the short story project


Alan Irid Fendi

A Helluva Slip

           “Something clicked in the clock on the wall, and I was visited by messengers.”
           —Kharms, “How I Was Visited By Messengers”


“Come down, now, darling!” the mum pleads. Her son stands on the parapet of a bridge, over the estuary of the one and only river in town. Despite the dramatic intensity of the bridge scene, I must admit, the hungover radio-borne refrain, issuing from one of the boats anchored at the wharf, distracts me for a second or two.

The boy’s motives are unclear to me and, as a double take, definitely ambiguous to the mother as well. Her face acts the role of a concerned parent, perfectly; it shrinks mechanically and loosens up for unexpected intervals. The boy stands there, then, balanced by his momentary abhorrence for his mum. His age, I guess, has not surpassed the tautological circle of four years; yet, he heaves, and huffs his No’s in a terribly domineering manner for an imp of his stature.

He’s clinging to an iron bar that juts out from the wall demarcating the crag standing nearby. Now and then he stomps and the mother jerks.

“Oh, what a splashing day!” I say half affectedly as they discover me behind their backs. The boy looks over his shoulder, interested in a stranger for a change, perhaps. The mother, quite plain and with the wrong set of teeth, strains her cheek muscles in embarrassment. I smile at the little hard nut and wipe my forehead backhandedly.

“Who are you, old man?” he inquires brusquely—mistaking my thirty-one years for an eternity—and ogles me, his eyes sharp and swarthy.

“Just passing by… No, I’m—I’m telling untruths, actually.” The boy’s face shines at the ring of the lexical admixture of truth and false. “I’m a messenger. Have you heard that word before?” The boy nods and mumbles what I reckon is either “at home” or the more formal “I wish”.

“Then, you’ll understand every single word I’m gonna say.”

The bland mother’s knees pop as she jumps to her feet, erect. Overwhelmed with a dash of head blood, she does not intercede.

“Have you seen the flying giraffe?”

“No,” he replies, obviously sorry this answer has just left his lips.

“Well, you just missed it, buddy. But I’ll tell all about it.” The mother begins to smile approvingly; I don’t look at her. “You know, just as I walked here, a most miraculous giraffe flew overhead, southward. Have you heard the one about the flying carpet? … Well, even better. This giraffe had both huge wings and jet engines on its back. Of course, now, the wings were in front—to not be touched by the flames, you know. Anyway, the flying giraffe had been visiting her extended relatives over in Siberia and now was heading back to her home country, to the savannas and high trees of east Africa!” I pause a moment for effect. “All right, now I need to deliver my message.”

The little boy, with no resistance, eggs me on with his eyebrows, as his slanted mother lifts him down to safe grounds.

“I think you’re a smart boy that could find it all out all by yourself; but, I’ll spare you. The giraffe said that every autumn and each spring when she’s travelling all that distance from east Africa to Siberia and back, she stumbles upon hundreds of boys and girls in hundreds within hundreds of cities, and whenever she notices a kid doing something wrong or wicked at all, she bends her head down—she can’t help it because she cares—and she stares and weeps, without halting her wings or flicking off the flaming engines, she just stares with her azure eyes, weeping, and that’s why it rains in autumn, she tells me, and that’s why things are covered in dew in spring. And she told me it hurt to see a naughty child. She said that in haste as she passed overhead. Only thing—she told me a secret—.”

“A secret? Gelil!” says his mother, trying to entice the child on, which, admittedly, was uncalled for at this instant.

“What secret?” he gapes at me.

“She said if I met a boy named Gelil, that I ought to tell him he’s not one of those kids who make her neck twist and ache every year.”

As if I have just expounded his fate written in the creases of his hand, or, using the hexagrams of the Chinese Book of Changes, expounded who he was, is, and will eternally be, bewitched satisfaction spreads across the boy’s face, across and within his mother’s more still.

Upon leaving them, it occurs to me, really as an afterthought—which always stings one with terror and pangs of tremor—, that I just reinvented Hell for a lad for no unassailable reason. And I wonder: What a mother that was!


                                                                                                   11 Apr 2019

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