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Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel and The Circus, Two Stories by Steve Castro

Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel
“He was bigger than life,” he told me. I agree; he was a pretty fat bastard, I replied. “That’s not what I meant.” Oh, O.K. I said. I waited for him to tell me what he meant. In the meantime, I decided to continue reading a short story translated from the original Russian into German about a blind barber from Moscow who fell in love with his own reflection. It was a very witty dark comedy written in 1946. The short story was an allegory; it was obvious, at least to me, that Stalin was the blind barber. I tried to Google the author, but he was nowhere to be found; the unfortunate short story writer probably died in a camp in Siberia during Stalin’s massive deportations to the region during the years 1941-1949. I had bought the 61 page pamphlet (30 pages in the original Russian / 31 pages for the German translation) for 800 Kronos at an antiquarian bookstore in Prague. I found the $40 price a little expensive but the owner convinced me by throwing in a free bilingual edition (Russian/German) of Sergej Jessenin’s selected poems published by Reclam in 1970. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice, “Hey, pay attention. How can you read on the tram?” I’m sorry, I said, the blind barber had accidentally cut off a little boy’s right ear while cutting his hair, so the barber decided to cut off his left ear as well so that they would match and the poor boy, who was screaming and pleading with his parents to help him, was completely ignored; the boy’s parents, in reply to their own son’s dire supplications, coldly replied that the barber knew best and… “I don’t mean to interrupt, but if I wanted you to tell me the story, then I would read it myself,” he said. But you don’t speak Russian or German, so you wouldn’t be able to read it, I told him. “I’m assuming you never heard of a dictionary,” he said, “plus, I could always find the Italian, Spanish or English translation; what’s the book’s title?” What the hell are you talking about? I asked hypothetically. The book is clearly out of print; Stalin probably had all of the known copies burnt and God only knows how the copy I hold in my hands managed to survive; but anyway, so what did you mean when you said that the fat bastard was bigger than life? “Don’t put words into my mouth.” My Italian friend seemed visibly upset. “I never called Pavarotti a fat bastard; the man was one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time; as a matter of fact, don’t speak to me for the next hour,” he said. I would have gone back to reading my short story if the young woman who was sitting across from me holding a baby pig had not asked me to accompany her to her house for dinner.
The circus
At the circus we worked for, we had our own grocery store. So on that particular night, (it was mostly open at night because we mostly worked days) after I had finished my shopping for the evening, having bought all the essentials, (a can of green beans, a can of corn off the cob, a can of pinto beans, a packet of tortillas, one egg, we had our own chickens, so we could buy eggs one at a time if we pleased, a slab of boar-hog bacon and a can of laughter) a clown walked by me with the biggest smile I had ever seen, (except for the moon of course) and I had worked at the circus long enough to know that if a clown is always smiling, then they are depressed enough to commit suicide, so I tried to cheer him up by performing a trick just for him. So I said, hey you new clown, (which is what we magicians called rookie clowns) let me show you something; so he turned around and walked towards me and sat down right in front of me. I took off my shirt and pulled “the cutest puppy you have never seen” out of my white silk shirt, which was hand sewn by Gypsies in Rome. He then stood up with tears in his eyes, so I knew he was happy (when a clown in costume starts crying, it is usually from joy) and he took the puppy from my arms and said, “I’ll never lose you again Roger, I promise.” He was massive in stature, so I assured him that I had not stolen the puppy, but that I believed his puppy ran away because no puppy wants to be called Roger. He then agreed with me and gave me the $500 reward with the condition that every time I saw a poster that said “PUPPY NAMED ROGER WANTED SAFE AND SOUND, $500 REWARD” I would take it down. I took my newfound wealth and put it in my shirt pocket, which was a magic trick all its own, because my shirt didn’t have pockets at the time, but anyway, the important thing is that the puppy lived a long and happy life and grew up to be as strong as a wolf which is a good thing because the puppy I pulled out of my Italian shirt was definitively a wolf.


Steve Castro was born in Costa Rica. He has work forthcoming in Red Bridge Press (San Francisco) and elsewhere. Other flash fiction can be found in This Great Society (Canada), Penduline and Kindling. Two of his prose poems were recently published in Hobart (print), and his poetry can be seen in Everyday Genius, Scythe Literary Journal, and The Broken Plate.