Dec 29, 2009

This was his Florida now

The phone was attached to the wall in the kitchen, which was okay, since that was the only place he could smoke. He smoked while he waited.

Stan couldn't see the sea from here. Couldn't see the sky. There was an orange tree, though, where the oranges were starting to turn ripe for the winter, and he could see between the backs of bright and flamenco-colored houses to the warehouse store with a blank beige wall and the steel steps of the loading dock. At night when the window was open you could hear the trucks back up. In the morning when the wind was right you could hear the highway going up to Orlando. He smoked and waited. He watched out the window at the houses and the back of a superstore as an old neighbor lady in a night gown seemed to scowl and inspect the grass of her brown back yard. He waited. He smoked again. The woman went inside and night came slow, pink and then gray and then murky night, and he still waited for the phone.

He waited in the morning when the papers came, crashing into the backstops of the doors down the street, and waited when the commuters he could see through the bent blinds in the front all drove off. He waited when the mail came. Waited by the phone. He lit his cigarettes with a plastic lighter that said FLORIDA in an arc over a bouquet of oranges. Six months in the sate and he hated Florida now, and this was his Florida. He flicked the finished cigarettes into the sink when he was done, then saw they were still smoldering, letting off single spirals of filter fiber smoke and he stood up and ran the tap. Soggy butts lined the bottom of the sink like slugs.

Around 11 he ate two hot dogs. He boiled them on the stove. The old lady was out in the yard again, walking around with a pointed stick she kept poking into the ground. He wondered if she was watching him. The phone was between two sheets of wall paper, hung between the seams. It was white but yellowed as he watched it. The cord was kinked in places, stretched out until it lost the loops in others. It didn't ring. He picked it up a couple of times to listen, but hung up again and sat down in the chair between the stove and the window.

He ran out of cigarettes at about 1. He smoked the last one and instead of putting the pack back in his pocket he let it lay on counter. He played with the edges for a few minutes, turning the pack and turning it again, and then took $5 and hustled down the block for some more. He cut across the lawns, jogging, and then walked fast past the low row of stripped stores: Chinese food; dry cleaners; laundry mat with a woman in sandals slumped in the molded metal chair; empty; hair salon; empty; and a corner grocery with lettuce and broccoli browning, match-3 machines in the back with high stools and a little, hard-faced grandma behind the bullet-proof glass. She was sorting and stacking magazines, racking them facing out through the glass. and didn't look at him for a long time. When she finally did he slid the five through and said what he wanted and she found his brand, found his type, rang it up, made him change, printed up a receipt and passed it piece-at-a-time through the glass.

He lit the first one outside, but then walked back, smoking as he went, his exhales over his shoulder. It was a bright day, for winter, and the sun looked solid. When he got to the door he could hear the ringing. He dropped the key. When he pulled it out of his pocket he spilled spare change across the concrete steps and dropped the key and the phone rang, paused, and rang. Stan put his shoulder into the door when he turned the lock, panicking as the phone's each pause seemed to last too long, and when the door clicked he flung it open and fell inside, slammed it into the white wall hard and he ran as the phone rang, across the six steps to the kitchen. He said her name. He cracked as he cried it into the phone, "Linda!," he said and his throat was dry, but then there was nothing except a tone. It was flat. And dead. It was one tone extending forever in an infinite line, extending unbroken or interrupted, extending unstopped and unstopping without even a waver, a quiver, a moment of modulation.

It extended even as he hung it up. He sat down heavy and stared away from the phone, staring at the window, not through it at the houses and the old tree and the old woman in the yard, but at the window, the surface, the glass. He could feel that tone between his eyes. He shook out a cigarette again.