072. Returning. Christina Holbrook

He pushes off from the beach, steadying himself as the canoe glides through the water. On the opposite shore sits the lake house, patient as stone.

The child he once was, all skinned knees and elbows, runs from house to shore to meet his middle-aged self. Before his parents died. Before their house was sold to strangers.

Bare feet step into the shallows, seeking solid ground. How long has he wished for the day the usurping strangers, too, would succumb to the passage of time, death, or family dispersing?

He’s waited all these years. To climb the steep path, the wide stairs, to stand before the front door in which—there—reflected in the glass panes he sees the child he left behind.

He pulls the key from his pocket.

071. Hope. Karen Walker

I hope that’s water I’ve stepped in.

Flick on the bare bulb. Nope. There’s a yellow puddle on the cracked linoleum.

Daisy will hold it through the night soon. My furry white roly-poly will have a backyard, grass someday. I’ll build a tall fence. Until then, I shiver in the black alley at 11 p.m., 2 a.m., 5.

What’s a little more pee down here behind our low-rent? Stinks. I pull her away from garbage, watch for needles. Rats.

There’s one in a doorway: Slick John. Sold me nightly when I was a pretty pup. “Hey, cutie,” he says.

Daisy growls.

070. Monkey Theorem. Brett Abrahamsen

The infinite monkey theorem states that an infinite number of monkeys, at an infinite number of typewriters, for an infinite amount of time, will almost certainly type the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Absurd, he thought, they’re devaluing what it means to be human, to have brains as big as ours. The monkeys wouldn’t get anywhere. It would be gibberish for infinity.

He had even tried the experiment himself, merely to prove there are certain instances that simply cannot and will not ever occur. He took a monkey from an expedition and sat him at a typewriter. sjflngdssjfwepapfpa, it wrote.

He eventually decided that he had to find out what the distinct qualities were that made Shakespeare such a genius – that is, what made him such that no monkey could replicate him. Not enough was known, as bardologists may note, about his physical appearance, his sexuality, perhaps his brain structure, and so forth – all of the things that might have identified him, distinguished him, separated him. There was only one logical way to find this out. He proceeded to fly to England and dig up Shakespeare’s corpse.

He waited till night, when there were no police around – then began to dig. After several feet, he stumbled upon a faded note lying in the soil between him and the corpse. Perhaps it was the bard’s self-composed epitaph, he thought, or a sonnet of some sort, long lost – until now.

He stared at the note, scarcely legible in the fading moonlight. It read:

The human race has existed for ten quadrillion septillion years. When the species first appeared, it was just as evolved as it is now, in the present day. It was aware from its inception that something in the order of great literature could theoretically be created. Regrettably, it had neither the time nor the motivation to conceive of it itself. It elected instead to run an experiment, an experiment that would take infinite years and an infinite number of resources. This experiment was called the “infinite monkey theorem.” Every monkey in the world was employed at a typewriter for the duration of its life. The results were, at first, dismal, but then at random the monkeys hit a patch of rather incredible luck: Beowulf, the Odyssey, the Canterbury Tales, and so forth. A scant several hundred years later one monkey hit upon an extraordinary wealth of words: it banged out Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and so on. The last of its kind. If you happen upon this 500 years later, around the year 2000 perhaps, I can forewarn you that there shouldn’t be much of anything good to read – you’ll have plenty of mediocre books, certainly, but nothing at all worth your time.

Below the note was the corpse, brown and furry, with something that looked like a long-decomposed banana hanging out of its mouth. Next to it was a plaque that read:

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
BELOVED APE, ACCIDENTAL GENIUS
1564 – 1616

069. Horseshoe. Joel Fishbane

We take the metro to Ile Ste. Helene, warmed from drinking raspberry vodka out of a bottle meant for club soda. The bus to the casino is free. I tell her how I used to ride it with Dad. Quality time, he’d called it, before losing his money and mine.

It always looks the same. First floor slots, second floor slots, third floor slots. Slots by the stairs and slots by the bars and slots in the stalls for your cup while you pee. We find the Super Triple Seven machine, big as God, and two bucks get me ten. Then it’s forty, then eighty, and then the jackpot’s spitting gold. She lays one on me. That’s a jackpot too. A French kiss spitting gold.

You’re my horseshoe, I say.

You should marry me.

Maybe I will.

You mean that? I don’t care what they do to us, I’ll take the chance.

Of course she will. She’s a gambler too. Even when the guy’s all wrong, she just keeps doubling down. I’ll lock in a few more wins, then take her home. Down the hall are special rooms – hautes mises only please. Dealer’s hands cross felt as men, bricked like houses, stand guard. Women sit planted in chairs, fat rolling off their sides, while their husbands are elsewhere, gambling the rent away. There’s apathy in victory. In a place full of games, no one’s having fun. But the rollers keep rolling until they’re flat. That won’t be me. Show ’em how it’s done and then I’m gone.

Hit me again. I’m running hot. I’m King Kong and she’s that woman he carried, all blond and dressed in white. A drunk thinks we’re honeymooners and buys us drinks. When she goes for a smoke, he steals the moment to tell me my wife is one kick ass dame.

My wife’s at home. That’s her kid sister.

Tha’right? Whadda hell you doin’ here?

Quality time.

No way that ends right.

She’s good luck. What can I do?

I play fast, trying to run out the clock before the streak goes cold. It’s going well til I draw an ace-eight and tell her to pray, sweating blood, cause the dealer’s showing sixteen. He takes a breathe, I’m holding mine, he draws an eight, and it’s done. King Kong lives.

The bus takes us back. The sun’s coming up and she dozes with her head on my coat. No way this ends right. One more week and that’s that. Dad said some people are charms but you gotta be careful or you rub out the luck. The button on my coat imprints her cheek, like a ring of gold. The wife will want to know where we’ve been. We’ll invent an excuse. It’s 50/50 she believes it, but I’m feeling good. I always like the odds.

068. Headlines. MJ Iuppa

Now that the war is ending — and you wonder which war is ending? The newspaper wrinkles beneath the weight of your hand that presses down upon the depths of up-rising revealed in three column inches beneath a shaky photo that stills the action of soldiers to just before every-thing explodes or implodes into the confusion of brick and boards and bodies drenched in blood and dust— a cloud of alarm sounding — so loud that your ears dredge up what you left behind to come here. Your broken hands still damp from the cold fear that never leaves you.