. Chicken shit, he said. He crawled out on the trunk. I scratched my crotch.
John Riley has published poetry and fiction in Smokelong Quarterly, Better Than Starbucks, Connotation Press, Fiction Daily, The Molotov Cocktail, Dead Mule, The St. Anne’s Review, and many others. He has also written over thirty books of nonfiction for young readers.
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