:: Article

Shuffle

It was one of those odd things, synchronicity, the White Stripes thinking about my doorbell ringing and it actually happening, the ringing I mean. Some guy in a shaggy green coat, like a rug with buttons, doing a jig, a two-step on my front step. I saw him through the stained glass window, in the clear part, above the Celtic cross.

What the hell?

And he rings it again.

I fling the door open – a blazing riff of sound shakes behind me. Shaggy coat guy must be wondering what the hell as well.

“Love that tune,” he says and sings along.

“Whattya need?”

The question falls out of my mouth, my ipod, hooked up to the Blaupunkt, switches. The Killers whine on about something. I repeat the question.

“Those guys are so done.”

I start to close the door.

“No, wait, man.”

Thinking the dude is spouting some ancient haiku one word at a time, I stop the door in mid-swing.

“Your phone, can I use it?” He jams his pencil-thin fingers into black Levis. “My car, it hit something.”

A wave of empathy crawls up my neck and I force it back down.

“You look fine to me.”

He drives his hands deeper into his pockets, his body folds forward. I’m guessing he’s at about 74 degrees.

“I’m alright. Car’s not. You gotta smoke?”

“Thought you wanted a phone?”

He straightens up. I open the door wide and invite him in.

“Cal,” he brings his hand out quick, like Eastwood out of a poncho, and presents it to me.

I look at his hand. “Right.”

“You listen to some weird shit.”

The Chrono Cross theme is buzzing and the string section kicks in.

“Phone’s over here. And I don’t smoke.”

He walks to where I’ve pointed, doing a Riverdance move on the way. He picks up the phone and pushes the buttons super fast, beepbeepboop.

“Yeah. Hey. Yeah,” he says tapping his fingers on my coffee table. “Big thing, came out of nowhere. I don’t know. Yeah, it’s dead.” A pause. “No, I’m not.”

I loom next to him, listening to the coded conversation, trying to imagine who he’s calling. He’s too old to be calling his parents, too scraggly to have a wife, though, I guess he could have one, if she was like him. I wonder what she looks like, probably pierced all over, lips, eyebrows, nipples, the works.

“Okay. I dunno. I think so.” He puts the phone down and looks at me. “Can I hang?”

I picture him swinging from a rope. “Yeah, I guess. But I still don’t smoke.”

“Cool.” He goes back to the phone. “I’ll be here. Later.”

“They know where you are?” I didn’t hear him give an address.

“Got anything to drink?”

“Milk. From goats not cows.”

“You got a tap?”

“It’s a house isn’t it?”

Why the hell does stuff like this happen to me? I’m in the kitchen putting warm water in a plastic cup – I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it run for some guy who landed on my doorstep. I hear the volume go up in the living room. Lenny Kravitz snaps his fingers and the next track slips into place. I go back in time, it’s a one hit wonder from ’74. Hmpf, 74 again, what’s with that?

I slide into the living room, feeling the swaying disco ball. I imagine my pants flaring out.

Me and Cal sit there as my ipod shuffles through time. Blips of events bounce across my forehead, hover in front of me and then drop dead on the floor when the track changes. Some hang around a bit longer, like retina burn of the ear. I remember when that was on the radio. It had to be summer, it was always summer when that played. Back then, I didn’t give a shit about sunscreen, no one did. I’d peel off my Adidas t-shirt, suck in my teenage gut, and hope that the girl in the ribbed halter top, damn, remember those, looked at me, but not too close.

Cal sips the water and bounces along.

“Where do you find this stuff?”

“When’s your ride getting here?” I shout over a Dutch techno band. Cal transforms into a bad robot. I don’t mean evil. I mean bad.

“You live alone?”

I don’t say anything.

“Hey, right on! The Romantics.” Cal bounces up from the couch and yells along. “That’s what I like about you!” He screams.

I scream. What the hell, why not? I spring from my chair and start dancing like my head is on fire. Cal’s not about to put it out, he chugs his arms and does some weird monkey movement.

I jump on the coffee table and kick his cup across the room, water sprays across the hardwood. I swing my hips and butt. Cal jumps on the other side of the table, it’s a long table, it supports us. We bump against each other, like guys working an oilrig, nothing sexual, just working, grunting, jiving.

The music cuts, that song where the baby is talking comes on and we both look at each other funny. We step off the table. Cal sinks into the couch.

“You got any weed?”

“Don’t smoke.”

“Oh, you meant anything.” Cal puts his hands behinds his head, his t-shirt rises and exposes a red and black tattoo across his navel. It looks like a spider, or maybe a boat, who knows. His shag coat has been thrown over the arm of the couch. I think I used to own a rug like that, in a bathroom.

“What’d you hit?”

“Damned if I know.”

“I have to leave, you know – things to do, air freshener to buy.” I give him a you-know-what-I-mean look.

“I can wait outside.”

A Death Cab song comes on, real quiet, like somebody’s whispering behind a tall plant, a fern or a spider plant. What’s with the spiders?

“You got kids?” I ask.

“One. But not anymore.”

A horn beeps outside.

“That’s me,” Cal says and grabs his coat. He picks up the cup on his way to the door. He tosses it to me. “Thanks man.”

Then he’s gone and the room feels emptier than before. A wall of guitars rises in front of me. I crank the volume. The sound wraps around me tighter and tighter, until I am in an audio cocoon, and the space around me sways in soothing rhythm. I don’t recognize the song. I can’t think of where I was, or when it was, or even how it was.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Craig Terlson’s fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Cezanne’s Carrot, Hobart, and the Laura Hird Showcase. He was a finalist for the Glimmer Train 2005 New Writers Award. He was recently awarded a Canada Arts Council grant to complete his short story collection.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, February 28th, 2007.