The Puppets of Kudzu

If he could just dig deeper. If someone out there, anywhere, could just dig a little deeper, then these windows wouldn’t be so gray and the house as a whole wouldn’t be so lonely. Fran Amerika looked out the window while doing the dishes. He whistled while he worked; then the sun went away and the clouds opened up like a piñata and the usually damaged earth greened like slithering kudzu right before his very eyes. The drought was over and prosperity had returned.

He grabbed his favorite puppet, that being Cheise Karn Mouise, an old-time thin-haired French bastard, and impaled him on his arm, and rushed outside to see the new world.

“Would you look at all that kudzu … I have a great idea that’s going to make us rich.” He moved the puppet’s mouth and mumbled.

“What’s that? I hope it’s safe.”

“Of course it’s safe. I would never endanger your life. You’re Cheise Karn Mouise and you’re my best friend and I love you.”

He rotated the puppet’s head so it would look at him. He tried so hard not to move his lips and it made him sound stuffed up.

“You’re my best friend and I love you too … So, what’s this grand idea of yours have to do with all that kudzu?”

“We’re going into business.” He made the puppet explode with excitement – like an ice cream truck.

“Awesome! I’ve never been in business before. What are we going to do?”

“I’m glad you asked, Cheise Karn Mouise. Now get this … What does one do with such an abundance of kudzu?”

“I have no idea.”

“One makes kudzu pie!” Fran Amerika moved his hand slowly toward him and soon the puppet was close to his face.

“That’s a terrible idea. Who ever heard of kudzu pie?”

“It’s a fabulous idea. I’m going to be rich!”

He worked the puppet so it showed a troubled concern for him.

“Now hold on there, Martha Stewart … Do you even know how to make kudzu pie?”

Fran Amerika became flustered. “Of course I do. I mean … how hard can it be?”

He made the puppet hit him in the side of the head.

“You better get down to the library right away and do some research before you make a total ass of yourself.”

This time he made the puppet slap him across the cheek.

“Would you stop hitting me … Do you want to go to the library with me?”

He made the puppet tip his head in a gesture of judgmental parenting. “Are you going to be embarrassed this time?”

Fran thought about it far too long. “I’ll be okay. I think the psychiatrist is really beginning to help me see things on a deeper level.”

He made the puppet grow tense and serious. “I don’t trust him.”

“What? You’re the one who suggested I go see him. I don’t understand.”

“I haven’t seen any improvement in you at all. And now you’ve got some crazy idea about selling kudzu pie!”

“I think you need a time out Cheise Karn Mouise,” Fran the man said, and he popped the puppet off his arm and let him fall to the ground.

It was an aluminum-colored day with a blinding sun stinging the yard where he had set up his kudzu pie stand. He made his very own sign and set it out and it read in big green letters: KUDZU PIE   $5. A car came down his street about every ten minutes but no one ever stopped. He sighed and took a bite of pie for himself. He reached down and brought Cheise Karn Mouise back to life.

“Why so glum, my friend?”

“I haven’t sold a single pie. I might as well just shut down.”

He made the puppet seem disappointed. “You can’t give up already … Have you done any marketing?”

Fran Amerika looked at the puppet. “Marketing? What’s that?”

He made Cheise Karn Mouise hit him again. “You have to let people know about your product!”

The man looked at the yard. “I have a big sign out front.”

He made the puppet shake its head in frustration. “You have to think a lot bigger than that if you want to sell some kudzu pie.”

A car slowed and stopped in front of the stand and the driver activated the window. “Hi there!” said a woman full of perfumed perk. “I’ve never had any kudzu pie but I’d be willing to give it a try. Do you give out free samples?”

The man turned to the tray where he had laid out small servings of his kudzu pie for people to try before they buy. “Yes mam. Give that a taste.”

The woman gingerly pushed the small piece into her mouth and began chewing. Then her face scrunched and she spit the sample into the street. “That’s god awful mister. You should be arrested for trying to sell that shit!” The woman gave him the finger and sped off.

He looked to Cheise Karn Mouise for comfort. “See. I’m a failure.” The man dropped Cheise Karn Mouise in the grass, kicked over his pie stand and huffed into the house.

It was a few nights later and the man suddenly woke to the faint sound of someone opening his bedroom door. He sat up on the edge of the bed while trying to settle his raging heart and fumbled for his glasses. “Who’s there?” The door creaked open wider. The man tore a drawer open and pulled out a gun and shakily aimed toward the shadow in the hall. Whatever it was moved closer. “I’ll shoot! I swear I’ll shoot!”

“Don’t. It’s me.”

“Cheise Karn Mouise?”

“Yes. Thanks for leaving me out on the lawn again for so long you big goof. I think I got sunburned.” Cheise Karn Mouise walked across the floor and hopped up on the bed next to the man. “I didn’t know you owned a gun.”

The man was frustrated with himself. “Yes. I don’t know how to use it very well. It’s heavy and makes my wrist hurt.”

“You’re just being a pussy,” Cheise Karn Mouise bemused. “Are you sure you’re not a girl?”

“What? That’s a horrible thing to say. Of course I’m not a girl … And why are you being so snotty today?”

“I told you. I’m completely sunburned and it hurts like hell.”

The man looked at his puppet friend and felt bad. “Would you like me to rub some pain relieving aloe vera gel all over your body?”

Cheise Karn Mouise took serious offense to that. “Ummm. What did you say? What do you want to rub all over my body?”

“It will help your sunburn. I bought it at a Greenwalls pharmacy in Cortez, Colorado after I went on my hiking sabbatical in the desert without the proper clothing. It really does help ease the pain, but you may smell like mouthwash for a while.”

“I think I’ll just deal with the pain,” Cheise Karn Mouise said, and he winced as he adjusted himself on the bed.

“Are you sure? I really want to rub this all over your body.”

“What the hell is wrong with you!?”

“What? I’m just trying to help.”

“You’re acting very gay.”

“Gay?” And the man thought. “Even though I’m pretty upset about the whole kudzu pie fiasco, I am generally a very happy person.”

“Don’t you know what gay is?”

“Well sure. It’s like how it is when I’m so light on my feet that I could just jump over a rainbow … When I’m completely joyous about life. When I feel gay, gay, gay.”

Cheise Karn Mouise thought, looked around the room, and then stared at the floor and mumbled. “Okay … Do it quick.”

The morning was filled with the smell of coffee and bacon as the man and Cheise Karn Mouise sat at the kitchen table and ate breakfast together. The man looked over the rim of his cup at the puppet and sipped. “How’s that burn feeling today?”

Cheise Karn Mouise set down his fork and ran his hands over himself. “I think it’s better. That stuff really does work.”

The man was pleased with himself. “I thought today we’d go down to the puppet store and get you a new outfit. That one has grass stains on it.”

“Today? Not today. I recorded some good football games over the weekend and I want to watch them.”

The man fluffed his hand in the air. “Football all day? No. We’re going shopping.”

“Why are you being so gay again?”

“What? I’m not very gay at the moment. You’ve upset me. And I think organized sports is just a ginormous waste of time. It’s barbaric and merely weekend fodder for the brain-washed masses.”

Cheise Karn Mouise threw his napkin on the table and crawled down. “So is shopping,” he snipped, and he disappeared into another room.

It was then that the doorbell rang, and Fran Amerika huffed toward the door and yanked it open. There was a serious man there and he wore a navy blue suit with a red tie and his hair was clipped short and the color of vanilla frosting. He was holding some kind of computerized tablet. “Are you the man that lives at this address?”

“Yes. This is my house. Who the hell are you?”

“I’m from the city and I’ve come here to control your life. Is that your smashed up lemonade stand littering your lawn and part of the sidewalk.”

The man peeked over the official’s shoulder. “Yes. It’s mine. And it’s not a lemonade stand – it’s a kudzu pie stand.”

“What the hell is kudzu pie?”

“Would you like to come in and try some? It’s right over there in my kitchen.”

The official hesitated and looked around before stepping up and in. “I guess that will be all right.”

Fran followed his guest to the kitchen and offered him a seat at the table. “Would you like a big glass of milk to go with that?”

“No. I can’t. I have that lactose intolerant thing. Do you have any beer?”

“Beer? They let you drink beer at work?”

“Sure. Everyone drinks on the job at the city,” the official teased as he looked up at the man’s confused face. “I’m just kidding. Of course I can’t drink on the job. But I do it anyway.”

Fran fumbled around in the refrigerator. “I’m afraid I don’t have any beer, but would you like a frosty wine cooler?”

The official scrunched his face. “Hell no! I don’t want any wine cooler. That’s gay.”

Fran rolled his eyes and grumbled. “My roommate has been saying that to me all day. I just don’t see what’s so wrong about being happy. Why is everyone so against being happy?”

“I don’t know, but I think you may be a little confused … Anyways, forget the drink and let’s get down to business. Now, the broken stand out in the yard is considered refuse and city code #32-HTBF-43C clearly says any refuse on personal property must be stored in an approved refuse container which must in turn be stored in a garage or other location which renders it invisible from public sight. So … I’m afraid you are in violation and I’ll have to fine you.”

“How much is it?”

“It’s 300 dollars.”

“That’s preposterous.”

“It’s the law.”

“Fine. Let me go get my purse.”

“What? Now that’s gay.”

“Seriously? Can I not be happy about one damn thing today?”

“You really carry a purse?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re a man for crying out loud! Use a wallet like the rest of us.”

“Purses happen to fit my personal needs better than a wallet. So what! I could wear a dress if I want to. It’s nobody’s choice but mine!” the man exclaimed, his hands now high in the air.

“Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Do you wear a dress?”

“No I don’t wear a dress! I just like purses. I have a lot of shit to haul around and I need a purse … Now can I just please pay the fine so I can get on with my life.”

The official printed a piece of paper out of a handheld machine, tore it off and gave it to Fran. “Sorry. I can’t take any payments. That would be too efficient. You have to come down to city hall and pay in person … but you can only do it between 1:30 and 3:30 on Mondays and Fridays, unless of course Monday falls on a pretend holiday, then you’ll have to wait until Friday. Then they’re going to tack on a late fee that no one is willing to explain away. So, yeah. Sorry about that.”

“That’s ludicrous. So on veterans’ day for example, the government takes the day off to honor the same people they don’t give a shit about when they come home from one of your profitable wars?”

The official dragged his rough fingers across his scratchy face. “Hey. What about that kudzu pie?”

“I don’t think I want to give you kudzu pie anymore. You’re horrible to people.”

The official retreated and stood up, straightened his suit and sneered. “Just make sure you pay the fine on time or else they’ll come arrest you … And clean up the yard so I don’t have to come back around.”

Fran Amerika looked at the piece of paper and felt wronged again. He didn’t notice Cheise Karn Mouise walking into the kitchen. “Who the hell was that?”

“It was a guy from the city. He gave me a 300 dollar ticket because I left my smashed up kudzu pie stand in the yard. I’m considered a public nuisance now by the entire neighborhood.”

“That’s totally gay.”

“No it’s not! I’m not happy at all. In fact … this is really pissing me off!”

Cheise Karn Mouise shuffled over to the coffee pot. “Whatever.”

Fran turned on him. “Do you not care about me at all!? I thought we were friends.”

“Of course I care. I’m just not really all that interested in political stuff … it’s gay.”

“I think you fear giddiness.”

“What? I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“You’re afraid to be happy.”

“God! Quit talking so damn gay.”

“Why are you afraid to be happy?” Fran touched Cheise Karn Mouise’s shoulder. “Do you feel guilty about something? Do you experience inner turmoil?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s really weird. Let me just drink my coffee and finish reading the paper in peace.”

“It’s not good to hold your feelings in – you may explode like an ice cream truck one day.”

Cheise Karn Mouise rattled his newspaper. “Just drop it I said!”

“All right. All right. I just think it would be a benefit to you if once in a while you tried to get in touch with your feminine side.”

“That has to be the absolute gayest thing you have ever said to me.”

Fran gave up. “Fine. Be unhappy for the rest of your life … So, I guess I am going shopping by myself after all?”

“I don’t feel like leaving the house.”

“Are you sure? There’s a new frozen yogurt shop.”

“Yogurt is gay.”

“Well I’d be gay too if I was full of fun and fruity flavors.”

Cheise Karn Mouise shook his head at him over the top of the newspaper. “Your psychiatrist really needs to get to work on you. Jesus.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Therapy is all about finding your happy place no matter how screwed up you are.”

Cheise Karn Mouise ignored him as Fran walked away.

“I’m going now. You may choose not to be happy, but don’t rain on my parade. I’m going to be so gay they’re going to have to wipe the smile right off my dead body.”

The door slammed and Cheise Karn Mouise was all alone in the house. He made himself some popcorn and sat on the couch to watch football. He watched one game, then another, and was then into his third when he realized Fran had not returned yet. He clicked off the TV and the house was silent. The light of day was beginning to crisp over. He was oddly worried and went to a window and looked at the street. Fran’s car was still gone. Cheise Karn Mouise tried calling him on the phone but there was no answer. He began to think something bad had happened.

It was very late and Cheise Karn Mouise had fallen asleep on the couch when his phone rang and startled him. He fumbled in the darkness. “Hello?” Fran Amerika was crying on the other end. “What’s wrong?”

“They beat me up.”

“What!? Who beat you up?”

“Just come get me. I’m at the First Church of Loving Goodness on 37th Avenue. I’ll be the one bleeding on the steps out front.”

“I should call an ambulance for you.”

“Just come get me!”

Cheise Karn Mouise didn’t remember that he had a car and could drive but he did anyways and when he arrived at the church he saw Fran Amerika slumped on the stairs and ran over to him. He was a mess and he carefully shook him a little bit. “Hey man. I’m here. Jesus … what happened?”

There was blood dripping down both sides of Fran’s face as he looked at him with a dazed expression. “I wanted to say a prayer for you. I wanted to pray that you find true happiness in your life.” He turned his head and looked at the doorway of the church. “They were going to start a service and they told me I had to leave.”

“What on earth for?”

“They said I was a sinner and that I was destined for hell … They said Jesus hates people who are gay. How could Jesus possibly be against someone being happy?  … Anyways, I didn’t want to leave. I told them I wasn’t finished praying yet. That’s when the church men grabbed me and pushed me to the ground. They started punching me in the face, and then the women there and even some of the children started kicking me and spitting on me. I think someone threw a hymnal at me. They looked right at me and told me God hated me and then they hustled me outside and here I am. Why did they beat me up for just being happy?”

Cheise Karn Mouise didn’t have an answer. His soul felt soiled. “Let’s just get out of here. Can you walk?”

“I’ll manage. Thanks for coming to get me.”

They rode in silence for a while until Cheise Karn Mouise suggested they get a treat. He thought it would help cheer Fran up. “How about some ice cream? And not that yogurt crap, I mean real ice cream. Are you in the mood for some Cream King?”

Fran Amerika brightened immediately. “Cream King? Absolutely. I want to get something really swirly.”

Cheise Karn Mouise shook his head. “God that’s gay.” He gripped the steering wheel as he plowed the night streets and he was glad to be with his friend. Jesus rode by on a bicycle and gave them a friendly wave and smile before rising and flying off across the face of the moon like an E.T. kid.

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