Rickshaw has phone sex & also the flamingos

by kari teicher

kari teicher writes fiction, poetry, and complains. a recent graduate from the mfa at the university of victoria, and the ba from the university of king’s college halifax, she has studied fiction and poetry on both coasts of canada. she was a finalist in room magazine’s poetry contest 2019, longlisted for the cbc short story prize 2019, and longlisted for cv2’s young buck poetry prize 2018. her work has been published with room magazine, canthius, joypuke ii, dalhousie gazette, saltern magazine, incite magazine, fathom, and others. kari lives in toronto and is at work on her debut novel about the abandoned town of snag, yukon.


 

Rickshaw, which was his name, had turned his ankle in fright. He kept on seeing flamingo birds everywhere he looked. Toilet, microwave, front yard. Get off my lawn, he yelled out. He tried to rush them and now his ankle. What else is new.

Rickshaw took an advil cold & sinus and called his girlfriend. Annie, can you come over and talk about your feelings, I need a distraction. Annie worked as a telephone sex operator and Rickshaw was not her boyfriend and Annie was not her name. She didn’t come over, she never came over but she did talk about her feelings. I feel wet, she said. It’s not all about you, Rickshaw said, I’m in crisis. Annie had a degree in psychology and nothing to do. What’s the matter, she asked. It’s all these flamingos. Could the flamingos maybe represent your mother, she asked. Rickshaw hung the phone up because he doesn’t like to talk about me and also because she was probably right. A flamingo wandered into the kitchen and opened the fridge door. It pulled out a pickle jar and Rickshaw said, go right ahead. The bird took the jar back to the toilet room so Rickshaw peed there in that kitchen sink.


Annie quit her job as a telephone sex operator because no one had ever hung up on her before and she didn’t like how it felt. I quit she said, and the boss said oh no you don’t. How will you pay for all that peanut butter you’re always eating. Annie mostly used the peanut butter to soften her body skin in the summer and face skin in the winter, but didn’t feel the need to correct him.


She wasn’t afraid because he did not know her real name and he only paid in loonies so what could he really do. Annie left the door open, let all the cold air in on him. She had to give him a blowie to let her work there in the first place, and he didn’t have a terrible-looking member. Tasted like chalk, a little bit. Annie wondered if she would miss her clients, the regulars like Rickshaw, and Allan the banker, and Big Joe who she suspected was actually Small. Allan the banker liked it when she would put the call on speaker and masturbate using the phone like a toy, but really she was just rubbing it along her forearm. Big Joe would get her to describe her feet, and what footy things they liked to do such as walking fast or flinging a tired sandal across the room or using toes to pull socks up or off. Rickshaw just called to talk.


Rickshaw called Annie back. Helga answered the phone, Swedish accent, not real, not very good. You sound more German than anything Helga, give me Annie. She’s not here, Helga said in a normal American sounding voice. Rickshaw grunted, because immigrants. I know we are fighting right now, and I hung up on her which I regret because it was rude. I want to apologize. Helga switched back to German, vant to fug me? No, not really, he said. There was a beep and a man said Annie doesn’t work here anymore. Is this the front desk, Rickshaw asked. They hung the phone up on him, two clicks. One two.


Annie stood in front of a small white house, clapboard bungalow, Texas style but for Canada. The door yellow like a jaundiced heel and the lawn covered in pink plastic one leg flamingo birds. A jar of pickles sat beside one of them, cap off all brine and garlic, near the door which was ajar with a man leg sticking out of it. Rickshaw, she said. What, he said. Move your leg so I can come in. The door opened and Annie looked at him lying on the white tile floor. He looked more or less like she thought he would. What’s the matter, she asked. It’s all these flamingos. I’m exhausted. Annie nodded and walked around the house, looking for more flamingos but there were none. I got them to go outside, he said. But now they won’t come back in and it’s getting late. Annie slid her back down the wall, and sat beside him. Do you know who I am, she asked. You’re Annie. Well, she said, I’m Angie.


I want to be desired, she told him. I desire you, he said. I desire your help with the birds.

Rickshaw crawled into the kitchen, where Angie not Annie had sat herself on the countertop, spreading peanut butter across her forehead. So you’re telling me the flamingos are all plastic, he said. Every single one of them, but I brought them in for you anyway. The plastic flamingos were all over the room. They looked pretty alive to him, they always had looked pretty alive to him from his childhood to his nowhood they were so very alive. The one in the kitchen sink beside her raised its head and winked at him, reached its little foot out to tap Angie not Annie on the caboose. Stop that, he said. She put the peanut butter jar down. Not you, he said. She picked it back up again and took a fingerful to the bridge of her nose. It helps my skin, it gets so dry. Rickshaw took an advil cold & sinus. Where is Helga from? Oregon, she said. Why Swedish, he asked. Only on Tuesdays. She’s Tiffany from Saskatoon on Mondays, and Justina from Spain on Fridays. She’s ugly, in case you were wondering. He wasn’t.


Angie not Annie moved in, one pair of socks at a time. She read her psychology books in the living room, trying to diagnose the flamingo problem. They didn’t have sex at all and it was starting to make her unhappy. I want to be desired, she told him. I desire you, he said. I desire your help with the birds. She was oversexed, her sister used to say, and so that is why she went into the phone sex business, to push all of the extra sex out and live a normal life.

Rickshaw was undersexing her and so she started up again as Annie not Angie on her cell phone, privately and pro bono. Cold calling as a phone sex operator is hit and miss, it turned out. Some people really liked it, mostly teenagers who came without touching themselves at all, and sad old people with sad old people mouths. You could hear the dentures clacking. Rickshaw would listen to the calls with his plastic flamingos tucked around his woolly armchair, but he wouldn’t look at her. Yesterday, she found a bird in the freezer. Abusive behaviour, considering. You’re hallucinating, she told him. I sure fucking hope so, he said, or else there is probably something wrong with me.


Rickshaw decided to drug the pickles, and put the flamingos in a blender. Angie not Annie said how big is your blender. She said that it couldn’t be murder because murder is not for animals #1, and #2 the flamingos were not alive, but an object. Okay, I can kill an object. It’s a mercy killing anyway, mercy for me because not killing these flamingos is killing me. I will kill myself if you try to kill me, a flamingo said. They don’t talk, but they write notes apparently and one of them did. The script looked like mine, all triangles, and he did not like it, did not like to see his mother there on that little note. Who wrote this, he asked but the flamingos said nothing because they are testy like that. Rickshaw moved them to the garage, told them to stay like a dog, left a liver treat in there and an open jar of pickles because he felt bad about it, felt bad about locking them away and in the morning they were gone, food untouched. Where are the flamingos, he said. Where are they. Angie not Annie put her hand over the bottom of her cell phone, where the noise goes in and said I’m on the phone.


I taught Rickshaw better, taught him nicer than to use the language he did. I thought these birds were ruining your life, Angie not Annie said. I’m doing you a favour. Rickshaw opened his mouth and horrible things came out including the word beaverface and the word uncouth. He pressed his thumb into that dip between her shoulder and collarbone, the way I used to when he had done something bad and needed to be punished. Angie not Annie let him push until it turned pink, and then showed him what he had done. Shameful, she said aren’t you ashamed and he said, go and don’t come back without them.


The boss crossed his arms over his chest. You been poaching old clients. Annie had been poaching clients, but only because she was lonely with Rickshaw and his psychosis and now he’s kicked her out because the flamingos are missing even though that is exactly what he wanted, for the flamingos to leave, and anyway it’s getting late. I’ll give them back, she said, meaning the clients to the boss, not the flamingos to Rickshaw. You think you’re special, Annie? I got another girl just like you in every room, the boss spit. It was a Tuesday and Helga came from behind the curtain. Are you back? Thank fuck. That guy Rickshaw won’t stop calling about my accent work. Also Big Joe is asking for your feet. Annie looked at the boss and the boss looked at Annie and down at Annie’s feet and he said, fine.


Rickshaw was in crisis. His birds were gone and so was his psychologist. He looked for the flamingos and Angie on the toilet, microwave, front lawn. He left pickles on the floor and peanut butter on the counter and he hid in the fridge but no one was coming back and he was by himself without me or his birds or his girl or anyone at all.

Annie waited for him to say something she cared about, but per usual he just wanted to talk birds.

Rickshaw took an advil cold & sinus, and he called the telephone sex company. Hi, she said. Rickshaw looked down at this thumb. Flamingos have pink blood, did you know that. They also have pink milk. They give all their pink to their babies until they are anemic and almost white. That’s what a mother’s love can do and he started to cry. Annie waited for him to say something she cared about, but per usual he just wanted to talk birds. Annie listened because that’s the job, and she watched the clock. They weren’t yours to take, he said and he was right, the birds were mine and he was meant to keep them safe. Take care of my birds, I told him and then I scuttled towards that foul light but here he was thinking of blending them up. No one is perfect.


Rickshaw was eight and the man we called his father left to go to Florida, that swamp, and he never came back. Every winter I went down to look for him, picked up a flamingo instead and we called them all daddy every single one and so Rickshaw had 20 daddies and he’d never be alone. If someone ever asked him where’s your dad, he could say which one or he could say at home or he could say eating pickles on the toilet but no one asked. I loved Rickshaw and he loved me but sometimes that isn’t enough.


Angie can you come over, Rickshaw said. The house is empty and I just can’t bear it. I didn’t mean to say beaverface and I think we can have sex now, is that what you want. He was choosing Angie not Annie over me and over the flamingos and that is what growing up is all about. Everyone needs someone. The boss banged on her wall, which meant she had another call, wrap it up. Annie flexed her feet. Ricky she said, don’t you think it’s better this way and he said yes. You can call and talk and not be lonely, and I can answer and not be untouched, and you can get a white dog and name it flamingo and dye it pink wouldn’t that be nice, she said. And he said yes so she would stay on the line a little longer, so he could call back tomorrow and she would answer and say hello.

 


kari teicher writes fiction, poetry, and complains. a recent graduate from the mfa at the university of victoria, and the ba from the university of king’s college halifax, she has studied fiction and poetry on both coasts of canada. she was a finalist in room magazine’s poetry contest 2019, longlisted for the cbc short story prize 2019, and longlisted for cv2’s young buck poetry prize 2018. her work has been published with room magazine, canthius, joypuke ii, dalhousie gazette, saltern magazine, incite magazine, fathom, and others. kari lives in toronto and is at work on her debut novel about the abandoned town of snag, yukon.

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