Hey, Bob, Aren’t Ya Talkin’?

Back home, seething in the furnace room at the far end of their apartment, picking up snippets from his wife and sister-in-law in the kitchen, Bob can’t find his treasured cot behind the solvents and paint he had stacked against the furnace.

“Bob, honey, I haven’t seen your cot!”

A cloud of dust drops past Bob’s still face. His grandpa died on that cot behind enemy lines in a foxhole under artillery fire, and years later Bob rescued it after his grandma, unable to sell it on eBay for 24 dollars, threw it over the fence.

 The kitchen voices lower and only you and I can hear Bob’s wife and her sister, “It’s been two weeks since Bob got fired from the rec center, Markie, and he’s still a wreck. He gets pissed at me every time I pull a fast one or make a wisecrack. Like at the eye doctor yesterday.”

“Oh, Donya. Do you think he’s cheating on you?”

Bob bulls past them with his bowling ball bag, elevators down, and strolls around the splashy swimming pool, eyeing every beige brick corner and enclosure and scanning the colored gravel beneath their third story balcony, before snooping through a stand of folded patio umbrellas. He enters the rec room through the back door. Stopping alongside the RC machine, he puts down his bag and eavesdrops on two men at the pool table.

 “Karen tells me I don’t respect women,” Toddles says to Jerry, rolling his stick on felt. “So I go, ‘Bingo, toots. Why else would I keep marrying them?’”

Jerry shakes his head at the TV hanging on the wall behind the pool table. “Well, at least your wife gets you to explain yourself.”

“No, not my Karen. Karen Farner in 12 B.”

 “The Ghost of Potter’s Field” goes to a commercial.

Bob steps out from hiding and crosses the green sculptured carpet and pulls a stick from the rack. He leans forward, pressing the tip against his tanned chin dimple, and stares at a painting of a black carousel horse against an orange sky.

“Hey, Bob, aren’t ya talking?”

“Cutthroat it is.” Jerry racks the balls under green illuminated shades, then gives a TV commercial a lazy raspberry sigh. “You break, Bob. Bob?”

Bob was already hunching past the pool table and glancing over the marigold baseboard he had painted last summer. He turns into the hallway, walks its length, then grabs the gold knob on the storage room door. Locked. He walks back to the men’s restroom. Also locked. He knocks.

Jerry lights a cigarette and talks low through smoke. “Me and Bob were waiting for the elevator this morning and he asked me if I had a key to the storage area under the stairs. I told him no. I ended up taking the stairs. Must be trouble in paradise.”

Toddles smiles at a wet teenage girl that skitters in from the pool, buys a soda, then leaves. “Must be time I give Donya a try.”

Bob pounds the lemon yellow restroom door until a painting of a nunnery falls off the wall behind him, revealing a black mold stain.

To the right of this stain, Jarvis, the new custodian, slips out of the women’s restroom, and shuts the door. “Hey, easy on that door, pal. I just painted it last week.”

Bob turns around with a curling lip and a retracting chin.

“Sour grapes, eh?” Jarvis strokes his grayish beard and studies Bob’s sunburnt face. “Watch I don’t lodge a loitering complaint with the complex association. Last I heard, you weren’t welcome around here.”

Bob growls back to the pool table and grabs his stick and scatters the triangle. The men take turns.

Donya sweeps around the hallway corner with a patch over her right eye. “The toilet won’t flush – Bob? Is that you? I thought you went bowling.”

She navigates to a black leather couch and sits as Toddles shoots a ball off the table that bounces and rolls across the carpet and passes between her ankles. “In the men’s restroom, Donya?”

She looks at the ceiling tiles. “Who said that?”

Toddles places his stick between his legs and finger plows his hair. “Bob was pounding on the men’s door before Jarvis came out of the women’s, so naturally I assumed, what with your vision altered, that you found yourself trapped while searching for me.”

“Play teams?” Jerry says, extracting a relieved sigh from Donya, and she doesn’t move her legs when he retrieves the ball.

Bob huffs into the hallway and to the men’s restroom, still locked. He goes back and faces Donya on the couch and yanks a crushed pack of Viceroys from his pocket and chomps one out.

“Hey, you!” Jarvis rocks out of the hallway carrying two cans of Xylene like caught fish. “You can’t store your huffers under the stairs anymore, Bobby boy. You lost that privilege. There’s more under there you need to haul off. I plan to move my cot and TV and porta-bar in there. It ain’t out by six, you can chase it down the toilet.” He turns to Donya, grinning yellow-green. “Afternoon, ma’am.”

“Who’s there?”

“Your shot, Bobby boy,” Toddles says with a chuckling leer at Donya, tapping Bob’s butt with his stick.

Bob shoots and sinks the cue ball in a side pocket.

“Bob, you’re high balls.”

Jerry sizes up expressions. “Jarvis, Donya says the men’s toilet won’t flush.”

“Did I say men’s?”

Bob raises an eyebrow.

 “That tears it.” Donya lights a smoke and stands and glares to the left of Bob. “I am not about to put up with anymore of your infantile silent treatment. Are you a monk? Knock it off. And why am I being hassled about which restroom I used? Men. Markie was right.”

“How is Markie?” Toddles asks her, leering and chuckling again.

“Who? Oh. She’s fine.” She adjusts her eyepatch. “She’s around here somewhere.”

 Jarvis appears with cans in a box and head in a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Hey, Bob, how about all this camp fuel?”

Jerry says, “Hey, Jarvis, how about unlocking the men’s restroom? I’d like to use it.”

Jarvis blows smoke and mutters as he drops the box on the pool table and jangles to the restroom.

Bob and Jerry follow. Jerry says, “Why did Donya lock the door behind her?”

 “The blind broad?” After trying red, blue, and orange keys, Jarvis turns to them. “You ladies’ll have to use the women’s. Brown key’s missing.”

Bob’s tan face burns red, and he kicks in the lemon door. Vacant. Then he spins and kicks in the women’s door. Donya’s sister Markie looks up at them from the toilet, a mirror, cocaine, and half of a McDonald’s straw, and says in a voice as flat as an old grave, “Uh, this is a private party, gentlemen.” Then she laughs like a mired tractor.

Jarvis shoves Bob against the mold stain and starts strangling him. “You’re gonna pay for those doors on your dime, then you’re gonna clean out under the stairs so I can quit living in my truck! That’s right! My wife kicked me out because some crazy broad keeps calling the house! A real sleaze ball! Said she knew all about me and planned to wreck my career and marriage just like–”

A fire extinguisher whacks the back of Jarvis’s head, and he hits the carpet with a moldy cheek. Donya returns the red tank to its wall mount next to the RC machine.

Bob crawls back into the main room coughing and gagging and leans against the couch.

Toddles and Jerry scramble over, but Bob refuses treatment. Jerry rushes to the lounge for a pitcher of martinis, Toddles to the women’s restroom.

“Bob, are you okay?” Donya says, kneeling. “Bob? Jarvis nearly killed you.”

“He did? I’m surprised you noticed, seeing as how your eye patch is on the wrong eye.” He coughs, pulls at his rumpled neck hole, and blinks in sweat. “And the cocaine must have worn off because you sure took your sweet time saving me. Letting Jarvis get out his spiel to the point where it smelled dangerous. Sounded like he was about ready to spill some implications, huh? Then, wow, you got real concerned about me. My blind savior hits one out of the park for her sucker old man. You might have to whack your eye doctor next. Pretty obvious you gave away Grandpa’s cot so you could snuggle up with that ol’ codger under the stairs. I’ll always remember how Jarvis the custodian at the rec center would have killed me if only he’d kept his big fat mouth shut, and how you–”

“Bob, shut up.”

Jeff Blechle

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *