This is the first of three short flash fiction pieces by Mitchell Grabois.
When I was an army brat, we used food stamps to get by. Whether my father was with us or gone, my mother felt the weight on her shoulders.
He was in an M-48 Patton tank when it was blown up, fulfilling its fate. The only objects left intact were him and a Bible. He sat in the dirt among twisted wreckage and reached for the Bible, but couldn’t extend his arm that far. He thought he’d be frozen in that reaching position forever, that he had left Temporary Hell for the Permanent One.
There were many ways to interpret this event. Most soldiers probably would have decided that God had saved him for a purpose--to serve Him, that once he left the Army, he should be a minister or a missionary. My father became a gambler. We never had to use food stamps again. His luck held for a long time.
He felt like he was ten feet tall. My mother was shrinking. Anxiety made her hair and teeth fall out. She was clearly approaching death. Have you made a pact with the Devil, I asked my father. He laughed at me. He lifted my mother onto his shoulders and rode her around the back yard, as if she were a disabled Girl Scout in uniform or a wax saint on a narrow street in Spain, or Queen for the Day.
He knocked over the barbeque grill. The coals glowed red. Before I asked him about the Devil, he was about to grill fish with their heads on and their eyes wide, like his were after that tank blew up. There in the backyard, he was barefoot. He was fooling around, trying to make my mother think that he was going to flip her off his shoulders, or just drop her. She shrieked in his ear.
I felt a whiff of melancholy. I wanted to punch someone in the face. I stood, deathly tired. My mother bit his ear, as if she were a chimpanzee. She would have torn his face off if it weren’t so tightly attached. He walked across the hot coals that spread out from the toppled barbeque. He didn’t plan it, he was just wheeling around like a crazy man. The barbeque was old and rusty and a wheel had fallen off. He was the first man in the modern West to walk across hot coals. I saw astonishment on his face--not pain, or not enough to concern him.
I grew up, became hyper-individualistic, detached, a person who takes his boots off and trims his toenails with a Leatherman when he gets nervous. My father couldn’t get blown up in a tank, couldn’t be burned by hot coals. No wonder he didn’t become a missionary. No wonder he felt more powerful than God, felt it more than thought it. God kept trying to screw him over, but he kept coming through everything unscathed. I would not be that lucky.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over twelve-hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To see more of his work, google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver.