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The Ventriloquist by Marcelina Vizcarra | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

December 15, 2013      

The Ventriloquist by Marcelina Vizcarra

We fought to enter each other through our tiny apertures, to join two bodies into one, and in failing created a third whom we named Mitchell for reasons now lost to me. For the next fifteen years, I picked up Mitchell on alternating Friday afternoons in the reverse fashion of dropping my laundry at my grandmother’s house during college, soiled and ashamed, and collecting it, clean, absolved, and blessed with sunshine. Mitchell’s mother, like my grandmother, was a gracious martyr, wincing only subtly at the stubborn stains and peccadilloes I presented: I fed Mitchell a hummingbird’s diet of sugar and dye.
    They nodded. They understood. I worried that they condescended to me. I worried that they didn’t. As for Mitchell, I took him everywhere it was dark or grimy or loud or nauseating or fast. I watched him drop gluey glop into his mouth and marveled at his face, alive with dead people.
    Our visits, let’s be honest, were never about Mitchell, but about this experiment in my head to know people I didn’t know any longer via someone I hadn’t gotten to know yet. Like I said: experiment. Mitchell would be me or my father as a child; I was my father or my grandfather or an uncle who died in the war. I tried on their voices as he tried on their faces, and this became the way I interacted with him—and sometimes with others, though to a less obvious degree. When he resembled his mother, I was charming and withholding at once, and tried to impress him with my machismo, and the fact that I was in demand. Before I picked him up, I called everyone I knew so my telephone would ring and ring all evening and he’d squirm and clamp his lips in annoyance while I chatted away our visit—he was still lacking the maturity to put me in my place, or excuse himself as his mother had finally done. By the time I realized what I was doing, his face had started to change again.
    Twice a month, he jumped into the car a different person, bangs longer or abruptly gone, suddenly moist-smelling, or with foot odor fuming from the vents in his shoes. My references aged as quickly as his interest in Pokemon/Bakuman/Spiderman waxed-waned over just a few visits. His time with his mother was the feature. Ours was the commercials. So, it was no wonder we did commercial-type stuff: zany, loud and disruptive. I pandered to the LCD. I let him flip forks off restaurant tables. We ran like raptors through the food court. We were visitors in each others lives.
    Our conversations were not unlike those of people on an airplane. He told me about his new step-father. “He’s a salesman.”
    “So, who isn’t?” I interrupted his praise with anecdotes about my summer living in a van with other perpetual adolescents on a sort of subsidized hegira not that long after he was born, when I sold carpet cleaners door to door. After a successful cleaning, the women would admire their fresh polyester lawns and say, “I’ll never let anybody walk across it again,” like they were talking about their hearts.
    But the best time, the time we came closest to the Icarus dream of male freedom and communion was his freshman year, when he most resembled my father—as in he was channeling his grandfather—and had acquired, through no fault of mine, a peculiar maturity. Redemption was in the air as I rounded the cul-de-sac.
    Mitchell’s mother came outside alone. “Sick?” I asked, wanting to impress her with my paternal telepathy.
    “He has a date.”
    “So?” I said, and waited for her to make a relevant point, which was not forthcoming. “You mean he has a date now?”
    “Of course, now.” She slid up her sleeve to check her watch. “Or, actually, half an hour ago.”
    “Where’s it at?” I fished a paper out of the glove box.
    “What? Please. Don’t.”
    “It’s my weekend. I’m sure once I talk to him and the lucky lady, they’ll happily postpone their date until next Friday.” She rolled her eyes. I had protested too much. I’d like to say that I felt offended and irritated, even angry in a righteous how-dare-she-impose-his-social-life-onto-ours way, but I felt none of that, only relief. I did, though, for ego’s sake, cruise past the ice skating rink.
    Looking at the twirl of people, I tried to pick him out. Did anybody wear natural hair colors anymore? Pinks and blues, ultra black, or bangs like shocks of spilled ink, the outfits like Halloween costumes, dark and webby.
    On the ice, I gained my balance, bent deep at the knees to increase my speed, to impress him, maybe even pass him the first time so he could point me out to his date for an admiration loop. I swiveled around a sloppy couple and checked the rear-view, relieved it wasn’t him. Then I dropped into a crouch and shushed past a group of junior high girls.
    When I stood up again to get a better view, I saw Mitchell, not ten feet away, skating beside a plump, panting girl. We faced each other, doppelgängers with a twenty-three year age difference. We regarded each other as improbable time travelers intruding in the other person’s present. His face was full of anxiety, resentment, fear, a mirror of my own for the past fifteen years. As quickly as I’d stopped, I skated away into the crowd of strangers. There was nothing for me to say.

    1 comment to The Ventriloquist by Marcelina Vizcarra

    • Nicole

      I really loved this line: “After a successful cleaning, the women would admire their fresh polyester lawns and say, “I’ll never let anybody walk across it again,” like they were talking about their hearts.” Great story, overall.

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