(This short story was published a couple of years ago in the online journal The Culture Star Reader. Today, as I was browsing through old blog posts, I found a link I posted to the story and learned the site no longer exists. So, rather than leaving it in limbo, I'm posting it here. Enjoy.)
On a Tuesday morning in the middle of an angry traffic jam, Itto settled on top of the trunk of his Ford Taurus and carved a smile into his belly. It would have been his first late day at Dunkin Donuts in nine years.
Ernest mounted the picnic table in his brother’s backyard and spilled his guts all over his older sibling’s birthday cake. The consensus from his family was that the attention given his brother had shamed him, because “everything had to be all. About. HIM.”
Jerome cut himself open on the floor of Battlefield Comic Shop. In spite of the letter-writing campaigns and online petitions, Android Publishing canceled Jerome’s favorite comic book, L’il Libby & the Orphanage of Pain. His skill with a blade, even while in immense pain, was unsurpassed. Only a few specks of blood found a home on any of the shop’s books, namely on a magazine for fans of Dr. Who. This was enough for the shop’s fat owner to defile Jerome’s body by cutting off its head and placing it on a high shelf, next to a resin bust of the Silver Surfer.
Todd, Cullen, Retsudo, Adolf, Mao, Enrique and Pat planned an assault on Battlefield Comics to recover the head. Unfortunately, the attack was launched on Labor Day when the shop was closed (it was the only day they could all get off from work). All seven of them kneeled before the store and sprayed their innards on the front window, painting over two posters of Batman and one advertising a new G.I. Joe vs. Transformers mini-series.
Stan tried, as always, to be less dramatic than everyone else. He locked his doors, turned off his lights, and made the cut while bobbing up and down on his waterbed. He left his curtains open though, and a neighbor called 911. The emergency workers found no Do Not Resuscitate order in his kimono, and the ambulance driver’s rough hands and harsh breath brought Stan back to a world of shame.
Stan called me two weeks later and asked me to act as his second – to sever his head from his body after he had already made the mortal cut. I agreed, but I took his head off without waiting for him to open his tummy. He was going on about waiting until his scar healed, and I was late to meet my wife for dinner.
Ichiro managed to get Pierce as his second. Pierce was a cousin of the Shogun and the most renowned second on the East Coast. Ichiro was always a kiss-ass.
Don heard Pierce was in town and managed to get him for his own ritual. Pierce didn’t like Don, though. Apparently Don had swindled him out of some koku with a pyramid scheme. He kept “missing” Don’s neck. Hitting him first in the back, then the right arm, then the left arm, then cutting off his right ear, then his left, each time saying “Whoops!” or “So sorry!” or “Pardon me!” or “My bad!” It took Don five hours to die. It was the first time I went through an entire tub of popcorn at one of those things.
No one liked Adam. No one would act as his second, so he did it on the edge of a cliff. After opening his stomach, he fell backwards and spun head-over-foot off the side of the cliff. The end of a thick root caught the neck of his kimono. He hung like that for days, his guts shitting out of the legs of his kimono in loud, thick globs.
Yusuke, Jeff, Andres, Dan, Leo, Sato, Lee, Megumi, Bob, and Horace all had seconds and managed to do the whole thing with class, panache, and expediency.
Malcolm smacked his elbow into his second’s knee as he was cutting, and the second’s aim went wild and took off Malcolm’s scalp.
Doug chickened out, but his second finished the deal anyway.
Andy (a.k.a., “who needs scabbards” Andy) was having a pretty good day until, on the way out of the shopping mall restroom, he slipped on a puddle of urine and skewered himself.
Masakazu and Dante wanted to do it at the same time, but each kept waiting for the other to go. They’d turn to each other, nod, and say “one, two, three and—!” then one of them would pretend to sneeze or swat at a fly. I left early. I honestly don’t know whether or not they finished.
Taro had his wife and son do it first, acted as second for each, and then drove to the airport. His credit card records show he was somewhere in Vegas. We sent Greg and Ryozo to get him, but after a few weeks they gave up and threw themselves off the Hoover Dam.
Seiichi, Alvin, Clark, Joe, Mikhail, Glenn, Jiro, Phil, Gerard, Jean-Paul, Nigel, Melvin, Rick, and Kiyoshi all did it after failing to safeguard their respective daimyo.
Ian was an active masochist. In Burlington, a dominatrix accused him of being a “bad ashtray” after the tip of her cigarette singed his tongue and sent him scrambling for water. He was dead by morning.
Mamoru made a stupid, drunken promise about what he would do if the Republicans won in 2004.
Hoshi found his son in bed with his younger cousin.
Chuang was fortunate enough to spot Johnny Depp at an outdoor café while on vacation in Vienna. The actor was gracious and honored Chuang with an autograph. Depp even got up from his lunch to pose with him for a picture. Afterwards, while annoying his wife by stopping their meal conversation to show her the photo in the little digital camera window over and over again, Chuang realized that in the midst of his hurried bows to the Hollywood star, he had referred to Depp as “Johnny-chan,” despite the fact that Depp was ten years his senior.
Hans’s son, a pilot, was killed in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan. The military said the crash was due to “pilot error.”
Jack’s daughter was kicked out of college after maintaining a GPA of 1.3 for four semesters.
Kisho’s note to his family was nearly illegible, but said something about the “stupid fucking way they killed Captain Kirk.”
One day my guts will spill out of me like flat soda and dirty water bursting through the bottom of an old garbage bag. I carry a blade just for the thing, even on good days – on happy days when I plan to do nothing more than get some Lean Pockets at the store, fuck my wife, and maybe watch a little bit of the Batman cartoon (or The Simpsons if my wife has her way). I wonder who will feed my cats and who will get my long, white boxes of comic books.
I hope my wife will be okay. I know I’m supposed to want her to follow me, but I don’t. I’d rather think of her as a stranger, feeding coins into a slot machine in Vegas until her knuckles are like fat, wrinkled puddles. Maybe she could find old Taro, and learn if shame and life can share a bed.
I stand like a wall against my daimyo’s enemies. I am my master’s shield, my master’s sword. I make sure he has enough warm blankets, Ibuprofen, and carb-free meals. He bitches when I don’t let him drive and talk on the cell at the same time, but I’m already picking out names for my son.