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Fiction #345
(published August 30, 2007)
The Hammock
by Michael James Shafer
The hammock came on a Wednesday so I took the rest of the week off, citing as a symptom in a note I scrawled hastily on the back of a Pizza Hut menu, "A severe allergic reaction to various airborne pathogens too numerous to list." My roommate dropped it off at my office after over an hour of lazy prodding that involved me singing "Spice Girls" songs I had learned years before from my younger sister. He claimed that his ears bled for weeks but one has a hard time caring about ailing roommates when they are relaxing on a hammock.

The hammock was tan and made of 8mm thick rope (THE BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE!!!). It came with two hardwood bars at either end, both varnished with several layers of weather proof coating. It stretched out 6 feet, 10 inches long, easily fitting my 5 feet, 10 inch frame, and 5 feet, 6 inches wide. The telephone operator, Racine Salazar, added proudly that Napoleon Bonaparte would be able to nap comfortably under a warm summer sun while sleeping sideways. Eager to keep the playful banter going, my excitement for the hammock barely contained, I said, "Either him or a midget," and after a second of phone humming silence I added further in a not-so-faux-panic, "Eh?"

"My mother and father are short people," Racine Salazar said. "I would appreciate no further comments of that sort during the continuing purchase of your hammock."

I apologized and we resumed. The sting of my mishap only hurt for a moment though, for the thought of falling into the hammock and swaying with the wind as if unhinged from the world wouldn't leave my mind.

The hammock was designed to fit two people. This feature wasn't tested out until two weeks after my purchase, when my ex-girlfriend Candice stopped over to drop off a small stack of my DVDs (Forrest Gump, Beverly Hills Cop, Easy Rider). "You look comfortable," she said.

"Just hanging around," I said, rubbing the open spot on the hammock. "Care to join?"

Later, after providing neighbors with hours of calculated tongue and body lapping, I leaned back onto the hammock with my head resting on my hands, and said to her, "You look comfortable." She laughed the way she always laughed after we were finished, three deflated "HAs." "So do you," she said, her giggles ending in a happy sigh that was sucked up by a gust of wind. The hammock rocked.

"Are you ever going to get up?" my roommate asked from our doorway, hands on hips, teeth clicking. "The house is a mess and I have to go to work. You need to do something besides float."

"That's just it," I said shielding my eyes from the sun, my other arm around Candice's shoulder. "All I want to do is float. I died and have been reincarnated as a cloud. Swoosh. Swoosh." My arm hung slack off the side serving as a reservation for a mid-day nap.

Weeks later, when I still hadn't moved, when my diet consisted of Lays potato chips and bottles of Coors Light I slyly convinced neighbors to bring over, when my roommate had to dump piss out of beer bottles before he returned them, when the television crews came, the reporter, Nancy Brooks from Channel 12, grew frustrated with my insistence to answer her questions with inquiries of my own. "Why the hammock?" "How much cleavage are you allowed to show on television?" "Is it a statement of purpose? A message that you are giving up? A step towards spirituality?" "Do you prefer open-ended questions or closed-ended questions?" "Please, so our viewers can understand your problem, what is it that you want?" "Do you want to float?"

And she did. And the media circus grew. And it grew. Major news studios came like giraffes and never left. Oprah was her very own hippopotamus, criticizing my motives, claiming I was fame-hungered. It took one caress of her middle finger on the rope and she had joined in. My mother flew in from Pasadena (my father was floating in spirit, a victim of lung cancer five years prior) to make sure I was okay, and upon request, after a delay of several seconds so she could remove her loafers, climbed aboard the cloud. "Oh my, this is like a dream!" she exclaimed.

My roommate, finally, after being hypnotized by the gentle rocking, hopped on and upon finding a comfortable nook in between my butcher Charlie and Leo Dicaprio, grinned like the sun was setting in his mouth.

With every new person the hammock defied conventions and rose higher. The air grew thin and heavy, weighing down chests while magically relieving strains and stresses. "My hernia," Mitch, the pizza delivery guy, said, "it's gone. Here. Do you feel that?" I felt the side of his testicle and nodded. "See. It's gone. No bulge or anything!"

"It's not as blue as I thought it would be," someone from the far right said, either Tom Petty or Bob Dylan, "But it's still what I like to see."

Ladders were erected; tall ladders with stabilizing wires strung from buildings and sky scrapers. Seagulls perched on the wires and chewed sunflower seeds that I emptied out of my hand into their mouths like grains of sand.

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