Robert Laughlin
 
Robert Laughlin lives in Chico, California. He is the creator of the Micro Award, an annual competition for previously published flash fiction. Two of his short stories are MWA Notable Stories, and his first novel, Vow of Silence, is available from Trytium.
 

Four Poems

Strawberries

Property Rights

Odd, Assorted Tools

 

Four Poems (November 20, 2011. Issue 33.)

Leviathan (Previously published in Seven By Twenty, 9/22/10.)

Hobbes IDd
my ex perfectly:
solitary
poor
nasty
brutish
and short.

The Lidless Eye of the Beholder (Previously published in Nanoism, 6 /5/09.)

The MC said
the Gorgon won the beauty contest.
The snakes on the judges' heads
hissed their approval.

A Mother Emails Her Daughters (Previously published in 50 to 1, 11/28/09.)

Your father and I
are having Christmas alone
for the first time
since any of you were born.
Whenever you want us to visit you in the hereafter,
remember
we have a prior commitment to your husbands' parents
or
can't afford the ectoplasm to go from our cloud to yours.

Night Rodeo (Previously published in Writers' Bloc #3 (2009).)

A childhood visit
to the county fair:

A barrel
with reins and a saddle attached.
Four men thrashed ropes
fastened to front and rear,
and no bronc
was ever so difficult to stick to.

It came to mind
when his date,
the lady bodybuilder,
gazed lustfully across the candlelit table.

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Strawberries (November 20, 2010. Issue 22.)

It was my last summer in the Valley. I’d just graduated from the college not of my choice, and the three guys who shared my off-campus apartment were already gone. I didn’t expect to pay rent past the end of the month. The recruiter at the Senior Job Fair knew I was the brightest bulb in the carton, and told me to stay put for the Personnel Officer’s call. Then I would head back to the Bay Area and start peddling systems software; the bigger the client, the bigger the system.

The day after I sold off my ten-speed, I noticed a hand-painted sign across the street from my apartment: STRAWBERRIES, ¾ MILE. The sign was sticking out of a vacant lot with rotting campaign signs and garage sale notices, and the arrow beside the lettering pointed to the far side of the exurban green line.

The last four years, I hadn’t eaten any better than frat boys usually do. The campus cafeteria and a nearby convenience store supplied most of my diet; I’d gotten fresh fruit by pinching from the communal fridge or making the (appallingly long) bike ride to the nearest full-service grocery. I decided I couldn’t leave the Valley without buying farm goods from the source at least once.

It was very hot that day, and I’m sure I had to walk over a mile. Green fields were all around me, yet everything smelled of dust and burnt grass. The produce stand was the same size and shape as the fireworks stands that were popping up. Strawberries in plastic wicker baskets covered the front counter: one-dollar baskets on the left, three-dollar baskets on the right. Behind the counter were two Latino boys, four and eight, wearing striped T-shirts their parents probably got at the nearest Wal-Mart. I drew out a ten-dollar bill, the only money I had at the moment.

The four-year-old reached out with his stubby arms and pawed at the ten-dollar bill. The eight-year-old sat politely while I put a one-dollar basket in front of him. I said, “This is all,” and waited for him to take the bill and make change. He looked closely at the bill, probably checking its denomination, and sat without saying a word. The four-year-old kept on pawing.

They don’t speak English. It was a hundred and five in the shade, and there wasn’t any shade outside the produce stand. I tried pantomime, anything to make the eight-year-old realize I wanted change. It was useless; he never let on that he understood. Maybe it’s not a language barrier, I thought. Maybe this low-IQ illegal kid still hasn’t mastered arithmetic, or his low-IQ dirt farmer parents didn’t leave him any small bills. Or maybe he’s not dumb at all—he may think that if he plays dumb long enough, I’ll buy ten bucks worth of strawberries that will rot before I eat half of them. I made the long, hot, dusty walk home without any strawberries.

A week later, I returned to the Bay Area and started setting new sales records. I’m still in an apartment, a comfy one in Livermore meant to hold me until I pick out a house. The East Bay has small farms here and there, and it happens there’s a produce stand just down the street from my apartment complex. But I never go there. I’ve got new wheels, and I shop at a Whole Foods two miles away. The farther I stay from the bottom of the food chain, the better I like it.

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Property Rights (June 20, 2010. Issue 18.)

Men like to think of their wives’ bodies as personal playthings. My Harry paws me every hour, but he still has his generous side. Yesterday I let him know I was pregnant. Dressing this morning, I found he’d used a marker to write on all my cups, PROPERTY OF JUNIOR.

 

 

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Odd, Assorted Tools (June 20, 2009. Issue 6.)

At last, a use for that half-scale ruler. He’d lost the bet; a photo of his dingus had to go on the website.

ruler

 

 

 

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