The landscape was a victim of blight and a dry season. The mountain rose up broad-shouldered and brown and highly flammable. A distant waterfall was a white trickle to the west. Looming on the east was Chimney Rock — bare, imperturbable, and phallic. Truly, no geologic formation was ever more penis-like than the Chimney. In the shadow of this protruding slab, the husband and wife sat at a table on the deck of Kritter’s Restaurant and Gifts. They swatted mosquitoes and drank their iced teas.
The husband read from a brochure titled, “Chimney Rock: Fast Facts.”
The wife wiped sweat off of her glass.
“Interesting,” the husband said, “it says here that the chimney was formed by erosion of the mountain around it. It only appears to be thrusting upwards from the mountain.”
“Is it granite?” she asked. The wife checked her watch. At noon, the blue law would expire, and she’d order her cocktail. That was twenty minutes away.
“Evidently, it’s Henderson niece.”
The husband turned his empty glass up and drained it. “It’s just a rock, Joy,” he said.
“That’s how you pronounce gneiss. Not niece. Nice.”
She looked up at the rock and put her lips on the straw. “Very nice,” she said.
The husband tilted the glass and tried to jigger the ice pack loose by tapping the side. It worked. The ice fell on his face.
The waitress came to the table. “Would you folks like a dessert?”
The husband asked, “Do you have banana pudding?”
The waitress smiled and said, “Day-old puddin’, sugar. Would you like to try it?”
“Should I make that two?”
“Mushy bananas? No thanks.” The wife said — not looking up — and slid the brochure closer.
The waitress turned quickly and disappeared inside the restaurant.
“Oh God, why do you make it so ha — so tough?” the husband asked her.
“I make it so tough,” the wife said, “because the solution is so easy.”
The husband stood and walked to the deck’s rail. “Easy for you, maybe,” he said.
“The procedure is not complicated,” she said. She followed him to the rail.
“Oh yes, you told me. A simple operation.”
She put her arms around him. “Right, honey.” Then she leaned down and nibbled on his ear.
“And what about afterwards?”
“A few months of recovery.”
“No, I mean, what about between us?”
“It’ll be perfect. We’re so close to happiness.”
“A mere inch or two away.”
She turned away from him. “Now who’s making it hard?”
“Well, that’s the truth, isn’t it?”
The wife walked back to the table. The husband dropped a quarter into the telescope and looked at the mountain. Between the rock and the falls was a long wall of bare rock. Scratched or painted there were Greek letters, high-school abbreviations, and the catch phrases “Avoid the Noid,” “Run and Tell that, Homeboy,” “All your base are belong to us,” and “Hell to the No!” Amid these words of complaint and defiance, one message stood out. It was written in hot-pink blocky letters. The husband read it under his breath — “L’IL BIT I ♥ U.” His eyes grew misty, and he repeated the words — this time loud enough for his wife to hear.
“I love you too,” the wife said. She un-tensed her facial muscles, and the vertical lines that had been between her eyebrows all day suddenly disappeared. “And more, dear, than just a little bit.”
“Then why — “
The waitress brought out the banana pudding. The wife checked her watch and ordered a mojito. The waitress asked the husband, “How about you, hon?”
The husband looked at the highway between the restaurant and the mountain. Traffic was heavy, and two cars turned into Kritters. He said to his wife, “After-church crowd, ugh” and then to the waitress, “Martini.”
The wife stepped toward the man. She grabbed his hand and said, “Good idea. You’ll drink and calm down and realize that it’s all so simple. It’s just to let some air in.”
The husband, “There’s a bit more to it than that.”
“It’s just like… just like…. Why it’ll be just like ol’ Chimney Rock up there.”
The husband said, “It will not be like Chimney Rock.”
“Yes, it will.”
“You can’t just look up there and say it’ll be just like Chimney Rock and the noid will be avoided and we’ll be happy.”
“Okay. How? How in the hell,” the man said and stopped.
The hostess led a family of four onto the deck. The father took off his coat and loosened his tie. He had a round face and a salt-and-pepper beard. His blue shirt had dark sweat patches under his arms, on his back, and around his collar. The mother smiled at the husband and wife. Her ears were sharp, not unlike a Vulcan’s. The children, a boy and a girl, both about seven years old, walked past without looking up. They had their father’s ears.
The wife whispered, “Dear, that big ol’ Chimney doesn’t stand on its own. That’s what the brochure said. It depends on cables and a steel truss.”
“One big difference,” the husband said. “When those cables were drilled into it, that big rock up there didn’t feel a thing.”
“Don’t be melodramatic,” the wife said and flinched as a sugar packet flew past her face. She spun around and looked at the family’s table. The husband, wife, and normal-eared children hid behind their menus.
The man says, “Oh yeah, and don’t forget the machinery.”
“Machinery? You’re just exaggerating now.”
“There’s the air bladder, the cylinders that run along the shaft, and the hydraulic pump itself. I’ll have a goddamned public works project in my — ”
“Dear, the children,” the wife snapped. “Now you’re just blowing things out of proportion.”
The husband opened his mouth to speak. Then he closed it for a moment just before laughter burst out of him.
The wife looked at him warily.
The man kept laughing. He managed to get out “blowing things… out of proportion” between guffaws.
The wife then started to laugh, tentatively at first but soon with as little restraint as her husband.
He brought her close and hugged her. She kissed him. “So you’ll consider it.”
He then held her close, so close their crotches were touching. He whispered, “Hell… to the no.”
RANDALL MARTOCCIA teaches composition and literature at East Carolina University and screens fiction entries (among other duties) for the North Carolina Literary Review. Several of his short movies can be found on YouTube. His previous publications are a parody of Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts,” a short story in a now-defunct online magazine, and a poem in War: Literature and the Arts. Martoccia may not be a young writer anymore, but he is certainly obscure.