Mike Falcone was able to tell that the woman from the Rental Office wasn't thrilled with him. He guessed she wasn't enjoying the showing, but it was beyond him to make things better for her. He wasn't a part of the Social Counterfeit she had to be used to for clientele and it wasn't his problem if she couldn't hack it.
Admittedly, he wasn't presenting himself the picture of congeniality, but why give her that? Mike knew her, knew her smarmy type and knew what kind of people she usually dragged through these apartments. They were no doubt the ooh-dahling-this-is-so-lovely-so-quaint big biz couples with the Volvos and the two-point-five aspirations. Mike didn't have to be told so, it was there, bang, knowledge, like knowing you had to breathe to live. Mike knew this woman was aching for such a fresh-faced, reserved pair right now, not Mike Falcone, not a walking, talking explosion. Anything, anything else.
She was going to have to deal, though, because his money was as good as anyone's.
Mike had his own life to concern himself with. The rental crow was visibly allowing her blood to curdle. Too bad. Mike bombed through the open apartment, screaming to test the acoustics. It had that buzzy, tinny, unfurnished apartment type of reverberation to it. He scanned the white walls, dreaming of the paintings, the hellish paintings, he could try to grace them with. He wanted to cover them, their bare, white complacency, in the worst way imaginable. Oh, and the big picture window thing, the sliding glass door leading out to the balcony—it would never, ever bear curtains. This was very important. No curtains.
Mike was ecstatic. It was open, high up above the world, open, so open. It was a turret. It was a domicile.
Behind him, the woman was babbling something like, “the kitchenette is this way,” and Mike paid no attention. She was gesturing as trained, yutzing and putzing in her wallpaper paste makeup and her ugly, yellow shoebox dress, all horrific and horrified. She was a living, talking backdrop, now. There was no room for her, for kitchenettes, for Wall Sockets, for Bingo or the goddamned Elk's Club. The connection had been made. This was the one. This was the one. This was the one.
Mike hit the ON switches one by one and all nine television sets opened their dusty, cyclopean eyes to reveal a glowing fest of snow and colliding imagery. Nine different channels, nine different lives, voices, worlds wrestling for domination, all clashing and twisting around each other, vomiting their output, their gnarled information swirling in a broken cacophony.
Mike grinned a real, bitter grin and stared around him at the onslaught, the TV screens and the howling paintings which exploded, earthy yet vibrant in their reds, greys, yellows, browns and blacks across the walls. Tortured silhouettes and hints of burning, breaking life danced and contorted. This was it, alright.
The fruition, Mike thought, the culmination of struggle, toil and years and years of deep, personal war. The reason for every contact ever made, every undesired stench he ever allowed to cross his path unhindered, every sour, pouting, world-bittered orifice he'd ever allowed to receive him. The reward, the coronation for every little compromise he'd ever had to debase himself by making.
Open. A dais. A throne.
The windows were naked. No curtains. The windows were the eye to the world and it would be obscene to veil them in any way.
The grin, even as impure, as hawklike as it was, dropped after a minute. The smiles never lasted, ever. This wasn't disturbing and Mike shrugged it off, allowing silently as he often had to, that maybe the smiles shouldn't last.
On came the frown the scowl, the Sovreign Face. The surveyor face, the stare straight down. King. Eye. The War, why it was fought, the Struggle, the ever-progressing rush onward.
He slid the door open and stepped out onto the balcony.
Mike was dressed in his victor's clothes, the ruling clothes. Regal as ever, damning, the figure of condemnation, pointing the finger down in judgment. The black pants, black jersey, the capelike black housecoat. Even those black and white high tops, so death-game, so sport-noire. It was time. Time.
He stood there at the top of the convulsing world, hands on railing, gripping it firmly, savagely, because it was his. He hunched over that man made, glass-skinned precipice and looked down, glowering like a hungry buzzard, taking it all in. Every bit of it.
The city yawned out like a maze, buildings making walls and blocks in a complex, senseless, faceless tangle of streets. Those road-ribbon-things were choked and clogged with a teeming, jerking throng of cars and people—rather, what were supposed to be cars and people. From up here, Mike saw them all, every irrelevant one of them as they were meant to be seen---bugs. Bugs. Thousands of mindless, scrambling bugs, coursing through that maze, lost, trying to walk through cement in this wreck, this garbage sculpture. Rambling naked, cross-eyed and intoxicated amidst the neon, the trash, the smoke, the confusion. Pulsing. Lurching. Moving on and on. For what? For what?
He remembered the shock, the transformation on Shelley's face, when he slapped the divorce on her. Oh, how he relished that action, the joyous result. That mawkish, pop-eyed, ignorant smile of hers, the one that wouldn't go away, the smile he'd grown to hate, permanent and unflagging as it was—there was such a thrill in seeing that smile obliterated. Her candy-striped daydreams---so high school, so powderpuffed---dashed. Deflowered. Was she out there, too, striving among the bugs, the base crawlers who devoured their own? Yes, Mike guessed she was, or may as well be.
That retrospect didn't haunt him with much sadness. He had to laugh. Sure, it was a mistake. Sure, he had believed in it at first. The lesson he learned, though, was the lesson of the bugs, scuttling over each other to reach destinations they had no notion of. Life as Juggernaut, rolling over everything. Ongoing change. Mike Falcone measured his forevers in days. Weeks. Seconds.
He glared down upon the shifting, blinking, groaning tumult.
The wind was high, wailing and howling about him. It roared like an invisible ocean, screeched like an all-encompassing, transistorized choir of inhuman angels. Mike felt like he was in the eye of a hurricane as he stared down into the pit.
“Uuhh,” he yelled, testing his voice and what kind of match it might be against that wind. He couldn't tell. Was anyone able to hear him, or did the power, the velocity of the wind strangle his sound, right there?
“Aaaahhh,” he yelled. Did it matter? The bugs, he felt, should know they were being watched, know they were being kept in line. “Aaaaaahhhhh!” He screamed.
Mike rumbled back into the apartment and got the radio. It was a shoddy, decrepit old portable he'd picked up months ago in some rural flea market. Sad piece of junk----why buy it? Why this shitty little one speaker radio? Why not? Why care?
He came back out upon the balcony with the radio and thought about how easy it would be to let go of this negligible piece of plastic and circuitry. So easy, so logical, for it to sail off into the night. The radio. Him. Anyone. Anything. It was elementary, a fate inescapable, like that oncoming train one couldn't get away from at the mouth of the tunnel.
“UUUUUUHHHHHHHH!!!!” He yelled, and he hurled the radio off the balcony. He watched it disappear, end over end, swallowed by the night. As it fell, he heard it occasionally hit a railing, a bit of wall or a window.
If one was inclined to worry about the safety of the ants below, and Mike wasn't, one had to consider the danger of raining a portable radio down on the street. It was obvious to Mike, though, that there was no danger. The way the thing was bouncing and breaking all the way down, all it would be by zero would be a lot of wire and springs and a few shards of ugly, beige plastic. Harmless. Not hazardous, not touching anyone, as if anyone down there in that maelstrom was worth considering.
“UUUUUUUUHHHHHH,” Mike yowled, commanding the night, condemning the tiny populace. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!”
As the night wore on several other objects went over the balcony. They included a set of expensive glassware, a couple of cheap bar stools, an office chair, numerous articles of clothing and a jankedy old card table Mike imagined had somehow survived the marriage to Shelley.
The boys in blue turned up after a string of disturbance calls and found they had to force their way in, no one seeming to be home. They ran a nice, futile game of tag around the place before they saw their quarry out on the balcony, screaming, shouting and firing taunts from his perch.
“YOU FUCKERS! YOU FUCKERS! YOU'RE BUGS, YOU FUCKERS! YOU'RE SHIT! I! JUDGED! YOU! I! JUDGED! YOU!”
Mike was a gargoyle, dangling from the railing by his hands and knees, big-eyed, red-faced, teeth bared, hurling his damnations, ruler of the world, a holy blaze on high.
THE SCOWL was published, in 1992 or '93, I think, in a little litmag called ILLITERATI. It was one of a rash of short stories I wrote shortly after I got done with my novel, HELLO, UGLY and that was a time when I was finding my footing as a writer. My prose stylings at that moment make me think of Chaim Potok on Angel Dust----and that's probably an insult to Angel Dust.
copyright 1990 C.F. Roberts/2015Molotov Editions