The Iowa Review

Finkle, Frigup (Part III)

     The day is bright and hot. Horseflies eddy, fat as farmer thumbs, and when they land and bite they leave knots under the skin. Finkle squints, his upper lip sweating, listening to the flies beat against car windows, smelling something sweet from the bakery up the block. Maybe he'll bring home a pastry to soften the bad dogmaticol news to Ma. She'll have to pop in her special dessert dentures, which she doesn't do often because of the insulin shots. Finkle pulls the tubular white rock from his back pocket and traces proper hands in the air.
     Up the street, a ponytailed beatnik paints a mural of a pile of dead alpacas on a vacant building. A woman in a bathrobe sits beside him, slapping bongos. The alpaca sickness made the news, which Finkle and Ma always watch during dinner.
      "Is that fulgurite?" the beatnik asks.
      "This?" Finkle says, handing him the rock.
     The beatnik cradles it in his palms. "Petrified, lightning-struck sand! The shucked exoskeleton of energy! This is a fine specimen. You can blow prayers through it. Or it can be a clairaudient ear trumpet. Or, directed at the chakras, it will rouse the inner-kundalini, awaken the hibernating sex. The Muse and I have used them in various foreplays."
      "Not since forgoing baths," the robed woman says, "in protest of chlorinated water."
      "What's a clairaudient ear trumpet?" Finkle says.
     The beatnik puts the petrified lightning to his ear and closes his eyes. "Through it," he says, "you hear unheard frequencies." He places a finger to his lips and listens. "Like all those dead alpacas gurgling? And everyone in Oolitic Cemetery . . . "
      "You hear someone named John Remington?" Finkle asks. "Or he might go by J.R."
     The beatnik opens his eyes and gasps. His breath is humid and palpable compost. Finkle thinks he could scoop it out of the air, Carvel-style. Then the beatnik leans closer to Finkle. "Did you know everything we're saying and doing is being transcribed?" he whispers, and nods toward a horsefly that lands on the mural's fresh paint, its hair-thin legs ink green. "They got microphones that look like insects. They're the all-knowing, all-seeing space invaders. I can hear their transmissions through the holistic fulgurite."
      "Forgive him," The Muse says. "He tests cosmetics for a living. He's side-effecting."
      "My Pa did that, too," Finkle says, squinting up into the sun.

     On the way back from the hardware store with the plastic ficus, Finkle again hears the horseflies beating against car windows, but this time he listens for unheard frequencies. He remembers what Len said about what he found in the HBB Chamber, and now he's curious. Whatever it is will live too long. Enoch was 365. Lamech, an unlucky 777. Methuselah lived to be 969. The HBB Chamber is sort of like playing God, and Finkle wonders if maybe that's all God really is—just a bunch of strangers playing it. Intervening. The older we get the more our lives take on the theme of loss. Sure, Ma's experienced more, but Finkle also lost Pa, and his buddy J.R. Maybe he doesn't want to move out of the basement because he doesn't want to lose Ma, too? Maybe he doesn't want to grow up and keep losing.
     Sometimes Ma regrets aloud that she should've taken him to church. "At least for the Prodigal Son part," she says. "Maybe I didn't do such a good job." Well, he'll blow prayers through the petrified lightning tonight when he hears Ma shuffling past his room, asking what the heck he's still doing up. Praying, he'll say, which will show her she did a fine job raising him. It's not her fault he's been such a fuckup. Though, Finkle will say frigup because another regret Ma has is not washing his mouth out with soap whenever he cursed.
     God or no God, why not start now? He puts his lips to the fulgurite:
     Please take care of Ma. Oh, and say hi to Pa and J.R. for me.
     He puts his ear to the glittering rock tube: it sounds like the ocean.
     By the time Finkle arrives at the museum, the Codes Inspector is early, making checks on his clipboard with a red pen hanging around his neck and not the dangling green one, followed by a panicked Sneidlinger, trying to justify every clipboarded red check, followed by disgruntled parents/guardians demanding an explanation for the broken tooth of their sweet Little Genesis who is now unbloodied and quite happy, twirling in a yellow dress in the damp diorama, kicking over toy dinosaurs. The pulling-an-Eve line doesn't float. The dad shoves Sneidlinger. He falls backward into the animatronic Methuselah. Its arm breaks off and smoke erupts from the torso socket. The Codes Inspector makes another red check. Methuselah short circuits. The lights flicker, the A/O/A/V/PA squeals high-pitched reverb, and suddenly Len's falling from the rafters, covering his ears, tangled in electrical tape wrapped around wires that break apart at their daisy chains and hang, sparking and flopping, like voltaged pigtails, like those on the Little Genesis twirling in the diorama, which is where the mega-watting wires are moving toward.
     It's in slow motion to Finkle:
     Len hits the floor. His elbow points in the wrong direction. The Codes Inspector's uncapped red pen blooms pseudo-DNA on his shirt. Sneidlinger kneels. The parents/guardians reach out for their daughter—a hopeless and completely hope-saturated gesture—still twirling, pigtails fanning like a pretty propeller. Her grin is pierced with a black gap. The broken tooth is probably tucked under her pillow. That little acute triangle of tooth will become the parents/guardians' infinity. The Little Genesis leaves spirographs of footprints in the glittery wet sand. The jolting wires juke closer, hip-shaking like epileptic Presleys. Maybe it's just her time, which is pretty terrible, whenever it's a kid's time. Ma holds Finkle's hand at dinner when the news reports it was a kid's time. You live as long as Ma, and loss should be humdrum. But Ma will squeeze his hand again tonight when the news reports about the Little Genesis. Maybe because she imagines each kid could be Finkle, and she's praying for more time. No sneaking boys into the basement for you, is what Finkle is thinking as he hurdles into the damp diorama, tucks the girl underneath an arm, and jumps out of the sparkly sandbox.
     The wires make contact. A loud pop and flash, a crackle and hiss. The power goes out. Smoke curls in the dim red glow of exit signs. The mom is instantly there, lifting her child. The dad is helping Finkle stand, kissing his face. Finkle yawns, trying to release the pressure in his ears and the low whistling, like air over empty bottles. The Codes Inspector, Charlotte, Lydia, and Sally tend to Len, who's sobbing at his bent-backward arm. Sneidlinger is calling an ambulance. The parents/guardians sandwich the crying little girl, one big limby shuddering hug. The low whistles, almost syllabled whispers: one older man, one boy his age. It sounds like: Good, gooooood. Finkle yawns harder. He moves through the dim red dark, a warm draft on his face, as if a hand is palming it, pulling him forward. The airy thumb on his cheek in its right place. His eyes wet from, what he'll explain to Ma later, all the smoke and nothing more, after he tells her what he saw, and she talks about miracles. There's no such thing, he'll tell her, but he'll be lying. Finkle bumps into the diorama. The whispering good moves through his chest and glows neon where he feels vacancy, like cheap motels. It funnels to him from the large culvert-sized white tubular rocks that now nest in place of the sand, light and color kaleidoscoping off their large glassy inner walls, where the dry draft passes through.


The Iowa Review

Founded in 1970 and edited by faculty, students, and staff from the renowned writing and literature programs at the University of Iowa, The Iowa Review takes advantage of this rich environment for literary collaboration to create a worldwide conversation among those who read and write contemporary literature.
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Zachary Tyler Vickers is the author of Congratulations on Your Martyrdom! He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop where he was the Provost's Fellow. He is the recipient of the Richard Yates Prize and Clark Fisher Ansley Prize for excellence in fiction. His work has appeared in numerous journals. He can be reached on his website, linked below.

This short story was originally published in The Iowa Review 46/1 (Spring 2016). Today we present Part III. Part I was published on February 6th, and Part II was published on February 8th.

Zachary Tyler Vickers's website

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on February 10, 2017

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