SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page

Greenback Fly

Story by Dennis Mahagin (Read author interview) December 21, 2009

art by Mark Wilson

In those days, Cory was one animated boy. A live wire, and so very lithe—he liked to funnel excess energy by arranging strange terms for proposition bets. Could Cory ride a ten speed bicycle like a skateboard? Could he stand tall, hanging ten upon the teardrop seat, letting gravity have its say, on a middling-steep Lents neighborhood street? You could always bet against it.

But why?

Once, he doubled us up, by way of escaping from the trunk of Kenneth Cooper’s silver Bertone Volvo that daddy had bought. Cory in a pair of skin-tight, honey bee Speedos, his neck and chest greased with Mentholatum, Three In One. An adolescent Houdini in black face. “Who wants some of this action?” Cory had said softly, jingling the trunk keys, and holding at arm’s length an upturned shower cap, to cache the bets. “Hell, you can sock me in the nuts first… hit the car alarm while I’m in there might just shake my concentration.”

After a while, we learned: To cut our losses, hardly anyone took him up.


Cory had a shock of wavy JFK Junior hair, which in the sunshine would really light up, like a greenback fly, especially when he’d run his long fingers through the bangs.

When Cory said he was going to Iraq, a few of us tried our damnedest to stop him; but in the end, it was a fruitless task, and we gave it up.

“Cross your fangers,” he told his friends and family who saw him off, at PDX airport during the Xmas holidays. Cory had taken to wearing a plum wool beret, like Curtis Sliwa. Like Pat Tillman. At the Delta gate, he pulled off this cap; in the middle of the final boarding call, Cory crossed his legs, and made a theatrical lamp post stance; then he waved that beret down low, like a dough boy. Like Marcel Marceau.

Precocious? Cory was that, alright. Yet, sometimes he appeared as well, to those of us who loved him, like an animated flash frame from that famous Aha! video, circa 1984: “Take On Me.” His nose had been broken nine times, he liked to talk with an affected Tennessee accent. “Just add a tad of gumption, and what you got?” Cory liked to say. Then he’d moon- walk, and do a fine robot, like Michael Jackson, only he’d make it happen on the blunt edge of a wrought iron railing, fifteen feet in the air.

Cory got half-lucky in Iraq, because he did not come home in a box, or with his arms and legs blown off; yet, he must have seen some simply awful things over there. You could maybe even imagine it.

But why?

And all the psych docs, what they like to call it, is Post Traumatic Stress.

Or is it Shock?


One night, we sat on our favorite stoop. 18th and Davis, across from Elias’ Grocery, in Northwest. Under a gibbous moon, and a spent-firecracker stench in the air, Billy Coyle swigged his Daniels whiskey, and laid out a scenario for Cory, like in the olden days:

“Say… Howz about a handstand on the center line? A sawbuck says you cannot hold it till the next car comes.”

Cory hawked something loose, from deep down in his lungs; then he spat it, at an upward forty five degree angle, as if to strafe the closest swan’s neck streetlight.

“I don’t think so, Bill,” Cory said.

“Nah? Awww, c’mon!”

“How ’bout this?” said Philip Jasper. “Say, hypothetically they locked up an ignorant man, in a public library… for six years?

“Yeah!” Billy C. echoed. “Feed him Marie Callendar, piping hot, from a trap door. Three squares daily, a pot to piss in, plus shiny blue steel bars on the window, where he throws it all out?”

“How about it, Cory? Whatcha say?” said Jasper.

“Fuck you, Phil,” Cory said.

“No, really,” Jasper said. “How do you suppose ignorant dude would come out?”

“Yeah, like… Learned?” said Coyle. “Or Schizophrenic? Something in-between?”

“Or Same—Same?” said Jasper.

Cory was staring at the stars. He tipped his head all the way back, as if to roll it off his spine like a pinball, or Hotwheel, a lime green gumball through the chute. And his cervical column kept making these awful popping sounds, like when you squeeze a snap dragon between thumb and forefinger, in an urban garden you know damn well you’re not supposed to enter, but can’t help yourself, all lathered in harvest moon glow, a live wire.

Cory sat up, and hugged his knees to his chest, in a way no one had seen before.

He would be dead of drowning, inside of sixty eight days. He’d slip into the Willamette river at dawn, with a bad skin full, a terrible load and his Doc Marten boots on. It doesn’t take a genius to figure how he sank, in the drink, like Jeff Buckley. Like a stone.

“Who says the man got to come out?” Cory said. “Maybe he likes it in that liberry, and wishes to stay put. Say he’s soaked up all the knowledge, but ain’t ready to share it yet. Maybe he craves quarter, licks he’s thumb from page one. Starts over.”

“Awwww, Cory…”

“WHAT LAW SAYS HE GOTTA COME OUT?” we heard Cory shout. “Maybe the man sits there. Six feet of precious space far from… WHO SAYS DUDE SURRENDERS IN THE FIRST PLACE?”

“Hey, Cory… take it easy, man.

“Yeah… slow, bro. We didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Nothing at all, dude…”

“Don’t mean nothing, Cory.”

We watched then, in a kind of awe, as Cory stopped up a wracking sob, like it was indigestion, or a Tourettes tic, a pretty horsefly to shoo away, with one twitch of ponytail. Cory shook, and shook and shook, his amazing raven head.

“Pass me that fucking bottle,” Cory said.

Someone cut his losses. Someone gave it up.

About the Author

Dennis Mahagin is a poet and writer from Washington state. His work appears in publications such as 3 A.M., 42opus, Underground Voices, FRiGG, Stirring, Mannequin Envy, Absinthe Literary Review, Juked, Keyhole, Exquisite Corpse, Zygote In My Coffee, and Thieves Jargon. An electronic chapbook of his poetry, entitled Divertimento, appears online in the current issue of Slow Trains literary magazine. A debut print collection of his poems, entitled Grand Mal, is forthcoming from Rebel Satori Press. Visit Dennis on the web at: http://fourhourhardon.blogspot.com.

About the Artist

Mark Wilson is an award-winning photojournalist, graphic artist and illustrator, who makes his home in Roswell, New Mexico. Visit Mark on the Web, at: http://www.markwilsonphoto.com/.

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

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

High Intensity Interval Training for Flash Writers with Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Book Now!

Bring a pen, lots of paper, and your water bottle: this is a high-intensity guided-writing work-out designed to kickstart creativity, and push you into new territory, and exercise flash muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Maybe you’re stuck in a story and looking for a way to proceed.  Maybe you’re looking to generate new ideas.  Maybe your inner editor is holding you back.  Maybe you’re in a rut or have writers’ block or are just wanting to shake things up a bit.  This session is designed to tackle all these issues and help you level up your flash fitness.  Writers of all backgrounds and experience levels warmly welcome; come along, roll up your sleeves, and trust the process.