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by Michael Grant Smith

I rode on the shoulders of clouds, the way my father carried me closer to the sky. My mother, a barn swallow, forced sustenance into my throat. A child’s only obligation is to believe in immortality and limitless second chances. Those would have been the salad years, if salad came in a can.

My family organized a backyard BBQ in celebration of my uncle going twelve months without a diabetic amputation. Left on their own to decide, every guest brought seven-layer dip. Plastic tubs, glass bowls, ceramic casseroles, foil pans; all of it contaminated with e coli. Odds were against the dish’s duplication and the accompanying threat to health and goodwill, but in hindsight I’ll tell you I’ve had worse meals.

Long after my uncle’s farewell surgery, a bottle containing a dead mouse rolled unseen beneath the stove in my mother’s kitchen. How could something as small as a mouse smell so awful? Weeks passed before anyone mentioned it. The stench condensed into a solid mass now loitering in geosynchronous orbit above Houston, Texas, where at twilight the odor can still be detected by the naked nose.

I’ll never understand why you’ve bent to toss me your love’s spare change. The heart you carry is an appliance made of leather and rusty springs, bound in burlap. Nothing inside it is worth looking at. Your finest day was when you stood on a desk at the office Happy Holidays party and told everyone how you felt about, well, everything. Your lowest day occurred at precisely the same moment. Presently, instead of participating in watercooler chitchat, you lurk at the neighborhood park’s drinking fountain next to the tennis courts and recite regulations posted on a bullet-riddled sign.

Before my father quit this world, he filled me with knowledge but spared room for little else. Who shot J.R. is not a mystery. Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance is not a mystery. The fall of the Mayans is not a mystery. The dinosaurs’ extinction is not a mystery. A woman’s desire is not a mystery. Sour cream is not a mystery. Mysteries are a series of lists. If I had a bowl of cake batter for every instance you complained about my reasoning, we could sail around the world on batter seas.

You are caramel and hot wax. I am a new wool sweater with a bull’s eye on its back. Even though I can detect the lag, scientists won’t admit that the interval between sub-atomic impulses grows ever longer — if you own time you control everything. Entropy is for suckers. I remove your bandages until the fabric coils like snakes, but nothing within was wrapped except old air. I want to explain everything to you.

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is soon to appear in elimaeGhost ParachuteThe AirgonautformercactusRiggwelterThe Cabinet of Heed, and other publications. 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.