Issue #90

Spring 2024

Hobbesian Hideaway, Accused, and Human Kindness

by Peter Cherches

Hobbesian Hideaway

I wanted an ice cream cone, but I didn't understand the flavors at Ike's Creamery. They didn't have the standard flavors, like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, but they also didn't have understandable proprietary flavors. At least Ample Hills Creamery provided ingredients for their more fanciful flavor names, like It Came from Gowanus. But I could make neither head nor tail of flavor names like Hobbesian Hideaway, Smelted Copper Fantasy, A Trip to Pluto, and Gabriel's Kazoo. "Do you give tastes?" I asked the pimply kid behind the counter.

"Sure, Pops, whatcha wanna try?"

"Let me get a taste of Gabriel's Kazoo."

"Comin' right up."

I took the little spoon from him and tasted it. It was rather weird. It had very little flavor, but there were bits of stuff in it that had a strange slimy-crunchy consistency. Maybe they called it Gabriel's Kazoo because it gave my mouth a buzzy feeling.

"What are those little mix-ins?" I asked the kid.

"Jellyfish chips." That explained the consistency.

"I don't think this one's for me. Let me taste the Trip to Pluto."

"That's my fave," the kid said. He handed me another little spoon.

I didn't care for that one either, though at least it didn't have weird mix-ins. The flavor reminded me of something, but I couldn't put my finger on it. "What's this one made with?"

"Tahitian cacao and rocket fuel."

Not my cuppa. I didn't want to taste the Smelted Copper Fantasy for fear of what it might do to my mouth, so I said, "How about a taste of the Hobbesian Hideaway?"

"Sorry Gramps," he said, "only two tastes per customer."

Well, they only had those four flavors, so I decided to order a single scoop of Hobbesian Hideaway in a sugar cone.

"Would you like any toppings?"

"What do you have?

"We got broken dreams, inconsolable despair, and piñata shards."

I've had my share of inconsolable despair, and I didn't think I could handle any more broken dreams, but I was also afraid the piñata shards might be a choking hazard, so I said, "No toppings, just plain Hobbesian Hideaway."

"One Hobbesian Hideaway, naked, comin' right up."

He passed me my cone. I took a lick. Then another. It tasted like plain vanilla.

"Is this vanilla," I asked?

"Yeah, but we don't like to call it that. Management is afraid it would confuse people."

I didn't get the logic of that, but what could I say?

"That'll be twenty-five even," the kid said.

"What? Twenty-five dollars? How can that be?"

"Well, there's ten bucks for the scoop of Hobbesian Hideaway, a five-dollar cone surcharge, and five bucks each for the tastes."

"Wait a minute, you didn't tell me you charge for tastes."

"You didn't ask."

In my younger days I certainly would have made a stink and stood my ground, but I've mellowed with age. Now I prefer the path of least resistance. So I handed him a twenty and a fiver.

He put the five-dollar bill in the register and pocketed the twenty.

"Hey what gives? You just pocketed twenty bucks."

"And what business is that of yours?"

"I think you're trying to fleece me."

"Customers like you are a real bummer," he said.

I was ready to reconsider the path of least resistance when a young mother and her little boy came in. "What would you like, Judas?" the mother asked the boy.

"My favewit!" the boy answered.

"A double Smelted Copper Fantasy with piñata shards in a waffle cone," the mother told the pimply goniff.

He made the little boy's favewit and handed the mother the cone. "That'll be $7.50," he told her.

Sure, the pimply prick figures me for a sucker and this mother gets away with market price.

"Now be careful with that, Judas," the mother told the son as she passed him the cone. "You remember what happened last time."

***

Accused

"Police! Open up!"

What? What had I done? Should I open the door? I guess I'd better, I guessed.

I opened the door, hoping they wouldn't gun me down on the spot. Luckily, it was a single cop, in uniform, and his gun was in its holster. That was a good sign.

"Yes?"

"Mr. Cherches?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Cherches, I'm here responding to a complaint."

"Who complained?"

"That I can't tell you right now. You'll be able to confront your accuser when the time comes."

That sounded serious.

"What have I supposedly done?"

"You're accused of straining credulity."

"Is that a crime?"

"It's a literary crime. I'm with the small press division."

I've never heard of anything like that. What is this, Stalin's Russia? Will I be sent to the gulag if I don't take up realism? "But the kind of writing I do is supposed to strain credulity. There's a long tradition in world literature, and America was built on the tall tale."

"Yes, but your offenses are particularly egregious."

"Look, they may be put-ons, but they're based on my life, my experiences, my neuroses, my anxieties. They can't take that away from me!"

"Sing it!"

"What?"

"Sing it," the cop said again. "You're a singer, right? So sing "‘They Can't Take That Away from Me.'"

"Don't I have the right to remain silent?"

"Not for literary crimes, you don't. There's no Miranda for fiction."

I started singing. "The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea..."

"All right, that's enough. Here's a summons. It will explain everything you need to know."

He handed me a piece of paper. It was a rejection letter from one of the major flash fiction journals, one that has never published me, but one I keep sending stories to because they reject within a week, never charge a reading fee, and pay writers. They must have rejected at least 20 stories of mine over the years. I guess they got fed up with hearing from me.

"This is a rejection letter, not a summons," I said.

"Yes," the cop said. "The editor thought it was important enough to send special delivery."

"So that's it? I'm not under arrest?"

"No, you can take this as a warning. Be careful where you submit. Have a nice day, Mr. Cherches."

***

Human Kindness

As I was taking a walk around the perimeter of Prospect Park, a voice called out from behind. "Excuse me."

I turned around and looked. It was a middle-aged man in a seersucker suit.

"Yes?"

"Oh, thanks for stopping," he said. "I have this terrible itch on my back. Can you scratch it?"

That's never happened to me before, a total stranger asking me to scratch his back. I'm a naturally cautious New Yorker. Was this some kind of setup?

"I'm not sure about that," I said. "I don't know you."

"Phil Grossman," he said.

"Pete Cherches," I said.

"So now we know each other. So can you scratch my back?"

"I'm not big on physical contact outside of certain proscribed realms," I replied, "and this isn't one of them."

"Come on, be a pal, be a mensch, be a good Samaritan."

So now he was trying to guilt me.

"Listen," I said, "I wish you luck, but I'm not the guy for the job."

"There's nobody else around. If I were lying in the street bleeding and moaning for help would you pass me by?"

"But you're not lying in the street bleeding and moaning for help; you have an itchy back."

"Does that make me any less worthy of a little human kindness?"

"Why don't you do what I do when I have an itchy back? Find some kind of pole, preferably with angles, that you can rub up against."

"You know as well as I do that never works as well as the human touch."

I couldn't deny he was right. And it wasn't so easy to find angles. Should I help him?

"All right," I said, "but just a short scratch."

He took his jacket off. There was a big patch of sweat on the back of his shirt. He wanted me to scratch his sweaty shirt? That was more than I had bargained for.

"Your shirt's really sweaty," I said.

"Duh! It's only like 92 degrees with a real feel of 101."

"Sorry, I really don't think I can touch that sweaty shirt."

He didn't say anything, he just started taking his shirt off.

"Whoa! I didn't mean I was going to scratch your sweaty bare back."

"Make up your mind!"

"Look," I said, "an itchy back is not the end of the world."

"That's easy for you to say."

"It is easy. I get itchy backs all the time. They're annoying and uncomfortable, but even if it's not the ideal solution you can always use a pole."

"All right, all right, be selfish. I'll just have to take care of this my own way."

"Good luck," I said. "I really mean it."

The next thing I knew the shirtless Grossman was lying on the sidewalk, violently rubbing his back against the hot concrete. He started moaning. Then he turned over on his stomach. I saw that his back was all red, and blood was coming from the abrasions. "Oh, oh, help me somebody," he moaned.

I really hate people who won't take no for an answer.

Author Bio

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Peter Cherches' new book, Everything Happens to Me, will be out in September from Pelekinesis. His "Excerpts from Mr. Deadman" appeared in Issue 28 of The Cafe Irreal and in The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from The Cafe Irreal; "The Return of Amelia Earhart" appeared in Issue 48; Three Stories appeared in Issue 70; "The New Guest" and "Closed Indefinitely" appeared in Issue 81; "Collected Stories and The Most Beautiful Beach in Brazil" appeared in Issue 83; Three Stories from The Neighbor in Issue 85; and Five Stories from The Neighbor in Issue 87.