The Flip of a Coin
by William Michaelian

And that, as they say, is the latest. Selkirk wouldnít budge. Neither would Harry. Marv, well, you know Marv. Heís a bastard. But that doesnít mean we canít forge ahead. And donít forget Evan Maynard. Heís getting pretty damn annoyed with us. I donít have to remind you, if he keeps this up, we might as well go home. As much as I hate the idea. But I hate this town even more, and I hate the people in it. They all look and act like cows. And itís all because of Wal-Mart. Everywhere I turn, I run into crazy people with carts full of cookies and kitty litter.

He went on with his tirade for another ten minutes. Finally, I told him to shut up and listen for a change. Look, I said. Selkirk, Marv, Harry, and Evan Maynard are all finished, and they have been for weeks. Canít you get that through your fat head? And whatís this garbage about Wal-Mart? One time itís kitty litter, and the next itís light bulbs and toilet paper. Iím sick of it. Do you hear me? As if people donít have to live. As if you yourself are somehow above and beyond the needs of humanity. Whatís the matter with you, anyway? Why donít you wake up? Leave the past in the past, where it belongs. Or do you intend to carry on like this for the rest of your life? Because, if you do, brother or no brother, you can do it without me.

I went on like this for another ten minutes. Finally, he told me to shut up and listen for a change. Ignoring our problem wonít make it go away, he said. Okay. So Harry and Selkirk are out. And Marv. But just because of that, everything stops? Everything goes back to normal? And what is normal? Iíll tell you what normal is. Evan Maynard dictating our every move ó thatís whatís normal. And if it isnít Wal-Mart, itís some other warehouse, turning everyone into cattle. How do you think I feel when I need a stupid door knob and have to claw my way through fifteen acres of faucets and toilet seats to the door knob department, only to find out the one I want is on a shelf forty feet above the floor and I have to put on a hard hat and climb a firemanís ladder to get to the damn thing?

Youíre exaggerating, I said, after he went on like this for another ten minutes. Now, if youíll shut up and listen for a change, Iíll tell you whatís wrong with you ó and whatís wrong with your stupid Selkirk theory, for that matter. Selkirk is hopeless. He didnít budge because he was afraid to budge. When did he ever do anything on his own? And yet you kept hammering away at him as if he had a brain. And Marv. Poor old Marv. You call him a bastard, but he is one of the most decent people Iíve ever met. It wasnít his fault he got mixed up in this thing. It was yours. If you think a minute, you will remember that Marv was just a simple carpet salesman minding his own business until you came along and got him all worked up about your big idea. Pah! And what idea? To topple Evan Maynard? As if that was worth anyoneís time? Evan Maynard. Owner of the lousiest hardware store in town. Why, for five hundred bucks Iíll bet he would have sold us his store. A thousand at the most. If weíd done that, the rest of this nonsense could have been avoided. Instead of sitting here babbling, you could be peddling your own light bulbs and nails. You could have been the biggest bird seed dealer town, not the pea-brained failure you are, and that everybody knows you are.

After going on like this for a good ten minutes, he told me to shut up and listen for a change. You seem awfully happy, he said. Could it be you wanted this to happen? You know, this partnership idea was as much yours as it was mine. Or have you forgotten that? Brothers, indeed. Why work for somebody else, you said, when we can be our own boss? Why not control our own destiny? etc., etc. Hell. I should have listened to Selkirk. He knew. Hopeless, indeed. The only reason he wouldnít budge is because you pitted him against Harry. And so Harry wouldnít budge. With all his knowledge, too. Harry was just the glue to tie the business together. We needed Harry. Harry is hard-working and personable ó unlike some people I know. Unlike you, who would apparently prefer to go home with your tail between your legs and say it couldnít be done.

Shut up, I said, after enduring another ten minutes of his inability to face the truth. Thatís all I have to say. Just shut up. You make me sound like some sort of loser. But the truth is, if it wasnít for me, youíd still be shoveling cow pies for dear old Dad, not to mention swallowing his insults. Or have you forgotten that? Your wife left you because of him. Your friends hate you because of him. Hell ó you hate yourself because of him.

It sounds like you hate me, too, he said, refusing to endure another ten minutes of the cold hard truth.

Hate you? I said, before he could waste another ten minutes telling me our father wasnít really that bad, why would I hate you?

Because youíre jealous, thatís why.

Oh, sure, I said. Iím jealous. Look. Why donít we forget all this and go talk to Evan Maynard? But letís do it together this time.

Really? he said. You want to do that?

No, I said. I donít want to. But I will. And Iíll talk to Selkirk, Harry, and Marv, too. But Iíll do it on only one condition ó that you give me credit for having a brain.

He smiled. After smiling for a good ten minutes, he said, Okay. Then he offered me his hand and we shook on it.

We got in our old greasy pickup and drove to Evan Maynardís hardware store. We found Evan where he always was, behind the cash register, waiting for the dayís first customer. Hi, boys, he said. Which is it today? You going to buy me out, or drive me out?

Both, I said.

How about Selkirk? he said. And Marv, and Harry? What do they say?

They donít say much, I said. I think they think weíre crazy.

Well? Arenít you?

Maybe. Maybe not. What do you think?

Maynard smiled. Boys, he said, I think you got a lot of gumption. Frankly, I wish I had the gumption you guys have. Then maybe Iíd find a way to make a go of this place. The thing is, I donít care. Iím old. Tired. My energyís all gone. I got a wife whoís tired of being poor, a kid who canít find work, and another kid whoís nuttier than a fruit cake. My mother died fourteen years ago, and Iím still not over it. But I like this town. Thatís one thing I can say. Itís a good town. How long thatíll be the case, I donít know. Since Wal-Mart moved in, all my customers are gone. And I donít blame them. I go to Wal-Mart myself. Stuffís cheaper there. Trouble is, soís life. Thatís the part that worries me. Then thereís the other big boxes. What Iím saying is, you canít win against that kind of competition. I canít, you canít, nobody canít. I donít care how good your service is. As for Selkirk and those other boys, remember, they have kids to feed. Did it ever occur to you that maybe theyíve thought it over, and already figured it out?

Evan Maynard went on like this for another ten minutes. The more he talked, the sadder he looked, until, finally, I was sure he was going to cry. And he did. And so did we.

Shit, I said, after weíd left Maynard in a heap at his worn-out counter. Shit. Letís go home. I hate this town.

Me, too, my brother said. Piss on it.

Ten minutes later, back in our overpriced pay-by-the-week dump of a motel room, I said, you want to get drunk tonight, or just call it quits?

After thinking it over for a good ten minutes, my brother said. Hell, I donít know. Why donít we flip for it?

Ten minutes later, we did. And, sure enough, we lost.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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