Issue #89

Winter 2024

Three Stories

by Salvatore Difalco

The Hippopotamus

"Who's the director?" I asked. No one in the amphitheatre answered. I knew no one. I tried to lock eyes with a few of them, but they averted their gazes. I wanted to know what I was in for after agreeing to appear without reading the fine print. "Do y'all have contracts?" I asked aloud.

"Hey buddy," someone carped in the back, "why don't you just shut up. We're all trying to get our shit together, okay?"

Touchy actors. I lumbered up the stone steps and sat next to a blonde woman with ice blue eyes. She wore a sky blue cable knit sweater long on the sleeves. Her fingernails and lips were painted fuchsia. She stared ahead without acknowledging my presence. I wanted to assure her that my seating choice had been arbitrary and that she represented no target for any advances. But of course saying this would have alarmed her, so I said nothing.

We were waiting, that was clear. Maybe some of these people knew why, maybe the blonde woman knew. But I didn't know. I should have just left the grounds of the amphitheatre. But part of me wanted to know what would happen next and how all this would end. The details that led me to the amphitheatre remain sketchy in my mind. Explanations elude me. Maybe I was going through something. The brain is mysterious. Consciousness more so. These are delicate things. A brain can be crushed like a fruit, and consciousness can flatspin at the slightest deviation, either environmental or chemical.

"Are you here for the rehearsal?" I asked the blonde.

She scrunched her nose and shook her head in a manner that indicated she had fully expected to be bothered by the lug sitting next to her and sure enough he did not disappoint. "Look," she said in a husky voice, "You're harshing my process."

I wasted not a second moving away from her. My wannabe Casanova days long over, she could have been the last female on earth and I would have felt as passionless and indifferent to her as I did at that moment. And it's not that my libido had tanked. On the contrary, given favourable and welcome circumstances, some cajoling, and freedoms, I think the equipment could still get the job done.

I'd rehearsed no lines, if any were to be rehearsed. No one had sent me a script. I'd dressed plainly, perhaps a mistake. I noticed among the others waiting only those in bright colours: one fellow in a yellow cardigan, a woman wearing a red equestrienne jacket, a lanky black guy in an orange jumpsuit, another girl in a shimmery lavender rayon blouse. I thought I heard birds chirping but failed to track them. The sun was shining in my eyes. I'd forgotten my sunglasses.

"Are you here for the hippopotamus part?" asked a bearded hipster with a tremendous overbite.

"The what?" I replied.

"You're the only hippopotamus here, bro, so I was just connecting the dots."

This was news to me.

Did the others share this awareness? I looked around. Hard to say. I dared not look at myself. There were so many things that were wrong, that felt wrong. And to whom do you unload this perception? To whom do you confess you're not sure what's going on? And why would they know what you don't? I often wondered if I'd been especially selected by the powers that be for moments like this because of my ability to suffer. It's a question I would like to ask one day, when the show run is over and everyone goes back to what they were doing.

***

Bit Parts

Calogero looked like he had been made up by a funeral director. He was to play a mobster in a movie picture, a small part, but after so many failed auditions and fruitless casting calls, he had finally landed a speaking role, albeit one where he only uttered two sentences. "Calogero," we requested one afternoon in the piazza before filming began, "please recite the lines for us." Calogero, typically taciturn for his genera, waved his hand. "I'll not embarrass myself," he said. "Come on, Calogero," we pleaded. "It will not happen," he said. "Are you even Sicilian?" we asked him, knowing he harboured sensitivities on the subject. Rumor had it that his paternal grandfather hailed from Piedmont. Calogero's face reddened. "Listen here, you louts," he barked, "I am no one's organ monkey, okay?" Someone accused him of not knowing his lines. "Shooting's about to begin and you can't recall them!" came the cry. "Shut up," Calogero said. He tugged the lapels of his ill-fitting dark suit. His shirt collar could have comfortably fit another neck. The production was a cheap one, clearly, and as the film crew prepared the shoot, one had the feeling that they were merely pretending, that the camera had no film, that none of these disheveled people had a clue what they were doing. "Are you going to get whacked?" we asked Calogero. And this was the first time he seemed to welcome the question. "I honestly don't know," he said. "I'm a bad man but one with a good heart. Maybe they will spare me." Indeed as the filming, or pseudo-filming began, Calogero was instructed by the wizard-bearded director to lie inside a coffin. "Am I dead?" we heard Calogero ask. "Of course you're dead," the director responded. "You don't know this?" Clearly irked, the director called over his wine-faced assistant and spoke into her ear. She nodded and then conferred with a young security guard in a navy blue uniform. The security guard slapped his holster and approached Calogero. After a brief explanation, he seized Calogero's right arm and escorted him off the set. A crestfallen Calogero joined others in the piazza. Someone asked if he wanted a shot of whisky. Someone else rudely asked if he wanted a revolver. What was noted then is how he did not say no to either offer.

***

A Dispute

Two men argued in the street. I rose from bed, donned my slippers and bathrobe, and looked down from my eighth floor balcony. They stood eye to eye, shoulders taut, gesturing wildly as their voices rose and fell with rhythmic vehemence. The inevitability of violence charged the air. I belted my bathrobe in the cool damp and continued watching. I considered recording it, but I'm not one to record people or things or places for that matter. It just doesn't interest me. I could not make out the angry words of the men. I kept hearing the word you. You this. You that. Maybe they had a legitimate beef, or one of them did, having been violated in some fashion by the other. Who looked angrier? Hard to say. They were indistinguishable in the weak yellow streetlight, both garbed darkly, both Caucasian, both youthful, at least judging by their voices. One of the guys dropped to the pavement. I must have turned my head for a second as I didn't quite see the blow that felled him. Was it a punch? I hadn't heard a shot. Had he been knifed? The other fellow turned and walked off down the street without looking back. I glanced at the fallen man and wondered if I should call an ambulance or the police. I also wondered if I should just mind my own business. But I'm not like that. I mean, I do know how to mind my own business. In this case, with a fellow human being injured in the street, the good Samaritan in me surfaced. It was two in the morning. I hadn't been sleeping well at all. I groggily dressed and took the elevator downstairs. My limbs felt filled with sawdust. I moved stiffly to the front of my building and looked for the fallen man. He wasn't there. I looked up and down the desolate street and saw no sign of him. My temples throbbed. A migraine was coming on. I looked up again, at my balcony. Someone there was looking down at me.

Author Bio

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Salvatore Difalco's work has appeared in print and online. He is the author of five books, including Minotaur and Other Stories (Truth Serum Press). His story "Hip Hip Hooray" appeared in Issue 65 of The Cafe Irreal; "Four Stories" appeared in Issue 68; "The Little Dollhouse Company" and "Gitane" appeared in Issue 70; "Three Stories" in Issue 78; and "New Adam" and "King of the Crows" in Issue 85.