Fiction: Selections from Peter Cherches

The Cat Burglar

            A cat burglar crawled through my bedroom window in the middle of the night, waking me from troubled dreams. I gasped as I bolted up in bed and saw the figure halfway into my apartment. He made his way through and landed on his feet in front of the window.
            “Shhh,” he said. “If you do as you’re told, nothing will happen to you. Keep your voice down. If you have something to say, say it sotto voce.”
            He had a black stocking over his head, like the ones that bank robbers in movies often wear. He was wearing a black T-shirt, black sweatpants, and black joggers.
            “Listen,” I said in a stage whisper. “I don’t keep too much cash in the apartment, but there’s maybe eighty bucks in my wallet, and some loose change.” Then I thought of something else. “Oh, and I also have some foreign currency—Euros, British pounds, Mexican pesos. If I think I might return to a country I hold on to the leftover cash from my last trip. There’s probably about three, four hundred dollars worth.”
            “I don’t want your money!” He sounded offended.
            What else could he want? “Take my TV, then, or my stereo system.”
            “I’m not here for consumer electronics.”
            “Are you hungry?” I asked. “I could make you a sandwich.”
            “That’s very kind of you,” he said, “but I already had a burger and fries. As a matter of fact, it was at that little French place in Windsor Terrace you like so much.”
            “Le Paddock?”
            “Yeah. I had it just the way you like it, with Gruyère and bacon, medium-rare.”
            “Wait a minute, how do you know how I like my burgers, and where?”
            “Give me a little credit, dude! I do my research.”
            Why was he researching my culinary preferences? How would this help him achieve his criminal purposes, whatever they may be?
            “Well, what do you want from me, then?”
            “Want? I want to understand!”
            “To understand? To understand what?”
            “Everything. I want to understand roots, and causes, and effects.”
            “Are you talking about the meaning of life? Are you trying to find out why you’re here?”
            “No, you moron, I’m not trying to find out why I’m here!” He sounded angry. There was a long silence. Then he spoke again.
            “I’m trying to find out why you’re here.”

 A Call

            “Charles Purchase?” the voice asked, a man’s voice.
            “No,” I said, “you have the wrong number.”
            “I’m pretty sure I dialed the right number,” he said.
            “Well, something happened,” I said.
            “And your name is?” he asked.
            Why the hell should I tell him my name? I thought. It’s none of his business. Still, I didn’t want to be rude, so I said, “My name is Peter Cherches.”
            “But this can’t be,” he said. “I’m Peter Cherches.”
            “What’s this all about?” I asked. “Why are you pulling my leg?”
            “I assure you, Mr. Purchase, I’m not pulling your leg.”
            “No, not you, me! My name is Cherches. Peter Cherches. Not Charles, not Purchase.”
            “Why are you pulling my leg, Mr. Purchase?” he asked.
            I should have hung up then, if not earlier, but instead I said, “Who are you?”
            “I told you,” he said. “I’m Peter Cherches, Mr. Purchase.”
            “My name isn’t Purchase, and it isn’t Charles.”
            “Please, Mr. Purchase, you're sounding delusional.”
            “Delusional!” No, I thought, I shouldn’t let him get my goat. I should just hang up. “That’s enough,” I said. “I’m hanging up right now!”
            “Wait a minute, Mr. Cherches,” he said.
            Somehow it didn’t sound right. It sounded strange. That name, Cherches. Could that be my name? “Excuse me,” I said. “What did you say your name was?”
            “Purchase,” he said. “Charles Purchase.”
            The nerve of the guy! “You can’t be Charles Purchase,” I said. “I’m Charles Purchase!”
            “Oh!” he said. “So sorry. I must have dialed a wrong number.”

The Menu

            I couldn’t decide, so I told the waitress to come back in a few minutes. It was a large menu, and there were many things to choose from. From my perspective, the choice was too great, since there were dishes from all over the world. How can they do all these dishes well? I tried to play strategy. Odds are that some of the kitchen staff are Mexican or Central American, so I could probably trust the quesadillas. The woman at the register looked Korean to me. Maybe she’s related to the chef? If so, the bibimbap should be a safe bet. I heard two of the waitresses talking to each other in a foreign language that I surmised to be Polish. So maybe the pierogies. The big guy in the black suit who I guessed was the owner was talking on the phone. He had dark hair, a mustache, and an olive complexion. I think he was speaking Turkish. Shish kebab? Then there were all those other items on the menu. Swedish meatballs. Should I sneak over to the kitchen, peek in, and see if there’s any Nordic type who looks like his name should be Lars? Assam laksa. What are the odds there’s someone from Malaysia in the kitchen? You know what I really had a craving for, after all? French toast. So when the waitress returned I ordered the French toast. When I saw the plate arrive it looked pretty good. Thick slices of golden challah French toast, with Canadian bacon, strawberries, butter and maple syrup. “Votre pain perdu,” the waitress announced in a thick Polish accent. “Bon appétit!”
            “One more thing,” I said to the waitress.
            “Tak?” she replied, slipping into her native tongue.
            “Are there any Canadians in the kitchen?”

Peter Cherches has been called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly. His most recent book is Things (Bamboo Dart Press). His writing has appeared in scores of magazines, anthologies and websites, including Harper’sFlashBombSemiotext(e) and Fiction International, as well as Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 website and anthology.



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