by Mike Morey
I could hear the footsteps in the hallway. I always can. They cause my living room floor to shudder ominously. The building was not constructed with high-grade material, and I know that one of these days it will all come crashing down around my ears. I don’t care. I’m ready for that.
When the footsteps stop, I fear the worst. There is a knock at my door. I think about getting up to answer it, but I suddenly realize I weigh over eight hundred pounds. I look down at my scrawny arms and legs, my juvenile pot-belly. It’s all out there in the open, except for the best bits, which are hidden behind boxer shorts. OK, so the excess weight is an illusion, perhaps. Still, I feel like I weigh over eight hundred pounds, and that means something.
A hand is pounding on my door, insistent.
I can ignore it, if I want to. It’s my place. I have rights, too. If I didn’t weigh so much, I might think about getting off the chesterfield. Everything required to get me through the day is right at my fingertips. What do I want to get up for?
“Open the fucking door, Fester! I know you’re in there!”
Polly. The superintendent’s wife. A picture of her pops into my brain and it’s as repulsive as the real thing. She’s no dame. She’s barely human, as far as I can tell. I don’t like that image in my brain, but it won’t go away. Nor will the real thing.
“I got to talk to you, Fester! For Christ’s sake, open the goddamn door!” Polly’s got a mouth on her.
“All right, all right,” I shout. “For Pete’s sake.” I don’t like profanity. My mother beat the potty mouth out of me when I was a kid and I never got it back. I don’t like it in others. It makes me want to beat the heck out of someone. I’m sorry to say, it’s happened before.
I manage to haul my half-ton scrawny old butt off the chesterfield. Even though I already know what Polly looks like—already have that awful image rolling around in my head—the sight of her shocks me. It’s not like she gussies herself up just to come upstairs to see me. She could at least try.
“Christ almighty!” she shouts at me when I open the door. “You’re not even dressed!” Polly must always shout, I’ve noticed. Even though Gaspar, the superintendent, is a weasel, I pity him for living with Polly. I suspect him of loosening some of the primary support beams in the apartment, to give the old place a helping hand falling down. He can’t wait for it all to come crashing down and put him out of his misery. We all have our reasons.
I look down at my boxers. They’re relatively clean. Polly has nothing to complain about. “I just woke up. What do you want?”
Polly pushes past me, uninvited. She must be used to that. Who would invite her? “I have to talk to you, Fester. I have a job for you.”
It’s no use. I close the door and resign myself to a conversation. I don’t say anything, just sit back on the chesterfield and sip my scotch. I don’t bother drinking the good stuff. I learned a long time ago, once you burn the mouth with the first gulp, it all tastes pretty much the same after that.
Polly brushes the seat cushion before she sits. She thinks that men who live alone are all slobs. All in all, my place is pretty clean. Her brushing brushing brushing has no effect other than to insult me. “Jesus Christ, Fester!” she shouts, watching me drink. “It’s not even lunch time.”
“I don’t appreciate that kind of language, Polly.”
She rolls her eyes. Her wig is a rat’s nest, tipped slightly to one side. It looks like a wad of cotton candy some kid dropped on her head at the carnival. Even straight, it doesn’t look real. I manage not to imagine what lurks beneath it. Her lips move. “Fuck that. What are you, a choir boy?” Her lips are as phony as her lid. If it weren’t for all the fake stuff, she’d look like a pale coconut.
Every time she swears, I want to club her on the head. The wig is a deterrent. I always hated cotton candy. “What do you want, Polly? I have to go out soon.”
“The track can wait. I got a job for you.”
“So you said. I’ve got a job already, thanks.”
Polly smoothes down her dress, as if it will help. Nothing will help her. “Betting horses isn’t a fucking job!”
She can save her nagging for Gaspar. “It pays the rent in this dump,” I say.
She huffs a few times. For some reason, she thinks this apartment building is the blinking Ritz. Well, the deeper you are in the doo-doo, the grander the delusions, I suppose. “You’re the only one who can help me.”
She doesn’t shout this time, which I appreciate. A couple more scotches and I might delude myself into thinking she’s not a rat-infested horror. The brain is a tricky thing.
“I want you to take care of Gaspar,” she says, almost whispering now.
I liked it better when she was shouting. “Take care of him? Are you going away?”
“Don’t be fucking daft, Fester! I want you to take care of him! I want you to kill him!”
I change my mind. Whispering is better. I keep a straight face, refuse to laugh at her joke. I’m a very serious person. Swallowing scotch helps. It’s impossible to laugh or smile when you drink scotch. “Who gave you the impression I’m a killer, Polly?” I say. “I’m a respectable citizen.”
“Ha! You’re a goddamn gambler and a drunk!”
“That doesn’t make me a killer.”
“No, but it makes you desperate. You still owe for last month’s rent, Fester.”
That much is true. I had a lean month at the track. It happens, from time to time. “I’ll have your money by the end of the day. I got a good tip on a horse.”
Polly laughs, nearly cracking the coconut shell in half. Her skull is full of lumpy milk. “Listen. I need Gaspar taken care of. Understand? I can’t take it anymore. It’s bad enough that he smells like liverwurst. And after all these years, the stupid Pollack still can’t speak the fucking language. It’s no wonder they’re always telling Polish jokes! He’s nothing but a goddamn loser!”
Kettle and pot, I am thinking. I keep my mouth shut.
“Now I find out the little bastard’s been running around all this time with a widow behind my back! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a two-timing shit-sucking cheating goddamn bastard!”
“Watch the potty mouth, Polly. I’m warning you!” I try not to hit women, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Polly ignores my threat. “I put up with a lot of crap from that man. But I’m not putting up with this!”
“So divorce him,” I offer. I am a reasonable man.
“Don’t be a fool! I’m Catholic. I want him dead.”
“That’s pretty drastic.”
Polly gives me a sly look. “I’ll make your rent problem go away, Fester. Just do this little job for me.” She’s trying to be nice, but she’s not used to it. She lights a cigarette, even though I have told her many times that I don’t like it. She blows some cruddy blue smoke toward me.
“I told you, already. I’ll have your money tonight.”
“You’re a laugh riot, Fester. Take care of Gaspar for me and I’ll make it worth your while.” She winks at me.
She actually winks! I suddenly feel nauseated. “To tell you the truth, Polly, I don’t think I have the stomach for it.” I drain my scotch and pour myself another one. One of my tits is itchy, but I don’t dare scratch it. I don’t want to give Polly any funny ideas.
“For Christ’s sake, Fester. Just clobber him over the head! There’s nothing to it.”
“Then why don’t you do it?”
Polly rolls her eyes and centers the rat’s nest on her head. “Jesus! I’m a woman!”
That’ll be the day. “Lizzy Borden was a woman,” I put in.
“She was a nutcase!”
Kettle and pot again. “I’ve never killed anyone before. I’m not a violent person.”
“You’re a fucking man! It’s in your blood somewhere. Stick a knife in his gut. If it’s sharp enough, it’ll be like cutting butter.”
“I can’t stand the sight of blood.” I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation. As if I would even consider it.
“Use your fucking brain, Fester. Bean him on the head with a hammer! Christ almighty! I have to tell you everything!” Cigarette smoke curls up, gets caught in the rat’s nest.
I try to get up off the chesterfield. I must weigh at least twelve-hundred pounds. I wobble a bit on my scrawny legs. By now, I’ve abandoned the tumbler. I’m drinking straight from the bottle. Murder does that to you. I clutch the bottle and head for the bathroom. As I stagger past Polly, I swing the bottle with a swift and sure motion, bring it down neatly on the rat’s nest. The bottle smashes into little pieces, which I feel is a shameful waste. Fortunately, there wasn’t much left in the bottle. Coconut milk spills out of Polly’s cracked shell. She has uttered her last profanity in my home.
Gaspar comes out of the bathroom, where he’s been hiding, listening to the whole affair. He looks more shaky than me, and he hasn’t even been drinking.
“OK. She dead?” he asks.
“I reckon she is,” I say, dropping the bottleneck into her lap.
“Goot, goot. She terrible voman. Acht! You done goot job, Fester. No problem wit rent, OK? You take care me, I take care you.”
Polly was right about one thing. Gaspar can’t speak the fucking language.