Art : Word Choice

Two Stories

by Matt Runkle

Matt Runkle’s short fictions, though not quite absurdist, tangle chains of causation and breeze through blind doors of perception. Their embellishments limn surreptitious lessons. Their fantasias beget the fantast.


Matt Runkle, The Hare/In the City of Outside Consultants, 2012, mixed media collage, 15 × 11 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

The Hare

There might have been an invisible sort of drug inside my bag. The hound was trying to chew right through it, but it was hard-shell, and I imagined the drug, heavy-lidded, pulling its head inside like a tortoise.

TSA, whose necks were strong and swanlike, seemed to have some questions for me. L——? they said through bee-stung lips. Are you L——?, which in my mind was French for she. I was quite the globe-trotter then, and the fact that I was using Le Lièvre’s passport had slipped my mind.

What’s wrong, L——? they said. You in a rush or something?, and I laughed, and I told them I was not.

Yes, there was a drug, I am certain now, but like I said, it was invisible, and I tried my best not to sweat it.

The movie on the plane had been about intrigue, only slightly softer focused and more posed. The leading lady was considered quite a catch for the cover of a magazine. She had some sort of evocative name, like Tarragon, like Thyme.

It’s oregano, I told TSA.

This, even though I knew they could not see it, could not smell it either, could never feel the whisper of its Ziploc against their elegant cheeks.

I tried to remember whether this drug slowed things down or sped them up. It must have sped them up, I decided, despite the way it sometimes lagged like a tortoise, for before I even knew it, I was home with my head on my pillow, and it was hardly half past ten.

In the City of Outside Consultants

The caseworkers’ opinions, you see, were important. We studied the surveys they returned intently. We slackened our eyes until each answer emerged. We noted each subtle shift in color, found each wayward pixel, and when we built our models—lovingly, from cellulose—we made sure all original specs were back in place.

We really went out of our way, you see, to make sure fair was fair. We even, at times, risked our own hides, and because of this, our disappointment must have been clear. There had been an increase in graft, it seemed, a loosening of the felt, and here and there, although rare, an odd renumbered die. These caseworkers were a bunch of crooks.

Rather than clean house, however, we recommended their office be burnt to the ground. Not burnt to the ground, but made an island. Not made an island, but rather a place too replete with flames to work. A beach too hot to walk across? Take a vacation, we told the caseworkers.

The caseworkers all left town overnight. We later heard they’d reemerged in St. Louis, which by then had already started to be rebuilt from scratch. The caseworkers, it was later reported, had so been motivated by our torches, their zeal was what made St. Louis the garden it is today.

And we? We and our shoddy models, historians say, are what made this city what it is not. And who are we to argue, anyway, we who must conserve our strength, who still have so much wandering to do?

Matt Runkle is a writer, cartoonist, and book artist. His fiction has appeared in journals such as The Collagist. Twos, a yet unpublished novel about near misses, was a semifinalist for last year’s Noemi Book Award. The third issue of Runx Tales, his memoir-ish comic book, is forthcoming in 2012.

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Fiction
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