:: Article

King of the Cobs

By Tom Laplaige.

He lowers his bottom jaw until he feels tension in his eardrums. He’s a Burmese python, a rewilded descendant of an exotic pet discarded in the swamplands. Opens wide and inserts the first of his Jersey corn-cobs longways in. Clamps his teeth down when the gag reflex says present, pulls the cob back and scrapes the kernels offworld into his mouth. Golden popping rows.

Yoooooo! Broh looks like he suckin’ a dick! Don’t stop til that corn cum, homey! The suburban teens, sons of dentists and accountants, provoke and titter and peacock for each other’s affirmations in his periphery. By now she would be around their age and know how to leave nowhere jackals like these tail-tucked and whimpering. He dials their volume down and keeps his task in thrall. There’s always a pensive one, a tagalong who tolerates cruelty for the company of his peers. He sends a tender thought to this one who says nothing. Steady, boy. Once he swung clubs with versions of their fathers.

His job is straight-forward. He undoes a chain. He takes tickets. He points them to a ramp. He counts up to forty heads and then closes the chain again. When he pushes the button, they go back and forth on the Pharaoh’s Fury Ride. The upside screams, the downside clenches their asses in anticipation. It’s a pendulous, little thrill. Seasonal work. Seasonal produce. All the while the salt-spangled rewards of his labor dance through his head dripping with artificial butter.

Today his mind has been searching for right triangles in the form of necklace pendants and protruding nipples. It browses for pure geometry in the mundane chaos. Each time he sees a sweat-slicked crucifixion stuck to a breastplate, he feels a pang of revulsion. What lord would want you to remember him this way?, he asks them through the turnstile with his eyes. Take a lesson from the Pharoah. Horus is an open eye of protection and celestial dominion and Christian suffering is a prescriptive prison. Buddha taught that all life is suffering, but at least Buddha told people to shut up and breathe about it.

Corncob number two is a processional of swan-shaped carriages mechanically drawn into his tunnel of loving mastication. It’s the nineteen fifties and all the young lovers touch knees then blush on their fateful trip to shy tongue touches and over-the-pockets petting. Mr. Sandman, send me a dream. The rows of wishful prudes scream in protest as he reverses course and peels them from their plastic seats, sending their depressing futures down his hole.

He piles the spent cobs on a plastic orange tray, constructing a pyramid piece by piece, on the paint-chipped picnic table. Chubby legs dangle from benches above damp mulch in the designated eating area of the fairgrounds. The Pyramid of Geezer, he thinks, alone with his own amusement, as he places another done cob on the bottom row with delicate focus. Four then three then two then one. Ten to a temple.

Wind blows sick pony his way and he sneezes. Wet bits weighed down by saliva and digestive enzymes fly yellow out from under his tongue, flap between his teeth too. A few find egress through his cracked nostrils or skid the back of his throat. Gbwess you! comes from between pigtails at a neighboring table and his eyes gloss loss. He oversmiles in her direction, stained enamels and chew’s collateral tucked under the sheets of his swollen gums. The little girl giggles and her mother stifles a look of pitiable horror with reflexive politesse. He flicks the girl a minor wave and she returns the wiggle before burying her head in the bunched skin of the mother’s mottled armpit.

Corncob number five offers a litany of boo-booed knees begging for mother’s kiss. He hushes each one in turn, whispering tender consolations before tearing into the flesh. There there, sweet darlings. Chomps away while over his shoulder leashless dogs snap jaws and swap cracks at burying their teeth in each other’s neck fur.

Hey! Control your animal! Dog owners make chase and mirror the savagery of the canine scrap with accusatorial vulgarities. Dumb fuckin’ jello-faced bitch! Point. Who’s the bitch? You ugly midget ass  fuck! Counterpoint. They make up for what they lack in jazz with mean-bellied bombast. The huskier one with the military haircut spits on the ground and ferries her yapping rat terrier away in her arms. He’s reminded of the anger he learned to let rinse.

The King of the Cobs finds relief in the voyeuristic magnetism of the altercation. Eyes off of him. His plastic prize watch signals near surrender to the evening shift. Two cobs to go, and time is squeezy. The great ferris wheel turns.

Nine and ten move across his mouth like a typewriter bar, each bite another word in a formal letter of resignation. Nine is haughty, pummels the keys. Ten is tactical, doesn’t burn any bridges and ends in warm regards. These final, gutted ears are given their place in the pyramid and for a whiff, all is.

Emptying his tray into the can, he watches the building blocks of the disposable temple slowly roll into bee-swarmed black plastic. Ceremony unspooling, he bows his head and whispers a small prayer over the river to the Pharaoh asking that his daughter be looked over, if ever she has surfaced. The smells of fried sugar and summer rot waft.

Tom Laplaige writes from the basement of a house with blue shutters. He is at work on his debut collection of short fiction.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, March 9th, 2021.