The scene is a crappy little apartment. The living room of a crappy little apartment, more specifically. You look around the apartment and take note of the mess. The squalor.
The carpet is dingy yellow, the same shade as the plug that forms on the spout of a bottle of French’s mustard. The furniture is old, and you know that it wasn’t much to look at to begin with: discount store particle board, the stuff that starts to sag and rock after your books or television sit on it too long. The recliner used to be a sea green, but patches of the material have worn off in the places where elbows and asses go. The remaining material is discolored from sweat and spilled drinks and ashtrays and so forth and so on. There’s a stupid floor lamp standing next to the recliner, conveniently placed where you wouldn’t even have to get out of the recliner to turn it on or off. The inverted cone directs the light to the ceiling, and if you look up, you’d see the misshapen shadow of hundreds of dead bugs that rest in the cone. The small television is on, but muted, and it’s the Weather Channel. The tanned guy is standing in front of a map, and if you could lip read, you’d know he was talking about the unseasonably warm September in New England. The CD player is playing through the speakers; the song is “Dead Souls” by Joy Division. Since you just got here, you don’t know that the same disc has been on repeat for the last five hours. You just get the feeling that whoever lives in this crappy little apartment just doesn’t care.
Speaking of who lives in this crappy apartment, take a look at the miserable lump of body lying on the floor. He’s curled up, his head is actually resting in a full ashtray, and he’s only wearing boxers and a t-shirt. You’d say he’s wearing socks, but there’s only one white one with a hole, where a sliver of toenail pokes through. The other foot is bare, showing a lot more toenail. Surrounding the lump is what might pass for a crude police outline of a dead body, but it’s not made of chalk: empty brown beer bottles, spiral ring notebooks, empty cigarette boxes, pens, and a couple of Hustler magazines outline this lump of body. Looking at it, you’d say it’s pretty fucking pathetic.
Not scary at all; just pathetic.
The lump stirs slightly, straightening its legs out, and it moans softly. It says something like, “Christ,” but it’s soft enough that it could have said just about anything. A hand moves up and grabs the side of its head. The body starts to shift back and forth, slowly, gingerly. You know right away that the lump is hurting.
“Shit,” comes from the lump, since it realized its head is in a black plastic ashtray. It sits up, and some butts and ashes coat the left side of its face and hair.
And you think again, pa-the-tic.
Its back is to you, but you see it turn its head to the left and realize that the same CD is playing. It starts singing along, saying quietly, and totally out of key, “They keep calling me…keep on calling me.”
Instead of singing for long, it opts to have a coughing fit, its hand cupped in front of its mouth. You hear the coughing stop, and it smacks its tongue and lips and you know just how awful the smell coming from its mouth must be.
It reaches for a box of cigarettes, finds it empty, and searches through a couple more until it finds one with smokes in it. It finds the lighter under its thigh and lights the cigarette.
It smokes while we notice the envelope on the table next to the recliner. If you looked closer at it, you’d see that it was addressed to a Charles Freeman. The return address is from something called the “Gerber Beach High School Alumni Committee,” from Gerber Beach, Florida. Just below the return address is what must be an important message, and it says “Important Reunion Information Enclosed!” in bold letters.
About the time you add two and two together and decide that its name is Charles Freeman, and it must be around reunion time for him, you hear it lumbering up to a standing position—its leg joints pop and it wobbles a little bit, hands held out to its side as it works to maintain equilibrium.
It scratches its ass and surveys the crappy living room and glances over at the envelope you just looked at, and it sighs. The sigh gives you a pretty good indication of its feelings, and you know it’s wondering how it could bring itself to go to a reunion.
In fact, looking at Charles Freeman, you have to wonder how it even gets up in the morning, or how it musters up enough life to just keep going.
And you watch it, or Charles, slowly wipe its fingers down the left side of its face. The fingers come away gray with ashes, and it looks at its fingers. It shakes its head slowly back and forth, enough to knock the butts out of its hair. You get the feeling it’s not the first time this has happened to Charles.
If you glance at the clock hanging over the television, you’d see it’s about four in the morning. Charles realizes this at the same time we do, and it ambles off through some door. Presumably, the door leads to a crappy bedroom, where it will sleep more. Its head will be on a pillow this time, and you just get the feeling that the pillowcase will be stained with sweat and drool and maybe some vomit.
As it disappears to wherever, you have a few moments before we fade out to look around some more. Notice the open spiral notebook in the body outline on the floor. If you zoom in on the page it’s open to, you’d see some words written in black ink. Most of it is gibberish, scrawled by someone drunk out of their mind, but there are a couple of phrases written boldly and large enough to make out.
A few phrases jump out at you immediately: “Get me out” is one. “Come take me” is another. “Make it stop” is the last one you really take note of.
Then you hear it snoring, loudly, jaggedly, horribly. It sleeps again, and it’s pretty fucking pathetic, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. Jesus, yeah.
Charlie was dreaming. He had to have been; things like this didn’t happen to him.
He was driving, and it wasn’t his car. No, the vehicle he was controlling was far better than his eight year old Geo Metro. It was a Mercedes, according to the logo on the steering wheel, and it was beautiful. The steering wheel was firm in his hands, and when he pressed the gas pedal, it slid forward easy and quickly…no lurching like the Metro. The car felt solid. Music came from the speakers; it was some heavy metal tune he vaguely recognized, but was enjoying. The smell of the car was brand new, but there was another smell, something even better than new car.
In the passenger seat was Miss America. At least, that’s who Charlie thought it was. She was perfect, with auburn hair and tanned skin and glowing white teeth and bright blue eyes. She stared back at him staring at her. She was smiling at him, and he dropped his gaze down her body, loving the way the low cut, skin-tight pink dress looked. Her cleavage was magnificent, and she spoke to him:
“Do you like me, Charlie?”
Astonished at the ignorance of the question, he said to her, “Of course I do. What’s not to like about you?”
“God, that makes me so happy, Charlie.” She smiled at him even bigger, white teeth and pink tongue exposed. He noticed that now she had a sash around her that said “Miss America” on it.
Her smell was vanilla, a sweet vanilla, but not as cloying as the crappy vanilla perfume that he got his last girlfriend. Her legs were smooth and tan and he wanted to touch them more than anything. He wanted to run his tongue all over them.
He felt a hard-on raging in his pants.
“Ooh, what’s this?” she asked playfully. She was looking at his crotch.
“Can I touch you, Charlie?”
Charlie tried to say yes, but nothing came out. It didn’t matter; she reached down and unzipped his jeans. Her warm, smooth hand pulled him out.
“Oh God,” he moaned.
“No, Charlie,” she said, leaning to his crotch. “Not God.”
“What?” he asked, shuddering as she opened up and took him into her mouth. He saw the invitation to his reunion lying on the smooth black dashboard of the Mercedes.
And, even though she had him completely in her mouth and was sucking and licking him, he heard her voice again, clear as day: “Not God, Charlie.”
“Not God,” he moaned. “Not God, not God, not God…”
He was about to explode when
He yelled and flew awake violently, kicking the dull brown comforter to the floor and hitching upright. His breath came out in gasps, and he wasn’t even aware that he was whispering “not God” over and over. Beads of sweat shined on his forehead, and his face was flushed a splotchy red.
“What the hell…” he exhaled and swung his legs around over the side of the low bed. His alarm clock, which sat on the floor by his feet, said it was half past noon.
He reached for a cigarette and the ashtray, also on the floor, and lit one up. A flashback to his fingers covered in gray ash flitted across the front of his brain as he exhaled.
Reaching down to scratch and adjust himself with his nonsmoking hand, he felt the wet patch on his boxers, and realized, with half horror and half amusement, that he had just had one hell of a wet dream at age 30.
“Jesus,” he said out loud to the empty bedroom.
And, in his head, he heard Miss America’s voice again: “No, Charlie, not Jesus.”
“Not God and not Jesus,” he spoke aloud again. “I got it, Miss America.”
He stubbed out the cigarette, which tasted like piss-soaked dirt in his mouth, and went to get ready for work.
In his Metro, on his way to work, he sang along with the radio. Pop tunes of no consequence. Like Chinese food, he thought. Hungry an hour later.
On the empty passenger seat, between a couple of cigarette burns, was a piece of paper with a hastily written note. Charlie had pulled the note off of the door as he left for work. It said “Pay rent by the 15th or you’ll be evicted.” It wasn’t the first note like that that Charlie had received. In fact, there was another one in the glove box of his car at that moment.
In front of the gauges, stuck down between the dirty plastic, was a picture of a girl. The picture was curled down from the top; it looked like it had been in there for a while. In fact, it had been there for a while.
About six months, to be almost exact.