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The Odd and The Strange: A Collection of Very Short Fiction

The Odd and The Strange: A Collection of Very Short Fiction

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The Odd and The Strange: A Collection of Very Short Fiction

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Nov 27, 2020


“Some stories are less Borges and more Stephen Crane (author of The Red Badge of Courage): bleak, violent. Like “Lightning Love,” narrated by a wife whose husband changes into something (the twist at the end is brilliant). Others are political fables, like “Santa Claus and Madam Secretary,” which makes Havel’s proclivities as clear as the image on a 98-inch TV. The Odd and The Strange is quite an accomplishment: unusual, provocative, and honest. Mixing the fabulism of Jorge Luis Borges with the bleakness of Stephen Crane, the tales contained in Harvey Havel’s The Odd and The Strange draw the reader into a world they won’t soon forget.” ----- IndieReader

Nov 27, 2020

Sobre el autor

HARVEY HAVELAuthorHarvey Havel is a short-story writer and novelist. His first novel, Noble McCloud, A Novel, was published in November of 1999. His second novel, The Imam, A Novel, was published in 2000.Over the years of being a professional writer, Havel has published his third novel, Freedom of Association. He worked on several other books and published his eighth novel, Charlie Zero's Last-Ditch Attempt, and his ninth, The Orphan of Mecca, Book One, which was released last year. His new novel, Mr. Big, is his latest work about a Black-American football player who deals with injury and institutionalized racism. It’s his fifteenth book He has just released his sixteenth book, a novel titled The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill, and his seventeenth will be a non-fiction political essay about America’s current political crisis, written in 2019.Havel is formerly a writing instructor at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. He also taught writing and literature at the College of St. Rose in Albany as well as SUNY Albany.Copies of his books and short stories, both new and used, may be purchased at all online retailers and by special order at other fine bookstores.

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The Odd and The Strange - Harvey Havel

Books by Harvey Havel:

Noble McCloud (1999)

The Imam (2000)

Freedom of Association (2006)

From Poets to Protagonists (2009)

Harvey Havel’s Blog, Essays (2011)

Stories from the Fall of the Empire (2011)

Two Tickets to Memphis (2012)

Mother, A Memoir (2013)

Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt (2014)

The Orphan of Mecca, Book One (2016)

The Orphan of Mecca, Book Two (2016)

The Orphan of Mecca, Book Three (2016)

The Thruway Killers (2017)

Mister Big (2018)

The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill (2019)

A Rumination on the Role of Love during A Condition of Extreme Conservativism and Extreme Liberalism,

A Political Essay (2019)

The Odd and The Strange:

A Collection of Very Short Fiction (2020)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means—whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles and reviews. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

ISBN: 978-1087-9100-5

The Odd and The Strange

A Collection of Very Short Fiction


Harvey Havel

Independently Published.

Copyright © 2020 by Harvey Havel

For Shane Frahm

Table of Contents:

Lightning Love

Ollie Mallard

The Birthmark

The First Incel

The Past and The Future

Pit Bull

The Treatment

Workplace Love

A Lesson on Money


Maintenance Man Blues

Sylvia’s Mirror

Policy Overload

The Advertisements



The Czar of the White House

The Elder Statesman

Opportunity Knocks

Elections for Student Government

Santa Claus and Madam Secretary

A Candidate Needs A Favor

The Good Doctor

First Kill




The Clay Face

Master of the Universe

Mountain Man

Bottle Collector


The Mall





Pet Bird



In Memory of Ken Van Rensselaer



Red Head


Yogurt Parfait

Burping Child



The Puppy King






In Memory of Norris Bennett




In Memory of Glenn Moosnick

Soviet Dream




Sex Toy

False Alarm


Company Man




Red Head

Big Girl


Sax Man




The Amazing Pierre



The Power of Three

White Noise

Wall Street Protestor

Wall Street Banker

Testosterone Therapy

Road Trip


About the Author

Lightning Love

To see my husband transformed from such a simple, quiet man to a raving lunatic became too much to bear. It started out slowly – so slowly, that one could hardly catch where his personality turned, but it did turn, ever so subtly. I caught it after a few weeks of observation.

He’d come home right at dinner time from his teller job at the bank. We didn’t make much money. He insisted that I shouldn’t get a job myself, but because of our slipping status in the suburban community we lived in, I knew that I had to go against his wishes and get a job eventually. We couldn’t rely on my Daddy’s checkbook forever, and I was perfectly willing to work. He did want to get me pregnant and raise children, but in this day and age, a married couple both had to be working.

After talking with him about this, he didn’t put up too much of a fight. He smiled at me, as we held hands on the sofa, and said, you can do whatever comes into your sweet little heart.

I kissed him on the lips, and then we made love that night – not only to make love and to feel the comfort of it, but hopefully to get myself pregnant so that the next stage of our lives could begin. We made love like crazy, and on one special day, after a trip to our fertility doctor, we both discovered that I was pregnant.

I had never been so happy, but for some reason, my husband had a somewhat blank expression on his face when the doctor announced the good news. He was neither happy nor sad, just accepting of it, as though a child would bring on another burden, almost like a chore. When I asked him about it, he said, I don’t think it’s a problem, honey. We’re not the only ones to have ever raised a family, even though we’re headed for broke.

You sound uncertain or something, I said when we arrived home.

I’m not. I just know that this is what civilization is all about. We get married, and then we have children, right?

There’s no fixed game plan to life, honey, I said. I want you to be overjoyed that we’re bringing a product of our love into the world. We’re blessed.

I know that.

Then why does it seem like your brain has stopped working? Why does it seem like you don’t care about what we have right now?

I dunno, he said after a moment of two of silence. I’m sure we’re on the right path, I hope.

That was the best he could do. I let him brood about it some more, but he wasn’t even brooding. He simply stared into space with a slight smirk, as though he enjoyed thinking about the challenges we may or may not be facing.

I made dinner for him, and we both went up to bed, not really talking at all. I had no idea what went on in that quiet mind of his. We fell asleep at about the same time, and when I woke up, I could smell the ham and eggs he cooked for me. It was nice of him. I supposed he did it, because I was now pregnant. He wanted to start us off on the right foot.

Thanks, honey, I said, kissing him, when I made it to the kitchen. At least I don’t have to stop by Dunkin’ Donuts again.

Dunkin’ Donuts? What do you mean?

That’s where I usually stop on the way to work.

Work? You can’t work.

What do you mean I can’t work?

Didn’t we talk about this? We’re raising a family now. You can’t work like you did before.

Honey, we talked about this. We need the money. Now more than ever. Plus, I want to work. I like working at the store.

Oh, he said.

And then he fell silent while scraping the residue of the scrambled eggs from the pan onto my plate. He looked more confused than anything else, as though he were looking for the right response to use, as though he had choices on how to react. He searched for an adequate response while sighing a couple of times. But he agreed with me, and then said nothing, as I walked out the door with my car keys.

He returned right after work. I usually made it home before he did.

How was your day? I asked.

A very slow day, he said.

That’s a good thing, right?

Not really. I’m gunning for a promotion, and I want the bank manager to see how well I do under the pressure of the long lines. We usually have them towards the weekend.

Wow. I didn’t know you were up for promotion.

Well, now you know, he said. What’s for dinner?

I made some meatloaf, I said.

Meatloaf? The meat must have been expensive. We can’t afford ground beef with the prices they have.

It’s not that bad. And besides, I have to eat for two from now on.

Still. Maybe you should eat mostly vegetables then.


I caught him staring into space again. He no longer finished his arguments with me. They had no sense of closure. Nevertheless, we both ate quietly, as he disagreed with the meal, thinking it too costly. I could tell, though, that the baby inside of me deserved some meat, and I left it at that.

In bed, I tried to move closer to him, but he refused me. I wanted to make love that night, but he was too difficult to touch. When I had moved in closer, he said, you shouldn’t have bought that meatloaf.

Can we give it a rest about the meatloaf? I asked.

Fine. You take care of the baby, then.

That remarked pissed me off, but I ignored him from that point on.

In the morning, he didn’t make me the usual meal.

We have to save, so we can’t eat breakfast.

I’ll go to the Dunkin’ Donuts, then. No problem.

You should stay there. You and the baby.

Now what the hell is that supposed to mean? I asked.

You heard me. Why don’t you both go live there.

I was running late for work. I didn’t want to have an argument there and then. Until he called me ‘a bitch’ under his breath.

What the hell was that?

That you’re a bitch, he declared.

I felt like smacking him. How dare he call me such a name. I was, after all, his wife, and I would do anything for him. Somehow, though, he was changing. He wore his bathrobe in the kitchen, and he hadn’t shaved at all. I could tell that he wouldn’t be going to work that day.

When I got home after a busy day at the store, he sat at the kitchen table with his bathrobe on and his unshaven face. He had been sitting there for most of the day, but he had a kind of beatific expression on his face - this same face of oddity and wonder as though he were still stuck in childhood.

You never went to the bank? I asked, throwing my keys onto the kitchen table.

I quit.


Yes, he said, with that same childlike smirk on his face. I did it for us.

Us? Honey, we need that income.

But who’s gonna help take care of the baby? It’s good that I quit. Someone has to take care of the baby at home.

Yeah, but we need the income.

Why are you always contradicting me? What a man says in this household goes, you got that? Don’t be such a bitch all the time.

So out of that childlike fascination with whatever rotated in his mind, came a disgruntled insult, his unshaven face and sharp teeth ready to pounce on me if I said anything else.

He watched television, while I ate in silence, and I wasn’t sure what I should do. His personality changed slowly, but suddenly I felt a little nervous being around him, especially now that he had the habit of calling me names, as though he had snapped away from his earlier innocence into an intense anger that no human being could arrest. And in bed that night, he was a wild, untamed animal. He entered me from every angle, corner, and crevice. Even though a lot of it hurt, he really didn’t care. At the end of it, when he came all over my back, he smacked my behind, and said under his breath, dumb bitch.

That was the last straw, really. I needed help, but I had little idea whom I should turn to. I thought a psychologist or couples therapy may help, but I delayed. I needed more time to find someone I trusted.

In the morning, I turned to look next to me, but he wasn’t there. I went downstairs to the kitchen and switched on the light. He sat there at the table in the darkness staring at the napkin holder. He was still unshaven, and he flashed his teeth. He had turned into some kind of beast. He didn’t talk at all. I tried to approach him, but he said, stay away, in a seething voice I didn’t recognize. And then I saw it on that rainy early morning. A steel rod leaned against the door.

I immediately thought that he would beat me over the head with it, but when he yelled for me to go back upstairs and wait for him like a good whore, I figured quickly that he would use it for something else. He played with some of the mail on the table in front of him.

Bills! Bills! Nothing but bills! And then there’s this junk - catalog after catalog of shit we can’t afford. And all of it because of you and that crackpot baby that’s growing inside of you. Well, I have plans for the both of you.

And then he looked at me angrily. He got up from his seat and picked up the steel rod leaning against the door.

Let me see that baby of yours, he said, waving the steel pipe around.

It had been accompanied by a vicious smile, and then I knew I had to do something. I had to snap him out of it.

Surprisingly, though, he didn’t come after me with the rod. He could have killed me, but somewhere deep inside, I knew he wanted our child and loved me unconditionally. I understood that about him. I realized that he could do no harm, and for a second there, I thought I saw him flash the innocent child again - that no-nothing face that seemed to hint that his mind was blank, and perhaps it had always been blank. He banged the steel rod on the floor, but I could tell that his fight was no longer with me, but with himself.

He had struggled with himself, and he had struggled so much that it was almost heroic how he kept his own beasts at bay. He then turned towards the door, banged the steel rod upon it, and broke a couple of windows, but I wasn’t scared. I loved this man and everything about him. He didn’t want to harm me. I knew that now, because in his bathroom slippers and with his demons he ran out of the house into our backyard. I could do nothing but follow him, because I loved him intensely just then. I rooted for the good within him to win, and he struggled through it like a caged animal.

He ran into the open field behind the house. Rain pelted us every step of the way as I followed him farther and farther outdoors. A clamoring thunder rollicked the sky interspersed with sharp spikes and veins of brilliant lightning. He readied himself under the rain that had now totally soaked the both of us. He held the steel rod up to the sky. I cried for him to stop, but he didn’t listen. I had to keep my distance. Soon enough, a bolt of lightning struck his steel rod. He glowed for a few moments in the early morning darkness and then fell to the ground.

I cried again and ran to him. I sat upon him, straddled him, and noticed a silver, albinic shock of hair that had erupted along his hairline. I smacked him a few times to bring him to consciousness. The rain, thunder, and lightning still emptied from the sky. We were both wet to our bones.

Honey! Oh my God, honey, please wake up! Please!

I pounded him on the chest, and I smacked him harder and harder as I straddled his body. I couldn’t tell if he were alive or dead. I just didn’t know, until, finally, he opened those clear blue eyes of his.

Honey? he called out. What happened? Where’s the baby?

Oh, thank God, I said, and then I smothered his face in kisses - his eyes, his forehead, his cheeks, and then his soft lips.

I now know what to do when he bends out of shape. Making wild and brutal sex won’t help him. Catering to his every whim and need won’t help him either. Now that we have our baby, I have to be extra vigilant. Whenever he gets angrier and angrier about things I know not of, I simply put his steel rod next to the door on soaked, rainy nights. He knows what to do. I put on my raincoat and walk outside with him. He holds the steel rod up to the sky, gets struck by lightning, and then I carry him back to the house. It feels wonderful to have my husband back. All of his hair has now turned white.

Ollie Mallard

His wife decided to kick him out, because he no longer took care of himself. He had grown huge at the middle and refused to work. He thought he was better off without his arm, now that he had broken it. His name was Ollie Mallard, and he blamed work for causing most of his problems. But since he no longer worked and didn’t contribute anything to the household, his wife wanted him out. There were too many things to be done, such as mowing the lawn, pruning the hedges, and cleaning up after his gargantuan meals. He generally stayed in his home all day watching talk shows as his poor wife maneuvered and picked up the garbage littered around him. She worked part-time at the clinic, while he sat on the couch and got fat. That was her major complaint.

While Ollie didn’t have much to complain about, he did mention that his wife wouldn’t have any more sex with him. This was his chief complaint, but it wasn’t anything to fight over. He remained on the sofa watching television, leaving empty bags of potato chips and candy wrappers strewn all around him. His only excuse was his broken arm that he had gotten from working at the plant. It would be unwise for him to return to work, because he received worker’s compensation. He would make more as a disabled person than a worker and so decided to lie around the house until his arm fully healed. This was in direct opposition to what his wife wanted.

He figured that his wife wanted him to rehabilitate his arm, as any responsible husband would do. She wanted him to see an occupational therapist, go to the gym, and start eating healthily for a change – anything other than chips, candy, cookies, and ice cream. She ordered him to pack and leave. He could return only when he was ready to make changes.

Ollie brought out a suitcase from the attic with his one working arm and dumped all of his clothing into it. He knew he had been beaten down by his broken arm, but he also took full advantage of his disabled condition. His wife took the time to feed him at one point, but this was the last straw. He had to leave. It was the dead of winter. He guessed he would stay at a nearby motel until his wife missed him all over again.

But it wasn’t the case that Ollie didn’t want to change and return to work. He thought many times over that he should join a gym and begin to rehabilitate his broken arm. But then he thought that gyms were rip-offs, and that he should diet first before trying to exercise. He had turned into quite a shlub, as he didn’t know what other name could best describe the state he was in.

Once at the motel, though, he was filled with a nervous energy. His body wanted him to get up and move around, but his mind told him to stay put on the bed while watching another talk show, featuring paternity tests, lie detector tests, and pugnacious fat women. He liked such shows, as these, he believed, were the only shows worth watching, especially when there was nothing entertaining to do. He had lost touch with life and needed something to bring him closer to it. It was a restless laziness. It was driving him bonkers just sitting there staring at the television screen for a day or two. He loved motels, though, because he no longer had his wife to nag him, and he didn’t have to clean anything up. He even ventured outside across the highway to buy a six pack of beer, thinking that this would certainly entertain him for the rest of the night.

After finishing the six pack and feeling alive and lucky as hell, he again crossed the dangerous highway in the dead of winter, an eighteen-wheeler speeding past him. He bought yet another six pack – a ‘potato’, his fellow workmen used to call it. He drank it down quickly but didn’t feel like having anything else, and without more booze he was bored silly. He yearned to go to a bar, as he wanted to reengage his not-so-distant past of watching the young women there and seeing how they flirted with other guys. He was, however, in no shape to flirt.

He didn’t pursue the idea any further, even though he desperately wanted company all of a sudden, the shows on television a reminder of how he fell behind in both body and mind. The world, he figured, had advanced by leaps and bounds. He was left behind to suffer the decay of older age. He saw every commercial they thew on the screen for a few hours. He determined that he would never be able to afford the new technology and would never be as wealthy as those portrayed on those commercials. Yet, he still needed a woman’s company.

He picked up the phone book and flipped through the escorts section. He had some money at least. He looked to spend it on a cheap thrill. He called. They were sending someone over. He waited for a few hours, staying awake for this escort, until finally, he received a phone call confirming his place of residence at the motel. The girl was coming soon.

The girl’s driver called next. He said that he was almost there. They were very late. He had just about had it, when he heard a soft knock at the door a few hours later at three in the morning. He let her in. He was ready to go.

When she knocked, Ollie was very excited but had also grown tremendously tired from the long wait. She said her name was Gypsy, and this woman was nothing like the sun, so to speak. Actually, he thought her on the ugly side. The dispatcher on the phone gave him the impression that the woman was hot, but this Gypsy was directly the opposite. She was thin, reed-like. She had disheveled brown hair. And the worst part about it? She hardly had any breasts, not even fake ones. Her eyes were almost black. Ollie thought she could have used some fake breasts at least - not that he could tell the difference between real ones and fake ones. But she was as flat as a board but still exuding a confidence that seemed a bit out of place for the occasion, as though she knew much more than he did. He pegged her as a college student right away.

Yeah, I’m in college, she said, This is how I pay my tuition.

You must be very smart, said Ollie, hoping that she would spare him the conversation and get to business. But she wanted to talk more, and he tolerated it.

What are you majoring in?

Women’s Studies.

What kind of subject is that?

It’s a lot of theory.

What kind of theory

Cultural theories on feminism.

Sounds complicated.

It is, she said.

But then why are you in a job like this?

I wanted to see what men are really like.

So, it’s like research, right? asked Ollie.

Kind of. I like to see men debase themselves.

Ollie still couldn’t understand why Gypsy chose sex work as her profession, but he figured she really did want to do some research on the trash that men were fast becoming. He didn’t like the idea, because he didn’t think himself a piece of trash for wanting to sleep with her - as ugly as she was. He presumed that God above had given him a sex drive to use with women. It was also much more psychologically healthy to sleep with as many women as possible, women who could satisfy his sex drive. He and his wife hadn’t had sex for a while, and that’s when he called in a professional for a change.

Even though Gypsy wasn’t that great to look at, she still had limited appeal. If a woman is too pretty, then she’s too difficult. But with Gypsy, he imagined that he could do anything he wanted with her and not have any regrets. She did study feminism, though, and while feminism had endured some rough seas, there was little doubt that he still had no idea why feminists wanted an end to a male patriarchy more than anything else. He just assumed they again wanted the basic, standard rewards of power and money, just like every other man. It was a war, in other words - a war against men, and while he did want to debase himself with Gypsy, he also thought twice about it. The last thing he wanted to do was give her any more reason to be a feminist. He figured she must have been hurt in the past somewhere. But when he tried to get the sex started, she refused and wanted to talk about Ollie’s attitude towards women.

So, what shall we do now? asked Ollie.

I want to know what you think of women, said Gypsy.

They’re fine in my book.

How so?

They look good to me.

As objects, right? Well, I’m not the prettiest woman in town. Do you see me as an object?

I don’t get your question.

Do you see me as a thing rather than a person?

I didn’t want to spend the night with ‘a thing’ he said, if that’s what you mean.

But do you see me just as a body or a sexual toy just to please you?

I really haven’t thought about it much, he said, lying down on the bed next to her.

Well, can you think about it for a little while and let me know?

Aren’t we going to - y’know?

Going to what?

Y’know? Fool around a little bit?

With me?

Who else is here?

Don’t you want to get to know me first?

Not really. I just think we should start.

So are you going to overpower me?

I don’t understand.

She sighed deeply, as though Ollie were the most ignorant person on Earth.

Already we’re dealing with an issue of power - who gets to control whom.

I’m not trying to do that. I just think we should start.

What if I’m not ready? What if I need to feel loved first?

I hardly know you. How can I show you love? I still love my wife.

And does your wife cheat on you? she asked.

Doubtful. Very doubtful.

Is that how you broke your arm? Because of her?

I tripped, and I fell.

And now she has to pick up the pieces. How nice.

I can take care of myself.

Typical male talk. You leave your mess for your wife to clean up. She’s probably the sweet kind of infantilized woman. A child she must be.

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Ollie didn’t feel like talking anymore, but they talked like this for a half-hour straight. She wanted to find the chinks in his armor. She wanted to break him - into confessing what exactly? That he was some kind of abuser? For him to discover that he was the main problem in his own life? That she actually wanted money from him after such a nonsensical conversation?

He figured he would have to talk to her to make her feel comfortable. He wanted her to feel it too. He didn’t think of himself as a corrupt man. Hiring a call girl was the most efficient, and perhaps the most moral, way of doing things, given his situation. She’d always be in charge. She wouldn’t keep quiet and do the deed, though. She kept pushing the envelope with him. She seemed like someone who did this all the time with men who were less abusive. Add abuse, and maybe she would give it up to him.

Do you feel the need to dominate people and situations all the time? asked Gypsy.

No. I tend to wiggle out of hardship.

And wiggle your way into having power over women by calling someone like me and knowing how poor and vulnerable I am?

I never thought that you were poor. You’ll be making a lot of money tonight, though, if we can just get down to it.

What if I don’t want to. You’ll probably rape me, then, eh?

No, I won’t rape you, but I will call to complain.

And I’m losing my job over you, right?

That’s because you’re not doing your job, said Ollie.

I just don’t fit your version of who a woman should be - all dolled up and ready to hop into bed with you. How incredible shallow.

There is nothing wrong with having sex for sex’s sake.

I hate to tell you this, she said, but it’s not the sex that gets a woman turned on. Our relationship has to begin with the same kind of equality that you afford other men.

This is getting ridiculous.

Because now - because of your desire to have sex, my job is now in jeopardy. Do you see how that works? Only when you are in a position of greater power can you have sex with me.

If that’s the case, then I give up all my power to you. Can we start now?

So you’re saying that I’m the one in charge?

Yes. You are in charge. Now let’s do this thing and get it over with.

But I have the right to choose, right?

Stop asking so many questions, okay? Yes, you do have the right to choose. You are a proud woman who knows exactly what she’s doing.

I would agree with that, she said, smiling. And if I decide to not have sex with you - isn’t that my right?

Yes, woman, yes! You’re giving me a headache.

Good. I cost two-hundred dollars.

Finally! Hallelujah! Now we’re getting down to business.

Fork over the cash, then.

He picked up his pants from the space next to his bed and fished for his wallet. He gave her two hundred in cash.

I am the dominant one now, aren’t I?

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

It’s the language of women that you don’t understand. I would advise you to get back to your wife and make up with her. Be a man - a man who can relate to women without having sex with them. Sex is not the only thing. You have to be a team player.

I still don’t understand anything you’re saying.

That’s because you never care what women say. Our ideas are way over your head.

Fine. Just take the money and go, will you? I’ve lost my desire to sleep with you.

You mean, to have sex with me.

Just go. I can’t take it anymore.

When Ollie returned home, still fat with a broken arm and now penniless, he got down on his hands and knees and begged his wife’s forgiveness. This is what she wanted all along - for the reign of power to sway in her direction. Now his wife was in charge. Gypsy was now the abuser that made men kneel before their wives and apologize. He knew that Gypsy caused this, and while he went to bed that night with his wife, impotent and flaccid nonetheless, he prayed to God that he’d one day, just one day, learn how to get laid again, even though he had lost interest in having sex with women.

He didn’t think himself gay, though, just because he couldn’t do it with women at the time. It simply opened up the reasoning that male gayness might be caused by the impotence caused, in turn, by smart, theorizing women. Maybe this is what they wanted all along, thought Ollie - to cut a man’s balls off and show them off like trophies on their wall.

He fell asleep with his wife next to him, and all the while he dreamed of making a great change. He would lose the weight and return to work. He didn’t want to deal with anyone other than his wife. Returning to work would provide an easy escape from the domestic harangue that his wife’s forgiveness had caused.

At dawn, they went out, and for once, he bought a nice breakfast of bagels and cream-cheese, but only after remembering Gypsy.


There’s a birthmark on my face. It is light brown and sits below my left eye where a soft space of white skin should have been between my nose and my left ear. I was born with it. I’ve had little choice but to tolerate it. I wanted plastic surgery, but I haven’t been able to afford it. Removing the birthmark would take a lot of money, and I just don’t have that kind of cash. My mother spends all of her disability checks on vodka, and my father took off when I was an infant, because he knew that a son with such a birthmark would be so challenged in life that he thought my mother and me would be a colossal waste of time if he stayed and did his due duty as a parent. I am left with my mother who refuses to stay sober and a pet cat that I picked up from the street and does nothing but bite and scratch when I try to touch him. I cook my mother’s meals from whatever food stamps she gets and buying cat food is just too expensive for us. The cat simply pretends that he is still a stray, and he eats whatever we give him. Not to change the subject, but my cat is too thin, scraggly, and generally maladjusted for our humble home. I have no idea what to do with him.

I go to the local high school where my birthmark is seen as my most promising feature. I say this, because the students see nothing but my birthmark, and I am bullied for having such a stain on my face. The girls laugh when they pass me – usually the pretty girls – and the ugly ones pretend I don’t even exist. It’s hard to live on the lower rungs of the world, but most of the teachers I talk to always say that it is on account of my birthmark. They then ridicule me when I don’t do my homework, or I screw things up when they call on me in class. Yet I still have to attend the high school, as it is the only school in our rural area, and my mother and I are stuck in this worthless excuse of a town. Getting government money here is seen as treason. ‘Sucking from the government tit,’ they would say, even though I avoid such remarks as best as I can.

I do remember, though, when there was just a scant but fading ray of hope that appeared on the horizon. It came from one of the women in my History class. She was the daughter of one of my English teachers at the High School. On one hot afternoon, she pulled me to the side of the locker room hallway so that she couldn’t be seen with me. She had a pair of jeans on, and she rolled up her jeans at the

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