I’m Warning You

So you get fired for making another offensive comment to a coworker who actually is a fat slob with a bad attitude and fuck that eating disorder and clinical depression bullshit, and fuck your boss, too, with his bad toupee and his multiple warnings and his sweat-soaked upper lip when he looks at your cleavage and asks you to lick his balls while sliding your left middle finger up his ass and you say fat chance and he says I’m warning you like he’s actually got some leverage, like you’d actually do it to keep a job any moron could do and you say you look like a train wreck and he says I’m warning you but he’s still staring at your breasts and he’s mad as hell but his eyes are begging for sex or love or something he’s never had and knows he won’t get from his wife whose size and IQ both fall somewhere in the high double digits and you say you’re pathetic and he says do you want to spank me and you say I want to kill you and he says that turns me on and you say I’m serious and he calls security.

So you walk to the Double Perk and order a latte even though you’ve never had one and suspect they’re awful but no one will say so ’cause it’s not cool to call any drink sold in a coffee shop awful but doesn’t someone who’s just been fired by a pervert with a frayed headpiece have the right to drink something awful and pretend it’s hemlock or belladonna or simply bad coffee that poet wannabes and corporate slaves have led the world to believe is tasty and refreshing even though at $4 a pop they know it’s a rip-off but God knows people want to drag their neighbors down with them so you order a latte and the guy behind you, some shrimpy little poet type with yellow-tinted glasses and a beret, a caricature of a caricature, pays for the drink and you grab it and walk to a table near the window and shove the second chair off to the side so he won’t come and sit down and if you’re wondering if you should thank him for the latte you must be one dumb fuck if you think about thanking someone who is clearly pathetic and self-interested and who walks around trying to look like a poet ’cause God knows poets don’t look like poets so he approaches the table with a big steaming cup of pretension and says may I sit and you say no and he pulls up a chair and says slashed is the flower from the vine and you say oh no you don’t and he says I saw security toss you out of Weimann Ross and you shrug and he says wanna bomb the building and you say you’re more fucked up than I am and he says I’ve been working at it and you know then he’s a phony and you leave him and the latte sitting there cold and unwanted.

Three blocks from the coffee shop the shrimpy poet catches up to you and says he was kidding about the bombing and that he could write epic poetry about you and you tear the beret from his head and slam dunk it into a sidewalk trash can and say write about that because that’s what life is about, people who hardly know you fucking you over and not giving a damn and come to think of it people who do know you fucking you over and not giving a damn and even people who are supposed to love you fucking you over why don’t you write an Elegy to the Beret or an Ode to the Chapeau because your hat, which makes you look like you’re dying to have your ass kicked, by the way, probably means more to you than the last three women or men you dated and he says my mother gave me that beret and you say that’s proof positive your mother hates you and wants you to get your ass kicked and he says my mother’s dead and you say you’re lucky and he says you’re gritty and real and represent a perfect manifestation of all the ills of a postmodern technological society and you say I must look like a mirror.

You go back to his pathetic apartment with the dead geranium on the window ledge and a slice of sun ripping through the torn, moth-eaten shade and you say how Bohemian and you just know his mother left him two million Krugerrands and enough IBM stock to wallpaper the Taj Mahal but how can he be a starving artist with a capitalist lifeboat like that under his ass so you figure he just told the executor to hold it in a safety deposit box and refuse him anything until he’s so desperate he looks deep into the executor’s eyes and says—these are the humiliating, infantile, desperate pseudo-words they agreed would unlock the vault of oppression—ga ga goo goo—but you can’t imagine that being too hard for him to say as all the poet wannabes you know don’t write anything much better than that, would actually be proud of the alliteration in a line like that, would be happy to claim ownership of that line but you’re just shitting here because you hate posers so much that you go too far and now that you see how far the shrimpy poet is willing to go to fool himself and to try to fool you into thinking he’s anything other than a silly, ugly little man with no talent and with one less beret you say congratulations on your facility for self-delusion and he says I try.

Naked the shrimpy poet reminds you of your brother and his friends and the games you used to play that didn’t look to you like prostitution until much later when most of them were in jail for entering a Marine base illegally and hacking through a few skulls that at the time were on loan to Uncle Sam and thinking that that was a terrorist statement, a message to all Americans that you’re not safe even in your own country, even with the guys who claim to be the toughest, baddest motherfuckers on watch so how does that feel and you wondered out loud the last time you visited Robbie at Rikers how does that feel, Robbie, to have a bloated cock up your ass you sure showed them and you said I can’t take this anymore and the shrimpy poet says take what and you say I was thinking out loud and can you turn off the light and the poet says what light and you realize you don’t know what time it is but time is a social construct anyway, useful only to people with jobs that demand they climb into and out of the hamster wheel with tremendous precision so they can all cram onto the L or flood the turnpike with a synchronicity that will result in a long-needed culling of the herd by road rage and switchblade and you ask the poet what time it is and he says it’s time the two of you sculpt your limbs into a new form of human art and you say no more poetry and he says but that’s who I am and you say can’t you do impressions and you decide the moment the words exit your mouth that if he does Elvis you will crown him with the terra cotta planter on the window ledge hard but not hard enough to kill him although you also know that if you did kill him it wouldn’t matter much and he says Stanley Horowitz and you say go ahead and he says don’t you want to know who that is and you say as long as it’s not you and he launches into something between slapstick and melodrama that makes you certain Stanley Horowitz is real and what’s more Stanley Horowitz has perpetuated upon the shrimpy poet the most horrific and unthinkable—but who in the hell am I kidding because if you’re alive today past the age of twelve there’s nothing you can’t imagine what with the grade school teacher telling you that every stranger wants to feed you candy and feel around in your underpants and your grandmother being bounced down the stairs of her rat-infested motel for her social security check and your own father saying boys will be boys as he cleaned off the pool cues and told you to put some clothes on for chrissake it’s your own fault.

So you find the shrimpy poet’s notebooks after he falls asleep and you read poetry that’s so bad it’s good, so clichéd and parodied—yeah, so clichéd and parodied you said to your brother in Rikers and your fat, depressed co-worker and your alcoholic father you’re all clichéd and can’t you even fuck up originally and those were the only times until now you got to use those two favorite words of your high school poetry teacher, the one who told you to button your blouse and get out of his office now—that you find a pen and write in the margin of a poem called “Venus de Milo cum Stella Kastanega” this is clichéd and parodied, like sex with you, like you, come to think of it then you notice a poem with a foreign title maybe Latin maybe Russian but maybe signaling that the shrimpy poet is bilingual and that means he’s privileged, something the social worker said you were not, and you sit on a splintered wooden crate imagining someone choosing to live this way and you just don’t understand and you think about waking up the shrimpy poet and asking him but goddamn you might instead wake up Stanley Horowitz who it turns out you had an even harder time swallowing than the shrimpy poet after all so you sit there with a splinter up your ass and you start hating the shrimpy poet for mocking you with his fake need and his receding hairline which reminds you of your ex-boss and as the shrimpy poet’s cum streams down your leg you think about killing him, the dumb fuck who goes to sleep with a stranger in his room must be rich and privileged, naïve and accustomed to the protection of the gods but his gods can’t compete with you and then you think the shrimpy poet’s life isn’t worth much even to him but you can make him pay for having money, for having a mother who loved him enough to die young, for having the stupid decency to try to comfort you so the least you can do is teach him a lesson you owe him that so you take the twelve notebooks and think about doing something complex like sending a hostage note or depositing them in a bus station locker but this just makes you tired because it’s too much trouble since deep inside he knows he’s a no talent shit and you’re doing him a favor and he’ll be at the executor’s office tomorrow on his knees begging in baby dialect for his mommy’s money so you clamber down the stairs and out of the building with the stack of notebooks and when you pass the trash can you see the beret on top, splattered with ketchup and ashes and you think about setting the notebooks on top of it for a reunion of sorts after all how can one make bad poetry without a beret but instead you yank the worn beret out of the bin and see that its hatband is soiled and you try to laugh at the shrimpy poet’s earnestness, at his brain literally sweating to make a rhyme, but suddenly things just aren’t funny so you toss the beret atop the stack of notebooks and trudge back to the shrimpy poet’s building, up the stairs and toward his door where you will deposit his pile of crap and hope he doesn’t open the door because you would have to kill him if he sees you crying.

Front page image by See-ming Lee.

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Dorene O'Brien

About the Author

Dorene O’Brien is a fiction writer from Detroit. She has won the Red Rock Review Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction, the New Millennium Fiction Award and the Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award. She also won the international Bridport Prize and is the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her short stories have appeared in the Connecticut Review, Madison Review, the Chicago Tribune, the Montreal Review, Cimarron Review, Detroit Noir and others. Voices of the Lost and Found, her first full-length short fiction collection, won the USA Best Books Award in Fiction. She is currently writing a novel featuring fossil hunters in Ethiopia. Visit her at www.doreneobrien.com.
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