Archive for March 5th, 2009


Fate Pays The Rent (Ninth Installment)

Clement took a chicken tikka masala dinner out of the freezer and set it on the counter. He turned the oven to ”preheat” and the temperature to 350, opened the oven door and checked to see that the thermometer was still on the middle rack. He pulled a cherry pie from the refrigerator, measured 1/8 of it, cut the slice and placed it on a Blue Willow plate along with a fork. He pushed the button on the Mr. Coffee and when two cups had brewed through he poured it into a mug, added four sugars and a tablespoon of milk, then carried plate and mug into the dining room to wait for the oven to get up to temperature. He ate the pie and drank the coffee slowly, wiping his mouth with a napkin after each bite. When he’d finished, he filled the sink with warm soapy water and placed the plate, mug, and fork in it, put the dinner in the oven, and walked to the bedroom. He hung his jacket on its wooden hanger in the closet, nestled his shoes on the shoe-rack, and changed into his pajamas.
“What if I went into that office tonight? I told Jeff I was going in tomorrow and maybe that was a mistake. For that matter, how do I know this guy is even going to be gone for two days? Sure, Dolores told me but maybe that was a trick. Maybe she told me to come back in two days because she wanted to allow time to talk to him herself or maybe she’s trying to work out some arrangement with Mr. Gomez about the building. She obviously didn’t buy my story about being a supervisor working for Mr. Gomez. Does she really think I’m trying to take his building away?” The oven pinged and Clement carried the dinner and a clean fork back to the dining room.
When he had finished eating, he rinsed the dishes and silverware. He drained the sink, wiped it out, and filled it with hot soapy water. He washed and rinsed each item, turning it several times, before placing it in the drainer to air-dry.
He walked into the dining room and removed a calculator, a box of checks, a box of privacy envelopes, and a book of stamps from the left-most part of the buffet drawer. He positioned everything on the dining room table and walked toward the front door. He was just taking the bills from the clothespin near the door, where he stored them all week, when the phone rang. Clement listened, his hand still on the clothespin, as his answering machine took the call.
“Clement, this is Mari. Please pick up if you’re there. I really need to talk to you.”
Clement picked up the receiver and had barely time to say “Hello” before she said, “I’m sorry to bother you. I’m sure you’re really busy.”
“I was just cleaning up after dinner.” He put the bills on the dining room table and walked into the kitchen to mix another cup of coffee.”
“You’re so good about that. My mom didn’t teach me much about cleaning and I have to admit I haven’t put a lot of work into learning it on my own.”
“Your place looks good.”
“Mine looks okay but you’re so good you could probably do it for a living.” Clement heard her sip something and took a drink of his coffee. “You know, Clement, Jeff told me about a little cleaning job you’re doing for us.”
“He shouldn’t have told you that. We’re taking care of it.”
“I know you are. I bet you’ll be good at that kind of cleaning, too.” Another sip of her drink and another swallow of his coffee. “You know, since he did tell me and since you’re working so hard I thought maybe I should do something to show you how much I appreciate it.”
“Well, that’s nice of you but I haven’t even done the job yet.” A sip and quiet then Clement thought he heard female laughter in the middle distance. “Jeff said you were hanging out with some friends tonight.”
“Yep, he was right. Me and my girls are kickin’ it all right.” More laughter and farther away this time. “You and me oughta kick it some time.” She giggled.
“Where are you? Are you at your place?”
“No, I’m at Allison’s place. Why? You wanna come over?”
“No. I was just wondering how you were going to get home. You’re not driving are you?”
“Aren’t you sweet to be worrying about me? I don’t think Jeff realizes how good a friend you are. I’ll be okay though. Lora’s not drinking and she’s gonna give me a ride home. Or I could even stay here I guess.”
“That’s a good idea. If you stay there then you won’t have to drive back for your car in the morning.”
“You are so smart, Clement. It really was sweet of you thinking about me being safe and asking how I was gonna get home. You know what? Jeff didn’t even ask me.”
“He knows you better than I do. He probably already knew you’d make arrangements so he wasn’t worried.”
“I don’t think that’s it at all. I don’t think he cares as much about me as you do. You’re the one going after the pictures, right?”
“Well, yeah.”
“Well, I’m his girlfriend so don’t you think he should be doing it?”
“Jeff has a lot of other things on his plate right now. They’re really riding us at work lately and I’m afraid that poor Jeff is taking most of the heat.”
“Oh poo. He never said anything to me about that. I’ll bet he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t care. You’re the one who asked if I’d be okay. You’re the one who’s getting my pictures back. You should be my boyfriend.”
Clement heard a door open near her and footsteps unsteadily crossing the floor. “Mari? What the hell you doing in here, girl? You drunk-dialing?”
Mari giggled. “I’m not drunk. I’m just talking to my friend Clement. I hardly ever get to see him alone because we always end up with Jeff along. We should go someplace by ourselves, Clement. We really oughta kick it.”
Clement heard Mari snort then start coughing. Her friend pounded her on the back and said into the phone, “Mari’s having a little trouble standing, talking, and laughing all at the same time so we’re gonna have to hang up now.”
“Is she all right?”
“Oh she will be fine. Right now though she’s a little impaired.” A giggle and a denial from Mari followed. “She says she’s good to go but we’re gonna drag her into the other room and make her play Sleeping Beauty for a while.”
“If she isn’t okay, you’ll call me right?”
“Who is this again?”
“My name is Clement. I’m a friend of Mari and Jeff but mostly of Jeff.”
“She called you just now?”
“Yes. Can I give you my number?”
“You can give it to me but I don’t guarantee I’ll remember it. I’m about ready to find a soft place to fall my own self.”
“Can you write it down?”
“No, because there ain’t no damn pen by the phone. Can’t ever find a pen by the phone. Maybe people don’t put a pen there because of cordless phones going all over the place. You think so?”
“It’s really hard to tell. Hey, even if she called me my phone number should still be in the phone’s memory now. Right?”
“Honey, you are asking the wrong girl about that. I couldn’t tell you that if I was stone-cold sober. Which I’m not.” She chuckled.
“Okay, if anything goes wrong like somebody can’t drive Mari home or she tries to leave on her own, please call me.”
“You gonna come for her?”
“You bet. What’s your name?”
“You bet, Lisa.”

Clement turned off the lights in the living room, dining room and kitchen. He turned off the lights in the bedroom, climbed into bed and pulled the covers up to his chest before tucking them under his arms. He lay there thinking about anything but Mari and the phone call. After an hour, he got out of bed and snapped the light on. He walked to the dresser and pulled open the top left drawer. At the bottom was a light blue envelope addressed in loopy girlish handwriting. He took the envelope out and plopped down on the bed.
“You’re so stupid. I can’t believe you’re still so stupid. After all you’ve been through you still haven’t learned that a girl like her doesn’t really want anything to do with you. Lisa was right. She was drunk-dialing. That’s why she called you. Why do you think she was laughing so much?” He opened the envelope and removed and unfolded the letter.
“Dear Clement,
Thanks for helping me with all my History homework. I’ve always pretty much hated history but you made it kind of fun. You made it sound like you knew everybody and we were just talking about the parties on the weekend.
Which brings me to the hard part of this. Um, I know I told you a lot that I like you and I think you’re really cool and maybe because I told you that you thought we were going to the Sadie Hawkins Dance together. Maybe I even kind of asked you to go. But the thing is… I can’t go to the dance with you. I can’t go to the dance with anybody. We’re gonna be moving to Chicago in a couple weeks and my parents want me to stop being friends with people so when we move it won’t be so hard to leave.
Some people are really jealous cuz you and I have been hanging out together and they might say something really mean like the reason I went out with you is because Shannon and Holly dared me but if you don’t believe it what difference does it make.
Stay cool forever,
“She didn’t move though, did she? You poor sap. She was there all that year and all the next year. Who did she go to the dance with? It wasn’t you. Don’t be stupid again. Mari is Jeff’s girlfriend. Even if she wasn’t Jeff’s girlfriend she would not go out with you. Maybe big girls play Truth or Dare too only they get drunk first. Maybe she wasn’t just drunk-dialing; she was also on a dare. Don’t get lured.” He smiled for a minute, turned the light off again, put the letter under his pillow, and climbed under the covers. He closed his eyes and pictured himself whirling across Kansas in the tornado that carried Dorothy.
When the call came three hours later, Clement was sitting up and breathing hard at the second ring and by the third he was in the living room with the receiver in his hand. “Hello? Hello? I’ll be right there. Just give me the address.”
“Wait a minute. Is this Mo?”
“Mo? I think you have the wrong number.”
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems, you stupid son of a-“
Clement hung up before the caller could finish and sank onto the sofa in a daze. He sat there until his heart rate had slowed then he walked into the dining room and replaced the bill-paying supplies he’d abandoned earlier. He put away the newly dry dishes in the kitchen, walked into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. He opened the bedroom closet and stood, staring into it, for several minutes before putting on a pair of jeans, a black turtleneck, a watch cap, and some green sneakers. He looked at the clock on the bedside table as he finished tying his shoes.
“12:35. Does anyone sleep at night? Will I ever sleep through the night again? Do you have to be drunk at a slumber party to do it?” He dropped his keys into the pocket of a dark gray sweatshirt. “Should I leave a note?” He was almost to the car when he remembered the letter from Elise was still under his pillow. He went back into the house and the bedroom to retrieve it. He folded it in half and stuck it into the right back pocket of his jeans. The phone started to ring as he re-locked the front door but he kept walking.