Sunday Stories: “Where the One-Eyed Man Is King”

Beach chairs

Where the One-Eyed Man Is King
by Alex Behr

There was a little hole. A hole in the shoe’s sole. The shoe was behind a tree, a lackluster beach tree near the bay, but no one remembered losing a shoe much less putting it there. Frito barked and carried it over. Dropped it in front of Sharon, sitting on a plaid blanket. Sharon took that as a good sign. She was on meds. So were her mother and her sisters and nieces, but not the men in the family. Well, they took statins that ruined their erections, a rare side effect, but too bad for them, but they didn’t take anything for the anxiety that resulted from being on statins, or losing their erections. But if they weren’t on statins they might keel over, like when moving rocks or taking down storm windows. They drooled on their pillows. They told good jokes. 

Every time they started one that afternoon Sharon vowed not to laugh, but it was this genuine enjoyment in their voices that forced her to smile or made her nose itchy, and it was easier to laugh than sneeze. 

Picnics made her nervous. What if she ran out of things to say, or if she put too much mayo in the egg salad, or if the bread was too dry, or if an apple was bruised. What if the cookies were too hard, too runny, and what if she spent too much on imported olives and feta cheese? She’d be called “bougie.” 

The picnic tables were on a rocky beach, and she felt responsible for the old ones tripping, or the bathroom being too far away, or for waving away the cigarette smoke, like why should it bother her?, or for being fat in the wrong places. 

On another trip to her sister’s car to get stuff, she noticed a man winking at her. A man she’d seen before. Tall and stocky, like well built. Sturdy. He worked at her son’s tennis club. Or maybe he worked at the grocery store. But it was a real wink. It wasn’t dust. Because he accompanied it with a wave. A man stood next to him, close, like friends. They call them developmentally disadvantaged, or delayed, or — wait. Mentally challenged. No, she was mentally challenged. Disabled. She was mentally disabled, being on meds, and this guy was developmentally disabled. The man looked like he had Down’s syndrome, the wide forehead and rounded body and eyes a little wide. He was wearing loose pants and a sweatshirt from a mall store. And he was waving too, but not winking. She walked over to them, stopping to pick up a blue rock, iridescent and smooth, and she put it in her dress pocket. 

She said hi and asked the man with the wide eyes if he liked cats. He said not really. And the man who looked familiar said I like your dress is that ok? She’d sewn it herself because she wanted a dress with Siamese cats on it and ric rac on the hem. It was so unfashionable that strangers often commented on it. 

And she said about her dress, only if you never comment on it again. She supposed it was funny. But neither man laughed. They told her their names: James, the one who looked familiar, and Conrad, a stranger a moment ago, and now telling her about his favorite types of sushi. 

James was tall and wore a raincoat, even though it was the beach, and maybe that was the style, and maybe she should’ve known. He looked about a decade younger than she. 

And James reached into her dress pocket and said, May I? Sharon laughed, shocked, but went with it. Her podcast was always telling her to grasp the present. He was her present.

James pulled out the rock, and she felt warm where his hand had been, the loose fabric pressed against her skin. He put it behind his back, and said, choose one. Conrad said let me choose, and he said, no, let Sharon choose. Sharon pointed to the right hand, and James opened it, inside was the rock and a silver dollar. And she was still warm from the pressure of his hand, and she noticed his teeth were crooked and she liked that. 

The cabanas lined a meridian separating two sides of a long parking lot, a series of parking lots broken by concrete meridians with washing stations. You could rent a cabana if you got your name in the lottery soon enough. Sharon never had. It was off-season so the lot was fairly empty except for seagulls. Some children with pails, and their parents trailing them. She followed the men to a cabana, hoping they would have something in a beach bag to help with her anxiety, which had been rising all day. Maybe it was the sand in her underwear and under her armpits, or the scratchy feeling in her throat. Beach bags were full of surprises, and if James had a silver dollar on him, who knew what he’d have in a beach bag. 

Maybe he knew someone with a job lead. All the jobs she looked at were for a U.S. citizen, this being a naval town, or this being the U.S.A., duh, but she was undocumented. Her parents, from Ireland. Never fixed things straight. They’d joke about the British and the turncoats and the patriots and that any Irish lawbreaker here should get a break because they hated the British too. Her son pitied her. She kept those thoughts to herself and asked if James knew a joke.

He knew an Irish proverb about the land of the blind. How did you know I was Irish? Your green eyes, he said. He said his grandmother lived in a mental institute. He said, You remind me of her, but not in a bad way. It’s your laugh. 

Last year Sharon had met a married man and they held hands and looked at the remains of a smallpox asylum. They looked across to the skyscrapers and she couldn’t think of a joke or an anecdote, knowing he’d rather talk about himself. They both wore coats and put their hands in each other’s pockets when they turned to each other. He put his hands all over her, even in public. Ripped open her snapped top so her bra showed. 

If she had been in that city any other year, maybe younger, maybe sweating more, but with more enamel on her teeth, she wouldn’t be standing with a married man who’d already said they were doomed and that he didn’t want her to get too hung up on him. At the end, he would say to her, fuck you. But before that, they did fuck, and she had to be careful not to spill coffee on the sheets. She could spread their sex stains, but not coffee. He would get mad. And she was far from home. 

James had snacks in the cabana, as a mom would. The beach bag had a pack of cards, too. She texted her sister Angi she was sick and left the picnic. They got into James’s car, and she took the front seat, putting her feet on the dash so her bare legs showed. She sang as they headed to town, and Conrad sang in the back seat. He sang, I hate myself I hate myself, louder and louder, and he rolled down the window and wailed. 

She tried to turn it around. She tried to rhyme hate with date and Kate and weight, and James said it’s ok, he’s getting it out of his system. And maybe Sharon made a mistake about taking the front seat. She almost unbuckled herself to climb in the back seat and instead pinched her index finger into her thumb hard. Nothing seemed to go right until they pulled into a parking lot by a strip mall to get sushi. 

Bento boxes. A kind waitress. James and Conrad were regulars. The walls, metallic wallpaper. The bathroom, clean enough. Stained sink but the toilet paper wasn’t wet. James paid. He patted her hand, she winked at him, and he drank all the warm sake.   


Alex Behr is a writer and musician in Portland, OR. She received an MFA from Portland State. She’s the author of Planet Grim: Stories (7.13 Books), and her second collection with 7.13 will be out in 2026. In 2023, Alex received a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant toward completing a short experimental film of her poetry, found sounds, and images called “Grief Stick.” A chapbook of the film’s poems is forthcoming from Picture Frame Press.

Image source: Cody Board/Unsplash

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