To Die in Public is a Cry for Help

"There's a long-legged line of doggerel for you," said Auntie. "A minor bit of ass. Yay or nay, Jasper. Don't pussy-foot. Don't will-o-wisp. Don't bend in the breeze."

Auntie was writing fiercely.

"Your area code, Jasper," she said and I supplied the digits mechanically. Three sane numerals – emptied of romance.

"Stand and deliver," said Auntie. "I've appended a lyrical footnote. For her pleasure."

I looked at the piece of paper. My name and number in black ink. There was no footnote. I turned the paper over. Nothing.

"You, Jasper," said Auntie. "On foot. With the note. Give it to your dearie."

"I will give it to her," I said, with dignity. "But I do not affirm life."

"Quite," said Auntie.

"Let there be no mistake," I said. "Hope is too dangerous to have on my conscience."

"Off you go, Jasper," said Auntie. "Chop, chop."

"I will not bear it," I said. "I shan't be your Atlas and your Sisyphus, both."

"Not in a dream, dear child," said Auntie. "Clip, clop, now, like a colt to his filly sweetheart."

"Very well," I set my shoulders and clopped off across the plaza. How I grudged my feet their insentient propulsion. And also, their proportions. Their ugly enormity in Hush Puppies of the vilest beige. Misery, misery, misery, whiffed my pant legs. My hateful thighs encased like sausages in natural fibers, rubbing, always rubbing against each other, kindling the rank flame of my displeasure. Soon in the rotation of the days, I would find myself once again moistening these thighs with water. Stroking them, soaping them, towel-drying them, in short, maintaining them – I -- who loathe them, who would rather walk on dowels fitted to my hips with braces of pinching steel.

The plaza was enormous, filled with window shoppers putting on airs. What a vulgar promenade, thought I. The round-heeled lot of them, fingering the glass of the shop windows, oggling the merchandise, debuting the evening dresses at fantasy balls, each garment frumped into a second hand rag in the case.

The girl was sitting on the edge of the fountain at the entrance to the old mall.

"Mademoiselle," I said stiffly when I reached her. She was perhaps eighteen. Her mouth was crammed with bubblegum. She glanced at the note and then glanced around the plaza.

"What's Jasper?" she said. She smelled like a strawberry candle factory, like a cordial of cleaning product, like a humming bird feeder in the springtime. She smelled of things tawdry and sublime. For a moment, I felt her interrogative tickle at my heart like a puppy tongue lapping a frozen water bowl. My heart yearned to return a melted drop.

"Jasper is a kind of rock," I said, a tad gently.

"What else is it though," said the girl. "Why would I call it? Can you win something?"

"Certainly," I said. The girl began to work the ball of gum in her mouth.

"Like what?" she asked. Her cheeks swelled delightfully as she chewed. The sinew and bone of the mandibles were not at all in evidence. Only her moony flesh, great dollops of it.

"The kit and caboodle," I said.

"Is that a dog or a cat?" she asked. "Because I'm allergic to cats."

"It is the jackpot," I said. I looked deeply at her pale irises, her glossy black pupils, but her eyes would not coordinate into expressive orbs, eloquent with feeling.

"Yeah?" said the girl, but she no longer saw me. She was looking at a point quite above my left lapel. Another girl approached the fountain, a dismal blond, her knees poking from the quilted brown of her skirt like indications of atrocity, her head scissored between blades of advanced stage Orthodonture. Her brutal adolescence assailed me. I imagined a retreat into the fountain, play-acting a giddy disaster like so many Americans in Paris. My Auntie's tenure could be the casualty of such debacle. So could a grain of wheat bent beneath the scything wings of a butterfly in Latvia.

Who are we to control the effects of our actions?

Hang it all, I thought. A dog.

About the author:

Joanna Ruocco works for the US Coast Guard and hopes to one day attain the rank of "Vice Admiral." Her stories are more popular on than off the ship.