Fiction · 06/06/2018

Love Stories

I. Two Cards

He had a poker face only a mother could love — rectangular, perfectly flat, framed by red hair, with a button nose, and with eyes so blue that they had to be covered by contacts — a face as ungainly as a mixed metaphor, a face best described in the one-step-away-from-reality words of Nikolai Gogol, Bertolt Brecht, or the music of Die Moritat von Mackie Messer.

She met his gaze with eyes of the same intense color. Their knees did not quite touch under the table. A single light above their heads let the rest of the room drown in the shadows.

She opened her cards. Four queens. The muscles around her mouth twitched; no one but him could possibly catch this imperceptible movement. He had seen her slip in the fourth queen, but he didn’t allow himself even the tiniest of smiles.

“Four kings,” he said, holding his cards like the fan of a flamenco dancer.

She took a smoldering cigar from an ashtray shaped like a screaming mouth, puffed it, and placed it back. She got up; sidewise she was as thin as the page of a book. From the back of her hat down to the bottom of her floor-length dress, she was a single, complicated geometric pattern of two primary colors.

“Cheater,” she sung without turning, and her voice caressed him — a peacock feather. “I hate you. Did you say your name was Mack the Knife?”

She sounded like two different people singing, each juxtaposing with another.

When she left, he pulled a handful of gold coins toward him, each stamped with words in a tongue no one speaks anymore, then took her cigar and sucked on it. Another king of hearts slipped from his sleeve and landed on top of her discarded queens. He imagined kissing the paper white skin of her neck. He knew she would come back. That was a rule of the game. The problem with her was that she always followed the rules. Even the bent ones.

He could live with that.

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II. The Longest Parts

Her nose was the longest in the world even when she didn’t lie. Some called it Roman, some called it Greek, but no one disputed its record length, neither Guinness World Records nor the man with the second longest nose who courted her unsuccessfully on Facebook and Twitter for three days and three nights.

She eventually married a man with the world’s longest penis, which some considered a big, fat joke, but she liked him for his wits, his kindness, and his broad shoulders. His reply on Facebook to one of his many enemies had particularly won her over: “Spend your likes on a virtual rope. It would be a good short-term investment.”

Their first sex was a clash of titans and meeting of the souls. A nosy neighbor, who had installed a camera in their bedroom and subsequently got rich from monetizing the video, later was so depressed from envy that he committed suicide and willed all his money to the Cosmetic Surgery for the Poor NGO, particularly to its nose division.

But the couple lived happily. She had a nose for what men like, and he knew how to use his sexual talents to their full extent. All the remaining neighbors admired them for their honesty and friendliness. Facebook and Twitter voted them the Cutest Couple of the Year. But one night the man with the second longest nose murdered both of them in their sleep.

The neighbors buried the couple in a single grave. The video of the burial also went viral. It became fashionable for lovers to take selfies by their tombstone and to leave flowers and teddy bears. Legend has it that their longest parts fused together and from it the tree of life sprouted, so tall that it almost pierced the skies.

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Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union, and English is a second language for him. His writing has appeared in Five Points, Guernica/PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press. He has co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton. Find him at “http://markbudman.com”: http://markbudman.com.