Ralph had a spot. His problem had grown at the tip of his toboggan-rider proboscis, that is, on his nose. That red and sometimes pus-filled dot drove Ralph to seek the less than best intentions of his cousin, Jim-Jam, The One and Only, Ariel O’Neily. Jim-Jam, who was known to be savvy in the fixing of busted trombones, perms gone crazy, and math tests with scores well below the Antarctic, was busy wiring an umbrella to a discarded personal computer when Ralph ducked into J.J.’s Make-or-Break-That-Will-be-Fifty-Dollars-an-Hour-to-You-Mister workshop.
Ralph smiled, almost, his pale lips morphing like a camel confused as to whether it was sitting down or rising up; the rims around his mouth half hunched this way and half slumped that way. Ralph had noticed the shelf behind Jim-Jam’s head. On that pine board, the one supported by cement castings, by a broken baseball bat, by odd atlases, by a dented pot and by a dead lizard, Jim-Jam had perched an elephant tusk, a large globe formed from rubber bands, a trumpet’s bell, the better part of a dirt bike, a map of a subterranean railroad and a days-old sandwich. Directly over young Master O’Neily’s noggin, a crane, derived from coat hangers, clothespins (the type with springs), part of a deck of cards, a bit of chewing gum, and a child’s bow and arrow set, supported the weight of a raccoon’s skull and a paper mache dormouse. Beneath the paper dormouse, hung a spider web, the most exacting architecture in J.J.’s entire whimsical domain.
Brushing away the sandy-colored hair which ebbed over the craggy precipice of his nose, Ralph cleared his throat. Once more he glanced at Jim-Jam’s habitat. A gyroscope sat next to a metal file, both of which rested atop a calculus book on J.J.’s workbench. A ninth grade grammar book, already covered in some green sort of slimy, gooey stuff which invited touch, sat next to the numbers books. A folder of French verbs and a small Russian-German-English dictionary sat by J.J.’s feet. A kitten of questionable lineage batted at the aging sandwich and a dragonfly hovered, momentarily, over the language lessons.
Yet, Jim-Jam, The One and Only, Ariel O’Neily noticed neither the fauna nor his homework, so intent was he upon matching the ends of some plastic-coated wires that were hooked first to a large battery and then to a motor. He adjusted the angle of the umbrella propitiously and banged on the small computer. Ralph cleared his throat again. “Got a problem,” he offered as his means of greeting his cousin.
Jim-Jam looked one silt-filled eye up at Ralph. “Pass the do-dad,” he muttered, motioning in an unseen direction.
Ralph turned and looked behind himself, in the direction indicated. Exhaling rancid mayonnaise poorly disguised by cinnamon breath mints, Ralph shrugged. Behind Ralph towered pieces of a sink, in fact pieces of many sinks, of many dishwashers, of washing machines and of clothes dryers, of ranges, of refrigerators, of carburetors, of percolators and of toasters and of what originally may have lived as a flat iron. “Huh” grunted Ralph. “Jim-Jam, I came here to talk to you about a problem. Scooter said you could help me.”
“Over there,” gestured the seated young one whom had begun to fidget with his monocle, “behind the six gauge socket, past the wrench, wedged by the bird bath. Or maybe it’s over here, beyond the turtle shell, over the tin whistle. Is his hair still blue? I told Scooter I was sorry.”
Raymond Charles High School’s champion bb shooter, aka Ralph, shrugged. He understood sporty guns, bowling, and cross country running. He was the school’s star baton passer and discus thrower. He was also a ballerina, practicing every Tuesday at Miss Kay’s School for Dance and Drama, but only Ralph’s sister, Marina, whom had been sworn to secrecy, and at great risk to her hamster’s life, was supposed to have known about the ballet lessons.
Ralph, who could torpedo not only an iron ball of considerable weight, but whom also could make ballast out of unwanted woodchucks, squirrels, and kindred pests, had no inkling about the difference between a flat head screwdriver and a Phillips. He was not interested in gradations of sandpaper, nor did he care much about the sound a disc drive made when it was “happy.” Ralph cared about his spot. He frowned as he watched Jim-Jam adjust the umbrella again.
As the french-fry foreman at Deli Deluxe, it was impossible for Ralph to have a blemish. Just the other day, Mac and Doris, the Diskin twins, had bothered him about the mark. They had asked Ralph if the spot had been emboldened by the ketchup or by the chutney.
In answer, Ralph had exhaled so deeply that the wee bits of stubble, the dark briars on the otherwise sandy beach of Ralph’s face, had almost popped off into the twins’ sandwiches. Ralph’s eyes had simultaneously erupted like a self-contained experiment of J.J.’s gone bad; lots of smoke, but no conflagration. Ralph had pressed Deli Deluxe’s busboy into service and had slipped outside of the market to look up into the trees and to wonder why he had never accepted Henry P. Smith’s invitation to take up smoking.
The next day, at Raymond Charles, Ralph’s problem worsened. Ralph’s spot had gained the attention not only of the Diskin twins, but of Lynnie Lola, as well. To Lynnie Lola’s consternation, Ralph’s spot had proved more interesting, to the greater part of the student body, than had Lynnie Lola’s manner of dress. Lynnie Lola was RC High School’s fashion queen. All of the girls took notes, literally, on poodle or frog-decorated journalist pads, whenever Missy L. L. wore something new to school. A week to a month following the creation of such meticulous records, depending on each teen correspondent‘s individual ability to wheedle and whine, those fledgling fashion reporters arrived at school wearing the same thing as had Missy L. L. Meanwhile, Lynnie Lola, for her part, had by then moved on to some other high fashion, thus effecting, to Missy Lynnie’s pleasure, the perpetuation of the cycle.
Lynnie had arrived, that morning, to RC High School, decked in a sweater and a simple skirt. On her head, however, she spotted the most wonderful leopard-print headband, which, in turn, was adorned with a few inches of pink ribbon, the type used for wrapping birthday presents for five year-olds. Such a sensation was rare even from Lynnie’s closet.
The girls oowed and aahed and then turned to Ralph. Their school’s honky-tonk king of the plastic pins, sharp shooter of three-holed balls and otherwise self-pronounced shark of the bowling ally had a bright red dot beaming on the tip of his face. Quickly the girls swung out their reporter books and made notes. Missy Lynnie L. tapped her foot, impatient for her customary homage. She coughed. She made monkey faces, all to no avail. Some of the girls were even drawing Ralph in profile, his great sandy-colored brows appearing like two vast swathes of wire wool, projected over the cliff of a nose, on whose edge perched the most remarkable of anomalies.
Then Missy L. L. strode directly up to Ralph and whispered into his ear; “you idiot in a tutu. If you do not get rid of that spot, I will tell everyone what you do at Miss Kay’s.” Although there was neither tulle nor lace in Ralph’s existence; male ballerinas train in the likes of gym shorts and t-shirts, Ralph’s downy cheeks blazed the color of his blemish. There would be a dead hamster that afternoon. Meanwhile, it was necessary to stifle that public speaker extraordinaire, Lynnie Lola. “Free fries if you shut up ‘til tomorrow,” forfeited Ralph.
A small, reptilian smile, accentuated by her braces and reflected by Lynnie’s thick glasses, covered the fashion queen’s face. “Just ‘til tomorrow,” she shrilled.
A few buttons punched on an otherwise silent cell phone sent Mac and Doris the directive to take Lynnie to the Deli Deluxe after school. They owed Ralph for a chocolate and for a strawberry milkshake, respectively. The threat of the world’s tiniest mittens made from hamster fur, during a quick, not so silent, call to Marina, found Ralph directed to J.J.’s workshop. Marina, in conference with Scooter, her boyfriend, had suggested that One and Only, Ariel O’Neily, first cousin to Ralph and Marina, might be able to help reduce Ralph’s cherry-colored glow. Ralph preferred to think that vivisecting a small rodent would ease his pain.
So it was in that place of mop handles and snails, of discarded keyboards and of plastic wrap that Ralph found himself answering Jim-Jam, saying, “I don’t know about Scooter’s blue, it’s this red that worries me.” Ralph pointed distinctly to his nose.
“Don’t know the difference between a hazel nut and a deadbolt,” reprimanded J.J. He looked up at the wide-pawed athlete, sighed and shook his head. His peers were such babies. Just a year ago, Lynnie Ramsey Jones had been a gawky new kid. A session or do with Doctor Jim-Jam, Expert Social Director, had recast her into popularity and had changed her name forever on the school register. Six or seven months after Jim-Jam had resolved the Jones case, a couple of siblings, Mac and Doris, had stooped under Jim-Jam’s crab shell, bird nest and dried leaves mantel. The two had been sufficiently worried about their parents’ threat to ground them for disrupting familial peace that the two had come to Jim-Jam’s shack with all manners of offerings; chocolate, an unbroken moth cocoon, a ticket to the Raymond Charles intramural basketball playoffs, and a wad of money. Jim-Jam relieved them of the chocolate, the cocoon and the money in exchange for his referral to a local boxing studio and for a tape on table etiquette, which featured the proper use of fish forks.
Satisfied that he had lucratively reset Mac and Doris equilibrium, Jim-Jam further offered to rent to each of them, for a mere twenty dollars a day. Weeks after the twins had pilfered from both of their mother’s purses and from their father’s shopping day wallet, Jim Jam was visited by Scotty. That punk-faced ferret of a boy had wanted romance, scholarship, and a page or two of excuses that would mollify his parents when he was out past curfew. Jim-Jam did not believe in mixing it up on the wrong side of house rules, nor did Mr. Problems-Solved-in-Exchange-for Most-of-Your-Bank-Account know any other way to succeed in school short of studying, but J.J. did know of a freshman, Marina, Ralph’s sister, who had recently turned to Jim-Jam because of self-esteem woes. Following his success with Scooter, short of the blue hair, Jim-Jam had gained a reputation for doctoring relationships and for tutoring in Civics and in Biology.
But pimples! Spots were as natural as freckles and as moles, as nose hair and as ear hair, as fingers and as toes. Jim-Jam sized up Ralph of the clean, except for the dried blood beneath the nails, fingers. Ariel O’Neily wondered if the blood were mammalian, given its hue. The shaggy-haired, heavy-lidded teen before him, renowned for his prowess at the deli grill, and son of his father’s brother, was easily worth twenty or thirty dollars. “For forty-five dollars,” intoned Jim-Jam as he opened the door beneath his table’s surface and pulled out a small, velvet box, “your spot will become difficult to see.”
Ralph, hot dogging burrito buster of their small town frowned and calculated hours and wages. He had passed Algebra One and had a good shot at passing Algebra Two. In Ralph’s mind, the hamster fur mittens had already been lined with cotton and wrapped as a Mother’s Day gift. Marina’s big brother smacked a fifty dollar bill onto Jim-Jam’s table, temporarily unsettling pink and blue puffs of an unknown, but effervescent substance.
Jim-Jam held the bill up to the light, turned it and held it up again. Nodding, Ralph’s redeemer folded the money into an origami sort of bird and placed the bird on the shelf below the ledge bearing the elephant tusk.
For a moment, the gape in Ralph’s face that had been his mouth rivaled, as a natural wonder, the red spot at the end of Ralph’s nose. Quickly, Ralph pressed his lips back together as he took in the magnitude of goats and sheep, cows and horses made of the same type of material as the newly folded bantam hen. There was easily hundred of dollars sitting on that shelf, all disguised as farm animals.
Jim-Jam opened the velvet box. He reached in and removed a tiny, stamp collector-sized, opaque envelope. “Apply this over your nose and Lynnie will leave you alone. Also, don’t skin the hamster. His name is Family Boy and my younger brother’s best buddy in the third grade owns his mother, Zu-Zu.”
Again, the wide hole appeared on Ralph’s face. Jim-Jam shooed his cousin away, out the door and into the yard. The tree under which Jim-Jam’s workshop had been built spit leaves at the sandy-haired track star. Jim-Jam checked his watch, but only after bolting the door. He had two pages of differential equations to complete, a mailbox to repair and a sonnet of three pages to compose all before dinner. Reflexively, Jim-Jam retilted the umbrella. For the briefest of moments, the computer screen glowed. Just as abruptly, it darkened. J.J.’s mother had threatened to personally disassemble the hovel that sat in her backyard if her son did not make a more regular appearance at the dinner table.
Meanwhile, beyond the realm of robin eggs and of owl pellets, of topographical maps and of broken pieces of European crystal, Ralph bellowed. Upon tearing open the small, nontransparent envelope, Ralph had discovered a Band-Aid.
KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of sometimes rabid imaginary hedgehogs roam the verbal hinterlands. Some of the homes for their writing have included: AlienSkin Magazine, AntipodeanSF, Bards and Sages, Big Pulp, Morpheus Tales, Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and The New Absurdist. When not disciplining her imaginary friends, Hannah serves as an associate editor for Bewildering Stories. She has also worked for Tangent Online as a literary critic.
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