Authors: Jay Allan Storey
Copyright © 2015 by Jay Allan Storey.
August 11, 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.
Jay Allan Storey/Non Sequitur Publishing
190 - 1027 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC V6E 4L2
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
The Arx/Jay Allan Storey. – 1st ed.
Two Unexpected Guests
It was Friday afternoon. Dinner was at 5:30. At 5:35 Frank Langer pulled up in front of his sister Janet’s house in the suburbs. At 5:40 he stood fidgeting in front of her door. At 5:42 he finally rang the doorbell. A few seconds later he was turning to leave when the door opened.
“Frank! It’s so good to see you!” It was Janet’s voice. “I was afraid you wouldn’t show.”
Frank turned back and attempted a smile. “Hi, Sis. Long time no see.”
After a quick hug from Janet he stepped across the threshold and the door slammed shut behind him. It was hard to breathe; the air was thicker than outside, like the house had been pressurized. He tugged on his tie, trying to get his breath. Janet took his coat and he plodded after her down the hallway to the living room.
He glanced over at the couch and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Seated where he’d expected to find Janet’s husband Chuck was a woman. She smiled and brushed back a lock of impeccably coiffed hair. Her skin was as smooth and immobile as a department store mannequin, and the colour of her eyelids matched her purple dress exactly.
He turned, hunting for an escape route, but his sister was blocking the hallway.
“Gloria,” Janet said. “This is my brother, Frank. Frank, this is my friend Gloria Hanon. Gloria works with me at Garland Cosmetics.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Gloria rose and presented her hand.
“Hi,” Frank said, shaking the tips of her fingers.
Janet headed for the kitchen. “I’ve got to check on the roast,” she said. “You two get acquainted.”
Frank excused himself and followed her.
“What the hell is this!” he whispered when they were out of hearing. “You said dinner.”
“Don’t be mad, Frank. She’s just a friend. She’s lonely, like you…”
“I’m not lonely.”
“Sheila’s been gone for six months. You’ve got to move on – get out there – start a new life. Gloria’s a single mother and…”
“You’re setting me up with a single mother!”
“Please don’t call it ‘setting you up’ – I’m just introducing you, that’s all.”
“What did you tell her about me? Did you happen to mention that I’m a loony?”
“You’re not a loony, Frank. I wish you wouldn’t say things like that. I told her the truth – that you were on stress leave from the force.”
“For a year?”
She turned away and grabbed a dish towel off a rack by the stove. “What happened to you would be enough to drive anybody a little crazy. Then Sheila leaves you. You just need time, that’s all.”
“Why didn’t you say anything about this before?”
Janet stared at the tiles on the kitchen floor.
“You knew I wouldn’t come, right?”
“Sometimes you have to help people help themselves,” she said to the tiles. She turned back and looked up at him. “I should have told you. But please stay. You don’t ever have to see Gloria again if you don’t want to. Just relax and we’ll have a nice time together.”
Frank glared down at his sister. She was trying to help him, as she always had.
“Okay,” he finally said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Forget about it. Let’s eat.”
There were four of them at the table: Janet across from Chuck, Frank across from Gloria.
"So how've you been doing?" said Chuck, digging into his mashed potatoes. "Any luck getting back with the squad?"
Chuck winced as Janet kicked him under the table. "Well, what do you
me to talk about?" he said.
"It's okay," Frank said to Janet.
He turned to Chuck. "I’m not thinking about that right now. But who knows? Maybe I'll make it back there someday."
"Gloria’s District Sales Manager at Garland,” said Janet. “We’ve been through some brutal marketing campaigns over the years."
“That’s very interesting,” Frank said. He wanted a smoke.
Janet and Gloria talked about work. The pressure from before intensified, as if he was sliding underwater. The lights in the room started to buzz and flicker. Gloria’s voice became muffled then faded away completely. He stared at her, hypnotized by the bare curve of neck connecting her head to her shoulders, and the movement of her silent lips. He laid down his knife and fork.
“Frank,” he heard somewhere far in the distance, and began to surface. He shook his head to clear it.
“Frank?” It was Janet. He scanned around the table. The others were staring at him. His clenched fists were trembling on the place mat in front of him.
“Frank, are you alright?” Janet said.
“I’m fine,” he said, feeling himself blush.
All through dinner Gloria chattered on about her baby, Ralphie – how cute Ralphie was, how he was moving his head already, the lovable sounds he made. Frank half expected her to start in about how adorable Ralphie's upchucks or bowel movements were.
The meal was pleasant enough. He’d forgotten what a good cook Janet was, especially when it came to their mother’s favourites – comfort food from his childhood. He and Gloria had nothing in common, but once you got past her paint job and annoyingly nasal voice, she wasn’t so bad. It was sad, because he could see that at heart she was a good person who deserved love, but he knew that she would never get that love from him. Anyway, he wasn’t even close to being ready for a relationship.
To Frank’s relief, they had no sooner finished an after-dinner drink when Gloria checked her watch. “My, it’s almost seven-thirty already. I’m sorry, but I have to be going.”
“Oh, what a shame,” Janet said.
Frank did his level best to look disappointed.
“Ralphie likes to be home and in bed by eight o’clock,” Gloria continued. “He’s very particular.”
As if in response to her statement, an ear-splitting wail erupted behind the door of the spare room.
“Oh, Frank, you haven’t seen Gloria’s baby!” Janet said. “Here, come with us.”
Frank followed Gloria into the room. Janet stood in the doorway. A baby carrier rested on the bed. Frank moved next to the carrier and peered inside.
Ralphie had been screaming a few seconds ago, but now showed not the slightest hint of distress. It was as though he’d literally been calling for his mother, and now that she’d come there was no longer a need.
The child’s face shone like yellow wax in the halo of the table lamp. His eyes, strangely alert, scanned Frank up and down as if compiling a record for future reference. The eyes glowed with an inner fire, like those of a cat sizing up its prey.
“How old is he?” Frank asked.
“Three months,” Gloria answered.
“He seems very precocious.”
Her eyes opened wide. “Oh, yes! He surprises me every day with the clever things he does. I think he might be one of those ‘gifted’ children they talk about. The doctor said it’s too early to tell, but a mother knows…”
“And see there?” she said, pointing at Ralphie’s open mouth.
Frank bent down and followed her finger.
“Teeth,” he said, half to himself. He could clearly make out the tiny stubs like white flower buds emerging from the top gum.
“That’s very unusual,” she said. “See – he’s special in so many ways.”
For some reason he couldn’t explain, the baby made Frank nervous.
“Well, that’s a beautiful baby you’ve got there,” he said, straightening up.
“Thank you, Frank,” Gloria said. “I sure think so.”
After Gloria and Ralphie had gone, Frank and Janet stood in the alcove at her front door. He grabbed his coat from a peg on the wall.
“I’m so glad you could make it, Frank,” Janet said. “I’m sorry for springing Gloria on you.”
He smiled. “No offense, but I don’t think we’ll be strolling down lover’s lane any time soon.”
He shrugged on his coat and turned toward the door.
Janet touched his elbow. “Frank, you’ve quit going to Dr. Sampson again.”
“Those sessions were a waste of time,” he said without turning around.
“Look, Frank, you can’t just let this go. If you don’t like Dr. Sampson find someone else. You can’t just live in denial.”
He turned to face her.
She put a hand on his sleeve. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to nag. You’re my brother – I care about you. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother saying anything.”
“Please, just think about it,” she said. “Anyway, aren’t you glad you came?” She stepped forward and gave him a long hug.
“Yeah, sure I’m glad,” he said. He stepped back with his hands on her shoulders and smiled. “It was nice spending some time with my kid sister – even if she
annoying the shit out of me trying to set me up.”
On the way home Frank stopped for cigarettes at a convenience store. He was the only customer. A nervous looking blond kid with acne took his money and handed him the pack.
Frank walked to his car. He glanced back over his shoulder at the vacant lot next door. The glare from the store window spilled out onto crumbling pavement dotted with weeds. His eye caught a trace of movement behind the store’s dumpster. He turned and stared into the blackness, his hands absently tearing at the plastic wrap on the cigarette pack. He extracted a smoke and put it to his lips, then fished through his pockets for his lighter. The black shape of a rat squeezed through a gap under the wall of the store.