As my home crumbles around us, my fat French uncle tells me again about all the things he secretly fixed in France, him and his clandestine band of merry men scurrying around the tunnels underneath Paris, popping up like moles with mallets and wrenches in the city’s neglected landmarks, fixing things–months on end–fixing things no one even knew were broken. And finally it is too much.
“Then why can’t you fix the damn leak in the roof?” I blow after three weeks of his charming garbage. “Why can’t you get the bathtub to drain? With a working disposal, maybe ants wouldn’t swarm the sink every time you cook a meal.”
“Combien peu inspirant,” he wrinkles his enormous nose, my father’s nose, a nose I’d broken once on my father’s face when I was seventeen, when I was less concerned about what was broken and what was not, a nose that reminds me of those carefree days and begs me to relive them.
“Come again?” I say.
“This is not the important repair,” he sighs. “To fix what is noticeably broken is pointless, practical,” he smacks his lips with distaste. “As I have explained, it is only to fix what is unnoticed that we can preserve the best representation of society. I am not a handyman. I am a preservationist. Je suis un artiste.”
“Enough already with your high-minded French crap,” I snap. “The hell with society, what about preserving my sanity?” I ask, thinking about my residual checks growing smaller each week, my part-time waitering jobs multiplying, my adjustable mortgage bloating each month like a fat frenchman sleeping on my couch, somehow still gaining weight despite the hardship of having to replace buttermilk in his biscuit recipe with whisked milk and vinegar. “My sanity is invisible and neglected. Preserve that!” I tell him.
He laughs. “Perhaps this is already beyond repair?” he suggests, rolling his eyes upward, as if the joke just fell through the moldy cracks in my ceiling, landed on his butter-crusted lips, and all he had to do was blow the bit of divine inspiration into the air.
So I lean over the table and jab him in his smirking nostrils, not a hard punch but hard enough. I hear a crack and my uncle gasps. His eyes fill with water and his nose flows with blood. Slowly, he rises to his feet and walks to the refrigerator, scattering raindrops of blood that divert half a trail of sink-assaulting ants on a new carnivorous expedition. He opens the failing freezer’s door and scoops out some soupy ice cubes, holds them to his nose. Then he wanders into the living room, where my once-proud green couch has surrendered under the fire of three weeks of relentless French flatulence. Dripping a mixture of icy blood onto its defeated cushions, he begins to pack, picking up the stinking shirts strewn around and stuffing them into his duffel.
“Look, I’m sorry I hit you,” I say from the doorway, “but not sorry enough to ask you to stay. Where are you going?”
“There is a clock in an abandoned museum in San Francisco,” he says without looking up. “It has not chimed for twenty-six years.”
“Sounds magical,” I say.
“There is a beautiful woman nearby who has not chimed for almost as long as the clock. These two conditions must be repaired,” he stands up and solemnly squares his shoulders, suddenly assuming all the dignity of a six-year-old playing soldier.
As I survey the man-child, a tendril of guilt starts creeping up from deep inside, climbing the spine of family obligation my father built in me during the hundred nights he spent at my sick grandmother’s bedside, and the thousand he spent at mine reading bedtime stories glorifying stalwart puppies helping their brothers and lost kittens making their way home. “Alright, you can abuse my couch for another night,” I grumble.
At this, my uncle flashes a bloody-toothed smile. “There is no need,” he says with pride, “for now my work here is complete.”
“What are you talking about?” I say, feeling an angry heat despite the gale-force drafts blowing through my home’s improperly set windows.
“Have I not fixed something after all? Is your perspective not in better condition?” he grins. “Au revoir, mon neveu,” he says. “I shall return in four to eighteen months on my way back to Paris, when my attorney untangles the regrettable knots around my legal status.”
And then he helps himself to a handshake and uses the door. I watch him saunter away, filling the empty spaces of the suburban night with his well-fed bulk.
I flop down on my couch and the cushion sends a mushroom cloud of his bowels’ essence into the air. I shake my head against the nausea and slide my feet into my loafers, because disgust is a luxury for waiters who aren’t late for the night shift at Uncle Charlie’s Chinese Food Fiesta. I hop up and swing open the door, and while my hand hovers near the light switch, I notice that the off-white walls of my living room do indeed seem brighter, that the flickering fluorescent light somehow seems to shine more constantly, that my shitty hovel of a life doesn’t seem so irreparable when prophecies of perfectly functioning clocks aren’t choking the air.
So I flip off the light and nod in reluctant agreement with my fat French uncle, suddenly finding myself looking forward to his return. His nose should be healed by the time he comes back to town and my perspective is bound to need a tune-up.
Henry Presente’s work has appeared in Harpur Palate, The MacGuffin, SmokeLong Quarterly, Jelly Bucket, The Milo Review, and others. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, eaten enchiladas in the White House, discussed adult magazines with a world-famous physicist, and shared a beer with a gold-toothed man named Jesus Christ, who was leaving for the beach the following morning.