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Funny Fiction Contemporary

Dr. Harry Lightfoot dressed like a man, but he gossiped like a deacon. He drove a decommissioned mail van that had been painted to look like an ice cream truck with pastel playful animals frolicking and fraternizing as painted decoration on the sides, back, and even on the top. An amplified bullhorn had been fastened to the top, and from it, Dr. Lightfoot poured out loops of three tunes that seemed to have been played on a Fisher Price xylophone: "Merrily We Roll Along," "Jesus Loves the Little Children," and a generic little ditty that some people thought was "Girl from Ipanema" and other people thought was "Don't Mess with my Toot Toot." 

The animals on the truck had improved the ex-mail van's look overall. Rather than the stark eagle and the basic colors, the Lightfoot mobile looked like happiness coming down the road, playing its cute little tunes and reminding people of the innocence of childhood. No one--not even you--could help smiling, seeing the playful little animals on the blithe little buggy when it rolled through the neighborhood, mesmerizing people's collective attention. Lightfoot always turned on the charming jingles as he made the turn, down by the old gas station as he rounded the corner into Belle Ridge. The tunes were the town's dog whistle, and everyone would stop texting or raking or cutting or hoeing so they would anticipate the happy little truck with the animals, especially the cow that danced with the chicken, in a permanence that only art could provide. People even waved at the animals like they were greeting old friends or even their own pets. 

They waved at the good doctor, too, as they approached the truck one family at a time--Dr. Lightfoot's rules--hoping to buy the juiciest tidbits. Overtly, the retired psychologist sold meat out of freezers that had been hard-wired through the truck's fixed-up breaker box. He sold mostly steaks, burgers, and poultry, but he was also known from time to time to carry some lamb, duck, and an array of other meats in the converted, redecorated, souped-up mail truck. Covertly, he shared the news of the day, news that helped relieve the sharp pain that recent spikes in unemployment had injected in the recessed town when the underwear factory, as the people had dubbed it, shut down in the southern outskirts of Belle Ridge.

As he parked at the base of the hill that led up to the Anderson's yard, he switched channels from the music to his microphone so he could say, "You can't find better quality or prices than Dr. Lightfoot's meat!" That wasn't the original slogan, but the local pastor had suggested the edit. He'd also suggested that the good doctor not only turn off the very sensitive microphone but also that he should unplug it and lay it in the passenger seat.

"Trust me," the pastor had said.

This workday--the day that ended with crab graffiti--started just like other workdays for Dr. Lightfoot when, as usual, Mrs. Glasscock approached the truck first.

"Hey, Mr. Harry." Her voice, when you first heard it, sounded immediately like a cartoon version of Gracie Allen, but it always tailed off at the end of her sentences, leaving an audible aftertaste of parochial sadness.

Lightfoot held up a single finger. "Doctor…," he reminded her.

"Right, yes. Dr. Harry. That's right. Yes."

That wasn't exactly what Dr. Lightfoot wanted, but he didn't have all day, so he welcomed the woman into the truck: "Come on in, Annie. What can I get you today?"

If you knew her before she married Thomas Glasscock, you probably knew her as Anita, but the church pastor refused to marry the young couple unless the blushing bride changed her first name, too.

Annie sat in the old-school lawn chair that stretched out between the freezers. She propped her feet up, laid her head back, dropped a fiver in the swear jar indicating that she swore not to tell anyone what was said in the truck. She, then, inhaled deeply and prepared to let off steam in her therapeutic session with Dr. Lightfoot.

"I can only afford a pound of ground chuck today, Dr. Harry."

"Ground Chuck…coming right up, Annie. Say, where's Thomas today? Is he…working?"

"Naw. You know he ain't. He's at his momma's."

"At his momma's? Again? That's a good man to go see his momma…you know, out there where there's no phone reception so you can call and check up on him or anything. You know, a lot of women, especially over there in Quarryton, would love to have a man like Thomas, what that goes--sees his momma every day and, didn't you say, halfway through the night sometimes?"

"Did I say that?" Annie asked.

"Maybe it was Miss Shirley what told me that. But don't pay that no mind," Lightfoot said as he weighed the ground chuck. "She don't know, really. Probably not, anyway. Plus, if nothing else, them lezbuns sure don't want your man," he said, pointing up the hill towards the Andersons. "They just sit up there glaring at me when I come to the neighborhood, minding my own business, trying to make a living."

Annie turned to look out the windshield at the house up the hill with the covered porch, but on this day, only one rocking chair was occupied.

"Where did the other one go?" she asked.

"You know, I don't know," Dr. Lightfoot said. "I mean, it's none of my business what them lezbuns do. I only know what I've heard. So, as they say, last Tuesday, I was talking to one of your neighbors…."

Annie turned around in the old school lawn chair, and a deep sense of relaxation glossed her eyes as she prepared herself for the community news. She took out a roll of single dollars and dropped one into the jar every time Lightfoot said something provocative about the Andersons up the hill or the neighborhood, or Annie's mother-in-law…. Regardless, having never smoked anything but meat and having never patronized a strip club, the similitudes were lost on Annie as Annie lost herself in a meditative stupor and dropped singles, willy and nilly, into the swear jar. 

She was also unaware that the solitary Anderson she'd seen on the porch had left said porch and was headed toward the meat truck. The other Mrs. Anderson was already at the truck painting a basket of angry crabs in the truck's blind spot just over the left rear tire. That made the gawking neighbors wonder about the new goings-on because everyone knew Dr. Harry Lightfoot didn't sell seafood. He said he was allergic, but mainly, it was the smell.


The official neighborhood joke (a Dr. Lightfoot original) was that the Andersons from Belle Ridge could not have been in The Matrix because--now get this--there was no Mister Anderson. That joke helped sell a lot of steak.

"I put a little extra in there for you," Dr. Lightfoot told Annie as she crouched toward the door to be reborn into the neighborhood.

"You mean not all of that was true?" she asked.

"What?" His voice was sharp as cheddar. Both his and Annie's eyes had waxed shiny before he realized the confusion. "Darlin', darlin', I mean the chuck. The ground chuck, darlin'. I put an extra quarter pound in there because, well, you know you're my favorite." They both laughed, and his laugh steadily crescendo-ed as Annie left and as he took all but about five singles from the swear jar. He was hiding them in the lockbox when he heard his next customer entering the truck.

Assuming the townsfolk would follow standard operating procedure, he welcomed Mr. Rob Smith into the truck since he usually followed Miss Annie--and followed her way too closely as Dr. Lightfoot would often add.

"Come on in, sir . Have a seat. What can I--?"

"You're assuming a lot there, Lightfoot," Maria Anderson, who as a matter of fact was not Rob Smith, said with an emphasis on "foot."


"Meat wagon, eh? So what's today's special?

"I don't really do specials," Lightfoot said.

"What? No sausage jokes? Then run through the menu. What you got?"

"That might take a while."

Even though Maria had never participated in the ritual before, she dropped a five in the swear jar like a veteran. Someone, Lightfoot realized, had spilled the beans, breaking the first rule.

"Well, see," Lightfoot went into his wind-up and said, "we don't sell vegetables."

Maria took the five back out of the jar, and she took one of the loose singles for good measure.

"You're not funny, and you're not rich," Maria said. "I wouldn't do that again."

 "Ok," he said. He turned from her piercing eye contact to look in the freezer and rattle off the contents as if he had to look in there to remind himself.

Maria looked at the clock above the radio on the dashboard. She had to kill ten minutes. She had seen her partner Donna work fast, but she had no idea how Donna would be done with her crab art in ten minutes. 

Then, Maria saw the microphone. She saw where the microphone could be plugged in, and she saw the "On" switch for the PA. She could reach all of these items from the old-school lawn chair. She put the five back in the jar to see if he would take his head out of the freezer, but Dr. Lightfoot feared only two things in this world, and one of them was eye contact.


Meanwhile, back of the truck, the townsfolk jockeyed for position to livestream videos of Donna Anderson's artwork. Already, she had painted a lifelike crab basket just above the right rear tire. She had even started painting the crab at the bottom of the basket. The crab's claw extended toward the top of the basket. The painting looked so real that a few of the gawkers started clapping.

"Stop that!" Donna told them. "Do you wanna ruin the surprise?"

"Sorry." No one wanted to ruin the surprise.

"It's OK. I'm almost done."


"What's going on out there?" Lightfoot asked, pulling his head from the freezer.

"Some kids are just playing ball," Maria said. She could slightly hear the echo outside the truck as the microphone that now rested on her hip projected both of their voices outside.

Lightfoot did not notice the echo. "Playing outside? The weak, loser kids in this neighborhood don't play outside."

Maria dropped a couple of singles in the jar. "Really? And why is that?"

"Well, they just sit around the house playing video games, eating Puffed Cheese ®…." He looked up from the freezer, but not directly at Maria. Maria dropped a couple more singles into the jar. "...while their parents find ways to file for welfare rather than looking for jobs."

"Really?" Maria said. "In Belle Ridge?"

"No one really goes outside to do anything. You got to see that."

Maria dropped several singles.

"Well," Lightfoot said, "except Thomas Glasscock. He goes out plenty. Let me tell you…."


"I don't know what he's talking about," said Thomas Glasscock, who'd never actually left the neighborhood and had joined the audience that stood admiring Donna's crab art.

His wife wasn't buying it. "You most certainly do know--"

"Quiet," Donna said. "I'm done." She placed her supplies back in the yellow yard cart. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair," quoth she.

They all tried to look, but they were distracted by the rapid-fire round table of gossip pouring from the bullhorns atop the truck. The affairs, the medical conditions, the arrests, the addictions…. Some of them were true; some of them were false. Regardless, people's business--those juicy tidbits--now lay out in the open sun like fresh meat. The relatively good people of Belle Ridge suddenly felt dirty--maggoty even. 

Say what you will about these simple folk, but the people of this community have convictions, good, sense, and general goodwill toward their neighbors. A sense of a new beginning washed over their faces, and they smiled at each other in acknowledgement of their great revelation until they were smacked in those faces by another revelation.

"Are you people still livestreaming?" Donna asked. "Look, point your cameras this way."

Donna analyzed the painting she'd made on the truck. The painting featured three crabs. One had almost made it out of the basket, but the other two had grabbed his little feet and were pulling the hero back into the basket. Donna Anderson had even written the title under the painting: Huis Clos. No one ever asked about that.

"You can't keep just one crab in a basket," Donna Anderson explained. "The crab will just climb out. But if you have two or three, they'll pull each other down, even at the risk--"

"That Lightfoot said I still drink Bud Light!" one of the men inter[e]rupted. And with that proclamation of war, the townsfolk stormed the meat truck.

Well, it's a start, Donna decided. She opened the driver's side door and helped Maria out as the mob entered the truck through the only door they'd ever entered before. Although entering a different way didn't occur to the Belle Ridgeans, the memory of paying a man to deliver mainly pain disguised as protein turned the villagers into looters. Lightfoot eventually escaped with his life and his lockbox, but his meat had been….


The point is that, while they had become social media meme fodder, the people of Belle Ridge had a really--and I mean really--big community barbecue that weekend. The Andersons hosted it since they were the only couple that could afford a big enough grill.

Standing at the top of the hill, the townsfolk felt like they had all reached the top of the crab basket. Without inhibition or even the ability to carry a tune in a bucket, the people began to sing. Some of them sang "Amazing Grace" while others insisted on singing "Don't Mess with my Toot Toot," but from that ridge, the view was free and beautiful.

June 02, 2023 15:52

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1 comment

Colleen Ireland
15:05 Jun 11, 2023

Best short I've read in a while. I love your style!


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