A Tall Order
There’s a rabbit on my balcony. I call him Elvis. Not after the singer but after the Canadian figure skater with the mullet. The rabbit has a mullet too, though it’s gray instead of soot-black like the figure skater’s. My father found Elvis in the woods with a broken leg. The rabbit, not the figure skater. I found him in a plastic bucket by the oven, nestled between three button mushrooms and scooped him out and named him Elvis, just as the figure skater was finishing his third triple axle on television. I was never meant to have a pet. Single children are meant to be lonely. My father has stopped beating me for letting Elvis eat our houseplants, which is why he lives on the balcony now, in a homemade hutch made of discarded coffee tables and squares of green Astroturf I fished from the dumpster behind the swimming pool. I’m afraid Elvis will die one day, which makes my father scoff so hard he won’t stop coughing or taking his belt off. I’m afraid I’ll come home to a boiling pot of stew, a bottle of brown liquor on the table, and a pair of cartoon ears stapled to the foyer, some sort of lesson or trophy. In the style of shotguns in the shed, or a hunting knife with a handle made of ivory: death is the only form of manhood allowed in this house. My roof, my rules, says my father. My rabbit, I mutter under my breath, which is short and asthmatic.
Astrid Lindgren wrote a series of stories about an overconfident man-child in Stockholm named Karlsson who’d swoop down from his roof-perch to nearby apartments to cause mischief: broken cupboards, pantries emptied of sweets, statuettes toppled and floors scattered with flour, and a small boy waiting to take the blame, gasping with explanation before his disappointed parents—this same mold for each story. The small boy, Malish, preemptively scolding himself before a mirror, practicing contrition with a pile of switchblades at his feet that Karlsson had pilfered from other people’s apartments while the man-child himself fup-fups himself away by the spinning helicopter rotors that protrude from his back. My father reads these stories to me before bed with one eye to the balcony, where Elvis curls into his hutch, his thick haunches pressing into the varnished corners of his haphazard home. The sliding door ticks like a cuckoo clock, a pendulum made of broom handles, but midnight never comes. In the morning I check on Elvis and wipe the dew from his whiskers while he wriggles his nose and makes believe he was born on a twenty-first story balcony. Improbably pacifist. This is how big and docile he is: when I hold his nose up to my nose, his toes touch my toes. Below, people tromp through a thin strip of forest the city has left behind, smoking pot or holding hands or both. I sit beside Elvis on the balcony and fold letters into paper airplanes. The Fox and Chimera, scrawled in slanting eight-year-old ink, pinched between my eight-year-old fingers. Elvis watches the broad-winged airplanes push away, dip and rise with the wind, then spin toward the superhighway overhead. My father resets the cuckoo clock, which has stopped clucking, and returns to the kitchen, where he is waiting for his water to boil.
Alex Simand (@AlexSimand) lives and works in San Francisco, though he was born in Russia and grew up in Toronto, which means he exists in a state of constant cultural confusion. He holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Alex writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His work has appeared in North American Review, Matador Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Apogee, Mudseason Review, FIVE:2:ONE, Drunk Monkeys, and other publications. His short story, Election Cycle, was a winner of the 2017 Best Small Fictions Prize. Alex is an editor at Meow Meow Pow Pow, a graffiti broadside press.