Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS 10 a.m. Sunday morning as Michael Kleimer eyed the bubbles building in the toilet bowl. He was sure foamy urine was a sign of kidney trouble. He made a mental note to drink more water. Posing into the mirror he flexed his chest muscles. They had taken the shape of pierogis, so he vowed to take up weight lifting. Tucking in his chin he looked over his protruding gut. He couldn’t see his feet let alone his toes. It was time to quit drinking and take up jogging he promised himself. Stepping into the shower he backed under the hot spray too soon and it burned his neck. Adjusting the water, he stood under the spray and let it scour his body. After toweling off he sat naked on the edge of the bed and peeled open a hemorrhoid suppository.
“Up we go into the wild blue yonder,” he hummed, as he attempted to insert it, but it squirted from his fingers and rolled under the bed. Dropping to his knees, his butt waving in the air and humped up like a dog searching for a ball, he spied the slippery plug just out of his reach.
“Crap,” he said.
A robotic sounding voice repeated his exclamation.
“Crap: An act of defecating, or, an unpleasant experience.”
Startled, Michael jerked up and smacked his skull on the frame of the bed. He stood up and traced the lump on his head with his fingertips. “What? Who was that?” He thought it might be his wife but then he realized it came from the other side of the room.
“Peggy, is that you?”
“Peggy: A female name, informal for Margaret.”
On the dresser sat a glossy, black cylinder the size of a cell phone. A green light on it glowed. He picked it up and spun it around in his hand. It was smooth and cold. He sat it down. “Peggy and her gadgets,” he chuckled.
Then, spying the suppository on the floor, he decided against using it, picked it up, tossed it into the toilet. He pulled on his boxer shorts and a T-shirt. The gadget blinked and buzzed as he walked downstairs.
The fierce, white Florida sun radiated through designer blinds and warmed the granite countertops. Light danced off the collection of stainless-steel appliances that filled the room. As Michael meandered through the house; he wondered where his family had gone. He turned on the big screen television to a Sunday morning news show. Russia, the Republicans… same old shit. “Drain the swamp,” he muttered out loud. Then a voice in that electronic tone.
“Swamp: A bog or marsh. Waterlogged land.”
Another device on the marble-top island, its green light blinking, drew his attention in. Michael picked it up. Some kind of home security speaker, a GPS, maybe one of those Google things that locate lost keys? He couldn’t remember what, so he put his lips close to it. “Hello, Hello, where is everybody? Hello, Hello.” He tapped it with his finger. It hummed and vibrated. The green light flicked to a pulsing red. “What in hell?” he said.
A woman’s voice spoke:
“Hell: a place of torment, a netherworld of abuse. Security armed. Security armed. 5,4,3,2,1. Please repeat, repeat.”
Michael held the device out at arms’ length, cautious, carefully setting it down on the countertop. The new technology, especially what his kids seemed to be hooked on made him anxious. Old technology was better he thought and pressed the brew button on his Keurig. He took a sip and burned his tongue. He opened the door and spied his Sunday paper laying halfway down his driveway just as his daughter Cecelia’s calico cat ran in doing figure eights around his ankles. It purred as he pushed it to the side with his foot. Looking down the driveway and both directions up and down the tree lined street he didn’t see anyone. He stepped outside into the blazing heat and the crunchy tiny stones on his driveway felt like hot sandpaper. A situation he quickly recognized was not too smart. He stepped as fast as he could and picked up his newspaper. As he swiveled around he saw the cat rubbing against the door pushing it shut. Trying to keep from burning his feet, he leaped back to his doorway and grabbed at the knob just as it clicked, his coffee cup flying from his hand spilling coffee on his shorts and soaking the newspaper into a brown mush. Porcelain pieces of china covered his feet as the cup shattered.
Annoyed, irritated and sweating he glared at the door, stunned at what had happened. The pavement was scorching his feet, so he stepped into the shrubbery bed. “Now what?” he thought, “The rear door.” He sidestepped along the edge of the house attempting to stay in the shade, ducking and dodging anything that appeared sharp in the sun-scorched mulch. As he rounded the corner, he spotted his neighbor’s Golden Retriever, Otis, taking a crap next to the privacy hedge. Michael crouched down trying to hide, but the dog spotted him and made a beeline for Michael knocking him down into the mulch bed, jumping on his chest and licking and slobbering over his face.
“Otis, come here! Good dog,” Orlin shouted. Spotting Michael he shouted, “Hey, Mike, nice day, what in the… are you still in your shorts?”
The slobbering dog had Michael pinned to the ground. Orlin shouted again and Otis gave Michael one more lick before releasing him.
Spitting, gagging, and struggling to his knees, Michael stood up and eased himself into the hedges which he figured was some protection from prying eyes and that stupid dog. He looked through the branches of the dense shrubbery pushing his face further into it; his nose rubbed up against a plastic label that had the word Pyracantha written in blue, beneath it in black script the word Firethorn, neither of which meant anything to him. Squeezing further into the hedge he felt something sharp on his cheek. But what started as a single prick became an assault. Spiny, needle laced branches jabbed his cheeks, his fingers, his thighs and feet. The further he pressed into the hedge the more he realized he had impaled himself on whatever the tag behind his ear read. He froze in place. No matter which way he moved he felt like a piece of meat on a skewer. Mustering what little strength he had left, taking a deep breath, he shut his eyes and shot through the hedge which resulted in an all-out stabbing; a torrent of pain that brought tears to his eyes.
He landed in the grass next to the patio and before he could congratulate himself on his success, he felt a burning and fierce pinching on his feet. In horror, he looked down as a battalion of fire ants attacked his skin. Pinpricks of blood splattered around his ankles. He ran toward the shade under the roof overhang, smacking off ants as he went. He made it to the door and grabbed the handle only to find it locked. A sliver of shade along the window ledge offered him protection from the sun and heat. Cupping his hands over his eyes he jammed his face up against the window.
“Peggy, Cecilia, Mike, hey anyone in there?” He squinted and to his dismay, he saw another black cylinder on the window sill.
“You’re shitting me,” he cried. Peggy’s facsimile voice again emanated from the gadget.
“Shitting me: An exclamation of annoyance, disgust, or anger.”
Placing his face against the glass, squishing his nose, he mumbled. “You’re shitting me, right? Michael let out a deep sigh then shouted, “Kiss my ass!” The green light blinked faster.
“Kiss my ass: A vulgar express of disdain, a refusal.”
The cylinder vibrated, the light blinked, Michael clenched his fists and pounded on the shatterproof glass. The fire-ant bites burned and itched at the same time sending him into a rubbing frenzy. Maybe the garage he thought. He limped and leaped along the perimeter of his house to the garage. Seizing the handle on one bay door he tugged it up. Locked. He grabbed the other door and jerked it up. There was a pop in his right shoulder that sent a searing shot of pain down his arm, through his hand and making his fingers twitch. With his left hand, he jerked until a burning in his lower back, accompanied by a stabbing pain across his groin, forced him to stop. Frustrated and exhausted, he slumped against the garage door, jockey shorts stained and wet, sweat running down his face and flecks of blood on his legs.
The beeping of a horn got his attention as a red convertible crept by the end of his driveway. “Now what?” he thought. It was Judge Walker’s kid, Humphrey, and his buddy. The horn tooted again. Humphrey waved and shouted, “chicken legs” as they sped away. Michael gave them the finger. “Assholes,” he mumbled, not watching where he stepped. He ran a rose thorn into his foot.
“Son of a bitch,” he cried, then jumped on one foot into the shrubbery running another thorn in his heel. Grimacing, he picked them out and hobbled back to the rear of his home. The shade from the roof overhang had disappeared. He was sure Orlin was watching.
The Florida heat shimmered like it was about to vaporize the air. Michael steadied himself and peered in through the window at the device sitting on the ledge.
“Some help you are. Damn it!” he shouted into the window.
“Damn it: A curse. To condemn to purgatory.”
The green light blinked faster. “Screw you,” grumbled Michael. His head was pounding.
“Screw you: An expression of anger, or contempt,” the voice replied again.
He jerked the latch and banged the glass with his fists until the heat and the anxiety took his wind. He searched for something to break the window and struggled to pry up a paving brick with his fingers peeling back his thumbnail delivering excruciating pain into his hand. An intense sense of frustration and futility swept over him as he leaned against the door. He noticed a thermometer hanging on the wall: 102 degrees. He smacked it with his fist and smashed the plastic tube sending it flying into the air. A salty taste rose in his throat as he licked his lips.
Nausea began first, then beads of sweat ran in streams down his face. His scalp tingled and crawled over his forehead. A crushing pressure slammed into his chest, driving downward
deeper into his ribs, followed by a roiling of sourness up into his throat. His knees buckled and vomit regurgitated into his nose and spewed out over his lips as he lay down on the patio. He thought he heard a car door slam.
Peggy, Cecelia, and Mike Jr., paraded through the front door. The cat curled around Cecelia’s feet. She picked it up giving it a hug. Mike Jr. took a donut from the box he was carrying, sat down on the couch and turned on his Xbox. Peggy sat the gourmet coffee on the counter.
“Honey,” she said to her daughter, “find your father.”
Cecelia dropped the cat and picked up the black cylinder. “Locate Dad.”
The light flashed green. A voice, thin and distant responded:
“Dad: daddy, pop, poppa, pa, old boy, old man.”
The cat wove figure eights around her ankles and purred.