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by Tom Hazuka

King wrote lovely fiction no one would publish. “This is a beautifully written slice of life,” editors would say in rejection after rejection, “but there’s no conflict, no story.” Then, almost inevitably, “Please feel free to try us again.”

King hated conflict, period, and couldn’t fathom why anyone would go looking for it, whether in life or in literature. He read and enjoyed books, including most of the agreed-upon greats. What made his heart hurt with joy was not trouble, but sentences. Lying on his futon he would read his favorite ones aloud, savoring the delicious words, practically tasting them.

He didn’t make a religion of geniuses unrecognized during their lifetimes, though he did make a shrine of sorts. A shelf in his basement studio apartment displayed a faded van Gogh self-portrait, a cracked-spine paperback of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, and a daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson in a heart-shaped frame. There was also a silver dog whistle on a loop of braided fishing line, though King had never owned a dog. His father’s allergies to animal fur had meant no pets during King’s childhood, and King understood why when he’d tried to share the studio with a kitten last week and sneezed so franticly he had to give Emily away to a co-worker at Bass Pro Shops.

When he told his parents the sad news about Emily, and revealed that he shared his father’s allergy affliction, they exchanged a look of shocked conspiracy and burst out laughing.

His mother set down her mug of Nescafe. “Dad’s not allergic to anything but hard work, Boo Boo. That allergy story was his idea to keep you from begging for a pet.”

“We should have got Academy Awards,” his father said. “Talk about irony that you’re allergic!”

She patted King’s hand. “You don’t have to thank us, dear. We’re just good parents who sheltered you from reality.”

That night after work, King started a story about a kitten that came frolicking to her master whenever he gently blew his slightly tarnished dog whistle. She curled up purring on his chest and dreamed of chasing a mouse should one ever climb high enough to invade her master’s penthouse.

His working title was “The Pie-Eyed Piper,” but that didn’t matter because he knew it would never be published. Who wants to read a story where nothing happens?

Tom Hazuka has published three novels, over fifty short stories, and a book of nonfiction, A Method to March Madness: An Insider’s Look at the Final Four (co-written with C.J. Jones). He has edited or co-edited six anthologies of short stories: Flash Fiction; Flash Fiction Funny; Sudden Flash Youth; You Have Time for This; A Celestial Omnibus: Short Fiction on Faith; and Best American Flash Fiction of the 21st Century (Shanghai, China). He teaches fiction writing at Central Connecticut State University. Links to his writing and original songs can be found at tomhazuka.com.