Who?

Self-Published – September 23, 2018

“How did you get in my house?”

Randy is standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He’s in his full chef-regalia, his long, sullied white apron tied around his neck and waist. His burned hands are wet with oil, and his cheeks are flushed red from the considerable heat emanating behind him. What’s he cooking now, I wonder? The last three weeks he’s been making a mess deep-frying everything he finds at the Asian supermarket. I wouldn’t mind so much if he’d remember to sop up the stuff flooding the burners on the stove.

I stomp my boots on the mat and smirk at him as I toss my keys on the kitchen table. “Climbed through a window, obviously.”

He grabs a dirty knife resting on the counter-top beside him. “Get out.”

I cock my head at him and raise a brow. I admire his commitment to the bit; he’s really selling it with the dead-pan intensity. I chuckle and throw on my most dastardly tone. “I’m afraid, dear Randall, that your home now belongs to me. Be a good lad and hand over all your cash and the title to your Mazda.”

He looks genuinely perturbed by the joke. His beady green eyes pop out wide like soccer balls. I’ve never seen his face so deadly serious. “How do you know my name? Who the hell are you?”  

I hesitate, not sure if he’s joking or not still. “Are you alright, dude?”

He grips the hilt of the cutting knife and takes an aggressive step toward me. His voice lowers to a stern tone. “Are you a stalker or something? Did you steal my keys?” He shuffles over to the table, gaze locked on me the whole time. He shoves a hand in his pocket and pulls out his house key. He compares it to the matching golden one on my keyring.

“How did you get this?” he demands, holding up my keys.

“Our landlord?”

“Are you a new tenant or something? Janice said we had the place until May.”

“Randy, you can cut it out now. This is stupid.”

His brow folds, and he shakes his head, like he’s distracted by something. He blinks at me. Then he jumps, like he’s just noticed me standing in front of him. “How did you get in my house?”

“Randy, it’s me, Derek. You know? We’ve known each other since freshman year of college? Been living together for ages?”

His expression contorts like he’s confused. “Who are you? How did you get in my house?” He seems to be serious. Should I call an ambulance? Clearly, he’s had some sort of stroke or psychotic break. I put up my hands and back away toward the landing. “Sorry, I was looking for a friend of mine’s place. Wrong address, I think.”

“How did you get in my house?” Randy asks accusingly.  

This is skeeving me out. I leave.

It’s late February in Minnesota. The snow’s been melting at a good pace for the last few days, but today the temperature’s dipped to a nipple-raising 5 degrees. Not the ideal weather to be locked out of your house by a crazy person. Why did I forget my gloves at work? Mom always warned about these kinds of situations. I used to lose pairs of mittens every other week as a kid. Always used to warn me if my little ass wasn’t attached, I’d freeze it off. She was funny. I miss her.

I pull out my phone and dial my sister.

“Hey bro-dude, what’s up?”

“Hey, Vikki, are you busy?” I ask.

“Totally swamped.”

I hear someone violently whooping accompanied by a chorus of snickers in the background.

“Think you can rip yourself away and come over to my place for a minute?”

“I can rip something, sure,” she says. One of her stoner friends cackles.

“This is serious. Something’s wrong with Randy,” I say.

“When is something not wrong with Randy?”

“No, I don’t mean like his usual stick up the butt, obsessive self. He’s like…spacey.”

“Is he high?”

“No – I mean, I don’t think so. I’d say he’s on drugs, if anything. Look, he’s just really freaking me out. Can you come here and help me?”

She groans. “Do I have to? We were gonna watch Momento.”

“I’ll buy you food, whatever you want. Please. This is serious.”

“How serious? Like nacho tots from Blue Door serious?”

“Sure, whatever.”

“Neat. I’ll be there in 10.”

I stand outside my house with my hands shoved in my armpits like an asshole for 30 minutes. Despite my efforts, my fingers have gone numb. Reliable, my sister. If I had known she would be this late I would’ve gone to a coffee shop at least. I huff and call her again. She answers.

“Hello?” She doesn’t sound stratospheric.

“Vikki, where the hell are you?”

“Was I supposed to be somewhere?”

“Damn it, you pothead asshole, you were supposed to meet me at my house.”

“Whose house? Who is this, even?”

She’s completely useless. “Forget it, I’ll figure something else out.”

“Good luck, stranger.”

I hang up. Who else can I call? My buddy Max is a mechanic and won’t get off til late. Dad’s in Nicaragua on a nature retreat or some nonsense. Mom’s been dead for 10 years. I check the time. 5:47 pm. My stomach squeals at me. I pat it reassuringly. Guess there’s no reason I can’t come up with a plan over a beer and some fries. Plus it’s cold as a yeti’s nutsack. I reach for my car keys in my pocket.

They aren’t there. Shit, I left them upstairs. I groan. Guess I’ll walk down to Selby Avenue.

My feet are stiff blocks and my cheeks are burning by the time I step inside the Blue Door. The tiny place is packed to the walls like it always is, full of bearded flannel-bros huddled around tallboys of PBR interspersed with tables seating a few awkward dates. A band of colorfully-dressed ladies with bandanas are discussing their roller derby practice at the seats by the window.

One of them’s kinda cute, raven black hair pulled down over her right shoulder in a finely tied braid.  I nod at her. She doesn’t notice me. Can always count on my hidden talent of being totally imperceptible to women, can’t I?

I claim an open stool at the bar. Takes the bartender a good five minutes before he ambles over my way. He’s an insufferably artsy looking guy, with huge gauges in his ear and a mop of greasy blonde hair topped with a plaid newsie cap. Never understood how anybody pulls girls – or guys – with a get-up like that. Who knows, though? Maybe he cares more about making an impression.

“Can I get a Surly Furious?” I ask.

“You got an ID, my man?”

I grab my wallet out of my back pocket and hand my license to him. His lips twist underneath the twirls of his handlebar mustache as he inspects it.

“This a joke or something?” he says.

“What are you talking about?”

Steampunk Fallout Boy hands me the card. It looks damaged, like something has scratched up the front. My picture and the address field are missing, each replaced with haphazardly cut rectangles of empty space. Only thing legible that’s left is the word “MINNESOTA” in blue lettering at the top.

“What the hell?” I say. “How does that even-”

I look up and the punk rock paperboy’s moved on to attend to some guy at the other end of the bar. I try to flag him down. He turns and stares straight at me. His mouth purses beneath his ridiculous facial hair, befuddled.

“Excuse me,” I say. He shrugs and begins filling up a glass for another customer. I’m getting skeeved out again. Whatever fucked up hipster bullshit is going on right now, it needs to stop. I tap a waitress who’s walking by on the shoulder. She doesn’t turn around. I tap her again, more forcefully.

“Excuse me. I’d like to order some food.”

She walks off to another table. I blanch for a second but play it off with a scoff and pat the guy watching the Twins game next to me on the arm.

“Did you see that? She totally blew me off.”

The dude’s eyes don’t leave the screen.

“Hey!” I say. I shake him this time. He cheers as Mauer hits a single.

“Hey! Dude! C’mon! Look at me!” I shout. I stand up off the stool and push him. I’m repelled by my own force somehow and fall to the floor.

No one reacts. No one offers to help me up. I try to quell the notch of panic twisting in my chest. Breathe, Derek. This has got to be a dream. Or a really bad acid trip. Gotta be right?

The waitress from before steps on me coming back from clearing a table.
“Ow!” I yell to nobody’s notice. What do I do? From the floor I see the roller derby gals bonding over a basket of nacho tots. I stand up and sidle over to the girl with the braid.

“Hey, if you can hear me, please tell me to piss off like every other beautiful woman I meet at the bar.”

She continues chatting with her friends, oblivious to my presence. Somehow, this is much worse than my usual social invisibility. I get in her space and bring my lips close to her ear. I try to think of something to say that will force her attention.

“Let’s go back to your place, and I’ll ravish you with the intensity of a thousand dying stars,” I whisper in a heavy, mouth breathing rasp. I expect a gasp in horror and a slap across the face. Instead she laughs at her friend’s joke and takes a bite of her tot-cho. She spits flecks of potato on my cheek.

I lose my cool a bit and howl like a wounded timber wolf. I try to pull braid girl’s seat out from under her. When I yank back, I’m sent flying over the tops of the tables. I bounce off them like a pinball against bumpers and crash on the floor. I moan and reel in the wet of melted snow and sticky puddles of half-dried IPAs. The crowd doesn’t so much as flinch. The guy watching the game at the bar is reminiscing about the last time the Twins won the world series. We’re all just having a jovial, nostalgic Thursday night out here at the – the…what’s this place called?  

It doesn’t matter. I pick myself up and pull out my phone. Maybe someone will see me if I put something up on my snap story. The log-in screen for the app shows up instead of the menu. I try to enter my account info.

There’s no login associated with that email. Would you like to sign up for a new account?

A lump of dread knots in my stomach. I try to enter my credentials again. Same message. This is nuts. I go in to check my email, make sure it still exists. Google greets me with another login screen. When my username is bounced, I start to feel sick. It’s like the world’s forgotten I exist.

Tears well in my eyes. Not knowing what else to do, I leave. It’s getting dark now, and colder than ever. I wander down the street, distraught.

“Are you alright, sir?” a voice asks me.

I spin around and see a homeless gentleman sitting on a bench. He’s wearing an old North Stars jacket and pair of dirty sweats that look like they haven’t been washed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. His sneakers have holes in the front, and his exposed toes are black with frostbite.

“You can see me?”

“Sure,” the man says, “You look lost. Maybe I can help. What’s wrong?”

“I -” I blink. “I’m not sure.”

The old man nods. “What’s your name?”

I look at him strangely. “I don’t remember.”

“Got somewhere you can go? Or are you stuck out here freezing your little ass off?” He smiles at me and laughs. Why’s he laughing? Did – did he say something? I’m not sure. Who is this guy?

A breeze picks up and makes me shiver. I rub my numbing hands together. Where am I?

 

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