Three Problems in the City by Oliver Zarandi

The old woman sat by an old pond. The pond was man made. The ducks were not man made. She had a loaf of bread and a bread knife.

She removed the wooden board from her clutch bag and placed it upon her legs. She started cutting the bread. She had weak wrists and they shook as she sawed through the bread.

The ducks were her best friends. Their eyes looked like raisins. She loved this. She sometimes exposed herself to the ducks to see if there would be a reaction.

A young man came by. He had a large smile. And he wore a trench coat. He said hello and the old woman said hello too.

She told him she was there to feed the ducks. She fed the ducks every day. She had been doing this for fifty years.

She said: the ducks had been disappearing. Not turning up. The young man moved in closer and slapped the old woman around the head.

He said: look around you. She did. The city was empty. A bird flew across the sky at just the right time, as if directed by a director, as if ‘to emphasize the loneliness’.

The young man said: this is it. Don’t complain about disappearances. You were lucky to have these ducks in the first place.

The house was boarded up from the outside. Breaking the wood from the door took some effort. We used hammers and rubber mallets. I don’t know where we got those tools, but we had them.

We broke in and we decided we were hungry. We found the kitchen. In the past, giants must have lived here. The windows were oversized, the doorknobs the size of cooking apples. The cupboards high up and out of reach. There was a cereal bowl that looked like a fairground ride outcast.

There was a shoe that was so big, I could have half slept in. Images of snails come to mind.

So Jeremiah, an excellent carpenter, he started breaking the tables with the hammer. I didn’t question what he was doing.

He breaks the furniture and starts building stilts. And there we were: outside the moon, inside a bulb, us two men standing on stilts reaching up to cupboards made for giants.

There were dried up crackers the size of plates. We ate them. Jeremiah was thin. I was thinner. I think, once, we might have had jobs. But after all this time, men like us forget things.

Jeremiah looked unsatisfied. I asked what was wrong. He said the house was too small for a man like him.

I asked him what kind of man he was, which was not really a question but just words to fill the silence.

The idiot had two front teeth. The rest of the teeth were scattered in the playground. He was surrounded by eighteen fully-grown adults who were all holding tickets to an unnamed event at the playground.

Everybody punched the idiot down to the ground. Everybody laughed as the idiot rolled in the muck. The muck had been prearranged.

A fat Dutch woman whose face was sunken into an oval plate of chub said: let’s all laugh more at the idiot.

So everybody laughed. The idiot put a hand out so somebody could pick him up. Nobody did. Somebody took down the idiot’s pants and kicked him in the groin.

Then somebody took their pants down and shit in his face. It was cruel, it was unexpected. The idiot tried opening his eyes but he could not.

The idiot was finally humiliated. He was put up in the stocks and everybody took turns throwing various vegetables and fruits at him. He was pelted so hard his eye was replaced with a peach.

After a while, the commotion died down. The people grew weary. They dropped their fruit. They looked at what they had done. Nobody felt any remorse but, equally, they could not look at the idiot.

The idiot stood there for days, in the stocks. He asked unintelligible questions about his current predicament. He asked questions but he received no answer.

But he kept asking the questions anyway.

He grew thinner and thinner as the days went on. Finally, he murmured a question and got a reply. A passerby stopped and doffed his hat at the idiot. He answered the idiot’s question: there is hope.

Oliver Zarandi is a writer. His work has recently appeared in Hobart, Electric Cereal, theNewerYork and The Boiler Journal. He’s working on a collection of short stories and a novel. Contact him on twitter @zarandi.