The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
Subscribe and Save up to 55%
I washed the dishes and the ashtrays and the silverware and the mugs, then rinsed them off and set them on the counter on paper towels to dry. The fan faced the other part of the room, so it was hot by the sink; I could feel beads of sweat on my forehead and temples. A large dark insect had flown in off Eighth Avenue that morning and it made occasional shuddery swoops across the room. I could never find it when it landed and I didn’t know quite what it was or if I was afraid of it.
The TV was on but ten minutes into the program the picture disappeared, leaving a thin white line across the screen. Every six minutes or so, a bus would pull up to the stop beneath my window and when it roared away I couldn’t hear anything else for a minute. It was just after nine and I hadn’t noticed when the sun set.
I tried to flick off the TV but the battery in the remote was going. I jiggled it, aimed, and pressed, and shook it, aimed, and pressed, and aimed it backward and pressed, and finally flung it down and turned the TV off manually. The phone sat on an empty cardboard carton. I dialed home but it just rang and rang.
I tugged the abutilon tree away from the wall so I could pull out the chair and sit at my desk and go through my papers. The lamp was unplugged because the TV was plugged in; when I switched plugs a roach ran out and I stamped on it.
I put on the Keely-and-Smith cassette I had gotten in the mail that day. The room pulsed with a jazzy beat and I turned back to my desk, thinking about the corpse of the roach on the bottom of my shoe.
My light cotton blanket, which I hadn’t needed in weeks, was draped over the back of my chair. I started sorting through my bills. While I was pondering the interest on my loan, which seemed to be increasing, I felt something crawling lightly up and down my back. I slowly turned my head and saw that it was a long fingering branch of the abutilon. When I bought this plant two years ago, it was six inches high in a three-inch pot and cost a dollar-fifty. It got bigger and bigger and went through five repottings and kept flinging out these long dangling branches, until one woody shoot was level with my eye. I keep telling myself I should be happy it’s happy, but sometimes it makes me nervous.
I dialed my sister’s number. It rang several times, then the line went dead.
I finished with my bills — finished looking at them, I mean — and I pawed through my notes for a minute: things to do, lists of books I meant to read, phone numbers, things not to eat. The Keely-and-Smith cassette ended and I put on a Pat Suzuki album. It was warped, and did funny things to Pat’s vibrato, which was funny enough to begin with. One of my scraps of paper had the phone number for a P. Suzuki on West Fifty-seventh Street that I had copied out of the phone book. Now seemed like the right time to try it. A recorded voice told me that the number had been disconnected. The stereo needle got stuck on the word lump, and I gave it a little push.
In the bathroom I noticed the soap had disintegrated from the heat and was forming little stalactites under the ceramic dish. The toilet-paper roll, when I touched it, leapt off its holder and wheeled around on the floor. On a little ledge above the toilet paper was a glow-in-the-dark dinosaur that never had. I pitched it into the wastebasket, reassembled the toilet paper, and washed my hands with a sliver of soap.
There was a strange noise from the other room. A poster decorated with illustrations of fruit had fallen in a heap over the phone. I moved it aside and dialed my sister’s number again. There was no answer.
When I hung up, the phone rang, which made me jump. It was someone looking for a Walter and I told him he must have the wrong number. After I hung up I realized I could have pretended to be a Walter. The fan had developed a relationship with a white plastic bag on the table; the bag would puff up and move a quarter of an inch toward the edge of the table, then deflate with a sigh and rustle until the fan swung by it again. I watched for a minute or two and then elbowed my way past the abutilon to my desk. At the bottom of my stack of notes was a plain white envelope with photocopies of test results. I took them out and tried to make sense of them again: Polys 41. Lymphs 38. Eosin 2. The differential results are based on the examination of 200 white blood cells. Lymphocyte surface marker T4: 30%. Confidential report sent under separate cover.
A subway train went under the building and the books on the bookshelves shook. On the floor there was a note from my bank. Starting in August, free checking would be available only to those with a minimum average balance of three thousand dollars. As I picked up the phone, the white plastic bag finally slid off the table and onto the floor, making a small crepey noise. I dialed home again, but it just rang and rang and rang.