Thursday, October 16, 2003

"To the Wizard of Oz. The old apartment you left remains hollow save for warped vinyl 45s and a rusty phonograph. There was a sin committed here. The sour note of all promised things now empty and unfulfilled. Tell me, sorcerer. . . do you even understand what you've done? Do you believe in death magic?"

Vignette: Dead Air at Six

The cup cried off the excess coffee, sending Lenny back to the real world. He had been thinking too much, he realized, noting the way his temple veins often twitched from too much brain activity.

He picked up the remote and silenced the television; he was not in the mood for the blather of caffeine-drugged morning show hosts. Rather, he focused on the nature-fresh twittering of larks outside the kitchen window, and took a moment to sheild himself from the rest of reality.

Two seconds later, there came the deafening clanging of church bells. It was the phone.

Sipping extra coffee from his brimming cup, Lenny checked the clock as he picked up the receiver. God, who’d call at six in the fuckin’ morning?

Lenny’s voice crawled off his tongue like the living dead. “Huhllow…Whoozz you?”

“Hey, Lenny. How’re you doin’?”

Lenny felt his eyebags burst as baritoned words stabbed his eardrums. He took a wheezy breath and spewed zombies. “Greg, it’s six in the morning. Unless you’re gonna tell me that the apocalypse’ll start in five minutes, I’m gonna have to put the phone down.”

“How are you?” Greg repeated, tentative.

Lenny discovered that it was difficult being lethargic and hysterical at the same time. “Why are you calling me, you lecherous twat?”

“I’m sorry, Lenny,” Greg answered. “I guess this isn’t the right time. You can put the phone down now.”

(No, Lenny thought, you won’t get me this time, you psychotic double-crossing pathological liar! I’m not hanging up the goddamn phone on you! You break my morning ritual without any consideration for my need for order and security, and now you’re coddling me to act like a barbarian by hanging up on you?! Fuck you, Greg! I’ll kill you!)

“Hang up first, Greg,” Lenny muttered. “You left me, remember? For old time’s sake.”

Larks twittered. The clock burped tick-tocks. Lenny stared off, half-awake, half-lost, the cold plastic of the receiver pushing against his ear, waiting for baritones. He failed to note his cup, now tilted in his grasp, crying steaming black tears onto cold parquet.

Five minutes later, a dry click.

No goodbyes. Just a click. Then the death of air. Lenny saw the pool of black on the floor, and found his cup near empty. He downed what was left in one gulp, isolating the bitter taste, not bothering to swirl it on his tongue like he’d usually do. No more of that. Get it over with.

Then his heart stopped. “Damn,” Lenny whispered. “He did it again.”

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