Jack, buoyed by his incredible night with Liz, walks homeward with a spring in his step, and a song in his heart, and a terrible foreboding beneath his right ribcage, where he thinks his liver might be. He ignores the foreboding and looks for a place that sells towels.
Liz, Jack noticed, while in her bathroom, has an amazing number of towels. In his bathroom, he has one towel. It used to be white, and he had liberated it from a gym he was thinking of joining until he realized that he couldn’t afford the payment plan. He didn’t exactly steal it, or at least plan to steal it. It was wrapped around his swim trunks, and he forgot it was there until he started to notice a nasty smell in the bottom of his backpack. It had washed up pretty good, and now he used the edge of it to wipe his hands, the corner of it to clean up after shaving and the rest of it when he had a shower. It worked. But Liz! Liz had more towels than she had body parts. She had huge towels, and medium towels and tiny towels, and facecloths, and this weird puffy round scratchy thing that he was kind of scared to wonder about. If she ever came to his place, would she be happy to use his one all purpose towel that still had pale green streaks on it from the month it had spent in his backpack? He thought not.. He paused at the door of a bath boutique, girded his loins, and went in.
That was twenty minutes ago. Now he is out again, the broke proud owner of a face cloth, a hand towel, a bath towel, all impossibly fluffy and rather more pink than he’d intended to buy, a round puffy scratchy thing which apparently is an ex-foliator, whatever that is, and a bath bomb, that he hopes will work in a shower. He doesn’t know what it is, but it smells nice. Oh, and he also got some smelly pink soap shaped like animals and flowers. The sales clerk had been very nice, but for some reason, he got the feeling that she was laughing at
him. He turns to wave at her, and she gives him the thumbs up and winks. Jack checks his fly. It’s all good, so he figures she’s just being friendly.
Approaching his house, the sense of foreboding stabs Jack like a knife. He rubs his side, and carries on. His landlord is in the yard with Rover, doing some training exercises. “Sit, Rover,” he says. And Rover sits. “Stay, Rover,” he says, and Rover stays. “Speak Rover,” he says, and Rover lets out a sharp warning bark. The landlord gives Rover a piece of raw meat. “Come, Rover” he says, and Rover stands facing his master, waiting for the next command, looking as threatening as a Rottweiller/Doberman can, which is very threatening indeed. Jack is glad that the landlord is there to keep Rover away from him as he comes into the yard.
Rover looks away at Jack’s approach, and whines. The landlord hasn’t seen Jack. “Rover!” the landlord says. Rover lies down. “Up Rover!” the landlord commands. Rover rolls over, his stub of a tail thumping on the ground. Rover!” the landlord yells. The dog ignores him, looking to Jack with a pathetic expression. The landlord finally turns to see Jack.
“Oh, it’s you,” he says. “I should have known.” then: “Up Rover!” The dog doesn’t move, only looks to Jack, wiggling ecstatically, waiting to have his belly scratched. The landlord looks like he might kick the dog, then gets himself under control
“He’s supposed to be a guard dog.” the landlord says. Jack nods and eases past Rover and the landlord to get to his basement suite door. “Jack!” the landlord calls. “I want you out.”
Jack looks at him, ready to say, “but I paid my rent,” and the landlord continues. “I don’t expect miracles, but I want you out, and I want you out now. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the noise you make, I’m sick of the hours you keep, I’m sick of this pathetic thing you’re making of my dog. I want you out of my house.”
From Rover, there is a low, threatening growl. Jack and the landlord both look down at the dog. It’s on its feet. It snarls, and Jack recognizes that it is ready to spring. Only this time, it’s not ready to spring at him, from behind the safety of the chain link dog run, but at the landlord.
“Rover!” Jack calls. “Down!”
The dog snarls again, but lies down, his eyes on Jack, waiting for the next command. The landlord instinctively backs up, afraid of his own dog. “Here, Rover,” Jack says. Rover walks peaceably towards Jack and sits at his side. Jack scratches the dog’s ears.
“How do you do that?” the landlord asks, angrily. “He’s only supposed to obey me!” Rover growls at him, and the landlord modulates his tone. “Look Jack, I want to be reasonable. If you can find somewhere else to live in the next week,” the landlord says. “I’ll refund your last two months rent.”
“Sounds fair,” Jack says, and then to Rover: “Be good.” Rover thumps his stump of a tail on the ground and Jack goes inside, taking his towels with him. As soon as he’s gone, Rover trots back to the landlord, awaiting the next command.
“It wouldn’t do any good to tell you to attack him, would it?” the landlord asks. Rover growls.
Jack spends some time cleaning up his bathroom and putting his towels on display. Somewhere inside, he knows that there is no point, not just because he has to move, but also because Liz… well, he doesn’t want to think about that yet. He takes his faithful old towel, which, now that he looks at it, is even too ratty for him to use, and scrubs
out the shower, getting all the black gunk from out of the corners. He uses the towel to scrub out the sink and wash the floor, and then he uses about half a roll of toilet paper to clean the outside of the toilet and the seat. He doesn’t have a toilet brush, so he just puts some shampoo in the bowl and hopes for the best. He throws the towel into the garbage, and then takes the garbage to the door. He sees that the landlord and Rover are getting along fine, and doesn’t want to interfere, so he leaves the garbage bag inside his door for later.
The phone rings, and Jack dives at it, hope flaring up inside him. “Liz?” he says, eagerly. “This is the Pizza Place,” a voice on the other end says. “I have a record of you ordering a pizza last night, but no record that we made it, or that you picked it up. There was some kind of power failure and we had to close. I don’t want to charge you for it if you didn’t get
Jack thinks of the insulated bag on Liz’ counter, the uneaten pizza, and wonders whether to be honest.
When he’s finished with the call, he realizes that he must face his demons, or at least his phone directory. As he expected, Liz’ telephone number is no longer in his contacts list on his phone. He goes and has a shower, letting the hot water spray down hard on him and scrubbing himself with the ex-foliator and the pink elephant soap until skin is shiny pink; the elephant soap is worn down to a sliver that slips through his fingers and goes down the drain; and he’s not sure whether his face is wet because of water, or because of tears. He
decides to try the bath bomb, almost hoping that it will explode and take him away in a cloud of rose scented perfume, but all it does is fizzle away like an alka-seltzer tablet until all that’s left is a patch of goo in the bottom of the shower.
The picture in his annual, the picture that used to be of him and Pat and Josh and Liz, now shows him and Alice and Peter, and an out of focus blur that must be a girl because she’s wearing a dress. He’ll probably meet her on Friday. He doesn’t want to meet her. He wants to go to bed and cover his head with his blankets, and never come out again. He takes the Winnie the Pooh night light out of his jacket pocket and plugs it in. There is a silky piece of cloth in his pocket too. He doesn’t remember what it is, and is too discouraged to even
look at it. He throws it onto the table without looking at it and gets into bed, naked and afraid.
“It’ll be all right, Jack.” he hears. He sits up and looks around. He’s alone. “It will be all right,” he hears again, and notices that Winnie the Pooh is talking to him, really talking. His mouth is moving and everything.
“Am I going insane?” Jack asks.
Winnie shrugs. Jack is almost prepared to accept that his night light can talk. Shrugging, he’s not so sure about. He drifts into sleep, but his conversation with Winnie continues:
“It’s good that you’re asleep, ” Winnie says. “You have a busy day tomorrow.”
“I do?” asks Jack. “But it’s Sunday!”
“Yes,” Winnie tells him. “And every Sunday you go to school. You take a university course.”
“I do?” Jack asks, worried.
“Yes, you do,” Winnie says, and tomorrow is your big exam.”
“It is?” Jack asks, panic welling up, “but I didn’t study!”
Jack falls into dreamworld. It’s not the fun house dream, at least it’s not the fun house dream, but he’s still where he doesn’t want to be. He’s sitting in a university hall, surrounded by other students working hard at their exams.
Jack sits. He picks up the exam booklet.
“That should keep him busy,” Winne says.
“But I didn’t study,” Jack repeats. “I didn’t study!” All around him, the other students work, effortlessly filling in answers.
Jack opens the exam booklet. It’s all in Greek. Jack doesn’t know Greek.
He’s still concentrating on trying to make sense of the Greek, when Winnie says: “Hey, Jack, where are your pants?”
Jack looks down. He’s naked from the waist down. He screams, a long, silent scream.
“An old, should be retired bear has to have some fun,” he says.
TO BE CONTINUED!