Emergency Pinocchio

Michael Czyzniejewski


We were checking out when I spotted the Emergency Pinocchio on the impulse rack above the conveyer and immediately told Olivia that we needed some Emergency Pinocchio, that we’d better get two, because I wasn’t sharing. Olivia smiled without looking so I knew she didn’t know what I was talking about. I looked again, wanting her to follow my eyes, and saw the item was not an Emergency Pinocchio, but an Emergency Poncho, which made more sense. We finished checking out but I’d worked an Emergency Poncho, red and the size of a deck of cards, in with our groceries without Olivia noticing. She’d find it when we were unloading at home and then I could revisit the Emergency Pinocchio joke, see if I could get another smile. Plus, we’d have a poncho—for emergencies.

The drive home, I thought about a box on our wall, the size of a fire extinguisher case, with the same window and metal bar attached with a chain. There’d be a wooden puppet inside, a pinocchio—not the Pinocchio, just a pinocchio—as I was pretty sure pinocchio meant puppet in Italian, perhaps German. The pinocchio would wait in the box—not alive, definitely not a real boy—until emergencies arose. Then you’d shatter the glass and he’d spring out, ready for action. I considered what the pinocchio would do and of course it would be a lie detector. This pinocchio’s nose would grow when someone else was lying. They’d sell a million, if they could get it to work, an actual Emergency Pinocchio.

At home, we put everything away. I saw the poncho on the counter, just sitting there. Olivia hadn’t brought it up. I pointed to it and asked what it was and Olivia said, “It’s a poncho. Didn’t you say you wanted one at the store?” I told her I didn’t know what it was when I’d said that. She asked why I wanted it if I didn’t know what it was. I told her I thought I wanted the other thing I’d thought it was. She asked why I bought it and I told her it was only $1.99 and you never know when you’ll need a poncho. Olivia asked why I didn’t get two. I couldn’t answer. She opened the junk drawer and dropped the poncho inside. “If it ever rains, we can fight each other for it.” She walked into another room. We had no plans for the evening.

I drove back to the store, having snuck out. I got into the line from before, Lane 3. A middle-aged woman was working instead of the kid with the stupid hair. I was third in line. A different middle-aged woman opened the line next to me and called, “No wait on 4—step on over,” gesturing me with her head. I told her no thanks—they didn’t have Emergency Ponchos in Lane 4. The woman in 4 called me over again and I pretended not to hear. I thought it might get weird but a young couple with a baby pushed a cart into Lane 4 and started unloading. The woman there gave me the stink eye. I avoided looking her way again.

When it was my turn, I grabbed another Emergency Poncho, this one blue, and dropped it on the belt. My checkout woman said, “Is it supposed to rain today?” I told her probably, though I had no idea. It’d been sunny all day, all week. She asked why I came to the store to buy a poncho and I told her it was for emergencies. She asked if I wanted a bag. The Emergency Poncho came in its own little bag, complete with a little button. I told the woman I wanted a bag, anyway, that the bag would be a little poncho for my baby—I’d cut out arm and head holes. The woman told me not to put my baby in a plastic bag because that’s how they suffocate. I told the woman I was kidding, that I didn’t have a baby, that I couldn’t possibly have a baby. On my way out, I turned around and my woman and the woman on 4 were whispering, staring my way.

Olivia was watching TV when I got home. I announced I was back. She said she didn’t know I’d been gone. I said I’d gone to my lover’s apartment, had a quickie, and was home. I asked what was for dinner. She said she’d eaten, that her lover came by when I was gone and cooked: candles, wine, dessert, the whole nine yards. I laughed; Olivia didn’t crack a smile. After eight I brought dinner up again. Olivia said she wasn’t hungry, that she was going to bed early. On her way upstairs she saw the blue poncho on the counter and did a doubletake, but kept going, not saying anything.

I started a movie about Navy SEALs but turned that off and took out my phone to look up porn. I checked the hallway to the stairs and listened for sounds. I pulled my pants down and went at it. I don’t remember how far I got, not very far, but when I looked up, Olivia was standing in front of me. “Sorry,” she said. “Proceed.” She pulled out some leftovers like I wasn’t there, shoving them in the microwave. While she waited, she said, kind of into the air, that she noticed I went to the store again, got the second poncho. I’d stopped what I’d been doing but didn’t pull up my pants. I said it didn’t make sense to have only one Emergency Poncho, that I got it on the way back from my lover’s apartment. Olivia finally smiled. “I know you’re lying.” I asked her how she could tell, suddenly wanting her to think I did have a lover, or at least I could. “You have a way of giving it away,” she said, and glanced down into my lap.


Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of four collections of stories, including The Amnesiac in the Maze (Braddock Avenue Books, 2023). He is Professor of English at Missouri State University and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Moon City Press and Moon City Review, as well as Interviews Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.