Just Released: Cities of the Common Man - Chapter One
“MacPherson, open up!”
I stirred again.
“Open up or I’m breaking down the goddamn door!”
That got my attention.
I rose from the bed and let the sheet slip to the floor. I realized I was naked, but hadn’t the slightest clue as to how I’d gotten that way. I looked to the other side of the mattress and saw a woman lying on her side, her back to me. She, too, was naked. Her skin was pale, cream-colored. There was something majestic about her, something regal.
I felt like I could love her.
Or had loved her.
Or, at the very least, had felt some sort of nebulous infatuation that, in this life or another, warranted a touch of blood flow to my lower extremities. But, truthfully, while staring at the small of her back, all I could wonder was who she was and how the hell she’d gotten there.
“Excuse me,” I said.
The woman didn’t move.
I placed a gentle hand against her bare shoulder. Her skin was soft, familiar. “Excuse me,” I said again.
The woman shifted. She reached for the sheet that was no longer there. I heard her yawn and the noise, like her skin, was also familiar. She stretched out her arms and grabbed hold of the headboard. Her back arched. She moaned.
“Excuse me.” My voice seemed to be shaking. “I’m sorry. This is going to sound really rude, but...What’s your name?”
“You gotta be kidding me.” The woman rolled onto her back and I recognized her instantly. I recognized her insipid face. I recognized her thin lips. I recognized the long, swan-like neck. I recognized her breasts. I even recognized the fact that this woman, not long before this mysterious appearance, had been my fiancée, Allison. “Seriously, are you fucking kidding me, Billy?”
I looked at her an awfully long time before I asked, more than said, “Yes?”
“Jesus!” Allison snatched up a throw blanket from the edge of the bed and covered her breasts. “Do you remember anything from last night?”
Hastily, I scanned the apartment. All I could see were empty Chinese takeout boxes, stubbed out cigarettes (which was odd because I didn’t smoke), empty beer bottles, wine bottles, tequila bottles, and about eight or nine condom wrappers. It looked like the world’s worst brothel. The place was a mess and I couldn’t believe I actually lived there.
“Are you listening to me?” she snapped. “Earth to Billy! Do you remember anything from last night?”
Again, I looked at her an awfully long time before I said, “Yes?”
“You’re a fucking asshole, you know that?”
“MacPherson, open the goddamn door!” I had been so preoccupied with the fact that my ex-fiancée had ostensibly materialized in my bed, I had forgotten about the pounding on my front door.
“MacPherson, you’ve got until the count of three before I rip the fucking door off its fucking hinges, you fucking understand me you fucking fuckwad?”
“I’d better get that,” I said.
“Oh, so that’s more important than me?” Allison was on her feet. Even though the throw blanket was wrapped around her chest, her vagina was still exposed. I was so startled by it I didn’t know if I should look or not.
“You’re not fully covered,” I said.
“One!” the voice behind the door roared.
“I don’t care if I’m fucking covered or not!” Allison screamed.
I retrieved the sheet from the floor and wrapped it around my waist. It was cold in my apartment. I could almost taste the New York winter on my tongue. I sighed and saw my breath dissipate in the air. January is a hell of a month for the heat to go out.
I made my way to the door, my feet maneuvering past empty litters of High Life and one lone Patron bottle. I didn’t remember buying any of it. Perhaps Allison had brought them. But that seemed a touch out of character for her; generosity had never been her strong suit.
“Two!” the voice beyond the door threatened.
“Don’t walk away from me, Billy.”
“I really have to get the door.”
“The hell you do!”
“You do hear the pounding, right?”
“I don’t give a shit what I hear!”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“You don’t make any sense.”
“MacPherson, so help me god! I’m almost at three! Do you hear me? I’m almost at the number three! And I warned you, if I got to the number three this door would come down.”
My cell phone started to ring. I was already to the door when realized I had left it on the bedside table.
“You’d better not answer that!” Allison screamed.
“The door or the phone?”
“Goddamn it, Billy!”
“Three!” There was an agonizing thud on the other side of the door. The frame rattled and the hinges shook, but the door didn’t fall. I heard a painful groan followed by a meek, “Please, MacPherson, just open the door, will ya?”
“Don’t you dare!” Allison was jumping up and down. Breasts were everywhere. “You sit back down on this bed and talk to me.”
There was half a bottle of whiskey resting in front of the door. I picked it up, uncapped it, and took a sip. It was bitter, astringent, amazing. I shuddered.
“You fucking derelict!” Allison cried.
My phone was still ringing.
I set the whiskey on the kitchen counter and unlatched the door. Standing before me was my landlord, Tina. She was a beefy woman with jowls that could fit the faces of three linebackers. She had a weather-beaten face and was always short of breath. Usually her blouses were stained with jagged splotches of Dinty Moore or drenched in yellow lakes of sweat, but, on this particular morning, it was surprisingly clean. The goddamn thing even looked ironed.
“What’s the big idea, MacPherson?” she asked, rubbing her shoulder.
“Sorry, Tina,” I said. “I was a bit distracted.” I motioned inside and she peeked around me, eyeing Allison. When she saw Tina’s expression she mercifully decided to cover up, using the throw blanket to cover her chest and her spare hand to cover her vagina. For the first time since moving in, I was happy Tina was shadowing my door.
“You should really open up when I first knock, MacPherson.”
“I’m sorry, Tina. Like I said, I was distracted.”
My phone stopped ringing.
“I’m gonna need you out, MacPherson.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, what do I mean? I’m gonna need you out.”
“Of this place, you fucking nincompoop! Pronto.”
“What’s pronto mean to you, smartass?”
“For how long?”
“Are you dense? For good! You’re gone, pal.”
“Because you haven’t paid rent in three months!”
“Derelict!” Allison shrieked again.
“I warned you, MacPherson.”
“Tina, come on.”
My phone started to ring again.
“For fuck’s sake! Can’t you put that thing on vibrate?” Allison was fuming.
“I’m kind of in the middle of something, Allison.”
“Allison?” Tina said. “The Allison?”
“Oh, so you’re telling your disgusting landlord about me now?”
“Hey, watch your mouth, bitch,” Tina said.
“I just told Tina we weren’t seeing each other anymore.”
“Then what the fuck is this?” Allison said.
“I don’t know. I haven’t had time to process this.”
“I don’t care what you process, MacPherson, I need you out by the end of the day. No excuses. No exceptions.”
My phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Even when there came a timely pause, the goddamn thing would start up again.
“Jesus, Billy, I can’t take it anymore, just answer your phone.”
“In a minute.”
“Fine, I’ll do it.”
But Allison was through waiting. She crossed to the other side of the bed and looked at my phone. “It’s your mother.”
“Don’t answer it.”
She fucking answered it!
“Oh, hello, Mrs. MacPherson!” she said.
“Hang up,” I told her.
She didn’t. Goddamned Allison.
I turned back to Tina. “Can’t we work something out? Maybe a payment plan? Or maybe I can use—“
She held up a hand for me to stop. “You can’t talk your way out of this one.” She leaned in so close I could smell her dreadful perfume. It was sharp and caustic, as if she’d run out of White Diamonds and used a mixture of ammonia and bleach. She set a hand on my shoulder and tried to look as compassionate as possible. “Look,” she whispered. “I’m sorry your restaurant closed down. I really am. Shit happens. It happens to all of us. But if I let people pay me in sympathy points I’d be out on my keister, too. I’m not trying to be a hardass, MacPherson. I just can’t be a landlord and a friend.”
Allison shoved the phone in my face. “Your mother needs to talk to you.”
“You don’t say.” I took the phone and put it to my ear. “Mom?”
“Billy?” came the temperate voice that had tried its hardest to shape my childhood.
“Yes, Mom, it’s Billy.”
“Who was that who answered?”
“It was nobody.”
“Oh, so I’m nobody now?” Allison folded her arms across her chest nearly dropping the throw blanket. “You’re such a fucking asshole.”
“Was that Allison?”
“Mom, what is it?”
“Are you two back together?”
There was a pause. “Thank god.” Another pause. “She cheated on you, you know?”
“I know, Ma.”
“There was always something wrong with that girl.”
“What’s going on?” Allison whispered. “Did she ask about me? What’d she say?”
“Nothing. Go sit down.”
“Why is Allison in your apartment, dear?”
“Mom, I’m kind of in the middle of something.” I looked at Tina, then to Allison. “Some things,” I clarified.
“End of the day, MacPherson,” Tina barked.
“Who was that?”
“That’s also nobody.”
“Out by the end of the day!”
“Honey, are you all right?”
“I’m fine. What’s going on?”
“Do you want me to call back, dear?” She said it so softly I could barely make out the words. Her voice was steady, but full of sadness.
“Mom, what is it?”
“I can call you back, it’s no problem.”
Allison was within an inch of me. I could feel her breath on the back of my neck. Tina hadn’t moved. The thick stench of her perfume was making me dizzy.
“Well, I just wanted to call and let you know that your father died.”
My eyes narrowed. I gnawed at the inside of my cheek, clicked the roof of my mouth with my tongue, and said, “...What?”
“I thought you should know that your father is dead.”
I searched my mind for something poignant to say, but all I could muster was, “What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s dead.”
I scratched the back of my head and felt the sheet fall to the floor. Cold air nipped at my buttocks and I saw Tina’s eyes fall to my groin. She looked at it a long time. Too long. She just stared at it with these wide, disgusting eyes.
“You wanna holster that thing, MacPherson?” she said.
I ignored her. “So Dad is dead?”
“Well...when did he die?”
“Early this morning.”
“We don’t know.”
“What does that mean?”
There was a painful silence before she said, “It means we don’t know. He was watching the Trailblazers game—you know how worked up he always got about the Trailblazers. Anyway, he was watching the Trailblazers game and I was doing the dishes in the kitchen—Your father never helped out around the house, you know that. It’s a miracle this place ever stayed clean. Anyway, I heard him shout something about a foul ball or a home run or a strikeout, I can never figure that game out. Honestly, why does that game have so many rules? I can understand if—”
“Oh, right. Where was I? Oh, right, your dead father. Anyway, I didn’t hear him for a while, so I went in to check on him and he was dead. Just lying there...”
“Are you still there, dear?”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“About Dad being dead?”
“Yes, I heard.”
“Oh, all right, I didn’t know if your phone cut out or something.”
“No, I got it.”
“Well, I’d better call your brother and let him know. I’m sure he’s up by now. He works so hard, you know?”
“Yes, Mom. I know.”
“So, let’s see: today’s Monday and the funeral is on Wednesday, so it’s probably best if you come out tonight...or early tomorrow morning—whichever is cheaper. Flights are so expensive nowadays. Can you believe all the taxes they impose? Anyway, let me know if you need me to pick you up from the airport. You never give me enough notice when you need a ride from—”
“—I don’t know if I can make it home, Ma.”
“Oh...” she trailed away. “Okay.”
“You know, Dad and I never really saw eye to eye on things and—”
“—We don’t have to get into it right now.”
I imagined her shifting uncomfortably in that frayed green armchair she loved so much, picking at its ends and discarding the threads onto her outdated plaid carpet.
“I gotta tell ya, Ma, this whole conversation has been pretty bizarre.”
“Death is bizarre, so that would make sense.”
"Let me know if you can make it home.”
“And try and eat some fruits and vegetables. I know how you never get enough fruits and vegetables.” There was a dull click on the other end and my mother was gone.
I set the phone on the counter and snatched the bottle of whiskey back up. This time I took a long, hard sip, letting a shot’s worth spill down my chin and onto my chest. I realized I was still naked and Tina was still staring. Allison was behind me, a hand covering her mouth. She had these tears in her eyes that absolutely baffled me. She’d met my father all of two times. And each of those times she called him “a rotten son of a bitch.” This, needless to say, didn’t sit well with my father, and the two had a great deal of trouble being amicable.
“Billy, I’m...” she began to say.
“Get out of my apartment.”
“Get out of my apartment.”
“Because you are a cancer on the asshole of life, Allison. Because you make my world a living hell. Because you cheated on me with a pimple-riddled, mouth-breathing NYU student! And I don’t want you in my apartment one second longer for fear the entire building should crumble to pieces because of your nega-fucking-tivity. So for the last time: Get. Out. Of. My. Apartment.”
“It’s not your apartment for long,” grunted Tina.
I ripped the throw blanket from Allison’s torso and pushed her naked body into the hall. She let one final shriek of ire pierce my ears before Tina shouted, “End of the day, MacPherson! End of—“ But Tina’s threat and Allison’s cries were muffled as soon I slammed the door in their faces.
Outside, I noticed it had begun to snow.
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