Sunday, February 18, 2007

An Epic Tale of Love and Can-Opening

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

How about a story about a guy who opens cans for a living and then aliens come down with the Secret of Life, but they stick it in a can and now the whole world turns to him to open the Secret of Life (You have to understand that this is no ordinary can. This is an enormous can that mere mortals couldn't hope to open. There are grooves and twists and contortions. Only the master could pop this one out.), but he's become disillusioned because the opening of cans doesn't mean that much to him anymore.

"I've opened cans for thirty-seven years now and I don't have anything to show for it but a bunch of open cans. I vowed never to open another can. I want to become a shoe salesman!" The governments of Earth beg the aliens to put the secret of life into a shoe, instead of a can. The aliens laugh at these foolish Earthlings.

"That'd have to be one heck of a big shoe!" one of the aliens says. They almost take the can away from the Earthlings for that one. "No, no," almost all of the peoples of Earth scream as one. The shoe guy isn't screaming. That's how much he doesn't care. Can you get any more jaded than that folks? I don't think so. So the Earthers take the can and shove it inside a big shoe and then they hide the shoe inside the guy's shoe store. The trick is, they have to find someone with enormous feet to make the guy want to pick up that huge shoe. The search is on. They find some gal in the Ukraine with feet the size of Volkswagens.

"But I just bought new shoes!" she exclaims.

"Then we'll buy you another pair!" The man from the embassy says.

"But what am I going to do with two pairs of shoes?" she asks.

"Look, one could be for special occasions. Do you go out much? On dates, I mean?"

"With feet like these? What do you think?"

"Okay, okay. Let us buy you the shoes and we'll find you a date. Cool?"

"All right, but if I don't get the date, I'm returning the shoes, understand?"

"We understand." So they come to America. She gets into the mall all right but has some trouble fitting into the store.

"I need some new shoes!" she shouts.

"We don't have any shoes in your size!" the former can-opener guy says.

"I'm sure you must," she says. "Look there, behind that fixture!" The guy is amazed.

"Well, what do you know? But it's only one!"

The FBI guys in the unmarked van outside begin cursing up a storm. Those idiots only made one shoe!

"Say something!" they say to the woman through the little voicebox in her ear. "We're fresh out of ideas."

"Umm. I, uh," she says. "Well I only need one shoe! I'm planning to cut off one of my feet! Is that a left or right shoe?"

"It's a right."

"Yes, that works out wonderfully! I was going to cut off my left foot!"

"Well, damn," can-opener guy says. "That's certainly fortunate!"

"Hey chief," one of the FBI guys in the van says. "We gotta get this gal on the Bureau! She really knows how to think on her foot!"

Back inside, can-opener guy unties the ropes that keep big-feet girl's shoe on and goes for the new shoe.

"Hey! There's a big can in here!" he says. "And I . . . I can't get it out!"

"Open it," she says. "Then you'll be able to bend it and remove it."

He turns his back on her and gets really quiet.

"Never. I spent a lifetime opening cans. Opened my first can before I could walk. And pissed away a life doing more of the same. I promised myself that I'd never open another can again."

"But, but . . ." She starts weeping uncontrollably.

His heart is wrenched from him (not literally, you understand. That would be a disgusting and horrible ending). "Please. Please don't cry," he says.

"But if I don't get that shoe, I'll never get a date!"

"What kind of freakish, shallow bastard would only date you for your shoe?"

"I don't know, but I hope to find out!"

"I'd date you, you know. Shoe or no shoe."

"Really? Forget the shoe then."

"No! No!" the agents in the van scream. "We need that can opened!"

"Shoe guy," she says. "It would mean so much to me if you could open that can and sell me that shoe."

"I . . . I can't!" He hides his face in his hands and runs sobbing to the food court.

"Now I don't have a date and I don't have a shoe!" And she starts balling, right there in the middle of the mall. She screams so loudly that she scares the mall-walkers off and security fires their weapons at her, but the bullets hit her shoes and bounce off.

The FBI guys are beside themselves. One of them says, "Jesus! This is going to hell in a big, fast way! We need a truckload of Prozac here posthaste!" He screams into the radio.

The truckload comes and they dump the Prozac on top of big-feet girl. That shuts her up. She burrows into the new shoe and beneath the can in order to find a pocket of air. But it's not a very big pocket.

Can-opener guy returns from the food court, having finally collected himself and he's unable to enter his store due to the enormous pile of Prozac blocking the door. He climbs to the top of the pile and digs. His weight wedges the can further into the new shoe and the young girl wails with fear. Surely, she's come to the end of her short and miserable big-footed life. C.O. guy (You can't expect me to write out can-opener guy every single time, can you?) hears her cries and reaches the can that lies between him and the woman he suddenly loves.

"Why do you mock me, God?" he shouts while shaking his fist at the mall's skylights. He considers cutting through the shoe, but look at the size of the thing! It has to cost, like, seventy-thousand dollars or something. The boss will kill him if he damages it. There's nothing for it but to - "gulp" - open the can.

He threw his can opener into the East River months ago when he started his new life. What's he going to do? He almost cries once more as the girl's sobbing grows more faint. Instinctively, he throws himself into it and gnaws at the can with his full sparkling set of adult teeth.

"That'll take him all year!" a rookie in the van shouts as they watch on through the mall's security cameras. "I'll get an opener from the kitchen store."

His supervisor holds him fast. "No, you fool! Don't you think we would have opened the can ourselves if it was that easy? Watch that bastard chew!"

"But . . . but, that's high grade aluminum! And those are just teeth!"

"It's not the strength, my friend, it's the love."

"Friend? I was a fool a minute ago."

"You're still a fool, friend. Look at him nibble with the skill of a master opener. This man is a can-opening demigod, chewing at angles only accessible through a higher dimension! He's making that can his bitch!"

And so he is. The can bursts open and within lies a huge slip of paper that reads: "The Secret of Life is to remove the giant can that is suffocating you." Can opener guy reads this and somehow he understands how it could apply to this situation. He crumples the once vacuum-packed can and discovers his true love beneath, gasping for air.

"Darling," he says, sliding into her arms.

"Sweet Potato!" she moans.

They live happily ever-after. At first the governments of Earth are kind of pissed about the rather specific message the aliens tried to pass off as the Secret of Life, but upon reflection, each man and woman considers the deeper meaning and seeks out the giant cans in their own lives that are suffocating them. Oddly enough everyone discovers that there are actual giant cans on top of them that have somehow gone unnoticed for all this time. They remove them and everyone, everyone, breathes a lot easier.


That was a close one.

How about a story like that?