Halle Berry

by Aaron Teel

Clinton and Eustice lay on the garbage strewn floor of their room, staring at the walls and passing a rag soaked in gasoline back and forth between them. The walls were coated with glossy, overlapping layers of pages ripped from entertainment magazines featuring the actress Halle Berry, countless hundreds of them glued haphazardly one atop the other.

“Which’un’s yer favorite?” Eustice asked.

Clinton put the rag over his nose and mouth and inhaled deeply. “I could never decide on one true favorite,” he said, “but I’m fond of the ones in general where she looks real elegant, like this’un here I’m studyin’ now, with the black dress and the hair cut sharp like a silent film star.”

“Mmm,” said Eustice, “I see the one you mean, from Vogue, I think.”

“Hell, yes, if that aint right,” said Clinton. “That’s a helluva memory Eustice, for a gas-huffin’ half-wit.”

“Shee-it,” Eustice said, and he closed his eyes, unfurled the cloth and laid it flat so that it covered his whole face, “it takes one to know one.”

Clinton closed his eyes and laughed slow, and the sound of his laugh and the sound of his twin brother’s breathing seemed to come to him from the bottom of a very deep well.

Clinton opened his eyes halfway. Halle Berry looked down at him and smiled, and he smiled back, and tried to lift his head to nod but found it too heavy, so he winked instead and Halle Berry deeply blushed. Clinton looked sideways at Eustice to see if he’d seen, and saw instead that Eustice was laying with the gas-soaked rag over his whole face. Clinton snapped shut of his revelry and said, “Eustice, get that rag off yer face ‘fore you suffocate.” Eustice sat halfway up and the rag fell from his face to the floor of rotted wood.

“What’re you shoutin’ about?” Eustice said, and smiled. His head lolled slowly from side to side and a good bit of drool had started to make its merry way down his bottom lip and chin. Clinton laughed at the sight of his ignorant twin, snatched the rag up and rolled it into a ball to use for a pillow. “You’ve had enough of this,” he said, and closed his eyes again.

The only light in the room came from a naked bulb on the end of a lamp chord that lay in a corner, partly obscured by empty soda bottles and stacks of fashion magazines that threw vaguely monstrous shadows along the walls. A set of bunk beds in the opposite corner had been rendered unsafe for occupation by two decades of roughhousing and neglect. Both mattresses were covered instead with piles of magazines, empty soda cans, milk cartons, candy wrappers and cigarette butts. The window was covered over with several layers of aluminum foil to block out the light, but Clinton could tell that dawn was breaking. He could feel it out there, pressing in on him as he drifted off to sleep.

Aaron Teel is the author of the upcoming chapbook Shampoo Horns, winner of the Rose Metal Press 6th Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, judged by Randall Brown. He teaches language Arts and English as a Second Language in Manor, TX and is a Creative Writing Workshop Instructor with Badgerdog Literary Publishing. His work has appeared previously in Brevity Magazine, North Texas Review, Art Prostitute Magazine, Side B Magazine, and others. He lives in Austin, TX with his cat, Enid, and his bad decisions.

How did Halle Berry get the part in this piece? One of the things that’s so appealing to me about flash fiction is the way it clarifies what’s essential in storytelling. Characters in flash have to be revealed almost exclusively through action, dialogue, and just the right amount of incidental detail. There’s no room for windy exposition or reflection. In this case, almost everything we know about these two is inferred from their surroundings. The most revealing, or anyway the most interesting detail, is that there are countless images of Halle Berry tacked to every available surface in their bedroom. Berry’s a symbol of everything these two aren’t. She’s a throwback to old Hollywood, classy and elegant and so far removed from their situation as to be comical. What it reveals that one or both of them are obsessed with her (I suspect that the obsession is primarily Clinton’s, and that good-natured Eustice is just along for the ride) is left to the reader. But it’s the perversity of the image that makes them compelling. People are complicated and contradictory by nature. When characters fall into expected or preconceived roles, they not only become less interesting but less believable. That Berry is African-American further undercuts perceptions, as does their arcane knowledge of fashion magazines. Halle Berry makes them sympathetic in a way that Pamela Anderson or pictures torn from Penthouse or whatever wouldn’t. Without her, we would just see two strung out gas huffers passing out after a binge, and I, for one, would be less interested in Clinton’s small moment of grace.

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