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James Valvis
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decentman.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2011

A Decent Guy

 

 

James Valvis

 

 

1.

 

          For a long time he waited and when the call came, he knew what it meant.

 

          “Jerry speaking,” he said.

 

          “I can’t make it, Jerry,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

 

          “I understand.”

 

          “You’re a nice guy.”

 

          “Yeah.”

 

          “Maybe some other time.”

 

          “Probably not,” he said.

 

          “Yeah,” she admitted. “Probably not.”

 

          When they hung up, he dumped the pasta into the trash. He wasn’t going to be able to eat it anyway. Then the sauce went in, too. Steam rose from the bag and for a moment he worried something might catch fire, but then he figured sauce was too wet to cause a fire. He slammed the lid shut, grabbed his coat, and went for a walk.

 

          The small trailer park where he lived was silent as a graveyard, each trailer a mausoleum with people buried inside. The lights and sounds from their televisions were the only signs that anyone here was alive. He walked down one road and then another and then he came to the trailer he wanted.

 

          He knocked on the door.

 

          When the door opened, he said simply, “I’ll do it.”

 

 

2.

 

 

          His mark was a small man, surprisingly so. You wouldn’t expect such a small man to do so much damage. Jerry listened to the stories, the horrible stories, and imagined a man the size of a building. Even when he was shown pictures, the size of the man hadn’t registered.

 

          Now as he was crossing the street, Jerry saw how short he was.

 

          Maybe he had a Napoleon complex, maybe that was why he did what he did.

 

          It didn’t matter.

 

          Nothing mattered.

 

          After the man crossed the street, he turned into a small coffee shop.  Jerry followed him in. He didn’t care if the man saw him.  He didn’t even care if he realized he was following him. Sooner or later he’d do what had to be done.

 

          The coffee bar was mostly empty. A couple of college kids sat in the back at a table, thinking they were tough because they wore black and had not joined a fraternity. The signs on the windows, mostly photocopied notices, advertised bands that no one ever heard of and no one ever would.  Jerry grabbed a seat three seats away from the man. The seats were very high stools and the short man’s feet could not touch the ground.

 

          A female human pincushion ask Jerry for his order first, despite the fact he had sat second.

 

          Jerry tried to count all her piercings and lost track after twenty.  “Doesn’t your face hurt?”

 

          “Shit,” the pincushion said. “Not as much as yours.”

 

          “You saying I’m ugly?”

 

          “I’m saying your mama should stop dating gorillas.”

 

          The short man laughed, looked at Jerry, then stopped.

 

          Jerry smiled. He liked the pincushion. She was honest.

 

“I’ll take a Black & Tan.”

 

          “Good choice.” Already reaching underneath the bar for the beer bottle, she looked at the mark. “And you?”

 

          “Mocha.”

 

          The pincushion dropped the beer in front of Jerry. He put some money on the table. They smiled at each other. They had an understanding. Then she went to make the short guy’s mocha.

 

          When she was gone, he said, “I know you’re following me.”

 

          Jerry nodded.  “Good.”

 

          “Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll pay you more.”

 

          “What’s the point?” Jerry said. “They’ll just hire someone else and then you’ll have to pay him, too. And the next guy. And the next. Until you run out of money.”

 

          “You make it sound like there’s a million guys like you.”

 

          Jerry took a sip of his drink. “At least that many.”

 

          “Sucker for a pretty face.”

 

          “Maybe,” Jerry said. “Or maybe I’m just lonely.”

 

          “Lonely?”

          “Sure,” Jerry said. “When you get lonely, you rape your daughter.  When I get lonely, I go kill someone like you. Everybody has their way of coping.”

 

          He didn’t try to deny it. Jerry gave him credit for that. Instead, he lit a cigarette and said, “Then you’re no better than me.”

 

          “Nope,” Jerry said. “Maybe not.”

 

          “I object to the word rape,” he said. “I have never forced myself on her.”

 

          The pincushion came back just then and set the mocha down in from of the short man. “Is the gorilla bugging you?”

 

          “No,” the short man said. “We’re just talking.  Aren’t we, uh—?”

 

          “Magilla.”

 

          “He thinks he’s funny,” said the pincushion and then went into the back again.

 

          Jerry took a drink of beer. It was wet and cold and good. A woman could be great or terrible.  A murder could go well or horribly.  But a cold beer was always wonderful.

 

          “I can’t help myself,” he said. “I’ve gone years when I promised I would never touch her again. Months or years. But then I get this incredible urge, you know. It’s like you say, the loneliness gets to me, and I fall off the wagon. I’ve apologized a thousand times. Rita finally kicked me out. I haven’t even seen her in two months.”

 

          “I know all that,” Jerry said.

 

          “I’ve stayed away,” he said. “The hell of it is, I love that kid. Like you wouldn’t believe.”

 

          “I’d believe it.”

 

          “But it don’t matter?”

          “Nope.”

 

          “You’re going to do it anyway.”

 

          “Yep.”

 

          “Just like me.”

 

          “Right.”

 

          “They could have gone to the police,” he said. “Why didn’t they?”

 

          “And have the girl’s name dragged through the mud. People thinking she asked for it?”

 

          The short man drank from his cup. He nodded. “Are you going to make me suffer?”

 

          “No.”

 

          “Am I going to see it coming?”

 

          “Probably not.”

 

          The short man nodded. “Listen, what if I promise to stay away from her? Forever.  I’ll leave the state. I’ve got some money saved.  I could go to Europe, renounce my U. S. citizenship. You seem like a decent guy. I am, too. You take away this one thing. I’m nice to old people. I volunteer at the library. I’m a Boy Scout leader, for Christ’s sake. It’s just this one thing. I get out of my head. I’ve never done anything else wrong and I never will again. I’m older now, the passions have cooled. You understand?”

 

          “I can’t tell you what to do.”

 

          The short man threw some money on the table. “Think about it, okay?”

 

          He left. Jerry didn’t follow him.

 

          The pincushion came back. “You still here, Magilla?”

3.

 

          It took three days. In the daytime, he watched the short man pack his things, close his bank account, rotate the tires on his car, quit his job, and tell friends he was heading out. At night, Jerry sent the girl away and had the mother drive off before entering the girl’s bedroom and waiting.

 

          On the third night, the short man jimmied the front lock. He made a racket coming through the trailer.

 

          “Rachel,” he said. “Rachel, Daddy’s here.”

 

          When he opened the bedroom door, Jerry shot a bullet into his left eye.

 

          He caught the body before it fell and wrapped a plastic bag around his head.

 

          Jerry carried the body out to his car. He dumped it into the trunk and stared down at it. He knew where he was taking it, a place where it would never be found. Jimmy Hoffa would be found before this guy would. Then Jerry would get rid of all his stuff. Junk most of it, have a friend strip down the car. It would look like the short man had simply driven off for Canada or parts unknown.

 

          And the wife and daughter would never have anyone asking them dangerous questions about a missing father.

 

          Jerry checked his watch. He hoped to have everything done by nine.  He wanted to call up the pincushion and ask her over for some pasta.

 

          When they were together, she made him feel like a decent guy.

 

 

 

 

The Sex Lives of Jellyfish

 

by James Valvis




Even jellyfish would tell you it's no great shakes;
they gather close (but not too close)
then the male fills his mouth with jellyfish sperm,
and spits it into the cold sea,
while the female's translucent mouth
catches this sperm
& the egg she's tucked there like a tobacco pouch
drops to the ocean floor
where the offspring will make it or won't.
It's been like this 600 million years,
and still the species won't quit,
they fill our seas like flakes in a snow globe.
So what if we fail as great lovers too,
Romeo and Juliet we're not,
nor Cupid and Psyche, so what
if you're not the lady of the Camellias
and I'm not John Holmes;
we're just two jellyfish-shaped nobodies,
everybodies, flopping about,
two tentacle-flailing medusans, laughing
at each other's sexual stochasticity,
more weight than waiting,
more foreplay than foul play,
more sweaty poses than scented roses,
our greatest joy annoying the neighbors
with loud grunts no one believes, not even us
Evolution calls for the fit, the strong, the sublime,
the slow persistent climb to perfection,
the restless desire for improvement,
but evolution never saw two fat folks like us
going at it, giggling, gasping,
sometimes farting,
my head banging against the backboard,
your hair tangled up in my arm,
and still it's "don't stop, keep going,"
the encouragement of the not-very-much
And when it's over, nobody offs anybody,
or retires moodily to an Italian villa,
or gets done in by poison,
or finds a train to hurl herself before,
only towels are grabbed, showers are taken,
and munchies are sated at the refrigerator door,
and later we drift off to sleep,
uncommon because we embrace the common,
two jellyfish bobbing in the sea,
a couple of flakes drifting in the storm,
the only truly happy people we know.

 

 

The Squirrel You Missed

 

By James Valvis



for K

The other day, while driving
Into our parking lot, I looked
To my right and saw a squirrel,
Hopping, his tail fully white.
I know how much you love them,
So I yelled squirrel, but too late.
It darted behind a scrub oak
Before you had a chance to see him,
And that was that for that squirrel.
It dawned on me then there are things
Even we would never be able to share—
The nooks and crannies of our lives,
Hidden behind trees, large and small.
It's the saddest thing I can think of:
Two remains two even as we swear it's one.
Forgive me, my love, as I will forgive you
When a white-tailed squirrel
Hops for you and you alone.

 

 

simons.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2012

Simon's Day Out

 

by James Valvis

 

 

          The hard woman was gone and now he wanted ice cream. Simon walked to a small Italian deli. He checked his wallet and found sixteen dollars.  It is enough, he thought.

 

          Above the counter, there were white and yellow cheeses hanging by ropes from little hooks on the ceiling. The man behind the counter had a handlebar mustache and fluffy eyebrows. "Can I help you?" he said.

 

          Simon smiled. "Sir," he said, "would you be so kind as to sell me a vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles?"

 

          "We don’t have ice cream here," he said. "Just sandwiches. We have turkey and ham and salami—”

 

          "And cheeses," Simon interrupted.

 

          "Yes," the man said. "Lots of cheeses, but no ice cream. You're looking for the Ice Cream Parlor down the road."

 

          "Well, thank you, sir. You are kind and it’s important to be kind. You are my true friend!"

 

          "Of course!"

 

          Simon left the deli, but since the man hadn’t told him in which direction the Ice Cream Parlor was and since he had been too shy to ask, Simon took a guess and turned left. Soon he was walking by a marina, where he saw two fishermen. One of the fishermen was an old man with rough, red skin. The other was a fat, younger man with a beautiful smile.

 

          "Hello!" Simon said to the two fishermen.

 

          "Hello," they said.

 

"I’m Simon."

 

          "Horace," said the younger one. He pointed at the older man who was moving fish from one bucket to another. "And this is Felipe."

 

          "Felipe, did you catch many fish?" said Simon.

 

          "Yeah," said Felipe. "Lots of fish."

 

          "Kind sir," Simon said to Horace, "would you please tell me where I might find an ice cream cone?"

 

          "Oh," Horace said, "you’re way off. The Ice Cream Parlor’s four miles to the south. Besides, you don't want ice cream. You need a good fish to fatten you up some. I'm scared the wind’ll blow you into the ocean."

 

          "You are my true friend!"

 

          "Right,” Horace said. "Felipe, give my friend here a good-sized fish."

 

          Felipe went through the buckets and found a good one, which he then wrapped in newspaper. He handed it to Simon.

 

          "Oh no, sir," Simon said. "I cannot take this fine fish from you."

 

          "Would you insult us?" said Felipe.

 

          "We’d only use it for tomorrow's bait," said Horace.

 

          "Very well!" Simon said. "You are very kind! Thank you both!"

 

          As Simon took the fish, they nodded and smiled.

 

          He walked away, but not knowing which way was south, he kept walking in the direction he had been going. The hard woman would be angry if she knew he was lost. She would yell.  She would call him names.

 

          Ahead of him there was nothing but beaches. "Oh," Simon said. "I have gone the wrong way!"

 

          Simon turned around and started back. He passed the place where the fishermen had been but their boat was gone. "I hope you find many more fish!" he yelled at the sea.

 

          Simon saw an orange building across the street. It was the Museum of False Teeth. He became very excited. I must go in! he thought.

 

          "Hello!" he said to the girl behind the ticket booth.

 

          "Hello," she said. "Tickets are five dollars but Senior Citizens get in for three."

 

          "You are my true friend!"

 

          "Yes," she said, smiling. She had lovely, rosy cheeks and fine, brown eyes.

 

          "What is that you're holding? It smells a little."

 

          "It is a fish from my friends Horace and Felipe. I will eat it so that I do not blow into the ocean."

 

          "Oh," the girl said. "You can’t bring that into the museum."

 

          Simon thought about it. "It is a shame," he said, "but I simply must see the Museum of False Teeth! I will return in a moment."

 

          "Please do!" said the girl.

 

          Simon walked around the area looking for a place to put his fish. Finally he found a small metal garbage can, but there was a cat digging through it, trying to find a meal.

 

          The poor cat.

 

          Then Simon got an idea. He unwrapped the fish from the newspaper and set it down on the ground. "Here, kitty," he said.

 

          At first the cat didn't want to come to him but then he got a whiff of the fish and he did.

 

          "Go ahead," Simon said, "but don't thank me; thank my friends, the fishermen."

 

          "Meow," said the cat.

 

          "I will tell them you said so!" Simon said. "But now I must go, my friend."

 

          Simon walked back to the Museum of False Teeth. He paid the lovely girl three dollars and entered.

 

          There were many kinds of false teeth there: wooden teeth, bronze teeth, stone teeth, ceramic teeth, rubber teeth. They even had George Washington's false teeth!

 

          "This is wonderful!" Simon said to the guard by the exit door.

 

          "Yes!" said the guard. "We're glad you think so."

 

          "Oh, I do," said Simon. "Tell me, where did you get so many false teeth?"

 

          "Mostly, people donate them."

 

          "May I donate some false teeth?"

 

          "Yes," said the guard, "but they must be special. We don’t take just anybody's false teeth."

 

          "I am sure," said Simon. "But I know where I can get a very special set."

 

          "We would love to have them!"

          "Yes!" Simon said. "I will get them now!"

 

          He walked outside. It was starting to get dark. Oh, he thought, I will have to wait until tomorrow before I can donate the teeth.

 

          He passed the Italian deli on the way back to his house. There were iron gates covering the door and glass windows.

 

"Have a good night!" Simon said to the deli. "I will see you tomorrow!"

 

          Simon walked down his own block.

 

          There were pretty red and blue lights swirling around and around. There were many cars parked in his driveway.

 

          He walked up to two of the policemen. One was big and had stripes on his arm. The other was a young man who looked a little sick.

 

          "Hello!" Simon said.

 

          "Are you Simon?" said the big policeman.

 

          "Yes!" said Simon.

 

          "Get him!" the big policeman said.

 

          The young policeman grabbed Simon, turned him around, and cuffed him.

 

          He was told all about his wonderful rights.

 

          "Are we going for a ride?" Simon asked.

 

          "Yes," the big policeman said.

 

          "Oh, good!" said Simon. "I like to go on rides!"

 

          They put Simon in the back seat.

 

          The young policeman said something over the radio and then they pulled away.

 

          The big policeman turned around and faced Simon. "Why did you do it?" he said.

 

          "What do you mean?" asked Simon.

 

          "Don't play dumb with me," the big policeman said.  “Why did you?”

 

          "The hard woman?"

 

          "Yes," he said. "The hard woman. Why did you kill her?"

 

          "Oh," said Simon. "She was very hard."

 

          The big policeman turned around. "Don't let it bother you, Rookie," he said. "After fifteen years, I still get a little sick at a scene like that."

 

          "Jesus," the rookie said. “There wasn’t much left to her.”

 

          "Do you want me to drive?" said the big policeman.

 

          "No," said the rookie. "I'm okay."

 

          Simon leaned forward. "Excuse me, kind sirs, would you make sure that the hard woman's teeth go to the Museum of False Teeth?"

 

          "You are one sick bastard!" said the young policeman.

 

          Simon sat back in his seat. There was no need for the rookie to say that. Simon did not like him. He was not kind. He was a hard policeman.

 

          Up ahead, Simon saw the Ice Cream Parlor.

 

          "Sir," he said to the big policeman, "may we stop for an ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles? I have been wanting one all day."

 

          "Sure!" the big policeman said.

 

          "You are my true friend!"

 

          What kindness there is in the world, Simon thought. 

 

          But then they drove right past it.

 

 

 

James Valvis lives in Washington State. His work has recently appeared in Arts & Letters, Beat to a Pulp, LA Review, Nimrod, Pedestal Magazine, Rattle, River Styx, Yellow Mama, and is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Gargoyle, Hanging Loose, New York Quarterly, Night Train, Slipstream, and others. His fiction has twice been named a story in South Notable Story. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Web anthologies multiple times and has recently been featured by Verse Daily. How to Say Goodbye, a poetry collection, is due out in 2011.

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