Brett Salsbury is a writer who lives in the brightly-lit Las Vegas Valley. He works at UNLV. His work has appeared in Words Dance Publishing, Canyon Voices, and the Blue Island Review, and is forthcoming in Foothill and Jab Magazine.
In the summer Winston’s a hare chasing bicycles and winning
by miles. In winter he categorises found jigsaw pieces and
tunes his cutlery. Each night he waits with his cat under
starlight for his found poems to return to roost from the pages
of journals published worldwide to his floating home in
Using a Bosch hand drill and a 5mm bit, a hole was made at a random
place through a copy of Octopussy by Ian Fleming. Puffin 1965. A word,
or word string from every consecutive printed page was selected from
the text where that string exists at least in part within an imaginary
circle having the diameter of a 1p piece with its centre at the
drilled hole. No words were shortened or altered in any way. No words
were added. Words and word strings were used in page order and every
page (except blanks) was used to compose the above text. Punctuation
and capitalisation was added.
Two Bearded Nuns in a Texaco Station
“Do you sell any of those little spoons?” I asked the shopkeep. I lit a cigarette, brushing my hair with acrylic press-on nails.
“Those spoons for baby-feeding?” she replied.
“No,” I said. “Those little collector spoons. They’re basically made of plastic and have no practical purpose whatsoever.”
She stood for a moment. Her eyes darted as if she was in front of the police. Thankfully, it was only two disciples for Jesus Christ.
“Oh, my daughter used to eat with this cute little plastic spoon—it was divine. She would shake it around like a maraca and tell us about her adventures with her graduate thesis project on calcium levels in her vertebrae.”
Charlie stood there, his lips flexing.
“Where do you folks hail from?” she said with a smile.
“We’re from the Sisters’ Separatist Circle,” Charlie said. “It’s a special cloister of holy beings who grow beards in solidarity with Bearded Collies.”
“Oh, one of my regulars used to have one of those. Such a delightful little cherub. He would always remind me to move the begonias or they would be eaten by the elves.”
“You have elves around here,” I nodded. I fiddled with my itchy habit.
“Oh yes, they’re so sneaky. Once everyone began leaving town after the floods and fires, they moved in under complete secrecy.”
Charlie was in disbelief. “This is the desert. It floods here?” His eyes and feet wandered around, and he began to toil with a wicker basket of doll arms.
“Oh yes,” she stammered, barely speaking. “We don’t talk about it too much, because every time we do, it either floods again or I gain a pinched nerve in the vicinity of my clavicle.”
Charlie and I made eye contact. I shrugged.
“But enough about me,” she resumed saying. “What brings you two here? Is there another rooibos chai tea convention that you’re on the way to?”
I noticed that her smile struck me. It was juxtaposed against a portrait on the wall of a Pug missing an eyeball. “We’re on the way to stargaze,” I said. “Scouting locations, if you will. We figured getting out of the city would be our best bet for seeing the most meteors in a shower that peaks tonight.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” she quipped. “I remember watching this documentary on celestial furniture. I watched it with my second daughter. She was working at the paper factory that burned down once those elves started sneaking around.”
“Why are there so many fires here?” Charlied asked. He was standing with the batik sleeping gowns.
“Oh, there’s no telling,” she said. “It is so very sad that everyone’s left, though. This town feels so isolated now. I’ve got no one to talk to and no one to play bridge with. Even my closest neighbor is succumbing to the ideals of solitude. I pray, Sisters. I pray for her.” She padded her heart, which was covered by a sweatshirt that read, “I Could Break You In Half.”
“We’ll pray for her too,” I said. “Is there anyone else you see around town?”
“Not really,” she laughed. “Everyone else has succumbed to either solitude or spontaneous breakdancing. The latter is such a serious ailment—it’s killed half of those it’s inflicted, and who knows how many bodies haven’t been found.”
“That’s crazy,” Charlie said. “Why would someone succumb to the satanic spell of solitude?”
“There’s no telling,” she said. Her energy suddenly seemed to wane. Her vibrant aura slewed away. I had the realization that she had been waiting so long to share with someone; to put her hair down and baa.
“Your store is so lovely,” I remember saying.
“And unusual,” Charlie added. “What made you decide to spot-light and up-light?”
Her face sunk. It was as if the mention of lights and stars had slayed her, or made her reminisce on something that was too bright. Perhaps it was glitter, I remember thinking.
“Sorry,” she stammered. “That just made me think of my third daughter. She had a beard just like yours. She loved to work on lighting; it inspired her so. But then, the light was taken away, only to be replaced by a chef position on a fetish cruise liner.”
Her eyes watered. I put out my cigarette with my fingertips.
“But please,” she said. “Continue to have a look around. I’m going to go practice my balalaika.” She sashayed off through strings of beads.
“And we thought this would be a working gas station,” Charlie questioned. We had pilfered through much of the store. “Do you think anyone else actually lives in this God-forsaken watershed?” He grabbed a book off the shelf and showed it to me: “How to Spot a Bear at Spotted Bear Campground.”
“I doubt it. But I bet she sits at home and plays bridge by herself all day, dancing to Chuck Berry hits and reciting nursery rhymes.”
Charled smiled. “Do you remember when we did that?”
I smiled. “Of course I do.” He came up to me and we brayed like donkeys.
In the midst of our utterings, a ruby red curtain in the back of the station began to rise. The shopkeep came bolting out to protect it. The Shirelles began to play. She tried to pull the curtain down while her brooches went flying around the porcelain badgers section. I noticed there wasn’t any dust in that portion of the store. Her efforts were unsuccessful as the curtains flew out wildly, exposing the length and girth of a tall woman, exaggerated by her posture on the elevated stage. At first I thought she was held in place by ropes and chains, all of them strung around her neck and arms and torso, but then I realized how they caressed around in concentric circles—how they complimented her dress, a leather concoction that swirled in stitches. I swore I could see the feed dog tracks.
“Is that a drag queen?” Charlie asked.
I put my sunglasses on, telling Charlie with a nod to do the same.
The shopkeep knelt there helpless, her knees bent on blankets on the floor. The blankets had a design on them, something that seemed to be from Bambi, full of snow and ice and pale blood. She looked amazed, her wig half-uncovered, exposing a slight baldness. I remembered I needed to make another trip to Sephora for free perfume samples.
The drag queen walked, posing as if her train and mug cured diseases and famine. As she made eye contact with us, Charlie searched his habit for a monocle. I was taken by the service of her confident gait, recalling all the reasons that drew me—of all things—to Charlie’s presence. I looked at him, his head cocked at an angle like an English Bulldog, and it occurred to me how lonely the shopkeep must sometimes be. I decided to call her Barbara.
Barbara rose as the queen reached the end of the runway, laughing as she spun around in one final circle. Her mug was beautifully beat, fleshed with blush and bronzer. A single tear grazed Barbara’s eye.
With a wink and a shoulder tout, the queen vanished. Barbara turned, her eyes astray with the look of a pageantress. She returned to us, with one of those smiles.
“Are those curtains made of neoprene?” Charlie asked.
“Oh yes, they are,” she replied. Her nest of hair was splayed in multiple directions. “It’s quite nice, don’t you think? I never get anyone in to admire them. My fourth daughter made them out of swimmer bodices before she became a Burmese revolutionary.”
“I can’t wait to meet her,” I said.
“I’m sure she’ll visit soon,” she said. “My fifth daughter is currently the artist-in-residence at a university in Utah, where my sixth daughter is the manager of a local bank. My seventh daughter is one of the tellers.”
The queerness of this whole visit struck me in that particular moment. I remembered us being drawn to this town in the middle of nowhere because of the energy it emanated. Charlie had been rubbing his beloved bloodstone. The sign at the entrance of the town had said, “Welcome to Here,” and it was spray-painted baby blue. But we never saw a soul: we only saw the Texaco station and thought, that is the place. This was followed by a discussion about balaclavas and baklava.
I noticed Charlie looking concerned. I asked him what was on his mind.
“I think we left the hair crimper on,” he said, sounding like a question.
By this time, Barbara had snuck away to practice more, feeling dejected once again. I suddenly felt a little wild inside. With Barbara gone, I realized I had even more freedom to roam. I could even purchase some bric-a-brac and show it off to the Sisters. They would never believe the existence of this place, or the idea that curtains could be colored ruby red, or that signs could be painted baby blue. In addition, they would never believe in the presence of a credit card machine. I had never seen one before.
I looked outside and saw a family of beavers eating Barbara’s begonias. I couldn’t figure out why on earth one would have the impulse to eat a begonia, for they were far too bitter.
“Do you think other people stop by here?” Charlie asked. He handled the bottom of a photograph, riddled with markings that covered the furlough of a baby’s bonnet and brow.
“We’re here now,” I told him. My eyes discovered a guest book on Barbara’s main counter, filled with sketches and estimated dimensions of a backyard swing. The swing was surrounded by palm trees and a Skymall garden zombie. “But something tells me she doesn’t need visitors at all.”
1 - 26) He only needed a month, and the scraping off belongs to
the family. The spines could have him again. It's been a really
long and lucky bell. These days his feet went to the loaded
sideboard and the family kicked up a fuss of paper.
26 - 44) He decided that he would somehow sling down into
the tree line of white snow and clumsily with an iron clang of
the handles stagger into a new hiding place. Gold evenings
come back to the cool of the broad desk and after one flaring
question he walked off.
45 - 51) A splendid upright figure cheered by the prospect of
needle sharp horror would stand the pain in a grimace of
52 - 64) London took instantaneous effect. It was
recommended for a dark Russian, by a child somewhere above
this emerald ball.
65 - 78) Forgive me for the flash persona, the Queen Mother,
the Queen, King Paul of Greece and the unlikely snowman's
secrets. Think of an elegant sheen of translucent enamels and a
grouse reading from the Sunday Times.
79 - 93) The prince of excitement had been given instructions
to get the matrix. A pause seems smooth, only a bone
deformation would have swallowed his breathing.
94 - 103) He would jump to be present. As wooden as the big
mahogany corners of his lips. Making a run for it, bloody and
fixed, dry in a dark green herringbone.
104 - 114) Have a look at both sides of the bathroom and down
in the lift. Occasional gold repercussions watch spring
tightening its lit and dark windows, no heavier than a dance.
115 - End) Perhaps for women of the ministry, a stiff whisky
through the weeds. The purity of fire on their side of the
bullets, able to stop short of killing the sweet life.
Constraint details – Using a Bosch hand drill and a 5mm bit a hole was
made at a random place through a copy of Octopussy by Ian Fleming.
Puffin 1965. A word, or word string from every consecutive printed page
was selected from the text where that string exists at least in part within
an imaginary circle having the diameter of a 1p piece with its centre at
the drilled hole. No words were shortened or altered in any way. No
words were added. Words and word strings were used in page order and
every page (except blanks) was used to compose the above text.
Punctuation and capitalisation was added.
Artworks used for homepage graphics include:
"It is My English Not Me" and "Where" by Marton Koppany
Oil Paintings by Bassam Al Hajali