This is a short story written for Word Jazz in September 2011. The theme we were given is “3.”
The phone buzzed on the table. I picked it up. Again there was the message. Carmina. Call me. D’Anton. I looked over at Brandon lying there, snoring, saw the trickle of drool dampen the fabric. On the couch. Sweet Brandon. Sweeter words than actions.
With a flick of my finger I cleared the message. D’Anton would wait. And Brandon would sleep all day if I let him.
I wasn’t going to let him. “Wake up. Brandon, wake up.”
He grunted and opened his eyes.
Beautiful blue eyes. Reminding me of Montana. I blinked at the memory, closed my eyes to see the pale blue winter sky of the plains, seeing my father grimace at my lateness, my lack of initiative, my studied disinterest in ranching. His face turned into a scowl, but before he could open his mouth, I opened my eyes again.
There. He could not harm me here.
“Brandon. You have to leave. I’ve got a ten o’clock. Gonna be mad if I’m not there when he’s there.”
He looked at me, then sat up, ran his hand through his hair, and threw the blanket off. “Need to brush my teeth. Got a spare toothbrush?”
“I’m not a hotel, Brandon. A place to stay. That’s all. You can find something to eat in the fridge. Don’t open the red box. It’s not yours.”
A quick check at the mirror and I was out the door.
Damn. I’d barely make it by ten. Damn that Brandon and his smile and his long, long talks far into the night.
So sweet. And so full of nothing at all. Air, maybe. Clouds. Nothing useful. Nothing to hang a life on to.
Traffic and a missed turn had me swearing by the time I pulled in to the parking lot. 10:15, more or less. D’Anton would not be pleased. He’d show me those old yellow teeth and that wide insincere smile, and then he’d pick up the phone to make a call. And that, as dad said, would be that.
After a half-hour of waiting, I thought he was beyond displeased, or maybe lost. He still hadn’t shown up.
I put my phone away after trying again to call him. No answer.
Then a text. On the roof. Your place. 11:30. Bring it with you.
That damned golden statue. UPS dropped them off every week. Told them it was an eBay weakness I had. Like I had to convince anyone. Like they were convinced.
Just to be sure I opened the trunk. The package was still there.
D’Anton might still be angry, but he’d get his damned statue. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t have to pull it from an orifice.
Thank God it was the last time. Tomorrow I’d be in Montana, sailing through the blue, blue skies.
The body plummeted past the window, a long red streak that caught my eye as was about to eat the last spoonful of Cap’s Crunch.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d really seen it. Was that a body? Who? Suicide – or pushed?
I rinsed the bowl in the sink and then, after looking around, realized I didn’t know where to put it. No dishwasher in this place. And no place to set a dish. Maybe I could leave a note. This bowl is still dirty. Don’t use it.
I looked in the fridge, pushed aside the box of leftover Chinese food, and pulled out a bowl of cut-up strawberries. Carmina left them for me, I was sure. They were sweet and sour at the same time, and I finished them without thinking.
No phone either. Very 21stcentury, this place. Kitchen that doubled as a laundry room, I think – a sink and a stacked washer/dryer. A hot plate for a stove and a toaster oven completed the set. No pictures, really, except a photo over the loveseat of a wide prairie and an empty sky. TV sat opposite. A thousand channels to surf. Not a single reason to watch. Night after night of blue flickering light and emptiness.
My cell phone was still in my pocket in my jacket. I rubbed my eyes, trying to remember if I’d brought the jacket in last night. It wasn’t hanging on any doorknob. Not in the bathroom/utility closet. Not on the couch.
There it was, crumpled in the corner behind the table. It was buzzing with a text.
Damn. D’Anton again. Call me. Urgent.And there were 12 more messages, all from D’Anton.
Not sure why he kept calling. I knew he was interested in Carmina. He knew I knew her. But I don’t think he knows I stayed the night. Harmless. But still – people might talk. He might take action. Not that I’m yellow. Still. No need to wave a red flag at a bull.
I cleared the messages, and dialed the cops to let them know what I saw – or thought I saw.
They weren’t too impressed. Someone else had reported it. I should stick around, but I had to go, I said. Things to do, miles to go before I sleep, and promises to keep.
They weren’t poetry buffs. The kind of people who thought “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was a limerick made by an old seadog. Four years of English Lit in college before switching to law. English didn’t pay. Neither did law, at least the way I did it. And why I did it.
I dialed my own office. Morales picked up the phone this time. “Vice.”
We talked a bit. Mostly administrivia. The usual chit-chat. Mentioned I thought I watched a body plummet by the window. He mentioned they’d gotten a few calls, and someone was on the way. Didn’t mention my tardiness in a response.
I checked in the mirror. Cleared the gunk from my eyes, ran my tongue over my teeth. Ready for another day. And maybe another night.
The elevator door opened even before I pushed the button.
I shifted in my seat. It felt like there were cats walking all over my back, claws reaching through the fabric, clutching at my skin, poking and rending, leaving red scratches and claw marks.
Without thinking I licked at the sweat trickling down the side of my lip. Hot in here, waiting in the dark shed.
She hadn’t answered a million messages. She played hard to get, thinking I would maybe chase her and pursue her. Like I was interested in her. She had to know it was about the product.
The world shifted, and the sun shot through a gap in the boards. Brilliant yellow light filled my eyes. I blinked and sneezed.
No sign of her yet. Good. I sneezed a few more times, and missed Ma and her automatic “God bless you.” She didn’t even remember me anymore last time I saw her. A nice room, a private nurse, and those vacant eyes. Well, she didn’t know what was good for her, but I still treated her good.
Lots of the folding money that place cost me. A check every month by my accountant. But I couldn’t pay her back for what she did to raise me.
She never asked questions. Not for a long time.
But she started asking after I brought Carmina by. “She a good girl, D’Anton? She going to give me grandchildren?” That was when Ma still could remember I was the son without the kids or wife. I was the one who traveled the world. I was the one with the gold rings and chain and diamond earring.
This was the last delivery for a while. Someone was sniffing around the edges. The feds or the cops or who-the-hell-really-knows was listening in. Was seeing red about that.
But I had them. I sent the last message to the guy who hanging around Carmina. Harmless, she said. Maybe gay. A nut job. In love with her, but never went after her.
Yeah. Brandon my friend. My one true friend in blue. Cost me almost as much as keeping my Ma in that home. But worth it. Every gold piece.
The door opened. She came out, brilliant red against the blue, blue sky. Held her hand over her eyes trying to see in the hard yellow light of noon. Turned to go look at the edge.
I opened the door, and quietly walked over to her.
She jumped a bit at the sound, then settled down. “D’Anton. You are here.”
She pulled out the statue and handed it to me. “Gotta go. Maybe leave town.”
I walked in closer to her. She backed away a bit. I smiled. “Maybe you should make it a permanent vacation.”
It only took a push. One problem taken care. One more to go.
The elevator creaked on its way down to the 2ndfloor with the efficiency apartments.
Well, he’d be surprised. But I thought of it as a reduction in salary expenses.
The elevator door opened. “Brandon?”
A flash of light and a moment of pain, and then it was done. The hot light of noon melded with the cool blue of the sky and the red, red stain growing in my chest.