Fasten Your Meat Belts by David James Keaton, short story book cover artwork

“Fasten Your Meat Belts” by David James Keaton

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He gets to the festival early, watching the porta-potties being erected by the side of the river, the tent for the band. He looks through Angie's secret letters in the car. Overhearing a strange conversation in the porta-potties about a man with two dicks, he wonders thinks he's stumbled onto the most important question since his wife went missing. Especially when he recognises the man next to him as Dr Fink.

About the Author
David James Keaton's work has appeared in over 50 publications, including Grift, Thuglit, PANK, and Noir at the Bar II. His contribution to Plots With Guns #10 was named a Notable Story of 2010 by storySouth's Million Writers Award, and he won a 2012 Spinetingler Award for the Best Short Story on the Web. His first collection, FISH BITES COP! Stories to Bash Authorities, was named the 2013 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. His second collection of short fiction, Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead, recently received a Starred Review by Publishers Weekly, who said, "Decay, both existential and physical, has never looked so good." He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and was the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Flywheel Magazine. These days, he's tinkering with several screenplays, including a prison movie, a thriller, and a western, also adapting them into novels. He realizes this method is probably backwards.
Fasten Your Meat Belts

I got to the festival so early nothing was going on, so it gave me time to scan for suspicious initials scratched into the love locks dangling from every fence. Three hours later, people were setting up the porta-potties along the river, and about an hour after that, a tent was erected for the band, so I went back to my car to stake out the scene in peace. With toilets in place, I knew that meant for real. I turned my Rabbit to keep my headlights on the tent, flipping through Angie’s secret love letters, knowing that bravery often accompanied feeling as bad as possible, and me and my cat, Zero, chewed on either end of my last stick of Cajun-spice jerky, sort of like bush-league Lady and the Tramp.

Another hour passed, and I was half-asleep and digging around the back seat for more gas station rations, so I chugged a Gatorade that tasted more like a color than a flavor and headed back out to piss. Rather than adding to the litter box in the back seat of the Rabbit, I made a beeline for the tight formation of chunky blue phone booths, spring-loaded doors already banging as the roadies broke them in. Watching the swelling crowd queue up, it felt a bit like the Monty Hall Problem, trying to avoid a goat, or at least a goatee, as I went door to door and found most already occupied. Finally, finding an empty one toward the end, the antiseptic smells of cleaners assaulting my nose – but goddamn if that smell didn’t remind me of summer concerts and hooked thumbs in the backs of her blue jeans, I started to unzip my own but quickly became mesmerized by the voices surrounding me.

Maybe I’d never been in one of these porta-johns when there wasn’t some noisy concert or festival-type situation, so it’s possible I never knew that the little mesh half-windows on either side of my head perfectly projected all the conversations right down the line, amplified straight into my ears like I was some insect navigating a soup-can telephones during a conference call. I finished up fast, but I couldn’t help myself and remained inside, standing stiff as I listened in.

First, I heard someone complaining on his phone about missing the “fish drop” the year before, whatever the hell that was. “Never again,” he swore. Then came the scary stuff:

“I’m telling you, the guy has two dicks.”

“Shit, I wish I had two dicks.”

“Naw, two dicks only seems like a good idea. The second one is usually messed up somehow, so you have to suck or squeeze the extra one way harder. To like draw that shit out, like a toothpaste tube.”

“I don’t have to do anything, bro.”

“True story though.”

“Does he provide the emergency slide out the bedroom window so you can save time when you’re screaming all the way to the parking lot?”

“There’s a message buried in there somewhere, man.”

“Yeah, the message is, ‘Send help.’”

“No, I mean a message message, like a fable.”

I peeked through the mesh and saw this conversation must be happening between two porta-potties down the row to my right, judging by the rattles of urine in the pans. The echoes reminded me of the time Angie and I had visited C.O.S.I., the now-defunct science center along the Maumee River in Toledo, and how they had a couple giant plastic satellite dishes about 50 feet apart where you could stand with the curve of the dish behind you and have a secret conversation. Only our conversation turned into an argument, first something about the social responsibility of an artist, and I was immediately convinced people were listening in. And they were by the time we were shouting. The echoes grew so loud that the whole exchange almost made me pass out, ricocheting around my skull like it had been hollowed out with a trowel. But somewhere at the bottom of this metal bucket of commotion, I swore I heard her confession.

“Would you rather your girl fucked a guy with two dicks, or had two dicks?”

“That’s like asking someone if they’d rather fight Mike Tyson or talk like him.”

“Hey, if you had two of those things, you’d never need suspenders.”

“Fasten your meat belts!” I shouted before I could stop myself, and the voices ceased. Then was one last ghostly comment as I held my breath.

“I heard he can play his keyboard with either one…”

Then came the laughter, and all the doors were banging open now, and I ducked down, heart pounding, mind on the most important question regarding my missing wife, something I hadn’t considered.

Was she having an affair with a man with two penises? The shame game of former partners and genital size is bad enough for weak-minded dudes without me having to compete at that level. How many men are like this?

I was at least three relationships past looking through other people’s phones, but I was suddenly consumed with the urge to scan Angie’s for any evidence of these things. We’d both talked about how “dick pics” were an oddly sanctioned form of flashing these days, even without the added attraction of a diphalic freak show. Those phones ended up in evidence bags, most likely, buried in the back of evidence-room shelves, the only photographic evidence of the Loch Ness Monster forever forgotten, along with its two heads.

I was still zipping up in slow-motion when the door to my left banged, and the top of a man’s head slid into view through the screen. He looked out through his mesh, not really seeing me, but I could have recognized those Wayfarers anywhere, even without the album covers.

It was Prince’s keyboard player. No joke. The one who dressed like a doctor. I knew every goofy member of that band. Most of our wedding mix was Prince.

“One of those days, huh?” Matt Fink sighed, and I assumed he was talking to me. I listened close for any indication of a louder urine stream than normal.

“You know it!” I said, forcing levity, staring straight ahead.

“Can I ask you a question?” he asked, and I swear, this was happening.
“Sure,” I said, cautious.

“What do you think is the social responsibility of an artist?”

It seemed impossible he could be asking me this, unless I’d been thinking out loud in my confessional. Angie always hated my standby answer, which he supplied.

“Because I think the artist has no social responsibility at all.”

“I agree!” I liked the guy, even though the fumes in those phone booths could scramble your brains. And even if he was way too young to really be in Prince’s band – cover band tops – something about the confessional aspect of our faces in the shadow of those vents really made me want to open up more than my shorts. I wondered if he was feeling this, too. Wait, did he say “The Artist” with a capital “A”…?

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Did you fuck my wife?”

Then the door slammed, and he was gone from the vent. I stepped out, too, and looked him over in the sun. Though there was no way to put a finger on what was wrong, he didn’t seem to stand like a normal human. His head was sort of bent to the side, just a bit, like he was perpetually balancing an invisible phone on his shoulder. But one of the big phones, from the ’80s. Definitely not old enough to be a fake doctor in Prince’s band, and too young to be a real doctor in real life.

“Sorry, sorry,” I said, palms out in peace. “I was talking to another toilet.”

“Right,” he said, eyeing me suspicious.

“Are you a real doctor?” I asked, trying to appear as casual as I could leaning against the “Party Time Portables” stencil on the door.

“Yes. Why?”

This answer amazed me even further, because now I was either dealing with the fake "doctor" keyboard player from Prince’s former band pretending to be a doctor out in the world for some bizarre reason… or a different "Matt Fink" entirely, who was an actual doctor, pretending to be Prince’s old keyboard player? Who was also fucking my wife. Who would you rather have perform an operation?

I noticed his throwback ‘80s style and spiked hair, the style that was hot when I first met her. He was also wearing those goofy foot rubbers, those hideous toes with the shoes on them. His feet seemed remarkably small for a man with two penises, so I remained skeptical.

But I was still in a confessional state of mind, considering telling him all sorts of things. Like how we’d once arranged a threesome but couldn’t swing an extra female and settled for my buddy Jay because I’d seen his dumb ass naked dozens of times. How that disconcerting moment when we both disappeared inside her had precisely the opposite effect I expected. Rather than a perverse feeling of power, I felt more like I’d been absorbed, devoured, teetering on being thrust inside-out and rendered negligible, and I realized this secret, hidden interiority of women’s bodies made them infinitely more terrifying than the exposed meat of our own.

Afterwards, I couldn’t look at Jay, and sometimes Angie couldn’t look at me, but we tried to put it all behind us. Until I found the letters. And a level of detail betraying acts once thought impossible. Or improbable. And the question returned – if I had a choice, two men or one man with two…

And she’d confessed that day along the Maumee river, whispering that she’d tried it again, just to make sure. One man, or two men, or not that kind of doctor, it didn’t matter. “For my own good,” she screamed into the din of those buckets, and I could hear this clearly, even 50 feet apart. Because science was fucking scary.
“Excuse me,” he said and started to walk away. I stopped him with a hand on his chest.

“Want to hear something funny? Me and my wife used to laugh about how she couldn’t wait to bust people for saying ‘Not that kind of doctor’ when she finally got her PhD.”

“What are you trying to solve here?”

“Nothing,” I lied.

“Can I go?” he said, looking down at my hand still on his chest. “We need to finish setting up.”

I stepped back for him to pass, then was shoved as another roadie crashed into the toilet I was blocking. I went back to sit on the hood of my car and watched the doctor mill around the stage, while dozens of men tried to get the most deceptive force-perspective shots of the tournament-winning Walleye dangling high on their rods to make them seem bigger. Finally, a giant fiberglass fish rolled in, too, but it wasn’t that big after all. They claimed they were going to drop it from the top of a crane, right at midnight, that it was full of candy. One of the locals swore he was going to strap himself to it and ride it to the ground like a nuke. It felt like more lies.

I sat through the entire band rehearsal. Maybe it was an ugly time for music, but I always enjoyed ‘80s tunes, and Dr. Fink did play two keyboards at the same time.

They dropped the fish after all, but someone was too gutless to let it hit the ground. Or maybe it’s still falling.


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