by Jon Mozes
2nd Place – Flash 405, August 2018: “Mystery”
The flood lights switch off and we’re left in the dark, up in our neighbor’s treehouse, which he built himself. He’s a joiner, a real tinkerer. Before the lights might flood us again, activated by a squirrel or our neighbor’s rabbity wife, who’s collecting trash at the base of the tree, we look at our neighbor—our host—sitting across from us, and his middlebrow head becomes lowbrow, capped by a haircut that’s gone wrong, as if it had been done at an asylum or the edge of an executioner’s pit. Our neighbor’s been braying about cocks all summer long, this father of five, fingering and fondling cocks in his brain, right between the long ears, the fantasies spilling out of his mouth—but not saying now that they’re jokes. Just before the lights went off he asked us if it’s done like this, blowing a watermelon rind, hands dripping, more rinds below, wife dropping them into a Target bag. He wants something in his mouth, it’s not clear what—it might be cocks, it might not. If we didn’t know him better, if we weren’t his close puckish fairy friends, we’d tell him to hold the rind with both hands—really grab it—a move that would spare him a mess if his ears actually found themselves between a bear’s legs. But his haircut, the one we know his wife gave him—it’s so hapless and tonsured, he’d be mauled by a bear no doubt, no exit, pursued through a ramble—keeps us from opening our mouths. This is tricky since what we love to see and do are tricks in the dark. But why make our host feel worse simply because magic compels us to? Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier…. We hold our tongues and let his flow, our small smiles still working on his head—we can’t help that!—and are flooded with light once more. Our host shuts up, blinking wildly, seeds on his strands, haircut no longer in negative space. He wipes his hands on his thighs, sighs and burps and reaches for another I.P.A. as something scuttles down the trunk. And his wife is calling up now all high and thin, saying that she’s going in, that she’s done with the garbage, she’s done.
Fairies, bears, bottoms—this is about Shakespeare, right? I like how this is almost a diary entry that gives us just enough grounding to be enchanted but not baffled, if that makes sense.
Jon Mozes’s publication credits include stories in the Bellevue Literary Review (2016 Pushcart Prize Nomination) and LUMINA online; and nonfiction in Under the Sun. He has also performed some of his work at The Monti, North Carolina’s premier live storytelling organization, winning a Hippo Award for Best Overall Story. Jon has been awarded writing fellowships at the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and he has worked as an actor, director and playwright, with memberships in both Actors’ Equity and the Screen Actors Guild.