"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.
Black smoke billowed from under the door. David choked. White smoke swirled before him. There was no dangling bulb.
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.
"No Angelo. No divine interference."
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.
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.