By Ken Poyner
I can sell all the air I can find. Typically, I will strap it into an old shoe box – but any container will do. Buyers will pick over the boxes and cans of air, each vessel with its lid taped shut or fitted into place with a fold and old boot laces. Customers lay out their money on the table and usually, right there, peel open the container, slug down all the air in one breath. Their bodies will rattle and shimmer, and their eyes will go milky, their hands crawl on the counter like drinking spiders and their teeth go blue. I’ve seen it fifty times. It is no big thing, unless you’ve never watched it before.
I’ll spend half the night looking for air, pulling my empty bottles and cans and jugs and boxes along in a renovated PF Flyer wagon, wheels held on with shielding wire and the wagon bed nearly rusted through. You might think rain my worst enemy, but a full moon and a slight rain is good. Air forms bubbles when it is intimate with a rain puddle. A mist, and I can fill everything I have that will hold air, slog back to my storeroom to sleep watchfully over a large enough stash to stay open all the next day.
I’ve put by a bit of cash and, while I will never take on an apprentice, I can take some lackluster nights off. I’ll put on my finest pressure suit, the one with the adjustable diaphragm and the calligraphy in someone’s unknown language, heading out like a metal bon vivant to the oxygen bar. I will enter, mouth thrown open in a gesture of breathing, my arms held out as though pumping for volume. I am the bird of the wind, of free breezes, and a down payment on atmospheres. For an hour or two I will hit on the good stuff, slowly letting out the perilous diaphragm constrictor, until the oxygen is flowing deep and free and I can feel the tingle of aerobic activity all the way to my gravity releasing toes. I pace myself, and my personal behavior as a customer is good enough that the owner will run a tab for me – me, a man in a similar if less pure business. The professional courtesy makes me red-flesh giddy.
But I know when to stop. I get home long before my slink becomes a skip and I put my best suit ritually back into its gorgeous closet, fall into sleep like a demimondaine the day after the sex league has again started printing its own money.
Next morning I am serviceable. I put out commercial air from my reserve stock, make change for laborers who want gallons but who can afford only single shot glasses full. They come in as though they were browsing only, alone and with the practiced patina of indifference; hands avoiding their motionless, flat chests; eyes ruining the ambient stillness with their lizard-like pining. I try to make them feel comfortable. I smile and fold myself within the cloak and role of the small, second class merchant. I count and weigh and measure. I go on doing my gasless duty.
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Ken Poyner spends a lot of time trying to keep his literary accomplishments on par with his wife’s power lifting accomplishments. He is losing ground. She is the USAPL National Dead Lift and Push/Pull champion in the 105 lbs glass. He is still trying to find an effective way to proofread. He started publishing in the small presses in the 70s, took some time off, and came back to haunt the web in 2009.
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