The Cynic

James K. South

© Copyright 2007 by James K. South


This biting, humorous story is 85% true. I am the character named Mark, and this is an example of a typical dinner at my house, except for the father. I hope you enjoy it. Please send feedback!

 “Let us pray,” said Mr. Smith—“That ’s Officer Smith to you ”—of W. Cragapple Street. Mark bowed his head and thought to himself, The curtain comes up. “Lord, we thank You for this food. Let it fully nourish our bodies with bounty and goodness. Thank You for bringing our happy family back to this table again safely. Amen.” Dear God. Bounty and goodness? Lord, that is such a stupid prayer and I’m sorry You have to hear it every single night. But so do I. Amen.

 Mrs. Smith passed around the beans, rice, and corn to everyone, who took it silently and passed it silently and started eating it—silently. Then Luke asked, “So do you get a life sentence for spying?”

 Mr. Smith shoveled in another heaping forkful of steaming beans, then said, “Yep. Actually, they’d probly just kill ya.”

 Luke pondered this for a few bites, then said, “Can I have a spoon?”

 “No,” sang his parents in unison.

 “Why? We serve the beans with a huge spoon, so doesn’t it just make sense, ya know, that we’d eat them with one?”




Mark, with a high brows and piercing eyes, looked over at Luke and whispered, “You ask that every night. What makes you think that tonight (of all nights!) the planets are so mystically aligned that the senseless iron slate of social etiquette would have fundamentally changed to meet your pertinacious efforts? ”

What’s that?” asked Mr. Smith, slightly irritated by what little of Mark’s slightly ostentatious, but rather precise choice of words he had managed to hear. Mark had actually said pertinacious, and no son of Mr. Smith’s was going to go around saying pertinacious. No siree.

Nothing,” muttered Mark, his face towards his plate.

Six more seconds of silence, and then—“But what about if the CIA hires you to, like, I dunno, spy on Nebraska or something?”

 What? That’s one of the top 100 stupidest things he’s ever asked, thought Luke’s big brother Mark. And it really was. It was actually the 45th stupidest thing that Luke Smith of W. Cragapple Street had ever asked. (The second dumbest thing he’d ever asked was if Jimi’s grandmother had ever had any kids; the number one, hands-down, unmitigatedly stupid thing he had asked was how long Bill and Ted Quincy had been twins.) Some people, especially encouraging elementary school teachers, like to say that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Luke was walking proof of that they were wrong—dead wrong.

That doesn’t happen,” was the stern reply from his father.

 “Yeah, I know, but just what if?”

 “That doesn’t happen, I said!” Mr. Smith’s five-o’-clock-shadowed face was beginning to get strawberried. “ Where a’ the tor—the tor—I can’ say it.”

 “We’re out of tortillas, honey,” said Mrs. Smith, tentatively.

 He dropped his fork and lifted his palms chest level. “And we’re having taco guts . . . why?”

 “I didn’t know that when I started cooking.”

 “Well maybe you shoulda—”

 “What about Puerto Rico?” interrupted Luke.

 “What . . . about . . . Porta Rico,” answered Mr. Smith.

 “No, seriously, I mean if you shoot the President of Puerto Rico—”

 “We have the same President, Luke,” said Mark, rather matter-of-factly, “It’s part of the U.S.”

Well, okay, but what about if you take out their governor?”

 “They don’t have a—”

 “Will you stop!” exploded a formerly bottled-up Mrs. Smith, holding her ears so that her brain wouldn’t leak out. And it really might have had her hands not been there. Honestly. “Why are you always picking on your brother, Mark? And why are you always seeing how far you can push the line, how much you can get away with, Luke? Are you planning some big heist? What is it with all these questions!”

 Mark sat and thought. He pictured himself—he had to restrain himself from actually doing it—looking straight into his mother’s eyes and saying, “But Mom, it’s the Socratic method,” as seriously as he could. He started laughing and half-choked on his milk. He got a glare from Mr. Smith, who Mark proceeded to pick apart piece by piece.

 Why does he wear his stupid badge to the table? Why is he eating a million miles an hour? Why does he always sound so stupid when he talks? And Luke—what? Just what! I don’t even know what to say. He’s crazy. Everyday he tells me all about his fantastic plans to leave the country before high school, and everyday I tell him that he won’t and that he doesn’t even speak Japanese, so why would he want to go—

 “—Will you stop scraping your fork?” glared Luke. Mark shrugged. He wasn’t scraping his fork, at least purposely, and everyone knew it. Why would he scrape his fork? Mark wasn’t a fork-scraper—if there is one thing, one lonely, solitary thing that Mark was not, it was a fork-scraper.

 “I made an arrest today,” announced Mr. Smith. Mark looked up, bewildered by the man who supposedly was his father. It was a stupid thing to say; Mr. Smith was a cop who arrested anyone who looked at him the wrong way, as far as Mark could tell from the stories: just last week he successfully pulled over two cars in eight minutes—one for driving three miles per hour over the speed limit, the other for going nine under. Now, he couldn’t technically make an arrest for something as petty as that (he’d be hard-pressed to even write a legitimate ticket), but he could if the driver got an attitude. Which they did. And who blames them? Apparently Mr.—excuse me, Officer Smith does. So he arrested them and made then serve fifty-nine minutes, fifty-nine point nine-nine-nine-nine seconds of jail time (which is, naturally, the longest he can keep them in for “undermining the judgment of an officer of the law”).

 “Cool! Who?” asked Luke, suddenly forgetting he was acting annoyed.

Can’t tell you. Top secret.” He was probably right. Suburbia was filled with so many of the FBI’s most wanted, men who were, in fact, wanted in twenty-six nations plus Antartica—maybe even Pluto, but who cares about planetoids?

 “Awww, c’mon Dad!” Luke bounced. This is such an idiotic charade. I think I’m going to puke. Actually, I hope I’m going to puke, because then I won’t have to sit through another round of bad T.V. drama. Every night! And for the most part, Mark was right. It wasn’t every night, but Mr. Smith was on a 27-day streak of arresting someone (or, not infrequently, more than one unfortunate person), then coming home and playing the game. He would cast his fishing pole with the bait—“Arrested someone today,”—then sit back and wait for a nibble—“Who, Daddy, who!”—then play it cool, waiting to sink the hook in deep—when Luke would start going crazy and making a scene—and then he’d reel it in and tell some ridiculous story.

Nope, not gonna do it,” he said. But he was. Oh yes, he was.

 “PLEASE!” shouted Luke, who was really acting like an idiot.

 “PLEASE!” shouted Mark, who was really acting like Luke, who was really acting like an idiot. Mark, however, was not an idiot.

Don’t make fun of your brother, Mark,” said Mrs. Smith. Mark shrugged.

Alright, alright. I’ll tell ya’ll,” conceded Mr. Smith. “So there I was, just drivin’ the ol’ cruiser when wha’do I see? Two teenagers—skateboardin’!” explained Mr. Smith, who then, as if there were nothing more to explain, leaned back in his chair and surveyed the scene.

Mark just looked at him, slightly gaping. “Skateboarding isn’t illegal you know,” he said, and then quickly—before Mr. Smith could beat him to the exception—blurted, “Where were they?”

School parking lot,” countered Mr. Smith in the exact same biting tone he used when he said, “King me.”

Mark considered. Perhaps there was some ordinance deep within the caverns of City Hall—but arresting still seemed harsh. It was. He stood up and carried his plate to the sink. He said, as he walked out of the kitchen, “It’s been real; it’s been good,” but it hasn’t been really good and it hasn’t really even been good.

James K. South is an 18-year old writer from Missouri. He is currently editing his second novel, The Lost, about the nature, cause, and effects of gangs.

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