My only worldly escape, sleep, came clamoring to a bitter end by the clanging, chattering telephone across the room. Like some sugared up kid, it was attempting to free itself from the clutches of the hook. The covers, over my forehead protecting my eyes from the piercing morning light, defensively crumpled up against the wall as I gave them a few angered shoves. After slumping off the bed and shuffling across the floor, spears of sunlight pierced through the slated blinds, amplified by the hundreds of beaming cars driven by incompetent, impatient workers and the puddles in the consistent water that loitered on the streets below.
There are only three seasons around here, raining, rained, and looks like it will rain. It does actually rain, but more often than not it has just rained, like it waits until you have turned your back. The streets bleed rain or something.
Sure is an insistent, sugared up kid, that phone. I switched the alarm clock off which was due to execute its daily abuse in just twelve minutes. Of course the telephone couldn’t have waited another twelve minutes. Who was I kidding; it was just like any other day. The sirens blaring, horns and engines fighting each other as peeved drivers insist right of way with a curse word or three, often punctuated with the help of the tallest finger on the hand. I don’t know where the hell it is, that everyone feels they need to be immediately at every instant of the day.
“Alright, alright already, shut your head,” I thought while scratching my well matted hair. It seems people make an extra special effort to avoid eye contact and conversations with everyone on the street, and yet practically pray for phone calls. Every effort is made to create quicker, more efficient communication with others all while making it more and more impersonal with each step. No one puts up with another person yelling for attention and surely doesn’t put up with children poking and pulling for attention, so why anyone allows some box on the wall to rattle its damn brains out for your attention is beyond me. And yet, despite my observation, my own feet still shuffled towards it.
“Yeah?” I muttered.
“Erm, no ma’am.”
“No, there is no one by that name here.”
“Yes’m, I’m sure.”
“That is the number, yes.”
“No, no one by that name.” I reassured.
“I have had this number for some time now.”
“Yes’m. This is an apartment, but…”
“No ma’am, I know everyone else in the building. There are only six flats and none by that name.” I insisted.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
There seems to be a divine belief that technology does not make mistakes, baffling to say the least. Normally this would have been the surrender point, or at least for one to become embarrassed over her multiple accusations that I don\u2019t know my own number. But instead, the woman on the other line went soft.
“I’m very sorry ma’am.”
“Please, uh, pl-please don’t.” I hesitated, not knowing how to react.
“Cry…” I sighed.
In any situation which ultimately leads to a woman crying is a situation with which I don’t want to be involved. Other than children, crying women put me in an awkward sort of place. My natural instinct then, was to just try and make it go away.
“Look, why don’t you give the operator a ring, and ask her to help you out, maybe the number got redirected.”
“Yes, I know you said this is the number.” I flustered.
Just as the lady on the other line began to respond, I clenched my teeth and held my breath to say the words.
“I’m sorry ma’am, this is simply the wrong number.” I winced and paused for a moment, and then hung up.
After only a brief thought, I trudged along the usual morning path to the far half of the room, or what the landlord like to refer to as the kitchen. The landlord, Frank Melchings, stood no taller than a parking meter, and took money just the same. As the first of the month encroached, a mass of spotty greased leather as an excuse for skin, a handful of coarse oily hair crawling along the scalp, and a neck that was eating itself, would assemble itself at your door earlier than the birds wake. And certainly more incessant than the clang of that morning’s telephone. What were supposed to be words, dripped from his crooked lip which offset his uneven mustache as he glared through his smudged glasses that slipped to the tip of his greasy, potato nose. No noises from him were necessary, as the only reason for his presence was either someone owing him money, or his excuse for why he shouldn\u2019t pay for a repair. Most have since stopped making such repair requests, so be it now, only one reason for his presence.
Leaning over what Melchings called the stove, I emptied the contents of the tarnished pot into a, probably unwashed, mug. The ebony substance oozed from the spigot in what felt like a near solid piece. I agitated it with a spoon, in hopes of giving it life, but the cold, bitter brew was good enough, as always, to survive the day. Surely, despite the early interrupted awakening, I could still be my usual ten minutes late for work. With my back turned on the world, I closed the door reading 3A, while scuffling with the keys on my ring in search of one that would fit the lock.
The morning sun forced its way through the gaunt windows that lined the street end of the hall. Winding rectangular stairs repeated down the five floor rental building. Melchings lived in 1A; being the first, he was probably staring out the peephole of his door waiting for late payers to pass. Melchings received his from me check the night before, so I should get a free pass on the troll bridge. As the key twisted to my apartment, I half listened for the clack of the tumblers clenching the door frame, usually only done so to avoid another necessary payment to Melchings for careless “non protection of the rental unit security fee” otherwise what do I have that anyone would want to steal? I turned away towards the oblong stairs of the main hall. Apparently more alert than my usual mornings, probably due to the molestation by said telephone, something seemed insidiously wrong. I smelled it, and saw it from the corner of my eye. Peering over my shoulder, the room spun to a halt, centering on the neighboring remains of the door 3B.
The lock was jimmied, wood splintered, and the door frame was smashed. The door slumped into the unit, held only by a warped lower hinge. Bitterly, the first thought that came to mind, was that he didn’t pay his rent and Melchings got the best of him, though doubtful he would impose any such damage to his property, regardless of the cash involved. Snapping from a deer-in-headlights state, I took a step forward, careful to not disturb the perfect chaos before me. Upon entering the unit, the scene unraveled its horrible explosion of events. Furniture lay dismembered, the sofa gutted, lamps decapitated, and the icebox left bleeding out, yet the bulb still burning its last bit of life.
Pictures hung crookedly noosed from the walls, signs of dirty footprints crawled to the back room, and a smell stained the air I breathed. In the back room, newspapers were scattered about, the telephone off the hook, and thick dust particulates, like witness bystanders, hovered in the air aroused from the scuffle and filtered the dim light bleeding from the slats of the single window. Shuffling my way through the back hall, I felt the depth begin to close in, narrower, and narrower still.
There, in the center of the frozen moment in time was a bloody, battered, body strewn over the solid oak desk. The arms laid straight off either edge, wrists limp, as did the head.