The Green Man dreams that one day he will throw away the flag and depart for home in a bug-free rocket ship. But not before the children grow up, walk instead of fly.
Engage its breaks. If that doesn’t work, go to step 2.
2.Push the driver’s leg off the gas pedal. If that doesn’t work, go to step 3.
3.Blow the car’s engine off.
The Green Man doesn’t stoop to anything physical. Just like the minister or wedding officiant says, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” and the couple are, so is the Green Man. He thinks, “Now you slow down,” and the car slows down. A leap of faith for the newlyweds. A leap of faith for the drivers.
Unless they are both faithless and imaginative. Then they don’t stop. Instead of taking it metaphorically, they go and find a real cliff to leap from.
The Green Man stands less than three feet tall, and is slow by nature and design. They left him here months ago, and he hasn’t moved an inch, hasn’t changed his awkward forward-bending pose. At night, when it quiets down, the Green Man imagines himself coming from Mars. Not because he’s aggressive and warlike, or because of the color of his skin, but because he’s mysterious.
The Green Man’s not very talkative. He talks neither to the tiny ants that crawl across his body, nor to the butterflies that meet for a cup of tea on his cap. But there is a single creature, an earthling, he suspects, who talks to him. It’s the old interpreter of dreams and illnesses, also known simply as a medical interpreter, who pushes a double baby carriage containing his two grandchildren every weekday. The Green Man knows his occupation because he’s seen the old man wearing his work badge in the morning.
The interpreter is twice as tall as the Green Man and not quite as stooped. He knows many languages of this and other worlds. He stops to say hello in Martian. The Green Man doesn’t reply, but he winks when no one is watching. If someone sees him anyway, they’d think it’s a design or manufacturing flaw. A malady of a kind that needs no interpretation.
The interpreter’s grandchildren, who are out of the carriage now, find something on the ground, and shriek, “bee, bee!”
The interpreter bends over.
“It’s not a bee,” he says. “It’s not even alive. It’s just dirt. It has never bee-n alive. Let it bee.”
He laughs at his own joke. The grandchildren pull out the blades of grass and weeds. They know he would protect them no matter what.
“Is there life on Mars?” the interpreter asks of the Green Man.
What kind of question is this? Of course there is. The Green Man is so offended that he doesn’t reply.
The interpreter persists. “Say, would you like to be young forever?”
The Green Man wants to say that he’s already young and will stay so forever because plastics are virtually indestructible, but he bites his green tongue.
Before serving here, he worked at Miriam’s house, far, far, far away (the number of “far”s was limited only by the observer’s imagination).
Miriam, the woman of sugar, hated the rain. She was born on a rainy day, and the nurse at the hospital had a hard time pricking her heel for a blood test. At first, they thought Miriam had diabetes, and that clouded her mama’s day, and her milk turned sour. Who would like rains after that?
Every time it rained, Miriam’s mama put a long, ugly coat on her, and waterproof pants, too. Kids laughed at Miriam because of that. Worse yet, some water drops got on her face, and left deep, ugly spots on her cheeks. Mama had to cover them with a fresh coat of sugar powder, but that didn’t happen until the end of the school day, and Miriam had to walk with the pockmarked face until then.
Miriam, the woman of sugar, hated the rain. She was born on a rainy day, and the nurse at the hospital had a hard time pricking her heel for a blood test.
When she grew up, she married Michael, the chamomile tea guy. They had four children, each sweet and calm, and the newly enlisted Green Man stood by their house, silently asking every vehicle to slow down, until one car didn’t and almost hit all four of them.
And then Miriam and Michael took the Green Man and exiled him far away, to the Old Man’s planet. They placed him in the steerage of a spaceship full of prisoners, deposed dictators, failed magicians, and malfunctioned androids, to be deposited on primitive worlds.
Now, those little shrieking elves, flutter around the Green Man. They haven’t knocked him down so far. The cars are few, and they all drive under the speed limit. The drivers have children, too.
The Green Man dreams that one day he will throw away the flag and depart for home in a bug-free rocket ship. But not before the children grow up, walk instead of fly, and drive cars of their own. He’s sure the interpreter will see him off. Otherwise, no one will explain the Green Man’s departure, and the former children will be sad.
Because he has so many gifts compared to the Earthlings, he knows that before he departs, one day, Testudinidae, the newly hatched, wild baby turtle, will want to cross a vast expanse of asphalt from her birthplace to her next destination. She’s a free spirit; she doesn’t belong to anyone, especially not humans. They hide their skeletons on the inside. They must be ashamed of them.
Testudinidae won’t know if this ground is a driveway, or a road, or a path to eternity, but she will not care. She’ll want to get to the other side, and she’ll have never chickened out in her life yet. Her tail is a masterpiece, which is a story in itself.
She’ll watch an old man, who will be even older by now, pushing two toddler strollers at once. A big toddler in each will hold enough toy animals in her hands to fill up a baby Noah’s Ark.
Each stroller will have eight wheels. Testudinidae will guess that means there are sixteen all together. A high chance that at least one of them will roll over her yet soft shell. Will she live to be sixteen? She’ll think it’d be sweet if she does.
She will keep crawling. The wheels will be rolling. The toys will be falling. The old man will be singing to his grandkids, oblivious to the ground dwellers.
There will be two possible, mutually exclusive outcomes:
1.The Green Man will blow off the stroller’s engine, and the world will survive.
2.The Green Man will not blow off the stroller’s engine, and the world will become burned and empty.
The old man will stop to watch the suddenly glowing skies.
Mark Budman is a first-generation immigrant. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness, Five Points, Guernica/PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press.