“Hey, honey…Are you awake? Did you hear that?”
In truth, I had been awake for a while before she had even asked me that question. Recumbent under the covers of our bed, I had been stuck in a half-lucid state for the past few minutes, in that rare frame of my mind where you can have an enlightening conversation with your subconsciousness. As always, I had entered this trance slightly discombobulated, questioning my temporal conditions. (It wasn’t unusual for me to awaken with such odd notions.) Perhaps the last few decades of my life had only been a dream? Had I dreamt through my twenties to only emerge and repeat my youth in middle age…so that (as mentioned in True Detective) the future was behind me, as it had always been? Or perhaps I was currently having a vision of the future from the slumber of my teenage years? Or maybe I should dive back into the abyss and dream again, so that I could fly through passageways like a diving hawk and then compare dreams with Rhonda when we awoke? I would always get past these notions, though, and my mind would wander into some other odd, tangential direction. I was in the midst of exploring another hidden corridor when Rhonda repeated the same question from before.
“Peter! Wake up! Do you hear it?”
Just keep pretending that you’re asleep, advised a subconscious voice. She’ll eventually go away. I laughed at the thought. Clearly, this new apparition from my depths didn’t know Rhonda all that well. I struggled to open my eyes and turn my head towards her, with the same effort that a newborn chick invokes to overcome its shell.
“Ehhh…huh? What sound? Where?”
Rhonda pointed at the doorway in conjunction with her answer. “From the living room. I think that it’s happening again.”
We waited for a few moments, so that I could get a chance to hear it for myself. Yep…I heard it. Pleep…plop…pleep. That goddamn motherfucker was back. “Yeah,” I grumbled, “I hear it. I’ll take of the living room. You check on the other rooms.”
I sat up in bed and looked at the alarm clock. 3:13 AM…But, hey, who needs sleep? Mornings in spring are usually very pleasant, but only a farmer could appreciate it at such an early hour. Unconsoled by the thought that a distant migrant worker was sharing my fate, I swung my bare feet over the side of the bed and accidentally stepped on the tail of our cat. He cried in a startled panic and ran from the room. Good…now we’re all happy. Merry Fuckin’ Christmas in June. Blindly stumbling through the darkness, I eventually made my way into the living room. In the tranquil blackness that surrounded me, I could observe the beautiful skyline of Manhattan through those windows, despite the moderate rainfall that was pouring down…but at such an hour, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to appreciate anything. Fuck those fuckin’ windows. After smacking my hand against the wall a few times, I eventually found the light switch and invoked the necessary illumination. My eyes adjusted to the piercing light that insisted on stabbing my retinas, and I focused on my adversary across the room.
“There you are,” I drawled across lazy lips. “You bastard. I knew that you’d be back.”
It had been three months since our debacle of a condo meeting in the garage, and during that time, Rhonda and I had come to learn quite a deal about our new home. We had gained the knowledge about our walls, which were apparently thinner and less soundproof than we had hoped…since we were now privy to the nuptials of our adjacent neighbors. (Namely, that she was a typical moaner and that he was a heavy grunter.) We observed that the wooden floors, despite being beautiful, were so delicate that they could be scratched by a sudden gust of wind or breath. Most importantly, though, we had become well acquainted with the lesser strengths of our builders, of which window installation happened to be one. During any fall of precipitation, our home suddenly transformed into the cabin of a sinking ship, and during the first few encounters, it had invoked the same feelings of helplessness and dread that would befall dying sailors. If I wasn’t in my pajamas, I’d be more eager to abandon ship…after enough repetition, though, the dread of such an event had ameliorated to the point of simple sighs, since we were now resigned to our doomed fate. I could hear Rhonda behind me as her feet shuffled across the floor.
“So, I thought that they had fixed the windows for good?” she croaked with fatigue.
“Guess not…I’ll call Richie tomorrow about it. Fourth time is the charm, right?”
Rhonda shook her hood as the water dropped from the window’s frame and splattered against the sill and floor. A puddle had already formed directly beneath the frame. “It’s too early to try and be funny…uh…what’s that smell?”
I sniffed and smelled nothing. Curious, I scanned the room and found the likely culprit sitting by the front door. Her damn bloodhound nose…how does she do it? I noticed a standing bag of kitchen garbage resting against the front door, and I lazily flopped my hand towards it with the motor controls of a toddler. “Must be the garbage over there,” I guessed, “Though I can’t smell it myself.”
“You really can’t smell that? It’s filling the whole place…Tell you what, I’ll take care of the window if you take down the trash to the garage.” Observing my reaction that conveyed the simple question of Why me?, she explained her viewpoint. “I’m not dressed! I don’t want anyone to see me.”
I raised an eyebrow dubiously. “Someone is going to see you at 3:13 in the morning?”
I could see from her expression that no words should be offered in response. Her visage, which both pleaded and threatened me, gave me all the impetus to make the right decision. Desiring to avoid any chance of a murder-suicide ritual, I cursed under my breath as I walked towards our discussion’s subject. I yanked on the Leaning Tower of Pee-yoo, hoisted it into the air by its finger-strangling ribbons, and exited the front door with a sweet-voiced thanks on my heels. Still cursing the gift of her olfactory senses (and missing the cheek-warming comfort of my pillow), I reached the end of the hallway and opened the door to our nearest stairwell. I was halfway through the door when I came to an abrupt stop, startled by the fact that I wasn’t alone.
Sitting naked upon the stairs and sitting sideways to me, a young blonde woman was staring at the wall before her, her legs bundled tight and crossed arms covering her breasts. She seemed to be squinting her eyes as she slumped somewhat forward, in an apparent attempt to descry some hidden image from the concrete slab in front of her. Despite looking slightly cold, she seemed perfectly calm as she turned her head to regard me with an inquisitive glance. Her heavy eyelids refused to open, as if the mere thought of such travail meted out exhaustion. Instead, she lifted her hanging head in order to get a better look at me.
“What do you want?” she hissed.
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.