Steven Sherril: Flash Fiction


When I take my drowned brother to the pool hall, we always get a table. Nobody likes to get dripped on. Not the Thursday night frat boys, with their Axe bodywash and their half-dressed girlfriends. Not the oily regulars from the train yard shops a few blocks away. They laugh too loud, but we all know why. I’d rather play nine ball, but my drowned brother only remembers the rules to eight-ball.  Either way, I’m the one who has to balance him against the table, to wrap his stiff fingers around the cue stick and line up the shot. Every shot. 

Nobody likes to get dripped on. It’s hard. Work. I have to tell all the old jokes and laugh at them too. Sometimes the gravy-fries are too much to bear. Sometimes I pretend to be outraged when the waitress offers him a beer. Can’t you see he’s drowned!  But on bad nights, I order him one. Drink them both when I think nobody’s looking.

The Whistlestop doesn’t have the best pool tables in town, but they know us. There’s a high stool by the bathroom door where I can prop him when I go in for paper towels to mop up the constant puddles. One time, I needed a break. I’d scratched my shot; the cue ball ricocheting hard into a side pocket. Two girls in a booth by the pinball machine laughed.  Maybe at me, maybe not. My drowned brother had that look on his face. I was pissed. I wedged him between the wall and the pinball machine. Went for a walk around the block. Outside, everything smelled of kitchen grease blown from a vent in the brick wall, of stale beer, of diesel fuel. Way up in the sky, a hook moon tore a hole in a cloud. It was beautiful in its own way. Everything.

I went back in to the Whistlestop with a big heart. Found my brother in that booth with those two girls. One sitting on his lap. Maybe it was their doing. Maybe they invited him. But I know for a fact that you can never really trust the drowned. They play by their own rules. I got that girl off his lap. The backs of her thighs, damp and goose-fleshed. Her shorts soaked through and everybody could see her black panties. My brother let me win the next few games.

Most nights, it’s not so high-drama. But, always, every night, just before we leave, we stuff five whole dollars in quarters into the jukebox. What do you want to hear? I ask. Though I know. It’s our private joke.  A-33. Achy Breaky Heart. The most annoying song ever written. A-33. I punch that number. Twenty times, 25-cents per play. And we rush for the door. Me, more often than not, dragging my drowned brother behind. It pisses everybody off. Real bad. Every time. We laugh, real hard. Every time. I keep an eye peeled for trouble, though. But rest a little easier with my brother as an ally.  I figure, he’d be pretty good, in the unlikely event of a knife fight. Him being already dead and everything.


It was a pretty good idea, putting effigies of himself all around town. He thinks he remembers getting it, the idea, during an election year. A rowdy mob crowding around an effigy of some politician. Maybe cheering. Maybe about to burn it. Either way, he liked the energy.

The first few, while recognizable, weren’t so convincing. Lopsided, lumpy. Questionable complexions. Dressed wrong. And haphazardly distributed. It was not uncommon to see an early effigy, in a misshapen lump, out behind the Dollar Store. But he got better and better with the plaster heads. With the flesh colored paint. The hair. After depleting his own closet, for clothes that fit right, he became a savvy Goodwill shopper.

Soon enough, he wised up to the importance of placement. Location location location. Initially, the effigies were deployed in his best interest. In the sheltered bus stop, out of the rain. At the little desk in the basement of the library, where he filled interlibrary loan orders. At the DMV. At the dentist office. Early in lines for movie tickets, flu shots, the new iPhone. But before long, altruism reared its ugly head.

He wanted to do some good. He started placing effigies with an eye toward civic duty. Took two seats at the public radio telethon phonebank.  Kept a steady eye on the bins at the recycling center; this color glass goes here; that plastic goes there. He was a regular in the gazebo at the retirement village. And was always found giving out I Voted stickers at the polling place.

It was exhausting work. Work that took over his house. Everything was covered in plaster dust and paint. He considered hiring an apprentice or taking on an intern. But decided against both. Hard hard work, but so very worth it. Sure enough, people started to talk. To take notice.  Rumors flew hither and yon. Have you seen that guy? Who is that guy? I heard he saved a kid from drowning, caught a baby falling out of a window, prevented a false arrest, bought groceries for the poor­–and on and on until–let’s get his input about this plan, make sure he supports that idea, I hope he runs for school board. For sheriff. For mayor.

Early one morning, years into the project, with no end in sight, there came a faint knock at his back door. Papery, weak.  He rubbed his weary eyes. Got up from the pallet, where he’d taken to sleeping, on the kitchen floor. Took a steadying breath and opened up. There they stood. All of them. The sun caught in the dew on their plaster heads. The yard was full. Spilling over into the neighbor’s yards. We’re hungry, they said, then again. We’re hungry. He looked at them. All. He could see it was true. Overwhelmed, he wanted to sob, but there wasn’t time. He opened the door wide. Come in fellas, come in, make yourselves at home. Let’s get you something good to eat.

Things to do With Dead Me

Before butterflies were invented, pawpaw trees still needed to be pollinated so as to grow those squishy white mango-nana like fruits. They’d hang dead things near the trees. Flies did the sexy/dirty work. Go ahead. Hang me near the ground in a grove of pawpaws. You’ll all feast soon.

Surely there’s some work for me near the dumpster at the Pennsylvania Game Commission where hunters tuck the heads of killed deer, to be tested for wasting away disease.

Or, have my funeral every Tuesday morning, for years. Each time in a different church. Talk only about my jigger collection.

Somebody suggested renting me out for dioramas. For kids’ birthday parties. Crime scenes. Live Nativities. Any time a distraction is needed.

Strap me in the front car of the scariest rollercoaster at Hershey Park. All but my arms. Let them flop around. Keep the brats in order.

Those Life Drawing classes at the community college. I can hold a pose forever.

Speaking of community college, once I saw a sign on a door, No Cadavers Today. What a magic time, I thought. Nobody dead. 

My best offer?  Pass my body around for the bullets of all those sad angry boys needing to shoot some body. I’ll  wear any kind of mask they need.

Or we could go to a movie. I like sad ones. I like funny ones. Could even be a Rom-Com. You pick. I’m not one of those dates who talks in the movies. I probably won’t say anything at all.

The One About the Beagle

The beagle’s name was Snoopy, because we lacked imagination. Snoopy belonged to Tori. Tori was nine, maybe ten. Lived across the street. Something was wrong with Snoopy, old Snoopy anyway. He walked in circles, couldn’t go far without falling over, could hardly get up then. We made fun of Snoopy. Said he was drunk. Said he was possessed. Poor Snoopy. Tori had a cousin. Retarded. That’s what it was called back then. She was called Traci. It was called retarded. We chased Traci up a tree one time. Threw black walnuts at her until she cried. Tori too. Jesus, the meanness that passed for fun. I think we got whipped for that one. Not Tori. Tori’s dad lived in a recliner. I stole my first Playboy magazine from his basement. Tori’s mom tanned. A lot. Sometimes with a slather of motor oil. We hid in the bushes and watched her and did stuff. Mostly me. My god, the fun that passed for growing up. Tori was nine, tall and skinny skinny skinny. I wasn’t tall. We stood in the middle of the road one night. Dark enough for the bats to be dancing spastically overhead. There was a piece of moon, or maybe just a streetlight. I wiggled my fingertip under the hem of her shorts. It was summertime. She stood still. The flimsy gate of her Wednesday panties offered no resistance. Stuck my finger in, just a little bit. I never liked Tori very much, but I knew I was touching either heaven or hell. Or maybe the future which is always both.  I never liked Tori very much, but I wish I could go back there. I’d be nicer to Snoopy. I’d like to think I’d ask Tori first. And after I took my finger out of her, looked at it, all slick in the light, I’d say thank you, and mean it. Thank you.

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