Two Eric Wareheims
by Kevin Thomas
I dreamt that you and I played two-on-two against two Eric Wareheims. They were as large and bearded and dually unruly as you can imagine a couplet of dreamed Eric Wareheims’ would nocturnally be. Not one of the four of us was wearing one iota of anything resembling proper basketball attire. In fact, we were clothed more like failed businessmen. I would gladly use the gender-neutral term “businesspeople” but, as you will shortly and non-athletically see, there was an absence of women in this specific sleep-excursion (and yes, that is still, even at my age, rare for me; your assumptions are, as they’ve always proved to be, wholly correct). I see failed men of generic and prohibitively-exciting business ventures daily in my wanders around empty playgrounds where you and I, as you most likely recall, could often be found playing one-on-one until curfew inducing lights of the park fizzed black and the ball no longer existed as an object to hold and to shoot and to dribble, but as a blunt hammerer of fingers and a blurry orangish-orb of confusion, at the park down the street from where you and I, in separate houses, of course, used to live as young boys in those seminal pre-ejaculatory days. The failed businessmen lounge nervously at picnic tables on the periphery of the playground's sawdust during, one assumes, fifty-five-minute lunch breaks (five minutes being reserved, of course, for the one-hundred and fifty second walk to and fro said playground from said generic offices). They keep ties loose around unbuttoned white and sometimes navy blue shirts, uniformly, during these daily sixty minutes. Some are embroidered with logos, the shirts, not the businessmen (although, given the option and the vague promise of a raise in salary, plus the addition of more beneficial benefits, surely they would agree, in dramatic key-changing song if required, and would then soon find themselves sitting in corporately-approved tattoo parlors where pre-selected letters and pictures of the industrious life-making job they have pledged their [now] skin and heart and profitable allegiance to, being permanently inked across foreheads in equally-corporately [after months and months of focus groups and boring board meetings regarding results of said focus groups' findings on the ethics and potential likability of corporate forehead tattoos]-approved font); while still others, the shirts, hang loose and unfitted and painfully non-tailored which, unintentionally, one hopes, adds to the appearance, the overall je ne sais quoi, of listlessness these businessmen sporadically spaced about the park exude. I don't wander often, mind you, I would hate for you to report back to my mother and father (if you can find him) that I am a wanderer of the worst kind. She has told me before, redundantly in the past, that she abhors wanderers. They are feckless, she is partial to saying. As you may remember, my father was prone to wandering. He, recently, wandered all the way to another town, multiple county lines to the east—I have been informed by way of restraining order (delivered by yet another of these uninspired middleagers I find myself inundated with at every turn)—and he does not appear to be planning a return home to my mother who, again, despises those whom wander. A man with a Hertz tattoo across his forehead whispered to me just the other day that he, too, used to be a wanderer, ashamedly, until he decided to handcuff his profitability to a higher cause. Hence the tattoo, slowly and redly and crustily healing and, potentially (by the look and smell of it when Mr. Hertz leaned in to my friendly lent ear), infected, scrawled in perfect Hertz font across the thin skin above his generous and brush-like eyebrows. He said his one regret, if he were required to proffer one (and, as you may remember, once I get a certain idea in my head, a request I wish to be fulfilled, I am dogged in my pursuit of desired fulfillment, so, needless to say, I pressed him until he said:) was that he lacked the gumption, the guttural fortitude (my words), to ask the tattoo artist to not-so-inadvertently stab his eyeballs with the sharpest needle he was in possession of during the newly-required corporate tattoo ordeal. As I write this, I am still piecing together all the facts the gentleman relayed to me as he rubbed and then remembered not to rub his puss-effusive Hertz tattoo. I apologize for my lack of complete clarity, but rest assured future letters to you (which, now that I am on the subject of the postal service, it seems that I may have the wrong address for you? Previous letters have found their way back to me with “Return to Sender” and “Does Not Live Here Anymore!” scribbled across the face of the envelope in black and then blue ink. And, unless my memory is, at my relatively young age, beginning to slip, the handwriting’s script is dangerously reminiscent of yours?) will address these mysteries and any other related or non-related queries you may find yourself being queried by. Back to my dream, where I was pretty non-plussed to find us both, you and I, wearing starkly white shirts, complimented not so well by earthy brown ties, and, as if to complete the look, we were inscribed by perfectly healed ink and bright colors across our foreheads with the words, one atop each of our faces, KONICA MINOLTA. For it to work, as they hoped it would, you were contractually required to be on my right side at all times for prospective customers to read the specifically and corporately-approved placed names in order to ascertain the meaning quickly and meaningfully and, hopefully in the end, profitably. This left-to-right- forever arrangement caused our game against the Eric Wareheims to be almost impossibly difficult. We resembled a three-legged donkey nipping at its stubby tail with blocky yellow teeth, ad nausea, moreso than a basketball duo of any reputable skill or experience. The Eric Wareheims threw the ball indiscriminately against the backboard, against the towering walls bordering the court’s cracked and green pavement. They threw the ball high in the air until it eclipsed the blinding sun for a black and round moment, and they both cocked heads back like handguns’ hammers and laughed maniacally until the ball came flaming back to the court. We, you and I, standing left-to-right, KONICA MINOLTA'd correctly, ensuring the money would continue to accrue simply and direct-deposittedly into our accounts, kept hearing, and then eventually being interrupted by, the shrill of a distant whistle screaming falsetto anger, presumably pinched between dry and thin lips (like those of my father when he was still a non-wanderer and still our youth basketball coach and still insulting the way you ran penguin-like and the way I cried as my mother cried and cries). The whistle sounded as if its tiny ball which was intended to rattle free, mid-blow, was lodged in the tiny window along the broad-sided face of the shiny metal. Stuck and useless. Stuck and dying there, at the mercy of his, my father’s, wind. The Eric Wareheims took no pity on us and the whistle which seemed, dreamily, to be causing convulsions through the KONICA member of the duo, namely: me, and abused the multitude of times we found me on lying on the ground face up, eyes open, tongue askew (which, of course, contractually, you were then forced to lay down next to me on my left side in order to maintain the integrity of our newly tattooed employment), to prance over us, the Eric Wareheims, skip around us, giddily and arrogantly, taking every advantage they could of our indecently supine, but ultimately profitable, condition on the ground in order to score basket after uncontested basket. The whistles became more frequent and louder and undeniably closer. We finally stopped quaking on the ground, quite miraculously, considering the deep and dark dregs of, admittedly, horrific memories the whistle in my presumed father's mouth was bringing forth in my part of the KONICA MINOLTA partnership. When we, you and I, finally stood tall and proud and left-to-right, as corporately obliged, it was only then that we saw my father and his whistle which was the size of a battle ship, complete with room for a name like U.S.S. MISSISSIPPI, anchoring his chin to chest, teeth barely able to keep the whistle afloat as he pushed the whistle and his hooked body towards us, the bow of the whistle grating and regurgitating the asphalt and leaving a frothing, crumbled green wake behind him. He whistled and the walls lowered and there he was, the wanderer no more. He pushed the whistle forward, his neck straining, his male-pattern baldness leading him like the North Star, on full display for us to see and for me to know where my cranial future lies as well, deep in the middle of the empty baldness. The Eric Warheims stopped trying to make us laugh. Stopped looking into the camera and making screwy faces and gaseous noises and sickly lip smacks. They stared at my father and his titanic lip-whistle and when they saw the fear in KONICA's eyes they charged forward, hand in hand, and ripped the whistle from my father's mouth. They tossed the ocean-ready whistle over the walls that had claustrophobically sprung up again all around us, and we all waited and listened for the splash. Salt water cascaded over the tops of the walls and picked us up in the resulting turbulent wash. We scrambled to stay KONICA MINOLTA'd correctly as we gasped for air, but the undertow proved too powerful. We all, the four of us, sank to the bottom where (and this is why I am writing to you today, because what I am about to relay to you is the impetus for an idea I think we, you and I, can successfully execute in hopes of finally making the fanciful amounts of money we always dreamt of making, you may remember, as kids, the last time I saw you, out under the stars, sitting on the swings, each on our own of course [thanks to your repeated requests], swaying back and forth in the cold air of the fall of our seventh year, some thirty years ago now) once we hit the bottom the Eric Wareheims unhinged their jaws revealing jagged rows of serrated teeth and furiously swam merman-like towards my father and his thin and, even under water, dry lips, tearing flesh from bone in long blood-letting strips. The blood blobbed and coagulated and formed little blood bubbles in the murky water. We surfaced, you and I, burst forth from the water like trained KONICA MINOLTA dolphins trapped within a blue pool and we joined our seven-year-old hands and smiled and cried and surged towards the sun beyond the atmosphere’s cap, unfettered and tattooless, and I looked at you and said: I have an idea. And here it is:
Kevin Thomas was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, but lives and writes in Los Angeles. He received an MFA in Graduate Writing from Otis College of Art and Design, where he was awarded The Board of Governors First Book Fellowship. He's had various short stories and flash-fiction pieces published in such places as (b)OINK, Boston Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, and In Parentheses.