Volume 25, Number 1

Vanity Plates

It’s all quiet but the diggers tunneling out with wheel-ground spoons; the fresh fish crying for home were knocked silent an hour ago. Watchtower guards pitch pennies, they compare home renovation honey-do lists, shift toward civilian a little further all the time from armed service active duty, the mythic era when they gambled their skins and survived.

The diggers are zombified by day, stamping custom license plates like: LUVSUX / IM12XL / A55 RGY/ 4NIK8R / 50 KLLR. These slug-lines slide into headstone epitaphs. Tiny, who is (of course) a giant, tells wiry young Napoleon his granite dirt-nap marker will say, “C U SOON.”

The warden sleeps exceptionally well for someone with ten thousand dedicated enemies. His trademark stance is perfect balance between limited kickbacks and restrained love of sadism; no one’s sure what he’s capable of. There’s a hard-knocks screenplay waiting to be written.

Tiny’s common-law back home, the long-lonesome rock-steady, keeps watch for the coded letter that signals dig complete, keeps the tank topped, the bag of disguises handy. She’s all in but well aware that straight success is most unlikely.

Watchtower guards sweep the spotlight, million candlepower night-sun, backstopped by a razor-wire perimeter. Violations in darkened cells are the strongest crime deterrent. The little general is carving earth by the teaspoon, planning quips to put on plates of cars that he’ll never register. The little general’s excavating, mad from the island exile.

—Todd Mercer