Bourbon Penn 18

Giving a Blood Transfusion to a Stone

by Jonathan Plombon

1. Talking Out of Your Shell

A turtle named Indolent sat hunched over in the corner of the room, with his chair pressed so far back against the wall that it routinely chipped off the white paint, allowing the plaster to glide to the carpeted ground like a torn pillow weeping feathered tears. He was human-sized. Not that a human-sized turtle was an uncommon sight in the therapy group, as the group also attracted two clams, three hermit crabs and six armadillos who all hovered above six feet. Being around others that shared the same affliction was of little relief to Indolent, who avoided making eye contact with anyone else for fear that they would attempt to talk to him. He wasn’t alone. The group was for “those wanting to break out of their shells.”

2. She Fantasized about Her Mother’s Picture Being on a Milk Carton

The mental health center, and the therapy groups held within it, did not just accommodate those wishing to break out of their shells. It also assisted those who had a nagging feeling that something was always missing. That therapy group focused mostly on those who suffered from abandonment issues, although one human woman, who admitted that there was something missing, had no idea exactly what she was missing. The head of the group, a life-sized self-help book called “Why There’s a Light Switch in Your Stomach: Finding the Power in You,” suggested that it could be connected to her strained relationship with her mother.

That human woman’s name was Magnificent.

“My relationship with my mother is not missing,” she told the group. “I know where it is. Believe me, I’m not missing my relationship with my mother. Not at all.”

“Then you may have to look harder than the others to find what you don’t have,” the book said. “We’re all dealing with the same issues. I’ll make a confession.”

The book took a deep breath.

“I’m abridged. There are things that I just don’t make public,” the book said. “I’m also dating someone who’s illiterate, which makes it very difficult for him to read me.”

Magnificent thought about it, running her hand around her face, stopping to rub the early morning out of her eyes before moving her fingers to itch her nose and pinch her own cheeks. When she yawned, Magnificent thought that it was too early for this kind of crap. That was true, but it could have been 7 p.m. and it would still be too early for any of this crap.

Her soda can sat on the floor directly beneath her. She hunched over like a turtle in a therapy group and lifted it to her mouth. Four droplets of Pepsi fell out of the top of the can and ended up on the panties that covered her chest.

It was always such a pain to drink, and eat for that matter, with no lips.

3. Like Genitalia, Feelings Should Not be Exposed in Public

Feelings aren’t social creatures. They’re bottled up. They’re kept inside. While this lifestyle entails a great deal of loneliness, feelings actually utilize loneliness as a survival mechanism. Without which, feelings are at much higher risk of getting hurt.

This is not a physical type of harm, because there are laws to discourage physical harm. There are laws against kicking Benji and Johnny Depp. There are no such laws against hurting Benji and Johnny Depp’s feelings.

Furthermore, there are no hospitals for feelings. When a feeling is hurt, it cannot go to a doctor. And feelings are not protected. Police won’t arrest anyone for hurting a feeling.

Feelings don’t go out very often. It’s safer that way.

4. A Chance at an Opportunity

As the group disbanded for the day, Indolent mapped out his future plans. He felt encouraged by the progress he was making, not in the group, of which there was little, but with the speed he was physically moving. By Indolent’s calculation, he could walk (upright, as he learned how to do in order to be tall enough to make it on carnival rides) home in two days, which felt very short, since it was the fastest he could move. It also felt very long, since it would take two days to reach his home, and, much like all turtles, his home was the shell on his back.

By the door of the mental health center, Indolent noticed Magnificent hurling her arms in the air, looking as if she were practicing the motion of throwing. However, she had nothing in her hands. She spun around, whirling like a top, without regard to the space around her, and fell into Indolent. He collapsed on his back and wiggled, unable to pick himself up by his own power.

“I’m sorry,” Magnificent exclaimed, pulling him back up. “I should be more careful about this stuff.”

Indolent realized that meeting Magnificent might be an opportunity. He heard about these. He almost never came across opportunities. And he almost never took chances. He saw neither chances nor opportunities enough to know when he saw one, especially when it came to the opposite sex. Attention from the opposite sex was just as hard to come by.

He also couldn’t tell if this was the kind of attention that came from someone who voluntarily gave it, or the type of attention that was given because it was mandatory, like a woman who works at McDonald’s and has to smile at every customer.

“It’s okay,” Indolent sputtered. “What were you doing?”

“I’m practicing throwing my mother under the bus,” Magnificent said. “You have to practice to keep yourself in shape for when the time comes. Opportunities rarely present themselves. I don’t get many.”

She didn’t get many opportunities, either. They have something in common, Indolent thought. He beamed.

“I’m getting better. My hope is that if I stand close enough to the wheels of the bus, that the bus will just back up to compensate for my lack of throwing distance,” she said then hesitated. “You don’t have lips.”

“You either,” he said.

“That’s more than 95% of all couples have in common,” Magnificent said. “What happened to yours?”

“I was born this way,” he responded, then realized that the woman just used the word couple. “What about you?”

“My mother is a psychic, which is awful. I used to get grounded for something I’d do two weeks later,” Magnificent said.

Indolent just nodded his head. He didn’t know how to respond to what she’d just said.

“Anyway, my mother didn’t read palms. She read lips. She read my lips, which I can’t remember exactly what my lips said, but I’m sure she didn’t think it was flattering. I don’t agree with her about what I said. I doubt it was as bad as she thinks, but I guess she would know better than I do, because she is, after all, psychic and would know that I did something wrong before I would do anything wrong,” Magnificent said. “So, I made my lips disappear. That way she couldn’t read them. Most magicians make an entire person or the Statue of Liberty disappear. I made my lips disappear and I feel lucky that I even got that to work.”

Indolent nodded.

“So, do you throw your mother under a bus, too?” Magnificent asked.

“No,” he answered. “I don’t know where my mother is.”

“Is she in the bathroom?”

“Oh, I mean that I don’t know where she is in the world. I never knew her.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Magnificent said. “How about your father?”

“No,” he said. “I can never find him when a bus is nearby.”

5. What to Expect when You’re Expecting Your Son to be a Total Failure

Indolent’s father once gave him the talk when Indolent was 36.

The type of conversation that is conducted when the child is 36 differs slightly from the one when the child is 10. When the child is 10, the talk features the child asking the parent questions. These questions are along the lines of “What’s menstruation?” When the child is 36, the parent asks the child questions. These questions are along the lines of “Are you ever going to start bringing women home?”

This can be followed up by a number of questions, or rather statements, by the parent, including “There are late bloomers and then there are never bloomers” and “I don’t want my son to be a never bloomer” and “Greg’s son was a late bloomer. Now look at him. He’s bloomed.”

“Greg’s son is a red spider lily. They can only bloom in fall. Besides, it’s nature. He has to bloom eventually,” Indolent said to his father. “I don’t.”

6. When Told to Make Something of Herself, Magnificent Made Herself a Mess

After an exchange of names, and the proper introduction completed, Indolent gathered all of his courage to extend the conversation. He didn’t know what subjects were appropriate, which led to him second guessing everything he was about to say, which resulted in long periods of silence.

He had questions, mainly about her appearance. Although Magnificent was human (her hands, feet, stomach, and facial features gave that away), she otherwise was constructed of various items. Her arms were failed report cards, as well as mug shots from the times she was arrested for public intoxication. In the place usually reserved for her chest, Magnificent had stained underwear from when she accidently urinated during math class in the third grade. Another pair, from when she wet herself at Melissa Hockenpower’s sleepover, could also be seen. A dead fetus, from an abortion when she was 26, made up half of her right thigh. Other items, many difficult to identify, and many she didn’t want to attempt to identify, filled her out

“What’s the worst thing about not having lips for you?” Indolent asked.

“I guess it’s not being able to smile,” she responded. “I wish I could smile. I’d like to smile at someone, especially to the people who work at those fast-food joints. They could use a smile. Actually, I wish I would have given them mine. Not all of them at once. I doubt that everyone could have used my smile at the same time. It wasn’t that big. Maybe they could all share it. Or trade it off every week or maybe every shift. Give it to whoever was working the register.”

Indolent nodded. He didn’t know how the respond.

“Then again, I also can’t frown. That’s a plus,” she said. “But then again, again, it’s not like I don’t get depressed. I just can’t show it.”

As often was the case, Indolent told himself to make some sort audible reaction, rather than just shrugging or nodding his head. And as was often the case with the previous case, he ended up just shrugging and nodding his head.

“I’m a magician,” Magnificent blurted out, thankfully eliminating Indolent’s need to make any additional topics of conversation. “At least, I’m a magician who has never really had any magic. Not with any assistants that I’ve ever had. Compatibility between an assistant and a magician is of the utmost importance. People think that magic and science are mutually exclusive, but they’re actually connected. You can’t have any magic with a person if you don’t first have chemistry.”

“Does biology play a factor when looking for an assistant?” Indolent asked.

“Only to the superficial,” Magnificent responded.

7. When Your Linkedin Profile Doubles as Your Profile

Prior to meeting Indolent, Magnificent tried out a number of assistants with no real success. Magnificent’s mother told her that she needed to reconsider her definition of magic. “You have to be realistic,” Magnificent’s mother said. “Maybe you won’t be able to whisk an assistant off his feet. Maybe the world won’t move each time that you touch him. You tried so hard to make that one assistant work out. You wanted to make his heart pound right out of his chest. Forget out of his chest, you couldn’t even make his heart pound.”

“He was dead,” Magnificent replied.

“Before or after you were done with him?” her mother responded.

8. It Should be Noted That Indolent Is Not a Licensed Real Estate Agent

Indolent designed his home, otherwise known as the shell on his back, with logic and practicality. He didn’t add anything that wouldn’t be used or anything that didn’t serve a purpose to a feeling.

Feelings enjoy the privacy of a bomb shelter. When a bomb shelter is no longer a viable option, due to the demand outweighing the quantity, feelings seek out alternative forms of housing.

Indolent had a feeling. One. He had one feeling. And that feeling had begun renting an alternative to a bomb shelter: Indolent’s shell home.

When Indolent showed his home to his feeling, he made it a point to emphasize the hiding spots. As Indolent said to his feeling, “The property has many hiding spots that might be to your liking such as the space underneath the bed and the six locked closets. By the way, each closet can hold up to twelve skeletons. Those are luxury closets.”

With that in mind, Indolent didn’t furnish the home with a bedroom, a bathroom or a kitchen. Indolent, instead, added a space under the bed (but not the bed itself since it served no function), several dark corners and a few closets for the feelings to hide in and on. There was also a dressing room, which was a necessity since feelings change so often.

Not that the feeling could just walk out. The only way that a feeling can leave its home is if it’s shared. It could be shared at any moment that there’s another being around. There had been thousands of beings in close proximity to Indolent over the past 36 years. He never shared any of his feelings with any of them. His feelings stayed indoors.

Selfish as he may appear to be, he didn’t want to share his feelings with anyone. That was always the case. When the other children in kindergarten brought in toys and games for show and tell, Indolent brought his feelings. But when the teacher advised him to share his feelings with the other children, Indolent held them inside and wouldn’t let anyone near them.

9. A Revelation the Likes of Which We Have Not Seen since the Bible

“What do you miss most about not having lips?” Magnificent asked.

“I can’t miss what I never had,” Indolent responded.

“What do you think you would miss if you had lips?”

“Probably kissing.”

“It is pretty difficult to kiss someone without lips,” she said. “At least, you can get kissed.”

“That’s never happened,” Indolent said.

“You’ve never been kissed?” Magnificent asked.

10. The Birds, The Bees and The Rabbits

Indolent’s father knew about the birds and the bees.

He was a rabbit.

Indolent’s father had 300 children. Two-hundred-ninety-nine of them were rabbits. One of those children was a turtle. Indolent was that turtle.

“Why can’t you be like your 299 brothers?” Indolent’s father asked him. “They’ve all been in relationships. I’m a grandfather 700 times over.”

11. The Special Skills That Employers Look For

In some countries, feelings aren’t allowed to participate in the schoolyard game called hide and seek. This is due to them having an unfair advantage in the game. Feelings hiding themselves is a distinctive trait of their species, akin to how kangaroos are famous for hopping or fish are known for swimming.

Kangaroos hop. Fish swim. Feelings hide.

It’s just safer that way.

12. If You Love Something, Set It Free

“I mostly make things disappear. My paycheck for one,” Magnificent said.

“If you can make things disappear, wouldn’t you be able to make them reappear?” Indolent asked.

“If I know where they ended up, then, sure, maybe. Like I know where my paycheck goes when that disappears,” she said.

“Where’s that?”

“Taco Bell, but they never give me my money back, since I’ve already eaten all of it,” Magnificent said. “If you’d like, I can show you how to make something disappear.”

Magnificent took her soda can and placed it behind her back. With a ta-da, she pulled the soda can back out.

“It didn’t work,” he said.

“Yes, it did,” she answered.

“The can is still there.”

“It wasn’t the can that disappeared,” she said. “It was my confidence. Every time I fuck up a trick, I lose even more.”

Indolent nodded his head. He didn’t know that losing confidence was a trick. He had been losing confidence in himself for years. It didn’t seem so magical to him.

“Do you want me to make the soda can disappear?” Magnificent asked.

Indolent nodded.

“It’s all about magic words,” she said. “You can make anything happen with the right words.”

So, she said, “I love you,” to the can.

The can dematerialized, vanished into the air like a ghost that realizes it’s not real.

“Everything disappears when you love it,” Magnificent said.

13. And If You Hate Something, You Should Also Let It Go

When Magnificent learned that reciting those words would cause something to vanish, she finally told her mother that she loved her. Often. Repeatedly. Over and over again. You have to at least act like you mean the words, however, and she was just a magician. Not an actress.

14. With a Sleight of Hand and Decades of Therapy

“If you made your lips disappear, can you make them reappear?” Indolent asked.

“Maybe,” she said. “I can never seem to get rid of anything that I don’t want. That’s why I look like this. That’s why I have my dead child on my thigh. That’s why I’m made out of cars. Not just any cars. The ones that I drove into the sides of garages. And I’m also made out of videos, the surveillance ones that feature me yelling at a customer when I worked at Arby’s.”

“I don’t follow,” Indolent said, as he had said, and thought, many times before.

Magnificent held her palm over her mouth then lowered it to reveal her mother in the space usually reserved for her lips. She never wanted her mother to be her lips. So, of course, her mother became her lips. Go figure.

Before, Magnificent’s mother didn’t like what her daughter’s lips would say. Now, Magnificent’s mother was her lips. And they wouldn’t say, or do, anything that conflicted with her mother’s standards.

“I have to be your mother, your advisor, your alibi, your loan officer,” her mother said. “And now I have to be your lips. You can’t depend on me for everything. I won’t be around forever, you know. Just because I’m your mother, it doesn’t mean that …”

15. When a Turtle Tells You That You Need to Take Things Slower

This was all happening too quickly, especially for a turtle. He just met this woman and now he was already meeting her mother.

16. When Your Mother Says, “One Day I’ll be Gone,” and You Respond with “Can That One Day be Today?”

“… I should do everything for you. You have to grow up sometime. I’m only being hard on you because you’ll have to fend for yourself in life. One day I will not be here. You did this to yourself. You chose to get rid of your lips. This was your doing. I didn’t tell you to get rid of your lips. I’m …” Magnificent’s mother continued.

17. Abandonment Issues. Abandonment Subscriptions.

It was the first night in her new home for Indolent’s feeling. She didn’t own it; she only rented it, but it made her feel protected. The only door in the house was locked. The windows served no other purpose than to allow its occupant to see just how intimidating the outside world could be.

The price of rent was her freedom. Other than that, she considered the rent pretty reasonable.

Feelings hide out of fear that they could get lost. Search parties provide little help. They can never find the right feeling. Feelings are so easy to lose; they’re camouflage. They leave. They are not loyal.

You can lose a feeling. And when that happens, you might never have that feeling again.

18. It’s Still Pretty Impressive for an Upright Turtle to Dance at All

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t pick up on stuff. Not right away, anyway. I’m slow. I never know what to do,” Indolent said.

“I can help you with that,” she said. “Sometimes people need to be led. It’s their purpose in the world. You can’t have someone leading unless you have someone who needs to be led.”

Neither said a word, although millions of words ran through their heads. Most of the words told them to say something.

“I can lead,” Magnificent said, as she placed her hand on his shell. “Dance with me.”

She began to move, in a tangle of sweaty palms and sweaty feet and the general awkwardness of finger placement between a turtle and a human who want nothing more than to make it perfect and find that accidentally squeezing too tight around the shell of a giant turtle, and the impending nervous giggling from the slightly painful mishap, was actually as perfect as it could ever be.

“I’m starting to slip,” he said.

“I got you,” she said. “I’ll support you. Just lean on me.”

“I think I’m falling,” he said, attempting to get his footing.

“Me too,” she said, holding him up.

19. Accurate

Feelings look like a cross between an open wound and a closed door.

20. When Someone Steps on Your Toes and You’re Just Happy That You Have Toes for Someone to Step On

“I don’t know how to dance,” Indolent said.

“Neither do I,” she said, then laughed, falling forward and tapping her head against his chest. And with that they moved their feet. Not anywhere in particular nor with any music, at least at first, but as they continued to move everywhere and anywhere, cracking more than a few of Magnificent’s toenails, they got in a rhythm with each step providing a drum beat, every ouch they uttered turning into an off-key vocal track, and all the wind flowing through their tunnel vision becoming a remarkable imitation of a violin.

21. “I’ll Take You Right into the Comfort Zone” by Kenny Loggins

Even feelings have feelings. And Indolent’s feeling had a feeling she wanted to finally leave.

Indolent wouldn’t allow it.

Indolent had a history of being rather selfish. He kept all of his feelings to himself. He never shared them with any of the other children. His first-grade teacher often expressed her frustration about it to Indolent’s father, who did nothing about it. His father was often too busy to read the notes sent home from school, since he had 299 other children to neglect.

But the feeling wanted to be shared – with or without Indolent’s permission.

It crawled from out of the corner.

22. You Don’t Perform Magic; You Feel It

When Indolent and Magnificent stopped dancing, which was a result of Indolent nearly colliding with a passing therapist, he blushed to such an extent that it raised his internal temperature so high that it made parts of his face melt.

“Ta-daaaa,” Magnificent said, surprised by her own ability to heat things up.

“I’m falling again,” he said.

“I was kind of hoping you never stopped.”

They both leaned in. Magnificent knew that she would be responsible for most of the work, seeing as she had the lips to kiss, and she puckered up as she approached his face. Indolent attempted to just stand still, although his heart’s pounding was so loud it made him jump. It was as if he had never experienced it before. Maybe he hadn’t. A working heart meant that he was alive, which he had doubts about for years.

She inched nearer, as did Indolent in an effort to expedite the process. He didn’t want to miss this opportunity. He could never capitalize on opportunities or chances. He moved too slow. He thought too slow. He wasn’t a rabbit. Rabbits were fast. And despite what the fable said, a turtle could never catch up to a rabbit. But that wouldn’t stop him. Not this time.

23. A Minimum-Security Death Row with a Stringent Honor System

Indolent’s feeling gripped the doorknob, turning it. It squeaked like a mouse noticing too late that the cheese lay on a trap.

The feeling opened up the front door. It turned out the door wasn’t locked. It had been open the entire time. The feeling just had to try.

24. A Scream in a World Without Ears

Indolent left his eyes open. He felt that if he closed them, he’d open them back up and she’d be gone.

Nonetheless, there was a disappearance. Even with his eyes opened.

Magnificent didn’t vanish, but her lips did. She had wanted them to stay, but her mother wouldn’t be a willing participant in the mistake that her daughter was committing.

“I didn’t say, ‘I love you,’” Indolent said.

“You didn’t have to,” Magnificent responded. “I already knew it.”

They pulled away from each other.

“But just your lips disappeared, not your entire body. I don’t love just your lips. I love you. Shouldn’t you completely disappear?”

“Just wait,” Magnificent said. “I’ll leave. It’ll happen soon enough.”

25. It’s Just Safer That Way

Indolent’s feeling turned back into the house and crawled into the closet. She locked the door behind her.

26. Indolent Asks a Question with No Right Answer

“What happened?” Indolent asked.

27. Her Mother’s Consultation Firm Was Located in the Heart of The Peanut Gallery

“I told you that you would drive him away,” her mother said. “Just like all of them.”

28. Magnificent Correctly Answers Indolent’s Question with Only Wrong Answers

“The magic,” Magnificent said to Indolent, “is gone.”

29. “I’m Moving as Slow as I Can Go,” Her Patience Said

Magnificent turned and walked away.

Indolent thought about going after her, but he knew, with Magnificent having a two-step head start, that he would never catch up to her.

He was just too slow. At everything. He didn’t kiss her quickly enough. In fact, he didn’t kiss her at all. He couldn’t. And he waited too long to make a move. And he didn’t think of the right thing to say.

He was just too slow.

30. “I’m Not Located in the Peanut Gallery like People Think,” Her Mom Said. “You Can Find Me in Your Ear.”

“… just saying that you should think for yourself. Find your way. Find your own personality. Reach your own conclusions. You should stop listening to everyone and forge your own way in life,” Magnificent’s mother said.

31. Moving On Is Difficult for Anyone Ending a Relationship

Magnificent had feelings of her own. She always kept hers in the pit of her stomach, which is where Magnificent retreated back to after she walked away from Indolent. Upon arriving in the pit of her own stomach, she noticed her mother holding a syringe of Novocain up to her feelings.

“Is this yours?” her mother asked.

“Yeah, I mean kind of,” she stumbled and stuttered. “They’re feelings. I mean they were going to be gifts. They were feelings for someone else.”

Magnificent jumped in front of the syringe, causing her mother to lower her arms. The daughter motioned with her hand to give up the piercing instrument, which her mother did after a few seconds of trading looks between her daughter and her daughter’s feelings. When Magnificent got control of the shot, she pointed it at her feelings, the ones for Indolent, and thrust, shoving the Novocain into her feelings, making her feelings feel no more

“It saves so much time if I just do it myself,” Magnificent said.

32. “It Looks Great. It’s So You.”

Another item appeared on her body: a picture of Indolent waiting for his kiss.

Jonathan Plombon is a writer from Minnesota. His work has appeared in Bombay Gin, Quarter After Eight, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, and other publications. He enjoys watching professional wrestling and waking up in the middle of the night to find that he has three more hours to sleep.