SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 18, 2009

Scraps

 

Author’s Note: Below are two short bits, not quite long enough to stand on their own without some serious padding. I decided to stick them together and run them this way. Make whatever connections you see fit.

 

I was sitting at the kitchen table having a smoke when the sink began growling behind me.

            Now, that's not something my sink usually does. My sink never growls. It was a deep, wet, menacing growl, too—the kind you hear coming out of someone's belly in the movies moments before they vomit up an alien slug or their intestines explode.

            Needless to say, this concerned me some, so I moved into the other room.

            I'd been hearing all sorts of strange noises coming out of the kitchen over the past few days—thumps, cracks, refrigerator burbles—but this was a first.

            It’s not just the kitchen, either. The whole apartment has been making weird noises lately, and they aren’t the sounds of a building settling. The computer speakers sizzle and pop intermittently for no apparent reason. Pieces of furniture emit loud, sharp cracks and I expect them to collapse, but later can never find any physical evidence of anything.

            Fortunately I don't believe in ghosts, otherwise I might be getting fairly freaked out at this point. It's not like I'd be able to see them floating around even if I do have ghosts—it’s just the idea that’s a little bothersome.

            I had some cat ghosts for a while, but they seem to have retired to wherever cat spirits go (probably because they got sick of trying to dodge my shuffling feet).

            You know what my big concern is, ghost-wise anyway?

            I was always vaguely worried that my first landlord here would return from beyond the grave.

            He was an old man who died over a decade ago. Don't get me wrong, he was a wonderful man who took very good care of me, but every time I ran into him outside, or in the hallway, or on the stairs, my god—he'd corner me for hours at a time to tell me one of the same three stories he always told, or to complain about the VA hospital. For hours!

            I still liked him a bunch, but soon found myself trying to avoid him, peeking out the front window before stepping outside to make sure he wasn't sitting there in his lawn chair, waiting for his next victim to pass by.

After he died my concern was that his spirit would return, cornering me wherever he chose at all hours of the day or night to tell me long, boring stories of the afterlife. And it's not like I'd be able to avoid him since he’d be, y'know, a ghost.

            So far none of that has happened. But now with this rash of strange, unearthly noises, who knows? The fact that they all seem to be coming from my furniture and appliances and now my plumbing has me wondering. See, my landlord wasn't exactly the handiest of fellows. The electricity was worrisome, the plumbing was perpetually clogged, and any repairs he made were jerry-rigged from a box of old junk he kept in the basement.

            Over the past year or two, though, the plumbing and electrical wiring have all been replaced (usually by people who shake their heads in awe and dismay at the things they find behind the walls and under the floors), and most of the repairs have been made with new materials. So after all his decades of work on this house have been discarded, maybe now is the time for him to get pissed enough to come back and start whacking things around with his ghostly hammer, and growling in the kitchen drain.

            Then again, it's entirely possible that there's a monster of some kind living down there. Or a demon. New pipes and everything—who knows where they came from?

            On the bright side, if there is a monster or demon living down there, they don't stand a chance against Fredo's ghost. After an hour of hearing about how loud heaven is and how all the other angels are trying to steal from him, they'll start looking for refuge in some other loser's sink.

*          *          *

I was tapping home from the subway one Monday afternoon after spending about an hour and a half down at Coney with filmmaker Luca Dipierro. It was one of those bright early autumn Mondays, warmer than it probably should’ve been, and the glare was doing a number on me, even when I was wearing the shades. I’d only had one beer at Ruby’s, which surprised me, but combined with everything else that one beer was enough to leave me with a pleasant preliminary buzz.

            The neighborhood schools were letting out, so I was doing what I could to dodge the parade of strollers, bikes, scooters and scamperers. The intermittent afternoon shade interrupted by bursts of glare made the going treacherous—sort of like walking down a long, dark hallway lined with strobe lights and dotted with obstacles. For the most part, though, I was doing okay, and each step was bringing me closer to the safety of my apartment.

            At the corner up ahead a fat crossing guard was waiting in her yellow vest and white hat. Crossing guards make me nervous.

While trying to decide whether to cross the street in order to avoid her or just keep my eyes down and wait there for her to do her job, I reached the corner and stopped. Fuck it, I’ll let her cross me, I figured.

Then I took one more small step, and felt something underfoot. Something soft, but with a hard center. Just as the woman behind me gasped and the thing under my foot jerked away, I looked down to see a dog with a pink ribbon tied to the top of its head. Two dark eyes stared up at me in confusion, but it didn’t yelp, didn’t whine—didn’t make any noise at all. Just jerked away and stared. Before all this had fully registered, the owner was next to me. She didn’t look pleased.

            “Watch where you’re going,” the woman hissed. Her French accent made it all the more annoying.

            “I’m sorry ma’am,” I said, holding up the cane. “I don’t see very well, and your dog got in front of me. It was an accident.”

            I admit, I always feel bad when I step on dogs. But this one didn’t yelp or anything. It couldn’t have been hurt all that bad.

            “What?” the French woman asked.

            “Your dog got underfoot—I didn’t see it.”

            “It’s not a dog,” she said, sounding much more upset than before. “It’s my child.”

            “What?”

            “It’s a child.”

I looked again, and saw that she was quite correct—what I thought was a dog was in fact a young girl with a pink ribbon in her hair.

            “Oh.”

            I tried not to laugh at this, but probably failed. I didn’t know whether to tell her that she had one butt-ugly kid, or smack her with the cane for letting her little cur dodge in front of the blind guy.

            In the end all I said was “Yeah, well, it’s fine.” Then I turned my back on her and crossed the street so I wouldn’t have to deal with the crossing guard after that.

 

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