Issue #61

Winter 2017


by J.C. Howell

That’s Otokar, standing in the shadow of the Old Calendar, talking to a marmite; she’s taller than he is and she’s incredibly sure of herself. Her pelt is dark with spots of blond; her blue gown gleams with ostentatious scales. There’s a minnow taking the measurement of Otokar’s left big toe.

“But what does it feel like?” she asks, checking her reflection in her little clam shell mirror, its reflective face a polished disk of 2am.

Otokar keeps his own 2am mounted on the wall above his dresser, beside his mirror. The minnow investigates his toes and the spaces between them while his shoes amble around the perimeter of Old Town Square. They come here, on occasion, to express their romantic sentiments to one another. His socks, being strident in their conservative nature, have staged a hunger strike, and this explains the minnow, but the marmite has no place in the day’s equation; she’s just a random stranger like anyone, though prettier than some crusty old man on the #12, ready to demand a plume at any given moment.

“Or,” she says, “bluntly: what would I hear if you say the word ‘sunset’ to me? Would it be an evocation of the sun setting, or would it be something a little more autobiographical?”

He shrugs. “I’m only here to ask them to come home early tonight. I have an interview.”

“Everyone has interviews,” the marmite says, scoffing. “I’ve had six today.”

“I’ve only had four, but I’ll need the right shoes for tomorrow.”

“There,” she says, slipping the 2am back into the slit of her purse. “You’ve said it. ‘Tomorrow’, in exactly the way I’d expect.” She’s a bit too tall for her body, but she holds herself well enough. Her pelt gleams and her ear fuzz is downy-white in a slant of afternoon sunlight.

“I’m only here for my shoes.”

“Oh,” softly. “Where are they now?”

He nods. “Just over there,” he says. “They’re buying ice cream.”

“That’s not ice cream... not in the old fashioned sense. Where’s your interview?”

“In Smíchov.”

The marmite shrugs: she hasn’t told him her name. “There’s nothing to worry about then,” she says. “They’ll say ‘no’ like they always do.”

“I need them to say something else.”

“You’ll need a ticket for that.”

“I’ve got tickets.”

“How many?”


“It takes two and a bribe; I have a few bribes left over. If I knew I’d meet you here, I’d have sold you one for cheap.”

“I just need my shoes,” he says, wiggling his toes to keep the minnow from getting any amorous ideas.

“I’ll help you get them.”

“I just have to speak to them... but... thank you.”

Thank you, as in you’re about to leave me, or thank you as in you’re about to accept my company while you talk to your shoes?”

“It’s a private matter.”


“I hope you understand.”

He curls his toes and sends the minnow scurrying: a flash of fishy anger across the cobblestones. It weaves in and out of sunlight and tourists — more than half of them are ostriches — until it vanishes. He feels the stabbing needle of guilt as the minnow, now gone, looms large in his thoughts. He stoops down and pulls it from the space between his big toe and its neighbor: an eyeless needle as silver as the minnow itself and as long; it’s hard to find pure guilt anymore and even if Otokar can’t find a use for it, he slides it into his wallet, pinning three 1000 kC notes in place with it.

The marmite nods a signal to policemen floating just above. Otokar is only vaguely aware of them until they deflate and touch down, surrounding him; before he’s sure of what’s happening, he’s staring into the eyes of three brawny cops in black uniforms. They’re the ones who carry guns, and they stare him down as the marmite twitters, leavening her voice with ten meters of feminine charm. She curtsies as she shows them her ID.

“I saw it all,” she says when the cop hands it back. “He just stooped down and picked it up, took out his wallet and stabbed his money with it.” She shivers, holding everyone’s attention.

The cop with red hair pulls out a pad, taking the marmite’s account.

The blond cop nods, pulling out a pad of his own: fine slips. He writes Otokar’s offense on the dotted line and sets a cost of 3000 kC for today’s brazen offense.

“It’s all I’ve got,” Otokar says, unpinning his money from the inside maw of his wallet. 3000 kC, though there are coins, loose in his pockets.

“That’s the evidence,” the red-haired cop says. “You still have to pay 3000.”

“I’ll need a bankomat.” There’s one on the other side of the square. His shoes are heading that way, having filled themselves with dainty scoops of ice-cream.

“On the spot,” the blond cop says. “That’s how it works.”

They’re not mere Municipal Police; he can’t just back away and run. They have that look: like cops who like to shoot.

“I’m only here for my shoes,” Otokar says, aware of his height; he’s not as bulky as they are, and he’s peltless and alone, sharing nothing in common with the policemen or the marmite, and they’re all surrounding him, sharing a sense of smug camaraderie: the police because they have their duty, no doubt, and the marmite, because she’s clearly just reported him and has unselfishly done her part for the Law and Order; it’s right there, gleaming in their eyes.

“That’s no excuse for stabbing money,” the dark-haired cop says. He’s been silent until now, his hand on the butt of his holstered weapon: an iguana pistol, Otokar sees.

“It was guilt,” Otokar says, sure that he’s incriminating himself, and he dares not show them the treachery of the needle, gleaming in his wallet. “From a minnow.”

The cops laugh. “It’s always a minnow,” the red-head says, sobering. “It’s simple, really. You’ve offered evidence, and the Law states that you pay a fine on the spot.”

“I haven’t got it.” Desperate now. “I’m only here for my shoes. I’ve got an interview tomorrow, in Smíchov.”

“They’re going to say ‘no’,” the marmite offers.

“We’ve all got interviews,” the blond cop says.

“This is all I’ve got,” Otokar says, fishing through his pockets and coming up with a pitiful gleam of coins. 1020 kC.

“Yeah,” the dark-haired policeman says, taking the coins and nodding to his companions. “Nothing going on here,” he nods across the square. His partners nod back and they walk away, kicking through a swarm of minnows, but they’re impervious to guilt in their armored, black boots. After a few minnow-kicking steps, they inflate themselves and float away.

“I only came for my shoes,” he says, but the marmite ignores him. She strokes the luxurious fur on her arm and examines the sheen of her fingernails, before leaving him with a view of her back and her shoulders as she walks away.

Author Bio


J. C. Howell is a writer, living in the Greater Chicagoland Area. His works, to date, have been published in a few Chicago-local small-press/small-circulation anthologies and magazines. Recent developments in the literary landscape have inspired him to seek expression outside of the standard, US-American realist tradition, with particular emphasis on departures from normalized realism. He has taught English as a Second Language in Prague, and has spent time in Germany, and though currently residing in the USA, hopes to return to the European continent in the future.