Flora and the Eggheads

Flora and the Eggheads

Short Fiction

Jim Meirose

First dog growing up, then long time, no; then cat growing up, then long time, no; then rat mouse mole hog hippo rhino growing up, same way but, still quite improper, still long time, no. Flora thought there would never be something she could finally happily become, until there came one, running; Flora saw it come running across Ford’s newspaper store floor, yes; then long time, no; but wait, yes yes; her rising goosebumps said she’d found at last what to be should be was made as the true thing finally to be; centipede centipede yes, no; yes.

Centipede!

Flora, oh Flora, you’ve just been through it and as you can see, it turned out to be nothing at all like, well, like—what’s a good example let me think I must think, have to think, see, yes; yes, we’ve found our best way to explain—here it is—here; the big books in the library on their special blonde wood forever new from absolute disuse great big bookstands; there yes, look it up, lookit-up. You need Flora, to know more than just the word centipede; you need to know the what when or how but also maybe the how when or what. She turned away nodding and took this advice. Finally, she knew that the order of learning about centipedes was not dependent on any one rigid sequence. Thus, she let that particular struggle go. Too puny, too futile; the big books on the blonde wood like new library great big bookstands opened, leafed left to right then right to left then over and over several hundred times until the only word that fit how things were came inside her eye; scolopendromorpha, also known as the family of tropical centipedes. Scolopendromorpha. Scolopendromorpha. No way of knowing in her weakened state what scolopendromorpha really meant, but it did say quite plainly popping up from the page as if a sharkfin cutting the foamy surface of the roiling windblown whitecaps of quick-moving opaque prose below, the scolopendromorpha family of centipedes is the only family that can contain specimens having exactly twenty-one pairs of legs. Yes, yes, all self-satisfied, Flora had learned much on this very first day of knowing what she was intended to be. She closed the great book shut with a soft coverslapping sigh, and went to her only temporary home; thank God it is now certainly only that; only temporary; yes, thank God. The number twenty-one appeared to her in a dream last night all afire in the night enwrapping the same breed of dark mountain upon which Moses encountered the supposed biblical burning bush; the twenty-one spoke in a loud full voice, throbbing out melodiously, You, Flora, should also know that no centipede ever has had an even number of pairs of legs, thus; know that if someone comes around preaching salvation, no matter how long shiny and flowing their hair or sweet their voice or luminous their golden silk robes, if they even mention one instant in passing that they’ve known a centipede with twenty, or eighteen, or twenty-two, or sixteen, and so forth and so on pairs of legs, know this preacher is just a false dry husk concealing the devil, whose name cannot be written because anyone who writes it has really signed themselves over to instantly be transported to their designated red hot stone coffin deep down where he lives, called—you fill in the name, Flora; you know the name, and to avoid going there, rise as soon as the imposter claims to have seen such an unnatural centipede, rise instantly and pull your size extra-large blue steel magnum and send hot quick lead into through and out the back of the liar’s head, then write that as a poem and your fame will be guaranteed for sure yes no maybe yes no maybe yes no maybe yes—don’t worry this boring sequence was gorged down and swallowed gone by Flora’s mother shaking her daughter’s flailing legs and shouting in fear over Flora’s ready to explode stress-inflated grimace of a sleepy-assed face, Flora, wake up! This is a nightmare, uh, no, I said that wrong, I am no nightmare, I meant to say, you are having a nightmare wake yes wake yes wake, yes wake—and boom, pop, the blankets exploded away with a shower of nightmarishly hot sweaty droplets, and everything popped in an even larger moist red mist and Flora flashed open her eyes just in time for her mentor not to notice she was dozing not listening, the mentor’s eyes thank God were clenched down over the point being sprayed out over Flora, stating, What you’ve just gone through, Flora, is no way as new or unproven as all two of those old-fashioned atomic bombs that were built in extreme haste and that were scheduled to be dropped on Japan back in older than old forgotten-time; and this clicked for Flora kicked big time, drawing blanketlike over her the remembrance that she has been silly, yes oh so silly, because it was a fact that her mother was long dead so what she was just told she automatically backed out to never was to never happened to couldn’t have no never not didn’t, absolutely never at least not in this iteration of this galaxy. Therefore, she warmed with the knowledge that her centipede obsession was firmly planted in her and would not weaken, most like a small loamy hole dug in a garden fit to receive a rapidly thrust-down tiny baby soft M&M sized root-ball, yes properly planted, as good as immortal. With some decades of watering and covering over to thwart the yearly frost, the teeny-baby grew to five fingered glove size and from it pulled an updated Flora; this version of her being a newly born super heckler, who, invigorated by the watery watering and the love which she felt right then for all things living and nonliving which had battered into her the final complete absolute conviction that yes centipede is where it’s at, yes where it’s at, for her. And she’d spend her sweet life thanking whatever or whatever is hidden behind the elaborate false façade presented to us as totally real, for their pushing time forward faster, for just the few moments required for time to rip chew and tear through the false prettily painted brittle paper banner wrapped around Flora and every other human, ripping that aside, causing she us and you  again to be surrounded by some semblance of the real pound-it-with-your-fists solidly real world that burst out flowed up and under and around over Flora, exposing the tall beaming bright lecturer behind an oaken podium down of a huge university amphitheater-style classroom packed to the topmost tier with students. The lecturer nodded and handed her the microphone and it made sense to her to begin speaking at it while caressing it with fingers and words all full-blast loud, louder loudest all spitting and sputtering, louder and wilder and more out of control than she’d ever dreamt she’d be; it came from the microphone teaching her real-time word after word  exactly what to say; that being that it is amazing that a creature as small as most centipedes, have tiny forever-searching antennae with no less than seventeen even tinier segments; from which it follows, that way back in the antique as hell nineteen forties, that almost forgotten quickly summoned circle of important cliquey as hell upper-crust entitled ivy league egghead scientists who developed world war two’s crazy wild a-bombs had no idea if their bombs would actually explode, or do nothing more than plummet neatly fast and inertly into the heart of the deeply polluted river that’s flowed forever through the dead center of that famous place Hiroshima, Japan; Flora looked up from the microphone at the thousands of black pinpoint pairs of student-eyes, drifting in the air all empty and still. This hard-hitting stare-down from the hundreds of identically eyed students rumbled up her loosened-up fast crumbling dusty old memory, to a time she had seen this very same sight, except for it having only a few pairs of black pinpoints, and in that place, she pushed out her finger and pressed it to the side of what she immediately knew was a super-sized pet store commercial-grade aquarium from which some half dozen pairs of pinpoints steadily stared; what was this what is this where is the classroom, huh? What classroom now; there’s no classroom, this is an aquarium, what—and just as her brain touched meltdown temperature, a large hair adult hand came on her shoulder, pulling out words that meant it was more than just a hand in her personal space, but a great big real life military issue Father, Flora’s own, yes indeed, whose shelf life was around, oh, maybe approximately eighty years, that said, See, honey—those are glass cats. They are alive as we two, but are see-through completely. They are just teeny tiny little things, and the only thing that any human can see are their teeny tiny eyeballs, and, in just the right light, maybe the ghost of their bones. Aren’t they cute, Flora—yes that’s what he said—and cute yes cute they were, and this small child version of Flora instantly decided that what she wanted to be when she grew up was a glass cat, because; how great it must be, to be invisible, even though far larger than microscopic; how great to be something that nothing can harm, because nothing can see you, so nothing can catch you—wow neat yes, neat, yes glass cat, glass cat—glass cat—but from the big round ball of cute that she had become wrapped around in, so warm so nice to know so early in life what you want to be all the way to the end—but the side of the ball burst spattering her with Father’s broken hot wet words telling her, Yes they are cute, but we shouldn’t get them. They are pretty but they get on each other’s nerves somehow a little more day after day until they snap and attack and eat each other, until the last and strongest is finally alone; but it had not foreseen, being a fish quite mindless and in no way even knowing let alone caring to have thought ahead to what it would be like if it ended up alone, the shock hit the ignorant creature completely by surprise, and this, in this shock, the single little brain-spark it had been gifted with, immediately took evasive action, to slam the door on the depression and negativity, by the simple act of pressing the correct control room switches in its smaller than full stop brain, to painlessly end its life just like that. Its entire secret struggle of a life has been for nothing, Flora; nothing and nothing and nothing at all has it ended up mattering—why do you want to be that way Flora why that why—it got too hot then; if she did nothing she’d ignite then; so, she cut him off then; he’d snatched down her happiness; he’d robbed her blind. He’d slapped her down all the way to the pit of pitch dark at the bottom of life, and taken her joy by surprise when she was looking away; sneak attack, dirty; wrong. She felt this so harshly, that her brain killed the pain by abruptly believing in one smooth seamless train of fast thought, that she was blind and had been so forever; she had not ever seen those poor glass cats; thus, never seen equaled never been and silly, silly, they were only imaginary, how can something not real feel real as it had, and that is too bad, but maybe the next thing will be truly real, and the next and the next and the next, and at last; but when blind, try the easiest obvious solution to recover. Now that you’re calm and used to the dark, try one last time to open your eyes; it’s the equivalent of checking that the dead appliance is plugged in, the blank silent television is connected to the antenna, or it’s just a blown fuse in the darkness downstairs that has snatched away all the light in the world. Encouraged by these practical examples that often solve problems, Flora opened her eyes and yes, thank God yes, it was that simple; and again, the moment when she had seen the centipede running across Ford’s newspaper store floor reset her head and she never ever again remembered that in a past life she had been blind. Why? How?  No, no, no, never mind how. God’s creation must never question, said the blackrimmed stern Bishop in his next to last sermon before implosion. The gas jockey in Flora saw that just past instant, and the second’s old memory of the tiny fleeing slinky centipede as a sign. Yes, in centipede, lies Flora’s destiny; in centipede, the eyes have a fixed number of four ocelli on each side in the family scolopendridae and one ocellus per side in the genus mimops, but other families are blind, said a professor sometime someplace to someone that wasn’t her, but it was still true, though she’d never been there and never learned that particular fact; but if something is true, and no one knows it is, is it still so? There think about that, the next time you’re waiting at a gas station with the car shut all down and the nozzle inserted doing the car good, on some superhot day bored and need something to make the time pass to cut back the absolute years it always seems to take for the big-assed sedan’s tank to fill. And more, stated the professor, waiting for the pumping to stop, imagine the springs winding up tighter and tighter in the gang of egghead sliderule jockeys, tightening tightening tightening tight the fear in them because it was now real-world, not university-play, that the first single bomb they had tested at Los Alamos was designed totally differently from those two that the government ran off and threw together in a big fat loud secret rush to be dropped on Japan that they had lied about knowing for sure they would both go off, with no facts no proof no mathematical logical basis for saying that no; escaping the fear and the horrid consequences, they instead popped their emergency Flora-slides into their one dollar each garage sale cheap plastic viewers and told her a provable fact; that the centipede world is divided into five families cryptopidae scolopendridae mimopidae scolopocryptopidae and plutoniumidae; they did not care that this was information Flora needed to know; they only cared that as they said each word, an antidote to the quickly growing oil-filled tumors within each of them which were attacking them from the inside out with fear and tension came in them and unwrapped down the overtightened springs and calmed them one by one flowing into them a cheap high much like that brought on by multiple deep drags of black opium like that they’d all dabbled with back in their smoky bedbuggy flophouselike dormrooms, when they were undergraduates. From the fast closing gates of escape from reality shutting off the heavily sedated happy silly atomic scientists, Flora, armed with the facts they’d told her, and also anxious to be well and able to run again, ran fast and smoothly and directly tripped down-step, wavered and waved and stumbled face first down all fifty-five concrete steps she’d unexpectedly encountered, receiving multiple blunt force ugly traumas that would render her broken-necked and generally very unsightly stomach-turning classic closed-coffin material. You know, the only known amphibious centipede, scolopendra cataracta, if submerged too long, requires a closed coffin service too, which is made more necessary by the relentless gnawing of the facial features by the ravenously evil tiny vermin every body of water teems with. Flora’s head slammed down on step after step as she slid downstairs, the pitifully deceased gnawed-up scolopendra cataracta clutched in her hands crazily jerking and cracking and bleeding down over thirty sharp stony steps. During the years of superfast slick-assed smooth long falling that ensued, from the scolopendra cataracta that she never let go and kept hidden under her clothes, and that she kept secret by lying to people about needing to use her feet for everything, that she actually was a double amputee, Flora learned through those years many more mystical facts. One was that centipedes are the only arthropods with poison claws to subdue prey; this not yet being enough to ease her fall, she continued falling for several more years, grown more and more bloody but also more and more creative, becoming famous for managing to spit blood from her mouth into  artistically winestained patterns down dozens of steps floor aisle seats and expensive antique Turkish aisle carpets, completely and totally down to the slidey dead limpstopped superdead end she was resigned to experience sooner or later, and fully meant to make the best of the time she has left just as the much too happy sliderule jockeys had decided without realizing they had, to enjoy today’s beautiful superdeep opium fog and to hell with tomorrow, even though if sober they would fear that for all they know their big fat bomb would just have made this planet’s largest ever harmless but irritating to anyone not a silly child or in a bathing suit water-splash, by chance causing intense glee for a troop of dark-uniformed neat clean absolutely identical super-cute hello kitty loving giggling and spitting when no one was watching super-petite spotless Japanese fifth graders being marched single file back to class from some happy-assed multicolored super-expensive giggly playground, instead of causing instantaneous vaporization as these opium-stoned eggheads with their long hard slippery sliderules had planned; but meanwhile as tumbling Flora had learned that centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment, soldiers would come to dredge the dud a-bomb up from that muckety bottom-muckety-muck slimier than shit superdeep riverbottom; and after Flora had also learned the hard way don’t ask why that all centipedes without exception are predators, using the same logic that caused the scientists to know that no two snowflakes are the same, which is no-logic, but that’s too far afield to probe into now, the Japanese soldiers after strongly firehosing this same a-bomb dud down to whistly squeaky clean they would zip it through darkness to Hiroshima’s great and gaudy public square to be denounced there and burned alive as an execution in-effigy of all allied power entitled egghead sliderule jockeys, shaking them to their pimply-assed cores; even as the everfalling Flora marched on for more years learning such things as centipedes can live for as much as a decade, those same sliderule jockeys who in their eternally superheated brains kept hidden beneath their identically weird tweed fedoras actually had big enough balls plus dicks long enough to allow them to go ahead and make possible the instantaneous superhot mass molten-flowing volcanic murder of thousands of blameless civilians they had never met; and even though now Flora, having reached old age, could see the end of her lifespan approaching, she still strove to learn something new every day, like centipedes can regenerate lost legs, the pitiful egghead sliderule jockeys had never grown a notion-of-time detector, like, they never thought enough of said civilians to even dimly dream of doing them the courtesy of arranging to attend the thousands of superfast funerals which must happen that way because it would be August and over ninety-five degrees when the bomb would fall, would have to be all jammed into a three or four day period, because of their quick hair-raising radiation-fed decay sped up yet more by August’s heat. Plus, these funerals would be held deep in their enemy’s homeland, roundy round around the exact opposite of their spot on their own planet side, which couldn’t possibly be reached in time because of mankind’s still-primitive rudimentary technology of intercontinental civilian travel in those days so long ago; even though Flora was learning more and more things like that most centipedes are built for speed, and that centipedes are prone to instant dehydration, etcetera, these sliderule jockeys attending the funerals, though this is a right and moral thing to do, would be immediately kidnapped after the final funeral was over, to face show trials kangaroo courts, beatings and lynchings which of course will bring them down to death and then final forever and permanent burial in quite unhallowed ground that no one will ever visit because it’s too God-damned far away; yes even as Flora fell mere minutes from hitting the final end of her life, we had to intrude for journalism’s sake, and stop her and say to her, Flora, if we may for lack of time address you directly; how does it feel to be up and alive all sparkling bouncy and rubber ball zippy, and here, at the end, what’s it like to have fulfilled yourself just in time, here moments mere moments before the end of your life?

Uh, I see, you’ve paused my life. I didn’t know you could do that. Now that I know that, I’ll admit I’ve made a large mistake.

What? How?

I seem to remember something better. Something about, oh, I can’t think!

What? What’s better—

Here it comes! I would rather have decided to be a glass cat! Hot dog, thank you, for saving me from myself again, good-bye—the good-bye sucking her back away gone leaving a vacuum that told us without words what a horrible shitty mistake we made to pause her life without extensive laboratory testing of the action, because it threw her back, giving her more life-time and the chance to make this choice instead of that or that choice instead of this or whatever, but we got left back sucked up as the time restarted but before it restarted the vacuum needed to be refilled and there was nothing loose and handy around to throw in the hole except little old us, so it snatched us in and time restarted and off we went with time thinking we were her or she was us or whatever, simply put, the warp and the woof of time got rubbed too fast and hot against the grain, triggering us to be cast out far forward like a big bass lure whipped out into the weeds from a state of the art rod and reel, and we went fast with no time to hit the brakes as a matter of fact it was really worse, there was no brake pedal to push at all in the bum’s rush of a car we had been handed—

Splat! said Father dead-and-gone, reaching in from the other side of the steel wall we inpacted, taking our ghosts away fast so our lives could be penciled in properly by some minimum wage bookkeeper the corporation doesn’t even know is on the payroll anymore, so the super-secret books would accurately refer to us as dead.

Does anyone have any questions?

 

 

Bio: Jim Meirose’s short work has appeared in numerous venues. He has published several novels as well, including the upcoming “Understanding Franklin Thompson” (JEF pubs ’18) and “Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer” (Optional Books ’18). Info: www.jimmeirose.com

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