As he stitched, his sewing machine clacked, and his prior puppets vomited fuzz and dragged about. They gazed at wiry fingers and danced. A puppet crawled and said, “I think, therefore…” With its beak all wobbly. “Line?”
It was no wonder the hiring managers complained his creations lacked the intellect to perform office work. Our workshop was not really the best environment to train magical puppets to be office workers. The scent of curry hung about the apartment, which was on the tenement side of the tracks.
Our nearness to poverty drove us to a threadbare frenzy. To separate myself from this privation, and be a good puppet, my mannerisms, emails, and keystrokes needed to be controllable. So Miltro took his time on my rod attachments. I lie paralyzed, facedown, and hacked up a mountain of felt. The materials a puppet maker uses can be difficult to keep down.
Miltro had left the front door to our apartment ajar, with notes scattered throughout, directing couriers to deliver materials to his workshop. He probably assumed it was a courier, bringing more Urftoo wood, more memory foam, more river-blood rope, when the knock came.
“Set it in one of the corners,” Miltro said from behind his sewing machine. His lazy cigarette dangled as microwaved noodles spluttered. The workshop had been two bedrooms before the joining wall had been knocked-out. It was now one big room, housing puppets from waist to knee-high.
“Can we talk outside?” Certi asked from behind a door.
“No,” Miltro said.
“But,” she slapped the door, “my fire got fumbled.” Vague forms sharpened as she opened the door to invite the purple rays. She pressed away wrinkles from her pantsuit as her pearls dazzled. “The puppet sales aren’t pulling enough for the payments on our condo, which we discussed.”
“I’m better with a needle and thread than anyone on Urftoo, and you know it!”
“I’m better with a needle and…you’ve been at it for years. You don’t have the character of Gohansen, not groovy like Van Whipple.”
“There’s no medicine in their puppetry.”
She looked at her lipstick, snuck it in her purse and trudged into the foam and clay molds. “This wasn’t the deal when I agreed to marry you.”
“You didn’t take my last name.”
“Our second anniversary was last Wednesday.” She lifted the Tuxedoed DinoMan as her arm strained. It stroked her as its scales creased the neckline of its tuxedo and its muzzle pecked. The rubbery scales became a surface as variable as water as it blushed like something illumined from within: “This meat-eater hates meteors!”
“You’re behind schedule.” She set it on its shelf and wiped her hands. “I thought you’d have them ad-libbing.”
Its guide rods flailed as it struggled to right itself, and it moved as if to suck its thumb.
Something squirmed beneath a towel and cried, “Master, why won’t you give me my thumbs?”
“I’ll give thumbs—”The morning train warbled as Miltro stilled an ashtray.
Certi raised her finger.
The train surged.
“I’ll give thumbs when you learn to hold and be held.”
The squirming stilled.
“You’re holed-up in this dark room, trying to bring life into this world like some pregnant woman,” Certi said.
“Why can’t we start a family?”
“The index funds are below seventy.”
He stood from behind his sewing machine and shook the pistachios from his undershirt.
She stared at him.
“You wanna conquer the world of machines?” Miltro asked. “I’ll be in here nurturing this life.”
“I’m not attracted to you.”
“Remember that time I spilled that spaghetti sauce over you but we still had dinner?”
Her shoulders slumped. “I’m the chief chemical engineer for Power Chemicals. You said you’d be the prizefighter of loaves.”
“The breadwinner? You’re cradling each crumb.”
She stomped, crunching pistachio shells. “You know they’ve been driving me into the ground to get the ad rollout ready.” She struck out some clenched papers toward him and concealed her mouth. “I’ve been spending all my time helping them get the brochures, the pamphlets, and the commercials ready.”
“The men at that office wanna fuck.”
She glowered. “How petty are you?”
Boxes, felt patterns, and vintage posters swirled—flash-jumbling—as Miltro stabbed to point me at her. He had whispered how he had sewn me to resemble his father. I was a symbol of his father and pointing me at her might lend him power. “I paid the Novemtursneb rent from my charter flights.” He shook me towards his beer cans. Everything wobbled while nausea festered within my stomach before a hunger pang clenched like an imploding star. “We got five months runway.”
He set me on the highest shelf just above his eye level, letting my legs dangle over the ledge. It was the whispering, metal shelf with books of 1120s weaponry and 1540s corporate procedures. I despised when he made my paralyzed body sit between stacks of books.
The passages of those pages formed chains that sailed left-to-right and right-to-left and swirled loop-de-loops through my filling skull. The frost-tipped words flew from a book cover and into my scalp to overwhelm me.
My Holy Lobster!
We revered the lobster that created our Universe.
She pushed her papers on him. “Take it.”
“Divorce?” Miltro asked.
They clenched the papers together so that they formed an H. The hoops of her earrings swung faster.
A trunk near the windows creaked, and a fabricated kangaroo struggled out to hop in figure eights. Its felt rippled over coil-springs as its tail squeaked like a screen door. Forepaws bounced and blond tufts quivered. A puppet burst up from the pouch—his cork hat, leather vest and boomerang dripped with amniotic fluid. “Ka-blamo!”
Certi clenched the sheaf of divorce papers before one of her legs gave out, and her head bobbled. Her eyes grew till she seemed agog, moon-dazzled, lighting-struck with expectancy. The puppet chewed a match between his teeth, and his joints clacked, brandishing the empty string eyelets that adorned his limbs. His facial expression hitched as an antique player piano, plinking to life after disuse. His eyes blinked like a pinball game.
His voice was distant, drenched in reverb like a toddler in a very high up place. “That’s why me mates call me Matchy! And if you matched me with danger, then call the gove’ner, ’cause we’re in for a hot one!” He bent over and coughed out spidery clumps of felt.
“That one seems smart!” Certi stretched the papers. “Miltro, we could finally get our vacation homes.”
Miltro stretched the papers. “That’s all it says.”
“Ka-blamo! That’s why me mates call me Matchy! And…”
Funk drifted in from the bay as the wind clattered. The ammonia with a hint of oysters really sponged up in our felt. Blackbirds busied themselves in the cold dimness as they prepared for another, uncertain winter.
Like the blackbirds, the LobStars who settled Blueport Blues were hard workers. This work ethic had been the cornerstone of Lobstarian marriage. In 1322, they sailed from Eastonia in pursuit of religious freedom. Perhaps without realizing it, Certi practiced their chief tenant: strike first, without remorse.
Few Eastonians during that period shared these beliefs because the LobStars also preached of a world brought into existence by an enormous, talkative lobster. It had martyred itself by allowing its flesh to be steamed. It was steamed so that everyone might have a taste. When it is said After the Lobster, the meaning denotes: after the best lobster dinner of all times.
Even though paralyzed and mute, I knew of the LobStars from the teleporter in that room. I had heard the teleporter as clearly as I heard them argue over the storage of her lesser known art. From the teleporter programs I came to understand that the globe we lived on was called Urftoo in our Westonia.
Our oceans separated the continents of Eastonia, Pluralia and Replicatia. Replicatia specialized in mass-producing parts like the blinds. They bickered over why the blinds had not been replaced.
Certi glared at them, released her half of the papers, and approached the windows. “You have to promise to keep the windows open when you’re gluing.”
“This can work.”
“You need a better fan for those windows. I’ll bring a better fan. Make sure to get up, take walks. Don’t forget to drink. You know how dehydrated you get when you’re close to finishing a puppet.”
“You need to.” She turned her back on him. “Goodbye, Miltro.”
“You need me.”
“I think, therefore— Line?”
“This meat-eater hates meteors!”
She turned to him. “Some of them were cute.”
“If you matched me with danger, then call the gove’ner…”
Veins pulsed over his face as divorce papers scrambled into the air, “Bump-wood, cross-eyed seam-stripper—bet money—bet money you’d push pretzels on a desert-dweller.”
She pursed her lips. “Drown in a puddle, fangless worm.” She chewed down on her next words. “I’m sorry this is difficult.” Certi took off an earring and set it in an ashtray before she left. Outside the apartment, leaves spun and crackled in a manner that sounded really rather lonesome.
The kangaroo slumped as Matchy withdrew into bubbles of amniotic fluid.