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Alone in the Living Room
Alone in the Living Room
CALLIEL EVENTUALLY turned off the computer and left the study.
I wasn’t glad. In fact, the relief I felt went way beyond that. I had become a gibbering, blubbering, pleading moron, forced to watch video after video of my misdeeds and horrible decisions and temper tantrums, or the countless pathetic attempts to curry what little power and privilege I could to myself, or the numberless instances where my naked greed and downturned mouth were displayed, or my arrogant and haughty glare, which I once took great pride in cowing students and staff with, now shown for what it truly was: pitiful. Deplorable.
The very worst of it he saved for last. It was a brief affair I had twenty years ago with a sophomore named Delia Simpson. She was a pretty brunette who batted her long eyelashes at me one time too many, and I took advantage of her naivete and awe of my mathematical smarts. She was on student aid, and fell in love with me. I can’t bring myself to repeat what happened next, save this: I got her kicked out of school by some very devious and horrible machinations, and in the process ruined her reputation. The last I’d heard, she’d become an alcoholic and had spent time on the streets. She stalked me for years after, and eventually I got a restraining order on her. I never learned what became of her after that.
So here I was, bawling like a two-year-old. Calliel disposed of his beer bottles (four in all), filled a glass of tap water and downed it, then turned and left the kitchen, switching off the lights behind him. He slumped into what I guessed was his bedroom, but I couldn’t find out, because I was suddenly disengaged from him once again. He emerged from its cavelike darkness a few minutes later in his underwear and disappeared into the bathroom. I heard a toothbrush saw back and forth in an open mouth, spitting, then his bladder emptying once more and the toilet flushing. He opened the door and went back into the bedroom. He appeared as exhausted as I was traumatized.
I was a bit panicked at this point. I felt like a helium balloon, and was terrified I’d fly up through the ceiling and into the night. The tether of his presence had become without my knowing it very comforting and reassuring. I thought once he slipped into bed I might reattach to him, where I’d float over him and watch him sleep for however long he intended to. I knew I wouldn’t sleep, and had readied myself for hours of utter boredom.
Hanging motionless in the living room, I frantically wished for that boredom, because it would be by far more comfortable than being out here by myself.
I considered that perhaps he was masturbating and that I’d reattach to him after he finished. After all, I didn’t get to watch him pee, did I? So he was beating his meat, and he’d summon me or tractor beam me or whatever after he blew his load. Sounded reasonable.
Or was it? Did angels masturbate? Did they have sex? I always found Christians’ hatred of sex appalling and ludicrous. If God created men and women and (for that matter) nature, then He necessarily created the means for all things to continue themselves. The pleasure of sex for itself, regardless if procreation was intended or not, would then be, given God’s existence, a great blessing. It was one reason I became a hardened atheist (pardon the pun). I just couldn’t put up with Christians’ shame-filled attitude about sex.
In any case, the thought that an angel was in the next room whacking off put a stopper on the tears. I was grateful.
“Make sure you’ve got tissue!” I yelled. “And hurry up! I’m getting bored out here!”
But there was no rhythmic rustling of the sheets or heavy breathing coming from the bedroom. I’m sure I would’ve heard it. It was dead silent (again, pardon the pun) out here in the living room.
Presently I heard steady breathing. He was asleep.
“Great,” I murmured. “Now what—”
What happened next I can’t adequately describe. I was in the living room, and then, the next moment, I wasn’t. I blinked, and felt a puff of very cold air sting my cheek, and then everything disappeared. My inner ear and tummy told me I was moving.
Was I leaving this vision? Was I about to smash down into the
Ocean? I waited for the moment I’d see black water rush up to
crush the life out of me.
I went to yell, but stopped. This wasn’t the sensation of falling. I was moving … laterally. To the right. Not down. And certainly not speedily.
I blinked again, and bam!—there I was, standing on hard ground!
I went to speak, but found I couldn’t. In fact, I was paralyzed. But also … not.
Cracked ground. I was staring at it. I felt myself leaning my forearms on something bumpy, hard, and uneven, and I felt a sure constriction about the top of my head and a seriously cold breeze blow into my left ear. That half of my head stung and felt like it was going numb.
I exhaled. It issued out of my lungs as mist and blew away with haste. I had something under my lower lip—bitter, awful.
“Whaddya got?” I heard myself say.
But that wasn’t my voice! It was Calliel’s! “I” spat. Chewing tobacco. “I” watched it hit the desiccated earth: a thick black glob of tobacco-filled saliva.
A man who had to be just feet away to the right answered: “Sorrel says the herd’s thirty miles west.”
Was I in Calliel’s body? Was I dreaming a dream with him? Was this what he was dreaming? It felt absolutely, terrifyingly real. I could even sense his anger as he said, “That’s that, then. Tomorrow morning.”
He looked at the man, who stared back. His friend was older and wore a black cowboy hat, one that looked like it had seen years of use, a sheepskin coat, and a checkered shirt over layers of undershirts. He had gloves on, and a bullwhip hung from his belt.
Surroundings: thorny scrub-brush, an old, faded-red barn maybe a half mile past the man’s left shoulder, and smallish brown hills on the horizon. Overcast, low, gray skies.
“We don’t need a range war,” the man said.
Calliel—I—growled. “That creek is ours, and that land too. You know damn well
ain’t gonna do a goddamn thing about it. He’ll sit on his hands like he always
I discovered then that I—or Calliel—was leaning against a fence. I—he—was wearing gloves and a sheepskin coat as well; I saw the tips of dirty black cowboy boots peeking out from under his—my—dust-covered work denims. He—I—stood up straight, and the vision faded, vanished.
I was back in the living room.
What the hell—? What was that? Was it an event from his past? Was Calliel a ranch hand or some such and got himself in a range war? I wondered when he died—what date it was. I never bothered asking him. He always seemed a bit out of place for modern culture. He was too honest, too forthright, utterly unschooled in the filthy urban art of couched language.
I heard him shift in bed. He emerged suddenly and shuffled into the bathroom. More peeing; the sound of the toilet flushing. He emerged yawning and sloped back into the bedroom.
My head was spinning. I wanted him to go back to sleep so I could “watch” more.
I waited, wondering how much time had passed. There wasn’t a clock within sight, but I was sure that it was hours later.
I heard him shift, and then I heard snoring. Soon after I was swallowed by a new vision.
I had a spoonful of soup in my grip. I was looking at it with delight. I mean, I could feel his, Calliel’s, delight. This was the best damn soup ever made. That’s what I felt that he was feeling.
It was vegetable soup of some kind, with what appeared to be bits of shredded chicken in it. Thick and hot and hardy. He blew on it to cool it, then shoved it in his mouth.
Wow. That was the best damn soup ever made!
He scooped up more and blew on it. Far too slowly.
“Oh, c’mon!” I yelled. “Man up! A burned roof of your mouth is good for you, builds character! Eat! Eat! Enough with the foreplay!”
So enraptured was he—was I—that it took some time for me to take in my surroundings.
He sat alone at a table large enough for four. The room was small. A fire crackled happily in a modest fireplace at the other end.
Just left of the hearth was a cozy stuffed chair under a brass lamp that shone out a homey yellow. To his right, a door. I saw these things as he saw them.
Over his left shoulder was a passageway, darkened. Behind him was, I assumed, the kitchen. The pleasant odor of baking bread wafted out of it.
There was a knock at the door.
Calliel wiped his mouth with a white cloth napkin and stood to get it. I could feel the anticipation in the bottom of his lungs, as though he’d been waiting for whomever it was and was very glad they had come.
He hurried to the door, opened it.
An older man (not the one who was with him at the fence) beamed at him. He wore a broad, toothy smile, the kind one reserves only for one’s very best friends. He looked vaguely familiar.
“Calliel!” he roared, and the two came together in a tight hug.
“Soup’s on,” said Calliel, releasing him. “You hungry?”
“A bowl of soup sounds delicious!”
The man walked in. Calliel closed the door behind him.
There was something about this old fellow. He was, like the soup, so compelling that I soon forgot about everything but him. I couldn’t figure out what it was.
He was plain enough: short salt-and-pepper hair parted on the right, a grizzled, wide, almost bulldog-like face, a shapeless nose and deep dimples when he smiled, which was often. His eyebrows were bushy and kind, his eyes dark and full of life. He was probably my height and fifty pounds heavier, with a round belly over strong legs. He wore clothing appropriate to his age, which was probably in his mid to late seventies. All in all, utterly unremarkable. Somehow, though, I couldn’t look away from him. It seemed I had seen him before, and tried to place him. Why was his face so familiar?
Calliel disappeared into his little kitchen, returning moments later with a bowl brimming with soup.
The vision faded away.
“Not again!” I yelled in the dark of the living room. “That’s no way to boost your ratings! Return me to the program!”
I don’t know why I said that, and laughed at my snark. It felt good to laugh again. To laugh without rancor or bitterness. Just joy. I laughed some more, just to hear myself. I had laughed damned few times the last months of my life.
It was then I noticed the living room wasn’t as dark as it had been earlier, before the visions began. There was a soft pink cast over the furniture. Dawn was coming.
Calliel was up maybe an hour later. He closed the door to the bathroom and I heard the shower go on. He took his time, eventually emerging with a blue towel around his waist. He’d shaved, and his brown hair was still dripping a little and tousled. I noticed several scars on his chest and upper arms—one looked like a bullet hole—and I asked aloud: “How—no, why—would angels have scars? Do you mean to tell me if I get into Heaven I’ll have to keep my bum knee or that getting injured there is just like it is here? How is that Heaven, then?”
Of course he didn’t hear me. He ambled back into his bedroom. Minutes passed.
I sailed like a skeet shot back over his shoulders. He’d dressed: a white long-sleeved shirt with those dorky cowboy buttons, blue jeans, and boots. He inspected himself in the mirror and brushed his hair, which he left wet. Water stains graced his wide shoulders.
He smiled at his reflection, and then sighed. The smile disappeared. I knew why.
I’ve got a pretty good memory. I wouldn’t say it’s photographic, but its damn close.
The day I first met Calliel he was wearing this exact outfit.He was about to head off to meet Dr. Ray Wilms for the first time. Dr. Ray Wilms, mathematics professor and unrepentant, sullen, and wrathful jerk.