Escalation Row

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Comedy about the human condition (critical, as always). Please persevere - even I find the rythm difficult at first, but I think it's worth it in the end.

Submitted: January 24, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 24, 2012



Escalation Row


Chris Gerard

Ever since his parents disappeared during a trip to the Beijing Olympics, Joey had lived with his brother Tommy, not far from the New Jersey Turnpike on Staten Island.

One day he says to his brother, “Y’know, I love you’se, yeah? But I’m tellin’ you, that kid next door, Dizzy? Whatever he calls his self. He ain’t no good."

“Don’t I jus’ knows it,” his brother says back at him, quick as a flash. “He got dem shifty eyes, you know what I means?”

Before Joey can nod his head, there’s a knocking on the door, a veritable Hammerstein of a cacophony. Joey says to his brother, “Get that door quick, you moron, before I knocks the daylight stuffin’ out of ya.”

“You get the door,” says his brother back at him, “seein’ as you’re so anxious as to who it might be. Myself, I got no interest in the subject whatsoevers.”

“Why you ungrateful schmuck,” says Joey. “I’m gonna kill you so bad, you’ll be beggin’ me to kill you. Then I’m gonna wire you up to the light socket, just so’s I can revive you, and kill you all overs again…” and they were just about to lay about each other with terrible violence, when the door swings open and who should be there but the very Dizzy, whom they were previously just discussing.

“You!” cries Joey. “Whom we was previously just discussing not a moment too soon. What you think youse is doin’, coming between two brothers who’s about to do each other to death? This better be good.”

“I swears it is,” said Dizzy. “Or rather, it isn’t”.

“Now I’m confused,” says Joey’s brother. “Are you sayin’ it’s good, or you sayin’ it’s bad? My brain can’t cope with the two concepts simultaneous like.”

“It’s dose bums from the next street,” Dizzy told them. “They been lookin’ for trouble, an’ now they found it.”

Joey and his brother was outraged.

“Dis is outrageous beyond the fourth degree,” they chimed like a couple of cracked taco bells. “Who do those guys think they is, coming down our street an’ actin’ all tough and whatever? Let’s go get ‘em.”

The three of them charged out of the house and up the street, looking for their loathsome mortal enemies, some of whom attended the same school and played in the same football team. On the corner of Avenue 1, they comes across a multitudinous herd of zombie-like creatures, obviously intent on devouring them and anyone else from the same school or who maybe they served with on the altar at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church and Community Kickboxing Academy.

“Hey, it’s Joey,” one of them says. “And Joey’s brudder, and the kid from the next door house. We was just lookin’ for youse.”

“An’ whys might you be doin’ that,” Joey said, all suspicious like.

“We heard some creeps from the next ‘hood been out saying we was gonna invade their space, an’ like act like we own it an’ whatnot.”

“You’se is kiddin’ me,” says Joey, literally dumbstruck almost. “Who does they think they is?

“I think they thinks they’re those bums from the next ‘hood,” Dizzy enlightened him. “An’ I think they’re getting’ too big for their reeboks, if they could afford them, which obviously they can't.”

“True,” sayeth Joey, picking up a great bludgeoning instrument. “Let’s hasten to said neighborhood and teach those punks a lesson.”

They all headed as one towards Tourettes Park, when coming the other way, headed by Joey’s own cousin, comes an equally armed and numerous group of vigilantes.

“Yo, Jimmy,” Joey called out. “Wossup?”

Jimmy greeted Joey like a cousin, which he was, and then some.

“Joey, we’s just coming to get you. We hear some jerks from over the liquid been bad-mouthin’ us and suchlike. This is intoleration, and against the laws, as well you know, and so do they, so we’re gonna give ‘em a few lessons in hows to be toleratable, if it’s all the sames to you.”

It certainly was and Joey and his followers merged themselves with Jimmy and his, and together they marched towards the Staten Island Ferry, which was free if you knew what you were doing, and sometimes even if you didn’t, thus keeping expenses to a minimum.

As the ferry crossed the water towards the towering landscape of Manhattan, Joey noticed a gathering of people gathering on the dock as though in wait, like a not very secret ambush. He recognized a few faces, and as the boat reached the shore, he leapt down into the arms of his old pal, Billy.

“Billy the Lip,” Joey grinned. “What gives?”

“Hey, Joey,” Billy slobbered, his lower lip spraying mucus-type stuff all over the fools who thought they’d avoided a soak from the recent crossing. “We was on our ways to see you. We got big trouble goin’ down an’ we knew you’d want in on the action.”

“You can say that again,” Joey said, wiping his face with a roll of paper towels and throwing a lifebelt to his cousin Jimmy. “Though on second thoughts, maybe not. Just point these fiends out and we’ll go dish ‘em up some just desserts.”

“It’s them morons from midtown,” Billy said. “Sayin’ stuff about us you wuttn’t believe. We can’t let ‘em get away with it.”

“I don’t believes it,” Joey said. “Who do they think they is? C’mon boys,” and he led the growing throng towards Broadway, singing and dancing all the way, until the police stopped them and checked if they had the correct licence and whatnot, which obviously they didn’t, having left in such a hurry. Notwithstanding such minor setbacks, they remained undeterred and were halfway past the Flatiron when - look out! It’s the Midtown crew leaving a haberdashery shop they been tricked into entering by a bogus offer of half-price sellotape. Joey recognized one of them as Luke the Spook, an old adversary of his from the days he used to skip school in order to play illegal street-bingo.

“Luke,” he said, “last time I seen youse, two fat ladies were fighting over your sorry carcass in an alley back of Murphy’s traditional Irish bar and Sushi grill. How goes it?”

“Joey Joey Joey,” Luke said, having known Joey in the days before he had his name shortened by about two thirds. “Man, am I glad to see you.”

“Course you are,” Joey said, “but what brings you down this neck of the woodpile this time of day, or are you no longer deathly afraids of daylight like the rest of your breed?”

“I gave up the bloodsucking schtick some time hence,” Luke told him, “but that don’t mean we ain’t got more’n our fair share of problems hereabouts.”

“Tell me about it,” Joey said. “Maybe we got problems in common and we can join forces, and by opposing, end ‘em.”

Luke explained how some uptown bottom-feeders were rumoured to be jealous of the midtown boys, and were threatening to move in on some of their rackets, like the parking concession for the West 37th Street Cheese Museum, which was blatently unacceptable.

“That’s way beyond the borders of acceptability,” Joey announced, and his followers pledged to follow him further, even unto the Starbucks at Columbus Circle, if necessary.

Now there were many tens of humanoids flexing their way north, and it was becoming clear that Starbucks would be unable to accommodate them all at once. Before this problem could be surmounted, however, a great bunch of blokes emerged from a rival coffee shop and blocked their way.

“Holy Zeus,” Joey gasped. “It’s only Winky Feinstein, my old partner from the shoe cleaning scam in Grand Central.”

The shoe cleaning scam was one of the oldest con tricks in the world, probably dating back to the time people started wearing shoes instead of the hollowed-out legs of dead mammoths. The ruse involved shining one of the victim’s shoes, then raising the price and leaving the mark in the impossible position of reentering society with one shoe cleaner than the other. Needless to say, most of the mugs paid up immediately, and Joey would probably still be running the operation today, if fashion hadn’t taken an unforeseeable lurch towards sandals, flip-flops, and furry boots resembling the hollowed-out legs of dead mammoths.

Winky told Joey how some scoundrels beyond 110th street had allegedly been talkin’ some talk, so big, the A train had to detour through Hackensack, just to get round it.

“Don’t dose guys ever learn?” Joey asked.

“Not after 7th Grade,” Winky told him, scurrilously suggesting that citizens from neighborhoods beyond 110th Street stopped attending school after the age of 12. As if to disprove this opinion, when the congealed hordes moved up Amsterdam Avenue towards the ancient new unfinished cathedral belonging to Saint John, according to the mortgage deeds, Joey spotted a corresponding horde, heading south along the same thoroughfare. Before he could decide whether to cross the road with his own horde, thus preventing much jostling and confusion, Joey saw a familiar face, facing him from the front of the sea of unfamiliar faces.

“Joey,’ the face called out. “If it ain’t you, it must be someone else, but there ain’t no one else that ugly, so it’s gotta be you. How ya doin’”

Joey grinned. “Milton Mowbray,” he said. “No one told me they closed the Bronx zoo, otherwise how comes you’re out on the streets without a keeper?”

“That’s the least of your problems,” Milton told him, and for once he spoke the truth. “If you didn’t know before, you’re about to know now, and I warn you, if you ain’t already braced, braced you better be, right quick.”

“Holy crud,” Joey said. “You only been at Columbia these past four years, and I already don’t have a clue what you’re on about.”

“What I’m on about is war, the likes of which we never seen nor hopefully never will again, if you wants my opinion,” Milton said.

“If I wanted your opinion, I’d ask your wife,” Joey countered swift as a brush. “But what war we talking about? I read the papers regular as clockwise, and I ain’t seen a whisper, not even from the horse’s mouth.”

“Well it’s not like they’s gonna announce it on the news, now is it?” Milton said correctly. “I don’t remember them Japanese calling no press conference saying ‘we just lettin’ you know ‘bout a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour first thing tomorrow morning’, do you?”

“We’re at war with Japan?” Joey was visibly perturbed, and not just because he owned upwards of seventeen shares in an old Toyota his cousin was fixin’ up.

“No, you clown,” Milton reassured him. “Not unless the Prez is keeping something to himself, in contravention of every right to information act enshrined in the original constitution or thereabouts. No, this is something of a more local confection, involving rivals from a borough not a bridge span away from where we stand today.”

Joey’s perturbance was multiplied tenfold in an instant.

“You don’t mean those bums from Queens,” he gasped, ready to march his followers into the East River in his haste to put right whatever wrongs had been done.

“No, no,” Milton said. “The boys from Queens are on our side for once.”

“Then it’s those jerks from the Bronx,” Joey snapped, without jumping to any hasty conclusions. “I knew we should never have trusted them…”

“No,” Milton stopped him again. “We’re brothers with our brothers from the Bronx, on this occasion at least.”

“Well if it ain’t them, and it ain’t no-one else, that only leaves the Staten Island soft lads.” This didn’t make sense to Joey, since those was themselves, but it had been a confusing day so far, and it still wasn’t halfway over and out. “I mean, unless you’re saying those bums from Brooklyn got off their lazy backsides long enough to start a war, when they ain’t even got the wherewithal to put one foot in front of another lessen you dangle a social security check in fronts of their noses? I don’t believe it.” But he did, momentarily at least.

“An’ you’d be right not to believe it,” Milton said, “unless in fact you do, in which case let me hasten to put you right: our Brooklyn buddies is our allies in this miserable disagreement, so let’s not harden our arteries with contagious stereotyping, ok?"

“So what borough you talkin’ about, you oaf of the 49th parallel,” for he’d covered every borough in the city, if you included the one in which they stood, which they did. “Did we annex another whilst I slept last night? I wouldn’t put it past that lousy mayor. The schmuck.”

“Well maybe I misled you slightly,” Milton said. “I didn’t want to upset you, so when I said ‘borough’, what I actually meant, was Jersey.”

Joisey? You goddabekiddinme.” Joey’s flabber was utterly gasted, for the first time in weeks. A resentful growling swelled through the crowd behind him, which Joey translated into a form of English.

“Dose joiks have gone too far this time,” he announced. “Don’t dey everloin?”

Everyone headed for the bridge built centuries earlier by the inevitable George Washington himself, with his own bear hands, but before they were halfway across, a crowd of people could be seen, mirror-like, heading towards them from the other side. As the brave warriors from the five boroughs bravely braced themselves for the inevitable confrontation, Joey squinted at the face of the man at the forefront of his latest nemesis.

“Uncle Bob? Is that not you I sees before me?”

“Joey?” The face of the man squinted right back at him. “As I lives and breathes, asthma permitting, it’s only you and ten thousand others, come to help your neighbors out of a tight spot. I knews we could rely on you,” and he threw his massive, hairy arms around his nephew and squeezed every last drop of air from his lungs.

“Whoa…” Joey gasped and struggled free of his uncle’s powerful grasp. “I thought you was coming to fight against us,” he said when he’d regained the ability to breathe without the aid of a respirator and a couple of paramedics.

“Fight against youse?” Uncle Bob was plussed, then swiftly nonplussed. “Why in the name of Pee-wee Herman should we fightagainst youse? Ain’t we got enough on our mitts with those muppets from Delaware, stealing our beer and jobs and not to mention our River?”

Obviously this was simply not acceptable, and before long the footsore heroes were heading into Delaware, only to meet thousands of Delawarmongers heading towards them over the immensity of the memoriable bridge, and on the same span.

“Stops right there,” Joey called out, feeling suddenly all concillatorial like, and not just because they was vastly outnumbered. “I know you’se only got a little State, and even littler since Mrs Galantino started giving bits of it back to the original Spanish inhabitants or somesuch. And I also knows you’se is famous for introducing the Christmas Seals, for which we’re all grateful, though personally I tends to prefer a slice or two of turkeys on my plate - but come on; surely you don’t has to start invading all and sundry, and causing all sorts of unpleasantnesses into the bargain…”

“Joey?” someone called out. “Izzat you?”

A body pushed through to the front of the Delawarriors ranks, and the face on the front of the head on top of the body broke into an expression resembling a grin.

“Joey!” the face repeated, and the body below the head on which the face reposed darted forward to greet him.

“Mickey?” Joey couldn’t believe his eyes, not since he caught them going through his pockets when they thought he was asleep, but they were telling him the truth; Mickey, the very man who used to deliver all the post to Joey’s house, and who disappeared years ago along with a truckload of mailbags, was standing before him in a way he’d never dared to visualize, even in the days before his eyes betrayed him.

“Joey,” Mickey said. “We was just coming to see you. This is great.”

“Why?” Joey said. “You got my mail?”

Mickey sort of laughed and coughed at the same time, like he was embarrassed or something. “Heh heh,” he went, then, “no, listen; we need some help. We think those animals up in Washington been dissin’ us, and what’s more into the bargain, they been stirrin’ up folks in Fairyland and beyond, so next thing you know, if we’re not careful, there’s gonna be a second Civil War, and Texas ain’t even gotten over the first one as yet.”

Joey’s head was spinning. Texas? Japan? Where was this madness going to end.

“I gotta sit down,” he said, and just in time, for he was about to pass out. Therefore did he sit himself down, and, shortly after, did pass himself out, perchance to dream.

Joey had two recurring dreams, but the one we’re interested in didn’t involve girls. It was a dream he used to have most often when he was still in school and impersonating someone who was awake in Biology…

Two protons were having a conversation, as protons do, especially if they’ve recently been elected to Congress. “Hey,” one says to the other, “you and me, we’re okay. But I tell you what, keep an eye on those electrons. I don’t trust them one bit.”

Meanwhile, a couple of electrons were discussing life in general. One says, “You know what? I think those protons are stand up guys, but listen; stay away from them there atoms. They wants to destroy us.”

Not too far away, a couple of atoms were having a similar discussion about the molecules, and some molecules were casting a suspicious eye over a number of cells who were dressed as tramps and singing to themselves…

? We’re a couple of cells

We once lived in Orson Welles

As a matter of fact, we keeps you intact,

and when you die we makes dreadful smells…?

This got the molecules mad, and they spent a couple of eternities either knocking themselves together or pulling themselves apart. Then two ancient little philosopher-type guys show up and start in with the distribution of viruses, bacterias and whatnot.

Joey approaches these guys and tries to start a conversation, but he can’t get a word in edgewise.

Prokaryotes (Pro-carry-o-tease), for it was he, was muttering at his companion, Eukaryotes (You-carry-o-tease), through his voluminous beard (beer-d).

“Oy, vott a schmuck. Always with your so-called complex internal structure. And where did it get you mister smarty pants? Right here in this same hell-hole with me. Ha!”

Eukaryotes, carried on his way, trying to ignore his companion, but muttering in much the same way, but with greater clarity, since his beard was much less developed.

“Blah blah blah. Yip yap yip. Will he never stop? This is what you get when you only got one cell? Yet so much talk, and all of it drivel. Pah!”

“You think you’re so special, eh? With your nuclear membranes this and your nuclear membranes that. Johnny-come-lately, that’s what you are boy…”

“…a billion years in this neighborhood I been, you think some respect I’d be given by now. But oh no, still I’m the outsider, still the room goes silent whenever I walk in. Ach!”

“Hey, Mr Johhny-come-lately,” Prokaryotes shouted across. “I hear you been seeing a cute little Phagocite lately. What’s up? Her ocular orbs insufficiently developed, eh? Ha ha.”

“If only Streptococcus in your throat would take up residence,” Eukaryotes muttered, “then happy everyone would be.”

“Hey, Euk,” (he pronounced it ‘Yuck’), “a conversation we were having the other night in the club. You know, a few of the guys remembering old times…oh, but sorry; you weren’t around FOUR BILLION YEARS AGO, were you, eh? So, feeling left out you probably would have been? Maybe it’s just as well that from our club YOU ARE BARRED, eh? You are PERSONA AU GRATIN, as they used to say, probably before you were born. Whadda you say to that, eh? Eh? Eh?”

“Go and eat your relatives,” Eukaryotes said, becoming exasperated, and drawing a gasp from his foe.

“You what?” Prokaryotes said. “Heterotrophobia you’re stooping to now? If I had ears I swears I wouldn’t believe them.”

“I said, off rotting flesh you feed,” Eukaryotes told him. “If that’s heterotrophobic, then my mother was a lichen. And if you had ears, you’d have eaten them already, you schmuck...”

“Guys, guys,” Joey got between them, “Stop with all the fighting. I need some answers, quick.”

“Answers he needs,” Prokaryotes said to Eukaryotes, who now seemed to be his friend. “Look at him, barely out of the primordial ooze and already standing upright.”

“May his legs turn to fungus, and at the most inconvenient moment no less,” Eukaryotes said.

“Has it always been this way?” Joey asked them. “Does everyone have to always fight and argue, all the time?”

“Obviously my wife you never met,” Prokaryotes told him, “or such a question you never would have asked.”

Eukaryotes nodded his agreement. “Oy, what a woman,” he said. “An argument in her own coffin she could start, God forbid such a day should arrive in the very near future.”

“Or even next Tuesday,” Prokaryotes added wistfully. “But we’re wasting time; yours aren’t the only dreams we’re booked to appear in, you know. What’s your beef?”

“I just don’t get it,” Joey said. “I mean, everyone’s fighting everyone else...”



“Why not?”

“But when you gets right down to it,” Joey said, “it looks like we’re all related like, at least in some ways or another.”

“And who fights more than relatives?” Eukaryotes said. “You ever meet my Uncle Neutrino? Always boasting he was, saying he’s the smallest thing in the Universe, then someone says, ‘hey, Newt, your brains must be even smaller than you’, and he doesn’t speak for the next six thousand years, except to order more dip.”

“Ack!” Prokaryotes nearly spat out his teeth. “That son-of-a-membrane; he told everyone I had a rough endoplasmic reticulum, I’ll have you know. I never been so humiliated in all my life, and here we’re talking one hell of a long time, even if we don’t count the leap years.”

“If he bothers you again I’ll be surprised,” Eukaryotes said, “since recently he passed away.”

“No. Did he go quick?”

“Like a flash of lightening it was.” he said. “Salmonella it was, off an undercooked Quark. Took to his bed in 6000BC, and hardly time to say goodbye to his family. By 1800 AD he was gone.”

“Such a shame,” Prokaryotes wiped a tear from his eye. “I always felt a great fondness for him, especially when it was his turn to buy the drinks.”

“Listen,” Joey interrupted their reminiscences. “If I’m lucky I’ll be waking up soon. How about some answers before I go.”

“17,” Eukaryotes said.

“Niagra Falls,” said his partner.

“What?” said an exasperated Joey.

“You wanted answers? We just gave you two, for the price of one no less, and not even sales tax added. A bargain you got.”

“Those answers are no good.”

“Those answers are better than good,” Prokaryotes said. “Those answers could win you a million bucks on Who Wants to Win a Million Bucks, and not even a friend you need to phone, like you even got a friend, I’m betting not. And are we asking for a share of your winnings in return, you cheapskate punk?”

“The gratitude, eh?” Eukaryotes shook his head in sorrow. “That he could think such a thing, it breaks my heart it does.”

“All I wants to know,” Joey said, “is what’s goin’ to happen in the future, like. Where’s it all heading, huh?”

“To terrible disaster it’s heading,” Eukaryotes told him. “And I’m an eternal optimist.”

“If you ask me,” said Prokaryotes, “it’s not even going to be that good. Best not to know, then at least a surprise you got to look forward to.”

“Please,” Joey said. “If it’s the end of the World, I need to cancel my subscription to TV Guide. And make sure I got clean underwear on.”

The two wise guys looked at each other, raised an eyebrow, shrugged, then turned back to Joey. Eukaryotes spoke.

“Okay,” he said. “But you promise not to use this inside information to profit on the stock market, or the place where they race the horses into the ground before off to the butcher shop they go, unless first you are cutting us in for a fair slice of the action. Deal?”

“Deal,” said Joey.

“Okay. Now look into this...”

He produced a pocketful of smoke that enveloped Joey’s head and set him to coughing up a right lungful.

“Gaagh,” he cried. “What the hell is that?”

Eukaryotes stopped laughing just enough to tell Joey it was a joke, and if he really wanted to see the future, he had to close his eyes and concentrate hard.

“Yeah, and then you steals my shoes and disappears forever. I don’t think so.”

“Listen to him.” Prokaryotes was offended. “Like we’re a couple of dentists from Pittsburgh no less. A few extractions I’m tempted to give him, I am, and free of charge.”

“Calm down,” Eukaryotes said, then to Joey, “Have you lost what few marbles you came with, rattling round in your empty skull? Why would we want your shoes, when we’re living the dream? Or, rather, we’re living your dream, pathetic though it is; such a dream even a dormouse would be ashamed of, I’m sorry to say. But come on, close your eyes...that’s it. Now drift away...into the future...Good.”

Joey drifted away, and descending through a cloud, he saw himself at the head of a massive army. And heading towards him, billions strong, came another army equal to his own if not more so. And Joey’s army consisted of half the world, divided into many sections, and each section was led by one of his cousins, or uncles or relatives, or relatives of friends, or friends of relatives, and so on. The other army of course, was made up of the other half of the world, and consisted of all the mortal enemies of Joey and his multitudes.

The two armies lined up facing each other. The atmosphere you could cut with a knife made of butter you could. It would be impossible for a crowd that big to be silent, but if a crowd that big could be silent, the sound this crowd made was as close to silent as you could get. The silence was probably the loudest silence there had ever been, since the beginning of the world, as befits the moments before the end of the world. 3.5 billion on one side and 3.5 billion on the other, give or take a few who had called in sick. Around 7 billion people, all armed to the teeth, or in many cases, armed to the gums or armed to the dentures, since the number of old people had been rising disproportionately, not to mention selfishly, for some time.

Several billion people waited for the signal to charge, while several billion others waited for the opportunity to lie down and pretend to be dead. And why not?

“What the hell am I doing here?” many of them asked themselves. “I only stepped out to fetch the milk, and here I am on the edge of Armageddon. I don’t remember voting for this.”

Joey stood at the front of his horde, listening to the voices nearest to him.

“Look at them, with their stupid haircuts and their old fashioned clothes. Who do they think they is?”

“And can you smell ‘em? They must eat the tongues of animals what eats their own dung.”

“Yeah, or squirrels.”

“Filthy they are. Washing they probably never heard of, and look at us, a cleaner army there’s never been.”

Joey looked down at his dirt-streaked clothes and noticed his dirt-streaked hands and boots. He looked at the dirty, jeering faces around him, and noticed lots of other faces, equally dirty, but silent, and with eyes limpid with fear.

“Come on, let’s get ‘em,” someone shouted, and Joey felt himself pushed forward by the irresistible forces behind him. The other side shifted as well, like the sea swelling miles from an approaching Tsunami.

“Oh my God,” Joey thought. “How did we get to this?” He recognised the insanity, but felt helpless in its face. The crowds pushed against him again, and those alongside him urged him to give the word. Next he was out in front, on his own, and walking slowly towards a lone figure from the other side. As they came closer together, Joey searched his mind for a solution, a way to reach agreement and call the whole thing off. But how did you reach agreement when you didn’t know what the disagreement was in the first place? What was he going to say? “Can you stop eating squirrels, please,” or, “Would you mind brushing your hair a little different in future?” It was hopeless.

The figure approached, and as it came closer, it grew familiar. Joey felt he recognised the individual. Something about him, out of all the people gathered there, spoke to Joey’s DNA.

“Joey?” The figure stopped and peered at him. “Is it you, or maybe your brother, may he rest in peace?”

“Dad?” Joey took a couple of steps forward, then stopped. “Where’ve you been, you lousy creep?” he said. “And where’s ma?”

“Joey!” His dad ran towards him, visibly overflowing with human warmth and joy, all of it unreciprocated.

“Whoa!” Joey held his hands up. “I asked you’se about ma. What gives?”

“Joey. We got so much to catch up on. Be patient, we’ll get there. How’s your brother, whatsisname? Bobby.”

“I takes it you means Tommy? He’s fine. Now back to you and ma. Where you been the last few years, give or take a couple?”

“I thought you knew,” Joey’s dad said. “Them aliens swore they sent you a telepathic message, tellin’ you not to worry, we’d be back as soon as they finished their research.”

“Aliens? The heck you talkin’ about? You goes out to watch the live pigeon shootin’ Olympics in Rent-a-center’s window, and you never comes back. Me an’ Tommy never even had nothin’ to eat for weeks, sittin’ there waitin’ and waitin’...”

“Joey, you think you had it bad? Me an’ your Ma gets abducted by aliens, and there never even was no live pigeon shootin’, seems they banned it round about a century ago. But listen,” he glanced uneasily at the crowds growing restless around them. “Let’s not hang out our dirty laundry in public, eh? We got bigger fishes to fry, or even steam, if you’se is on a diet, though lookin’ at your skinny assets, I guess a diet’s the last thing you’re thinkin’ about.”

“Me and Tommy’s been on a diet since you an’ Ma disappeared with the rent money, you fink. You got any food on you now?”

“Son, we got bigger things to think about than food. There’s big stuff goin’ on round here.”

“Like what?”

“Like you got here just in time. We thought we was goin’ to have to fight these here aliens by ourselves, but now you’re here, we’ll give them a whipping like they never even imagined.”

“Hold it right there,” Joey said. “This is getting out of hand.” He glanced behind him, then jumped, as though he hadn’t realised half the population of the earth had been following him.

“I knew you’d come through,” his dad said. “I didn’t raise you to let your old man down.”

“You never raised me, period,” Joey said. “And I’m goin’ home.”

“You can’t go home. We got to fight the aliens.”

“And then what,” Joey says. “They say, ‘Oh, we’re glad you came, some freaks from Pluto been stealin’ our eggs, we got to go and fight them.’”

“That’s crazy,” his dad said. “Pluto ain’t even a planet anymore. An’ even if it was, why would they be stealin’ eggs? Ain’t they got enough of their own?”

“How should I know?” Joey was beginning to suspect himself of recently going insane, without even having the courtesy to tell himself it had happened. “I just know when we get to Pluto, them Plutoniums is going to say they’re some kind of relatives of ours, and we got to go and help ‘em fight the Marzipans or something. I’ve had enough,” and he started to walk away.

His dad called after him. “Joey. Stay and help.” Joey wasn’t interested. “Please! Do I got to beg?”

“No. You don’t got to do nothing. There’s nothin’ you can say would make me change my mind.”

“I got some chips...”

Joey paused.

“What flavours?”

“Any flavours you likes. These aliens got chips, donuts, hotdogs – everything a man needs. Including your Ma.”

“So whys didn’t you say so in the first place?”

Joey was ecstatic, almost to the point of rejuvenation, and he embraced his father without even trying to steal his wallet or nothin’, and everyone went home, apart from some of those that didn’t have one, but some of them that did, said, why don’t you come home with us, but don’t be putting your feets on the furniture, okay?

And that was that.

© Copyright 2020 Chris Gerard. All rights reserved.

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