You stand on the deck in Western New York, leaning against the rail, peering into the intense greenery of your back yard. You have nothing to do since you lost your job. Your yard is a place where the skunk, deer, squirrel and occasional black bear come for dinner, meditation or sex. Even a firebird, a Russian-American zhar-ptitsa, an immigrant like you, sometimes picks wild strawberries here and shits ashes or embers.
You should be firing off another resume, but something caught your attention. Something shapeless, brown and yellow hangs on the branch of an oak. Your cat, who does nothing to earn his keep, jumps on the rail to stare in the same direction. Perhaps the shapeless thing is a dead bat. That’s it. A bat.
When your youngest daughter was little, she told you a joke once. “What is Dracula’s favorite soup?”
You shrugged. You didn’t know a bloody thing about Dracula except for his birthplace, his employment in Hollywood and that he was related to Batman.
“Scream of mushroom!” she answered when she realized that she couldn’t get blood out of a stone. Tears pooled in her eyes. She ran to her room, locked the door and cried. Perhaps she was afraid that she had inherited your IQ.
Your oldest daughter coached her: “Don’t cry too far from them. It’s a waste of tears if they don’t hear you.”
So today, many years later, you don’t want a pedestrian bat anymore. You want something else. As they say in computer lingo, WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get.
Let’s see. Yes, this is dead Dracula. He knew that you were born next door to Transylvania, so when Hollywood squeezed the last drops of his blood and turned to werewolves for its movies, he came to die in your yard. The cat hisses; he agrees.
By the time you bring out binoculars, Dracula is gone, replaced by a cluster of last year’s leaves. He learned new tricks, even after his second death, the old dog. He has become a spineless shape-shifter.
Your youngest daughter is a medical student now, so her job prospects are good. Your oldest daughter is a lawyer. They inherited your wife’s IQ—she has a brilliant career, she works hard and she’s kind. They call every failed man, including rejected suitors, “Russian engineers.”
You ease yourself into a rocker, the cat in your lap, your iPad resting on his back. A squirrel chases another across the yard. They must be a reincarnated Hollywood agent and a celeb. You sigh. You fire off another resume. The current picks it up like a yellow leaf, but it will probably get caught in the web somewhere in the void beyond the edge of your property.
Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union and is fluent in Russian. His fiction, poetry and book reviews have appeared in such magazines as Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, American Book Review, The Bloosmbury Review, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, The Literary Review, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, Short Fiction (UK), The Warwick Review (UK), Flash (UK), Neo (Portugal) and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the oldest flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited the flash fiction anthology You Have Time for This from Ooligan Press; a new anthology is forthcoming in December of 2011 from Persea Books.