The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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Let’s Go Away for Awhile

When Lloyd realized the harmless-seeming Greek beatnik had slipped an LSD Mickey Finn in his beer, he literally saw red, like a cartoon bull. For all he knew, steam was shooting out his ears. A red gel lowered over the lenses of his eyes, and every person and thing near him flickered in crimson shades in the fire pits’ glow.

How could anyone do that to another human? Were they trying to drive him insane? To kidnap him and do Grecian things to him? His first thought was to corner the man and force the antidote from him.

“Do you want to go sit down?”

Audrey looked as red as any devil; in the near darkness, it seemed she had a tail swishing behind her. Surge! said his penis. Heedless Viking sex on the dirt now, Devil Woman!

“You know, sit down, like one does in a chair? Lloyd?” Audrey waved multiplying red fingers in front of his face. “Oh dear,” she said for the second time that night, “You’re really tripping, aren’t you?”

“I’m standing all right!” He shouted to be heard over the flames. Just then a red negress walked past, her red hair frizzed out in a ball like something from a jungle movie. Lloyd reached out with both of his red hands to encompass her hair’s vastness, and gently patted it, exclaiming “Puffy-puffy!” in a voice he didn’t recognize, maybe because it was red.

“Lloyd!!!” Audrey grabbed both his forearms and pushed them to his sides. “Jesus, Angela, I’m sorry. I’d introduce you to Lloyd here, but he’s not at home right now.”

Audrey obviously knew this other devil woman, who eyed Lloyd warily and asked, “This guy a cop?”

“Just a disgraced one,” Audrey said.

“Most of them are, in my book. He’s kind of cute, though.”

She was pretty surge-worthy herself, said the brain in his Hanes. Maybe this LSD stuff gave him license to have Viking sex with both of them.

A pinecone in the nearest fire made an explosive pop, sending a narrow plume higher until it made a flaming bridge to the stars. Lloyd watched it rise like a prayer, looking to see if a hand would reach out of the sky to take it.

He felt Audrey’s hand on his neck, warm and insistent. “Let me take you some place quiet,” she implored. The other woman was gone. Audrey led him through the throng, one hand on his neck guiding him, the other still clutching a forearm. She had him sit on a log on the outskirts of the yard. Dark red ivy, oak and conifers rose on the hillside beyond them.

Audrey wasn’t red anymore, instead she glowed with a soft light, like a paper lantern with a candle in it. “Can you stay put here for five minutes while I see to some things?” she asked. Lloyd could only nod. His tongue felt too big for his mouth, like a cow’s tongue was in there. He had no idea how many teeth he had, and started to count, moving the tip of that massive tongue to his bottom left molar. It was a castle turret, crenellated and worn, an ancient thing, centuries older than his 30 years.

La Puente had no castles that could have wound up in his mouth. The closest thing to such a mystery he’d found as a kid was a in a weedy field: a big hole in the dirt covered with plywood and earth to camouflage it, like the holes dogfaces dug in the war. He’d hoped to find Kraut potato masher grenades in it, but all that was down there was a blanket and some slimy lambskin sheathes stowed in swirly plastic containers, which his mother had flushed down the toilet without explanation, washing his mouth out with soap for good measure.

Lloyd bent to look at the dirt here, up close because there wasn’t much light. Eyeballs inches from the ground, he saw columns of ants running in opposite directions, each with crazy zigs and zags, cars in the Paris traffic. He got even closer to see if he could spot a Citroen. An ant crawled onto, then into, his nose. He lurched upright, then toppled backward off the log, his field of vision suddenly filled with stars. With the dry Santa Anas up, they shone crisp and hard.

From the stars’ centers, at such great distance, came the tiny colored arrows that had tormented Lloyd in his youth. Stinging, electric-charged arrows in the dark, finding him under the covers unless he shut his eyes tight. He’d never imagined they’d come from so far, so very far, just for him.

From every speck of light they came, streaking toward him at the speed of loneliness. He squeezed his eyes shut so tight it felt like his cheeks and forehead joined. “Screw it,” he decided and opened his eyes wide. The arrows were only yards away, and they converged on his eyes, their colors blending as they hit to form a pure white light. It poured into him, holy and singing, more than his mind could channel, so it flowed in unchecked.

Then the ant reminded him it was there in his nose. He chased it with a finger, on autopilot because he was drunk with the universe. Gravity held him to the cooling earth like a magnet. The ancient Greeks felt the same pull, saw the same stars—from a flat planet, while his was round. What had Ohm said a while before, that we’re all just dirt that gets up and dances for a while, then goes back to being dirt?

He suddenly thought of the dirty, disfigured dwarf he’d visited in the field that morning. How was his day going? He wondered if gravity felt the same for little people. The gnarled fellow was alone with Bentine gone. He couldn’t defend himself against a dog, let alone a psycho murderer. Maybe Lloyd could share a bit of the energy he’d just been bombarded with, and the dwarf would grow to normal height. That’s what he’d do. He found himself crying for the destroyed little man. His eyes scrunched up again, not to keep the arrows out, but because he was wracked with sobs. So sad, this path we walk.

Pull it together, Lloyd, he told himself. There’s a reason why you’re not usually on the ground crying like a girl, and that’s because it’s pathetic. Pull it together. I don’t care if you’ve just seen Jesus on a stick. Don’t let Audrey see you like this.

He thought about sitting up, and eventually did, scooting back onto the log. Life had gone on without him: people were still gathered near the fires, as well as in the house beyond. He could see the Greek on the deck, gesticulating to Ohm. Each held a Brew 102.

Audrey returned. She held a paper plate with two charred hotdogs and a pile of BBQ potato chips. The hotdogs reminded him of the dwarf’s burnt face all over again. He wished he’d screw off to another town and find a lady dwarf and make a nice home in a hollow log. He didn’t want to have to think about him, but now he’d joined the train Lloyd was dragging behind him: Indians and chimps and Munchkins, Oh my.

And Audrey, watching him quietly while he silently dissembled. “There’s two ways we can do this,” she was saying. “I can guide you through it or I can take a tab and ride it out with you.”

“Intentionally? Don’t try it, I don’t think. It’s doing some crazy stuff to me. I attended a seminar on it. LSD makes you jump off buildings. I’m full of space energy, by the way.”

“I know what it does, Lloyd. I’ve tried it several times. Once I took it in a group of people that included Cary Grant. And you don’t see him jumping off anything taller than Mt. Rushmore, do you?”

She laughed and Lloyd couldn’t stop laughing. “Puffy, puffy,” she went kneading an imaginary basketball with her hands. “Believe me, Lloyd. You’ll get through this. Try to eat something.”

He took a hotdog and had a bite. Charred bits stuck to his tongue. This is my flesh, said the dwarf. He tried not to think about what the dwarf’s appliance box home must be like inside, matted old bedding and saltine crackers, a bag for his waste, and so cramped even a dwarf would have to crawl on his hands and knees to get around in it.

Have I been chewing, or is this still solid? Be safe: mother said chew a hundred times. My mouth’s too dry to chew. I’m dying. Save me, Audrey.

He spat the masticated meat into what might have been a napkin. Audrey was saying, “Kimiko’s letting us stay in her studio, a separate house back here. We just have to wait for her to clear another couple out of there. No one will disturb us all night.”

A small eternity later they were inside, squat candles lighting Japanese brush paintings of flowers and frogs on walls and easels. Audrey had Lloyd lie on a Japanese mattress, and said she’d be back in a few minutes, plenty of time for him to relive the previous week; to forgive his parents; to imagine his body pressing into Audrey’s, this time so deep that they locked together; to see faces in the candle flames; and to wander about the room until he came to a mirror, where he saw a stranger regarding him, asking, “Is any of this real? Where’s the solid world you know? Gone forever. It’s been gone forever this past week anyway, everything so different from the life you’ve known it could more easily be a hallucination.”

I start spending time back downtown, and suddenly bodies are turning up all over there; two bodies now of people I know I’ve met. What if I’m the killer, imagining ventriloquists, wild Indians and charred dwarves, while I’m blocks away, maybe in the basement in one of those untenanted buildings cops always keep an eye out for, murdering people with a frenzied precision? What if you’re nuts and you’re too nuts to know it?

Audrey came through the door, lugging a portable record player and a stack of albums. She set it on the floor and let it warm up, then placed the needle in the groove. She sat at the top of the mattress, leaning against the wall, and had Lloyd rest his head on her thigh. Her pantyhose made a scratchy sound against his ear, so she took them off.

The record was that new Beach Boys one Audrey loved so much. Even coming from a tiny speaker, it sounded like a cathedral.

“Don’t talk,” she sang, along with the record. “Put your head on my shoulder.”


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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.


“...we’re all just dirt that gets up and dances for a while…”
I love that!

2011-07-6 by Leslie Smith

This is the one I love: “It was a castle turret, crenellated and worn, an ancient thing, centuries older than his 30 years.” Oh, and the ants… :-)


2011-07-7 by Jean Pasco

“Indians and chimps and Munchkins, Oh my.”—It just keeps getting better!

2011-07-24 by Tom A

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