After spending ninety minutes in rush-hour traffic I stumbled through my front door and found my living-room couch standing in the entryway with two suitcases at its feet.
“We have to talk,” it said.
“You’re upset. Let’s go to the living room and discuss this.” I circled my couch and tried to take the raincoat off its shoulders.
“You never spend time with me anymore.” My couch whirled to face me.
“I’ve been under a lot of pressure at work. This new project…”
“Work! If it’s not work, it’s karate lessons, Zen retreats, or poetry readings! And when you get home, you microwave dinner, do those exercises for your sore back, and go to bed. I’ve hardly seen you in a month.
“I just want things to go back to how they used to be,” my couch continued. “Remember how we spent hours binge watching ‘The Wire’ or how you used to sleep in on weekends and then listen to NPR while drinking Cloud-and-Mist tea?”
“Look, once I get the quarterly reports out, we’ll spend a whole Saturday together. I’ll get a pizza and one of those Game of Thrones books.”
“You’re too late.” My couch opened the door and waved at the taxi in the parking lot. “I found a two-bedroom apartment in Encinitas. If you don’t appreciate me, its tenant will.”
From the doorway I watched the driver strap my couch on the taxi’s roof and drive away. As the brake lights disappeared into the rainy night, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss.
The Slender Thread
My insurance agent sent me a birthday card. It was a cheap, disposable thing with the company logo inside along with a preprinted message thanking me for my business. It was the only card I received but I was okay with that. I’m past the age where women view me as a sexual being so no wife or girlfriend remembered the date. If I’d told them, the guys at work would have taken me to lunch but I kept quiet. Why spend an extra hour making small talk with people I have little in common with?
I left work early on my birthday and despite the traffic by the Del Mar Fair got home at 4:30. The card was where I’d left it on the blond-wood table. I picked it up, carried it to the garbage can, and paused to examine the greeting written in faux gold cursive on the rainbow cover. Somehow, I couldn’t throw it away. It was as if the card had become the last slender thread connecting me with the rest of humanity. I checked my watch. It was 4:38. I had just enough time.
I dashed to my blue Honda Civic leaving the front door unlocked in my haste. I backed out of the stall, slammed the car into gear, and burned rubber in the parking lot. At the exit I stopped while a pregnant woman pushed a baby carriage in front of me at the speed of continental drift. Once she cleared my path, I rocketed down the street, took the right of way from a white van, and fought my way through the traffic by the minimart. I took a left, barreled down Tamarack, and got on the freeway. Bad idea! Traffic was going nowhere. It was 4:52. Desperate measures were called for if I wanted to make it before closing time. I jerked the wheel to the right and passed the others on the shoulder. Sadly for me, a guy in a silver Toyota Tundra had the same idea and cut me off. I followed him onto the exit and into the left-turn lane where he stopped even though the light was green.
“Damn it!” I laid on the horn, passed him on the right, and only then saw a line of cars had blocked him too.
By the time I got to my insurance agent’s location on El Camino Real, the office was closed. I pounded on the glass door with my palms and was about to leave when a man with gray, curly hair came from the back. Even in the warm, California weather he wore a tan cardigan. I placed the birthday card flat against the glass. He tilted his head back to look through the reading glasses riding low on his nose, gave a smile of recognition, and unlocked the door.
“Thank you for the card,” I said. “I had to come.”
“You welcome. Won’t you come inside?” He stepped out of the way to let me pass and locked the door behind me. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about life insurance. We offer whole life policies as well as term insurance for as little as a dollar a day.”
I followed him to his office where we talked until long after dark. As we discussed my age, medical condition, and whether I smoked or took part in risky activities, I felt a deep, human connection with him. Around 8:00 I left feeling refreshed, renewed, and secure in the knowledge that for just a few thousand dollars a year I would make some distant relative very happy when I died.
I took a condom out of the box and read the expiration date. Even though I’d bought them when I last had sex back in the Pleistocene, they were still good for another month. Would taking two on my first date with Honey Walker be an act of hubris? The premature appearance of one falling from my wallet would send me hiding in my apartment for months but if things went well…
The doorbell rang.
The man standing on the welcome mat had my face – the same wrinkled forehead, tired eyes, and gray-streaked goatee. I glanced at the Taser in his hand milliseconds before fifty thousand volts sent me convulsing to the floor.
My mouth tasting of batteries, I came to in a pink, frilly bedroom where Honey was dousing herself with perfume that smelled like it could kill ants, roaches, and flying insects.
“Wake up, sleepy head. We have to buy you some clothes. That shirt of yours won’t do when we have dinner with my parents.” She hugged me around the shoulders. “Thanks for agreeing to take me to ‘Cats.’ I just love musicals. Don’t you?”
I followed her into the kitchen and studied her expression while she cooked a breakfast of kippered herring and fried tomatoes. Neither the furrow on her brow nor the slight downturn in the corner of her mouth betrayed any complicity in my kidnapping.
“Daddy has strong views about the African race so, whatever you do, don’t say anything.” She carried the frying pan over and used the spatula to shovel food on my plate. “You’ll do fine, just like you did last night.”
I felt my pants pocket for my keys, looked out the window to see my double driving away in my car, and turned back to this woman who loved me for being someone else.
Host of the Gelato Poetry Series, instigator of the San Diego Poetry Un-Slam, and an editor of theSan Diego Poetry Annual, Jon Wesick has published more than sixty short stories in journals such as Clockwise Cat, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, Tales of the Talisman, Blazing Adventures, and Metal Scratches. He has also published over two hundred fifty poems. Jon has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest.