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"Shambles" by Keith J. Powell

The music fades out and I’m concentrating through the booze to work the ATM. It’s a more delicate operation than I remember. I stick the card in the slot. It spits it back out. I try again. In and out, in and out, in and out. I look to the dancer waiting for her money and wink.


The bouncer is telling me I need to go. I ask why, but he waves away my question with a giant hand like I’m nothing. He has a body like a tranquil cow, and his arms are thick enough to pop my head from my neck like the cork from a champagne bottle. I tell him fine, fine, I just need to get my credit card back from the bartender, thankyouverymuch. He tells me, out, now. I tell him moooooooooo.


The 911 operator is asking where I’m calling from. Man, do the police arrive quick. Once, Annie and I thought we saw a girl being kidnapped (turns out she wasn’t), and it took the cops over an hour to knock on our apartment door. Not this time. Five black and whites converge on the parking lot to help me get my credit card back before I finish my smoke. I explain the situation to an officer with an absurd mustache that bops up and down when he talks like a ballet dancer pirouetting. He doesn’t listen. Only wants to talk about how I’m getting home. Oh, boy, if he only knew. I don’t want to get into it and tell them to relax. I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll sit in my car. Sober up. Go. For some reason, they all think this is hysterical and tuck me into a cab, hand on the top of my head, just like on TV.


I’m telling the cab driver, change of plans. Take me back to the club. He’s got a hell of an accent. I ask him to repeat himself twice. I don’t want to ask a third time because that would be rude. It finally clicks. He’s asking, Are you sure you don’t want to go home? Buddy, I say, I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.


I’m practicing walking sober in the parking lot. Annie taught me the trick the first night we met. Charged me two cigarettes for her secret. You gotta swing your arms just so, she said. Not too much, not too little. It helps to pretend you’re carrying a heavy plastic grocery bag in each hand.

Stop, commands a thin man in a baseball cap. He looks like a scarecrow posed as a crossing guard, one arm outstretched, the other resting on an object at his hip. I’ve accidentally whiskey-waltzed behind the club into the parking lot reserved for the dancers.

I’m trying to find my car, I tell the scarecrow.

There’s nothing for you here, he says. Is there someone you can call?

No, I say. There surely is not.

Bio: Keith J. Powell writes fiction, CNF, reviews, and plays. He is a founding editor of Your Impossible Voice. He has recent or forthcoming work in Lunch Ticket, New Flash Fiction Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Bending Genres, and Roi Fainéant Press.

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