Uncle Billy

Hey everyone,

This is your Uncle Billy. I’m on a flight from Pisa to London right now, and then tomorrow back to the States. Why am I telling you this ? Because to commemorate my arrival I’d like you to prepare a banquet. 

Now, I know what you might be saying: Hey Bill, what kind of deli meats do you like? The answer: pretty much all kinds. I like pepperoni, ham, salami, turkey – is chicken a deli meat? Probably not.

We live in a cruel world.

I know some of you other folks might be thinking, but don’t have the guts to say, that no matter what kind of deli meats you get I’m going to be disappointed. This is simply not true. At the last get-together I only complained about the deli meats because they were garbage and because I wanted to make Aunt Sharon feel bad. Am I a bad person? I’m appalled you would even ask.

Anyway, I’m glad we had this little talk. It might not’ve been particularly interesting, but it was productive. Listen: I’m your uncle Billy. I’m here to make sure everyone has a good time. Remember two years ago when the caterer completely blew it and made the family reunion vegetarian, and we were forced to improvise? Me and cousin Darryl hopped in his truck and came back within 45 minutes with a two year old black tail. Was it an illegal shot? Technically. In the state of Arkansas, may her flag fly forever high, you’re not supposed to shoot firearms from inside a vehicle. So yes, it was against the law. But I think any law enforcement officer would be quick to appreciate how difficult the shot was and let Uncle D off with a slap on the wrist.

Plus, we had venison for days.

In addition to deli meats, John will be in charge of the beer. Karen, please take care of the silverware. The plastic kind is fine, since it makes it easier to clean up.

I’m so excited to see all of you. It’s been a great trip but to tell you the truth most of the time I’m in Europe I’m just pissed off.

God bless my family and God bless the United States of America,
Uncle Bill

Fiction Fridays: “The Magician”

by Mark Wetzler

“Welcome, welcome! Gather round! That’s it, closer now. Closer now, everyone, don’t be shy. The show’s about to start. You there, why don’t you come just a hair closer? Just a step! You’ll have a much better view. I can guarantee you don’t want to miss this. And you there, sir, if you wouldn’t mind putting your phone away. I need your full concentration. What’s that you say? Well, yes, it is a free country! You’re exactly right about that. You’re free to miss the show, though I can guarantee you’ll regret it. Oh, you’ll see soon enough. You’ll all see. Now gather round, that’s it, just a bit closer. Miss, are you going to watch? I don’t mean to be rude but I’d prefer you to either watch or distance yourself a bit. Can’t have bystanders around. No, that won’t do. That won’t do at all. Yes, of course I know what I’m doing! No, you don’t need a permit for this. It’ll just take a second. Sir, I’m going to ask your one last time, please put your phone away. Pardon me? I would gladly, sir, but I’m not much of a fighter. Maybe next time. I need to concentrate now.”

Hector was the first to notice him. “The magician’s here again,” he said to the captain. “Would you like me to shut him down?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary.” the captain said. “I quite like watching him. We could even make some tea and go sit on the balcony.”

“Sir, need I remind you a young girl was burned last time?”

“No, Sergeant Bilkes, actually you needn’t remind me. I remember it quite well. I was the one who called her mother.”

“They were third degree burns, sir.”

“Indeed they were. Indeed they were,” the captain said, staring off into the plaza.

“I can’t take anymore of this,” Hector said, starting for the stairs.

“Sergeant Bilkes! If you shut him down, I’ll have recommended for demotion. How would you like that?”

Sergeant Bilkes stopped still, his head cast down.

“I wouldn’t like that, sir.”

“Then let the man work. Every town needs a magician, you know. Besides, it’s Christmas.”

“It’s March 14th, sir.”

The two watched as the magician readied a top hat and waved a magic wand over it. The crowd was gathered around close, trying to peer into the hat. The man who’d been on his phone had now put it down and was gazing over, his phone limp in his hand like a dead brook trout.

“And now,” the magician said, “For the moment you’ve all been waiting for. From this hat, I will make spring something you’ll never believe you’ve seen with your own two eyes, something you didn’t think even existed on planet earth!”

Ooh, this is a good one, the captain thought, taking a sip of his tea. The last one had been good, too. Were the child’s burns lamentable? Yes. But there was a price for genius.

“Come on! Come on!” shrieked a boy in the front. “What is it?”

Shut up, you stupid boy, the captain thought. The magician hated to be rushed. The captain saw a momentary snarl flash across his face, and then he regained his composure.

“Oh to hell with it,” Hector said, and started out the door.

“I shall count to three,” the magician said, “and the mystery will be revealed. A sight beyond your wildest dreams, a feat accomplished by no other magician on earth…”

Hector flew down the stairs, hands on the banisters, his legs churning. He wasn’t going to let this madman do anything. Last time the little girl’s cries had been sickening. The ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive. The doctor said her face would be permanently disfigured.

The captain made a mental note to have Hector recommended for demotion, if not dismissed from the force.

“One!” the magician said.

The crowd hushed. Hector had exited the police commissary and was half a football field away.

“Two!”

The captain took another sip of his tea. It was Tetley’s. He drank nothing else.

“Three!” the magician crowed, just as Hector arrived.

There was a popping noise followed by a cloud of smoke and the magician disappeared, along with the crowd.  Hector stared, his mouth open. Slowly, the smoke began to clear. Hector heard them before he saw them, their faint quacking noises. He saw about twenty of them, huddled around a bigger one, and the bigger one had plumage that resembled a cape. One of them was standing off to the side, preening itself and pretending to not be interested.

Hector tried to shout for help but it caught in his throat and the only thing that came out was a small, perfunctory “quack.”

He heard clapping coming from the balcony and turned around.

“Bravo,” the captain was shouting, standing now, “Bravo!”

Fiction Fridays: “Dear Madeleine”

I had already been living in Brindisi a year when I met Madeleine. She was lying on the beach, looking out at the sea when I approached her. I rarely approached women, but she had been reading El Tercer Reich by Roberto Bolaño, and I had to comment. Did she like it? What did she think of the writing? Wasn’t it magical?

She spoke very little English. She was from Seignosse, a town in France near the Spanish border. She spoke Spanish well, hence El Tercer Reich, but her English was essentially non-existent. She did know the phrase “Jim Dandy,” which I found odd. I told her I was in Italy by myself, that I was a teacher, and she said in English, “So, you are Jim Dandy?”

The next day we met in the piazza to explore the city together. She was wearing a short white dress and tan sandals. She had on dark sunglasses that covered half her face. She looked like a bug. I suggested we sit in the piazza first and have a coffee, but she wanted to get right to it. She wanted to walk. She had legs like a gazelle and could cover three sidewalk tiles in one step.

She kept complimenting me on my French, despite the fact that I didn’t speak this language. I’d taken two years in university but that was just because I liked sitting next to a Russian girl named Olga who never spoke to me. My teacher, John, was from Georgia. He was a hard-ass. If kids were talking in the back he wouldn’t reprimand them; he’d just sit staring down at his desk, breathing loudly through his nostrils. When his nostrils flared he looked like a warthog.

I could’ve watched Madeleine walk all day. She had a confident walk. I liked confident women. I myself was not confident. Approaching Madeleine had taken every ounce of courage in my body. I could feel my insides trembling, my pancreas starting to shudder. I started thinking about my gall bladder and what would happen if it ruptured. What was the medical attention like in Italy? Did they anesthetize with Chianti? Would the doctor correct my pronunciation of the words “aqua frizzante?” But still, I  approached Madeleine.

“Do you like Roberto Bolaño?” I said.

“Yes.”

I sat down next to her. “I’m writing an essay on the intertextuality of Bolaño and William Faulkner.”

“Quoi ?” she said. I laughed. She laughed. I looked out over the Adriatic, at a sailboat bobbing in the distance and at the sun reflecting off the waves.

After a half hour of walking through the city we stumbled upon an art gallery. It was called Il Francisco and dedicated to an obscure Italian painter who lived in the 17th century and painted only melons. Canteloupe, to be exact. One honeydew, too,  after which he’d apparently had a nervous breakdown. We explored three rooms of the museum, commenting on each piece as we passed by. Madeleine would either say “magnifique” or “terrible,” but there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to her appraisals. One time she said “magnifique” while looking at a fire alarm. I, for my part, stayed mostly silent, but would nod my head when I agreed with her, and let out a small snort when I didn’t.

After the art gallery I walked her back to her hotel, and agreed to meet her at 8pm sharp to go to a pizza restaurant. She had chosen the place; I would tag along. Of course, having lived in Brindisi, I already knew the restaurant. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but I didn’t dare say anything.

The owner of the restaurant, which was called La Toscana, greeted both of us with a kiss on the cheek, and called me by my name.

“Do you know him?” Madeleine asked.

“I’ve seen him once or twice,” I said.

To drink we had a Soraie made from partially-dried grapes. The wine was exceptional;the pizza was not. The crust was doughy. The artichoke hearts, I saw after stealing a glance back at the kitchen, came from a can.  To my horror it seemed even the mozzarella wasn’t fresh, but that I couldn’t confirm.

I asked Madeleine about her youth in Brittany and later in southwest of France, and then she turned the attention toward me. What was my life like in Brindisi? How had I ended up there? What was teaching at the local university like? Did I get bored? We talked for over two hours and then saw that the wait staff had started cleaning up. “Shall we head back?” I asked. She nodded, finished her wine and stood up.

In the piazza on the way back I kissed Madeleine. Her tongue was a like a dead anchovy. The romanticism of the night evaporated. I suggested we have another drink — anything to extend the nigh — but she said she had to get up early the next day. I kissed her again and she reciprocated, this time there was even less passion. She disappeared into the lobby of her hotel without looking back.

The next day I went to the beach. I didn’t see Madeleine. I walked up and down, looking at the tourists, paused to take a dip and open my eyes underwater,  where I saw nothing but blue and sand. When I surfaced I saw a girl sitting next to a friend. They looked American. One was reading A People’s History of the United states by Howard Zinn.  Under normal circumstances I didn’t approach women, but this time I had to comment.