"I'm trying to get drunk but I can't seem to quite."
It was difficult to know what was expected of him.
He'd put things aside, put the matter on hold, till he knew the proper attitude to adopt. Till he'd rehearsed his lines.
Time was up to something. Time was getting slippery.
"Doesn't say nothing, my friend. Just squiggles."
"What does this say to you?"
Mike said, "Maybe you should drop this. Whatever you're working on. I get paranoid, okay? I write science-fiction. Nobody takes it seriously. Which is why nobody's going to run me off the road. In fact, I'm probably helping them. If you find it in a sci-fi book then by definition it's sci-fi. Now no one can take it seriously. It gets the Lippian stamp, the paranoid conspiracist nutbat stamp. If I write the truth, I nullify it. You, on the other hand ... You should be careful."
"That's always an option alright, my friend."
"I suppose I could always scream, or cry, or faint, or something."
"But somehow that seems a bit ..."
Sheila laughed. "We were just talking about you."
She was laughing and gossiping, while her daughter ... He hung up on her.
When he knew how to behave, he would behave that way.
It's all this thinking about it that makes whatever you do seem artificial.
You fucked-out fucking asshole.
Moonie said, "What did you expect? I mean, we're owned by the same company. Everybody's owned by the same seven companies. So we share stories sometimes. It cuts down on labor. Not that it happens a lot. Just when there's a gap. If they've got a story we need, they let us have it. And vice versa. It goes both ways. Same with photos. Same with leads. We're not really in competition. We've got different demographics. It's not some conspiracy. It's an open secret. I don't know, maybe it's different in Washington ..."
He could not stop looking at his hands. They were like the hands of some intelligent alien lizard, scaly, iridescent, and bejeweled. He could almost read the patterns in them.
Is it alright if I sit here?, Miranda asked. On this picnic basket over here?
He called some people. He made some calls. Mike, Sheila, Denise, Telerude, Moonie. So few people in the world.
He had known it would be her, had known before Billie pulled back the sheet. He knew her eyes would be open, and that she would be looking in his direction. She was looking at him even before the sheet was pulled back. She was looking at him, she was smiling, and her lips were moving.
It was hard to tell when it was the bartender talking through Miranda's face and when it was Miranda talking through the bartender's face.
He told Telerude that he quit.
He told Telerude that he was working on a story. Something big. He needed a few days. It would be worth it. Trust him.
"Drew? Drew, is that you?"
Ah, fuck off.
"That's a poetical view of the situation, alright."
"Everyone in this bar's face is made of meat."
Denise said, "Drew, whatever it is you're going through, you know it's okay, it'll be okay. I'm here. But I can't help if you don't tell me what's going on."
He wasn't going to fall for that.
Miranda said, What's in this basket, anyway? A musical penis!?
He's a real shitmeat, alright. Fucking neo-Nazi. Kill yourself.
"Why? Are you married?"
"I don't suppose you'd care to come home with me."
"Now that's what I call the direct approach."
"Not now. Not yet. Will you marry me?"
"Now I didn't say that."
"So you will come home with me."
"Why, you're real forward, aren't you!"
"You haven't said no yet."
"Hey, welcome to Life 101."
"The fact is I've had a terrible disappointment and need to be comforted."
"Jesus H. Oshaphat! Does that line usually work?"
"I'm not kidding. I just came from the morgue."
"Well holy ... I'm real sorry. I don't know what to say."
"It's not a line. She's dead. I just saw her dead face."
"See, I don't know what to think."
"Say you'll come home with me."
"I honestly don't know. Who am I to say?"
"I'm not acting right for somebody recently bereaved."
"You smell alright to me I guess but maybe you should slow up on those."
"I don't smell right. I'm not angry enough, maybe."
"Well, I don't know, maybe you should drink."
"I'm incapable of becoming drunk."
"Well sure. A little, I guess. Who wouldn't?"
"You feel sorry for me."
"There you go again."
"We don't have to have sex."
"Who was this person you ..."
"I just need some company. I have to go home to an empty apartment. She lived with me, you know. For a little while."
"Well you know what I meant."
"She died. You can say it."
"Well, cripes. You're really telling the truth, aren't you."
"She was my daughter. She was twenty. She killed herself."
"If you're pulling my leg," she said, "so help me."
"My name's not Billie," she said, "it's Ennis."
"Boy," she said, "some guys really know how to sweet-talk a girl."
"Your face," he said, "looks like a meatsteak."
She killed herself. You should kill yourself.
"I'm not," he said.
"I won't," he said.
"I don't," he said.
I didn't, she said. Of course I didn't.
The stairwell was off balance. The angles didn't add up. Was there a reason they weren't taking the elevator? The elevator kept opening but nobody came out. He was feeling drunk now, maybe.
"We should get you to bed, honey," she said.
"I should warn you, the place is a mess. I haven't been home for a few days ..."
"What's this?" she said.
"Oh, that fucking guy again."
Dear Neighbor, It would really be appreciated if you could ask your guest(s) to take off their boots when they come over. I don't know what you get up to that requires so much walking around, but I'm sure it's fun!(?) Just please be considerate and keep in mind that there are people who live below you. Thanks, and I'm sure I won't have to write another note like this!!
"I told you," said Drew, crumpling the note into a ball and throwing it down the hallway, "I haven't even been home ..."
She had to help him with the key.
"No," he said. "Don't turn on the light. I'm embarrassed."
"Oh, you silly old lug. Come here then."
"I just want to be in the warm and the safe and the dark."
"That's where you are now, darling. Show me the way."
"This is the way," he said, and threw his arms around her. He could not find her face.
"Not that! The way to the bedroom. Let's get your things off and ... Do you want me to get that?"
"No," he said. Then realized the phone was ringing, somewhere.
"At this hour!" she said. "Do you think it could be important?"
"Nothing's important anymore."
"Oh, you poor man ..."
The phone went on ringing. It sounded strangely muffled. "It sounds strangely muffled," he said.
"I'll answer it," she said. "And tell them to leave you well enough alone."
"No no," he said, "no no. I'll get it. You find the light."
She flipped the switch, and gasped.
"Messier than I remembered," he admitted.
"This isn't a mess," she hissed. "Honey, you've been broken into."
He found the phone under one of the couch's cushions, which was itself under what was left of the stereo. He looked around. "Have I?"
"Of course you have! Just look at this place!"
The phone had stopped ringing, but now it was buzzing. He held it up to his ear.
"Drew? I've been calling for hours. You weren't answering your sill. Hey, I just thought of something. Are you listening? Are you there? Hello? Are you okay?"
"You poor man. On top of everything else! To have your apartment ransacked like this!"
Drew looked around.
His apartment, his life, had been destroyed.
And suddenly everything made sense.
"Mike, get this: I've been broken into," he said triumphantly. "My apartment has been ransacked."