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Directions by Ptim Callan



The directions say to stick tabs A and C into slots B and D, respectively. I probably could have figured that out on my own, but it's important to follow the directions, because they have a perspective you don't and can sometimes foresee potential problems that you with your inexperience (although sharp-minded, certainly) might lack the visionary quality to pick out.

The directions say to fit piece 32 onto piece 126 and then to clamp them together. The only problem is that I'm already using the clamp on pieces 77, 34, and 241. The directions say don't talk back and just do as I'm told. So I pull the clamp off the other pieces and put it onto 126 and 32. The directions say that's better and if I insist on holding a rabbinical convention every time we attach two pieces, we'll be here all night for sure. The directions say to thread the securing cable through the grommets and tie the end down with a symmetrically collapsing double reef hitch. I ask the directions how to tie that knot, I don't know that one. The directions say just tie it. I tie a square knot, and the directions don't say anything, so I guess they don't know either.

The directions say to paint all exposed surfaces peach. After I've done so, the directions laugh and say that's the oldest one in the book, how did I get to be so gullible? The directions say what's that on my shirt, and when I look down they flick me in the face with their finger. The directions are really having a good time now. It pleases me to see them so happy.

The directions slowly return to seriousness and around a few laggard chuckles, they say okay, enough is enough. Time to get back to work, they say. The directions get me to building the framework. While I'm busy with the alligator clips, the directions start talking lightly about politics. The directions are opposed to the second amendment. They feel the whole thing's outlived its usefulness by about 150 years. We should just admit that it's an obsolete portion of the constitution that is not longer applicable in our current situation. The directions have a lot of opinions. They seem to have the inside track on everything. I guess that's why they're directions.

The directions say to take a break, there's some pink lemonade in the fridge. I go to get a glass and see my brother's severed pinky finger lying on the kitchen table. I go back into the workshop and say what the hell's going on here? The directions say that's in retribution for my being such a smart-alecky punk who thinks he'd be just as well off without them. They say to think of it as a warning. The directions say I'd better start flying the straight and narrow or next it'll be my fucking dog. And I believe them too. They might just do it.

The directions pull a couple of beers out of the cooler and twist off the cap before handing me mine. We sit and drink our beers and then get back to work, because there's still a hell of a lot to do. The directions say to fit all the outer panels into place, starting at the bottom and spiraling upward. The directions say to rivet each panel to the panels immediately below and to the sides. The directions say to spray the aerosol sealant over the whole thing and then leave it to dry while I begin to assemble the electrical harness. The directions say that it's awfully difficult having to be right all the time. The pressure's unbearable, they say. Just for one day they'd like it if they didn't have to tell anybody anything at all. (The directions point out in an aside that I should keep my hands away from my eyes and mouth until I wash off that sealant.) The directions say that unfortunately without them around looking over us, all sorts of havoc would take place. The directions say that they dream of finally being able to rest.

I worry that the directions are potentially suicidal. I watch them as closely as I can considering the delicate wiring I'm engaged in. I try to keep the conversation flowing. I ask the directions if they have a girlfriend. The directions answer that sometimes they do, but usually they don't because as I can probably guess they tend to be a little authoritarian. The directions chuckle mirthlessly. I tell the directions that some buddies of mine and I have poker game every Thursday night--low-stakes stuff--and that they should join us next week. The directions say that sounds like a terrific idea. I point out that it's dealer's choice. The directions say they understand and will certainly do their best to cope.

Round about 1:30 in the morning the directions give me some round blue pills. They tell me not to ask what it is, just take it. It will keep me alert and sharp while I push through and finish the project. The directions pop two of the pills themselves. The directions leave me long enough to go out to an all-night donut place and pick up a half-dozen lemon crullers. Other than that, though, they stay close to provide moral support and make sure I get all the details correct.

With the help of the directions and their pills I am completely finished by sundown the next day. The directions clench their hands in anticipation when I first fire it up. The lights on the display panel come on, and the engine turns over, purring like a kitten. I grin at the directions, and they grin back at me. I shut off the engine, and we exchange a high-five as I climb down from the cockpit.

It was a lot of work, but I did a good job, and it was worth it. I'm just glad I didn't try to bite off a project of this magnitude without good directions.



A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Ptim Callan's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in over thirty literary magazines including Mississippi Review, ZYZZYVAThird Coast, Fiction International, and The Cafe Irreal, where his short story, "What I Ate," appeared in Issue #9.  His independent films have been screened at major film festivals. He took his English degree from UCLA where he studied writing under Robert Coover and John Barth. His name is pronounced "Tim."


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