Hi! I’m Mike Atkins! Despite my use of question marks, I don’t like writing about happy things! The story “It’s Not Absurd, It’s a Bird,” was essentially an experimentation in what I could and couldn’t do with my own writing and style. It’s the culmination of a workshop deadline, months of reading only Vonnegut, hating writing/reading conventional short stories, and a sudden realization that I didn’t have to write things that I didn’t feel like writing. The poem “Ha.” is what came out when I tried to write myself out of a case of insomnia. “Mishearing Him as Saying, ‘Distribution of Health,’ Made Him Seem More Human,” was my brain realizing that the Occupy movement was a good starting point for a lot of the thoughts I had on society in general and is one of the first pieces . “The Man in the Moon is the Man is the Moon,” is inspired by the Man Man song “Van Helsing Boom Box.” It’s about that song, loneliness, and outer space. I enjoy exploring existentialism, alliteration, humor, permanence, things we pretend have meaning, death, and ice cream. My favorite flavor is probably chocolate chip cookie dough, which I just realized has a fair amount of alliteration in it. It’s funny how things like that happen. It’s funny how they don’t, too.
It was a day not unlike any other for Jeffery Biggums. He had just finished changing his name back from Geoffrey, which he had changed it to the day before. You’d think that they would have restriction on that kind of thing in Sandwich, Illinois (for you see, that is where Jeffery’s house was) but they don’t. Don’t look it up. After his daily name change, Jeffery, formerly Geoffrey, went to his favorite local diner, the one and only Big Red Chicken, in order to eat brunch with his best friend, Tyler Longjohn. Jeffery swung open the door and hollered a hearty hello at the cook, who just so happened to be famous dead author Steven Crane. For some reason, the people in Sandwich, Illinois chose not to question this fact, perhaps because it was no less absurd than the name of their town.
“Hello,” Jeffery heartily hollered at Steven Crane, as I previously mentioned.
“Yo, what up?” asked Steven Crane, having previously become well-adjusted to an urban lifestyle while living in Detroit. People there didn’t question why a famous dead author was living amongst them because they were all illiterate. Such is the downfall of urban living. Steven Crane would have written about it, but he was too busy being a cook in a small-town diner. Life is funny like that.
“Not much, dawg,” replied Jeffery, laughing as he sat his cracker-ass-self down next to Tyler.
“How are you today, Geoffrey?” asked Tyler.
“It’s Jeffery, now,” corrected Jeffery.
“Ah, I see. My apologies,” Tyler said, his cheeks turning red with embarrassment before continuing, “How are you today, Jeffery?”
You see, Tyler wasn’t actually magic enough to be able to read the difference in spelling of Jeffery’s name, he was just too unintelligent to understand just how stupid and not-very- magical he was and unknowingly chose to correct his lack of mistake by repeating the sentence over again. Jeffery was just barely magic enough to be able to read the difference, but we won’t talk about that later, because it’s really not all that interesting.
“I’m good thanks, how about yourself?” Jeffery asked, noticing his correction through bullshit magic of unknown origins.
“I’m feeling kind of sick,” Tyler said.
“Yo, you want some coffee?” Steven Crane asked Jeffery. “Oh really, why’s that?” Jeffery asked, nodding to acknowledge Steven Crane’s question.
“I’ve got this contagious rash on my penis,” Tyler said, pointing to aforementioned rash.
“Ah, well then,” Jeff said, rising from his seat, “I think I’m going to get the hell out of here before my penis is covered in a rash.”
“You still want that coffee?” Steven Crane asked, as any good man should have and did.
“Yeah, put it on my tab,” Jeffery said, stopping before he reached the door to add, “Pour it on Tyler’s rash. If it doesn’t kill the infection, it will hopefully kill him.”
And that was the end of Tyler’s life. Because his life was his friendship with Jeffery and
after a malice-charged comment like that, who could expect them to remain friends? Certainly not I, and I’m writing this story, so neither could they. Although Tyler still had possession of Jeffery’s Xbox, Jeffery thought it was well worth losing property, even as property as amusing as that, in order to save from getting a rash on his penis. Jeffery later bought the Xbox back from Tyler’s estate sale, and will talk about that later, because it is a much more interesting story than how Jeffery acquired his magic.
Jeffery left the restaurant and headed down the street to his second favorite restaurant in Sandwich, Illinois, The Sandwich Shoppe, which ironically had never sold a single sandwich, as sandwiches were illegal in the small town of Sandwich, Illinois. Go figure. As he did so, he became concerned by the nature of his conversation with Steven Crane. Typically, Steven Crane kept to the grill, mumbling about the Civil War and calling Jeffery a honkey whenever Jeffery sent a knock-knock joke in anyone's direction. Helga was the one who took people's orders, because that's what waitresses do, and Helga found no problem shaping herself along the sexual division of labor that sex/gender schema had created for her.
Helga had been the waitress of Big Red Chicken for twenty-eight months—or two years and four months for those who aren't annoying baby people—and she knew Jeffery by name. This aroused Jeffery slightly, for he was unaware of just how easy it was to memorize the names of Big Red Chicken’s seven regular customers and was also easily aroused. I said that he was magic, not that he was intelligent. Jeffery often thought about Helga, but then again he often thought about ants on fire, for Jeffery was a strange man. But unlike his thoughts about ants on fire, Jeffery thought about making love to Helga, for he had never before performed such an act and the prospect of it was exciting.
“It’s weird that Helga wasn’t working today,” thought Jeffery as he walked to The Sandwich Shoppe, shifting his weight awkwardly to hide his partial erection. “She usually asks if I want coffee. Steven Crane is a cook, damn it, not a waitress!” He laughed at the thought of Steven Crane as a waitress, because for some unknown reason that is where the line of feasibility is drawn.
Before he made it to The Sandwich Shoppe, Jeffery waking wet dream was interrupted by a call from Tyler. He flipped his phone into the air to catch it open, hoping to look cool to any invisible passerby. It fell to the concrete and slid a few feet before he managed to stop it with his foot and pick it up. The invisible passerby were not in the least bit impressed.
“Tyler?” Jeffery said, his voice cracked slightly. Again, the invisible passerby were not impressed.
“Faggot,” one of them murmured as they passed Jeffery and his invisible conversation with an, for all intents and purposes, invisible man.
“Did you call me just to say that I’m a faggot?!” Jeffery yelled into his phone, as his magic was not sufficient enough to allow him to see the invisible.
“...No?” Tyler said, although his stupidity allowed him to push past his confusion. “I called to tell you to look at the sky.”
“Why?” Jeffery asked, although the answer was right above him.
“Just fucking look,” Tyler said, “The answer is right above you."
And it was, for as dumb as Tyler was, he was an honest man. Jeffery looked above him to
see a large mass moving through the sky, breaking hard left until its shadow could be seen cast over the roofs of the small buildings that breaded Sandwich, Illinois.
“See it?” Tyler asked impatiently, although his timing was so perfect someone could have planned it to be that way, “Isn’t it ridiculous?”
“It’s not ridiculous, it’s a hawk,” Jeffery said, and he hung up the phone.
Jeffery was half-right. It was certainly not a hawk, but rather a bomber plane scanning the ground for the town hall of Sandwich, Illinois. It released its payload, sending screaming steel sailing into the soil of Sandwich, Illinois. It was certainly not ridiculous. Fortunately for the chubby men in the only seven leather chairs in Sandwich, Illinois, and unfortunately for Tyler, the pilot was as idiotic as the men whose fortunes he determined and he missed his mark, instead impaling Big Red Chicken. Jeffery’s phone spoke static. If Jeffery had been five times more magic, he would have understood that it was speaking to him, saying that Tyler had just been killed. But Jeffery was the exact same amount of magic that he was, so instead he heard the end of an invisible conversation with a man who was now truly invisible because, for all intents and purposes, he had completely ceased to exist. And you can’t be visible if you don’t exist. Just ask God. Or me.
Jeffery rushed towards the impact zone as uneventfully as everyone else in the small town did, except for one Edgar Wineburg, who eventfully tripped on his way down the stairs and died. His funeral was as uneventful as one would image an event commemorating the life of a man named Edgar would be. As Jeffery drew closer to the point of impact, he noticed movement from the top of the giant steel rod that was sticking out of the remains of Big Red Chicken. It twisted and unfurled, revealing a flag that read, “PROPERTY OF WEST VIRGINIA.” Jeffery stood as astonished, as everyone else in now Sandwich, West Virginia did, at the absurdity of a west state without an east equivalent conquering his town. They had always imagined it would have been a bigger, more glorious conqueror, like Dayton, Ohio.
“Yo dawg, you see that shit?” Steven Crane asked as he leaned against a dumpster smoking an American Spirit. You can take Steven Crane out of the American spirit, but you can’t take the American Spirit out of Steven Crane, because it’s coated the entirety of his lungs.
Steven Crane survived the impact because he was outside at the time taking out the trash. It was briefly debated by the citizens Sandwich, West Virginia whether or not he would have survived the impact anyway, having already been dead for several years. They abandoned the topic, however, after realizing that they really didn't care about such matters, as Steven Crane would have become no more or less absurd whether he had lived or died and there were plenty of other people in town who could make a satisfying burger. They came to a similar conclusion about the state to which their town belonged, as Sandwich is an equally absurd name whether it is followed by Illinois, West Virginia, or even Alaska. Perhaps not Alaska, they agreed.
“The American dream is dead,” Jeffery said, smoking secondhand from Steven’s cigarette.
“You’re dead,” Steven Crane said through smoke.
“We’re both dead,” Jeffery said.
“Hahaha,” Steven Crane laughed.
“Haha,” Jeffery laughed.
“Ha,” Jeffery laughed again, and proceeded to walk home, lie down in his bed, and turn his head to fall asleep. He awoke three days later to Helga at the foot of his bed.
“Hey,” Helga said, “You’re alive, Jeffers. You slept through the funeral, the least you could do is go buy some of Tyler’s old shit. Meet me outside in five.”
She flipped the lights as she walked out, the temporary blindness preventing Jeffery from seeing her beauty as she left.
“Please don’t call me Jeffers,” he called after her before getting dressed and meeting her outside. “I’m uh... happy that you got me. It would be a shame to miss the entirety of a former friend’s finale,” Jeffery said, as awkwardly as one might imagine him to say it.
“You sound like a Southern Shakespeare,” Helga said.
“Like what?” Jeffery asked.
“Like shit,” Helga said.
“Are you saying that the South is shitty?” asked Jeffery.
“Are you saying that it isn’t?” asked Helga.
“Hm. What about Shakespeare?” Jeffery asked.
“What about him?” Helga asked.
“Good point,” Jeffery said, and with that they made their way to buy what precious little remained of Tyler Longjohn.
Jeffery watched as the winds of Sandwich, West Virginia blew the dust off Tyler’s possessions, scattering his remaining ashes amongst the most morbid capitalist invention. Perhaps the American Dream has yet to die. Jeffery only picked up his own Xbox and its travel bag, having the courtesy to pay for a possession that was, for all intents and purposes, still his. As Jeffery set it down on a table to double-check that he had not accidentally forgotten to buy a particular purposeful component of his own property, a small bottle fell out and popped open, scattering the capsules.
“Ooooh!” Helga said as though she were a child in a candy shop, which she had once been, but only once, for her parents had been dentists.
She grabbed a fistful of pills, shoving some into her pockets and placing two under her tongue.
“Should you really be taking those?” Jeffery asked, “You don’t even know what they are."
“Sure I do,” Helga insisted, pushing one towards him, “Tyler was a regular too, I know just as much about him as you do, if not more. Just take it.”
Jeffery had no idea what the pills were for, and although this bothered him slightly, he was too distracted by Helga’s smile to notice the negative emotion. He grabbed the pill hastily off the table, shoving it down his throat to impress her.
“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it Jeffers?” asked Helga, putting her hand on his shoulder.
“I asked you not to call me th-“ Jeffers remembered saying as he woke up with the name tattooed on his arm in his bed next to Helga, her hair pulled back, revealing for the first time the large size of her ears.
“How are you feeling?“ asked Helga.
"Do I feel?” asked Jeffers, spontaneously and momentarily existential.
“It would appear so,” Helga said, smiling.
“Oh...I’m feeling okay, then, I suppose,” Jeffers said. “What’s my name?”
“You don’t remember your own name?” asked Helga.
“It’s not that,” Jeffers said, “I meant to change my name today.”
“Oh. Don’t you mean to change your name every day?” asked Helga.
“Yeah, I guess I do,” said Jeffers, “But what is my name anyway?”
“Oh. It’s Jeffers,” Helga responded.
“Jeffers...” previously Jeffers said, his eyes intent on some insignificance in the distance
as he was somehow surprised that he had lost his magic and could no longer do something that made no sense.
“What?” Helga asked, unaware of the pointless power he previously possessed.
“Nothing, I just don’t like that name very much,” Jeffers said, absent-mindedly swallowing three more pills from the bottle that had made its way into his pocket.
“Yeah, you said that after they finished the tattoo,” Helga said. “How about I change my name too?”
“To what?” Jeffers asked.
“Jessica,” now Jessica said.
“I hate that name,” Jeffers said.
“Me too,” Jessica said, as she took the bottle from Jeffers’ pocket and shook two pills into her hand.
They decided that her name was perfect, which is by far the most absurd thing to ever happen in Sandwich, Illinois. To think, Jessica the perfect name, even on a scale of hatred.
“Jessica?” Jeffers asked.
“Yessica?” Jessica responded.
“Fuck you,” Jeffers said, for he hated puns, and thus everything fun.
“Fuck me,” Jessica challenged.
“I will,” Jeffers threatened.
“You won’t,” Jessica said.
“I know,” said Jeffers, and they each took another pill.
But he did fuck her. And she him. They fucked like rabbits, big ears and all.
Jeffers awoke to find Jessica missing, but he could hear her making absurd noises in the
hall. She kicked open the door.
“It was I who killed your brother, Ramon Santiago!” Jessica yelled, bandana tied around her face.
“If I thought for a second you were lying, I’d shoot you dead,” now Ramon Santiago responded.
“I thought I was already dead,” Jessica said.
“You were never born!” Ramon Santiago yelled.
“I am the King of Monkeys!” the now King of Monkey yelled as she jumped on the bed and howled and screamed.
Ramon Santiago turned his head to fall asleep.
The King of Monkeys grabbed his arm.
“You are my banana!” the King of Monkey’s yelled.
“That’s just a shade too tangible,” the now banana of the King of Monkey’s said before
he turned his head and fell back asleep.
“I don’t get it,” Steven Crane said.
“I don’t either,” I said.
“Don’t get what?” I asked.
“The ending,” Steven Crane and I said simultaneously.
“Maybe I’m just writing to the wrong audience,” I said.
“I know,” I said, shaking my head.
And we laughed together, me and I, at the na´ve notion that psychosis had started settling into my skull.