Once a year the Ancient Ham crawls out of the sewer to sit on a curb and answer questions. People line up down the block. Before the Ancient Ham will answer, they have to poke it: they bring offerings—small sewing needles decorated with beads or feathers or floss. When the Ancient Ham reaches needle capacity, it rolls back into the sewer, sweating and shimmering.
Most questions are about health, wealth, or love. They must be yes or no questions. The Ancient Ham answers by bobbing left or right. Left is no, right is yes. When the Ancient Ham answers, people scream. They faint. They squeeze their eyes shut. They piss their pants. They dip their fingers into the ham juice that collects on the pavement, then suck their fingers and retch. Some people throw up. The air around the Ancient Ham swells with sweet breath. This makes the Ancient Ham teeter with delight. Get it real delighted, it will vibrate. Women clutch their hips, men flex their thighs.
This year, the line is extra long. The Ancient Ham answers then spins quickly to deter extra needles, extra questions. One question per person. The Ancient Ham predicts that a young woman will get a job promotion and she falls to the ground and grinds her butt into the juices. The next man in line kicks her lightly with his loafer. She gets up and hurries away, throwing up into her hands. The man asks the Ancient Ham if he should move to Australia like he has always dreamed. The Ancient Ham answers no. The man runs his hand down the front of his face, folding his nose onto his top lip. A small girl holding her mother’s hand slides a twinkling needle into the cold, wet meat, then asks the Ancient Ham if it is stupid and hateful. The Ancient Ham answers yes and then no. The girl looks up at her mother, confused. “Stupid,” the mother says, “but not hateful.” The girl squats down on the ground and dips her pinky into the juices. “Just like me,” the girl says. She rubs the juices onto her lips. “Just like you,” the mother says. The girl looks up, lips glistening. “Aren’t you beautiful,” the mother says. The Ancient Ham goes against its own rules and bobs right, right, right.
Meredith Alling is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her debut collection of short stories, SING THE SONG, will be out November 2016 on Future Tense Books. Her website is meredithalling.com.