Jonathan Kline


Zosima sat on the edge of his bed with the upper plate of his dentures in one hand and a cast iron frying pan in the other. The big cardboard box in front of him was half full with books and pictures, blankets, a change of clothes and shoes, porcelain figurines, rolls of toilet paper, canned vegetables, and a small red transistor radio. He put his teeth in his mouth and tossed the frying pan in carefully so it landed on a blanket.

The box slid easy enough across the floor, down the hall, and over the three steps to the street. He stood for a moment catching his breath, cursing the landlord, the judge and the sheriff calling them a bunch of whore faced jag-offs and how they and their hyena-bitch mothers could go fuck themselves. He pulled the box by the edge walking backward then forward stopping every few steps to catch his breath and wipe the sweat from his eyes. Two teenagers came barreling around the corner on skateboards and swerved, just missing him.

“Hey Gramps, that box is going to break,” yelled the second boy as he passed.

“I’ll break you,” Zosima shouted, trying to catch his breath from the shock. He could hear the boys laughing from down the street. He gave them the back of his hand and went back to dragging his box.

Zosima stopped in front of the Meat and Fish Gallery, reached into his coat pocket, took out the half-pint of peach brandy and had a sip. There were two doors side by side with tilework extending to the sidewalk. One door was marked MEAT and the other FISH. There were two huge plate glass windows with fine white and red lettering: Andaz Brothers Meat and Fish. When Zosima was ten, Joseph Andaz killed his brother and got the chair. Then the building sat fallow for 60 some years until the kids bought it and opened their gallery-coffeeshop-bookstore.

The girl behind the counter at the Meat and Fish was named Edith. She had long red dreadlocks, clear green eyes, and pale white skin. A tattoo of flowering vines climbed out of her cleavage over her shoulders and twined around her arms, studs in her eyebrows and rings in her nose. Zosima called her Saint Mary of Egypt and flirted with her about her radiant countenance and her holy glow. She remembered his name and never charged him for a second cup. He had tried to read some of the books once but they were mostly bad poetry and anarchist agitprop.

“Some things never change,” he would tell the young men at their laptops. He tried to talk about the past and sometimes they would listen for a moment about the scene in the 50s or about how Zosima’s gypsy father knew Salvador Dali and Groucho Marx, but mostly they dismissed him in that way the young dismiss the old so they can regret it later. He thought about going in, but…she would ask about the box and either think he was an idiot or take pity on him and he didn’t need young girls to have pity on him even though it would feel good, if just for a moment.

The day the eviction notice came, Zosima walked into the Meat and Fish with a folio of his ink drawings. Thousands of frenetic lines formed fat erotic women in abject interiors. Every line was in place including those flying off the page or curling motion around the figures. The women’s faces ranged from sublime to ecstatic to demonic and back. The deep atmospheric interiors were filled with flying objects: lamps, ashtrays, pillows, birds, insects, underpants, beer cans, and chicken bones. The young man looked at each drawing in earnest then said “Wow, Dude, you draw like fricking Rembrandt, but that’s not what’s selling, I mean not here anyway. I mean there is probably a gallery someplace that would kill to show these, but man that is just not what’s going on. You know around here. But like I said they are beautiful.”

“I only want a couple hundred for ’em,” Zosima replied.

“Yeah, I’m hip. But like I said…”

“Some things never change.”

After three hours Zosima had dragged his box five blocks. He was exhausted, it was nearly sunset, and the box would not move over the curb. A police car pulled up. The young blonde cop rolled down the window. “Where are you going? Is that your stuff?”

At first, Zosima just looked at him in disbelief.

“Is that your stuff?” The cop repeated.

“Is it my stuff?” Zosima replied, “Why are you asking me such stupid questions? Of course is my stuff. It’s all my stuff, in fact, it’s all my stuff and it’s all my stuff. What are you, some kind of asshole? If you saw a man carrying a watermelon would you ask is that your watermelon? Where are you going with that watermelon? What? A citizen can’t just get evicted and put out on the street like a bag of fucking garbage without getting a hassle from some jack-booted thug on top of it? Jesus H. Christ.”

“Hey, you better watch it, Sir, or you and your box are going to jail.”

“Now you are going to arrest me? For what? Arrest my landlord. You want to arrest someone arrest him. Arrest that little cocksucker at the Meat and Fish. If he knew jack shit about art he’d ‘a bought four or five drawings and I’d be eatin’ a sausage with a bottle of Vino Roso instead of talking to you. So arrest me already, the perfect end to the perfect day, the perfect three months. The perfect what? The perfect fuckin’ whatnot.” Zosima looked at the cop and started sobbing. “I can’t take this shit. I just can’t take it,” he said over and over gasping for air. The cop was trained to be indifferent. “Well all right. But you know that box isn’t going to last long.”

Zosima looked at the sky in disbelief. The cop drove off before the old man could let loose another string of insults. Zosima took a breath, remembering better days.

Two hours passed as the old man stood there vibrating in a catatonia of anger and uncertainty. Zosima tried again to get the box over the curb. Sam walked across the street and said, “Can I give you a hand?” He didn’t wait for an answer but took the edge of the box and started dragging it across the street.

“So where are you going with this friend?”

“That way.”

Sam lifted the box onto the sidewalk. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks,” Zosima replied. “You’re a real peach for doing that.”

“You know the bottom is going to come out of that box at some point.”

“Yes. I know,” Zosima replied, staring at the pink lines of the horizon just beyond the skyscrapers.

Published 11-26-17

Jonathan Kline received his MFA in storytelling from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has performed throughout the country and abroad. His poems have been published in Tribes Magazine, Big Bridge, Yawp, Cocktail, and The Maple St. Rag. Cds of his performance monologues include Conceptual Cowboy Yodeling, and Stories My Mother Told Me Never to Tell .. His flash fiction has appeared the in Maple St. Rag and the Xavier Review, The Wisdom of Ashes, a short novel, was published by Lavender Ink. He is currently working on a sequel to The Wisdom of Ashes.