:: Article


By Sean Ruane.

Fops arrived to the tune of calliope music and virtuosic slide-whistling; ‘ching-ching’ bells were attached to the handlebars of their velocipedes, to add the necessary degree of whimsy to their otherwise workaday coxcomb counterpoint. They rode high in the seat, trotting their bicycles around in a blended display of pedomotive showmanship and Broadway arrogance. They used one arm to steer; the other arm was used to brandish badgers (Taxidea taxus).

They came because of the stevedores (estibadoris profundis).

The stevedores came to town two weeks earlier in a Norfolk wherry, unloading themselves into rowboats and sculling to the docks. Stevedores in worn wool caps and experienced dundrearies alighted from the rowboat and produced from their coats devices fashioned out of a platypus bills; blowing through them, they summoned the others to port. After docking, the stevedore’s that piloted the wherry flung themselves over their own shoulders and tossed themselves overboard where they were neatly stacked on a pallet by the other waiting men.

Then the stevedores took to town, stealing whiskey, hoisting bordellos right off of their foundations, and moving them closer, to within a more convenient swaggering distance from port. Two stevedores, high on corn syrup malt, tossed the post office into the bay and as it sunk, plumes of letters floated to the surface and stuck to the side of their boat like stamps on a tourist’s trunk.

Stevedores have a taste for honey and, lacking steady employment, often resort to stealing it from suburban apiaries or from the backs of unattended honey delivery vans.

They were often seen in the morning, poised, stealing Mr. Vulpine Nash’s honey. One would be sitting on the apiary, his calloused hands golden with honey, while the second stevedore, on lookout, scanned the perimeter with the morose squint of a paranoid school marm.

Mr. Vulpine Nash used to dig ditches in his yard, line them with a honey substitute, and cover the holes with picnic blankets. In the morning he’d find two or three stevedores stuck together, covered in ants.

But the stevedores adapted.

They started using their longshoreman hooks to swing from tree to tree and then slowly drop onto the apiaries from above like willow monkeys. Mr. Vulpine Nash would watch them from his breakfast nook, peaking over the unsteady rim of his café brulot. Scored by salt and fistfights, the stevedores would spread their lips to form gaping seaside smiles that revealed several rows of surprisingly pristine teeth; there were sweet teeth, degenerate lamb teeth, and four pairs of very business minded honey incisors that could snip the buttons off of a tailor’s vest. They smiled at Mr. Vulpine Nash, their teeth webbed in honey.

This morning, upon hearing the calliope music, they cocked their heads and scuttled up a nearby tree using only their longshoreman hooks and raw shoulder strength.
Calliope music means fops. Fops mean danger.

Their teeth chatter so loudly that the fops say to one another, “Listen to those woodpeckers fuck!”

From the safety of the oak tree they watch the grand parade. These are no ordinary fops, they decide. Look at their morning-coats, remarks stevedore one. They are resplendent! And their lace cravats; yes, particularly fearsome, replies stevedore two. We mustn’t let them bite us.

The fops make a self-indulgent zigzag through town and on towards the park where they stop to picnic on clover and celery sandwiches. Pints of dandelion tea are swilled with foppish abandon. A fop in a purple frock coat picks his teeth with a longshoreman’s hook, a deliberate taunt, and more fops fashion a makeshift badger pen by leaning their velocipedes against a wall, allowing each cycle to slightly overlap the other.

The fops lay out saucers of ‘crème-de-leche’ for the badgers to lap up, but the salty badgers overturn them just as soon as they are laid out.

These aren’t frivolous badgers.

They want to run their teeth up and down the cob of a stevedore’s leg and make those small marks that nervous kids leave on pencils. The badgers salivate as they sharpen their teeth and claws on bleached thighbones.

The fops toss a captured stevedore, still sticky with honey, into the pen and the badgers skeletonize it within the time it takes to open and shut three snuff boxes.

Thoughts of a hunt twinkle and leap across badger synapses. The fops vault and leap and play.

Nobody notices the badgers watching.

Colonel Fish Barnett tethers his horse to a tree and strolls through the park to greet the fops, thanking them for coming on such short notice and with badgers, too! The fops, playing four-man Alouette with a deck of forty-eight, dismiss the Colonel with a wave of a handkerchief; some other fops, taking snuff and playing pall-mall, look curiously at the Colonel and twitter at his mode of dress.

One fop, strolling alone, overturns a rock with the business end of his onyx handled panda-bone walking cane and a stevedore lopes out, making a run for it.

But Colonel Fish Barnett has the reflexes of a panther.

As two fops fumble to release a badger, the Colonel has already stolen a mallet from one of the pall-mall players and is on horseback, tearing through the day like a jungle cat equestrian lightning bolt.

Oh my, but those fops can clap!

The Colonel swings the mallet at the woolen cap of the fleeing stevedore and connects, splitting him into fifteen small gigolos. The gigolos run off and scamper into thirteen different bars and hotel lobbies.

“Egads! Gigolos!” yells a fop.

That’s okay; gigolos we can handle, thinks the Colonel. Gigolos perform a harmless service.

They aren’t the ones throwing exhibits from the Great Blacks-in-Wax museum into the bay. With an impervious stevedore’s knot, they lashed the entire Crispus Attucks exhibit to a drum of corn syrup and plunked it into the bay. The museum’s curator commented that it sunk not without a certain bit of historical irony. The Colonel agreed; these stevedores are gratuitous and haven’t any sense of history.

There is a chill in the air; night is falling and that is when those crepuscular, honey glazed, woolen, bordello hoisters come out to play.

The badgers are getting antsy, too, and begin to fight with one another. A fop bangs on a velocipede with an ivory cane to break them up. Colonel Fish Barnett lights a brooding pipe and leans against his mallet. He will unloose a phalanx of badgers tonight, from suburb to sea, and let them finish things.

And the fops can swing their mallets.

From their tree-top perch, stevedores one and two look at one another and bray with fear, rubbing their legs, anticipating. They don’t want to be gigolos; nor do they want to glide through the honey-combed colon of a badger. Stevedore one looks for his platypus-billed stevedore call, but it must have fallen out.

Stevedore one bites at his bottom lip.

The shoulders of stevedore two emit a plangent shrug.

That night, as Colonel Fish Barnett sleeps a hero’s sleep, badgers knock down trash cans, and blow through town like a stevedore’s call, riding on the backs of Irish Wolfhounds, tolerating gigolos, playing pall-mall with the worn kneecaps of begging fops, smoking pipes, picnicking with honey, and adapting like crazy.

Later on, everyone agreed that the badgers had been watching; the curator of the new Great-Fops-in-Wax museum said that the badgers were watching with a sense of great historical irony.

Sean Ruane bottom

Sean Ruane lives in Baltimore. He has been published or has work forthcoming, mostly forthcoming, in Juked, Word Riot, Edifice Wrecked, Monkeybicycle, Eyeshot, The Flask Review, Mississippi Crow, Boston Literary Magazine, Clockwise Cat, and the Houston Literary Review.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, April 12th, 2008.