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The First Invention

Story by Tyler Sones (Read author interview) November 25, 2019

Art by Sarah Shields

The shopping cart wheels are carving black lines in the parking lot snow until one goes wonky and fucks up what would’ve been, in a perfect world, very pretty symmetry. My mom is way behind me. Bundled in her pink winter coat, she looks like a Peep if a Peep could walk and play a game on its phone at the same time.

Two-hundred dollars worth of candy cereal and bagel bites, a family pack of toilet paper, diapers, and a case of Mountain Dew. The blue Walmart bags are flapping in the wind. I give the cart a shove, hop on, and ride it like a chariot until it skids out.

The car sits at the ass-end of the parking lot, all by itself. Before my dad’s license got revoked, Mom would make him do the parking. They’d switch seats—she’d waddle around the outside, he’d hoist himself across—and he’d park the car for her like they’d always done it that way. Without him, she has to find an empty space surrounded by empty spaces.

People used to gush about how me and my mom looked so much alike. The spitting image, they said, but it’s actually spit and image. Because we’re all made in the image of god, and god molded Adam out of spit and mud, which is totally fucking stupid if you’re god. Like look at the mess you made, mud everywhere.

The point is my mom is my destiny. Daughters grow up to look like their moms. All evidence says future me will be a Peep, a woman who waddles. My ass will have Pink or Juicy or Slut written across it in cursive, in Walmart, while I buy groceries for some dummy and the kids we love so much we could just explode.

From like fifty feet away, Mom opens the trunk with her keys. When I’m done unloading the groceries, I aim the cart at the cart corral and hop on. I pass my mom and wave like a homecoming queen, but she’s still playing on her phone. 

Supposedly, shopping carts are on invisible leashes. If you take them past the parking lot, the wheels seize up. My science teacher, Pastor Wible, says technological innovation solves problems we don’t know we have. Blink your eyes and voila. Or as Pastor Wible says, viola. The problem of the oldest invention (the wheel) gets solved by the newest (electromagnetic shopping cart leashes). Unless the oldest invention was actually fire, which would make more sense. I’ve heard it both ways. 

Probably fire came before the wheel.

But then think about it. If prostitution is supposed to be the oldest profession, how could the first invention be fire? Both firsts can’t be true. If prostitution was the first profession, then the first invention would have to be money. Even if it was only primitive money like seashells or wampum. But if fire is the first invention, then fire-building would have to be the first profession. Not everybody can start a fire, but everybody can prostitute themselves. Or else maybe fire was the first money. Like you build a little fire, light a torch, find a prostitute. Hey, I’ll give you this fire if you suck my dick. Only later did humans learn that fire is great for barbeques and bonfires. For hundreds of years, probably thousands, it was only good for pussy. 

Unless the wheel came first.

In the car, we empty our pockets in our laps. My pile includes blue lipstick, a kelp mask, a liquid eyeliner called Squid Ink, tropical Skittles, and two two-ounce bottles of lemonade-flavored energy supplement. From her ugly-ass purse, Mom pulls out a phone charger in its package and her own bag of Skittles.

“I win,” I say.

“Nope.” She points the phone charger at me like a crucifix. “This thing costed thirty dollars.”

I do the math on my fingers. 

“It’s a tie then. These are three each, makeup is twenty-two, and Skittles are like a dollar fifty.”

The charger she stole is for a different model phone, but she refuses to believe it. She tries jamming it into all the slots at different angles. It’s totally possible that theft came first, the first invention, even before the invention of property.

“Oh shit,” I say, “and these.” From my jacket, I pull a pair of yellow sunglasses and put them on. “I do win.”

Mom lights a long cigarette and drops the pack in the cupholder where she keeps pennies and trash. 

“Fine,” she says. “You win, I lose.”

“Then let me drive.”


“But you said,” I say. “That’s the bet.”

“I said no.”

“Dad lets me drive.”

“Don’t care,” Mom says. She rolls the window down just enough to let her smoke drift out. “You’re fourteen and your dad’s an idiot.”

“Fine.” I grab her cigarettes, light one, breathe it all in, and let it go from my nostrils.

When she moves, her coat makes her sound like my baby brother in his diaper. She grabs at me, but her arms are too short. I cram myself against the door so she can’t smack me or snatch the cigarette. 

“Put it out. Don’t play with me.”

“I’m not playing,” I say. “Either I drive or I smoke.”

I won and she knows it. She’s not going to let me have my victory though. Bargaining means you lose. And you have to give up winning the stupid little fights if you’re playing the long game, which I totally am.

“Only assholes wear sunglasses at night,” my mom says.

I don’t say what I want to say because that would force her to climb out of the car, waddle around to my side, drag me out by my ponytail, and slap me. And that would take forever. 

Instead, I wait until she merges into traffic. “I guess I’m an asshole then,” I tell her, “and fearfully and wonderfully made.”


Notes from Guest Reader Laird Hunt

Smart, sharp, funny and weird, ‘The First Invention’ by Tyler Sones had me from that wonky shopping-cart wheel in the first paragraph all the way to the cigarette-suffused merge into traffic at the end.

About the Author

Tyler Sones received an MFA from Ohio State University in 2019. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Washington Square Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Pithead Chapel, Hobart, Pacifica, and elsewhere. He lives in Austin, Texas.

About the Artist

Sarah Shields is a self taught artist from the Pacific Northwest. She draws inspiration from her time spent in the woods and past travels. Lately she has been focusing on enjoying the process of painting rather than the end result. Since 2001, Sarah has had numerous solo shows in the Portland area. See more at www.sarahshieldsart.com.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Six

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