The Hopscotch King ~ fiction by Jake Sheff

My favorite thing, by far, is the opposite sex. But my next favorite is asking ridiculous questions, like ‘Why is the letter S always malingering?’ Or, ‘What is the smell of potatoes’ hatred?’



Optimism. The answer to your questions.

(He leans in and cups his ear.) Come again?

Opti, opti opti. Mi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-zum!

(He chuckles) No, dear. The answer, I’ve come to find, is pansy petals in an owl pellet. (His cocksure smile fades.) You were talking, I presume, about the second question, no? About the potatoes’ hatred?

(Without petulance; an ironic detachment instead.) Sir, I’m a boy. And no, sir. I was referring to all of them.

Oh, I’m sorry. (His eyes shift. He rubs his knees, straightens up.) Excuse my lapse in, um…sexual selection. The chassis of my flirtation has lost its athletic…Darwinism. I’ve been a dink my entire life. First, with a kindergarten teacher – whose incredulity regarding Mephistopheles was right up my alley, but it also led to our undoing – and next, with a phrenologist’s assistant, whose indiscretions caused my anisocoria, but led to so many dangerous – and truly brilliant! – ideas, I could not fault her, or leave her, or procreate with her. I was the clematis creeping down her tarmac.

(The interviewer adjusts his pinafore. Appears indifferent.) You’re speaking, of course, about The Blizzard Wizard?

My second wife? Yes. (He pulls away from the Dictaphone.) But I don’t like to…

(The interviewer leans in, as invasive and focused as the alpha-dog’s nose to a bitch in heat or impenetrable foxhole emanating the scent of blood.)

(The esteemed raconteur, who singlehandedly challenged and changed the global economic system to work in his favor while eliminating poverty and destroying several aspects of human nature thought incorruptible – greed, and its pale neighbor, altruism – while weakening certain institutions by forestalling much of the species’ drive toward creative endeavors, and likewise, curiosity- and impulse-powered pursuits, was, all of a sudden, dumbstruck with abulia. The camera lens zoomed on The Stalwart of New Wall Street; his masculinity crumbling at the mere mention of her nom de guerre, his ex-wife’s, whom he now began to suspect had orchestrated his first live interview – being telecast in 48 languages to all of his colonies, including the extraterrestrial (but not submarine) – in 35 years, and was first arranged as a “softball lobbing puff-piece” to celebrate the centennial of his ascension and introduce The Great Questioner to the boys and girls who only knew his name and legend by schoolyard songs and classroom pledges and prayers, by the epic tales and Napoleonic portraits. The screeds he published, distributed aimlessly, the palavers, the folderol he cast about blind that somehow caught fire, went viral, in dialects no longer spoken, utilizing idioms archaic and defunct; utterly meaningless. He was to deliver a speech, the one in his breast pocket, to give voice and ideas in contemporary tongue to the fledgling government. But then the asexual interviewer asked about her…)

(A female voice comes over the loudspeaker and speaks with poise.) No, dear. Not every question has an answer.

(The interviewer gets up and leaves. The light is low. The Dictaphone cassette is still spinning, humming loudly, recording and interrupting history.)

(The man looks up.) Beatrice? Gertrude? Medea?

Yes, love.

(He understands; resigns to the situation. Calmly.) Do you remember the time in Alsace?

It wasn’t Alsace. It wasn’t Lunar Bombay, or Anchorage. It was Odessa.

Ah, yes. Odessa.

You were so proud. You started so headstrong and good.

We did, my love. You were the one who added my postscript: The success with the most struggle most pleases God.

The motto for his revolution.

Revolution! It was our reversion…

Reversion. Inversion. Revision. Excision. It had so many names…

What doesn’t, my love?

So coy. So cute and coy.

(He smiles.)

You have only one name: Traitor!

(He continues to smile, and closes his eyes as if listening to a moving operetta.)

Do you have any final words? Some last bit of encouragement for your countrymen, as once again you are integral – like an annoying, squeaky hinge in need of oiling – to another turn and upheaval in mankind’s progress, our forward march through time?

Eloquent; as always. (He looks at the camera.) I’d like to name this new baby of ours.

(With uncertainty and mercy in her voice; no hint of the nostalgia.) Go on.

I’d like to name it, The Great Indecision.

You fool.

(A woman steps out of the darkness and fires a pistol into The Little Dane’s temple. He falls over dead. The woman – beautiful, young and bikini-clad – takes her place before his stool and proceeds to speak into the camera.) Hello. I’m Helen. You may know me as Miss America.

Jake Sheff is a pediatrician in Oregon. He’s married with a daughter and six pets. Poems of Jake’s are in Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cossack Review and elsewhere. He won 1st place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and a Laureate’s Choice prize in the 2019 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest. Past poems have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing).

Show Jake some love via PayPal at jjsheff(at)gmail(dot)com.