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Carl Variations


“Oh Carl, you can’t expect me to believe that someone stole your pants at the gym, can you?” Carol asked. There was no heat in her voice, yet, which surprised and momentarily pleased her.

“My left sock, too,” he lifted his bare foot and waved it toward her somewhat lamely. “My pants and my left sock.”


“I know,” he said with a tone of concurrence. “It’s inexplicable.”

“Nothing is inexplicable,” Carol said somewhat tersely, now annoyed, because this exchange — her response and the statement that prompted it — was rehearsed, the cornerstone of a dialogue that they’d had countless times before, and one that Carl would now invoke to obfuscate an issue until he would conclude it with his patent, “Then we agree to disagree, I suppose,” presumably ending matters, though she would not back down so easily. She taught him the word “inexplicable,” along with its meaning, for Christ’s sake; it was like giving a toothless man a Gummi Bear, he just kept working it.

“My left sock?” he said. “If the theft of my left sock, only my left sock, is not inexplicable, Care ...”

“Let’s talk about your pants first,” she said.

“My pants?” he looked down at his pale bare legs as if seeing them for the first time.

“Your lack of pants.”

“Well,” he shrugged, “that’s pretty straightforward. I mean, the whole pair is gone, taken. It’s not as if the thief just made off with one of the legs. Or, say, snipped out the seat and fled. Now that would be inexplicable, you’d have to admit. But this,” he spread his arms in display, “this is run-of-the-mill gym trouser theft. I complained. You know, at the front desk. But there’s not much they can do.” He stooped and scratched his calf, shaking his head. “One guy got his topcoat nipped last week.”

Carl was an idiot. Before Carol married him, she’d come to realize that he wasn’t the brightest person in the world, but since their wedding, he had failed to consistently exhibit even the mediocre intelligence she thought she detected in him. Someone, somewhere, had managed to drill him fairly hard and fairly long in enough rudimentary survival skills that, short of living with him day in and day out, he demonstrated functional behavior. Carol suspected his trainer was probably his agent, Danisha. Carl was a successful men’s underwear model, and while Carol still took untold pleasure in his wildly beautiful physique and his seemingly inviolate earning power, the daily burden of his stupidity was beginning to wear her down.


“I know what you’re going to say, and you don’t have to say it. I’m going to quit that darned gym, Carol, and join another one, in a better part of town. Jeez, the nerve of some people.”

“But Carl...” she said, “sweetheart. Was it right for you to steal someone else’s clothing just because yours was stolen.”

Carl looked confused for a moment, then flounced the pleated skirt he was wearing.

“Oh, honey. This thing has been in the lost-and-found for months. I did not steal this.”

“Hmmm...” said Carol, tucking her legs up under her on the couch. She extended her arm, pointed an index finger, and drew several circles with it in the air. “Turn,” she said.

Carl turned slowly, plucking up the skirt at his hips, then spun.

“That’s good,” she said. “A little closer this time.”




“Oh Carl, you can’t expect me to believe that someone stole your pants at the gym, can you?” Carol asked.

“Oh, I can Carol. I can and I do.”




“Carol,” he said firmly, “someone at the gym stole my pants.”

Her eyes seemed to glaze over. Carl suppressed a smile.

“Some at the gym stole your pants,” she murmured.

“It’s totally inexplicable,” he said.

“It’s totally inexplicable,” she repeated dreamily.

“Carol, I’m very distraught over all this,” said Carl.

“You poor man,” she said.

“Carol, you should probably fellate me immediately.”

“Yes, I should, immediately, yes.”

Since Carl had given in to the dark side of the Force, he’d grown quite comfortable with married life.



“Oh Carl, you can’t expect me to believe that someone stole your pants at the gym, can you?” Carol asked.

“Wittgenstein took great pleasure in washing dishes. Einstein wore a hair net during intercourse, for God’s sake. Stephen Hawking keeps a picture of a manatee in the breast pocket of his shirt and gazes at it a hundred times over the course of a day!”

“They never had their pants stolen!”

“You’re postulating,” he thundered, his legs spread, hands on hips. “You’ve read too much Spinoza.”

“Not so much that I can’t identify a Manichean zealot when I’m staring him in the scrotum.”

“So small,” he sneered.

“I’ll say,” she said.

“So narrow. You don’t know your Foucault, you’ve forgotten your Derrida.”

“Get bent,” said Carol. “I’ve got a bag of Derridas in the cupboard. In case we get company.”

“Sartre tried to teach Simone de Beauvoir how to play paper football for years. Years! She could never get the hang of it. What does that tell you?”

“That’s so fallacious,” said Carol. “What does that prove? Lenin was afraid of boiled pork! For two whole years, Kafka slept in praline. You’re living in a dream world, Carl.”

Carl scratched his testicles, fuming.

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