sporklet 14

Kevin Grauke

A 1958 Quarter, Twenty-Two Years Later
for the gas station proprietor

He watches the Granada until it’s a white
speck that melts into the copper horizon.
Then he waits, counting to a hundred as
calmly as his blood and breath can manage.


His free hand fumbles the key and in his
hurry he nearly leaves the door to just swing,
but then he gets it right, metal slides into 
metal, and off he stumbles through the loud sun
and the dead weeds toward Ida, but what
will he tell her? That a stranger pressed him
to call a coin toss? That midnight seemed to fall
only an hour after egg salad for lunch?
That he could smell the soil of his mother’s grave
on the man’s breath? That he heard Jesus in the distance,
and he was laughing?


The hand without the key still holds the quarter.
His palm sweats around it. When his sore feet
stop, he raises his fist and stares at its shell of fingers.
What will he see when he uncurls them?
Something luminescent with blessings? Something
charged with miracles and their mysteries?
Or will he see nothing but a dead man’s profile
staring blankly into two futures, In God We Trust
tucked beneath his disdainful chin,

waiting to determine another fate?
Excised Moments Before the Abandonment of a Family
for Roy Neary

His wife thinks he’s playing
with his food and destroying
the living room with shoveled dirt,
but she doesn’t know that he’s
already heard it, first from a mashed
pillow and then from wriggly Jell-O
brought to the neighborhood
cookout. These things spoke
to him in alphabets of shapes,
not letters, as he scanned the sky
from the makeshift observatory
he hammered together on his roof.


She doesn’t know these things
that once really happened but
now never did. Gone it all went,
extraneous, not even leaving
the tailings of erasure. Because, you
see, she doesn’t need to know.
Because (you see) her understanding
is understood. He can never be deemed
derelict, unlike a certain Norwegian mother
long-ago, unlike so many uncertain
mothers everywhere before and since,
since fathers and their choices
are always understood, and fine.


And so off to Wyoming he goes,
to climb a ramp made of light. Off
to the twinkling beyond he goes,
so brave and so intrepid, the
righteous cosmic explorer,
into the forever, never to see
again the women and children
he has left at home who’ll never need
to know anything but that he vanished.

It’s Called Voight-Kampff for Short

He saw the two dial indicators gyrate frantically. But only after a pause. The reaction had come, but too late.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

When the machine opens,
its bellows expand, contract,
sniffing the air for the essence
of fear and disgust while the lens-
piece rises on a jointed arm
to aim itself at the nearest iris.


How many times has he watched
this slow unfurling? As many times
as he’s ignored their questions about
the purpose of all this, as many times
as he’s explained that reaction speed is
important, and, no, smoking won’t affect
the test. He watches a left eye come into
focus, magnified until its odd folds of
brown or blue or green fill the screen.


The first prompt he’s given to read
by the machine is always different but
always familiar. He speaks of mothers
clubbed in the streets, butterflies in
killing jars, turtles in the desert turned
on their backs, photos of nude girls,
servings of boiled dog . . .


He does his best to mask his boredom
as he asks How do you react? What do you say,
do? Why are you not helping? He never really
hears their replies. Do correct answers even
exist? He simply watches the screen, waiting
for static, waiting for the buzz and the crackle,
the zeroing out.


Sometimes he wonders how he would fare
on the other side of this mindful machine,
pressed to consider the fates of unknown mothers,
turtles, even dogs already boiled and served
on salvers. What would the bellows smell,
the lenspiece see? Would he fluctuate, dilate?
Or, amidst the buzzing and the crackling,
would he simply not know all that he doesn’t know,
all that he’s never known?

After the Thorns’ Birthday Party for Their Son

for the woman in the dark skirt whose face we never see

The drive home is quiet—no talking, no radio.
After all, what is there to say after something
like that, especially with their own son still awake
in the backseat, buzzing with candy and cake,
so blissfully unaware? She eyes her husband
but he won’t shift his gaze from the road. Which
is good, of course—he’s being safe—but how
many did he have after they cut the nanny
down, something he couldn’t bear to watch?
Not that she blames him. All of it—the shatter-
ing glass, the slow and silent swinging—was horrible,
but maybe she, the one who didn’t look away,
should be the one steering the family home.


She holds so many questions in her mouth.
What did the nanny say? Had it been It’s all for
you? But what could that even mean?
The laughter and the music were all so loud.
And then there was the birthday boy.
Even with his mother wailing in his ear after
snatching him up, he was so calm, the only one
who didn’t echo the shrieks of his parents.
He only had eyes for that black dog by the maple.
But his parents don’t even own a dog.
She stares at her husband, his ridiculous,
oblivious sideburn.


It needs trimming. She will do that tomorrow.

At Ben’s at Three in the Morning on a Thursday

for the woman in black sitting by the door

After Frank blows in with friends, she hears
talk of beer and suavity and fucking
but she doesn’t look up from her hands.
Looking up never changes anything at Ben’s.
When the Bill Doggett record stops, she
knows it’s time for Ben to turn on his singing
lamp and for sweet clowns to tiptoe from the
shadows. Nearby, she feels Raymond in his
silver lamé jacket with the sleeves pushed
up to the elbows raising a snake above his head
while he sways with closed eyes to the Big O.
She knows that soon the woman always in blue
will return from the room where she always cries
and then Frank and his friends will be gone,
and Ben will shut off his singing lamp,
but will someone then put Bill Doggett back on?
She hopes so, but now she feels the woman’s
velvet dress brush past her like a funeral curtain
and then Frank and his friends are gone,
at least for this night, tonight.

The Big O from Wink is quiet. She listens for
the click of the singing lamp. Or
did it already happen? She feels Ben’s eyes,
but looking up never changes anything,
and she knows that Ben knows this, too.
She waits for the scratch of the hi-fi needle.
Soon the room’s dimness will flare, briefly
bleaching the coral walls the white of daylight,
something she hasn’t felt on her skin in years,
though she’ll forget this once the needle drops,
as it always does,
at Ben’s.

Kevin Grauke has published work in The Southern Review, Fiction, Cimarron Review, Story Quarterly, and Quarterly West, to name a few. His collection of stories, SHADOWS OF MEN (Queen’s Ferry Press), won the Texas Institute of Letters’ Steven Turner Award for Best First Work of Fiction. Originally from Texas, he lives in Philadelphia and teaches at La Salle University.