FICTION: Channel Surfing

“Aw phooey!”

—Donald Duck

“I’m not home right now,” George said like a soft answering machine, and opened his front door.

George was looking mildewy today. Creased and happy.

“Hey, is your dead uncle around?” Tommy asked. What he really meant was the amputated arm of the dead uncle (the arm could talk). Tommy rubbed the molding on George’s front door as if he were appraising a diseased cow for purchase.

“He doesn’t leave the house anymore,” George said. “Come in. I just opened a chianti. I know it’s only eleven in the morning, but I dropped out of school, if you’ll remember.”

“I do remember,” Tommy said, doing a brief jumping jack. “One day you weren’t at school anymore. And that was about two hundred years ago. I think we’re in our thirties.”

They both walked inside in the way that priests enter rooms…

George grabbed two coffee mugs from the overhead kitchen cabinet. One mug had a picture of Garfield licking his lips, staring at what one could presume was lasagna, though that part of the image had worn off. The other mug said “Garfield” in erotic font.

He opened a 40-ounce plastic bottle of malt liquor and poured it for the both of them (the uncle didn’t drink).

“I lied about the chianti,” George said. “I’m broke, as you know. Like you.”

“Hey, where’s that dead uncle arm of yours? The talking one,” Tommy asked. He bit his nails, spat out little remnants into his malt liquor and drank them down. He liked to pretend it was like drinking bubble tea, you know, the kind with the tapioca balls at the bottom?

“I’m right here, you little shit!” the arm who was an uncle said, rolling into the room, speaking from the rotted wound at its stump. His voice sounded like that of a weathered, proletariat comedian—husky and prodding—though the uncle was svelte in life and never once tipped.

“You guys wanna play some poker? Watch some TV? I just started a new show, they make death-row prisoners bake a cake out of rat corpses or something like that,” the arm said. “Then the government breaks into your house and executes you when you finish watching the show.”

“Nah, I don’t know,” Tommy said. “I actually came here for some advice, from the both of you. I want to tell my wife I love her, but she doesn’t even know I exist!” Tommy started crying, coughing up his fingernails. And a bit of blood, I guess (for effect).

“Ah, man, just forget about all that! If she doesn’t know you exist, she doesn’t deserve you,” the arm said. The arm was emotional like this. “Hey, what’s her name again?”

“Empress Fujiwara no Teishi from the middle of the Heian Period,” Tommy said.

“Not her again!” George said. “I thought you were through with that. Too much drama, despite the fact that it was a generally peaceful period in Japanese monarchal history. She’s—dare I say—unseemly. And she died over a thousand years ago.”

“You’re always knocking me down,” Tommy said, his voice at its most pitiful at this juncture in the story.

The wind blew inside the house through an open window and slapped a literary journal off the coffee table, flipping open to an epic fable written by the humble scribe writing this account. What’s the fable say? Neither Tommy, George, or the arm could read. Besides, they were mad at each other now, and mad about love, specifically, which can turn people into screaming lunatics. It’s because it hurts so much.

But the fable does tell a story. A story about the very cast we’re presently submitting to narrative. It happened in the past, where all the suckers of the world live forever.

We open on the Royal Court of a Medieval Japanese castle. Cherry blossoms litter the fine parquet. George, Tommy, and the arm sit about morosely, for their king has recently been impaled by a statue bearing his own likeness. The boys are wondering about the future, which is all that people in the past seem to do.

“I feel an embarrassed sympathy for both my comic and tragic selves,” says Tommy, posing.

“I hear an abused dog barking outside the court,” says George, sniffing, pointing his nose at reality.

The arm plays with his fingertips privately. At that moment, he invented a new philosophy for living that evaporated the instant it touched the land of his brain—his flickery lantern thinking, rolling toward the grooves of a pleasant but forgettable, pale forearm. The barking of dogs again, and louder. Somehow: lyrical? Obliquely maternal? Surely, it bangs against someone’s bedroom window pane with meaning! But George is absent as a cloud-to-be. He says, “I shan’t endow it with significance outside of sound or injury.”

The arm returns to his chamber and makes a salted cucumber sandwich, thinks about the acoustic world, which he loves because it includes his voice—even after personal or global expiration.

Several years later, the arm who was an uncle talks with his daily servant about the weather. It was looking like how it did. They have a pleasant conversation that ends exactly at the right moment. The arm indeed would die soon, but I want to avoid misleading observant parties, whose charge is their own largesse of grace. We shouldn’t learn anything.

There is a third or second part of the story which the principle author forgot to mention or felt permitted to exclude based on the exigencies of time, mortal limit, spectral observation, and financial restraint. Thank you for reading with us. Please welcome our next act: a formerly poor boy who wears still the clothes of a sullen, 14th-century English farmer. Thank you, again.

Ladies and gentlemen, here comes the boy now, driving a derelict wagon. (The boy does not own the wagon.)

Sebastian Castillo is the author of 49 Venezuelan Novels (Bottlecap Press). You can find his writing in Hobart, Peach Mag, Wigleaf, X-Ray Lit Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in New York, where he teaches writing. Twitter: @bartlebytaco.

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