The Word Problem Effect
When a raindrop begins to descend from the height of one mile over York, Pennsylvania, it is four o’clock in the afternoon. The drop is gray blue, partially magenta. At the same time in Lexington, Kentucky, train A leaves the station heading west. In its dining car, seated at a small square table by the first window, proctologist Edwin Potts observes his napkin. It is seven o’clock in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, when at the altitude of two miles a snowflake is formed. Seventeen-hundred-and-eight structure beams comprise its white filigree. The wind is steady from north east at twelve-point-six knots. Directly below it, four buses (B, C, D & F) depart in various directions. One carries passengers, the remaining three stacked with mannequins. Their destinations lie at thirty-degree increments from one another, starting with due north, continuing counter-clockwise (when perceived from the vantage of the flake). The engineer of the Kentucky train (A), Ricardo Goldscheib, (blood type A+), has just applied ten milligrams of Preparation H to his itch. If two white goats, communicating with each other through a series of pelvic nudges and bleats, walk along Interstate 110, heading towards San Pedro, California, the female being two inches taller than the male, and Cindy Lauper (no relation to the singer) drives her Toyota Corolla in the opposite direction while texting her beau (blood type AB-) in La Junta, Colorado, what is, on a scale from 0 to 7, the chance of all the above to affect the flight of a single purple martin, age 4?
—for A.S. and M.S.
Don’t get me wrong. I love evening strolls. Avery, my petite 93-year-old philosopher neighbor, his wife Mildred, and me. Stepping slowly. Down the darkening walk. Avery repeatedly asking how I’m doing. Mildred, a 91-year-old medieval historian, narrating exhaustively, speaking with precision. “In fact,” the recurring phrase. I mention the logic of providence. Avery, chortling, brings up David Hume. He ambles between Mildred and me, and as he muses on Hume’s problem of induction, he begins to pass wind. The volume is remarkable. I look at Mildred. Not a hint of acknowledgement. Does she think it’s me and is being polite? She can’t be hard of hearing; it’s always been Avery asking “Come again?” Does she know it is him and no longer flinches? He keeps walking, shifting to Frege’s theory of sense and denotation. As he does, another round of flatulence. I’m trying to focus on what he’s stating. As we stop for a moment, his farting escalates to such an alarming pitch, I’m beginning to fear the worst. Mildred grows quiet, her eyes pointed straight up at the emerging stars of Seven Sisters. Avery restarts his stroll, switching to Wittgenstein. Now the flatulence is almost constant, as if encouraged by his speech. I can’t hear half of his words. Mildred keeps studying the sky, her silence adding more prominence to the blasts. I can no longer follow, able to merely offer “yes” or “I see,” glancing sideways at Avery’s pants. He talks of Karl Marx now, I think. We’re on our way back, approaching my house. A woman striding in the opposite direction passes and glares at me through the noise. We reach my front door. I bid them good evening and fumble with keys. From the threshold I watch the slow vanishing, their hands joined now, the gray heads like two moths entering a mine.
Telegram from the New World
ONLY FIVE DEATHS — JOURNEY CALM — GOD KIND — BRIEF GOAT STAMPEDE IN AFT HOLD — DOCTOR TIPSY — UNCLE BOR INJURED — MILD HUMPED MAN FROM SICILY GIFTS OLIVES — MANY SMELLS AND CARD GAMES — POLISH CHILD PECKED BY PELICAN — SHORTAGE OF LIMES — BEFRIENDED CAPTAIN — SHOWED ME HIS GLASS EYE — SUGGESTED MARRIAGE — MOST POTATOES ROTTEN — WORMS IN OATS — SKY FOUR TIMES HIGHER THAN BACK HOME — LADIES IN BLACK — DULCIMERS — PRIEST IN CROW’S NEST — BOHEMIANS POINTING AT WHALES — NEW WORDS — DREAM OF PASSENGER’S HAT — RUSSIAN COBBLER CAUGHT FEEDING RATS — FIGHT WITH FIRST OFFICER — TWELVE DAYS NO STORM — NEW WORLD HARBOR — CARRIAGES ON QUAY — LARGE MEN STAMPING MANIFESTS — I MUST SIGN — NEW NAME — NEW NAME — NEW NAME — THREE TIMES — BREAD WITH ONIONS — DOGS AND HORSES TALLER THAN BACK HOME — HOUSES OF STEEL — BEAUTIFUL DIN — COPPER COINS — SOOT — WIDE STREETS LINED WITH DUNG — RAPID CARTS — FEVER — BUY FIRST MEAL — CABBAGE AND SPUDS — THINK OF YOU BEFORE SLEEP — WILL YOU COME — THIS IS MY NEW NAME — ELIZABETH
I ordered a Foxwhelp. I meant no offense. No reason for the maître d’ to slide so quickly to our table and hiss like a straight razor on a cheek. My calves lost sensation, and everyone was sizing my lips. So, again, I said I’ll have a Foxwhelp. When the clenched-jaw owner arrived, I watched your father unbutton his frock, and your stepmother’s fingertips find her temples. Two busboys began rolling up the carpet next to us and somehow I noticed the foreigners at the corner booth holding high above their heads a long iridescent fish. I turned to you, but your eyes studied the ceiling frescos. When the chef’s banana-fingers landed by my plate, the numbness had spread from the calves all the way to my groin. I am a decent man, I thought, a man who reads four papers, shampoos your pussy, and grooms your pugs. A man whose transgressions had long been expunged, all his chickens hatched. So why the sirens? Why the cuffs and the buzzcut cop palming my skull, folding me into the cage of his cruiser?
The Problem with Truth
Inside the golden-yellow sheen of anger that drapes over chairs, lamps, and the gnomes outside the window, I listen to my wife and foot by foot enter the house of void. I feel the way a forgotten stadium in the middle of a jungle does, vines wrapping the pungent mist into irregular lumps. I advance through the hall. No furniture anywhere, only the scent of coconut monkeys who have chosen the bedroom closet to sleep with their toy pebbles. My wife is repeating something and I nod, yet I am standing alone, shoes in a slight V below my briefcase, hanging from my shoulders a suit jacket, but the pants and underwear are gone, freeing my south to the breeze from the west. I know, I say. The twins we don’t yet have are asleep, matching pajamas, plastic rifles, the dummy’s head chewed off by the dog. But this is not true. I do not have a wife, the children have beards and are older than me, which would mean I’m closing in on something. This is what happens at board meetings each Monday, Larry stands and points at the white board, and shit begins to fly.
Peter Krumbach was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia. After graduating with a degree in visual arts, he left the country, and eventually found his way to the U.S. He worked in commercial art (New York), and later as a translator and broadcaster (Washington, D.C.). His most recent work has been or is about to be published in Hobart, Okay Donkey, Wigleaf and X‑R-A‑Y. He lives in California.