Issue #82

Spring 2022

The Work

by Bob Thurber

When the work calls, you pack a bag and go. Though anticipated, you've made no arrangements. Likewise, you tell no one you're leaving. Days later, when you arrive at a small airport in the middle of nowhere, the work is waiting, dressed as a chauffeur, displaying a whiteboard with your name misspelled. The work greets you with a tip of the hat and a nod. The work offers to carry your luggage, though all you have is a canvas satchel with a few personal items, and your typewriter in its hard-shell case. After a short tug of war you surrender the weight of the machine, the work grinning the whole time. You surrender the satchel too, happy to sit alone in the backseat. The car smells funky, like stray cats fought a war here. The work drives so horribly slow you can't get any air. Then the work drives too fast, changing lanes without signaling, jarring you about. You hear the typewriter thumping in the trunk as the work swerves into the gravel lot of a motel. You think it's a motel. There's no sign, no cars, no people. The work asks for money so you pat your pockets. The work asks you how you like your coffee. You say hot, with lots of milk, still feeling for your wallet, suppressing a wave of panic, patting and slapping here and there. Is it possible you forgot your wallet, are you that stupid. The work stretches, yawns and waits. Could you have dropped your wallet? Maybe it was stolen, lifted by a pickpocket. The work tells you a story about people like you, brooding children who bit down against the anguish, blocking out the pain of beatings until they couldn't take it anymore, ran from home and kept running until they went too far, found the edge and wandered mindlessly past, got lost, got cold, got lonely, woke up frightened, covered with snow, trembling so badly they barely managed to scrape together a fire, but nevertheless built a blaze, a fire that any fire builder would be proud of, then signaled for help by piling on heaps of damp wood and wet leaves to send heavy smoke streaming into the wind, burning the pages of every book they ever read to keep the fire going, poking constantly at embers with a mangled metal frame of a broken umbrella, pulverizing cinders into ash so fine it is immediately swept up, lifted on winter's winds, becoming a cloud on the horizon, then a small blot of grey sky, finally a speck swallowed by the night. A thousand miles away, some of the ash settles on the backs of migrating crows, who carry it for days, the ash mixed in with the natural oil of their feathers. In sleeping towns the crows congregate in the high branches of trees in the church yard, screeching the same warning, all night the message is the same, the work is waiting, it's a trick old as creation, a ploy to entice heroes to come home, prophets to prophesy, dreamers to resist waking up. The work tells you all this, but it is never safe to believe the stories the work tells about those who came before—those too old to remember, those too young to forget. Life produces a steady stream of fugitives returning home to take factory jobs, to spend their remaining days packing boxes, preparing shipments. No one asks what's inside but it is assumed that in the big boxes are hearts, and in the smaller boxes are fibs and lies. All day trucks move in and out, loading and unloading. Even those whose job it is to count the trucks lose track. On the receiving end, the work masquerades as a picture mounted in a heavy frame, so you're required to go with it, wearing a heavy wire across your back. No one knows you do the holding, not even the wall. Only the work remembers, reminiscing each time a group of spectators study the picture, consider the frame, question the theme, discuss the intention. No one looks for you. The work never mentions your name. It's the same when the work is made up entirely of words on a page in a language long forgotten. Worse still is when the work inhabits stone, requiring a laborious taking-away, an etching of wounds involving sharper and sharper tools, a careful, keen eye and some heavy lifting. The bending hurts. Each time you cry out the work scolds. Each time you flinch the work retaliates, eventually turning your tools against you, costing you an eye, the partial use of an eye. In time the work creates a better eye, a fact you're prohibited from reporting. Whenever you try to speak about the work your tongue gets in the way. Whatever you say about the work immediately becomes untrue. Whomever you tell quickly learns you're a liar. The work will make you one. The work will break your heart. How else?

Author Bio


Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer widely published in literary journals, magazines, and on the Internet. This is the fourteenth time his work has appeared in The Cafe Irreal. “The Cat Who Waved,” appeared in Issue #5; “Shuteye” appeared in Issue #15; “The Bartender Story” appeared in Issue #32; “You Don’t Belong Here” appeared in Issue #34; “A Woman on the Bus” appeared in Issue #38; "Crackers" in Issue #40; "Mister Fumble Bumble and The Merry Widow of The Shoemaker" in Issue #43; "Old Sharp Photo" in Issue #45; "The Manufacturing of Sorrow" in Issue #51; "No Sequels, Please" and "The Chief Deacon's Report on the Rumored Return of the Broken Boys" in Issue #56; "Blankets" in Issue #60; and "The Calendar Is Nobody's Friend" in Issue #76. Bob is the author of six books, including Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel and his latest story collection, If You'd Like To Make a Call, Please Hang Up. For more information visit