Thursday, March 3, 2011


He didn't recognize the phone. Or the number on the screen. He answered it anyway. "Hello?"

"Who is this?"

He opened his mouth, but a name didn't blurt. He shouted louder than he intended. "You called me."

The other voice took on a nasty tone. "You’re not Angelo. Who the hell are you?"

Angelo. The name didn't ring a bell.

"Tell Angelo I'm coming." The line went dead.

He looked around the room. Bare. Colorless. Windowless. Doorless. Just him, a table, two chairs and the phone. He checked himself. White tee shirt over a slight paunch. Blue jeans, right knee ripped. Pockets empty. Feet bare. He ran a hand over his head. Smooth. He wondered when he became bald. He wondered when he had hair. Shit, he just wondered.

The phone gleamed under the solitary bulb. The bulb wasn’t here a minute ago. Trauma. He’d experienced a trauma, that’s why his senses were scrambled. He cleared the lump from his throat, fidgeted with the phone. He cleared his throat again. Rubbed his neck. Maybe he was coming down with something. Why couldn’t he come up with his own name?

He scrolled through the contacts, hoping a familiar name would pop. The bulb swayed. Angelo's phone. Angelo's contacts. Angelo knew thousands of people. He scrolled to the M's. M...something. He concentrated, tried to pull a name. Mel—, Meli—. A song replayed in his head, a nostalgic melody, no words until the chorus. Sweet Melissa.

Melissa pregnant, rushed into delivery. His reflection in a security mirror, blue scrub hat covering his bald head, nostrils distorted into caverns on the convex surface. He bent to kiss her perspiring forehead, her grip crushed his knuckles. He brushed dark strands off her cheeks, could not recall her face. Nurses firm, signing forms, scalp itchy under the elastic band, sweat trickling over the goose bumps along his spine.

Pictures. Angelo's phone must have pictures. Maybe Melissa. Maybe... bells tinkled. A text message loaded. A newborn, slimed and bawling, legs curled, umbilical stump clamped. A baby's smile inside smashed peas. A toddler boy pouting on Santa's lap. Picture after picture of his son flashed into view, a slide show of Christian's life.

Christian. Living with Melissa's mother. He saw his son on weekends. Bought him a trike. Took him fishing once. To the movies. They saw one of the Shreks. They shared the bucket of popcorn. Christian puked in the car. He never got the smell out. Melissa's eyes, Melissa's pointy chin, Melissa's two sneezes in a row—weekends with Christian hurt. He didn't visit often. He just couldn't.

Complications. He signed the release. No kiss, no touch, just Melissa screaming, screaming save the baby, please David, DAVID....

She never said goodbye.

David dropped the phone on the cheap wood. A hexagon table, came with two uncomfortable spindle-legged chairs. Something to fill space in the apartment. A breeze. David turned to the window. A stained shade covered the top half.

He jumped away, knocked the chair over. The doorbell rang. Someone pounded his apartment door. This was his apartment. Not a colorless room. The bare bulb shone over the table, because the chandelier broke. The visitor pressed the doorbell, the discordant buzz blending with bells tinkling from the cell.

"Angelo! Open up."

David read the text.

Hold on.

From Angelo.

Black smoke billowed from under the door. David choked. White smoke swirled before him. There was no dangling bulb.

A rope.

The door splintered, then crashed onto the floor. A sigh cascaded from the window. A man-shape burst from the black smoke. A man-shape formed in the white smoke. David's vantage point changed. The ceiling smoke detector's red light blinked at him. He looked down to the visitors.

"Suicides are mine Angelo."

"He's not dead, Nick."

"No one's coming for him."

Angelo glanced at David. David swung, first towards Angelo, then toward Nick. David heard a car backfire. A child's squeal. A dog's bark. Garlic and onions floated on the breeze underneath the smoke and over his own acrid stink. The rope chafed his neck. He couldn't gasp.

Angelo reached toward David.

"Uh-uh, Angelo. The rules."

Angelo smiled at David, nodded toward Nick. "Just giving him his show. Remember the life flashing part?"

Angelo gestured at the table. The phone floated to David. Pictures filled the screen, pictures he'd never aimed or snapped, but pictures of four-year-old him, dad holding him safe and pictures of eight-year-old him sliding into home plate and pictures of him with cousins and friends and at school and at parties and in uniform and feeding Melissa wedding cake and watching the heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor and all the people at her wake and each simple picture of his daily routine so mundane yet profound because it was his last view ever of every thing he had ever hoped or regretted or loved or—

—Christian's face filled the screen—

—despaired. Despair shrouded the rest.

Yesterday he called his son, but the boy never answered. He tried again from True Value, where he bought rope. He tried again after he tested his weight against the hook in the ceiling, the one that used to hold the chandelier. He never said goodbye.

Nick wiped his mouth. Drool sizzled on Nick's knuckle.

Angelo twitched.

"No Angelo. No divine interference."

"Stop me."

Angelo rose. Nick flashed from the doorway, rammed Angelo. Nick's fingertips flickered. Angelo blew. Flames flared to the smoke detector. The alarm bleated.

Alarms sounded in the entire building. The door splintered, then crashed to the floor. A firefighter shouldered between the disappearing Nick and Angelo. Black spots filled David's vision. The room faded.

Melissa's face appeared. He remembered. Freckles on her cheek, gold flecks in hazel eyes. Her easy laugh. Her soft lips. Goodbye David.

Her face blended into his. Mouth agape, cheeks slack, a glare bounced off his head. His reflection transparent on a firefighter's mask. David took a breath.

The End

a co-worker passed this week. he was not only a consummate bartender--he honed techniques, studied the history, and made every single guest feel special--but he was the first person to ask me for permission to quote and post a story I wrote. joey made me feel like a writer.

if only we all could understand the myriad of ways we touch others. he is missed.


Linda said...

so very sorry for the passing of your friend and colleague, Peggy.

Your story kept me breathless. Amazingly good. And what an ending. peace...

~Tim said...

Very sorry for your loss.

Cool look at the struggle for life.

John Wiswell said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Peggy. I can only imagine what that request would feel like.

If you want feedback on the story (and especially this week I appreciate if you don't), I think Linda hit it on the head with 'breathless.' It covers a lot of ground but does so with deft speed. From skimming life events to immediate violence, it's breathlessly executed.

Many of your paragraph openings are sharp, but I wonder if a word isn't missing in the tenth: "Melissa pregnant, rushed into delivery."

Laurita said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Peggy.

This story was a masterpiece. Fabulous pacing, and intriguing from start to finish. Brilliant.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Very tight story, with many searching questions.

So sorry for your loss.

jim bronyaur said...

Wonderful story. Sorry for your loss.

The ending really hits home and the entire thing just keeps pulling you in and building.


PJ said...

Peg - I am breathless and teary reading this. I'm so sorry for your loss - I hope that writing this amazing piece has been cathartic for you.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Peggy, I am so sorry for your loss. This feels special to me because I lost a cousin a few weeks ago, to suicide. Even without that experience, this story is superb, excellent pacing. But of course because of that experience, I was seeing him, my cousin, throughout. I will forever wonder that elusive "why".

Timothy P. Remp said...

Hi Peggy,

I liked how both after-life beings show up to grab his soul. Great idea with the fire alarm.

Very well done, my friend!


Alan W. Davidson said...

Very sorry to here of your friend's passing...

The story was fantastic. I love the noir feel of this battle of good and evil for David. I really liked the leaking of information as he regained his memory.

Eric J. Krause said...

I'm very sorry for your loss.

Excellent story! It kept me breathless throughout.

Apple Ardent Scott said...

I understand loss and how we realize just how much we don't know and what we miss most after the death of someone close. This story is exquisite and moving; very human. Thanks so much for sharing.

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

Ah, Peggy. Sorry to hear about your friend Joey. All the best in the days and weeks to come.
Your story, though, wow, it was excellent. It read like an express train, all of it, and the last bit, him seeing his reflection in the firefighter's mask - all I can say is "wowsers!"
("Joey made me feel like a writer." For that ya gotta love him... but Peg, newsflash - you ARE a writer. And a helluva good one who happens to pour a mean drink on the side.)

Aaron said...

Very powerful piece. I don't think I took a breath until I finished reading it. I, too, am so sorry for your loss.

FARfetched said...

One of the best this week. I was glad when David lived… you made me care enough about him to cheer for his rescue.

Condolences for your loss… losing a friend is never easy.

ganymeder said...

An incredibly told and powerful story. So impressive - the way it unfolded, the word choices, emotion, everything. I'm in awe of your talent here.

I'm also so sorry for your loss.

Adam B said...

This piece takes hold and firmly takes you through in a kaleidoscope of images, taut phrases and sharp prose.
Adam B @revhappiness

Quin Browne said...

what a simply brilliant way to honor him, Peg--if he was half as grand as this piece, well, the world did, indeed, lose someone who should be missed.

this is grand, peg...just grand.

Harry said...

Spectacular story Peggy. Sorry for your loss.

AidanF said...


I loved the way you capture life speeding by in this piece.

Mari said...

Oh, this is so powerful! You kept me wondering what was going on up to the end, and I had goosebumps throughout the story.

I'm so sorry for your friend. I'm sure that being a supporter of your writing, he's very proud of this one, up there. Good thoughts coming your way. :)

Danielle La Paglia said...

What an incredible story. I'm so sorry for your loss.