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by Christopher Allen

Andy has a mole on his forehead between his eyes. It’s black but benign (his mother had it checked). It’s perfectly round and centered — like Andy. He’s pudgy and fourteen. He still lets his mother bowl-cut his hair. His friends call him dothead. He’s not Hindu. He’s pasty and Episcopal — so it’s not racist when they call him dothead, they say. Well not really.

Andy has a hobby he hides from his friends — because it’s not there in the middle of his forehead. He collects propaganda leaflets, tracts on mindfulness and healing, bottle caps and candy wrappers with their hidden codes worth millions — or the potential of millions. He snaps photos of graffiti with his Nikon pocket camera and pulls scraps of paper from the gutter — anything with a message. All this information, he’s convinced, will converge one day like a jigsaw missive from the Universe.

At the corner of Fielding and 8th, Andy scoops up an empty Diet Peach Snapple bottle, eases off the label, and shakes his head at its inside joke. “Baggage,” he reads, “is only as heavy as you pack it. It’s not true,” he says to a woman crossing 8th with him. “The bag itself has a weight. You can read that in the manufacturer’s leaflet.”

“Get away from me,” she says. Her hair fits her head like an empire lampshade. She must have had countless discussions with well-meaning talentless hairdressers. “I want this,” she’d say. “I need this,” she’d add for herself, quietly kneading a picture of Penelope Cruz or some Wella Balsam girl, but the cut would come out looking like Selma from The Simpsons every single time.

“It’s human,” Andy pants. He’s a few steps behind the woman but gaining. “It’s human to want to be the most beautiful thing on earth. I always show my mother a picture of George Clooney, mid 90s before the graying.” He holds out his autographed picture of Clooney with its poignant message “To Andy”; the dot’s been added by a friend. “They want you to believe it’s all your fault,” he says, matching the woman’s stride now. “But it’s not. It’s not. We’re just made this way.”

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O‘Type (a Satire). Read his writing in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Necessary Fiction, Camroc Press Review, and many more fine places. He splits his time between Munich and Dublin and blogs HERE.