After the crunching of potato chips no longer fills his brain-cage, Roy listens to the empty air. He hopes to hear a bird, but none sound. It is lamentable, but true: where would the birds live? The neighborhood had already been close-shaven when they’d moved there decades ago. Most of the houses were similar rectangles, personalized only by colored aluminum sidings or red bricks. Some had pretend shutters, a common inoperable affectation. Few trees had survived the terraform. The ones that had mostly just destroy sidewalk or add yet another inconvenience to a parallel-park.
He sits for as long as he can stand it. Once or twice, he loses focus and wants to tell himself he heard a bird. But he can’t shake the feeling that it’s just his hope and desperation. (And failing ears.)
His mind shakes with anxiety. He is desperate for approval.
Finally, an excuse to get up. The motion affirms his existence but it is a fight to push himself from his over-soft armchair.
He enters the garage. The light is still on. It is no longer needed; sufficient sunlight is flooding the cave from the open air. A single finger pushes the light-switch down, trying to lift off before the switch hits the bottom. One should always try to minimize effort – once the switch is in motion, no need to keep forcing the thing. Bodies are fragile and Roy was feeling his skeleton struggle more often than he cared to remember. (Gentle. Slow. Steady.)
As if it were possible, to create a lack of a thing; it is the vacuum from the cessation of buzzing that slaps him. The sun’s blue silence remains. A few leaves tickle the concrete and scratch audibly, but there are still no birds.
(Where is the lubricant?)
To his right is a large, metal cabinet sitting amid a dark wall. It would be a tragedy to see it fall, he reflects, but thankfully he installed safeties years ago. But the fear lingers. The heavy closet is full of metal tools, bins of mis-matched screws, nails removed from old projects not bent enough to justify disposal. The remainders of a lifetime’s handiwork.
The outside of the cabinet is flat and the surface is just sprinkled with rust. It only implies its former sheen; every year a bit rougher to the touch. At the center, waist-height, are the handles, barely deserving the name, and a hole on each side allows for a padlock. It had been some time since he’d used the security function; (perhaps the padlock was collecting dust on one of the shelves?) The key was certainly on his primary key-ring, now sitting on the top of his bedroom dresser. When Jake had lived at home, he’d wanted to ensure his safety. (Looking back on it, the boy hadn’t shown much interest.) Locking and unlocking the cabinet had probably created more lost time than the fears it had squelched. But it was inconsequential; (an ounce of prevention…)
The tool-closet door swung open and squeaked. Day after day, metal turned to rust, rust crumbled, and each intrusion aerated the dust. If Roy had been someone else, he might have sighed in relief at the smell, but today his face would not betray the easing of his mood. The shelves were of unequal height; smaller on top, bits and bobs hidden behind each other in priority queue. The large shelves, mostly empty, were the bottom two. He had to kneel down to get his objective: an aged can of WD-40.
It was sitting near the front of the shelf, its coloration glowing in the sunlight. It hadn’t changed. Like so many things, he thought, it was so hard to go through a can of the stuff. He’d had this one for years, and it never seemed to come any closer to running out. He removed the lid to reveal a thick rusted ring around the depresser. He placed the red lid on the counter to the left of the cabinet and turned to take the can inside the house.
The door to the bedroom was open. It couldn’t make a full 180° on its mounting; the cabinet assigned to his wife blocked its full rotation. The room was small but adequate. Roy moved the door back and forth a few times to confirm its state. SSqueEEeak Squik sssqueeeeeeak. He closed the door. The hinges were darkened from their original silver. His finger depressed the plastic and dark oil sprayed out from the can. Each of the three hinges received this treatment. Again he rotated the door on its hinges. squik. The tiniest sound was heard once, but not again: so he decided the job was complete.
And still, the can was heavy.
The feeling of accomplishment faded quickly after he’d put the WD-40 back where he’d found it. He walked back into the living room, its warmth now fading. He reflected on his decision to turn down the thermostat and was felt a twinge of defiance and regret.
The phone rang again. But only once. (Fucking hell. Just cancel the service.) Anger rose as he thought about robocalls. When he was younger, he’d pick up the phone, attentive, polite. A phonecall meant a connection between two persons, even if the persons were usually on someone else’s payroll. But when the people started becoming machines… He’d pick up the phone and wait for the other to speak. Sometimes the call just stopped, other times a recorded message would play as if he had said something he hadn’t. How dare his home be invaded by a stranger; one who wasn’t even flesh and blood.
The first time he’d enjoyed using the telephone was calling Shirley. He recalled the ivory-colored plastic with fondness. But those times were gone now, and so was any possibility of intelligence behind the mouthpiece.
This anger wasn’t new. And it wasn’t just for telephones. His anger stemmed from within, close to his heart, and he wanted to force the invaders out. His mind drifted back to the last fax machine he’d known.
Roy had spent his younger years employed as a plumber. In high school he’d had higher aspirations, despite his low birth. Through connections at Andrus, he was apprenticed to a car mechanic at sixteen. Roy enjoyed the work but his employment came to an end shortly after graduation. His mentor was forced to retire after falling from a ladder putting up Christmas decorations. Roy had struggled to find another sponsor; there seemed to be no dearth of charismatic gearheads filling the local garages. He didn’t have the know-how to outweigh his surly disposition, nor did he look so great in an a-shirt. Out of desperation, he took a job as an assistant plumber and that was that. The work was more reliable than fixing cars. Being out-of-work was worse than staring down sludge-and-hair clogged tubes. The margin was a hell of a lot better.
(Rizzo & Sons.)
The brothers ran the business out of a small shop in Maspeth. Street parking. Luigi’s Pizza down the street. It was there that Roy had learned the finer art of bending pipe. Unlike the job of a car mechanic, little was done at the shop; it served mostly as storage for pipes and fittings. But whenever he wasn’t in the field, he was in the shop. And it was the breakroom that came to his memory, and the fax that laid there in wait.
He never used it more than a few times a week, but how many times had he sat there, in the disintegrating composite chair, and had his thoughts interrupted by its whirring? Sipping coffee; thinking of his son, or wife, or something he’d seen on television the night before. The fax machine would start beeping and he had always hoped it was going to be something important: an invoice, a request for service, a notice of incoming payment. But especially in the later years it would spit out only junk. Junk mailings were bad enough; the business got more than its fair share. But the faxes invaded the breakroom as if taunting him. Advertisements for cruises to faraway places, palm tree promises hidden behind static. Loans, real estate, life insurance. ‘Call now!’ they insisted. But no truth ever traveled via fax.
His gaze came back into his living room and the Rizzos drifted back into memory.