A Phony War
Text by Paul McRandle
Collages by Gregg Simpson
A phony war plagued the Balkans for the off-seasons of three consecutive decades. Generals babbled on television screens to the populace about necessary sacrifices to avoid the devastating consequences of an unjust peace. For Shlomo, it was a weary day when he finally had to pack up his family and move to a place in which he might be able to read a newspaper without unattributed sources speculating on the necessity of continued attacks. He found a roadster with a roof rack and attached a wide trailer to a new hitch.
With these he was able to pack a lifetime’s collection of pewter figurines, ewers, world atlases, and a range of pot plants from the exquisitely hued to the shockingly poisonous. His children rode in the trailer, playing cards on an old canasta table and inviting passersby to gamble with them. His wife drove and he consulted atlases at random to lead them across the continents in search of an intelligible realm.
The passage over the Rhine into Austria involved acts of bribery he would have shunned in previous days. The guards were the usual sadists and Shlomo’s display of tears and hat-wringing, an act he’d practiced before in dealing with this border, proved insufficiently degrading.
He was asked to unhitch the trailer and de-articulate the transmission of his roadster to demonstrate neither contained a bomb. When that had been done, they impounded the roadster anyway and Shlomo understood that it was the only bargaining chip he had. He left pulling the trailer, a roadster short, while wife and kids alternately heckled him and played canasta.
What kind of a life had he let himself in for? He took counsel on occasion from his wise namesake, but as he trod the bitter miles he found himself increasingly bereft of uplift. He never had these kinds of problems. What kind of advice could a guy like him give a Balkan refugee? Shlomo shuddered on, feet plunging into the muck of the road until he’d sunk to the shins and then the knees.
He urged his family to climb out and help him, but they rigged a sail and set off across the mire sea without him, waving and wishing him well as they dwindled in the distance.
He was truly encased, couldn’t move a toe, and felt vermin crawling about his calves. With some internal tugging, however he found that very gradually he could slough off his external husk, pulling himself up through aged skin and disposable organs until he managed to climb out his own mouth—happily he didn’t get turned around—and land with a splash naked on the ground.
His new form had pleasing adaptations. He possessed a large and daunting third ear in the middle of his back and his eyes could be removed and relocated to sockets scattered across his body. He possessed a spare brain in a bucket, which would do him some good so long as he held onto it. His feet had long growths jutting forward from the toes like two ski-tips, allowing him to glide across the muck with grace. This wasn’t the body he wanted, but it wasn’t the world he wanted either.