There are men all over this town carrying piccolo cases and french horn cases. They grip the handles tight. They are white-knuckled, sweaty men with very little to lose, and inside their instrument cases reside all manner of absurdly illegal contraband.
These are not delivery men.
They travel in pairs on steel frame bicycles and are often mistaken––on account of their attire––as Mormons. They lock their bicycles to swaddling beech trees and staked baby evergreens, move on foot through farmers markets and the parking lots of coliseums. They have studied the various meanings of screams. When standing inside a forest, they will point at the next tree limb to come down in high wind, and should you wait there with them for high wind to arrive, you will know I am telling God’s truth.
But likely you don’t believe in God’s truth.
You want only to know what is inside the piccolo cases and french horn cases. I will tell you. Inside the cases are frog hearts and jackrabbit kidneys and whichever small game parts get deemed least edible in a given week, and each tiny organ is incised, and protruding from each incision is a slip of paper the size and shape and constitution of a common fortune cookie fortune. Three tiny organs, three fortunes.
When you ascertain that you are looking at relatively freshly-harvested inside parts, and you draw back in horror or hesitate or gasp, one of the two men will say to you, “Point to the one you looked at first.” You’ll hesitate further. He’ll say, “Don’t lie,” and “In a jam, go with your gut.” You’ll point, and the silent man will draw out the halved slip of paper sans touch of a single finger, and it will unfold itself while floating before your face, opening like a miniature greeting card, and you’ll read there the secret you’d always kept most locked at your core, the secret that, once revealed, will forever alter the pleasant trajectory of your existence.
You’ll ask the men, “How could you know this about me?”
And the one who speaks will answer: “Every camera was accessible to us. Every glass lens an eye through which we saw. As you sat for hours at your computer, we watched you watching. We knew. We recognized facial contortions and we categorized behaviors. Your masturbatory patterns, once sickening to us, became nothing more than an algorithm flowing as a stream that joins a river, as a tributary that forks to an estuary, flowing into millions of other algorithms, and from this confluence emerged an energy more powerful than the stoutest of hydroelectric dams.” Here, the man will smile ever-so-faintly before he farts and then continues. “But every block of cast concrete will crack, just as every secret will be found out, just as every sun is a star, forever exploding, forever consuming its own heart.”
You’ll pause. “Alright,” you’ll say. Then you’ll ask the men what their game is and they will not understand the question, so you’ll try different words, like angle, punchline, what’s the catch. Eventually, you’ll ask them, “What do you want?”
And at this, the men will smile an unabashedly tender smile, the kind we offer to babies and the very old who have forgotten everything but their own clenched hands.
And in the smile, in the wrinkles formed at the edge of their eyes, you’ll understand that what they feel for you is pity, for you are the most useless of all animals, and your dissection reveals nothing.
The one who had remained silent will speak two words. “You failed.”
Watch the little halved paper burn before you. Watch the frog heart drop to the red felt lining of the instrument case and there turn to ash before the men close the lid and snap the latches and walk away from you, humming the melody of the song that played on a delivery room boombox the night you were born, the same tune the embalmer hums in his basement as he fills you up with preservation juice.
Hum along. It’s high time you orchestrated your life.
Glenn Taylor is the author of the novels The Marrowbone Marble Company and The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia, and he now lives with his wife and three sons in Morgantown, where he teaches at West Virginia University. His new novel, A Hanging at Cinder Bottom, will be published by Tin House Book in July.
The Open Bar is currently accepting submissions for Flash Fridays and Flash Fidelity. Submissions to The Open Bar should be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of the category (e.g. Flash Fridays, Flash Fidelity, etc.) in the subject line.