Medusa and an Anchorite by Matthew Dexter

Inhaling grass clippings and hash drifting from my sister’s window, Grandpa bounced higher on the diving board. Liver constellated skull engulfing solar eclipse. I floated face down on an inflatable zebra. Grandpa replaced his hip eleven months earlier and promised “a forward somersault in the tuck position” soon as the syzygy started. Grandpa cherished an airborne inertia. We’d never seen the board bouncing with hypnotized madness.

Mom and Dad were gorging at the corner diner where potheads pissed into Coca-Cola bottles beneath bubblegum tables. Grandpa should’ve been in Purgatory. Surgeons excised a humongous tumor last year. He bled for hours. His somersault spectacular, ring around the moon clamped him. Grandpa’s skull shattered concrete spun moonshine. My sister swung her legs puffing Alaskan Thunderfuck.

“Stop the bleeding,” she said.

We knew Grandpa was dead. Ring around the moon glowing, forehead filled with blood and broken capillaries, she ashed a canoeing joint into his hairy ear. We rolled the cancer onto his stomach and thrust him toward the pool—the inflatable zebra made room for a fresh carcass—an answer. My sister spanked his skull with the telescoping pole of the leaf skimmer.

“Look at him float,” my sister said.

She bashed him into oblivion.

“How could this happen?” Dad asked.

Mom was making love to wads of Kleenex weighted with fluorescent mucus. When the judge asked why she did it—what compelled us to commit this desperate act—my sister nailed a somersault over our attorney’s head.

“Did you see the eclipse last night?” my sister asked the man who scooped Grandpa’s corpse from the bottom, his Speedo lodged in the drain, snakes coiled around his waist. Grandpa snorted Viagra with crisp two-dollar bills. He reminisced ‘bout his glory days. “Auditioning” for the USA men’s synchronized diving team.

“His package was too small,” my sister said. “It killed him in the end. All he wanted was to make the Olympics.”

“His package?” asked the detective.

“Yup,” my sister said. “His junk. Mail carrier his whole life.”

My sister’s eyes, flying saucers, I remember falling in love beneath Muppet sheets, grimy fingernails falling into crevices like Grandpa’s thumbs on wrinkled magazines in racist barber

shops.

“He touched you?” asked the detective.

Mom and Dad stood sobbing.

“All he wanted to do was dive,” my sister said.

She swaggered to the board and bounced. The zebra floated beneath her, its cathartic plastic stripes scarred with blood. Coagulated clumps clung to the porous edges of the deep end.

My sister took hits from her vaporizer between bounces, cumulonimbus cupping sunburned breasts, a magic carpet.

Yucatan Whips by Matthew Dexter

The storm was churning and the newscasters were prophesying with porcelain veneers, bloodshot forecasters pontificating over satellite maps with furrowed brows. We had been preparing for this system twenty minutes. Mom already had a black eye and Dad was knocked out the window into the swimming pool. The eye was aiming our way;  windows were taped into shapes of cumulonimbus: what we wanted to push away. Cool raindrops pelted blue stained-glass.

We had been through a Category 1, but this was a different monster: a Category 4 swirling from the western Caribbean toward the room we rented in Cancun. We had no money to evacuate, no luxury of leaving our possessions. We were not snotty tourists with lobster sunburns buying baggies of cocaine on the beach with sombreros, swimming in decadent resort swimming pools sipping piña coladas; we are a working family. Dad owns a taco stand and we marry the condiments and mix salsas with wooden spoons spawning Escherichia coli in guacamole at midnight.

Mom demanded Dad tape the bathroom window, place as much effort into this endeavor as he dedicates to his gambling. When he gets submersed in the latter he resembles a grisly meth addict: yellowed teeth and sunken cheeks pocked with obstinate grayish skin. We are atheists, but for some reason Mom was praying and Dad was crossing his chest with purple knuckles like a Mexican, kissing his thumb. My brother was ashamed in the corner, hoping the storm knocked the whole apartment into the sea and concussed Mom severely enough to create short-term amnesia.

We had learned more about each other in twenty minutes than we had in ten years, even living in quant quarters of squalor amid palm fronds and the aroma of urine melting amid tropical sunshine. Mom was frantic as she pulled the pillowcases from their stained feathers, shoved them under the door, went for the extras and discovered the first hint of the degree of lust that sprung from her thirteen year-old-son. She did not tell Dad. She pinned it beneath the door with her fingernails, exercising more caution than with the others. That should do it, Dad said.

The prick of the cacti, the frenetic search for items to keep out the tempest; it even came through windows, underneath stucco walls which were already dampened and water-stained. The storm was already inside us, we were the eyes catching glimpses, closer into our sclera, our secrets meshed with reality and the deathly rattle of pelting horizontal.

Mom uncovered hundreds of old betting tickets–losers that Dad had saved as a way to ascertain the logic of his errors, the systemic endemic rot of a man addicted to horses. Mom tried to punch him, to blacken his other eye and knock out his tooth, but he lunged away at the last moment, catching her elbow as the ticket stubs swirled around the room like a deck of cards.

Dad tried to catch himself, but it was too late, and jabbing his wife’s eye, he receded two stories below, into the storm, again. The chlorine embraced him like a jockey hugging a tortured stallion after pulling out an insurmountable comeback on the final lap. The horse would die from exhaustion, having been run to death by the whips of a diminutive madman.

An Elephantine Metathesis of a Zamboni Driver by Matthew Dexter

The Zamboni driver started collecting fire ants when the snow began to thaw–and although the inspiration for the endeavor was not the weather but the removal of bandages from the third-degree burns on his left arm–this hobby was better than picking up a hunting rifle and blasting a bullet through his head like his father had. He would never do that to his son.

The insects were kept in an old peanut butter jar sealed with aluminum foil full of air holes. After obsessing for weeks about where to locate and hunt the fattest ants, the Zamboni driver walked three miles to the baseball diamond where Little League dropouts were smoking butts on bleachers, rounding second base. High school degenerates huddled in dugouts smoking crystal.

The Zamboni driver swaggered over to home plate and collected specimens. He pivoted on the mound, planted his ankles, kicked the dirt, and licked his fingernails. Ants stinging palm, he wound into that left-handed delivery and pitched toward the plate.

***

As a child, the Zamboni driver dreamed of being a giant. After his father pulled that trigger with blistered toe, the boy began to doubt his elephantine metathesis.

***

The inferno occurred on Christmas Eve, though it had been brewing for weeks from the ritual of cocktail party-hopping after hockey games. Driving under the influence into the neighbor’s mailbox at eighty miles per hour, windshield filled with flames, the famous Zamboni driver nearly melted into the steering wheel before Good Samaritans wrestled the charred-arm cherub from the dashboard.

***

After school, father and son hunted together, and by the end of the Indian summer the two had accumulated thousands of fire prisoners. Many had died, most often from fighting other ants to escape from the bottles. The torturers cut off their antennae, trachea, legs, and burnt them with a magnifying glass.

The Zamboni driver saw his moment approaching in a circle. The tulip leaves were orange, red, and purple; the injuries were healing; the burns not burning so much–yet the arm still felt distant, as if it wasn’t his, so he decided to amputate it.

Once the decision was reached, the Zamboni driver started to feel closer to the limb–it must have done some good all those years–not just hanging there: arteries and veins and muscles. The man did in fact have great memories of driving the Zamboni, but his career was finished.

He also cherished those moments holding his son, but the boy was old enough to walk now. Needing his arm like a hole in the head, the Zamboni driver circled the date on his calendar and sharpened the saw in the garage.

Using twigs, father and son built an obstacle course for fire ants. If they could scale the seven layers of inverted walls caked with fudge and poison, they were free. The Zamboni driver planted mice traps and added two armadillos and a poison dart frog from South America. There were holes cut in the bottom where the victims dropped, through tubes that led to a barrel of acid.

They opened the lids of the peanut butter jars in the middle of the course and out swarmed thousands of fire ants, crawling into a tangled mess. The boy was lost in strawberry magic. The Zamboni driver excused himself, warning his son to keep away from the barrel, reiterating the importance of safety goggles.

The man entered the garage. He picked up the saw. He could see the freedom, the burning regression. He began the amputation. The boy was splashing in the acid. The man could hear the screaming as he cut through those nerves, releasing the burnt fragments that had haunted him since the accident.

The Zamboni driver wrapped the stump in a Mexican blanket and waved the severed appendage over his head in triumph. He splashed his arm in the acid, submerging layers of mangled fire ants. The Zamboni driver began blowing bubbles. His lips disappeared, he grabbed his throat and the shaking of his body merged with traces and outlines of giant leaves falling from tulip trees.