Confronted by a Cannon
by David Holub
Paul sat in a stylish café, decorated in burnt orange and off white. He adjusted his rectangular black-rimmed glasses as he sipped a non-caffeinated beverage, which set him back $4.22.
Nervously awaiting a friend, he unfolded a newspaper to the Op/Ed page. Agreeing mildly with the papers' stance on two proposed trade bills he moved on to the letters to the editor.
Unemployment. Urban sprawl. Magic in schools. Property tax. Partisan squabbles.
He formulated opposition to each, then grumbled. In fairness, he went back and searched for aspects in which he could agree with.
As he impatiently craned his neck, hoping to see his egg and bacon panini on its way, a cannon crept out from under a nearby table. The size of a hair dryer and constructed of cast iron, the cannon would have fit in perfectly on a Civil War battle site, if the site of the battle was a neglected skating rink. As if singling out Paul from a crowded street, the cannon pointed up and shot him in the arm.
Paul grimaced in pain and frustration. He looked around the restaurant rhetorically rubbing his arm, then peered at the cannon. Scanning the floor, he found the cannon ball resting next to his wooden shoe, which he wore to stylishly offset his business attire. He picked it up and rolled it between his index finger and thumb. He wanted to pop it into his mouth and chase it down with water in hopes of intimidating the cannon into playing his way. He settled by placing it in his breast pocket.
As the panini arrived, so did Alan. Paul continued to rub his arm as the two made awkward eye contact.
"What is this?" said Alan, gesturing at Paul's arm.
Paul motioned to the cannon.
"It shot me."
"What did you do?"
Paul had known defensive people and did not want to be one. He prefaced his tone accordingly.
"Nothing. I was sitting here reading the paper, waiting for you and it wheeled out and 'ka-blam.'"
Alan removed his hat.
"I bought this hat last Thursday. I go into the same store today and it's selling for $5 less. Can you believe that?"
"Hmm. That's ... That's hard to believe," Paul said.
Paul took a bite from his panini then a sip from his cup. The two sat in silence before trying to break the awkwardness at the same moment.
"Go ahead," Paul said.
"No, what were you going to say?" Alan responded.
Paul fidgeted and diverted eye contact. He paused and brushed a crumb onto the floor.
"I uh ..."
He cleared his throat and took another drink.
"I ... uh ... wanted to talk to you about something," Paul mustered as he paused.
Alan's eyebrows rose, as if trying to pull the words out of Paul's mouth. Paul continued.
"There's been this street sweeper coming through my neighborhood every night this week at like 3 in the morning."
Alan sat silent and still. As they kept eye contact, each knew Paul hadn't called Alan to have lunch on a Tuesday to discuss street sweepers.
"That's, uh, crazy," Alan hesitated.
"Yeah," Paul said, defeated.
The silence returned. Paul went for another bite when he noticed the cannon on a chair at the table next to him.
It fired, letting out a miniature kaboom and a small ribbon of smoke, hitting Paul in the right knee. He forced a grin, trying to mask the pain. He caught the eyes of a couple sitting nearby and mouthed the words "I'm OK."
Alan scratched his head.
"Why does that keep shooting you?"
"I don't know. That's what I'm trying to figure out," Paul said, still rubbing and grimacing. "It's really getting old though."
"Getting old? How many times have you been shot?"
"I've lost count. I first noticed the cannon here and there maybe three, four weeks ago. It didn't start going off until about 11 days ago."
"And you don't know why?"
"It's probably something I'm doing that needs to stop. Folding maps wrong. Littering. Eating bad. Something. I don't know. It could be anything."
Paul tried to hide his frustration but was intrigued at Alan's interest.
"It's probably something I'm saying. Some word," Paul added. "I bet certain words set it off.
"I'll figure it out. I went through all the A's on the subway yesterday. No luck."
The men met eyes again and both glanced away quickly.
Alan noticed the cannon attached to a slow-moving ceiling fan two tables over and pointed at it. Paul turned around and was met with a cannonball in the left shoulder. Paul put his hand over the spot of impact, closed his eyes and gazed upward.
Giving the moment what he thought was ample time to pass, Alan nodded at Paul's drink.
"That looks good."
"Decaf Framocha," Paul responded. "$4.22"
Alan motioned over a waitress and ordered the same but added caffeine, an extra dose of cappuccino and a shot of caramel. Alan fixated, resting his chin on his folded hands. Paul continued to massage his shoulder.
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"What, the cannon?" Paul said. "It's just the cannon's nature. I mean, I guess that's just what cannons do. They fire. It just happens to be firing at me."
"For no apparent reason," Alan said.
"For no apparent reason," Paul agreed.
Alan wanted more from Paul. More anger, more feeling, more opinion. He rolled his eyes, flabbergasted at Paul's lack of concern.
"And?" Alan said.
"It'll stop ... eventually," Paul said, trying to convince Alan as well as himself.
Paul tested the temperature of his drink with his lips. It was less than warm but he drank anyway.
"So ... uh ... I bet you're wondering why I called you down here today," Paul said, his heart rate heightened.
Still mesmerized with the cannon, Alan didn't even flinch at Paul's words.
"Why don't you just go get it," Alan said, looking around the restaurant, trying to locate the cannon.
Paul was caught off guard by the fixation on the cannon.
"Get the cannon?"
"Yeah. Go get it. While it's just sitting there."
"And then what?"
It was obvious to Alan. He raised his eyebrows and wrinkled his nose in hopes Paul would catch on.
"Confront it. Talk to it. Demand answers," Alan said. "You're 200 times bigger than that thing. Dismantle it. Tear it apart. Melt it down."
Paul snickered and took a long blink.
"Yeah, confrontation," he said under his breath.
The cannon pulled up at the bar seating that faced Paul, who glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed. Without warning it fired. The cannonball hit Paul in the collarbone, sounding like a clash between two blocks of wood.
Paul had finally broken. He was furious this time. With anger visible only by his mouth's harsh position, Paul stood up and politely approached the cannon. He picked it up, studied it, then calmly returned to his seat. He set the cannon on the table and aimed it at Alan, creating a tense buzz between the three.
Paul popped the last bit of panini into his mouth, emptied his pockets of a dollar and some change onto the table and strolled out of the café.
He left Alan in the standoff, staring down the barrel of the cannon, which forced the issue beautifully.
About the author:
David Holub is a short fiction writer and newspaper designer who may or may not have been shot by a miniature cannon. He lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, with his wife and two crazy dogs. His work has appeared at Cafe Irreal, The Dream People, Bewildering Stories, Locust Magazine, Muse Apprentice Guild, Defenestration, Dreamvirus and Juked.