Room for Rent

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Two weeks later, Allen steps out of his bedroom, afraid of what he will find. He puts his luggage down and climbs into his snowmobile gear. L.A. Woman from the Doors is streaming up from the basement, loud enough for Allen to hear the scratches on the vinyl.

One look at the kitchen and he knows the twenty-minute talk he had with Greg was all for naught. Like talking to a teenager. The kitchen looks like it was hastily abandoned by a horde of college students. The garbage is overflowing with TV dinner wrappers, the latest a Hungry Man’s fried chicken combo. The dishes in the sink are piled up high and a sour, sewer-like smell wafts from them. The liquid in the coffee maker has the color (and most likely the consistency) of motor oil.

That’s it. No amount of advance rent is enough to deal with this. Allen stomps down the basement stairs, his anger rising with the music.

The basement is empty. The record player sits on the coffee table, an ancient model from the looks of it. Allen lifts the needle. It makes a satisfying rip sound. Greg’s bed is unmade and it is obvious he has not washed his sheets in the month he has been living under Allen’s roof. There are beer bottles strewn around the bed, like an alcoholic’s idea of an obstacle course. A half empty bottle of Jose Cuervo sits on a dusty ledge, next to a few loose pills. Greg’s laptop sits on a desk, also covered by dust. It is unlikely that he has written a single line of his novel.

I’m living with a junkie, Allen thinks and rushes up the stairs. He finds Greg standing at the edge of the driveway. He stands behind a tree, his vacant stare fixed on the road. When he hears Allen approach, he whips around. His hand goes to his waist. With horror, Allen sees the butt of a gun.

“Is that a gun?”

“I have a permit for it, don’t worry.”

“Did any of what I said last night sink in?”

“Oh, yes, the dishes. I’ll get right to it, sir.”

Allen realizes that what he took for a vacant stare all these weeks is really a drug-induced stupor. God knows what he’s taking.

“All right, then. I’m going to Westchester for a couple of days. When I get back on Thursday, I want this house spotless, understand? I’m serious. These shenanigans stop now.”

“Shenanigans,” Greg says, as if he has never heard the word before. “Of course. Drive safely. Don’t forget to wear your seatbelt.”

Lyle waits until Allen’s snowmobile fades into the distance before going back to the house. He is sick and tired of Allen and his yuppie bullshit, but for now he has to deal with it. Ironic, how he spent his whole life avoiding law-abiding people like Allen and now, on the run, he is forced to live with one.

Placing the .45 on the counter, he surveys the kitchen. He supposes he has to clean up, he has no choice if he wants to keep the peace. But not tonight. Tonight, he is too frazzled to do anything but decompress. Try to forget his trap. He follows his usual afternoon routine: four Xanax pills and Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks on the record player. The Montreal live performance. It always does the trick, especially when followed by a few shots of Jose Cuervo.

He sets up the record player in the living room and throws ice cubes in a rocks glass. Whoever said drugs do not solve problems never had to deal with one one of the scariest gangsters of Canada looking for him. In this situation, it was essential that you quieted the voice that said you had no chance. That being found was only a matter of time. You needed chemicals to keep the faith.

He watches the sun set in the living room and wonders: when was the last time he was free of the chokehold of paranoia? At eight, he feels hunger pains and sets about making dinner. It’ll be simple. He no longer has to please Eddie, may he rest in peace.

Checking the freezer, he sees that he is out of TV dinners, which means he actually has to cook. He finds the bottle of olive oil on the shelf directly across from the top of the stairs (a stupid place to put a food shelf) and carelessly pours some into a pan. Oil seeps down the side of the bottle and he slams the cap on, then puts it back on the lower shelf where he found it. His back is already turned to it when the bottle tips over, spilling oil on the hardwood floor. Spreading slowly, the puddle begins to drip down the carpeted stairs.

A half-hour later Lyle grabs his plate of chicken with pasta. He holds it in one hand. In the other, a bottle of tequila and a glass. He will take his plate to his room instead of eating in the dining room. It’s far too depressing. Then he will count his money. That always soothes him.

Not bothering to turn off the record player, (the record will end when it ends), he takes his first step down the basement stairs. His other foot, which has been standing in the puddle of olive oil slips and for a long second, Lyle has the feeling that someone has yanked his feet out from underneath him. The last thought which goes through his head before it cracks open on the top of the stairs is how it feels the way he did when he jumped off the diving board as a teenager. A feeling of weightlessness, followed by a splash.

Which Lyle no longer hears.

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