Colonel of Wisdom

by J.A. O'Sullivan

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“Are you laughing at my laugh?” The clerk stared at me, her eyes screwed up in scrutiny.


“Are you laughing at my laugh?”

No. Who laughs at laughs? I’m just trying to buy milk and not watch the elections on the TV screen overhead.

“Because people laugh at my laugh. Not because it’s funny. Well. Funny strange, not funny ha-ha.”

Since leaving the campaign office three days ago, my life had taken on a distinct type of unraveling. We’d been broke and down ten points in the polls. Probably because beat-walking cop recently happened to glance down in the window of a parked Volvo and glimpsed my candidate canoodling the intern.

“It’s not funny to laugh at other people’s laughs.” She snorted abruptly. Was it a planned snort? Can someone plan a snort?

Did I mention the intern was my girlfriend?

“I didn’t laugh at your laugh. I laughed at a fortune cookie that came out with my billfold.” It was true. In between crumpled five-spots, a pristine white strip had fluttered to the countertop.

“See? That’s all you had to say.” Snort. I waited for her to hand over my change. I waited for my girlfriend to explain. I waited for my career to resurrect. “What does it say?”

“What?” My eyes had drifted up the TV stitched to wall behind the convenience store’s register. A friend — he managed this senate race in Colorado — had won. Some of us swim in victory. Others get the love of their life knocked up by their boss. But I don’t make the rules. I just swim in the shit.

“What does the fortune cookie say?”

It’s not a cookie, just a fortune.

“It says: Wield that shit before you yield that shit.”

“I don’t get it.” She snorted again. She must be planning the snorts. They’re pitch perfect.

“It’s a kernel of wisdom, I suppose.” She’s counting the dollars. Really? I’m only getting four back. But the fortune rattles around in my neuropaths. No job, no love. It dawns on me that if I can get past the basic insecurity, I’m free for whatever. Anything. Everything. Life.

Sometimes a pint of milk and a dumb cashier bring forth the fortune teller.

“Was he a famous Chinaman?” She asks as she hands over my bills.


“The Colonel of Wisdom. Was he a famous Chinaman?”

Ridiculous. I take my bills and start laughing. She joins in, then snorts. And asks again if I’m laughing at her laugh.

But by then, I’m already gone, into the autumn rain. It’s time to wield that shit.

J.A. O’Sullivan is a journalist who writes for The Inlander, a newspaper in Spokane, Washington. He also boxes, and appreciates vintage cars and good writing of all stripes. His work has previously appeared in 605 Magazine.

Issue 12 contents