“The Smuggler”

I’d been waiting for a man on Carondelet St., and then I saw the puppet man. He gesticulated at the sun with an earnest pronouncement on his puppet face, positioning his wooden nose first here and then there with an attitude of fearless exploration. As I got closer, I reconsidered the materials of his nose and decided the elastic-string elbows and knees — for they appeared so because of the angles he got himself into — might be bone after all. But he wore long pants in a checked expression, and his arms were covered in cotton, and I couldn’t speak to the true nature of what toiled beneath.

I felt this man’s rightness in my fingers, as I always feel rightness in my fingers. I flexed them out and then in and confirmed the rightness there.

He swiveled toward me with enthusiasm as I approached, and I took a few steps back. It seemed unwise to behave like that on the street, like so, in daylight.

“Where’re you from?” he said. “Out west?”

“We were supposed to meet on that side.”

When he began to open his hinged jaw, I went on: “I don’t like having to cross the street for someone — and when I’ve wasted half an hour over there, feeling foolish!” I indicated the side I’d crossed from with a backward tilt of my head, and I accompanied it with a contortion of my eyebrows and mouth in an effort to appear coldly menacing. No one likes to be menaced, and these sorts of reprimands don’t tend to go over well; but he exclaimed with what seemed to be much happiness: “Look at your feet in those little shoes!”

“Please,” I said, “let’s get on with it.”

It turned out there were many men on Carondelet St., a whole get-up of them in their checked clothes. Some sold hot dogs and pieces of fruit. Others stood adrift in the chaos of heat, which had turned the air a dusky pink.

I stooped forward to reach for the parcel. But he was fixated on my shoes. He’d swiveled his lanky face around so his line of sight accommodated mainly my shoes, and he’d quieted his body’s fervent motion, and his arms had gone slack, like a puppet on a rest.

“Let’s get on with it!” I said again, and I stooped again, and I took the parcel from inside the rolled cuff of my left pant leg, in the way I’ve cultivated.

He did not react with the non-reaction I’m trained to identify, and I put out my hand in the off-hand way I’ve cultivated. I can give things to people so no one can possibly see. It’s a talent in my fingers.

“Wow!” he said, still at rest. “Look at those little shoes!”

I couldn’t believe it.

“The time is nearly noon, and the noon is nearly now!” I meant to jar him back to reality, but he only looked me fondly in the face.

“Where’re you from?” he said.

I tucked my hand into my pants pocket, waiting for him to make up his mind to get on with it. But he didn’t want to.

“Reality may not be very interesting, but we haven’t much choice about it,” I said finally.
“Out west?” he said.

“We don’t have a choice! Reality,” I went on, when he persisted in looking unconvinced, “is just this.”

Another man came over to assert his nonchalance.

“Good day,” he said, bored, not making eye contact.

I’d seen him earlier, I realized, on the other side of the street, and he’d been looking bored and not making eye contact then too. And what’s more he was wearing tweed around his ankles — a strange breed of tweed that appeared suddenly past the knee of his pant legs as if to lengthen, perhaps, or to fix some mar. And he had an expansive face with unyielding features: exuberant eyebrows; obvious skin; a comeliness hiding harmless in his irises.

But I was focused on the puppet man’s insufferable delay.

“Puppet man,” I began.

“Kiss me,” said the puppet man.

He must have interpreted the look on my face as a need for direction, for he stepped toward me and pointed to the upper right cheek. “Here.”

I stepped back in two enormous bounds, and he bounded enormously after me, still pointing! I thought, This has turned into a terrible situation.

The parcel was in my hand and my hand was in my pocket. Carondelet Street was crowded with people and with bells, the disharmony of which was everywhere, because it was noon. The actions of the people on Carondelet Street were frenzied, unceasing, and the faces of the people on Carondelet Street dripped with heat. I began to doubt the puppet man.

The man with the tweed seemed overly interested, and he showed this interest by looking sideways away from us, in a way I’ve been trained to notice. But I was stubborn.

“Let’s get on with it,” I said. “Get on with it, get on with it!”

But the puppet man swung his heavy head from side to side. He closed his eyes and moved as if to music — something impossibly beautiful, a melody that couldn’t exist. That was the sort of expression he had on his face.

“Let’s get on with it!” I prodded him with my finger and then my fist, prod prod prod. “There’ll be no kissing! No music! No dancing around! Reality isn’t better than this, it’s this.”

 

 

About Lorie Broumand

Lorie Broumand is a librarian. She plays guitar, hurdy gurdy, and Tetris. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Confrontation, SmokeLong Quarterly, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Slush Pile Magazine, Whiskey Island, and Memorious. She's writing a novel about a milkman.




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