Sunday, November 1, 2009
Housemate From Hell - part one
Life as fiction. Uh huh, you know what I’m talking about. It’s when something so horrendous happens that you can laugh, cry, have a nervous breakdown, or turn it into a story. I’m offering this story in two parts. I’ve still not mastered the short story genre. My short stories are too long, my novels are too short…somewhere in there I’ve tried a couple of novellas and seem to find comfort in that length. Housemate from Hell is a longish short story. Part One:
Housemate from Hell
“What do you want?” demanded the hunched-over demented looking little man peering around a metal file cabinet in the narrow reception room. The man’s nose was cross-hatched with red veins and his eyes bleared a nephritic yellow.
“I’m looking for ‘Show-no-mercy Blevins’,” I said. “Would that be you?” I could hardly contain a smirk at the thought that this character out of The Brothers Grimm could be the eviction lawyer Beth had raved about.
“Who would you be...and why would I be interested?” he sneered, sidestepping my question.
“I’d be Sharmalyn Burrell and you’d be interested because I have a check for $500 made out to Paul Blevins,” I said, not missing a beat.
The strange little man smacked his thigh and chortled. “I like your spunk, girlie,” he wheezed, as if sixty-some years of tobacco smoke had swathed his lungs and now rattled up through his larynx in a phlegmy cough.
I weighed the value of challenging the ‘girlie’ part and decided to put it on the back burner.
“So what’cher problem?” he hacked a mustard colored glob into a tissue he pulled from his trouser pocket.
I shrunk back slightly as the repugnant old geezer slammed the file drawer shut with his elbow and ambled my way. Suspenders. He was wearing plaid suspenders over a dingy white shirt. I shuddered and wondered briefly if this was his Court appearance attire.
“Housemate from hell,” I said, “crazy as a loon. I can’t stand it anymore.” My spunky demeanor began to dissolve and slide along with the tear that made its way down my cheek. Damn, I hate crybabies.
I flattened myself against the wall as Blevins squeezed past me, diffusing the scent of dirty underwear, and followed him down the short hallway to a small, dimly lit room that served as his law library. A battered wooden table filled most of the floor space. Six chairs upholstered in burgundy vinyl with stuffing escaping through tears in the fabric were slammed up against the table in a claustrophobic attempt to create the illusion that important meetings were held in this room. Dusty shelves crammed with color- coded law books ran ceiling to floor on three walls.
“Sit down, girlie, we’ve got papers to fill out,” he pointed to a chair. “You do what I tell ya, and we’ll have her candy ass out on the curb in a week or less,” he said, slapping the table with his pudgy palm. “Show-no-mercy Blevins, huh? Hah! That’s a good one.” Another cough rattled his chest.
Six months ago, Deirdre, mid-forties, shaped like a wine barrel, hair dyed ebony, came into my life. With three days until rent was due, the slightly anxious woman had seemed a godsend.
“I’ve been living in a motel for several months,” she’d confided in her breathy, asthmatic voice. “I simply must find a permanent place where I can stay forever,” she simpered.
I focused on the intent, not the content. Permanent renter, no more days of advertising my share rental, screening calls, interviewing loonies who were looking for housing because no one else would rent to them. No more dips into savings to cover the rent. So the woman was a little anxious. I could handle anxious.
“Sign those, at the “x” there,” Blevins slid a pile of forms in front of me, snapping me back to the present.
“What are they?”
“Don’t worry about it, just sign ‘em,” he said, busying himself with another stack of papers he’d extracted from his battered leather briefcase, mended with duct tape. “Trust me, I’m on your side, girlie,” he wheezed and spat once more.
I was not comforted by this.
Blevins asked questions and filled in blanks with a curiously childlike script.
“Here’s what’cha do. Follow these directions,” he handed me a short list. “You think you can follow three simple steps, girlie?” he fixed his jaundiced gaze on me.
“For god sake, I run a branch office of a bank. Yeah, I think I can handle three steps,” I said, my patience with Blevins having hit the wall.
“There’s no room for creativity here. Just follow the directions. One. Two. Three,” he ticked off three fat fingers in front of his face. “Then call me. Leave a message that you’re done. Got that?”
“I think I got that,” I said, my sarcasm was lost on him. “And then what? I mean, how soon will she be out?” I hated that my voice cracked with desperation.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll tell you whatcha need to know when ya need to know it,” he said, gathering up papers and shoving them back into the briefcase.
I needed air. I slid the check across the table and left the library.
“What a nut case,” I muttered to myself on my way through the reception area.
“I beg your pardon?” queried an elderly receptionist with frosted hair who had been nowhere in sight when I arrived. She arched a penciled-in eyebrow at me.
“Uh, I said, glad he’s on my case--Mr. Blevins, that is.” I offered a feeble smile and slipped out the front door.
The sun was warm on my face although the temperature wasn’t expected to reach fifty. I sunk behind the wheel of my orange VW Bug and felt as flat and empty as a blown tire. My stomach rumbled. Visions of corndogs danced in my head. I started the engine and headed toward The Doggie Haus.
“No more veggies, ever,” I swore. For the last week, to avoid crossing paths with Deirdre in the kitchen, each evening I had armed myself with a bag of veggies and box of Ritz crackers I munched in my room with the door closed. There was a limit to the amount of broccoli I could consume. Breakfast wasn’t a problem, as Deirdre didn’t rise until four or five in the afternoon.
As I pulled into a parking spot and turned off her ignition, I noticed the stack of Deirdre’s unpaid share of the bills I’d forgotten to leave with Blevins. “Ugh,” I grunted, as much at the oversight necessitating another trip to Blevin’s office, as the memory of confronting Deirdre about the gas, garbage, phone, and water bills.
“Gee, I just don’t seem to have enough to cover those bills,” she’d simpered. “Maybe you could just pay them since they’re in your name. Wouldn’t want you to get in trouble now, would we?” she’d giggled. She had actually giggled.
I shoved the door to The Doggie Haus harder than was necessary banging it against an overflowing wastebasket. An array of dirty paper products streaked with catsup and mustard tumbled out onto the floor.
At the counter, a pimply-faced youth dressed in a weenie uniform took my order. As I carried my tray toward an empty corner table, a girlish voice called my name. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Deirdre waving wildly from a booth along the window.
“Sharm, Sharm...over here,” Deirdre called.
Without turning my head, I set my tray on a table in the corner, and feigned returning to the condiment hutch for catsup. I passed the hutch and walked on out the door, nausea chasing me like a bad doggie.
If I drove home quickly, I could commandeer my veggie bag and cracker box before Deirdre returned. I felt like a fugitive in my own home.
“Why don’t you call the police?” my neighbor Beth’s voice demanded on the other end of the phone after hearing the latest housemate horror story.
“Beth, it’s not like she was stalking me. We both just wound up at the weenie place at the same time. It just creeped me out is all,” I sighed.
It was Beth I called after each incident to get a sanity check. It was Beth who suggested eviction. It was Beth who referred me to Paul Blevins. The closest I had ever come to interacting with the legal system was watching Law and Order on late night television. I tried to think of life with Deirdre as possible script material—woman found strangled in suburban kitchen.
“That girl is bad news. Why you’ve let it go this long is beyond me,” Beth said when I told her about Ronald.
Ronald was Deirdre’s boyfriend, an older guy, skinny as a rail and half the height of a telephone pole. Ronald drove up from the City every weekend. Deirdre would reimburse him for his gas-guzzling old Desoto. The rest of the weekend, she would berate him for being a lousy excuse of a man, and he’d cower and apologize. Go figure.
One Saturday night, around ten o’clock, Ronald banged on my bedroom door.
“I’m so sorry to bother you,” he began. “Can I borrow ten dollars from you? I need to get out of here,” he looked back over his shoulder toward the kitchen. “She’s crazy--she won’t give me gas money to leave. She pulled out a can of mace,” he said. He spread his hands and shrugged hugely.
I gave Ronald a ten and wished him good luck. I never saw Ronald again.
A week before the Ronald event, I set my alarm for six A.M., turned off my light and watched the ten o’clock news from bed. By the time the automatic timer clicked the T.V. off at ten-thirty, I was sound asleep.
Just after midnight, Deirdre pounded on my door.
“Sharm, Sharm...did you call me?” she hollered through the closed door. Her voice had that hysterical edge to it. STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO…