The kid next door had stopped screaming and was now bashing out a single flat note on a toy piano. Its parents were upstairs rehearsing their little drama of the previous evening. A dog in somebody else’s back garden growled and yapped as it tore the stuffing out of an old cushion. Marvin stared at it ruefully through the kitchen window.
He opened the refrigerator. The light at the back buzzed and flickered and stayed on. Inside was a packet of cigarettes, a pair of sunglasses and an upright human head.
“What were you expecting?” snarled the head. “Close the door already.”
Marvin reached in and took a cigarette.
“Hey, put that back,” the head snapped.
Marvin slammed the refrigerator door and threw the cigarette into a corner.
Marvin’s car was parked up against the curb. He stood at the front gate for a moment to watch a man chase another man across the road with a hedge trimmer. Slipping into the driver’s seat he flipped the radio on. A woman with a shrill voice was making it absolutely clear that whatever it was would have to go in an anecdote peppered with expletives.
“It’s a –––– joke.”
“And a –––– in the –––– of every –––– in the business.”
Cars on both sides of the street were tucked in bumper to bumper. Marvin weighed his options. In order to pull out he would have to knock on a dozen doors. He pressed his forehead against the steering wheel and closed his eyes.
A scruffy chap with flushed cheeks brought his fists down again and again on a flat keyboard. Keys pinged off in several directions. Two sharp-suited characters took turns at swinging their Oxfords into a dilapidated coffee dispenser. Coffee jerked out across the carpet as they coughed and spat into handkerchiefs. The office yawned and stretched indulgently in accordance with the open plan.
“Marvin, you’re late.”
“You missed the meeting, Marvin.”
“Thought you were coming in early today.”
“Where you been, Marv?”
The comments bounced around accusingly and Marvin batted them back without enthusiasm. A stack of paperwork toppled from his desk like a demolition project.
The day had not gone well. The traffic on the Whiplash Way had been exceptionally brisk and his battered hatchback had struggled to meet its obligations. Marvin was in no mood to be reasonable.
He reached up and over and flipped a switch. There was a muffled scream from inside the refrigerator. He yanked open the door and this time the light stayed off.
“Think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” sneered the head. “Think you can do what the hell you like. Word to the wise guy. It’s not going to help you.”
A migraine rolled and surfaced. Marvin grabbed the sunglasses and swung the door shut on his furious lodger.
Chalk up another sleepless night. Marvin wandered into the kitchen to find a pool of dirty water spreading across the linoleum. He opened the refrigerator door. The head stared at him through narrowed eyes. Water from the ice box ran in streams down the smooth cheeks and collected in the recess under the bottom shelf. Matted hair stuck to the smooth forehead in thick wet strands.
“Hey, wise guy. Had your fun now. Turn it back on, alright?”
Marvin felt his stomach tighten. “You think you’re so damn detached,” he said flatly. “You think you’re so damn removed. You’re all mouth.”
“Maybe,” the head conceded. “But I’m not an asshole.”
Marvin winced and stepped back. This was a familiar conversation and seemingly without resolution. “No choice, right?”
“No choice, buddy.” The head gave an ugly laugh. “Not if you want to hang onto that temper of yours.”
The head was right. The deal was fair. Marvin reached up and over and flipped the switch.
Jon Kemsley has been published in the Fiction Pool, New World Writing, New Reader, Neon, Ellipsis and many others. He lives and works on the south coast of England, listens to jazz on vinyl and occasionally remembers to call his brother about whatever it was he promised to do last time.
Image Credit: Cerid Jones