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Issue number five




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Short-shorts 2 by Marian Palla, H. Turnip Smith and Ana Sousa

How to measure a circle in water and  The windshield wiper by Marian Palla

How to measure a circle in water

From a piece of wood we make a stencil. (I would recommend that the wood be very hard, such that it could endure large and violent waves.)

It must be in the form of a circle, with a hollowed out interior and a radius of 70 centimeters.

Once this is completed we will throw a rock into the water and then place the stencil over the spot where the rock broke the water's surface. At the precise moment when the outermost ripple reaches our stencil, we jump up and cry: "70!"

The windshield wiper

Sir, could you please exit from the car?"

"What happened?"

"It appears that your windshield wiper isn't functioning."

"How can you know that?"

"There isn't a drop of blood on your windshield."

"I drive slowly."

"Everybody says that."

"Really, I do. I drive slowly, carefully, and I avoid ... "

"Could you turn on your wipers please so we could inspect their operation?"

"Certainly, but you should be aware of the fact that when the car is standing, there is a small possibility ..."

"Don't argue with us. Turn them on."

I turned them on.

"Nothing," said the first policeman when he shone the flashlight on the windshield.

"It's possible he wiped it with a rag before we stopped him," suggested the second.

"Do you have a rag?" the first policeman asked.

"I have one," I admitted nervously.

"Show it to us!"

I handed them the rag.

"It stinks," the first policeman said.

"Why does this rag stink?" asked the second policeman.

"I live alone and all my things stink," I said.

"That isn't an excuse."

"But my windshield wipers work!"

"That doesn't mean anything. You have a stinky rag!"

"And if the rag didn't stink?"

"You would, eventually, be allowed to continue on your way."

"What if I had a clean rag?"

"I'm listening."

"I have another one ..."


"Yes, clean."

"So show it!"

I showed him the clean rag, which my mother had given to me so I could blow my nose when I had a cold.

"It doesn't stink!" the first policeman said.

"Can I go?"

"You can, but don't think you can avoid us--next time we'll get you! Each drop of blood will stick indelibly to the windshield wiper, as you full well know!"

"Yes, I know, which is why I'll drive slowly."

(translated by G.S. Evans)

* * * * *

Marian Palla was born in 1953 and lives in an old castle in Moravia in the Czech Republic. He has written for radio and various publications, and two books of his writings have been published by the Petrov publishing house (Brno). The stories presented here, "Jak zmerit kruhy na vode" and "Sterace," were originally published in 1996. His "Mysteries" appeared in Issue #1 of The Cafe Irreal.

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Ski trip by H. Turnip Smith

F OR SALE: Large, tangerine-colored, nuclear-powered '67 Volkswagen. Heater works. Recently overhauled. Enough room in trunk for cattle ranch or commission of murder. 10,600 K. $1,800 or best offer. Sacrifice. Current owner about to enter treatment center.

"It's a fish," Robert said, adjusting his bra.

"It's not a fish. It's a barracuda," Robert said.

Robert looked at him. "If it's not a fish, then why is it swimming?"

Robert looked puzzled. "Olympic time trials?" he said. He began to cry. He was always beginning to cry. It had something to do with a leak in his lachrymal gland.

The doctors told him not to worry. Of course, they were all coked out of their minds.

Meanwhile, every condo in the valley had this whistling sound.

Sometimes it was "The Yellow Rose of Texas"; other times it was "The Bridge Over the River Kwai."

Robert preferred it when it was hip-hop. He often went to work that way, dressed in nothing but a grapefruit.

The boss had a tendency to complain.

"It's just a fish," Robert said adjusting his bra.

"You call that a fish?" the boss said, pointing a revolver at his forehead and squeezing the trigger.

The sound of the bullet exiting the gun backwards was visible in Boise. It was just turning winter there, and the skiers were out in force, wearing black armbands and chanting tributes to Sonny Bono. One of them had recently graduated from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. Being fearless, he maintained it was not a fish, it was a barracuda.

Robert didn't care what he thought. After all, he had this large, ulcerous sore growing on the back of his tongue. He often lay in bed at night, gasping for breath.

It had something to do with DNA. No one was quite sure. When it was time to watch football, all they wanted to do was watch football. The barracudas and the fish could go to hell for all they cared.

Meanwhile the condos were whistling, Robert was choking, and the Volkswagen sat in the driveway collecting rust. Several old ladies next door walked their dogs nearby and encouraged them to piss on it.

The lucky thing is, piss is sterile when it leaves the body. Not that you'd want to make a regular habit of drinking it. But in a multicultural society such as this--really who's to say what anybody else chooses to drink?

You think the fish would care? Or the rude, little old ladies walking their dogs? Only Robert would care, although Robert wouldn't.

That's the way it is in that neck of the woods. Obviously, neck of the woods is an idiom. The reader ought not to be confused. A woods does not literally have a neck. Speaking of a "neck" of the woods is a metaphoric method of discourse. Unfortunately it's also a cliché. Ask any sports writer if you want to talk clichés. But don't get them started on whether or not it's a fish.

Poor Robert slowly choking to death with this huge, ulcerous growth slowly constricting his breathing passages, and his parents back in Iowa don't even know if it's him or his brother Robert who's dying. Two or three times a day they call Boise and discuss it with the skiers, but most of them are out drunk lying skis-up in the snow.

Meanwhile the doctors are on sabbatical again. And the fish? They're attending debating society meetings. It all conforms in the most rigorous way to Roberts Rules of Order.

The first fish says, "I believe it's a man."

"No," the second fish says, "it's a barracuda."

* * * * *

H. Turnip Smith lives under a winged, moving sidewalk in Kettering, Ohio. More of his work can be accessed via Dogpile.

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Caravaggio was here by Ana Sousa

I t started early in the morning when I was taking a bath, trying to wash off the stains of the previous night. People's stains on my skin make me sick. This time, though, they were more than stains. My skin was covered with slightly swollen, purple bruises. I inspected them carefully, and it did not look good. I couldn't bring myself to recall how I ended up with such injuries. I began to feel scared. Where did I get them? What if I had some strange disease? I touched the bruises, and my fingernails gained a similar colour. Deep violet--a nice colour, but definitely not on me. I tried the mirror for some truth, but I should have known better. As always, it wasn't me there. I couldn't recognize those features, anyway. I never could. The face depicted had frozen lips. When I made an attempt to speak, her lips started to bleed, and I felt a familiar bittersweet taste in my mouth. Now, red teeth were grinning at me. I turned on the cold water faucet and washed my face. Immediately, I wished I hadn't done it, because it was so painful that I swallowed the scarlet water by mistake. But, instead of choking, I had bubbles coming out of my mouth. It was unbelievable. Millions of bubbles flooding out of me. I had a sudden urge to laugh, and what came out was a weird, low, almost ultra-sonic laughter that sent chills all over me. I wanted to stop it, but I just kept laughing, louder and louder, until tears were running down my face. The mirror started to crumble away, shattering into thousands of sparkling tiny fragments. Little things stung my face, but I just felt happier than ever. The tears were burning my skin, I was bleeding from all these cuts on my face and lips, and the bubbles were coming out in purplish hues now. And I was hysterical, bare naked in the bathroom, drinking straight out of the sink, drinking and spitting out purple bubbles, until I could see nothing around me but flashing neon signs spelling C-A-R-A-V-A-G-G-I-O W-A-S H-E-R-E. By now, trying hard not to faint, I was subdued by a nauseous sensation. I am quite certain that I was still laughing, when I suddenly realized that I couldn't take more. I think I must have fallen down, because my back was resting against a cold surface. My eyes had swollen up and I could see little, but I believe there were people in the room now, because I felt as if someone was sucking my breath and whispering words I could not make out. I wanted to explain that I was fine, that I had been thrown into happiness, that my injured lips only dripped life, but they kept sucking my breath away, making absurdly frantic gestures that were driving me insane. My laughter had brought with it a muteness that I couldn't contain, and I was too tired to grab whatever it was that kept me there. I wasn't sad. When they stopped talking, someone knocked and told me to get ready; the birth had finally been arranged.

* * * * *

Ana Sousa was born in Coimbra, Portugal, in 1973. She has a Bachelor's degree in Photography. Her photographic work has appeared in various exhibitions. She currently lives in Lisbon, Portugal, where she works as a freelance photographer as well as a translator, while finishing a degree in journalism.

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stories copyright by authors 2001 all rights reserved
translation of Palla stories copyright 2001 by G.S. Evans all rights reserved