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It was approximately 2:38 pm Thursday when suspicion began to swirl innocently, like a wisp of lazy gray stink from an old fire. Then it exploded suddenly and shook the streets of Poughkeepsie with determination because CBS News had been deceived. You can get away with a lot nowadays, including murder and self-mutilation, but you cannot lie to CBS.

The unlikely eye of this storm was a shy man named Mollusk P. Molever, whose life (until Thursday) was so ordinary and predictable that neighboring Poughkeepseans were never in doubt as to the dependable progress of Thursdays, Fridays and alternate Tuesdays when Molever parked his car at the 3rd Street Municipal Garage, put 50 cents in the parking meter, looked both ways before crossing Ormand Lejun Exit and walked to a canopied entrance to join a regular foursome for dribbles and snorks upstairs at the old Oki-Doke. Molever told himself that he enjoyed snorks and rolled a fairly firm dribble. Alternatively, he supposed that these were sociable games that helped to advance his visibility in Greater Poughkeepsie Chamber and were good for business in the long run. The Oak-Dawn Hotel was a passable backdrop for this latter supposition, although its brick and marble lobby had seen happier days and fatter calves three decades ago and was currently in violation of several fire regulations. No matter. The men who played snorks and shouted too loudly upstairs in the Main Parlour gave no thought to their personal safety. When men dribble, something in our primitive hunter-gatherer DNA impels us to scoff at municipal building codes.

In truth, Molever was neither snork shark nor chamber whore. These thrice-weekly outings were an ill-conceived, shameful sacrifice, all the more corrupt because Molever’s intended victim was primarily himself. For an hour and a half every Thursday, Friday and alternate Tuesday afternoons, he led a double life of misery and deceit, trading his dignity for crumbs of false affection because Molever’s pals had been led to believe that his name was Bertram something. “Hi, Bert!” they chimed in unison upon his arrival and “See ya, Bert!” echoed across the carpeted lobby of the Oki-Doke when it was time to go home.

During their first match, nearly three years ago, Litton mistakenly got the idea that his new partner’s name was Bert. He used it in its formal entirety whenever Molever muffed a simple dribble. “Good God, Bertram!” Litton would shout on such occasions, because his partner should play better than that, for heaven’s sake. A child could have slid that shot! -- and by an eternal tradition of male hierarchy there was no way to change partners. Molever and Litton were bonded irrevocably by virtue of Adolph Potmer’s heart attack in 1992, and in Litton’s mind an inexcusably weak dribble was reprehensible no matter who replaced whom. Their evil opponents Thummwugger and Klack merely sniggered, thinking Bert What’s His Name tragic and laughing at Litton’s exasperated discomfiture, an imagined laurel of greatness shunning his dribble puck for the millionth time thanks to Bert.

Of course, Molever always burned with shame, loathing his poor play and loss of dignity. “Sorry, Neville...” he would mutter, unconsciously accomplishing a nickel’s worth of justice, because Litton’s christian name was almost certainly Newell.

At home, Molever lied to his wife and said that he dribbled well. “Oh, fine, fine...” Molever fibbed, no matter how closely she inquired. “It’s only a game, dear,” he certified. But at the dinner table his food went cold from inattention, so busily was Molever’s brain bubbling and gurgling over the problem of snorks. He used to be a fairly good dribbler, for heaven’s sake. What on earth happened? And behind his white plaster facade of wondering, there was the unspeakable evil of pretending to be Bertram Something.

“Are you all right, Mollie --?” his wife asked, shaking Molever from chronic puzzlement at dinner, which sometimes intruded a little too forcefully on her razor-sharp intuition: “-- or is my cooking just boring? We can always go back to eating microwave popcorn and sliced peaches, you know.”

So close to being found out, so vulnerable to snorkers and loved ones, Molever’s world shrank and darkened a little more each day. Little lies turned into bigger ones and soon he felt as if there was no one he could trust to hear the truth. As recently as 1997, he answered the phone with enthusiasm: “Good morning, Mollusk Molever speaking!” -- but now he was fast becoming the spent shell of a kakistocratic experiment in self-government, grunting fewer and terser monosyllables, incapable of enjoying cellular telephony. Cut from the sticky web of human agreement, Molever drifted tragically to violent crime. An elderly neighbor lady later told CBS News: “I knew it all along. He was too normal.”

The initial flash of anger was ominous indeed. On the morning of Molever’s semi-annual sales management assessment at Mostly Modern Paper, he was irresistibly drawn to the food displayed in Deloon’s big front window -- a row of fat silver flounders and even fatter, silverer salmon, whole, giant, healthy (albeit murdered by asphixiation and disemboweled) fresh fish proudly marching on a field of crushed white ice. Call it fate. Irresistible impulse. Molever dashed inside and purchased the biggest, fattest flounder of them all. “$13.75,” the clerk warned him from the scale. “I’ll take it!” Mollie blurt with delight and, without waiting to have the muscular sea varmint wrapped more than twice, dashed upstairs to a plain brown hallway that ended at a frosted door which completely concealed the showrooms of Mostly Modern Paper, A Fortunate 500 Forward-Looking Firm.

“You’re late,” Mr. Nubbles observed.

"Yes, sir, I’m sorry, I really am, but I saw this fish --” Molever explained, excitedly opening his package to share the wonder of God’s bounty with his District Sales Manager, because Nubbles was an enthusiastic eater (he weighed almost 400 lbs) and Molever knew for a fact that Modern Paper men as a rule were nuts about fresh fish, the fresher the better. It was the perfect way to begin a semi-annual assessment, with male bonding visual aids, since no one sang the company song any more. And a fine song it was, Molever thought: “Mostly Modern Uber Alles, Weyerhauser Eat Our Dust! Cotton Rag or Duplex Coated, Mostly Modern Won’t Go Bust! O-ooo-oh, Never Charge Deliv’ry, O-ooo-oh, Open Box No Problem. Mostly Modern Your Good Buddy! Ty-y-y-vek Gussets Only Ten Percent!”

Big Gene Nubbles frowned and scratched the side of his flabby neck, uninterested in whatever threatened to emerge from Molever’s brown paper shopping bag.

“Siddown, Mollie, the fish’d better wait,” Big Gene foreshadowed.

You can guess the rest. Molever’s semi-annual assessment did not go well at all, partly because Mollie hadn’t actually sold anything for five months and partly because their parent company, Fortunate 500, elected to restructure Mostly Modern by closing its Poughkeepsie branch office. Accordingly, young Molever’s draw was being -- er -- downsized, to zero.

“WHAT ??” Mollie screamed.

“Now, now, now,” the boss flubbled helpfully, “I know how you feel --”

And it was too easy, too natural in the heat of anger, released like the explosion of a volcano, just grab the nearest thing and lash out. Seconds later, Nubbles was unconscious and dotted with triangular gray and silver scales, flailed by a flounder, flank after flank, until there was nothing but slippery shame in Molever’s right hand, where once he cherished an oversized blue Mont Blimp that swam proudly in a Mostly Modern order book and gaily proclaimed Molever’s life was synonymous with paper. Nevermore. All Mollusk had to show for nine and a half years of smiles and shoeleather was a stinging gash across his palm.

“Fins leave a mark,” the most senior and grumpiest detective observed at Boilerton General. But the dazed victim couldn’t remember what happened. Nubbles had been heavily sedated. A team of doctors and dieticians were working feverishly to descale and hopefully save the top of his head. It was starting to smell bad and once something smells like fish, it just never goes away, does it?

“Don’t worry, pal,” said the dour chief dick, patting Big Gene’s belly in snuffly consolation. “We’ll find the bastard who did this. He won’t get far with flounder cuts.”

*

Only the bold succeed. Yuck. Nobody remembers who finished second. Lateral thinking. It pays to use it. Sure. Let’s take care of our customers or somebody else will.

Hmm. True but trite, so -- plop -- in it went, or tried to went, but slipped from a towering Matterhorn of last month’s Mostly Modern motivational mailshot and sailed to the floor, landing slightly to the left of Attitude makes the difference.

Cretin Molever was cleaning, her weekly effort to bring order and reason to Mollie’s desk area in the garage. Like most intergenderal kindnesses, it was usually repaid with scorn and humiliation, because her husband was unable to find anything after she “straightened up.” But it was best for everybody in the long run. After an hour of yelling, Mollie forgot that his domain had been invaded and Cretin achieved her strategic objective of fire safety. Glossy 6-color rotogravure stock was a dangerous combustible, Mollie told her nine and a half years ago when they were newlyweds, an ironically zany quip that Cretin had misunderstood as a specific warning of danger in Mollie’s line of work. She often thought of him heroically risking his life in the commercial paper trade, going in and out of deathtrap print shops to put bread on the table and keep a roof over their heads. “God bless him,” Cretin whispered as she threw her weight behind a galvanized shovel and pushed another ton of promotional Post-It pads and nudie calendars to the furnace, praying for Mollie’s occupational safety.

So that it always seems unkind and unfair that chance picks on the pure of heart when they least deserve it. Just as Cretin kicked shut the iron grate and heard a gratifying “wump” of ignition emanate from their Flame Hog Deluxe Compact Home Incinerator, at that precise moment her husband (who was not expected to arrive until 6 p.m., some three and a half hours later) entered the garage like a beaten dog dragging his tail between his legs, mumbling a sound which Cretin did not hear because it was completely masked by the emphatic rush of gases through the stack of the aforementioned domestic crematory. Her husband therefore materialized at her shoulder out of thin air and Cretin greeted him by leaping three and a half feet vertically in apoplectic terror. “A-A-J-!” she screamed at the incredible phantasm who had no business being there and suddenly materialized without warning, causing her resting heart rate to attempt an impromptu Olympic record for acceleration. Although they had never actually trained for competition, Cretin was particularly disposed to afternoon reveries and, given the frequency and severity of being scared half to death by her husband suddenly popping into existential reality, if there were such a sport, no doubt Mollie’s noiseless tread and Cretin’s hair-trigger startle reflex could have trumped the Indoor Mixed Doubles Meditation Zen Calamity Biathlon.

“MOLLIE --!” she screamed at him angrily, “How many times have I told you ?!--”

“I said ‘ding’ -- honest!” he pleaded pathetically.

“Well, I didn’t hear you!” she shouted at him, hands clasped over her heaving breast, head dizzy with high blood pressure, elbow flopped against the Flame Hog for support -- telling herself for the thousandth time it’s all right -- relax -- just breathe -- one of these days he’s going to give me a heart attack, sneaking up on me like that!

In the first month of their marriage, upon perceiving Cretin’s susceptibility to self-hypnosis, Mollusk resolved to say “ding” every time he entered a room, like a cat wearing a bell to warn an unsuspecting mouse, in case Cretin was lost in thought, thereby minimizing the risk of scaring the shit out of her. Among all husbands throughout all of History engaged in the recitation of “ding,” Mollusk was extremely diligent every hour, day and night, whether Cretin was actually in the room he entered or not. Better safe than sorry, he presumed. So that a quiet evening at the Molever Residence normally consisted of Cretin watching TV in her bedroom, while Mollusk sauntered in and out of the kitchen, bathroom, living room and garage mumbling “ding” everywhere. The fault in this arrangement was tragically typical of best laid plans. Mollie had exceptionally sharp hearing and was softspoken as a consequence. His wife was a little deaf and never once heard him say “ding” during nine years of dinging.

“I’m sorry, Cretin. Are you okay?” he worried.

“What are you doing home? You’re supposed to be at work!” Cretin barked indignantly. “And what’s the matter with your hand? Don’t tell me ‘nothing,’ Mollusk Molever -- show me that hand this minute. MOLLIE...! what the hell did you do to your hand?”

“Uh...” he waffled.

But Cretin knew. She saw jagged edges and dark red bolts of dry blood. “It’s a paper cut, isn’t it? Don’t lie to me, Mollie. You’ve been handling paper again!” she accused.

Edited by Wolf DeVoon
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Wolf,

LOL...

That was pretty quirky. (I like quirky.)

What does "dribbles and snorks" mean? I tried to look it up but not much success. Is this an invented game for the story?

Also, I managed to look up another word I did not know (from here):

Kakistocracy (rule by the worst citizens) is a form of government in which the people least qualified to control the government are the people who control the government.

If I had to think of a single unifying idea behind your story, it would be appearance versus reality. Nothing was what it appears to be, although everything appears to be normal.

I found some parts a bit hard to read and their meaning escaped me. Especially the stream-of-consciousness transition from the guy beat up with a fish to Cretin Molever.

And the title? I looked this up, too, but I don't think the definitions I found have anything to do with your story.

Flibbet: Pressing face to flesh and exhaling sharply, creating the audible equivalent of a wet fart. Also known as a zerbert. A fun and gentle way to torture your kids.

Flibbet: Death caused by choking on erupted puss nodules located in the throat contracted by making a habit of eating hobo smegma.

Hmmmmmm...

Michael

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I found some parts a bit hard to read and their meaning escaped me. Especially the stream-of-consciousness transition from the guy beat up with a fish to Cretin Molever.

Well, er, yes. Without aid of intoxicants. either! I posted it as an example of literary silliness. I made up snorks and a goofy-sounding title. After a decent interval of embarassment, I'll post something more respectable.

Ding.

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