Feb 10th, 2023 (edited)
- The Apartment
- At the heart of real estate dealings are three fundamental, crucial values: location, location and location. The apartment building was in a neighbourhood with very good public transportation connectivity, with multiple lines at each bus stop and even access to the subway within easy walking distance. Transportation was important, because the services provided by this particular neighbourhood were insufficient, or rather a little too ethnic to Oedipus’ tastes. Not that he was racist himself, far from it. One of his best friends was an ethnic type, P’orc Bodine. But she stayed closer to the shoreline, and Oedipus was compelled to move further inland by circumstances beyond his control, of a fiscal variety and of an unyielding fervour.
- He had found the apartment by the usual channels, that is by checking the Procynoides Inc. website, formerly known Honest Hailey’s, and having found it he saw that it was good, and by good he meant cheap, for cheap is what he needed, and cheap is what he got, but what he also got was what he paid for, and that is a one bedroom apartment with nothing to separate said bedroom from the kitchen and only a shower curtain between the shower and the toilet. As a luxury item there was also the balcony, for which he had little use due to having quit smoking.
- Oedipus had little enough to move, so he didn’t need much help doing it. This saved on housewarming party expenses as well, since he didn’t need to offer beer and pizza to as many people. Once the last of his guests had left, Oedipus had gotten down to the business of easy living, which mean making his bed for a start, and this he did by throwing sheets on the mattress – he didn’t own the actual wooden framework that constituted the official piece of furniture designated as a ‘bed’ – and then tossed a pillow and a blanket over that, and presto! A bed was made and a man was ready to spend the first night in his new house.
- It was early yet, though. He went out to the balcony and looked out at the projects, the night’s blue tint broken up by yellow lights in thousands of windows, red traffic lights holding up passers by in a frustrating pattern with no rhyme or reason to it, the diesel smell of exhaust fumes from buses wafting about and almost overpowering it the scent of all those spices from all those ethnic foods being cooked in little restaurants, and up above flew flocks of jackdaws nattering and squawking at a pitch so high even traffic and the wild rhythms of some Gandhavara’s music couldn’t drown it out, yes sir the neighbourhood was alive and awake and sleep was a long ways off yet for him.
- Now that didn’t mean Oedipus was under any obligation to unbox his effects or piece together the Ikea furniture, or to do the dishes or any other assorted task or chore that fell to him. He wondered if he shouldn’t have asked his friends to stay and help with at least the dishes, but maybe that would’ve been a little too much.
- The doorbell rang and with a sigh Oedipus dragged himself to answer it. The party was over already, so surely nobody was going to complain about the noise, right? As he opened the door he saw a man in a long grey coat, with blue plastic bags wrapped around his feet, a shower cap on his head, yellow rubber gloves in his hands and one of those silly heavy duty respirator masks on his face. All Oedipus could really see of him were bushy eyebrows, wrinkled flesh around pale eyes and big-lobed ears. Without introductions or greetings, the man began to speak
- “I came to warn you, you know, mister, uhh, mister…?”
- “Rex. Oedipus Rex.”
- “Sadly, yes. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t joke about it.”
- “I can imagine.”
- The two regarded one another for a moment. Oedipus offered a hand in greeting, but the newcomer did not shake it, merely kept fidgeting with his rubber-glad hands, his posture hunched and his eyes flickering to and fro as if constantly seeking something elusive.
- “What can I help you with, mister…?” Oedipus tried in turn, but no bite.
- “I came to warn you,” the man said, still not offering his own name. “I live up on the top floor, and rarely venture down, but I must, I must! A single man, moving here, that’s how they get you. They sneak up on you.”
- “Who sneaks up on you?”
- “No one sneaks up on me, oh no! I’m much too clever for that. I have pesticides and germicides and antibiotics and bolt locks, I boil all my water before use, I have a boiler of my own you see, very handy, of course it’s rather large and installing them in the smaller apartments proved unviable, but it was discussed, measurements were taken you know, can’t be done and I’m sorry for you, I truly am but you just can’t have one, but a kettle will boil water just as well. On the stove, I mean. The kettle.”
- The man’s frantic speech was starting to make Oedipus himself nervous. Perhaps now would be a good time to wish him good night and shut the door, but somehow Oedipus didn’t want to start his relationship with the first neighbour to come greet him off on the wrong foot.
- “Look here, sir, I’m not so much interested in boiling water as I am in the sneaking you were talking about.”
- “Sneaking, yes. That’s how they get you, you know. One moment you’re going up or down the stairs, and before you know it there they are, and you with your hands filled with groceries and not a damn thing you can do. Even worse if they corner you in the elevator, I never use the elevator you know, there’s no escape if they get you in that coffin, but in the staircase you can bolt, just drop your groceries and bolt!”
- There was a redness in his face now, and in his ears and neck, and Oedipus worried the man might be on his way to a cardiac arrest, which would just ruin the evening entirely. Moreover he was starting to breathe rather heavily, and the mask seemed to be the cause of this.
- “You know, you don’t need to wear those masks anymore,” Oedipus noted.
- “Pshaw! I take it off, and then what happens? That’s how they get you. They sneak up on you. Taking the mask off in public indeed! So they can stick their tongues where you don’t want them?”
- Their tongues?
- “Look here now, you’re clearly having trouble breathing. Would it kill you to take off the mask for a moment, at least until we’re done talking?”
- “It would be… extremely…”
- Before the man could complete the sentence he doubled over and Oedipus saw no other recourse than to remove his mask. What he found under it was another mask, which he promptly took off as well, and finally the man could breathe his heavy, wheezing breaths unobstructed.
- Oedipus was about to ask if he’d like a glass of water, but considering his earlier spiel about boiling water, he thought it better not to.
- “Maybe you’d like to come inside and sit down? There’s boxes and things that could take your weight,” Oedipus offered.
- “Inside? No, no, not inside, no. Your apartment hasn’t been sanitized. That’s how they get you.”
- “Yes, yes I’m sure they do. Will you be alright, man?”
- “I will be fine, it’s you I’m worried about. You don’t know the precautions!”
- “Precautions like boiling water?”
- “Exactly, so you do know!”
- The man grasped Oedipus’ shoulders.
- “Mister Rex, you must be ever vigilant! Do you know what happens if you let down your guard for even just a moment?”
- “They sneak up on you?”
- Oedipus still had no idea what ‘they’ were, and he was in no hurry to find out.
- “Consider me fairly warned, sir.”
- “Yes, good. So long as you know.”
- “And knowing is half the battle.”
- “Yes, yes.”
- “Perhaps it’s time to return to your own apartment?”
- “About time, yes. I’ve been exposed too long. I must disinfect and… yes.”
- The man gathered himself, stuck his back against a wall and began to shuffle himself sideways along the hallway to the staircase and Oedipus closed the door. He did take one bit of advice from the crazy upstairs neighbour, and that was putting the kettle on. He still had some wieners left over and thought that boiling them would make for a fine snack. The microwave was still… somewhere. He really should unpack, but he just didn’t feel like it. While waiting for the water to heat up he sat down on his bed and heard an oomph of protest.
- “Move your hiny off of me, buster!” she said.
- “Pardon me,” Oedipus said and scuttled his away. Then it occurred to him that as soaked in fluids as his bedding was, it wasn’t an Ittan-Momen and therefore shouldn’t be able to talk, which led to the inevitable conclusion that there was someone else under his covers, which simply made no sense to him whatsoever. He peeled back the covers and discovered chitinous limbs, twitchy antennae and a woman in cut off denim jeans and an oversized t-shirt that said “DON’T PANIC” on it in big, friendly letters. It was his shirt, he noticed before the woman lifted her head and ruffled a head of curly hair. Her antennae twitched and poked at him.
- “So is the grub done yet or what?” she asked.
- “No,” he said, unable to muster anything but complete and total honesty in response to the frankness of her question.
- “Well bring a plate here when it is, yeah?”
- Oedipus was somewhat perplexed by the insectoid woman’s expectation of room service when interloping in someone else’s room, and he crossed his arms and put his foot down to say no.
- “No,” he said, putting his foot down firmly on his own mattress, trapping the blanket there so she couldn’t pull it over herself again.
- “What’s the big deal? You too lazy to even bring a girl a snack? That the way it is, buster?”
- “My name isn’t Buster.”
- “Yeah, it’s Odie. I heard.”
- “Nobody calls me Odie. Not even my own mother calls me Odie.”
- “Well I do.”
- As she talked he noticed dimples around her mouth, and felt he wanted to see her smile more, for some reason. She seemed alright, trespassing aside, but didn’t God tell us to forgive those who trespass?
- “So what do I call you?” he asked.
- Oedipus couldn’t help but laugh, and saw the girl’s antennae droop down and her cheeks blush.
- “Don’t laugh.”
- “Sorry. It’s just… so Kafkaesque.”
- “Yeah, yeah that’s what they all say. You think you’re clever to come up with that?”
- “I’m not going to call you Greg”, Oedipus decided.
- “Whatever. Your kettle’s boiling over.”
- Indeed it was. Oedipus salvaged the situation and managed to get the wieners on two plates. A good host wouldn’t leave a guest hungry, trespassing Devil Bug or no.
- “How did you get in anyway?” he asked.
- “Sneaking,” she said.
- “How very Gollum of you.”
- The doorbell rang again.
- “Ah, that’ll be the folks,” Gregoria said, delighted.
- “Go answer the door, will you?”
- He did so, and opened the door to a woman in a pink bathrobe hanging half-loose on her chitinous body, leaning in an attempted veneer of sultriness against the wall.
- “Hey there neighbour,” she said with an affectation of husky whisper to her voice, “might I bother you for a cup of sugar?”
- Before Oedipus could reply, he felt something brush past his leg, and looking down saw another Devil Bug crawling inside from between his feet.
- “I see you’re out in force,” he noted.
- “Oh sailor, we do like to stick together. We’re social party animals”, the bathrobed one said.
- “I’m out of beer and pizza,” he said.
- “That’s alright, there’s both on the way.”
- “On the way?”
- “We prepared when we heard there was a party going on.”
- “I see, but…”
- “Hey where do you keep your photo album?” an unfamiliar voice, a fourth bug perhaps, called out from behind him.
- “It’s in the box that says…” he started to answer, but heard a crash and turned around to see several boxes overturned and their contents spread on the floor, with multiple bugs scrounging through them. Somehow, a radio had appeared and was playing Domo Arigato Missy Automato.
- “Well,” Oedipus said, “this whole thing kind of sneaked up on me.”
- As he turned around to the hallway the bathrobe had managed to come loose entirely, revealing a set of red lingerie, and mouth was pressed to his, and he had to admit to himself that the madman had been right about the mask after all.
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