2012-2013 Online Edition - PROSE
By Alex Alberti
When you were
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You're so fucking special
But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here.
“When are you getting home?”
Adlai Kramer frowned. “As soon as I can, honey. I've gotta make my rounds and...”
“And what?” she said. Her voice stung him. “I've been stuck cleaning this house all day while you were gone, and I'm sick of doing it on my own.”
“We have bills to pay. I have to...”
“You getting this second job was a huge mistake. You also need to be at home helping!”
Adlai felt the urge to tell Rebecca to get a job herself, but he bit his tongue. The phone stuck to his ear.
“Please, Rebecca, let me finish up, and I'll be home as soon as I can.” This was not a conversation he wanted his coworkers to hear.
“Whatever.” The line went silent.
Adlai hung the beige phone on the receiver and sighed. The back room of Sunset Acres Restaurant and Bar was deserted. He was alone with his thoughts and a pounding headache. Adlai sat gently down on an empty crate and rested his head in his hands. Bright, vivid colors swam in front of his eyelids. The pressure felt soothing on his tired pupils.
Adlai's head shot up. He was greeted with the sweaty face of his supervisor. The man's jowls rose and fell with heavy breath.
“What the hell are you doing back here? This is bad news on your first day, Kramer,” he grunted.
“My wife just called me. Sorry, sir.”
Jenkins buttoned his black collar and straightened his white tie. “You've had your break today. Get back to work!”
Adlai looked at the archaic clock on the wall. A spider scurried past the number seven. “Sir, it's already 11:05. My shift is over.”
The man scoffed. “We just had a patron roll up. Go park it.”
Adlai raised an eyebrow. “A patron, Mr. Jenkins? We close at eleven.”
Jenkins took a few silent seconds to stare at Adlai. The twinkle in his black irises faded as he took several steps towards Adlai. Adlai rose from the crate instantly.
“You are not dismissed from work until I say so. Got that?” Adlai smelled a hint of alcohol on Jenkins' breath. “I know you may not know much yet, but there's an important lesson you have to learn. The patron comes first, and this patron happens to be one of our most dedicated. She comes every Thursday night at closing. Get used to it.” Jenkins thrust a hulking fist towards Adlai. “Take these. And don't worry about the retrieval. I've got that covered. Just get out of here when you're done.”
Adlai held out his scrawny hand and received a set of keys. Only two were attached to the key ring: one that appeared to be a car key, and the other Adlai supposed belonged to a home. Finally, it was adorned with an elegant, miniature peacock feather, hanging lazily from the metal spiral.
“Yes, Mr. Jenkins. I'm sorry.”
Jenkins spat onto the dusty tiled floor, not ripping his glare from Adlai's. He slowly walked out of the room, the scent of body odor, whiskey, and cheap cologne trailing behind.
For a moment, Adlai stood frozen in his place. A solitary bead of sweat slid gently down his forehead. Middle age had taken a once vibrant and motivated man and kicked him into a pit of inferiority. Rebecca's once helpful mental checklists slipped into mindless, obsessive compulsions. After slipping through several jobs, he and his wife had ended up living paycheck to paycheck, scrounging on whatever degrading career opportunities came their direction. “Restaurant Valet” was never on Adlai's list as a child.
He stepped out into the empty restaurant. The ceilings were high. Rafters were sprinkled with extravagant chandeliers. Along the vast walls, paintings and photography complimented crystal light fixtures. He walked quickly towards the glass double doors of Sunset Acres, his shining tuxedo shoes creating a soft patter on the red velvet carpet. The smells of dinners past lingered in Adlai's nostrils, slowly rotting away on dirty plates.
A few men dressed in sleek black suits and white aprons scurried from table to table, spraying each with generic cleaning solution and wiping furiously. The bar was near empty, save a bartender slowly wiping glasses and looking hypnotically up at the ceiling. Adlai walked briskly towards the door.
The cool autumn air engulfed him as he stepped forward onto the front deck of Sunset Acres. It was carefully designed to resemble an old-timey Southern porch. A dull lamp suspended above him gave Adlai's pasty skin a golden complexion.
The lot of Sunset Acres was expansive. Many weekends during the year, well-to-do companies held parties and catered luncheons, filling the vast parking lot with Maseratis and Mercedes . The slab spanned hills about a mile out, paved with cracked concrete and faded white lines. The restaurant was situated amidst a large forest, nestled in California. A long, winding road led from highway 395 to the front deck, ornamented with lights, sprawling flowers, and ponds. However, this late at night, the lot was quite barren.
What kind of bitch asks for valet service in an empty parking lot?
He walked slowly down the steps of the deck. His eyes widened.
Before him, a sleek black car shone under the blue moonlight. Adlai approached it with care, as if it were a precious diamond. A beam of light washed over the BMW emblem adorned on the hood. This car had to be worth at least forty-thousand dollars.
Adlai opened the door and sat down carefully on the tan leather seat. The car smelled fresh and each window glistened under the parking lot lights. Adlai turned the key in the engine.
Soft, beautiful silence.
Slowly pressing his foot to the ignition, he turned out of the drop-off loop, and into the lot. The car rode smoothly, responding to the most sensitive turn of Adlai's hand. The neon red and blue lights on the dash reflected warmly in his brown eyes. He noticed a matching peacock feather on a rusted chain, swinging from the neck of the rear-view mirror.
The broken pavement sent small bumps up his leg, as he drove in circles, enjoying the elegance of the car. Adlai took it across the parking lot several times, lost in thought. He glanced at the fuel gauge, which rested comfortably at the glowing F.
Rolling the windows down, Adlai took a right turn towards the exit of the restaurant. Who would notice if he took a quick joyride? The cool wind blew through his messy black hair. The voices of his wife and supervisor echoed in his head. He winced. He needed something to drown out the screaming. Adlai quickly turned the volume knob, flipping on the car's stereo system.
An orchestra sang through the spacious car, filling the void with a crescendo on a single note. After a quick cut off, a warm bed of strings and brass began to sing. Cellos rose and fell. Violas suspended harsh dissonances and resolved quietly to major chords. Adlai glared at the radio, as if trying to intimidate the invisible conductor. Classical music. Of course. What else would this ritzy high-class woman enjoy?
Outside the window, towering trees zipped by. Simultaneously, the music grew staccato and crisp. Flutes and clarinets chirped madly like birds. A snare drum played quick ostinatos beneath a constant, pulsing bassline. Adlai stole another glance at the radio. Words rolled by on the LCD display: MAURICE RAVEL – DAPHNIS ET CHLOE: DANSE GENERAL
The swirling orchestral madness grew in intensity. Adlai's foot followed suit. The speedometer crept slowly up towards forty on the winding road. Adrenaline coursed through his body. Curves came at him faster and faster. The woodwinds trilled and shrieked. A choir began to sing on a simple open vowel, falling and rising like a moaning widow. The car zoomed across potholes, bouncing harshly. Sweat beaded on Adlai's forehead. This rush was unlike anything he had ever experienced. The car was his. As the orchestra made its final crescendo towards a major chord, woodwinds blasting, timpani rolling, and brass shaking, a small figure emerged in front of his headlights from the flowers.
He slammed on the brakes. A doe stared at him with wide eyes as the car screeched to a sudden halt, fishtailing slightly to the left. Adlai's head swung forward and smashed against the steering wheel. The deer sprinted off, the fear of God instilled in its matted fur. Then, with the final crash of a pair of cymbals, everything stopped.
Adlai was frozen. His breath shortened. His hands shook on the steering wheel. The peacock feathers swung in unison. A small cloud of dust floated across the windshield. Adlai felt a trickle of blood running down from his eyebrow. The CD was silent.
“Fuck,” Adlai muttered. His fun was over. He made a quick three point turn and sped off back towards the restaurant, swallowing his bout of rebellion.
Adlai parked the car in the closest spot he could find to the door. His breath slowed to a shallow pant. Everything was still. Adlai felt a gash on his eyebrow. He had really done it this time. He reached up and pulled down the visor in front of him. A photograph landed in his lap.
The Polaroid was faded and wrinkled. Staring back at Adlai was a man and woman, smiling happily at the camera, waving from what appeared to be a bench along a forest trail. The woman's bright blue eyes pierced through him. Her elegant dress hung gracefully off of the bench, sequined and sparkling in the dissolving sunlight all while hugging her skinny figure. Her appearance reminded him of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, stylish and eccentric. Hanging from her neck was a necklace with a peacock feather on a golden chain. The man looked old and weary. His eyes sparkled with the vitality of experience, yet his skin dangled sloppily from his bones. On the white strip beneath the picture, a faded “Dad 6/3/2010” was sketched in permanent marker. Adlai ran his finger over the picture, struck by the woman's beauty. The air felt heavy and his lungs were weak.
Adlai placed the photo onto the dashboard and looked around the car. Carefully, he opened the glove compartment and peered inside. It was nearly empty. A small tube of lipstick rolled onto the floor, succeeded by a vial of perfume. A registration card sat quietly in the corner, collecting dust. Adlai reached in the compartment and pulled out the card. The name Heather Mason was typed neatly onto the yellowing paper. The name resounded in his head.
Adlai looked at the restaurant's crystal double doors. His chest tightened. He feared she would come stepping out of the restaurant and spot him sitting in her car, bleeding and pathetic. That's all he was. Pathetic.
Adlai reached down onto the floor and picked up the lipstick and perfume. The car needed to be put back in order. He had to get out. Yet, still, her name resounded in his head.
As he went for the the vial, a drop of the sweet nectar dripped on to his finger. The smell wafted to his nose, drowning out the crusting food from inside the restaurant and replacing it with a euphoric aroma. It seemed to be the spice of Spring, coated with a hint of lemon. Adlai lingered on the sensation. The scent caused his hair to stand on end. He shook his head and quickly tossed the items back into the glove compartment.
Adlai jumped out of the car and shut the door. Hands shaking, he locked the car and ran off towards the restaurant. Adlai dropped the keys into the small box next to the door for his supervisor. There was a click. Slowly, the tiny peacock feather gracefully floated down from the box, detached from the keys. Adlai's blood froze.
He grabbed the feather from the decaying wooden deck, and sprinted towards his car as the night aged above him.
Adlai quietly stepped inside his bedroom. The silhouette of his wife rose and fell under the covers. The moon cast skeletal shadows across her large frame. He quietly closed the door. The noise stirred her.
“Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, sweetie.”
Rebecca Kramer's head rose from the bed. Her blonde hair, fried and over-processed , stuck out from her round skull like worms fleeing from the ground. Her thick face was smeared with makeup, which cracked and splotched on her skin. The beauty he had once fell in love with sunk beneath her middle age.
“What the fuck happened to you?”
Adlai paused for a moment. “What?”
“Your forehead .”
Adlai reached and felt the cut on his head. Another wave of pain surfed through his body.
“I had a little accident at work.”
Rebecca scoffed and adjusted her drooping breasts. “Fuck that job. I'm going back to sleep. Hurry up and get in bed.”
Adlai whimpered. “I'm sorry.”
He walked briskly to the bathroom, eager to escape the holy mistake that was his wife.
The fan whirred and crackled like an old phonograph. Adlai looked at himself in the stained mirror. He removed his shirt and pants, leaving him in nothing more than a pair of blue boxers and a husk of pale skin. Adlai reached up to his forehead again and ran his finger across the cut. Suddenly, the scent of Spring and lemon danced back into his nostrils. He felt faint. Her name resounded in his head. Heather.
She was beautiful. She was elegant. She was rich. She was young. Adlai scanned his body in the mirror. His skin was puffy and blinding. Love handles crept slowly off of the sides of his boxers. His breasts were conical and protruding. A birthmark the size of a quarter was splashed next to his navel. He was hideous. Adlai squeezed the fat on his chest, hoping that it would sizzle away and die. He released it. It simply flopped back into place, red and haunting.
He could picture the youthful girl in the photo next to him in the mirror, her slender arms around his neck, draped on his chest. She was smiling at him, her blue eyes sparkling in the artificial light. She giggled and kissed him on the cheek. Her brown hair, crimped and shining, tickled his skin. Adlai smiled and lifted his hand to rest it on her cheek. She simply faded away.
After doctoring his wound, he opened the bathroom door overcome with revulsion and climbed into bed. Rebecca's legs were cold and harsh against his hairy calves. He stared at the ceiling. The quiet atmosphere seeped into his ear. The pressure rested on his cochlea. Time ticked by slowly. Seconds waded through thick mud and muck, traversing the swamp of the night. He slammed his eyes shut, forcing himself to surrender unto sleep. More minutes ticked by, covered in goop and slime.
Her name resounded in his head. Heather Mason.
For a few moments, he was at peace. He felt himself slowly drifting off. Abstract swirls of color and light filled his subconscious. They manifested into a blurry image. He focused his dreaming eyes. It sharpened and revealed itself to him: a lone peacock feather.
He shot up in bed. He had tortured himself.
Adlai slipped into the living room and pulled out a phone book. He threw it open to the listings for M, and traced the text with his bony fingers. Finally, he found a listing for Heather Mason. He had to call her. The peacock feather was precious. She would be worried sick.
Adlai picked the phone up next to him and hastily dialed the ten digits onto the receiver. As the phone rang, he looked around his apartment. The walls were barren. The carpet was stained. The digital cable box stared at him, flashing green light into his eyes. The clock read 1:50 AM. Adlai gasped. Was he really calling her at this time of night?
Her voice shot through him. He slammed the phone down.
I'm so fucking awkward.
Adlai looked down at the phone book. Her address stared at him. Perhaps it would be best if he didn't interact with her. Maybe he should just slip it in her mailbox. She would never know it was him. It was perfect.
Adlai shook the thoughts out of his head. Was he really going to drive to a complete stranger's house?
Adlai Kramer came to a slow stop. The car shook and rattled beneath him. He rolled the window down. A rush of cold air and cricket chirps poured into the interior. The lights were still on in the downstairs of Heather Mason's home. In her driveway, the black BMW slept, accompanied by another vehicle, which looked significantly less pricey.
Adlai sat in the shaking car for a few moments, simply shifting his gaze between the beautiful bay window that jutted out from the colossal home and the red mailbox that stood erect next to his car. Her lawn was expansive, housing a long driveway and a beautiful flower garden. Adlai smiled. Looking across the yard, he pictured he and Heather laying out under a summer sun. He could almost feel the warmth on his neck. Snapping back to reality, he noticed, resting next to her towering door, a metallic statue of a peacock perched on the brick of the porch . Its feathers were frozen in place: a majestic snapshot of bronzed beauty. The bird looked upwards at the ceiling. Adlai's eyes followed the peacock's form and noticed the door cracked open.
His adrenaline rushed. What if someone was inside? What if she was in trouble? His eyes doubled back to the car next to hers. It was broken down. The paint was chipped. He noticed the back right blinker on the car was missing. He heard a muffled shriek from the house.
Adlai knew it. Some creep had probably seen her on the road and followed her here. Her pictured her supple frame contorted and sprawled across the ground, bleeding and abandoned. She needed him like he needed her. He ripped the keys from his ignition.
Despite his quick sprint across her perfect lawn, he slammed to a halt at the door. The peacock statue glared up at him from the porch. Adlai reached into his pocket and felt her peacock feather resting gently against his cellphone. He pulled both from his pocket and slowly crept in the door.
The main foyer of her home was dazzling. A massive chandelier hung from her high vaulted ceiling. It easily trumped Sunset Acres. The hardwood floors beneath Adlai's ripped tennis shoes glistened. Simple, modern décor lined the floor and walls, which were painted a deep, cobalt blue. She was classy, and her home was beautiful. However, Adlai found himself distracted by the sounds of a faint choir in the next room.
Adlai cautiously walked forward. He shook. What would he do when faced with her rapist? Her murderer? The smell of her perfume was just above his sensory threshold. It hugged him and pulled him closer to the living room. The music began to grow less faint. Blasting horns and trumpets bounced off of priceless wall paintings in the hallway. A rumbling bass drum shook the floor. The choir sang Latin poetry over violin runs. His chest felt tight. Another stifled moan echoed. It was her. He sprinted down the hallway and turned the corner.
The woman from the photo looked up at Adlai. She gasped. Her naked flesh clung tightly to her curves. On top of her, mounted like a bulldog, was his supervisor, sweating and thrusting himself into her, despite the sudden interruption. His body was ragged. Chest hair clung to his drooping fat. Heather quickly threw Mr. Jenkins off of her and screamed. Adlai's heart sank. The orchestra hit a blasting chord. The choir screeched. Mr. Jenkins fell, distraught by Heather's sudden rejection. Her tiny body crawled across the carpet, cowering like a puppy. She threw open an end table drawer and shuffled through its contents.
Adlai opened his mouth to speak, but he was silenced by a sudden crack. Jenkins screamed, startled. It all happened in an instant. For a moment, his body felt weightless. His breath felt weak. Endorphins and chemicals slid through his nerves. Time, for a moment, was immortalized. The room was painted a contrasting lighter blue than the rest of the downstairs. On the walls, pictures of Heather and family members lived in harmony, stitched in expensive processed frames. He looked down and saw a growing circle of blood on his chest. Tears welled in his eyes. He would never be in those pictures. He would never live in these walls. She would never love him. Through the blur, he could see Heather on the floor, shaking with a handgun in her delicate fingers.
“I'm.” Adlai was stricken with the sudden urge to apologize for interrupting. “Sorry.” His voice sputtered. An icy cold erupted in his veins.
He fell to his knees just as the choir hit its final stretch of lyrics. The timpani rolled a single sustained B-flat. There, his eyes met Heather's. She was beautiful in every way possible. She had aged only slightly from the photograph in her car. Her skin was flawless and smooth. Her hair hung down and almost reached the peak of her bosoms. Jenkins danced madly around, his jowls flapping and fat flopping. He cursed and spat. The orchestra played several successive choral hits. The timpani crescendoed.
Just as Adlai's vision darkened, he felt the peacock feather dance from his grip. The strings and brass hit a triumphant major chord, silenced by the hand of the invisible conductor. The feather fell gently to the floor, accompanied by a roaring applause from the audience.