The Centilogue

Short Fiction by Christopher Peterson

Performance Punishment

She needed a breather. She slid off her smudged glasses and set them on the cluttered desk, rolled her chair back with an exhausted kick, forced her back to arch her upright, relaxed her shoulders, and took a deep, long breath. The thankless job, replete with false hopes of promotion, had eroded her professional self-esteem over time, but the occasional moment of quiet aided in assuaging her anxiety. This time, however, the irksome din in the cramped space crept through the air and robbed the meditation of its usual comfort, instead filling her lungs with deep inhalations of frustrated rage.

Advertisements

Kos Shel Eliyahu

Family functions made him uncomfortable. After years of estrangement, every attempt to bring him back into the fold felt like the courtesy of cordial strangers, like a neighbor’s casual invitation to their own family dinner to sit at the corner of an already set and crowded table and feel more out of place than he’d ever feel sitting alone on his couch with a microwave dinner on his lap and something old and familiar on the TV. As time passed and his family lived lives tangential from his own, he quietly surrendered to the dull comforts of solitude and self-exile.

E Pluribus Unum

The quarter was minted in 1955, indistinguishable from any other coin with which it was stamped. After shipping from the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis, it circulated between cash registers and pockets throughout the Midwest until 1978, when it paid for a play of “Lay Down Sally” in a tavern in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin to dance in celebration of an accepted proposal. From the jukebox, it reentered circulation in Eau Claire and Chippewa Counties in various bars for booze, music, pool, and pinball until 1993, when it paid for a two-minute call to a wife who would tearfully demand a divorce.

The Statute of Limitations

Roughly five years after the accident (gravity should have etched such a pivotal date in her memory, but the actual date escaped her now), she returned to the scene. Incommunicable fear of what had happened led to her irrational aversion and avoidance of the place despite its proximity to her home, where she found herself spending almost all of her time. Here, in the cold blinding sun of a vernal morning, it hardly seemed the same place. The creak of a rusting chain swing carried in the cool breeze, and only the impression of a memory lingered on her conscience.

Canto CI

Midway upon the journey of their lives he found himself in a dark mood, where the right way was lost. Ah! how hard a thing it was to tell her what this rough and difficult mood was, which in thought reinforced his fears! So bitter he was that death was little comfort. But in order to treat her as the better he found in living, he would tell her the other things that he saw in their lives. He looked up to her, and saw in her eyes the rays of the sun, which led him aright along every path.

The Good Old Days Not Yet Come

On long summer nights when the sun sank slowly behind aging barns and silos, they sat around the bonfire on the outskirts of the cornfields and drank cheap beer and sang the songs their parents used to sing along to on car radios and played their guitars and harmonicas and ukuleles that they would also pass down and beat the rhythms out on wooden boxes while their own children chased the dogs around the yard and sang the melodies in sweet unison and slept soundly in the tall grass as their mothers waved away the mosquitoes and stroked their backs.

Anecdysis

He removed his coat, folded it over his arm and draped both across his lap as he waited nervously on the torn vinyl sofa, the smell of heavy, cheap perfume intermingled with stale tobacco in the dark sitting room lit by a tangerine neon glow radiating through the nearby window. He stared sideways between the cracks in the fading paint on the bedroom door and rocked on his hips uncomfortably. The door swung open and a sweaty, obese man wiped his brow and grinned triumphantly at him before exiting. He stood, slicked his combover perfunctorily, and penetrated the musty boudoir.

Alex Colville: Horse and Train, 1954

He stood cross-armed and stared longer than the others would have, transfixed by the cool tones of slate and fallow and asparagus and charcoal neatly ordered across the small rectangular canvas upon which a gravely calm oceanic semblance of a dark prairie rolled forth, slashed by two hypnotically static parallel bands of quicksilver creating the providential track above which the onyx equine behemoth hovered faceless as it both stood defiantly and galloped full-stride towards the serpentine iron Cyclops spawning from the dark horizon where its ferocious smoky billows blocked out the subtle complexity of the timeless clouds hanging infinitely above.

Securus

He caught the latch at the gate behind him and looked at his small, plain bungalow for a brief but easing moment. Footsteps clapping the cold pavement echoed around the nearby corner, hurrying him up the front steps and rushing his hand to slip the key into the lock. The footsteps grew louder as the unseen pedestrian approached the intersection, sending him bursting through the front door and quickly but quietly shutting it, hurriedly turning the deadbolt into the strike plate and slipping the door chain into its track. He sighed in the rich contentment afforded by a locked door.

The Songstress

The hot kaleidoscopic stage lights washed a semblance of life over her pale cheeks as she pressed her horn-rimmed glasses to her delicate, bookish nose. She hadn’t left the house for two weeks and, despite the handful of friends scattered amongst the high-top tables and barstools along the walls smiling somewhere in the darkness, she still felt vaguely alone, save the cumbersome hug of the dreadnaught against her fragile frame which provided some sense of companionship. She leaned into the microphone, snorting with a sheepish grin and began strumming the intimate, familiar chords she’d knitted tightly to her deepest emotions.