Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Disease Vector by Bill Chance

“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”

― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Sears Spaceliner Vintage Bicycle

Disease Vector

“Craig, there’s a bunch of kids with bikes on the front lawn calling for you.”

“Ok, Mom. I’ll go out the garage door.”

“I don’t know why they don’t come in. Why do they just stand there and yell. Now, don’t stay out too late, I’m cooking dinner.”

“Yes, Mom. OK, Mom.”

Craig went out through the kitchen and the door to the garage. He lifted up the heavy door and pushed his Sears Spaceliner bicycle out through the opening onto the apron, then turned and pulled the door down behind him.

“Hurry up slowpokes!” Bill Bradbury yelled out. “Let’s get going. They’re spraying for mosquitoes!” Spread out below him along the street were a half-dozen kids on bicycles, waiting for him. They all had spider bikes in a rainbow of colors with tiny wheels and big curved banana seats. The best bike was Bill Bradbury’s – a bright purple spider with sparkly metallic flakes embedded in the plastic of the seat and, best of all, a round car-style steering wheel instead of the usual high rise bars.

Craig hated his bike and wanted one of those spiders so bad. His dad had taken him to the big Sears store downtown and insisted on the gigantic, heavy Spaceliner. After only a few months the chrome was starting to rust, the paint starting to peel and the plastic buttons on the big dashboard that controlled the horn and built-in lights were broken and hanging out. Worst of all, the bike was way too big for him.

“Let’s get one plenty big, so you can grow into it and it’ll last a while,” his dad had said.

He had to push it to get it going, at least rolling down the slope from the garage to the street helped. After the wheels were turning fast enough, Craig had to climb up the side of the bike like it was a fence or something and haul himself over the top bar and onto the seat. Even then, at the bottom of each pedal stroke, the big, heavy pedals disappeared from under his PF Flyers and he’d have to fish for them as they came around and back up.

The thing was a heavy steel beast and hard as hell to pump up a hill but at least once it got going it was hard to stop and he tore through the gang of kids who whipped around on their little, light bikes to get going and catch up to him.

“Come on!” yelled Bill Bradbury as he passed Craig, standing and pumping furiously, hands gripping tight on the steering wheel (the thing looked cool but was a bitch to control, Craig knew), “The sprayer is this way!”

After a couple of blocks they heard the distinctive putt-putt-putt of the bug sprayer and then, around a corner, there it was. The City handyman, Stan Pencil, was driving a little Ford tractor down the street pulling the sprayer in a trailer behind. There was a small diesel motor on the trailer and a big tank full of chemicals feeding into the hot exhaust – leaving a thick blue cloud of oily smoke pouring out backward. This cloud spread out and drifted across the yards and driveways where is, supposedly, killed off all the disease carrying mosquitoes that were starting to swarm in the summer evenings.
With a chorus of loud yells and whoops the kids swung into the street, riding right up behind the trailer into the thickest cloud of smoke.

“Dee Dee Tee Baby!” yelled Bill Bradbury as he stood on the pedals and sucked in as much as he could. “It smells so gooood!”

Craig couldn’t loop around like the others because of his huge bike, but he could keep up and ride in the smoke for a block or so before he’d have to peel off and come around again. He loved the smell of the smoke just like the others. Chasing after Stan Pencil, The Mosquito Man was the best thing in the summer evenings, especially after spending the day at the City Pool.

“Love this stuff!” Bill Bradbury was still yelling. “Breathe it deep enough and you’ll get drunk!”

“Hey! You kids! Get outta there! You’ll kill yourselves. Nobody can see you in all that smoke!”

Mrs. Cunningham was out on her front porch yelling. She was always out there yelling. Craig looked over at her red face above the handkerchief she held over her mouth. The kids all laughed.

“Listen to me! To hell with you! All of you!” Mrs. Cunningham was really working herself up into a lather this time. Craig thought about splitting off and riding home, but he knew he had a little time before dinner, so he kept going.

He made it home in time for dinner, but just barely. After he wheeled his bike back into the garage and washed his hands and face, his mother was peeling the foil off his dinner. He was happy, it was his favorite – two pieces of fried chicken in the big compartment, peas, carrots, and corn on one one side, mashed potatoes on the other and some apple cobbler at the bottom for dessert. His little sister had a smaller, kid’s dinner with spaghetti and meat balls and his Mother had turkey. His father held his fork over a bigger foil rectangle – one of the Hungry Man’s Dinners. It had two oval grayish Salisbury Steaks swimming in a dark brown sea of gravy.

Craig’s father attacked the steaks like he was starving. He always ate that way. He said it was because he grew up on a farm with lots of hands and if you didn’t eat fast, “You didn’t eat enough.” Craig was only half finished, with still a chicken leg, a couple spoonsfull of potatoes and his dessert to go when his father pushed the empty foil rectangle away, lit a cigarette, and started to tap the ashes off into the remains of his dinner after each satisfied puff. He burned the cigarette down to a butt without stopping and stabbed out the hot end into his dinner. Then he lit another.

His mother was still eating, but when her husband lit his cigarette, so did she. She would puff, take a bite, then puff again. She used a little ceramic ashtray that Craig had made for her as a summer camp.

“Connie Cunningham called over here this evening,” she said and then looked at Craig with a raised eyebrow. He knew better than to answer, and stalled by putting a bit of cobbler into his mouth.

“She said all you boys were following the mosquito sprayer on your bikes again.”

Craig shrugged a shoulder.

“Don’t talk back to your mother!” his dad said, as he crushed his second cigarette and lit a third. Craig thought about retorting, “I didn’t talk back, I didn’t say anything!” but knew better.
“She says that you follow too close and that the cars can’t see you in the smoke. She was pretty upset.”

“Now, I don’t want you doing that any more, you hear me,” his father added.

Craig glared at his little sister who was smirking at him.

“Ok, Ok. Now can I be excused?”

“Yes, take out the trash, please, and then go up to do your homework.”

Out by the alley with the trash bags Craig had to swat a half-dozen mosquitoes off his arm.

“Damn thing doesn’t even work,” he said as he trudged back inside.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Panel by Bill Chance

“Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
― Clint Eastwood

Fog in front of my house, Richardson, Texas

Panel

Craig went back to work today. On the drive home, he thought, ” Hectic day, plenty ‘o stress. Quiet panic, nothing big, little things. Hey! Hey! it’s about to be a new year! All that’ll change, Right? Yeah, and monkeys will fly out of my butt.”

When he made it home his wife had broken out the overhead light panel in the kitchen. So it was off to Home Depot for him, mister home repair handyman dude. As he left the house in the minvan it looked hazy, some ground fog, very humid. It happened as he was driving, supersaturated air, more water vapor than it can hold, gas wanting to condense to liquid, giving up the day’s solar heat, the sun gone, over past the west coast, traveling across the Pacific. Polluted urban air, dust particles, stirred up by car tires, car exhaust (“I’ll get it tuned up next week”) jagged microscopic particles of carbon, every facet a condensation seed, a point for the liquid water crystals to begin forming, the molecules to line up along the surface. Oxygen, each with its hydrogen couplet, randomly spinning, vibrating, doin’ the Brownian jig, not enough energy to stay aloft, random movements bring the trio alongside the dust mote where millions of millions (Avogrado’s number is really fuckin’ big ya know) of its twin brothers now sit, lined up. He joins the line, relieved to be out of the air, safety in numbers, condensation, droplets, driplits, lets see where y’all feel like goin’, hitch a ride on a mote. This dance, this lining up, bringing into focus, making a little sphere, a little lens, refraction machine, forming of millions of millions, is itself repeated millions of millions of times across the city, plenty of dust to go around, no shortage of seeds so. WHAM!

Fog so thick you could cut it with a knife. Pea soup. Clouds on the ground at night, no white fluffy furry “hey it looks like Zanzibar” cloud this, but clingy hot and yet cold, “who selected the blend tool?” green blinding scary fog-cloud. It’s a big electric Texas city so the cloud glows from within. The fog captures oncoming cars, streetlights, leftover Christmas displays, store neons, RedGreenYellow traffic indicators, all give their light to the fog. The fog gives it back as a glow, as a hint, “There’s something there, but damn it if I can tell what it is” luminescence in the distance – actually not the distance, a lot closer than is comfortable. Car lights are tungsten white, Town East Mall Lights glow mercury vapor blue or sodium yellow, Christmas lights are -well you know what color they are.

Craig drove slow, careful, of course this is Texas so everyone else is driving like bats out of hell – who are these people? why are they always in such a hurry? there’s nowhere to go nowhere to hide a good song on the radio so why not take your time, slow down and smell the diesel exhaust. Craig wouldn’t mind if a few took the whole pipe in for awhile, they scared the shit out of him. Someone even creeped out into the foggy intersection… maybe to get a better look at an oncoming pickup before they get smacked on the passenger side door.

But Craig got there all right, picked out his transcucent panel, he had a small piece of the broken one in his pocket so he was sure that the new one matched. Home Depot at night, a guy in front of him was buying an entire cart of broken odds and ends of wood, no piece whole, no piece straight, they gave him a good deal on it, he also buys four tubes of caulk. His hands were covered with white dust, cement or wallboard-sandings maybe, so Craig figured he must know what he’s doing.

When Craig left the Depot, the fog was even thicker. He crept home, put up the panel. When they built the kitchen they made the light fixture a tiny bit too big so the panels barely fit in the frame. Every now and then one pop’s out. Craig thought, “Maybe I’ll add it to my things-to-do-list somehow shim the damn thing so they don’t fall. Maybe I’ll use duct tape, hoo boy, that’ll piss her off. Duct tape on the ceiling, might as well put a big sign out front – –White Trash, come on in, eat some Ding Dongs, we buy Mrs. Baird’s Pecan fried pies and to heat ’em we fry ’em again . Wash it down with Mountain Doo if yure under age, or Meister Brau if yure old enough, or some peppermint schnapps if yure cold and yure heart needs some healin’. Never mind the cars in the yard, they don’t run anyway, have a sit in the ARVEE out back – put a tape in the boombox we got both kinds – country and western. We’ll play some Yatzee and then UNO when we get too drunk to roll dice. Then it’s movie time, we got Rambo, we got Anyway but Loose (love that Orangutan), but that’s it, hard to get them Beta tapes nowadays.– – On second thought better put the duct tape away and cut some wooden pieces, finish them up real nice.”

Such Recognitions Are Not Reversible

 At last, one proper Sherlock Holmes London evening, the unmistakable smell of gas came to Pirate from a dark street lamp, and out of the fog ahead materialized a giant, organlike form. Carefully, black-shod step by step, Pirate approached the thing. It began to slide forward to meet him, over the cobblestones slow as a snail, leaving behind some slime brightness of street-wake that could not have been from fog. In the space between them was a crossover point, which Pirate, being a bit faster, reached first. He reeled back, in horror, back past the point – but such recognitions are not reversible. It was a giant Adenoid. At least as big as St. Paul’s, and growing hour by hour. London, perhaps all England, was in mortal peril!

—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Bank of America Plaza, Dallas, Texas

I moved across the cold, wet, foggy city after work. Tired, yet glad the workday was done and I had someplace to go, even if it was only a weekly bookstore discussion of the giant, confusing tome, Gravity’s Rainbow. As I walked from train to streetcar at the midpoint of my journey I looked up at the fog-shrouded tower and thanked the moment of beauty.