Mike Itaya lives in southern Alabama, where he works in a library. His work appears or is forthcoming in decomP Magazine, The Lindenwood Review, and Swamp Ape Review, among others.
During Hurricane Sally, I ran behind Rhonda’s tragic trailer and broke into her custom chicken coop and burgled the engagement gift I’d given her ten years before. I kidnapped her rooster. I put my dirty sock on his head, plopped him in the passenger seat, then named him Rolex ‘cause I’d never had nice things (and figured that was my shot). It wasn’t just that I was on the cheap and chintzy (I was), but all my days there was something obstructing me, like avocado toast, or my nutbag Grans. My Grans was wall-eyed, rich as tits, and cheaper than a pauper’s breakfast.
I lived in the gentrified dumper behind her McMansion at the bottom of Crouton Hill―the pinnacle of pricks in town―which made Grans prickly. That was as close to merry a miserable turd like her could get. When I came home with Rolex, she was chuggin’ brew under the carport, in hangover spirits, fresh off a bust in Tunica, Mississippi, and told me my rooster-caper-fandango was “strange and fuckin’ stupid,” and I was “plenty strange and fuckin’ stupid, too.”
“The whole city seen you jack that bird,” Grans says, cracking another Bud.
“Rolex tells time, and it ain’t happy hour nowhere.”
Rolex blinked up at Grans, an unhappy mole.
The three of us waited in the sideways rain.
“I ain’t to be judged by a rooster!” Grans jerked the handle of her outdoor recliner and her feet went up like an angry flag. That was the end of visit time. I had displeased her big-time. I knew Grans was expectin’ me to die during Hurricane Sally because she’d written my obit for tomorrow’s Ezekiel Trumpet: “Mayor JB Wilkins took one in the tooter. He is survived by his saintly Grans and a pile of unfolded laundry.” I was a bit pissed about it bein’ mostly true, so I left her out in the weather like a cheap lawn mower and wondered what Rolex might eat―if he’d settle for a bean burrito or hold out for the good stuff.
But I didn’t go inside. I stood watching Grans. She was snorin’ with her mouth stretched like a cave, so I thought about pouring fish food in there, but the box inside by the tank was empty, and I felt disappointed yet righteous, certain I’d passed some kind of moral test.
I knew Grans was low down. We had this layaway Koi pond, but after her redneck gigolo, Mr. Benji, moved out, Grans got wet and abandoned the fish. Stray cats pissed in the pond, and I did too. Fish, generally speakin’, were a big-time mystery.
Last night on Pay-Per-View, I bought a match between a hammerhead shark and a ninja master, which sounded justified, but when I saw that shark had brought a shank in the tank, I lost heart and turned it off. See, I get all burned for an idea, but as soon as something fucks up, I can’t move for days. I just do things without understanding why. I was right now standin’ on the hot seat, true enough, holding a confused, boosted rooster, but it was morning and I was semi-coherent and I was feeling a bit bonafide. So, I strutted back out to the patio.
Ms. Wanda and her sportin’ grandbébé showed up sellin’ fudge, and they both see Grans snorin’ in the rain, splay-legged with her Auburn socks and Rolex pecking at pot cheese. It just all felt like a comedown. I looked at myself the way they looked at me, and I figure that was the worst self-knowledge there was. My face felt like it was coming unglued, and my stomach was gutshot.
My breakup with Rhonda had been a nut-crusher. She pushed me out of a hang glider, and I crashed into a gridlocked town hall meeting, where, in exchange for a suitcase filled with mashed potatoes, I agreed to be the Mayor of Ezekiel, Mississippi. And it’s been the shits ever since. I was mighty lonely, and it’d been many moons since anyone fandangled me. I’d kept a close notice of my tender heart since Rhonda fleeced me rotten ten years back with her “Titty Sham of ‘08.” It’d be in poor taste to say more, snitches get laid in ditches. Way back then, I resolved to sidestep the wank-fest of love, but eventually, I paid that little techno-brass bastard, Webelo, to fix my RCA so I could watch steamy Kabuki soap operas from Japan.
Like I said, it all felt like a comedown, so I go incognito. I carry a classy getup around―some spectacles and a mummified honker―and wear them so nobody won’t see the hurt in my heart. But it didn’t really matter, cause Ms. Wanda (and her grandbébé) seen me put on the disguise and wasn’t bamboozled in the slightest. People know me wherever I go. I’m the goddamned mayor of Ezekiel, Mississippi. I went inside my “residence” because I have business to attend to, and, even though I know some folks would disapprove, I’ve rubbed one out in worse places than a lattice-work crapper.
Two hours later, after furiously punishing my nuggets, I go to the town council meeting, where I said, “No,” to everything―even a bowl of everything bagels where Rolex buries his head―and that seems to really piss everybody off. But I was already waist deep in diplo-speak, and saying “Yes,” was risky stuff. You get going, “Yes, Yes,” in Ezekiel, Mississippi, and you’ll come to the bad end, sleeping nuts to butts inside a water closet with a kidnapped rooster on a gully washer Monday. Still, it was better than staying in Grans’ big house, which comes with nasty amenities, like eating pickle melts and starching her underoos.
Every time I stepped in that big house, I felt a shadow step across my life, like I knew something shitty was fixin’ to happen. Like the time two years ago, when my rumpus went on the fritz at Fogo de Chão and I was forty-two-percent sure I’d come to the bad end during the Mayors’ Colloquium in New Orleans. We’d split into teams for the Four Square tournament, the prize being two booze cruise tickets, and despite bein’ terrified of boats and water in general, it felt like something I had to win to continue breathing. But my competence was in question. I’d made a fool of myself with the Mayor of Seoul when I asked about driving his aftermarket Kia Sephia, and he turned away from me like I wasn’t even there.
So at the council meeting I stonewalled every one of them town council bastards―which logistically, weren’t a big jump from sayin’, “No,”―when the chairman, this ungroovy dude Sam Piccolo, up and threatens me with pictures of suitcases filled with mashed potatoes (“Tatergate”), even though I’d been publicly pro-keto during the campaign. I change my tune right quick. The last time I faced the court of public opinion, I played the whipping boy for the prior administration, poked with all manner of charges, for corruption, “big-time tootin’,” and armadillo prostitution. I got a brainy lawyer and he got all them accusations dropped (except for the tootin’), though the prosecution threw a curveball count of “Public Sexiness” and produced a steamy calendar pic of me posing in houndstooth long johns eating a carrot. They had me dead to rights. I pleaded no contest because I’d been assured the calendar was noncompetitive in nature, and the Honorable Judge Mayo gave me a suspended sentence, lest I be judged by a jury of peers knowledgeable of steamy calendars.
My administration is, at large, a mystery to me. I don’t know my constituents or what they care about. Someone was always writing mean stuff about me for the paper, so I figured I might as well too, though the stuff I wrote―“Mayor Wilkins reads at a sub-second grade level”―felt both kind of true, and like something Grans might have written, because she always said the same thing when I worked at Piggly Wiggly.
Still, at the council meeting, my hands were empty, so I looked down in ‘em. For a month, I’d taken the habit of draggin’ a large portmanteau with me everywhere, but stopped when it felt kind of strange―kind of like a prop designed to make me feel of the world instead of trespassing through it. Yep. I’d liked that portmanteau real well, even kept my amateur artwork in there ‘till it fell open last council meeting, and all my steamy pics of me as a centaur and Rhonda as a Woodland Elf came tumblin’ out, and Sam Piccolo lost his biscuits right into my briefcase. Still, having squashed a starchy scandal today, I figure my public do-goodery is maxed out. I go home and go to sleep.
Sometimes I think I got this divided nature, like there’s a civil war going on inside my trousers. I get an itch to sit, but then again I got this nomadic heart, too. Moral turpitude was kind of a specialty of mine, and luck had a way of fleein’ me like an after-supper fart. Sometimes I chauffeured Grans to the Imperial Palace in Biloxi, but every time I went inside, the dealers wailed on me with the dice sticks, so while Gran’s inside gamblin’ away my inheritance, I stand outside the boats starin’ at the tides, wonderin’ what they could tell me about the future. I come to find out them boats is cemented in the shallows. It’d take a monsoon motherfucker to change them a blip. It still beats the road trip we took to Memphis, which involved bad fish, bed head, and gettin’ my ass whipped in Tunica, which as a tourist, I frankly cannot recommend. I was in fact dreaming about the trip when Grans slapped me in the face with Tuesday’s soggy Ezekiel Trumpet: “Rhonda Ball Dies in Storm Seeking Stolen Rooster.” She was clocked by a wind-whipped can of Cajun Boiled Peanuts.
Bein’ mayor means I got to do things that I’d rather not on a daily basis. Like go to the service for Hurricane Sally. Goin’ into the funeral, I knew it was gonna be a dud. Driving down Crouton Hill, deserted, I felt I was traversin’ across the face of the moon. For the wake, Webelo wanted to play “Taps,” but Reverend Douglas wouldn’t let him. So Webelo climbed on top the funeral home and blared “Rock You Like a Hurricane” on his French horn. People got mighty pissed. Mr. Benji, who disliked all of the deceased, sat in the lobby, and when Grans saw him, she flung herself at his head like a flying squirrel. Mr. Benji swears he invented a maneuver called The Leaky Fife, which I know he counterfeited from a documentary that we watched together on PBS. Anyways, Mr. Benji swatted Grans off, and her lacquered lips circled into an aubergine hole, like the business end of a plunger.
During the visitation, I thought about saying something about Rhonda, but I couldn’t think of anything that would make me feel better. The lust and disgust had been churnin’ in my paunch so long, I didn’t know which was which. Back before the “Titty Sham of ‘08,” me and Rhonda were peas in a pod, whittlin’ away our days together, and once even made love in a hang glider. But the high times of life were behind me.
Don’t keep the wrong idea here: it wasn’t like Rhonda was like the Big Kahuna or nothin’. In fact, she seemed to be one of those folks who liked to pretend they had a line to God, that they had luck in endless supply, that they’d always know how things were and how they should be. But I figured if Rhonda felt half as bad as I did―if she lived buried beneath the roots, if the mineral dirt was in her nostrils, the footsteps of life ponderous in her ears―it might be her mouth cracked with dread and not mine.
There’s always too much time, or never enough of it. But if I could do it again, I might’ve asked Rhonda during all those years we never spoke just when it was she decided she didn’t love me anymore.