A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge
bearing her name asked me to reveal my birthdate.
This apparently confirmed that I knew who I was,
so she bound my arm with a thick rubber thong.
My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening.
She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed
with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein
from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood.
I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts
driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as
my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated.
The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth.
My heart was a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers.
I dreamed for an instant of walking upright and free,
a stranger in the paradise of a long-promised land.
Then she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty,
three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card,
with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name.
LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans: “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”
Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.
Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.
“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.
A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.
“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.
“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.
Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.
“I’m warning you,” Robin said.
“Shut it,” said the leader.
LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.
“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”
The Conga crowd roared their approval.
LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.
“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.
LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.
“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”
LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.
“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”
Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.
Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing, is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.