Featured Fiction, July 2010:
Three Thieves and the Carpet King, 14th Street, Radio Midnight by John Greiner
Three Thieves and the Carpet King
Coney Island with the three thieves who passed themselves off as wise men back in Nizhny Novgorod. Brought more than gold, frankincense and myrrh with them. Someday they hope to build a new kingdom by the sea and have all of Brighton Beach look on in awe.
They’ve made only one appointment today and that with a Rumanian who hates Turks and sells worn carpets on the street corners frequented by butchers’ daughters.
“They’re always looking for deals down there,” says the carpet king. “And there are no halal carts on the scene in any direction to cause consternation.”
The Rumanian knows better than to try to cut the daughters of all of the butchers. He only wishes to bring them once beautiful things.
It’s longer than most people think to traverse the boardwalk from Coney Island to Brighton Beach. There is no one about to light a match for a dead cigarette butt, or raise an eyebrow if the shiv slices through the spleen.
The three thieves hate the haughty girls who have come from St. Petersburg. They long for French wives and Armenian lovers. They hope to make millions off of the dancing mice at the sideshow set up in the restroom provided by the Parks Department. It’s tight in there and hard to make an escape and no one with any sense criticizes the beauty of the ballet.
“Barnum got his start the same way,” says the eldest thief. “Sad thing is that he never knew what a good cup of tea tasted like. It’s all in the samovar you use. It’s all in the black bread that you dunk.”
The Rumanian knows this. That’s why they love him. He’s a mystic that penetrates threadbare fabrics from handed down times of limited imagination and is thanked by the die hard pilgrims who know the value of tattered things.
“You’re plain lucky.”
“Yeah, I never expected to see it.”
“Don’t get all enigmatic on me.”
Making love on the table down on 14th Street, Broadway and cigarettes far from their thoughts. Dark eyed children shrieking in the morning sunrise across the ocean, but that was even further away than chorus kicks and smokes.
“Tell me about the face that Joan of Arc used to make when she tired of the peasantry and figured that God or the dauphin would be a better play.”
“Oh, it was wicked, a magenta color leaning towards violet. It would flip your heart on heaven and hell and all of the variants in between and you’d think, now this is a dame I’d like to see in the proper light and the proper light ain’t bright. Oh, no, it was always better to see her through some queer black silk, very cool and airy like April Sundays on upper Fifth Avenue. You’d have loved it. She’d beam and we’d all take to jousting in half frocks that gave a good view of the legs. I had wonderful calves back then and would vacation every summer in Beirut .”
“Those were the days.”
“They were far more interesting than the bilious green-orange ones which flash on faces these days.”
Shame sat down in the next second’s seat waiting to hear a bit of Chopin. It lurched forward to show itself more clearly, something quite out of character. It had been the root of all of its own psychological trauma and that already was far more than anyone really wanted to realize.
“Good-bye, good-bye, let’s play the piano and watch the moonlight crack-up over the old town tonight, so long forgotten. Ol’ Dutch masters, dem de cheap cigars of painter’s fantasies, of Larry Rivers’ dreams. Play Dixie or the Marseillaise. Let’s sing the Spanish national anthem; I know all of the words.”
Dancing a foxtrot after a roll in the hay. The dining room table’s legs splinter. 14th Street bellowing crosstown chaos, so far from thoughts of Broadway. A cigarette now needed.
Parasitic growth and heaving bravura in the fermenting desires. She sways in her long trimmed gown covering more than anyone would have desired to see in the first place. The bandleader far off across the alleyway on the radio blasting brings a smile to her withering lips.
Desires fermenting soon to thunder, sweet dandelion wine of spring. Tip top in the dying attitude, a swagger in the thoughts. Not a flimsy schoolgirl with giggles and ribbons in her hair.
Remembering all of the barber’s dolls that danced in what seemed an ancient and yet not so far gone time when ten thousand radios played the band’s big tune. Then the dollies danced and it wasn’t like there was a bandstand anywhere in sight.
It ate away at her. A happy holiday meal for someone. If they’d spread the curtains and lift the blankets and tear open the gown on the feast day they’d find desire blossoming in the midst of the reek and bombastic melody being whirled by the trumpets and saxophones and drums that sounded across the alleyway.
John Greiner’s work has appeared in Grasslimb, The Packingtown Review, Anemone Sidecar, Origami Condom, Neonbeam, Red Fez, The Toronto Quarterly, Interrobang, Bottom of the World, Midnight Screaming, iddie, CEIIA’s Round Trip, Qwerty, Gloom Cupboard, Pax Americana, The Driftwood Review, Knock, hitotoki: Paris, Bent Pin, ditch, Unarmed, Hecale, Sein und Werden, nthposition, Zygote in my Coffee, Audience and Inscribed.
John’s blog can be found here.