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Being Frank

Story by Randall Brown (Read author interview) December 16, 2004

He needed ice, so he opened Becky’s freezer and there they sat. Dozens of tin-foil wraps with taped-on labels. Henry. Nathan. All the same size. Bigger than a thumb. He pushed his own thumb into the foil. Not a rock. Hard and then soft. The only things in the freezer.

“Well, Frank,” Becky said. “Aren’t you going to unwrap it?”

He tossed Wallace back in the freezer. He held up his Wild Turkey. “No ice?”

She shook her head and he shut the freezer door.

“So, you ready?” he asked, then looked at his watch.

“No,” she said. “Let’s stay.” She reached for the Wild Turkey. “Get trashed.”

Ah, man. What part of himself would end up in the freezer. Never so happy as when he had something to look forward to. They met in a chat room for people with panic disorder. Panics in theatres looking for panics in malls for a night of movies and shopping.

They drank, danced in the room off the kitchen. Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan. We are alone, she said, because we panic and run, right? Yes, he said. If only we could freeze time, she said. If only the world would stop.

And he understood, then, the music, the Marx Brothers posters, her pearl brooch, her bob haircut, the rolled stockings. Out of her skirt, her knee flashed and he imagined a garter belt, a corset.

She danced toward the bedroom, opened the door, and he followed. She walked toward the window. She reached up for something in the corner.

“My parakeet. Sam.” She opened the cage, stuck out her finger. Sam flashed blue and yellow wings, settled. She pulled him between her breasts. “Sometimes he’s all the comfort I have.” She held him tight against her chest until he no longer flapped or ruffled, then released him, put him back on his perch, and shut the golden door.

So that’s why the caged bird sings. Safe now.

Log-shaped pillows circled her on the bed and she sat in the center of this nest, arms spread. “So, what do you think of me?”

“Can I be frank?” he said.

“Who else would you be?”

Henry. Nathan. Wallace. Even Sam. She would roll him in tin foil, sticking a name across his chest, laying him to rest in a basement freezer.

“I think I could fall in love with you. What about that?” he said.

“Wild,” she said and reached for him, drew him into the gap between her breasts. His heart began its flutter, his limbs their tremble, his breath its shallow panicked rush for release. Still, she pulled him in, and if she held him long enough, the fluttering, trembling, desperate breaths might all stop.

If only he could keep still, a parakeet, wings pressed against its body, enwrapped in her hands, her breasts.

“Did you just chirp?” she asked.

She squeezed him tighter, and he felt only the flutter of his wings for this final release.

About the Author

Randall Brown is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print. He earned his MFA at Vermont College.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seven
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