(Excerpt, HELLO, UGLY, a novel by C.F. Roberts)
The gloomy, steamy, neon-diseased beer commercial night parts in half and I'm sitting in this grey, stonelike room. I'm dressed in a white outfit and I have a beard, or rather half a beard. I don't think I've shaved in at least a week.
I'm sitting in this grey chair that looks rugged, like stone, as does all the furniture here. I pick up the white phone on the stone end table and dial the number.
“H'llo?” Says a man on the other end. Instinct. My brain screeches out, this man is an asshole.
And it makes me nervous. “Hi, uh, I'd, uh, like to talk to Zoe, please.” Fuck it, I may as well just get to the heart of the matter and not play around.
“Oh. You'd, uh, like to talk to Zoe, please?” I knew he was an asshole.
“Is Zoe there? I'd like to speak to her.” I know, now, that I'd better be real careful not to sound too desperate. This is the kind of creep who'll just thrive on that, exploit it for all it's worth and throw it right back in my face.
“Yeah,” he sneers, “we have a Zoe here.” I hate him. Smarmy, wiseass fucker. He's making fun of me, but I have to depend on him so I can reach her. Having to tolerate this creep is like having someone put a gun to your head.
“I need to speak with her,” still trying not to sound upset.
“Well, she's a little busy right now,” he says, but I think he may be lying. I hear sounds in the background—people laughing and talking, a TV blaring. It sounds like there's some kind of noisy game show on.
“It's an emergency,” I tell him. “I need to speak with her. Tell her it's Jack and he has to talk to her, she'll say yes.”
There's a brief, edgy, doubtful silence on the other end of the line. Then he speaks up. 'Look, Jack, let me save you the grief. Zoe's busy, now, real busy, and she hasn't got time for this shit.” Amid the laughter I hear Zoe. She blurts out this sentence I don't understand. It sounds like a joke or something, because everyone's laughing, now, and I hear her cackling away, too.
Now I'm getting pissed off. “Busy with what, the fucking television?”
“She can't talk, bub. I think you oughtta be a man and just shove off.”
“No! God dammit, no! You tell her! Right now! Jack needs to talk to her!”
“Ho, ho! Aren't WE demonstrative?”
Sinking heartwise and knowing he's got me by the balls, “I'm sorry. I haven't seen her since she fell down. I need to speak with her. Please. Please.”
“Tell ya what,” he sneers, “I'm a pushover for a good sob story. Lemme just check and see what I can do for you.” He puts the phone down with a loud bonk. I hang on the line and listen as he addresses her. “Hey, Zoe! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! Guy named Jack! Blah blah blah!” There's a pause. Then everybody laughs.
He grabs the phone again and now he sounds all jovial. “Hey, ah, Jack Buddy! Zoe wanted me to ask you a question. She wants to know if you'll ever consider making love to someone who has brain damage! Ha! Isn't that a fuckin' smoker?” He rattles off into a torrent of obscene laughter.
“Listen, asshole, put her on! I need to talk to her. Life or death!”
“Aaaaah.....aaahhhh.....sorry, chief, no can do! Zoe's occupado, now, know what I'm sayin'? Like,
“Please! I have to talk to her, please.”
“Sorry, Jack ole boy, she can't come to the phone.”
“No,” yelling, now, “you're NOT sorry! Tell her I'm here! I need to talk to her!”
“No dice, Jackson,” and the line goes dead.
Now I'm on the street. I'm walking barefoot in some little suburban neighborhood I've never seen before. I step lightly and I watch where I'm going, because I don't want to chance getting any broken glass in my feet or anything.
Step, step, step, step, one foot in front of the other until my foot touches the bird and I jump back. It's dead, squashed, its little face frozen in a painful scream.
“Huh. Huh, huuuuhhh,” and I back up and step on a dead squirrel. Tip toe as I scream and try not to look, shaking all over, but I see a dead dog by my side, run over and ripped in half. “Jesus," I pray and I shriek, “oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus!”
I find I can't walk two feet without stepping on a dead animal. The bodies go on for miles up the road. Dogs, cats, birds, horses, mice, rats, bunnies. I see a cow. A buffalo. I see a big boa constrictor, torn open and spilled across the gutter. I see a baby, dead. A little, bespectacled girl, dead. I can't turn anywhere to avoid the carnage. It's everywhere, everywhere. It's like a minefield, and here I am in the middle, screaming and shaking and screaming, “oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus, JEEEEEEEZUUUUUUUUSSSS....”
“Shut up,” somebody snaps and I look to see my mother glaring out the window of some old colonial house. “God dammit, Jack, quit overreacting! You want people to think you're a freak?!”
I try to answer. I try to ask her to help me, but I can't believe she can't see what's happening, I can't believe it and I try hard to say something but I just stand there amidst all these bodies with my mouth open. Nothing comes out. She looks at me with a grimace of disgust. She pulls herself back into the house and slams the window shut.
Copyright 1990 C. F. Roberts/1991 Shockbox Press/ 2015 Molotov Editions