"The Jungle"

Written By

William Ward

“Any chance I could jump ahead and pay for these smokes real fast?”

 

The guy in front of me had a cartful of groceries and I thought, “just one pack of cigarettes — he won’t mind.”

 

But when he said, “Not in this checkout line,” I blinked at his unsmiling face and almost said, “you prick,” but I heard a few jungle noises and thought, “uh-oh,” not good.

 

I knew where that could take us.

 

“This is not the jungle,” I reminded myself. “Not the jungle.”

 

So I did what the counselor taught me. I folded my hands palm to palm at my chest, bowed slightly, and said “Namaste.” But he must have caught my mental subtext that said, “you are one sorry asshole.”

 

He stepped toward me in his muscle shirt and backward cap. He had six inches on me and designer biceps. I guessed he didn't like the peace sign on my army jacket or the length of my hair.

 

He said, “You a wise guy?”

 

And again I thought, “uh-oh”, but just smiled and said, “no sir, I am not a wise guy,” and this is not the jungle, not the jungle, not the jungle.

 

But the jungle stays with you and a grocery store can be a jungle, and that’s why you always keep that Mark II sharp and strapped to your back under your jacket.

 

He must have thought I really was a wise guy, because he slammed my chest with the heel of his hand. I back stepped, and he said, “Get outta here, faggot.”

 

Frogs croaked, monkeys howled, rats rustled the grass. I reached behind, unsheathed the knife, and brought it around. A lady screamed as it swung out and entered an inch above his navel. It sliced up to his sternum and exposed his entrails, which began to spill forward.

 

The look on his face said, “oh shit, this can’t be happening.”

 

But it was.

 

Though it wouldn't have, if he had just let me pay for my smokes.

 

But he didn't.

 

And now I’m sitting in this freakin’ lockup explaining what happened when I should be laughing with my buddies about gutting another asshole who thought he could give shit to a guy like me in this goddamn jungle.

William Ward is a severely hearing-disabled psychologist. His work has been published in Breath and Shadow, the Christian Science Monitor, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Story Teller, Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poems, The Moon: The Publication for Writing & Art, Sounds of the Night, and other publications. His poetry is included in the 2011 anthology, Flying Javelinas.