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Peter Laine

Puck's Game

With his new outfit and confident demeanor, Pensmith got to work all full chest and big grin.  He was ready.  But when he strode past Tania’s cube, caught her scent and glanced at her cleavage, he hurried to his desk and put his head down.
    “Dude, give it up,” his coworker said, leaning over the cube wall.  “It’s been how many happy hours now and you’ve yet to even have a conversation with her.  I’m beginning to think you’re a glutton for pain.”
    “Shut up, Fielder,” Pensmith said. 
    “Dude, I’m just sayin’.”
    “No, today will be the day I ask her out.  I’m ready.”
    “Whatever you say, man.  Hey, since you’re not busy, could I get your opinion on this report?”
    At ten, Pensmith got up from his desk and banged his knee.  He buckled over in pain, sat down and bit his lower lip to maintain his coolness – or lack thereof.
    At eleven twenty-one, Pensmith finished an email, read it over, and clicked send.  He got up from his desk – ensuring the edge was a safe distance away from his knee – and walked slowly to the break room, refilled his coffee, then poured it out into the sink, checked his breath by blowing into hand.  He winced and popped in a breath mint.  He rounded the corner and headed towards Tania’s cube.  “Hi there, Pensmith,” coworker Bob said, cutting him off midstride.  Coworker Bob talked a lot.  “Did you check out that game last night?  Man, it was killer!  Stollberb shot and hit that three…”
    At one forty-two, Pensmith left the restroom (didn’t really have to go) and had his modus operandi figured out: what to say, how to say it, no dry mouth, don’t stutter, be succinct…but Tania wasn’t at her cube and he felt his presence was that of a siren.      
    Pensmith halted on his fourth and final attempt.  Near the hallway to the break room, a person he’d never seen before flipped a coin that hung in the air just a little longer than it should have.  His waspish hair seemed to glow, illuminating the stark wall with a red tint.  A punker grin trailed every passerby and he seemed to read their every thought.  The immaculate, tailor made suit he wore carried a darkness only accomplished by having underworld connections.     
    Pensmith stood transfixed on this man.  Locked in place, he couldn’t move or think.  Where was the music, he thought.  There should be music for someone like that.  Then music started.  No angelic sermons or symphonic epics or melancholy blues, but rock music.  Giant guitars and thundering drums and screeching vocals.  He almost bobbed his head to the beat until this man turned and gazed at Pensmith.  They locked eyes and then the world came back.  An echoing calm of keyboards and dull phone conversations returned.  The man gave a two fingered salute and entered a darkened conference room. 
    “Who’s that?” Pensmith asked.
    “Who?” Fielder said.
    “The new guy.  You know, the guy with that weird hair.”
    “Oh, that guy.  Goodfellow.  Robin Goodfellow.  That sound familiar to you?”
    “No – yeah, I think.  What’s his deal?”
    “Don’t know, don’t care.  Things are tough.  They hire a new guy that means someone is going.  I’m heads down from now on.  You should be, too.  No more gawking at Tania.”
    “Shut up, Fielder.”
    “Dude, I’m just sayin’.”
    The conference room door swung open and an eruption of laughter burst over the cubicle farm.  There, in the center of the blitz, Robin Goodfellow leaned back and released a booming laugh.  Bosses of bosses slapped his back, nearly toppled over in tears.  His thin, perfectly curved mouth cut ear to ear; then, as if timed like a sitcom, he said, “Ho ho ho!”  They dispersed and the monotonous work day continued.     

Everyday Pensmith surreptitiously watched Tania leave.  First, she collected her notebook and cell phone and placed them in her bag.  Second, she logged off her computer and turned off her lamp.  Before departing to the elevator, she checked her little mirror and dabbed gloss on her lips.  He’d watched this ritual and endured it.  She would walk – or skip, if you were to hear it from Pensmith – to the elevator and daintily press the down button.  The doors would open, the doors would shut, and she’d be gone until tomorrow.  Here he would slump back into his chair and groan for a while and hate himself, but that would pass and he would go home. 
    This day Tania didn’t have a chance to check her little mirror.  Pensmith interrupted her routine and opened his mouth.  She froze, lip balm stuck on her lower lip.  He smiled, she smiled.  Robin Goodfellow stepped in and said, “Tania, my dear.  You’ll be late for your bus.  You must hurry, yes?”  Tania nodded, then scowled, and hurried to the elevator.  Before Pensmith could say anything, Goodfellow said, “I did you a favor, old boy.  You were going to ruin it.  Ho ho ho.”  He leaned on the desk.  “In all seriousness though, I can help you out, that I can.  That mythic creature will need to be tamed.  I know her.  I can arrange a meeting of sorts.  What say you?”
    Pensmith hesitated, stepped back.  Goodfellow grinned and wiggled his fingers.  “OK,” Pensmith said.

A wet breeze cut through Pensmith’s light jacket.  He looked down at his outfit.  He should have changed.  He waited outside a creaky warehouse with a clearly marked address.  Across the street, attached to a bank, a rotating watch said ten twenty-five.  His cell phone said ten thirty-five.  Usually, he assumed, there would be a line or a door attendant or some semblance of a club, but there was only an empty sidewalk.  He checked the slip of paper Goodfellow gave him.  Exact.  The wind stopped.  He looked down the desolate street.  What would a guy like Goodfellow drive?  A limo?  A BMW?  A Honda? 
    “Hello hello,” Goodfellow said.
    “You’re late,” Pensmith said.  “Where’d you come from?”
    “Never mind that.  A Goodfellow is never late.  You’re early.”
    “So, where is this place, because this is a dump?”
    “Patience, patience.  Tonight will be grand.  Let me help you, my dear boy.  Put this on.”  From behind his back he displayed a goat faced mask. 
    Pensmith leaned sideways to see how the magic trick worked, but saw nothing.  He put on the musty mask.  It scratched his face and fit tightly around the edge.  A syncopated vibration disrupted his balance.  Pungent perfume filled the air.  A line formed before two tall doors that had an incandescent sheen.  Beautiful people conversed and laughed.  Two stone gargoyles stood guard and had stoic eyes that followed his every move.  Goodfellow innocuously handed the ogre of a doorman something and they were let in.    
    “Are you sure this is going to work?” Pensmith yelled. 
    Swarms of men and woman danced in the center of the room, all wore masks of the animal variety.  Fog lingered around their ankles and swathed in circles as they rotated in an unorganized rhythm.  Two half-naked women dangled and spun on glowing poles, their faces covered by white masks.  To the ceiling were lights that flashed green, yellow, red, blue, orange, white.  The music pulsed to a deafening rhythm.  Off in the corners were booths and tables.  Pinkish lamps leaned over each seating area that overflowed with masked anybodies.  Pensmith felt dizzy.  He got tired and wanted to sit, but there wasn’t an open chair, an open space.  Goodfellow was gone.  A circle formed around him and the masks seemed to move as if they were real.  They jostled in orgasmic fury.  He wanted to scream, or throw up, but couldn’t.
    Then it was quiet save the subtle bass that vibrated the floor.  In a small room, atop a velvet bench, he tried focusing on a vibrating light that floated above him.  Once his grogginess subsided, he sat bolt upright and touched his face: the goat mask was still on.  He looked around and to his left, on a twin-sized bed, Tania rested under a diamond canopy.  Her face glowed and a fragment of her curly and shiny hair touched her cheek.  The gown she wore aggrandized her body, a grove of salaciousness topped by twin peaks.
    “She’s nice, isn’t she,” Robin Goodfellow said.  He put his arm around Pensmith.  “Now is the time for action.  Drink this.”  He uncorked a small bottle of clear liquid and handed it over.  “Drink drink.”  Pensmith turned away, but then eyed Goodfellow’s serpentine face and took the bottle and swallowed.  It was tasteless and odorless.  A small tingling coursed in his stomach and he felt a sense of levity.  Tania shifted and opened her eyes, blinked hard, then propped herself up on her elbows.  “Take it off,” Goodfellow whispered.  Pensmith removed the goat mask and Tania turned and looked at him and crawled off of the bed and into his arms and kissed him.  Locked in the momentous bliss of success, he heard a distant echo of “Ho ho ho!”

Back at his apartment, Pensmith lay awake staring at the cracked ceiling.  Four times was a new record.  Hell, more than once in one night was a new record.  She really liked him this whole time, she said so, among other things, but those are to be left under the covers.  The room had filled with Tania’s honey dewed aroma, this and oak and a sugary dust that coated the walls.  In fact, sitting up, he saw a moss-like substance coagulating on his desk and kitchen counters.  A lamp had begun its transposition to a fern and the carpet had become an ardent green.  He tried to wake Tania, but she continued to snore.  He slid out of the bed and, sure enough, he felt grass between his toes.  He entered the kitchen and couldn’t look out the window for it was covered with blossoming branches. 
    “By the Gods!”
    Tania rose from the bed.  Pensmith came to her side and said, “I know, right.  What’s going on?”
    “I can’t believe this,” Tania said.  “Of all the dirty tricks to play.  A human!”  Her naked body was perfect and Pensmith tried to understand the scene, but was unfocused due to her thighs, stomach, breasts, neck, mouth, and eyes.  Then it hit him.
    “What?  What do you mean ‘human’?” he said.
    “Are all humans as dumb as you?  We’ve been duped by a Puck.  A very nefarious Puck, mind you.  Robin Goodfellow has been playing tricks on the Fairies for ages now.  Humans remember the old tales quiet well, from what I remember, so you must be one of the lower class, uneducated types.  I pity you.”  Pensmith sat down and tried to understand what was happening, but simply couldn’t.  The grass under his feet did feel nice, though.  Tania snapped her fingers and a pink cloud consumed her and, when it evaporated, she wore a long white dress and a bejeweled tiara that lit the darkened room.  “That’s better,” Tania said.  “PUCK!”
    There was a loud pop and Robin Goodfellow appeared from a corner, a tendril of smoke trailed off of his shoe.  “Yes, my queen, dearest Titania?” he said. 
    “A human, Puck?” Titania said.  “This human?  Haven’t we been here before?  All I wanted was to observe these creatures and you play your games.  I’ve come to expect more from your trickery.  Oberon will be furious.”  Goodfellow shrugged and yawned.  She turned to Pensmith.  “Human, I hope this was a…pleasurable experience for you – I can assure you it wasn’t for me – but nevertheless, we can’t have you remembering this, now can we?”  Titania snapped her fingers again and Pensmith crumpled to the bed and snored loudly.

At work he had trouble keeping his eyes open.  After coming back to his desk from getting his third cup of coffee, he shuffled some papers around and discovered an oddity.  Scribbled in distinctive long hand was a note:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumber'd here,
While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long,
Else the puck a liar call.
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. (Act V. Scene I.)

Pensmith crumbled up the paper and tossed it into the trash and wondered how Shakespeare ended up on his desk.


Two strangers came into the kickboxing studio.  She had thin lips and carried one of those purse dogs – all yip and shivers.  He had slicked black hair and a small scar under his eye.  Suddenly it was as if childhood became a shadow in the doorway, close enough to smell and touch, but truly unable to grasp.  At first he didn’t recognize me, but then, upon closer inspection, he gazed upwards at my weak chin and army hair cut and asked, “Pauly?”  He shook my hand.  “Long time no see, guy,” he said.  We shared an awkward pause.  The woman – presumably his girlfriend – nudged him.  He elbowed her back and she lost her balance.
    “Jerk,” she said, and smacked her gum.  The dog yipped. 
    “Women,” he said, and smiled yellowed teeth.  “They’re only good for one thing, right my man,” and made a sexual pantomime.  He winked and put his hand on my shoulder and strong memories returned like a watery blow from a hurricane. 


Tony Miguel Bolaño tormented me as a young boy.  His brother, Jesús Sanchez Bolaño, egged Tony on, teasing him and belittling him to go further with the torment.  He was the cattle prod and Jesús was the wielder, a demon that maneuvered his meat as he pleased.  All I could do was go along with it; they were, after all, the Kings of the Block.
    The Bolaño brothers rode their Huffy bikes through the neighborhood as if they were chariots.  A line of followers rode behind, going down alleys and parking lots, pedaling faster and faster through puddles, and zooming through the occasional fenceless yard.  At the ripe age of ten, I was one of those followers, but always in last place, always trying to keep up, and always left to do their dirty work.  Throw this rock, a Bolaño brother said, and so I would.  Steal this gum, a Bolaño brother said, and so I would.  Luckily, I wasn’t the only pawn in their game of inner-city subterfuge. 


Kickboxing class was about to begin and we had nothing to say to each other, so I told Tony it was time to suit up.  I taught that night.  Despite being disrespectfully late, I didn’t push for him to hurry.  Perhaps my fear was still a distant star in my subconscious, a fading light that illuminated when I saw him walk in.  But I dodged the thought and stepped onto the mat and stretched and warmed up.
    “Water can assume any shape,” I said to my students.  “It can be small or thin or large or wide.  It can be forceful, it can be demure.  Think of that when we spar.  OK, let’s get our gear on.”
    Tony lingered in the foreground and needed help tying his chest protector, the misstep of a rookie.  I couldn’t help but grin.  Got’cha.


The summer I turned eleven, my little brother got involved somehow, and before I could stop it, Tony and my brother were squaring off at Midway Park. 
    “The Bolaño’s got your bro,” a follower said.  “Tony’s goin’ to rack him up.”  I tore through the neighborhood on my wobbly Huffy, peddled so fast I had to raise my feet so not to whack my shins.  Alleys became blurs of grays and whites.  Parking lot curbs launched me over streets.  I hopped off my bike and let inertia carry it into the fence that enclosed the tennis courts.  I charged towards the commotion and fell into the arms of Jesús.  No matter how hard I squirmed or pulled, I couldn’t break free.  A circle had formed, mostly the strangers that played basketball, and of course the followers.  Bikes were tossed aside and eager eyes awaited the outcome.  Even the first-graders stopped their monkey bar swinging and sand digging to see what all the commotion was about.
    “Tony’s going to fuck him up,” Jesús whispered into my ear.  His breath reeked of onions and Big League Chew. 
Tony first circled my little brother like a caged predator and affronted him with lewd gestures, shadowboxed the air.  The noise of the crowd grew and grew until it became a cacophonous blob that consumed the park.  Finally Tony swung and landed the blow on the cheek of my little brother, who didn’t move, didn’t buckle or fall.  An awed and stunned silence filled the park.  Tony swung again.  My little brother tried to feign the punch, but lost his footing and took it in the shoulder and smartly raised his arms to protect his face, but it was too late – the barrage started: blow after blow took him down until he recoiled into a fetal ball on the cement.  The circled tightened and my cries fell deaf.  Tony grew tired of kicking my little brother, spit and parted the crowd, and came up to me and placed his hand on my shoulder and winked.  I tried to kick him but Jesús spun me and threw me before I could extend my leg.  They laughed.  With everyone gone, I helped my little brother limp home.            
A few weeks later, the Bolaño brothers' reign of supremacy ended.  They moved.  Why they moved was never discovered.  From then on the neighborhood remained relatively quiet save an unruly TP-ing or Halloween bag snatch.  But the Bolaño brothers’ ghosts stayed strong.  If a piece of sporting equipment or a prized action figure went missing, word spread through the inner circles of adolescence, wondering if the brothers had returned to that orange house with a backyard filled with toys that weaker boys acquiesced, fearing the repercussions if they said no.  “Did they return?  Are they back?” said school yard soccer players in hushed tones, scared the brothers would hear them over the majestic distance that spared us from their rule.  It seemed even teachers refused to ignore their own paranoia; I caught them eyeing the grassless portion of the recess yard where the Bolaño brothers devised after-school deviance.


I didn’t mean to kick Tony that hard, but when he went down I tasted the blood lust.  The purse-dog woman snickered and her dog yapped.  He rolled over and shook his head.  Sweat beads flew in all directions and, after he got to his feet, he staggered.  I restrained my pugnaciousness and let him gain his footing.  The damn dog continued to yap.  Before we continued, the timer rang and our sparring match ended and Tony sat in a corner to catch his breath.  We didn’t make eye contact.  When the class was over I had to show a student a particularly complex move, so I never saw Tony leave.  He never came back.  It was a shame.  I wanted to say take care, but not really. 

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Peter Laine is a part-time student at Metropolitan State studing Creative Writing, and he hopes to pursue an MFA in the future.  He currently works at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage as an Operations Analyst. Besides writing and reading, Peter enjoys practicing the guitar and eating wings and drinking beer, although never at the same time.