by Brian Ted Jones
The fire was tangible as fabric, and flapped, making a sound like flags in wind. I looked back at Jerome, at his hard, even green eyes.
“You were never going to pull it off. You should have known that,” he said.
Jerome smiled. The smile was thin. Jerome’s lips are thin.
“Well,” I said. “Either way. Thanks for all of your help. Your support.”
Jerome opened his lips to let his teeth show. They were whiter than they should have been. Bleaching treatments?
“What are you going to do now?” he asked.
I watched cold, bitter coffee spill slowly into my mouth, and shrugged, the cup a white snout upon my face. Jerome exhaled. He looked away from me. My hands are so good looking, I thought. Big. Strong. Ropy veins, brawny skin.
Jerome stood and wiped a small, blue hand across his dry face. I smiled, a big, fat, catty grin. He left.
Indian music played in the store, flutes and slow chanting. With the music and his highshouldered way of walking, plus his narrow waist, Jerome made me think of some coward in a Western, banished into the desert. I smiled and drank the last of my coffee. I stood and walked through the store.
Radey was my girl behind the counter that day, and a big-boned girl who wore dresses like old ladies. That day it was dark purple with curls of black paisley. She was looking down at a ledgerbook. When I came to the counter she snapped the book closed and set it aside.
“Big trouble?” she asked. Her forehead wrinkled.
“Nothing I cant handle,” I said. She didnt roll her eyes.
“When did you leave the other night?” I asked. She looked away and sucked her teeth, reading something off the computer.
“Dont remember,” she said.
She looked up.
“Is he related to you?” she asked. A soft breath.
I leaned off the counter and knocked it with the knuckles of my right hand. Radey sort of winced, like she had heard thunder.
“Yeah,” I said. “Be seeing you.”
“Have a nice day,” Radey said. Professional.
I walked into the dark and empty mall. There was a glassed-in store space opposite the bookshop, and there were signs on the glass with different phone numbers. There was a fountain dimpling a pool filled with coins. They warped and glittered below the water’s slow disturbance. Beyond that there was an escalator with a single stepway. An ugly woman with a big pregnant belly limped off onto the landing. She walked with her shoulders slumped, and her little arms hung rigidly at her sides. A perfume shop bled gaudy light upon the dark green floor and polluted the air with sweetness. Two identical darkskinned men wearing mustaches stood behind the shop’s counter. A tall, boxy woman with enormous slab of bosom stood before them, her arms crossed high against her belly. She was leaning forward, speaking furiously. Her hair was black and gigantic and she turned an irate face at me as I walked past. I smiled and headed for the bathroom.
The bathroom was cramped, which is a nice thing for a bathroom to be. I opened the stall, and walked inside, and shut the door, and when I opened it to leave, there was a man, standing at the sink.
He wore a baggy tan suit and a tight black turtleneck. He was bald, with soft fibers of yellow hair above his ears, and his eyes were huge, like a frog’s. He looked in the mirror at me. I didnt return the look, didnt acknowledge him in any way imaginable. He washed his delicate hands, then stepped aside to let me wash my own while he drew white paper towels out of the black plastic dispenser with exaggerated flair, like a magician and a handkerchief and a black top hat. I leaned over, lathered my hands, while he walked around me to the door. When I rose up he spoke in a cold voice:
I looked at him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pistol. Stub barrel, stub butt. He pointed the gun at me, lifted his knee, and braced his tiny foot against the solid wooden door.
“Stay where you are,” he said.
I sort of groaned as he turned and twisted the silver knob on the lock. It was the only time he took his eyes off of me, and afterwards I hated myself that I didnt grab the gun then and there.
Brian Ted Jones was born in Oklahoma in 1984. He is a graduate of St. John’s College in Annapolis. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Jenne, and their son Oscar. “Pride and Fall of a Favorite Son” was inspired by the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico.