UNLIKE THE BURBS
The Montreal Review, August, 2010
Francesco at thirty-five loves his job, loves his life, and on his way to work he whistles to the sparrows on the telephone wires and wishes he could stroke the soft red breast of that hungry little robin pecking around on Mrs. Alvarez's lawn. It's nice living only ten minutes from your job, unlike his relatives out in the burbs.
The hawk on top of that telephone pole looking for a mouse-with perfect aim he can swoop down swift and silent and not disturb a blade of grass in snatching up his prey. A regular arteest! You'd think those little earthbound furry-faced beasties would have more sense than to sniff around in plain sight in the daytime-but, just like the hawk, everyone bows to Lord Belly. At home he keeps a cat named Smokey that he knows he overfeeds, but he's always been a sucker for all that mewing.
Scanning the street ahead of him, Francesco Assinio feels his stomach curdle at sight of the crushed squirrel stretched out over the yellow line in the middle. If not for fear of contamination, he'd be glad to dodge a bit of traffic to grab it by the hind legs and toss it next to the curb away from further violation. You'd think that people in their gas-guzzling SUVs unable to see the road right in front of them would slow up a little out of caution, but no.
"Hi, Mrs. Soto!" he shouts, waving to his left at one of his better customers as she ducks into Pelty's Pet World, the place where he used to shovel shit (it was never as clean now as when he used to work there) until he got his much-better-paying present job at Angelino's. It really bothers Francesco when he remembers how Mrs. S's other cat was mangled only six months ago by a coyote. You'd think those mangy little predators would keep away from populated areas, but no, it's us been moving into their backyard! Damn!
Now this is what pisses Francesco off:
Look at that whale in of all things a jogging suit, dragging along that limping part-collie! Does he want to strangle the poor old mutt? You would think he'd at least loosen the collar, but forget it, no feelings in that jiggling jug of jog-blubber.
Francesco ambles along past the Korean fruit stand, the Russian deli, the Pan-Asian restaurant. The neighborhood's changed over the past twenty years. Used to be all goombàhs, but even the Tuscan Club is an iglesia now, and the geezers in black berets no longer warm the benches in Santa Teresa Square. Francesco's two brothers and most of his cousins graduated college, live in the burbs, and snicker at what he does for a living. Their kids all live in plastic bubbles and play ball with styrofoam bats.
The sun is bright, the sky is clear, the air is crisp, and Angelino is out having a smoke in front of the store. He flashes an open palm at Francesco. Francesco checks his watch, he's only a few minutes late, but the boss never says a word because he knows that as good a worker as Francesco-who is also a good salesman because he knows how to entertain-is damn hard to come by.
"Customer's in there waitin'," says Angelino with a backward thrust of the thumb. "Mrs. Soong. Got half the kids on the block with her."
Unhooking his spanking clean apron from the wall to the right, Francesco hears the excited chatter from the back. He walks in on the group. This time she's brought along not only her own eight-year-old, but his pint-sized Dominican friend and the skinny Haitian kid who hangs out with them and the fruit-stand guy's smiley little brat. He feels flattered to be so popular. They're here to see the show, but Soong's kid, wielding a stick, is already taunting the caged rabbits-spotless white rabbits in cages Francesco cleans personally every day-while the others are shrieking and egging him on.
"I like big guy," says Mrs. Soong, pointing to the fuzz-ball her kid was trying to prod.
"I know, I know. The kids do too, looks like," smiles Francesco.
"Can I pet him, Francesco?" says Mrs. Soong's kid.
Francesco glances sharply at the mother.
"We not waste Francesco's time," says Mrs. Soong.
"Just kidding," says the brat.
Francesco begins to feel peeved. You would think the mother would have learned by now to obey that sign posted right on the wall there: "Unauthorized personnel keep away from the cages." You would think she'd have taught the little beasties some manners!
"This ain't no petting zoo," he mumbles to himself. "Stand back!" he says aloud, kind of theatrically, waving his magician's palm at the audience huddled behind him. He gently and expertly extracts Big Whitey-a six-pound heavyweight-from the rest of the brood; then, holding him firmly by the hind legs and scruff of the neck, he transports the big guy a few feet to his right toward what Francesco always likes to call the "stage," the surface where he's laid out all his "props." Francesco has become kind of proud of his performance.
As he raises the big guy by his hind legs, the kids can barely suppress their giggles. What he doesn't like is the mounting babble of laughing and bleating as, with his right hand, he whacks Big Whitey between the ears with a hammer, lays down the hammer, picks up the knife, and deftly, with a well-practiced flick of the wrist, brings it to the big guy's throat while carefully suspending him over a large metal bowl.
The kids burst out howling with anticipation. Francesco shakes his head, clucks his tongue. You would think there'd be a sign saying, "Keep noise down while employees are at work." But anyway you cut it, Francesco thinks, these kids are more fun to be around than his nephews out in the burbs.
Dan Pearlman's fiction has appeared in magazines such as The Florida Review, Spectrum, New England Review, Quarterly West, The MacGuffin, and anthologies such as Semiotext(e), Synergy, Simulations, The Year's Best Fantastic Fiction (1996), Going Postal (1998), Imaginings (Pocket Books, 2003), and XX Eccentric (MSR Pub. Co., 2009). His books of fiction to date are THE FINAL DREAM & OTHER FICTIONS (Permeable Press, 1995); a novel, BLACK FLAMES (White Pine Press, 1997); a second collection, THE BEST-KNOWN MAN IN THE WORLD & OTHER MISFITS (Aardwolf Press, 2001); and a second novel, MEMINI (Prime Books, 2003). Forthcoming: BRAIN & BREAKFAST, a paperback novella (Sam's Dot Publishing, 2010).
Painting: Paul Fenniak. The
Canadian artist Paul Fenniak paints detailed psychological portraits and figures in settings with implied action. Deep in thought, Fenniak's subjects are contemporary in setting but reminiscent of studied portraits that follow the tradition of the late artist Raphael Soyer.
Paul Fenniak's paintings have luminous surfaces and compelling images that offer a combination of disquiet, uncertainty, urgency, calm, and spirituality. His painting style contains a contrast of inner light with his attention to detail, texture and atmosphere. His works can be purchased at
Forum Gallery (745 Fifth Avenue 5th Fl. -- between 57th & 58th Streets -- New York, NY 10151). Fenniak's website: www.paulfenniak.com