Issue 7

Fiction

Every Super Painful Thing That Isn’t Dying

by Colin Winnette

Ham.

Ham between two slices of bread is a sandwich and that’s lunch. There is no reason to get fancy with it.

We own a store, my dad and I. We are storeowners. Businessmen.

We open the back door around six AM and a bunch of different men carry in boxes of the things we’ve decided we want to sell. My dad checks each of the boxes then I unpack each of the boxes and put everything away and then we’re good to go.

Around noon, we crack a beer and split it. My dad is hilarious. They took his jaw last year so he’s always picking up bananas or the telephone cord or a bunch of scallions or something and holding them up to his chin and making a big fake mouth and wagging his big fake lips like a puppet and it’s hilarious.

Almost everyone in my family has undergone one major surgery in the last twenty months. We used to have a little money set aside. Now, we are just getting by. I don’t talk about the surgeries to customers because people tend to not like hearing about them, or they like it too much and then they just want to talk to me about their surgeries and I don’t have time for that kind of thing. I’m trying to run a store.

I spend most of my day stocking things or ringing things up or hanging with Rudy or coming up with good ideas.

Rocks.

Put down rocks and you don’t have to ice your driveway every day.

School.

You don’t have to do it. You can chase down any kind of idea you’re interested in and do it a lot quicker and cleaner on your own than some random public servant can, even if their heart is in the right place.

I tell my dad my ideas and he nods and seems pretty proud of me most of the time, honestly.

Rudy’s the pizza guy. We’re more or less friends even if I never go to his pizza parlor, which is okay-to-middling and I, as a rule, do not financially support okay-to-middling.

Sometimes Rudy and I take breaks together. And sometimes I don’t see Rudy at all.

We like to smoke even though it’s going out of fashion. I’m not particularly fashionable but I do notice things. Like nests. I can look at a building then look away then tell you where all the nests are—insect, animal, or bird. Rudy and I do that sometimes—look for nests in the fields and trees behind our store and his pizza parlor.

Rudy likes to mess with nests, but I leave nests unmessed for the most part. Rudy kicks them or throws rock at them, pours pizza sauce on them. Rudy is a sick fuck in a lot of ways. Not in the worst ways, but in the ways that can make you cringe.

That is the fundamental difference between Rudy and me. I’m agreeable. I get it from my dad.

When we go out on the weekends my dad pushes my mom around in her wheelchair and she’s either quiet or unloading so much shit on him that I’m amazed he can keep himself upright. Still, he jokes around and puts a curly squash up to his neck and pretends to gab and buys us things we need and keeps us warm with a fire at the end of the day. And that’s the kind of dad he’s always been.

Mom says it’s Dad’s fault her legs got the way they did. Mom says when people are close they transmit things to one another, whether they mean it or not. A bad choice or two can kick off an avalanche of misfortune. It was only a few months after my dad got sick and they took his jaw that my mom’s legs swole up and they took those and then my heart stopped clicking so they had to get in there and set it right.

And then it wasn’t even two days before they pulled my little brother out of the river and popped out a plug of branches, leaves, and bugs he’d swallowed after the current dragged him down into the underbelly of a beaver dam and just left him there.

Mom’s not religious or superstitious or all that nuts but she notices patterns—and it’s hard to reject an idea once it presents itself to you in the right way.

As she sees it, Dad smoked himself sick and they had to cut it out, so it spread to her and they had to cut it out, and it spread to me and they corrected it, so it dragged my brother down and held him until it was all over and done with.

More people started coming to the store after my brother died, which I think is a good thing that came out of a bad thing no one is thankful for.

If I’m being honest, it’s hard to know what dad’s thinking most of the time. He wants us to be comfortable but that makes us uncomfortable sometimes, just knowing that he wants that. Still, I’m glad to know at least that thing about what’s going on inside him.

My brother.

I think surgery is a great thing because it isn’t dying. I think dying is something we have to do, but surgery is something we get to do, if we’re lucky. And maybe we should be thankful for that.

My dad likes Mom to wear a blanket over her lap when she’s spending time in the store, which keeps her warm and covers the stumps. But she takes offense sometimes and throws the thing off and stares him down about it. I do not engage when this is going on. I unpack whatever needs to be unpacked or go around facing the labels out on all the boxes and cartons and glasses and cans, so people can get a sense of what we’ve got on offer.

Stress.

Stress is just energy you don’t know what to do with, so I try to always be doing something useful or fun enough. Rudy’s good for that.

Friends.

You’re not real friends if you can’t let them be who they are. If you’re always trying to stop them from crushing a robin’s egg or two.

One day, Rudy came out back and he had a dirty bandage around his neck and his arm was gone.

“Shit,” I said. “You had a surgery too.”

“I sawed into my arm,” he said, “and when that didn’t kill me, I sawed into my neck as far as I could go. Then I passed out.”

This wasn’t one of those situations where asking why would have done much good so I said, “Well, oh no, Rudy.”

Then I started thinking a lot. I thought really hard about trying to transmit something good over to Rudy. After a little while, it felt like I’d been too quiet for too long so I added, “I’m sorry.”

Then, “Does it hurt?”

And of course it did hurt. And it was painful for him to talk too much or answer questions. So we just smoked for a while, until I spotted a fat bird’s nest in an old dead oak and Rudy loaded it up with rocks.

Colin Winnette is the author of several books, most recently Coyote (Les Figues 2015) and Haints Stay (Two Dollar Radio 2015). He lives in San Francisco.

Illustration by Lanny Markasky

Issue 7