Ten Barber is a basket of disasters. He falls asleep at inconvenient times, mostly whenever he’s comfortable, but has insomnia that keeps him awake during all the appropriate hours of slumber. He speaks word salad gibberish when he’s *not* nervous, and is barely audible when he is. Worst of all, he continually sees things that are out of place, oddly juxtaposed, or just mismatched and can’t stop himself from trumpeting these observations with crystal clarity. No word salad there. Ten Barber makes friends like a teenager makes love – for five minutes at a time, but as often as you like. Ten is 25-ish – he says 25-ish when anyone asks, because Ten can’t seem to remember specifics about himself or his personal life. He hasn’t got a personal life, as far as he knows.
He has just finished commenting to a little girl on the sidewalk, passing by with one hand in her mom’s digits and another wrapped around a doll’s head, that if it were a voodoo doll, someone somewhere probably couldn’t see and might be about to drive her car into something. That might have been bad enough, except that at that moment there was a squeal of breaks and a someone did, in fact, plow into the down tailgate of a pickup truck pulled to the end of the curb. Besides being socially awkward, Ten Barber was cursed with incredibly bad luck. More accurately, because lots of people had bad luck not half as bad as Ten’s, he seemed to be a lightening rod for the anguished mischief of some drunken deity with no impulse control.
The little girl started shrieking in terror despite Ten’s attempt to calm her by saying “mouse games always make the hat”, and the mother was too shocked to join chorus with the beginnings of the rage Ten had seen in her brows just before the wreck, so it seemed a good time to keep walking. But Ten, despite his many weaknesses, couldn’t bring himself to be callous toward those in need. So, of course, he rushed to the driver’s side of the now halted vehicle, banged on the window, and was surprised to find, instead of a face looking out from the glass, his own face reflected where a driver should be. The car itself was visibly empty of any human life.
Just then, a glancing shock to the top of his head, and he saw too late a man in a Rally Pro hat, reflected crudely, like a Monet painting of cafe diners, in the car window, swinging something dark and solid. He touched his head, and felt it moist and a little sticky, as he turned to hear the man asking “what’d you say?” It was that particular high pitched ending on “say” that you recognized as a challenge and a threat. Ten said it again, something he couldn’t have repeated from memory later, if his life or all life – the shrieking girl, her now raging parent, the spittle spraying man with some kind of billy club, and even the absentee driver of the Plymouth partly wedged under the tailgate – depended on it.
He could tell you it was a Plymouth, because Ten Barber fixed cars under a proverbial and actual shade tree in his great aunt’s otherwise desiccated front lawn. He was the best mechanic at the lowest prices within 45 miles – roughly the radius of Springhold with its handful of outlying shacks where the tax dodgers and outcasts lived. He could tell you his name was Ten, even at that moment, a trickle of blood finding its way into his ear. But he couldn’t tell the man whatever he’d thought he might have said loudly enough for it to seem anything other than an insult, and the next time Rally Pro hit him, he couldn’t tell you anything. It was lights out – blind to the world, like that Barbie still clutched in the wailing child’s hand, for some stretch of unknown minutes or hours.
He woke to the relief-laded exhalations of Crystal, his one more-than-five-minutes friend.
PS. Do not start writing with something on the burner – stove or otherwise. It’s poetic, writing in a burning building, but frankly too hard to concentrate. NOTE: most of these chops I hope will be complete stories, short as they are, but it’s not always possible.