THREE FLASH STORIES by Michael Haller

WORK

 

I answer a phone for the company. I sit behind a desk in a room and answer the telephone when it rings. When the telephone is not ringing I sit in my chair and wait for the phone to ring. When the phone rings I pick up the handset and listen to the voice on the other end, and when the voice is finished saying what it has to say I hang up and try not to think. Then the phone rings and I answer it.

My boss tells me I am doing a splendid job, but I think he is saying this to keep me from thinking that maybe I am not doing a splendid job and that I am, in fact, wasting the company’s money. But because the company has never shown signs of a money shortage, I do not believe it is possible to waste something that cannot be depleted. Therefore my boss is telling the truth. He is an honest man.

At 5:00 the phone stops ringing and it is time to go home. I do not know whether the company turns off the phone so no more calls can get through, or if the callers automatically stop calling every day at 5:00 and then resume calling at 8:00 the next morning.

At 5:00 I leave and go home to my house where there is a phone in the bedroom. This phone rings occasionally, no, seldom, when I am with it. When I do get a call, the voice on the other end often sounds familiar, but I cannot match the voice to a face or a person. I listen, though, and sometimes speak to the voice. 

One day I made a tape recording of my voice and brought it to a nearby phone booth. I dialed my home, set the mouthpiece next to the tape recorder, rushed home, and answered my phone in time to hear my voice on the other end speaking to me. It was a limited conversation but one that I have cherished because I knew who was talking to me. I would like to meet this person from the phone booth, but because of time constraints we will be unable to get together.

 

 

 

THE TOURNAMENT

 

It was after the billiards tournament I had won. We were standing around the table talking; I was talking about the last shot I made. Hands recently removed from nearby pockets were grabbing my right one and shaking it in congratulations. One of the hands felt like a tongue. There were camera flashes and questions from a reporter. I had won. Then the men took me by the arms and laid me on the pool table, splayed like an X. Two pock-faced men unbuttoned my shirt. A heavyset man wearing tinted glasses took a penknife out of his pocket and stuck it into my chest just above the left nipple. While holding the knife in place with his right index finger, he removed a handkerchief from his pants with his left hand and blew his nose. He then made an incision in my chest that cut in a rising half arc to my right nipple, around and down to a spot midway between sternum and navel, then straight down to my beltline. He rolled back the flap of skin, in the same way one might open a tin of sardines. He sloshed his hands in the opening, then tugged on something that gave with a snap. It slipped out of his hands and made the sound a cow liver would make if it were dropped on the ground. Then they put the skin back in place, stitched me, picked up my fallen organ, and left. A minute later one of the men returned and read me a note: “In order to facilitate recuperation the patient must remain supine for seven days. If the patient attempts to ambulate before the seventh day, it is possible he or she will agitate the part of the body that is healing and tear loose the stitching.”

 

      

DOMESTIC

 

I live in the fear that someone will assassinate me. I will walk out of my house one morning to get my newspaper, and when I turn to wave to my next-door neighbor (who is also getting his paper) a gunman in a passing car will open fire with a machine gun. I will do a writhing death dance in my front yard, similar to the one Warren Beatty performed at the end of Bonnie & Clyde, blood spewing from my wounds like geysers.

I do not understand why anyone would want to assassinate me. 

I am not a politician, and to remove any suspicion about my involvement in politics I have stopped voting. Nor am I a religious figure. I have closed the church’s doors to myself and have stopped thinking about God. Politicians and preachers are the usual targets of the assassin’s bullet, and by removing myself from the sphere of the hunted I think I will be safe. 

Yet I wake at night and see shadows moving in the dark, hear feet shifting in the carpet…windows conspiring against me. 

I will hire bodyguards to protect me at all times and I will wear a bulletproof suit. The protection will cost money but if it saves my life it will be worth it.


Michael Haller is a writer based in Cincinnati. His fiction has appeared in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Across the Margin, and Five on the Fifth. His play "The Life of Douggie Campbell," staged in Los Angeles in 1991, starred Jack Black before he was famous.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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