1. THE CONVERSATION is simple at first. The basic transaction of transaction. Ellen says, “Hi,” and the man says, “Hi.” Then there’s an awkward pause as Ellen rings up the Tic Tacs and the bottle of Head and Shoulders.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” Ellen asks. Then she laughs. “It’s never ending, you know. Trying to find what we’re looking for.” Her face reddens, and she wonders if he knows—if he can tell from the way she eyes the bead of saliva on his lower lip—that she’s conducting research, informal as it may be. That this transaction of transaction is a study in human fallibility. She herself is fluent in failure. Who’s better, who’s best? Who’s weaker, who’s weakest? In communication. Miscommunication. Relationships. Imperfection. She is also practiced in the analysis of failure.
“Yes,” the man says, the corners of his mouth turning up in uninterested politeness. Ellen’s not sure which of her statements he’s responding to, but it doesn’t matter. The man adds, “I really like your glasses.”
“Thanks,” Ellen says. She touches the asymmetrical black-and-white frames. Then she smiles, looks down at the counter for a brief moment. Her ex never even noticed when she got new glasses. She studies the man’s face now, spotted with stubble. Guesses him to be about thirty, maybe thirty-five. Her same age, more or less. Allows herself a moment’s reverie, a flush of titillation.
“I wonder if I should call my girlfriend tonight,” he says.
Ellen turns away, looks at the clock.
“We kinda had a disagreement,” the man says.
The receipt prints, and Ellen hands it to him.
The receipt prints, and she hands it to him.
The receipt, and she it to him.
The receipt hands it. She. To him.
2. To him. Tohim. Toom. Tomb.
Muddle through the muddle through the muddle through the. Conversation converses conversely craving conversation, less and less and more and more. Less is more, and more is less.
Break up break in brake hard break. Out. Break the broken barriers borders. Heart hard hack heaven halo hallelujah. Buck the buck the buck the beef bark bam. Bill buck bean back Burke Ben been be ball bam. Bam. BAM.
3. Ellen sets the book on the counter, assesses the associate who picks it up and scans the barcode without even looking at its title. He’s younger than she is, maybe in his midtwenties. A hipster, he wears a plaid bow tie that fights with his striped shirt. Still, Ellen pauses, considers the possibilities. Considers the concrete. Considers the crucial tenets of consciousness. Of light. Of darkness. Of man, woman, and beast.
“I really like your glasses,” the associate says, a come-and-get-it look on his young and eager face. Beast.
Ellen smiles at the beast, matching his fervor. “Thanks,” she says.
“I wonder if I should call my girlfriend tonight,” he says.
Ellen tells herself he’s too young for her anyway. She shrugs, acts disinterested.
“We kinda had a disagreement,” he says.
She shrugs again and considers words that rhyme with shrugs, like bugs, drugs, pugs, mugs, jugs, and glugs.
4. Making deliberate mistakes increases one’s flexibility, their adaptability, and helps to prevent future occurrences of the same. Failure analysis. Whether it be hello, hi, how are you, or anything in between. It is it is it is. It. Is.
5. Be. Was. Invincible. Irrevocable. Irritable. Irksome. Ineffable. Inconceivable. Interrogate. Itch. Ditch. Mitch.
Ellen. Eloise. Tortoise. Tits tits tits. It’s its.
Wooly mammoth doodle dog mud fur food. Let the let the let the. Let the dog see the rabbit. Let the dog see the rabbit.
6. Run, Rabbit, run.
7. “I really like your glasses,” the man says. A bandit barrier shields them from one another.
“Thanks,” Ellen says. She passes the slip of paper through the slot. She waits for her money. Another transaction of transaction. Another experiment.
Speak. Speak. Dont speak dont speakdontspeak. Take turns. Taketurns. Taketurns taketurnstaketurnstaketurns. Consider every scenario first. Think. Don’t think. Wink. Don’t wink.
“My name is . . .” he says, and it could be any name, but it’s Robert. Only he doesn’t say it. Silence hangs in the air, stretching s t r e t c h i n g. Ellen feels a smile sneak onto her face. She knows his name because he’s wearing a name tag.
Speakspeakspeakspeakspeakspeak. Peakspeakspeakspeaks. Peek.
“Robert,” she says, and he creases his brow, perplexed. She points to his name tag. Let the dog chase the rabbit. Chase his tail. Give chase. Chase.
“Rob,” he says.
“Robert,” she says.
“Rob,” he repeats. She likes his persistence and knows that the logical next step would be to tell him what her name is. But this is a bank, and his name is Rob. She doesn’t have a gun, but she will rob him. Rob. Him.
“Robert,” she says again.
“Rob.” A directive. An imperative sentence.
“I’ll count to thirty. Take off your clothes.”
8. Clothes. Close. Close call. Collies. Border collies. Borders. Boarders. Forwards and backwards. Sdrawkcab. Back words. Backward words. Backwoods. Rabbit the see dog the let. Rabbittheseedogthelet. Letthedogseetherabbit tibbarehteesgodehttel. Everything encumbered by the wool, the linen, the cotton, the creases, the pockets, the belts, the welts, the pelts.
9. Forward forward forward forward forward forwardforwardforwardforwardforward
Switch. Unencumbered. Switch.
10. “I’ll count to thirty,” she says. “Take off your clothes.”
11. They swim, Ellen and Robert. They melt into water. They are slick and fine and wet.
A dog sniffs the water’s edge. The pool. Bright blue sky. Green grass to pee upon. To be upon. As soon as they wake from their dream. As soon as, they will know. Each person walks behind the other. EachPersonWalksBehindTheOther. Eachpersonwalksbehindtheother. Eachpersonwalksbehindtheothereachpersonwalksbehindtheothereachpersonwalksbehindtheother
Except for the leader leader lettuce eater.
12. Let the dog chase the rabbit. Let the dog. Rabbit.
13. Run, Rabbit!
14. A greyhound chases a mechanical rabbit around a racetrack. There are no obstacles, no restrictions. It’s simply a race to the finish. A study of strength, or the opposite thereof. A matter of perspective. Always a winner. Never a winner. Nobody loses. Except that. Somebody always loses.
15. “Have you found everything you were looking for?” Ellen asks. “Did it feel good? Are you happy?” Then she laughs. “It’s never ending, you know. Trying to find what we’re looking for. Trying to feel good. Trying to be happy.”
She lies back on the grassy knoll, not far from the car, and cradles the illusion, the memory of now, of yesterday, and of the future—rocks it back and forth. The water glistens nearby. The nightingale sings of fond night, of delusions, of broken-down boxes, of murderous shadows, of craving craving craving. Always craving. There’s a juice box in the glove compartment. A bite of carrot. A faded photograph of a girl with Coke-bottle glasses, eyes magnified in wonder. That was before, back when there was innocence. Bliss. Before life mutated and became. Transactional. Before life mutated and. Became. Before it became. Before became. A study of. Fallibility. Astudyoffallibility.
Ellen is far away now, having grown through her youth, having flagged down every car, having winked out all the windows, having broken all the hearts, having carried every weight for all the miles. She dreams of building a nest in the ground but doesn’t want to. Want. Doesn’t want. Want. Doesn’t want to be trapped.
Robert pops a mint, asks Ellen if she wants one. He wags his tail, pants hot breath.
“No,” she says. She wiggles her nose, bunny-like, and touches her soft brown fur.
Jessica Klimesh is a US-based editor and proofreader who works with academic, technical, and creative writers. She holds an MA in English from Bowling Green State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Cedar Crest College. She previously taught in the English as a Second Language (ESL) and Rhetoric departments at the University of Iowa. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, Strukturriss, Ghost Parachute, Bending Genres, and The Cafe Irreal, as well as other places. She currently lives in Ohio with her senior dog, Rosie, who will soon be seventeen.
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