Jukebox Wizard 

By: Tory Flack and Cole Orloff 

“Another. B’tender. P’lease…”

Grogor Fibertgroth the Wise tugged his long, wiry beard out from underneath one of the legs of his barstool. He rolled off the stool onto his peg leg, and steadying himself with the gnarled length of ancient ironwood he used as a cane, wobbled towards the jukebox. 

The Handy Dane was the only bar in Glenn County with a decent music selection, so Grogor came through nearly every night to approve its usage. Tonight, a selection of swinging, upbeat big band numbers from old standbys like Rolph and the Bowbreakers, Craigle McCraille, and the Last Midnights had been entertaining a crowd of rosy-cheeked revelers that spilled over from a wedding party next door. They were swinging and swaying to the tunes without a care in the world. It would not do. Didn’t they know that Grogor was an award winning DJ? 

The dance floor spun around him in a blur as he sidled, stiff but determined, over to the crooning neon machine that purred only to him. He unplugged it. Brutally and quickly. He didn’t want the machine to suffer needlessly. The lights on the machine dimmed. The party paused mid-sway and turned towards where the music had, just a moment ago, been emanating from. One of the more drunken fellows started to gently question what was going on. 

Grogor glared with such ferocity the man’s beer turned to dust in his glass. No one else dared question what was happening. 

Now that he had their attention, he would show them what it really meant to choose a selection from the jukebox. It was a skill that required not only care and consideration, but a keen ability to read a room. To influence the energy. To inspire movement and fluidity. To generate emotion. This could not be done by simply inserting a piece of gold and selecting your favorite hits from the 1160s and 70s. No way. 

With the jukebox plugged back into the wall and the wedding party quietly sipping their nog and grog in the furthest possible corner of the bar away from the machine, Grogor pulled a blackened token from his robe pocket. The little coin-shaped rock was roughly the size and shape of a 25 cent piece. He, with not an insignificant amount of effort, forced it into the coin slot of the jukebox. 

The jukebox flickered and eventually zinged back to life. He felt suddenly restored by a sense of calm. He was a man of many powers. Why, he once brought a Hegloin back to life. From a melted puddle! But DJing, now that was a rare skill that not just any wizard could master. 

Silence penetrated the bar as he flipped through the decades. Until at last:

Jamiroqais.

War Rooms

In 21 minutes, a young couple from New Jersey would officially own the house that our mother had lived in for almost 50 years, and we could not find the cats.

The U-Hauls were packed, the house was spotless, and the couple waited patiently in their Subaru for their new life to begin. Our mother’s decision to move into a senior living facility was abrupt. She sold her house with little warning, leaving us only one week to sort through all the years of her life, which she did not want to be present for. She decided instead, to coach us over the phone, as we sorted through boxes of letters and photos, shelves full of crystals, and printed out news articles- meticulously highlighted, outlined, and lined along the walls as if they were stuck in traffic.

Our mother is a psychic, and a writer, and over the years her house became one giant war room dedicated to conspiracy theories. Although when this thought was presented to her she scoffed at it. “I am not a paranoid schizophrenic,” she would tell us. “There’s a difference.”

But my sister, Hazel, believed that she was. She believed it because if our mother had a real condition, it would all make sense. The peculiarities, and the sporadic blowups.

Hazel moved away at an early age. She met Lawrence when she was 17 and looking for an escape from our aggressively imaginative mother. They moved to Maine and started a lawn care business and never looked back. I only live down the block, but I rarely leave my home. Our mother gave up on me years ago, but she never gave up on Hazel.

Two days after we started the monumental sorting process, our mother reminded us to feed the cats.

“Cats? What cats?” I let Hazel howl into the phone, while I sifted through a box of papers about a French assassin from the 1970s, trying to decide if it was a real person, or the beginnings of another unfinished novel our mother had tried to write.

I did recall my mother mentioning cats here and there throughout the years. But they must have been woven so seamlessly into her stories about presidents and movie stars, that I couldn’t keep it all straight. If she had really cared about her cats, wouldn’t we have heard more about them?

Or maybe a better question is, if we had really cared more about her, wouldn’t we have bothered to come see them?

Our mother begged Hazel to remember the cats, so she agreed.

Sure enough, there were two empty porcelain dishes in the mudroom, and a bag of generic cat food in a hall closet, so we fed them, but the dishes remained full.

“They’re stressed out.” Hazel decided. And we put them to the back of our mind, assuming that they would appear sooner or later. But they never did.

The walk through of our mother’s empty house was to begin at 9:30am, so we split up. Hazel started in the basement, and I went up to the top floor. Hopefully by the time we met in the middle we would have each produced a cat.

“Don’t forget to check the walls,” she instructed. “They’re probably scared.”

The house had always been bright and dusty, but without any ancient piles of junk to block the windows, the morning light was nearly angelic. If I were a cat, I would surely want to bathe in it.

It was now 9:17. I tapped my feet on the wooden floors, and made kissing noises and shook a bag of treats, but nothing seemed to work. A car door slammed. Out the window I could see the woman, leaning against the door of the Subaru, casually snapping photos. The man was talking to the inspector.

So I banged on the walls. At first I slapped them with the palm of my hand. And then I turned my hands into fists, and I pounded a bit harder. Eventually I put my feet into it, and I kicked the walls as well. It felt good. So I slammed around even harder. I began to stomp. I stomped and I kicked and I banged.

Eventually I stopped to catch my breath. And then I heard downstairs, ever so slightly, Hazel was banging too. I listened to Hazel stomp and bang and kick from room to room. She was getting louder and louder, so I started to rattle floors again, so she could hear that I was stomping too.

At 9:27 my sister started to yell. She was banging and yelping and kicking and howling. So I yelled too. I stomped in and out of rooms, and wailed down the hallway, and roared down the stairs to meet Hazel and to see if she had found the cats.

But Hazel did not have any cats. She had a hammer. The walls were full of holes. The floor was covered in plaster.

I had to ask her, for our mother:

“Did you find the cats?”

“There are no cats.”

The door opened and the couple entered. They didn’t have to knock. It was their home now.

a sonnet about pirates bc i’m really tired

When wicked waters lap upon the shore;

And coral lighting flashes in the sky;

If chills arrive upon a distant roar;

It’s safe to say a pirate ship is nigh.

Twenty thousand leagues have frothed with tales;

Of butchers, rogues and demon ne’er do wells;

Vessels powered by skinned and bloodied sails;

Killers ripping through the ocean’s swell.

Bodies! bloody bodies! hooks and rum!

They’re coming for your village off the coast!

So tell your wives and children now, to run!

The tender ones they tend to hurt the most.

 

Wait!! Thursday night might be your saving grace:

They’re too distracted, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.

 

Two Burials

Maybelline and Victor were burying a little dead frog in the orange grove behind Cousin Joe’s water-stained bungalow, when suddenly a bird fell out of the sky and landed next to the burial site, just as dead as the frog. 
It hit the dirt with a soft thud. If burying wasn’t such a reverent act, and they had been doing something louder, they might not have heard it at all. Just the cicadas, and a passing train or two. Joe clinking around in the garage. 

Victor leaned over to it to get a good look. It was a large crow, with glassy blue eyes and glossy black feathers. He poked at it with a stick, and it didn’t move.

He leaned closer. Maybelline watched with her eyes squinted in curiosity. Was the bird really dead? 

She poked it too. 

Nothing. 

Victor leaned it yet even further. He was nearly kissing it. 

He screamed in the dead bird’s face. 

It didn’t bring anyone back to life. 

It never does. 

They buried it next to the frog, and went inside to ask Joe to tell them a story about better days. 

Your Mother is Our Mother

“Don’t you remember? You missed the chair. You missed the chair and you landed on your tuches so hard you threw up.”

I sunk lower into my leftover birthday cake.

“I didn’t throw up,” I mumbled into the stale vanilla frosting. My birthday was two weeks ago.

“Well maybe you didn’t THROW UP, but you certainly had to lay on the bathroom floor for about 20 minutes.”

My mother redirected her attention to Sal, who was grinning impishly over a very large slice of cake.

“Our bathroom is very cold.” She told her pointedly. “It always has been. Even when I was a kid, I used to think to myself, ‘we’re lucky this bathroom is so cold,’ because growing up we were six people in here you know. It would get very warm in here. Very, very warm.”

I didn’t like the look on Sal’s face.

“Me, my mother, and father- they slept in the living room- and then my two brothers and my sister. My two brothers shared the room by the back bathroom where Hal is now, and my sister and I were in Monica’s room. Who wants a Crystal Light packet?”

Sal did.

My mother buried herself in a cabinet.

“You don’t even like things from packets!!” I mouthed.

Sal opened her lips and squeezed a bit of mushed up, watery cake through her teeth. Saliva dribbled onto her plate.

I closed my eyes and wished I’d never agreed to let Sal interview her for her newest piece.

***

I am almost 40 years old. I shouldn’t be embarrassed about my mother. And I’m not, really I’m not. I used to be, but now that I’m older I understand her. I grew up in the same apartment she grew up in, in Forrest Hills. I went to the same schools, I studied communications at the same community college. Really, other than having children of my own, I understand that I am fast on my way to becoming my mother. Just like everyone says will happen.

My mother and I have the same hyperopic eyeglasses prescription, and the same magnified brown eyes. We have the same matchstick arms and legs and the same round belly. When we are together, my father calls us the Spider. We have the same blow dried bangs, and we wear the same Sketchers. So yes, I understand my mother and I understand what’s it’s like to become your mother.

Sal is my roommate. She just moved in with me about 6 months ago. Sal is in a graduate theatre program at NYU that focuses on performance art, and last year she won some kind of award for a solo show called “Your Mother is Our Mother.” I didn’t see it, because I didn’t know her back then, but when she first told me the name of it I thought it was about the planet. You know, Mother Nature! Because I don’t want just anybody’s mother to be my mother, but I can understand it if it’s nature.

I looked up a clip of Sal’s show on the Internet. I looked up Sal’s name “Sal Greenauer” and then I clicked over to her website http://www.salgreenauertist.com, which immediately confused me because it brought me right to a large blank white page, and I didn’t know where to click. I had to scroll my mouse around on the page and nothing happened. And then I tried clicking all over the page with my mouse and still nothing happened.

And then I got frustrated and I was going to abandon the whole project, and just as a kind of joke, I clicked the mouse in a pattern. You know the little rhyme, “Skunk in the Barnyard?” Like that, like I was knocking on a door. And I was redirected to another page, just like I solved a riddle.

I was redirected to a page that was mostly white again, but this had some writing, even though I couldn’t read it because it was in some sort of colorful outer space font that I had to chase around the page. I clicked around and wasn’t surprised by most of it because, this is New York City, and even though I don’t go to shows, I know that there are a lot of people who come here with wild ideas. It’s not for me, but I understand there are people who have to do their art. Ever since Sal moved in there has been all sorts of weird stuff in my apartment, like doll arms and piano keys. I’m fine with this as long as nothing is a choking hazard to my doodle, Karma.

Then I recognized the name of one of her collaborators, Whit Croc, who is a childhood friend of my mother’s. She’s known him since he was Alfred Brown. In 2010, Whit Croc built a glass house in Times Square, where he lived for the entire month of May. Legally, the bathroom had opaque walls, but whenever he was fully clothed you could watch everything he did. We went to see it, and then my mother got harassed by an Elmo and we had to leave.

It seemed that Sal and Whit Croc had recently collaborated on a piece called “Fearful Towers.” It was a giant yardstick, about 20 feet tall, in a giant white room. You could stand next to it. When I asked Sal about it, meaning- what was the point- she said something about the limits of algorithms, the moral clarity of skyscrapers, and reconnecting with childhood rituals. I told her that Whit Croc’s real name is Alfred Brown.

What surprised me most about “Fearful Towers,” was that it seemed very serious. The kind of piece that makes you question your existence and your place on the earth and whether or not it was worth it. But Sal was not serious at all, even though she was one of TimeOut Magazine’s 30 Under 30. Sal was a joker, sometimes cruelly so. I wish she’d never asked to meet my mother.