Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Flip Side, a short story...

The Flip Side
James Strauss

My eyes opened to dim gray filth. The ceiling above me looked like it hadn’t been painted since the Civil War. Intricate cobwebs rounded the corners of the bedroom, while dirty clothes littered all open spaces on the floor.
My head hurt with the kind of pain that neither aspirin nor Tylenol could come close to touching. I groaned out loud. Escape, a Russian Blue cat, lay comfortably on my chest, long whiskers close enough to tickle a cheek, but not intrusively so. Escape answered my groan with a strange sound of his own. I stroked him, more to make him move than to satisfy any need he or I might get from the act. He wasn’t into the physical ministrations of species Homo Sapien, so it worked.
I got out of the bed. The mattress was the only decent thing in the room, being of aged but quality lineage. Beautyrest, the tag said, when I infrequently changed the sheets. I found the name humorous. Only in the movies did anybody have any beauty when they got up from a night’s sleep.
I went into the bathroom and began my habitual preparations for the day, grimacing with pain radiating from the core of my brain, thankful that the hangover was not worse. One full fifth of expensive Vodka the evening before should have left my body in much worse condition.
“Thank you, God,” I intoned to the awful image that stared back at me from the cracked mirror. I ran the hot water, beginning the process of filling my ancient tub. If I hurried, I could shave, floss, and brush by the time it was at the perfect level for a quick bath. The much more convenient shower had quit sometime back, but since Gordy, my landlord and best friend, never complained about months of back rent owed, I was duty bound not to say anything about anything, especially when it came to upkeep.
Escape sat near the heating vent, absorbing warm air, waiting for me to climb into the hot water. When I was ready I plopped myself in, cutting the tap off with one foot. The tap only produced water up to a medium degree, not hot enough to burn skin.
The cat jumped up to the rim, slowly bent his front legs, and then began drinking from the water. It was a move I had never come to understand. What possible interest could the very hot water hold for him when he had a perfectly good bowl of fresh water next to his food dish. I had to wait for him to finish before soaping up. I didn’t want to the growling that would ensue if I fouled the clear hot water. For unknown reasons my being in the water was not a violation.
The damned cat, a beach stray, had somehow wormed its way into the apartment building one day, and then selected Gordy and I as it’s victims. He cat liked to walk on Gordy’s computer keyboard, deliberately step on the ‘escape’ key, and mess up everything on the screen. After awhile the key word became his name.
Once out of the tub, dried, and deodorized with my hair brushed, I was ready for the day. I fastened my Mont Blanc watch bracelet to my wrist. The watch was my single most expensive possession, as I’d lost my car in a bet the week before. Gambling had swept over me when I had taken a leap of faith, with respect to the Mayan prophecy.
Gambling and drinking. I was in the act of considering where I might find a drink, to get through the morning, when I looked down at the face of the Mont Blanc. My eyes came back up to the mirror. I peered at my shocked image.
It was December twenty-second, of the year two thousand and twelve. I surprised myself by smiling at my own pained image.
“It is the evening of the day….” I stared, singing the Maryanne Faithful song happily. I rushed into my shorts and polo shirt, throwing on flip-flops. I headed for the front of my apartment at a run.
I beat on Gordy’s door. He had a patio which overlooked the whole beach. Pacific Beach was right on the ocean, and at our fifth floor ‘penthouse’ level we could stand and look far out to sea.
“Jesus Christ, hold your horses. It’s seven in the fucking morning in here,” he said through the wood.
Escape and I waited for Gordy to unlock the door, he sitting patiently while I fidgeted, rubbing my head with both hands.
Once inside, I rushed by the scrawny little man, bumping him aside to get to the exposed deck. Escape moved to his back up bowl near the sink.
“Got something to drink?” I threw back at Gordy over my shoulder.
“You smell like you’re still drinking already. It’s seven in the morning, for Christ’s sake. You’re killing yourself. I’ll make coffee, he answered.
I stood on the deck and looked out across the open ocean. The sun was coming up behind us on the backside of the apartment building. The horizon to the west was dark. I listened to Gordy bang things around in his kitchen. He lived as alone as I did, both having gone through a succession of decent women before they’d found about us. In spite of the fact that he had nobody on earth that gave a damn about him, like me,
he wasn’t a believer in the Mayan prophecy.
Moments later he appeared at my side with a hot cup of coffee. He had one of those machines that was always on, always ready to produce a single cup from a neat little plastic container. At one time, before I had become a true believer, I had had such toys, but now they were all gone. My apartment was a gutted shambles compared to Gordy’s showplace.
“What are you looking for,” he asked, both of us drinking from ceramic cups while leaning our forearms against the deck railing.
“It’s the day, idiot, the Mayan calendar day,” I responded, a lilt to my voice, headache fading into the background. “We should be drinking booze.”
“Not that crap again. The world is going to end today. The Mayan prophecy says it’s all over. Niburu, the red dwarf is going to strike. An asteroid is going to hit the center of the Pacific. Phooey! It seems pretty normal out here to me.”
We sipped in silence for a few minutes. The day was coming on, the sun climbing ever higher behind our building. I peered intently at the horizon. There was a darkness rising higher than darkness should be out there.
“Look at that,” I declared, pointing at the horizon.
“Hmmmm. Looks a little weird, I’ll give you that,” Gordy responded.
`We waited. The darkness grew higher, the bottom of it turning black. Something was moving at us, across the full length and breath of the horizon. It was coming fast, and it was terribly ominous. Escape appeared, and then leaped up to sit atop the narrow railing, his side uncharacteristically pressed into my forearm. He too stared into the coming darkness.
“There it is. I just hope it’s what they predicted. Our problems are going to be over soon.”
“Great, just great,” Gordy intoned, his voice leaden. “You got yourself fired, blew every dime you had, lost what you didn’t sell, all in the hopes that the end of time was coming today. What kind of sick mind do you have?”
“Ha, you don’t get it at all. I’ve never been right about anything. But I’m about this. That counts for something,” I replied, my voice not nearly as enthusiastic as before. Escape turned his head to look into my eyes.
“Well, it’s not my fault,” I tried to explain, shaking my head.
The three of us stared into the approaching wall of blackness.
“See you on the flip side,” Gordy said through clenched teeth.

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