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RIVALS by Bud Smith

Last night a cop came uninvited to the party and tasered people for ten dollars. He was a year away from retirement, and so, was relaxed, even breathing from the mouth, acting like a pal.

A lot of guys tried the taser. One even was shocked while he was downstairs in the shower. The cop got so excited. Three women did the taser too, holding hands together sharing that electric. They paid $3.33 each, pretending to be Siamese twins.

It was whatever it was. They secretly hated each other. They publicly hated each other too.

When the taser ran out of battery the cop went out to the cruiser and got the charger. He also carried in his ‘spoils o’ war’ collected in a big plastic bin, hoisted on one shoulder.

Now he had left his badge and uniform in the car, and he was down to his white undershirt and his boxer shorts, black athletic socks, shined up cop shoes.

It’s impossible to love anyone more of less out of their costume.

I mean, I should know, I used to be the mascot for the local college. The team being the Charging Bulls. Their uniforms were brown and shaggy and they had little foam horns on their helmets. Because of their uniforms, and their losing record, they were known un-lovingly as, the Shit Monsters.

The Shit Monsters had never won a game for as long as anybody could remember. But then, out of nowhere, my twin brother leapt out of the gene pool and started throwing touchdowns.

Speaking of things changing, now he is on death row, awaiting execution.

We’ve all got our biblical problems just like any small creature would. Put it to you this way, I don’t love my brother any less now that he wears those orange coveralls and spends his time in the penitentiary getting fat, smoking and watching TV. I love him the same now as I loved him when he dressed up like a Shit Monster.

While the cop charged the taser he leaned back on the couch and put his hands behind his head, fingers laced together. The little sister of someone else I didn’t know had her hand on the cop’s knee and the little brother of someone else I don’t know had their hand on his other knee. There was a show then that began in the bottom of the sunken den.

Two friends of mine were rolled up in an emerald carpet and having sex inside the carpet. Or making faces like they were. It’s always hard to tell. They urged everyone to step harder on the carpet while they grunted. Step harder! The hostess stomped and stomped and the couple seemed on the brink of orgasm, and the hostess started jumping on them with both feet. But the phone in the kitchen started ringing and she went away.

I’d placed the call, my friend who was on the bottom had turned blue.

I said, The call is coming from inside the party.

And she said, Oh you, Bozo.

She slammed the phone down.

I came out of the garage with a lite beer and the couple was unrolled from the carpet, all sticky and sweaty and with basically Xs over their eyes. I kept waiting for someone to dump a jug of icy Gatorade over them. But nobody did so I walked over and poured my lite beer over them and they laughed like people did when it was revealed that they were on Candid Camera.

The mess didn’t matter. There was a big tarp on the floor with plastic over that. You could have cut someone apart with a saw and the tile underneath would still be nice the next morning.

And then the cop had got off the couch and the taser was ready and he prowled up the stairs like a creep, visible boner. Socks off. I wanted to call the cops on the cop but I was worried that the cops who came to arrest the cop would be worse.

The hostess sat down at the table. She said, You’re acting weird.

I figured she meant the collar and the leash around my neck. The lead, my own, was in my hand. So I said, I lost my dog the other day.

She said, What’s your dog’s name?

My name, I said.

Oh, she said, raising both eyebrows.

She was digging around in the spoils o’ war cubby by the coffee pot.

Confiscated heroin, oxy, PCP and magic mushrooms.

I think we are on the honor system, the hostess said.

I put six dollars in the cubby and bought a 1/4 oz. of mushrooms and ate them immediately, handful after handful washed down with Sprite. Then I went out looking for my dog.

I lead myself away from the glowing house and into the peppermint night. Calling my name in a booming voice. There was two inches of crusty snow where I started, falling forward. Sometimes the snow got waist deep, and then got shoulder deep, other times it disappeared.

At the end of the cul de sact I saw my childhood home lit up in red and yellow. It had fallen to a fascist regime. Spaniards. My mother and father were dead and the Spaniards could not get them in the underworld where the Norwegians go to be with the other Norwegians. Our dead parents could sit together and drink aquavit and munch on crispbread. They’d killed themselves just a week after Scotty’s sentencing. The suicide note said they’d had this pact since they’d met as youngsters at the skating rink. Sixty years old was as far as they were willing to go. Also the note said, Uncle Kim and Aunt Aud, can go fuck themselves. Well! Thanks for the heads up Mom and Dad. Enjoy your crispbread and aquavit. I’ll make sure Aunt Aud and Uncle Kim never see this sad note. Yet, considering their suicides, I was neither proud, nor ashamed. With the money from the sale of the house, I bought a house boat that sank quickly in a freak storm and I bought a tractor trailer full of Marlboro lights, which I still cart over to the prison at the bottom of the valley.

Before too long I found myself sitting in the warm grass, and my hands were quaking uncontrollably and I got furious again at the college’s museum which had made me pay for the damage that Scotty had done to their suit of armor. He’d cut the metal hands off and  had started wearing them whenever he wasn’t on the field.

I should tell you how it happened, once and for all.

First those boys broke my hand because of that nursery rhyme regarding how to deal out the treatment of identical twins: Cause one pain, the other feels it. This was during a football game of no significance other than 100 years of rivalry. Well my pain didn’t stop the winning touchdown pass. After that those boys got me again, our teams meeting in a further bowl of no importance. Mind you I was just a nobody but the team mascot, with my rodeo clown head off, feeling the breeze. Pre-game they got me. But this time they were dead drunk and mistaken in another way, thinking I actually was my brother, the star quarterback. They shattered my other hand, so now I had none to use. My brother was wearing those heavy gauntlet gloves. When he heard the news of my attack, he came out from the locker room to seek revenge. It’s sad but it’s funny. He killed two of the three, one punch each, and went to prison instead of playing the rest of the game. So, after all, it seemed, they got us. Our second stringer throwing four interceptions and losing it before halftime. But still I say, we won. Some fans broke the mascot’s hands. Our QB took two of them out of this world.

I tied a bandana over my eyes, spread out in an X on the fifty yard line, and entered into a world inside my lost dog. I searched through her guts and then her veins. I came to a big beating heart. The heart was afraid. I saw there was a door. I opened the door of the heart and looked inside and saw an even smaller room with a couch and a TV and a bookshelf full of books. I picked up one of the books and it slipped from my hands because my hands always have lightning bolts of pain. My friend at the video store did the surgery. Finally though I was able to open the book with my teeth and my tongue and wouldn’t you know, the story in my trip was a story about me, about how I was no longer in any kind of danger. I’d finally found peace. Euphoria washed over me.

There was some noise and I lifted the bandana and the marching band was taking the field and the players in their Shit Monster costumes were running drills all around me and the stands were filling up with a few straggler Shit Monster fans on one side and a throng of opposing fans waving orange pendants on the other side and the moon was an ice cube eyeball and I stood up and got out of the way of the marching band which looked to me in that moment like a panzer tank engulfed in flames, set on annihilating everything in its path.

That’s when I was apprehended by the Shit Monster coaching staff who thought I’d returned! Thought I’d decided to accept my fate again as the mascot of their sorry team!

Someone was yelling, What are you doing? Get dressed get dressed. The  game is about to start.

I tried to pull away but the football team wasn’t having it. A Shit Monster line backer had my left arm. A Shit Monster defensive end had my right arm. A punter had my foot, I shook my foot free and kicked him in the gut. A Shit Monster tight end gabbed that foot. The assistant coach came running over with the rodeo clown outfit and I went into wild hysterics. The mascot’s outfit was pulled over my thrashing body. They finally released me when I was zipped up in it and had the zipper Velcro’d down so I couldn’t find the way out. I’d become the clown and I was loose on the field, stumbling and rumbling across the thirty yard line and then sharply into the visiting team’s orange huddle.

I broke away from them and fled under the bleachers. Some kids were under there, I didn’t see them first as kids. They were crabs passing glowing white orbs back and forth in their pinchers. I burst out the back of the bleachers and hit a chain link fence, kept thrashing against it. And behind me there was cheering, something had happened on the field. I could hear the marching band making mistakes. The whistles went wild. Voices were closer and mumbling my dog’s name.

I grabbed the clown head and I pulled it and then there were other people helping and it came off with a savage tearing and I began to scream. I’d wrongly assumed that my actual head had been ripped from my spinal column. But there was the cool night air and the back glow of the stadium lighting bathing the cedars in blue, and I was alive!

The pinchers hoisted me over the fence and I crashed down into the forest on the other side. That’s where I learned I still had my own skull and my own face and my own past and my own future. I took the head of the jester in my oversized gloves, with my bells jangling, and threw it violently back over the fence onto the playing field. The size twenty clown footwear, acted like snow shoes that helped me trudge through deepening powder, away from the contest.

When I reached town, I saw my reflection in a shop window. I looked like a mutilated cartoon, but all the gore was scribbled on with a white crayon. I decided to walk to the jail to see my brother. On my way there, I saw a pile of dog shit outside of the VFW hall and I stood in that spot for an hour or so, trying to figure out if there was any chance it had come from my dog who was lost out here. I’d take a gun from a sleeping guard and I’d shoot the locks and break Scotty out and then we’d go to the underworld to get drunk with Mom and Dad. But I knew—ah, my brother is in the underworld already. And headed to another, as soon as the judge finally signs the order. Wait, on closer inspection, this couldn’t possibly be my dog’s shit. It was just a paper bag stuffed between the leg of a park bench and an overflowing garbage can. I put my hands on the icy chain link, composed myself.

Down the street I saw the cop coming. He was shirtless in his car. He stopped, You need a ride?

No.

I found the velcro, I found the zipper. I gave him the costume for his bin.

He waved and kept going around the bend.

Did I tell you? I forget if I told you.

At the joint wake, my father’s identical brother, Kim, was there looking down into his brother’s casket, holding the edge so tight I thought he’d splinter the wood. While just feet away, my mother’s identical twin sister, Aud, was looking down into my mother’s casket and her palms were up as if supporting an invisible baby.

Meanwhile, our lives whatever was left of them, were suddenly, same as ever, our own to live.

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