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by Michael Grant Smith

“Trouble? Sure, I’ve seen my fair share,” the old woman said in a quiet voice. Her eyes turned remote yet hard. “No reason to go back and revisit bad times. So, do you need to hear today’s lunch specials again?”

Even a hoarder like me couldn’t save her. I save coupons, newspaper clippings. Expired canned goods. Things of that nature. If you keep everything, you’ll want nothing. Longing is the third highest cause of death, behind death and taxes. I’m thrifty. I once negotiated a 50% discount for new tattoos but the artist used flesh-colored ink.

Holding a pet reduces your blood pressure, although bearing a grudge can take years off your life. Okay, that statement is false. No cat or dog ever paid half the bills or gave insightful advice. What good are enablers that shed clouds of fur? “Man’s best friend?” I shouted at Rex. “The average set of car keys is more loyal than you!”

You’re never truly alone. Millions of microscopic organisms dance on your skin, while bacteria labors in the darkness of your gut. Just imagine everything digestion could accomplish in the light of day. If all of your body’s impulses ever allied with its teeming armies of parasites, you’d be nothing more than an animated corpse. Apologies to all of the animated corpses out there.

“Close the door behind you.” A haze of well-used sweat fortified the office’s air. “Everyone dies alone. It doesn’t matter who gathers around your bed, or how many first responders report to the scene of your accident. The last breath you exhale is the one that stands between courage and the void.” Why would my boss tell me this on the day I’m laid off?

You would be mistaken if you said I wasn’t held enough as a child; it always took at least four or five people to do it. All of my clothes were hand-me-downs until I was eighteen. How I wished I had a brother. My parents told me they’d rather put me through a wall than through school.

I remember a long-ago time when some other kids and I played behind a grocery store while men unloaded a truck. One of the workers, an old guy in stained coveralls, tossed something at me and shouted, “Catch!” I caught a rock that stuck to my hands and burned. Laughter echoed off the cement block walls. I learned about dry ice, and also that science can hurt you.

I’m going to hit the street tomorrow and get another job. Maybe the next day. Trim my chest hair, practice my blank stare, splash on a little Pine-Sol so that I smell smart and sexy. I’ll start with the diner where I used to have lunch, I heard there’s an opening. Each new opportunity is more splendid than the last if your memory is weak. Tonight I’ll dream of mental health, hugs, and monkey business.

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is soon to appear in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, The Cabinet of Heed, and other publications. He is an editor at Longshot Press. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.