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The Spirit in the Mouth of the Bald Man with Four Eyes

Nick Hoins is an author of fantasy and science fiction. His short fiction has previously appeared in AntipodeanSF and Aurora Wolf. Nick currently lives in Virginia, where he likes to garden and search for the elusive, southern flying squirrel. For more, visit nickhoins.wordpress.com Also, check out Nick’s free gardening guide. If you have seen a southern flying squirrel, please send Nick a message about it.

"Why are you always so hard on your son? And you speak of your daughter like she's an ex-girlfriend that keeps disappointing you. 'Don't try to pull one over on me' and such things. Pathetic." The clay-face ornament on the wall had not gone off like that in over a week.
"The spirit of the tchotchke strikes again," said the shaven-faced waiter with the gel in his hair.
"You're a simp, you are," laughed his manager from the kitchen. The two men who had just entered the restaurant were frowning in a daze as they took their seats in a corner.
"It's easy to judge," said the waiter, who also had three moles on his chin, "it's a lot harder to be judged." He went off to greet the customers, who gruffly ordered two waters to start.
"Whatever," said the manager, as the waiter retrieved two glasses. "You've listened to these people's conversations. They come in here, thinking it'll be great fun, and they get a double dose of truth. The only way most of them deal with it is to brag loudly about their personal finances and look around to see who's listening. Or just go silent."
"Still, when you talk about something that's important to you, someone else may be listening," said the waiter, walking over with the waters.
The bell tinkled and the imperfect door opened wide to admit a family of three. The men in the corner ordered mussels.
"Don't hit your brother so much," barked the four-eyed, bald-man face at a girl. "You're giving him an inferiority complex." The two diamonds on his white, plaster cheeks sparkled blue. The waiter placed the mussels order.
"He's tough," countered the siblings' parent.
"Calm down heli-mother," retorted the spirit.
"Get over there and explain," whispered the manager urgently. "They don't know about our gimmick." The woman looked like she was about to rip the little face off the wall. It happened occasionally. The wall ornament was the singular oddity, the screw around which the entire operation revolved, even though Chef Jane made damn good food. Most people came for the bald man. Others were simply hungry and saw an open restaurant. The waiter tried to explain. As the mother yanked her two children out of the place, a young couple walked in. The spirit seemed confused and ended up yelling at the waiter.
"You're not terribly ugly!"
"Can we go upstairs?" asked the girl, confidentially. The waiter walked them up, handing them menus. He got into a conversation with them at their table.
"I bet most people want to hear what it has to say about them, deep down," said the girl.
"Maybe. Sometimes I think the people who choose to come here think that somehow, they're going to be the one to come off looking good, but no one does," said the waiter.
"Everyone's got secret shit," remarked the guy.
"I'll be right back with your polenta," said the waiter, smiling and walking back down the stairs.
The knick-knack was telling the manager he was an asshole as the waiter crossed to the kitchen. It was two hours before dinner rush and the mouth of the bald man was bored. Chef Jane was getting a drink of water.
"You think we're better or worse for it?" asked the waiter. "For having to listen to that all the time?"
"Depends on the person," said Chef Jane. The tchotchke sneezed and his mustache wiggled. In the corner, all was quiet and two stacks of mussel shells were growing higher.
The bell tinkled again and an overweight woman walked in.
"Oh shit," said the waiter.
"Whoa, whoa," snapped the tongue of the spirit, "this place is way too expensive for the likes of you."
"Piss off, I just got a raise," said the woman.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Author Comments

The original inspiration for this story hit me in a place you might expect: a restaurant. I could hear snippets of multiple conversations. I was struck at my own ability to hear a few seconds of dialogue out of context, build an idea around it, and subsequently pass judgment on the participants. Having no real idea of what they were talking about or who they were, I had an empty notebook in front of me. So what if there was an observer who already knew the facts and had no choice but to reveal them? Would you really want to hear what it had to say? As I looked at the people around me, I realized it would take me years to know or observe them with the clarity of the wall ornament. And even his process is flawed, since he only reveals negative aspects of character and insecurity. The biggest challenge of this piece was differentiating so many people in so short a space.

- Nicholas Hoins
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