A Listening Thing
A Novel by William Michaelian

Chapter 14

Later that afternoon, after blowing a good hour and a half at the library and coming away with nothing but a couple of battered hiking magazines from the free magazine pile, I filled a large pan with water, put it on the stove, and turned the heat on high. When the water came to a boil, I emptied the contents of Abe�s new folder into the pan, added salt, stirred occasionally, and let time do the rest. I wanted to see if, rather than actually doing the forms again, I could transform the raw information directly into something to eat, thereby saving an annoying step in the ritual of survival. If the idea worked, I hoped to expand my repertoire to include junk mail, of which there is a steady, abundant supply. I even made notes, and put them under the apt heading of �Experiments in Living.�

Okay, okay. What I really did was go to the library, skip lunch, and do the forms. I wanted them out of the way, so I got them out of the way. It only took two hours. In two lovely hours, I had something that was not only ugly, but even less useful than the first set of forms. Proud of my accomplishment, I printed out the new files and made out an invoice for two hundred and eighty-five dollars.

Except that�s not what happened. What I really really did was skip the library, eat the rest of the food I�d bought, and fall asleep in my father�s chair. I had intended to skip lunch and do the forms, but I was so sick of typesetting that I wasn�t sure I�d ever be able to finish them. Plus, I didn�t care. I wanted the money, but I didn�t want to think about work anymore, and about the foolish lie I�ve been living.

If only that were the truth. What I really really really did was skip the library, skip lunch, skip work, and skip my nap. I don�t nap anyway. As soon as I got home, I tossed the new folder onto my work table, gargled with mouthwash for three minutes, then paid a call on my buxom neighbor, who was eating chocolate and sipping champagne in her spotlessly clean apartment. During the time I�d been gone, the remaining buttons on her blouse had worked themselves free, exposing � uh, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil � exposing � Prince Albert in a can � exposing � a beautiful pair of � oops � exposing � all right, damn it � exposing one of our society�s biggest preoccupations and hangups.

Yes. This is exactly what happened.

Forgive me Pops, for I have sinned. I galloped around the May Pole one too many times. I ate horseradish when I should have bowed my head and had peas and mashed potatoes. You know how it is. The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak. Or, for a fresh shilling, you get what you seek. I know I�m a bad boy. But look at everyone else. They brag about it. I can�t even say it. So give me a break and I�ll make it up to you. Honest. And speaking of honesty, didn�t I see you in the shadows with one of the nuns last night? Huh? Huh? Oh, sure � you were only praying together. Caught up in your fervor, you became short of breath. Uh-huh. I see. Beholding the glory of God�s creation does that to you. Of course it does. I feel the same way. What�s that? No, I won�t tell anyone. Your secret is safe with me. Jeez. And I came to you for absolution.
It was a dark and stormy night. I said, �My love, let us linger awhile longer. Life is too short for worries of the morrow.�

She said, �Okay, but we�re out of champagne, and I could use some crackers.�

�Crackers?� I said. �We�ll send out for crackers.�

�And the champagne?� she said.

I looked deep into her saucy brown eyes. �That does pose a problem,� I said. �But maybe we don�t need the champagne, if you know what I mean.�

She did know. At least I thought she did. She ran her fingertips lightly over my face. �I think there�s some beer in the refrigerator,� she said.

She got up from the couch we were sitting on. Her tattered blouse was disintegrating before my eyes. She drifted into the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator door being opened. �It�s funny,� she said. �But I don�t even know your name.�

�My name?� I said.

The refrigerator door closed, a drawer opened, there was a shuffling sound, and then two bottle caps landed on the counter. �Not that it really matters,� she added.

�You�re right,� I said. �Besides, I don�t know yours, either.�

�Let�s keep it that way, shall we?�

�Whatever you say. I was thinking of changing my name anyway. Maybe I�ll just do without altogether.�

�Good idea.� She waltzed back into the room. No � it was more of a salsa. What do they call it? That Cuban stuff. She took a drink from one of the bottles of beer, then handed it to me. �Do you dance?� she said.

�Only when the situation arises,� I said.

�I dance all the time.�

�Like I said.�

She threw back her head and emptied her bottle of beer at one go. Some of it leaked onto her chin and ran down her neck, and further still. None of it was wasted. Not wanting to be left behind, I did the same, soaking my shirt in the process. It was hard to drink and look at her at the same time. I spilled more than I swallowed. But she didn�t seem to care. It only made her giggle and want to kiss me. I was anxious to comply, but as she had resumed her enchilada it was a hit-and-miss proposition. There was a great deal of very enjoyable bumping and gyrating, punctuated by beer-perfumed exclamations of �Whee-ha-ha-ha!� and �That�s the way � oy-yoy!� Even so, our lips did meet several times, purely as a matter of chance, and so we made the best of a rather hectic situation. Was it love? Yes. I don�t know. Of course not. Whatever it was, it was hot and sticky and dangerous � something I�ll always look back on and say, �I wonder what that was all about?�

It was a dull and miserable afternoon. I listened to oldies on the radio and did the forms. I wasted two hours doing something I hated. I vowed to make changes � to move, to live, to do something.

I burnt all of my old letters. I didn�t have any old letters, so I had to write them first. That took most of the evening. The exercise did me good. By the time I was done, my hand hurt. I called my personal trainer and scheduled a massage. I emptied the refrigerator and chatted online with my broker. I had an affair with my toaster.

If it�s loneliness, I�ve had enough of it. If it�s lack of purpose, I�ve done that, too. If it�s cosmic misalignment, I threw my neck out years ago. A man pours syrup on his pancakes, civilization ends, anarchy reigns, and nothing�s on television. There is more to life than free samples at the end of the canned food aisle. Isn�t there?

I held the key, but I dropped it and it fell through the grate. A policeman came by and gave me a ticket for loitering. When I told him about the key, he changed my ticket to littering. �Either way,� he said, �you lose. Oh, yes � and have a nice day.�

Title Page & Copyright      Post Your Comments      View Comments      Top of Page      Previous Chapter      Next Chapter

Also by William Michaelian: Winter Poems and Another Song I Know

Cosmopsis Books ~ San Francisco

Site Guide & FAQ