Meg Pokrass & Aimee Parkison ~ New Frontier

Inspired by New Frontier by Donald Fagen

My dad he’s crazy, but he’s smart, and he’s built a bunker to keep the plague, the reds, and the ram­pant fires away. We’re gonna have a shindig in here, he says, lug­ging in car­tons of beer, danc­ing with the dog. The dog and he are a spe­cial pair since Mom dis­ap­peared, they’re always hav­ing a wingding togeth­er. Dancing around with lots of beer.

Today he’s excit­ed about our first vis­i­tor. Dad’s been try­ing to get me to find some­one to live here with us. Someone to make us less lone­ly, to bring in some light. This has been my project for life on the new fron­tier. The one I found, I met her at Hooters when I stopped in for tacos. She seemed nice, and bored, and agreed to stop by lat­er to see this place if I paid her for her time.

I’m a sum­mer smok­er, hope that’s okay, the girl said when I told her how hap­py I was that she’d vis­it our bunker.

I only smoke when I’m feel­ing too hot, she says, as if I was the kind of per­son to judge a per­son. Her breasts were large and angry look­ing. She made me feel so many things, but all I could say was, that makes sense to me!

Well, let’s not get too excit­ed, Dad says. Let’s get to know her first.

I think we’ll all hit it off, I say.

It’s great to see him danc­ing. He’s usu­al­ly sit­ting down in the same spot, drink­ing beer, remem­ber­ing Mom, his eyes all misty. His eyes appear ready for the bombs to fall, they are American eyes, but they are not of this world. I’m pre­pared to meet the chal­lenge of the new fron­tier, I say, and I’m look­ing at him as if I’m flow­ing with the flow.

She’d bet­ter have a face like Tuesday Weld if she’s real hope for the future, Dad says. Your grand­moth­er had that kind of face.

Tuesday Weld, I think. Now that’s some name. A lot bet­ter than Wednesday Crap, a lot bet­ter than the peo­ple who say we don’t all need to find our­selves a new fron­tier. Dad pre­tends to smile. The cor­ners of his lips fan out.  I remind myself that I’m going to move to New York when things get nor­mal again, that I’m going to find a life in the the­atre. I’ll have an apart­ment. This is a tem­po­rary con­di­tion.

~

Summer Smoker laughs.  She doesn’t have a face like Tuesday Weld.  Her face is more like Norma Jean before Norma Jean sum­moned Marilyn in her mir­ror.

I keep telling myself if Doomsday comes Dad will be danc­ing with Summer Smoker.  We all need a lit­tle Doomsday just to give us a chance to move on from the plague of life.

I keep ask­ing my dad what it will feel like when they drop the bomb.  He grabs Summer Smoker, kiss­ing her with his tongue like it’s the end of the world, and tells me, Like this.

In the bunker, I play the key­board as Summer Smoker and Dad dance the cha-cha.  They dance the lindy hop and announce their inten­tion to enter the All-Star Lindy Hop Finals, once this whole Doomsday phase blows over.

The dog and I sip domes­tic beer as we lis­ten to the radio.

How long will we be down here?” I ask.

Dads says, “Until we run out of beer.”

In the bunker, there are more than 99 bot­tles of beer on every wall.

Summer Smoker moves into the bunker with 137 car­tons of cig­a­rettes.

Even though it’s now the dead of win­ter, Summer Smoker smokes when she wakes and she smokes when she sleeps.  She smokes when she eats, and she smokes after she eats and again when she gets hun­gry.

Living with a smok­er in a bunker is hell.  The bunker is like a giant cig­ar we’re all smok­ing by breath­ing.  So, yeah, I’m a smok­er now, just not by choice.  I have the gall to tell Summer Smoker this, and she cor­rects me by say­ing, Cigarette smoke is inhaled deeply into the lungs, but cig­ar smoke is left in the mouth.

If she’s right, this bunker is more like a cig­a­rette shared by all who live here, than a com­mu­nal cig­ar.  Or maybe it’s like a big old cig­a­r­il­lo?

You don’t inhale cig­a­r­il­los, either, she tells me.

Then, why do peo­ple smoke cig­ars? I ask.

Because they love doing it, she says.  Didn’t you ever do any­thing because you loved it?

I don’t answer.

At night, Summer Smoker is awake smok­ing her cig­a­rettes.  During the day, she falls asleep with a lit cig­a­rette dan­gling from her lips or fin­gers.  I just stand here, wait­ing and watch­ing, ready for the cig­a­rette to fall.

~

Meg Pokrass is the author of five flash fic­tion col­lec­tions and a book of prose poet­ry, Cellulose Pajamas, for which she received the Blue Light Book Award. Her work has been wide­ly inter­na­tion­al­ly anthol­o­gized, most recent­ly in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018), Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015) and The Best Small Fictions 2018, 2019. She serves as Founding Co-Editor of Best Microfiction 2020 and teach­es flash fic­tion online and in per­son. Find out more at megpokrass.com.

Aimee Parkison is the author of Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, win­ner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. Her new book, Girl Zoo, co-authored with Carol Guess, was pub­lished in 2019. Her oth­er works include Woman with Dark Horses, The Innocent Party, and The Petals of Your Eyes. Parkison teach­es at Oklahoma State University, where she is an Associate Professor of Fiction Writing and the Director of the Creative Writing Program.