Wednesday, September 2, 2009


It is Liz’s turn to be woken out of a deep sleep, wondering what that ungodly noise is. Oh. The telephone. She looks at the clock. 2:43? What kind of moron is calling her at 2:43? Maybe she’ll ignore it and go back to sleep. But…

But somehow the idea of sleep isn’t restful. An odd notion, that, that sleep will not be restful, but there it is. It sits on her chest like some unwanted burden, like a child’s misunderstanding of the song: sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Liz’s eyelids drift shut. There’s something wrong. She doesn’t want to be here, where ever “here” is – the nothing world of that place where she finds herself when she succumbs to sleep. She doesn’t want to be here, and she doesn’t know how to not be – and then the phone rings again and she grabs it and clings to it as if it were a life raft. “Hello?”

Silence. There is silence on the other end of the phone, and Liz is far enough away from that other reality, that dream scape, that all she knows is that she’s annoyed. “Hello! Who is this?” Liz says sharply. She can hear breathing, but she’s not sure if it’s just breathing or if it’s the kind of breathing you get from an obscene phone call. She’s never had an obscene phone call.

“Hello!” she says again, then, warning: “I have call display.” She realizes that she actually does have call display. What a goof! She looks at the phone cradle. “Jack?” she says. “Why are you calling me at 2:43 in the morning?” Jack doesn’t know what to say. He hasn’t planned this out at all. He can’t say that he phoned her because his Winnie the Pooh night light
burned out and now he’s scared to go to sleep because the walking doll behind the big scary door in the fun house corridor will get him. “Jack?” Liz says again. “Are you all right?”

“Liz?” Jack asks, his voice at least two octaves above where it should be. He didn’t think he knew how to make his voice go that high. His voice probably hasn’t done that since before it broke. He tries again: “Liz? Is that you? I thought I phoned the pizza place.” His words sound false to his hears, and he winces, almost hangs up, but Liz … is laughing.

“Pizza? At 2:43 in the morning?”

“Yeah,” he hears himself say. “I had a craving. Do you want to share?” Well, that was dumb, but again, he is surprised.

“Why not?” Liz says. “I’m awake now. But you’ll have to come here. I’m not getting dressed and going out at this ungodly hour.” Liz isn’t getting dressed? That sounds promising.

“I’ll be right there,” Jack says.

Jack puts the Winnie the Pooh night light in his pocket. He phones the all night pizza place near Liz’s and sets off into the night. The streets are quiet. He doesn’t know what he expected – evil clowns and drunks, maybe, but there is nothing but stillness. A low fog is moving in, and maybe at another time it would have been spooky, but now it gives an otherworldly aspect to the night. It almost feels cozy.

The pizza place and the 24 hour drugstore beside it are the only signs of life on the street. There are no other people out walking, no cars or other vehicles on the road. Jack goes into the pizza place.

“I phoned,” he says.

The pizza guy looks in the oven. “Give it another five minutes,” he says, so Jack goes into the drug store and comes out with a small purchase in a bag, and a magazine to read while he waits. There’s no need, though. The pizza is on the counter, in an insulated bag. “Had to run out” a note says, “bring the bag back in the AM” Jack picks up the pizza and heads over to see Liz. As he walks away, the lights in the pizza place and the drugstore go off, and he has a momentary feeling of nothingness – of being alone in the universe.

It’s not an unpleasant feeling, he thinks, but he’s never been scared of being alone. He’s never been scared of evil clowns, for that matter, or drunks.

Up in her apartment tower, Liz looks out the window for Jack. The fog doesn’t seem cozy to her, and the absence of lights or vehicles on the streets seems sinister. She shivers and pulls her robe around her closer. She’s forgotten to tell him about the near impossibility of gaining access to her building without the code for her apartment and doesn’t know if he’ll have brought his cell phone. Most people would, but most people aren’t Jack. She watches to buzz him in. She’s still watching when there’s a knock at her door.

Liz looks through the peephole. Jack is there, chatting to some guy. Liz looks down at her self. She’s wearing more than she’d wear on the beach – a full length robe and fuzzy slippers. All that is exposed is her hands and her face, but she still feels kind of naked. She pulls the robe belt tighter and opens the door. “Hey, Jack,” she says, “come in.”

The other guy smiles in a friendly way and keeps walking. “Nice building you have,” Jack says. “That guy let me in, but came up with me and said he’d call the cops if I didn’t really know you. Must make you feel safe.”

It might have, Liz thinks, if she had any idea who the other guy was. Maybe he was some kind of stalker who found out which girls didn’t live with their boyfriends.

“He’s the night maintenance supervisor,” Jack says. “But why are we talking about him, when I brought pizza?”

He steps into the apartment. It all looks pretty much the same as last time he was there, helping her move in. The apartment came furnished, but Liz had still had two trucks worth of bags and boxes of stuff. Girls, go figure. All of Jack’s stuff would fit in a back pack with room to spare.

Now that he has the pizza, and he’s in her apartment, and she’s standing in front of him completely encased, but in a robe nonetheless, that hints of intimacy, Jack has no idea what to do next. This Liz seems friendlier and more interested in him than the Liz he remembers from high school, and the Liz who had apparently been going out with Josh since high school, but it doesn’t mean this Liz wants him to…

Liz steps forward and puts the pizza box on the table. She enters his personal space and wraps his arms around her. Then she kisses him. It’s not a buddy kiss, either.

“I’m glad you came over,” she says. “I wasn’t sleeping too well.”

“You must have been having a nightmare,” Jack says.

“I don’t get them,” says Liz. And she kisses him again.

“What about the pizza?” Jack asks, stupidly.

“What about the pizza?” Liz asks. “It’s too late for pizza.”

The next thing Jack knows, they’re on the couch and Liz isn’t wearing her robe anymore. He’s sure he’d remember doing … what they’re doing … if he’d done it before, but Liz sure seems familiar with him. She even knows about that tickley place on his back… He could do this forever. Hold her and kiss her, drift off to sleep with her in his arms…

“Wait a minute,” Jack says.

He get off the couch and finds the package from the drugstore. She watches him, curiously. He pulls open the bag and takes out a miniature light bulb.

She laughs. “That’s not what I thought you were getting,” she says.

Jack takes the Winnie the Pooh night light out of his jacket pocket and screws in the new light bulb. He plugs it into the wall, and Liz really laughs.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Making sure I have protection,” Jack says.

She waits for an explanation and doesn’t get one. When he comes back to the couch, though, she fends him off. “I can’t do it with Winnie the Pooh watching!” she says.

Jack pulls something soft and silky out of the couch cushions. He throws it over to the wall, where it slides down and snags on the night light.

“Oh bother,” says Pooh, blinded by panties.


Waking up, Jack feels better than he’s felt for weeks, since he was with Pat and Josh and Liz at Pat’s house, before Alice, before Peter, before whoever that crabby old lady was who lived where Pat was supposed to. Light is shining through Liz’ window. He’s sure birds are twittering outside somewhere beyond the soundproof glass. God’s in his heaven, all is right with the world, and he’s going to go buy some danish.

Liz looks up sleepily as Jack gets up and pulls his clothes on.

“I’ll be back,” Jack says.

“I’m getting up,” she says, stretching and yawning and pulling her robe tightly around her for warmth, and looking as though she has absolutely no intention of getting up. “I have to go to work for awhile,” she tells him.

“But it’s Saturday.” Jack says.

“I know,” Liz says. “year end.” Jack looks blank. “Accounting year end,” Liz says, “not regular old December 31st year end.”

Apparently this Liz is an accounting clerk, Jack thinks. It should probably bother him, that she’s not the proper Liz, but right at this moment, at this brief speck of time when he’s had a great night and a decent sleep, and God’s in his heaven and all is well with the world, and not even the absence of Pat and Josh weighs on him, all he thinks is: accounting clerk. Could be worse.

“Aren’t you going to take Winnie the pooh?” Liz asks.

And Jack does. He doesn’t even think that he is making a mistake as he pulls the night light out of the wall and sticks it in his pocket, still covered with Liz’s panties.

He pauses at the door and looks in on her, thinks how beautiful she is, and smiles when she looks sleepily up at him and blows him a kiss. Then he leaves the apartment.

Inside, Liz is sucked back into the nothingness of her nightmare, as if there had been no interlude, as if Jack had not come over at all, as if there wasn’t a complete pizza in an insulated bag sitting on her counter.

“Liz, Liz,” she hears, “Liz… come with us.”

And Liz doesn’t think, “No, take Jack!” She thinks “they mustn’t have Jack.”

And she goes into a nightmare of nothingness, with no top and no bottom. With no way out.


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