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Authors: Sam Pink

Rontel (7 page)

BOOK: Rontel
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A marriage.

In which he agreed to gently make my sandwich as I directed.

No, commanded.

The manager started yelling at the customer behind me in line.

Vutt kind bread
,” he yelled.

The customer looked hurt and scared.

Felt like turning to her and saying, “More like, ‘what un-kind bread,’ eh?’”

And I thought that twice as I was looking at her.

And she noticed me right before I looked away—so it seemed like I was trying to look at her then not get seen.

Just felt terrible, yuh.

The employee making my sandwich said, “Vutt else for you, man dude.”

He smiled, gently sliding my sandwich across a cutting board.

The tips of his latex gloves hung off a little.

His latex gloves looked so elegant.

And yes, I was happy to be with him, working together.

I began to use different words for including each ingredient.

I said, “Some onions on there, please.”

He said, “Onions, yes yes.”

Then, “And, hit me with some tomato.”

He said, “Tomato”—gently applying tomato slices with his elegant latex gloves.

“Then slap on some cucumber.”

“Cucumber, yes,” he said.

A dance song played over the PA.

“Gas it up with some spinach.”

“Spinach, yes.”

“Yes,” I said.

There was another employee next to him, making someone else’s sandwich.

The tips of her latex gloves had shriveled.

I said, “Oh man, you got them sizzle tips”—pointing at her gloves by tapping the glass blocker.

It felt weird to have initiated a conversation.

Paralyzed me for a moment.


She smiled.

She raised her eyebrows and said, “Vutt.”

I pointed at her gloves.

“Your gloves,” I said. “That’s from bacon, right. You made bacon and then it burnt the tips of your gloves. That would happen to me when I worked at a sandwich place. ‘Sizzle tips.’”

She smiled and looked at the gloves and nodded. “Oh, j’yes.”

“It hurts, right,” I said, smiling for some reason.

“Oh,” she said. “J’yes, hoort bad.”

“Sizzle tips,” I said, then continued interacting with the man putting together my sandwich. “Some spinach and then we’re good I think.”

“Already spinach, boddy,”

“All right yeah,” I said. “That’s good.”

He had both hands on the cutting board, looking down at the sandwich.

We were almost done, and I think he realized it.

Looked like he wouldn’t be able to release this one.

How many sandwiches had he made then been too sad to release.

Or was this the first.

Did I break him.

Did I crush him, tear away his beloved.

As he handed me the wrapped-up sandwich, a customer at the beginning of the line said, “Whatchoo thank, o’boy like me wouldn’t want some banana peppas onnat shit, put that shit onnat nah. C’mawn, mang.” Then he laughed like “heh ah” and put his hands in his pockets, sniffing.

Paying for my food, I imagined myself accepting change from the cashier then floating sideways out of the sandwich place.

Just, out the door and up into the sky.

Not too fast, not too slow.

With enough time to fully enjoy it.


When I got home, there was a note underneath the apartment door.

The note was handwritten on lined stationary with flowers and birds on it.

It read: “Hey could you please please please stop smoking. It’s stinking up the hallway and it makes me want to vomit. Please, it’s bad. Thanks!”

I took the note inside and sat on the couch.

My brother was sleeping on the floor—his shirt off and underneath his head for a pillow with Rontel curled up on his chest.

I read the note again.

It hurt.

Hurt so bad I almost threw my sandwich against the wall.


The exclamation point stung.

Neither my brother nor I smoked.

We’d been wrongly accused.

Now wait just a second, hold on there.

Just because there are birds and flowers on your stationary and your handwriting is nice don’t mean you can come to my floor and just shit in my mouth.

I’m innocent, muffucker.

Stop shitting in my mouth like this with your damned lies!

I graphically imagined myself stomping someone’s face, yelling, “This is
floor, muf

Then I grabbed a red pen off the windowsill and wrote “die” on the note in big scary letters and put the note halfway underneath the door of my neighbor across the hall, for him to find and worry about, haha!

(Plus I’s pretty sure the note was for him.)


Without any real effort I’d been able to avoid meeting and knowing a single person in my building except Enrique and Big Moms.

Oh, and the person directly across from me.


I always saw Doug coming in and out of the building—usually with a rolled cigarette in his mouth, carrying some kind of motorized bike he’d created from a mountain bike and what looked like a lawnmower engine.

Every time I encountered him he was already saying something, as if we’d been talking.

Like, “Fuckin’ has to be here somewhere, fuckin’ lost my cellphone you know cuz I borrowed it out, ha.”

Or: “So now I have to get a new stroller at the fuckin’ flea market.”

My only extended interaction with him was one morning, really early.

There was a knock at my door.

It was Doug.

He was talking fast already.

He said, “Oh man, so’m fuckin’ trying to pack to go to Boston and shit—me and the kid have to meet the grandparents there—and my wife’s already there, fuckin’ and I gotta pack and get going but I have to go out and get some things and I don’t want to get my kid ready and take him to the store, can you, do you think you could watch him for a little bit while I go out.”

I looked at him.

I was trying to think about how many times I’d interacted with him.

Did I know him.

Did I really know anyone.

Just kidding/who gives a shit.

I said, “All right yeah. I’ll be over.”

And I thought about how low my voice was and how bad my breath was and how that might be scary to a baby—like, just this thing with a deep voice and bad breath, watching over him.

Would the baby internalize the experience as a monster that then followed him throughout life in different forms.

Just kidding/hope so.

Doug looked confused.

He said, “Oh ok, yeah, you can watch him over here I guess. I’s going to bring him over, but yeah.”

“You were going to bring your baby over here,” I said.

Rontel was at my feet with his forehead against my leg, twisting his head over and over.

My neighbor said, “All right man, hurry up and come over. He’s a little sweetheart but I gotta get going too so, ha,” and he tapped my chest with the back of his hand.

I put on a shirt and pants and went over.

Doug was walking around his apartment, moving shit around, knocking shit over.

He said, “Man, my wife would fuckin’ kill me if she knew what this place looked like when I showed it to you ha, but no, it’s fine man.”

The crib was in Doug’s bedroom.

He showed me into the bedroom and said, “Here, let me introduce you t’is lil shithead here.”

The baby immediately looked at me and smiled.

A few months old maybe.

“Aw look at that smile,” Doug said, touching the baby’s chin. “He’s just fuckin’ witya though.”

I thought—This baby is fucking with me.

Doug returned to walking around, looking for something.

I stood by the crib.

A big cat walked past my legs then jumped up on a few things and was next to me, perched on the crib.

The cat stared at me, making a really low purring sound.

From halfway inside a closet, Doug said, “Aw now that shithead wants your attention too. Man, Jesus. It’s all about you I guess, ha.”

By the crib I noticed a terrarium with newspaper ripped up in it.

“What is this,” I said. “What’s in the glass thing.”

“Tarantula,” my neighbor said. “He’s cool too. Roy.”

I looked at the baby, then the cat, then the glass cage where the tarantula hid.

I thought—These are the days when the tarantula stays hidden.

My neighbor put his head into the doorway to his bedroom and said, “All right man, be right back. Fuck. I gotta get to the grandparents’place, sheez. They wanna see him. They haven’t seen him. My wife’s Jewish. They’re all connected man. Her dad’s fucking rich. He has a plane or some shit.”

“Oh, a plane,” I said, looking at the baby—who’d begun pumping his legs up and down, lying in place on his back.

Hey, you’re a baby.

You little baby you.

Who’s a little baby, is it you.

“Yeah, a fuckin’ plane,” Doug said. “All right, be back. He likes that purple duck by you there.”

And he left, slamming the door and running down the stairs.

I stood there looking at the baby, then the cat, then petting the cat, then looking at the tarantula cage.

Where am I.

Felt like I just wanted to sleep on the floor and hope nothing bad happened.

I imagined myself getting down onto the floor and saying to myself, “Hope nothing bad happens,” then the cat lifts the tarantula out of the cage and feeds it to the baby—lifting the tarantula from its cage, the cat walks over to the crib on his hind legs, blesses the baby with the spider then feeds the spider to the baby, whole, putting his paws over the baby’s mouth to make sure the spider is eaten.

This is a cute baby—I thought.

I’ll give you that.

There’s someone in this room who’s a cute baby, and it’s not me.

Is it you.

Look at me, tell me, is it you.

I think it is.

I kept smiling at him and he kept smiling at me, pumping his legs up and down, his arms out to the sides in flying motions, lying on his back staring at me.

His hands were in complete fists except the smallest fingers, which he kept extended, and which were very small.

I picked up the stuffed purple duck by the crib and waved it over the baby.

He smiled.

Started laughing and squealing.

He didn’t have any teeth.

Just gums.

Look at you—I thought.

You don’t have any teeth.


The cat kept trying to get my attention too.

“And you,” I said. “You’re a shithead.”

I felt pretty happy.

Had the urge to pick up the cat and get in the crib for my neighbor to find us all angelically asleep together when he returned—but then I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep and I’d get caught peeking when my neighbor looked in on us.

I petted the cat’s head.

He was purring a lot and twisting his head against my palm.

“You silly bitch,” I said.

Then focused on waving the purple duck again.

The baby liked it.

He just stared and smiled at it for a long time.

Then his face became serious, and he kept pumping his legs up and down, staring at the purple duck.

The diapers made a sound as he pumped his legs and I created a drumbeat in my head to the rhythm.

I felt at peace with the universe.

No, I didn’t feel that.

I pinched the baby’s toe.

He kept laughing.

“Your toe feels weird,” I said. “Ew, no offense.”

Then I couldn’t stop laughing.

Uh, is there a little baby anywhere here, I’m looking for a little baby.

Is there a little baby anywhere around here, did you see one.

I’m looking for a little baby.

You little baby.

“Pardon me I’m looking for a cute little baby,” I said. “Has anyone seen one.

BOOK: Rontel
5.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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