When I was thirty-three, my mother died and I had to move out of her rent-free basement. At first I crashed on my brother’s couch, but then a bunch of his wife’s bras and panties went missing and I got blamed. Next I lived in an apartment above a laundromat but there was a mysterious bra and panty fire in my bedroom and the landlord kicked me out. After the apartment, I rented a room at the Starlite Motel but then my ferret, Stabby, killed the owner’s cat. At that point I was running low on cash so I crashed in the backseat of my Corolla. One night I went to a bar for free happy hour tacos and played darts with a man named Jayhole. Jayhole told me he was looking for a new roommate because his old roommate, Dan, had recently passed away.
“Dan fell off a bridge,” Jayhole said. “Or maybe he jumped. He didn’t leave a suicide note so nobody really knows for sure.”
Jayhole was a large man with a barrel chest and a short ponytail that resembled a salt and pepper turd. He’d been a bounty hunter for twenty years but then he’d gotten shot in the kneecap. He walked with a hitch, but he had this wicked cane with a bunch of writhing snakes on the handle that made it look awesome to have a fucked up leg.
“Do you wanna take a look at Dan’s old room?” he asked.
I was 5’8” when I wore my tallest shoes. I weighed 150 pounds when I wore my heaviest coat. I’d recently grown a scraggly Civil War style beard to hide my weak chin, but people kept on telling me that the beard made my face look even more horsey than it normally did.
“I’d love to,” I told Jayhole.
On the way over to his place, Jayhole told me more about himself. He was forty-five years old. He drove a forklift at an office supply store. He’d been divorced twice and had a teenage daughter he hadn’t seen in years.
“That’s too bad,” I told him.
“I heard through the grapevine she’s a total bitch,” he said, “so no big loss.”
I offered up some tidbits about myself. How I sometimes stole steaks from grocery stores and sold them door-to-door from a cooler in my trunk. How I’d recently taken a jewelry making class and was planning to open a kiosk at the mall to sell some of my mind blowing earring and necklace designs.
We pulled up in front of a duplex. It was brown stucco and there was a rusted basketball hoop out back. Jayhole lived in the bottom half of the building. He gave me a quick tour of the apartment, the kitchen, the bathroom and its clawfoot tub. In the living room, there was an aquarium with a boa constrictor inside it. There was a piece of paper taped to the aquarium that read “Hi! I’m Strangles.”
“We’re not supposed to have pets,” Jayhole said, “but the landlord is old and he never comes around.”
We walked down the hall to Dan’s old room. Dan’s single bed and his dresser were still sitting there. Some of Dan’s old t-shirts, which looked about my size, hung in the closet. The room smelled like incense, not death.
“It’s $400 a month plus utilities,” Jayhole told me. “What do you think?”
I quickly weighed the pros and cons. Had I showered in the sink of a Burger King bathroom that morning? Yes. Did my car reek of steak and ferret? Uh-huh. Was I going to die just because the guy who lived here before me died? Probably not.
“It’s perfect,” I told Jayhole.
For our first few weeks, Jayhole and I got along great. I made him a shark’s tooth necklace and he gave me a punch card from a bagel place that only needed three more punches to get a free sandwich. One night I grilled him a stolen sirloin and he showed me his scrapbook.
Jayhole’s bounty hunting scrapbook was full of pictures of him standing next to bail jumpers he’d tracked down over the years. In the pictures, he was always smiling and laughing and the people he’d brought to justice were always frowning and bloody. In some of the pictures, Strangles was draped around Jayhole’s neck like a scarf.
“It looks like you loved your work,” I told him.
Jayhole stared out the window into our backyard where a stray dog was nosing through a garbage bag. He scratched behind his ear and some flakes of dead skin floated down amongst the crumbs on the kitchen floor. It wasn’t difficult to see Jayhole missed the rush of bounty hunting, that it was his one true calling, that he hadn’t found anything which would ever replace its powerful and enticing high.
“I don’t want to sound like some sad sack yearning for lost gridiron glory,” he told me, “but those were absolutely the best days of my life.”
One night I brought my tackle box of jewelry making supplies into the kitchen to work on some new broche and stickpin designs. Jayhole saw me sitting there and got his storage tub of pictures and scrapbooking materials. For the rest of the night we worked side by side, him with his glue stick and me with my soldering gun. While we worked, Jayhole told me stories about the people in his scrapbook.
“This guy tried to get away from me by climbing into the ductwork of an auto parts store,” he said, pointing to a picture of a man with two swollen eyes and an ear that was partially torn off. “He didn’t think I’d go up there after him, but I tossed Strangles up into the vent and that dude jumped down real quick.”
Each page of Jayhole’s scrapbook held a picture of someone who thought they could outsmart him, who thought they could disappear off the grid. I didn’t have any sympathy for these dopes. I often liked to imagine them sipping a pina colada at a beachside bar thinking they’d gotten away scot free until Jayhole leapt out from behind a palm tree, yelled “Surprise!” and tasered the shit out of their dumbasses.
While Jayhole showed me some more pictures, the man who lived in the upstairs part of the duplex, Caruso, started to tromp around above us. Caruso was a fat, pasty guy who occasionally deejayed birthday parties and weddings. He had an English accent that disappeared whenever he was angry or drunk. Both Jayhole and I hated him. Whenever Caruso walked around or danced to one of his new mashups our ceiling shook and the pots and pans on our stovetop rattled. Jayhole had spoken to him a number of times about wearing noise dampening slippers or simply walking around less, but Caruso never listened.
“Stop tromping!” Jayhole yelled up at him through the ceiling. “Stop deejaying, quit making your stupid mashups and dance jams!”
Jayhole took an aluminum tent pole that was sitting next to the refrigerator and he pounded it on the ceiling. A minute later Caruso tromped down the front stairs and into our kitchen.
“Gimme it back,” Caruso yelled, poking Jayhole in the chest with his index finger. “Gimme it back right fucking now.”
Jayhole handed me his beer and then he reeled back and punched Caruso in the mouth. Caruso tumbled into the radiator.
“Give you what back?” Jayhole asked.
Caruso stood up and bullrushed Jayhole. Caruso was ugly enough not to care what happened to his face which was a lucky thing because Jayhole’s next punch smashed into Caruso’s nose and sent him sprawling back into the wall.
“There was a Tupperware container in my fridge,” Caruso said, spitting a rope of blood out onto our linoleum. “And there was a piece of tape with the word ‘Aphrodisiac’ written on the container. I paid good money for it and I want it back.”
I was actually the one who’d stolen Caruso’s aphrodisiac. A few days ago, I went upstairs to borrow an egg and found Caruso’s apartment door wide open. When I walked inside, I found him passed out on the couch. He didn’t have any eggs in his refrigerator so I took the Tupperware container instead. Right now it was hidden in the mini-fridge in my room. The aphrodisiac was dark red – it looked like it was mostly made of beets. I knew I should ration it for when I finally found a girlfriend, but I’d started to eat spoonfuls of it before I went to bed because I loved the sex dreams it gave me.
“What do you need it for?” I asked Caruso.
“There’s a girl staying with me,” he said. “And she likes that sort of thing.”
I had a hard time imagining what kind of woman would date pig-nosed Caruso, with his pasty skin and his English accent that kept disappearing and reappearing. I was wondering why I couldn’t ever find a woman at any of the bars or apartment buildings where I sold my steaks or why the women who I chatted with online never actually showed up for our dates. As I watched Caruso and Jayhole circle each other, I heard a women’s voice call down.
“Caruso,” the voice whined. “Hurry up already.”
Jayhole stood with his fists raised waiting for Caruso to charge him again, but instead Caruso just shrugged his shoulders, turned, and walked back upstairs.
In July, I had a great month selling steaks. I sold them as quickly as I stole them. Some of my regular customers began to make requests for specific cuts of meat and I was more than happy to oblige.
Unfortunately July was also the month that Jayhole lost his job at the office supply warehouse. After an argument with his boss, Jayhole drove his forklift out to the parking lot and gored the side of his boss’s car. The cops were called, but Jayhole knew all of them from his bounty hunting days and they let him off with a warning.
“Everyone at work knows when I’m drinking tequila you should keep your distance,” Jayhole told me, “but I guess my boss didn’t get that memo, did he?”
Jayhole didn’t start looking for a new job right away and so he had plenty of time on his hands. Mostly he filled up his hours by seeing which hard lemonades mixed best with which flavored vodkas, but he also spent a lot of free time playing practical jokes on me.
One night he unscrewed the top of our saltshaker and I dumped a mountain of salt all over my chicken salad sandwich. On my birthday, he hid my wallet underneath the cedar chips in Stabby’s cage and I didn’t find it for three days. One time Jayhole spread cellophane over our toilet bowl and when I took a piss, the piss bounced right back up onto my jean shorts. Jayhole’s laugh was loud and sometimes after one of his practical jokes he’d slap me hard on the back and shoulders and the next day my back and shoulders would be sore.
“Could you take it easy on the jokes?” I asked.
Jayhole pinched his eyes together, incredulous. He looked shocked I wasn’t enjoying his pranks as much as he was.
“Sure,” he told me. “I had no idea they were bothering you.”
I went to bed that night hopeful Jayhole would stop his practical joking, but the next morning I woke up and found he’d filled my car up with microwave popcorn and lured some squirrels and pigeons inside the car to eat the popcorn and claw and peck the shit out of my dashboard and bucket seats. Jayhole was watching the proceedings from a lawn chair in our front yard, laughing his ass off.
“Dan didn’t get my sense of humor right away either,” he told me, “but after a while he thought everything I did was hilarious. You’ll come around just like Dan did.”
Inside my car, a pigeon squawked at one of the squirrels. I wondered if the birds and squirrels would leave after the popcorn was gone or if they’d hunker down and try to make my car their home.
“Just get a broom and shoo them away,” Jayhole said. “They won’t put up a fight unless they’re rabid.”
Before I got the broom, one of the pigeons took a watery shit in my glove compartment. Lately, I’d thought a lot about moving out, but I’d recently taken all the profits from my steak stealing and sunk them into expensive glass beads I was planning to use for my fall jewelry collection. If I was going to move, I needed a few months to scrape together some money for a security deposit.
A few weeks later, Jayhole started to inject horse steroids into his bad knee. He’d gotten them from a friend who was a trainer at the racetrack. His back acne got immediately worse, but his knee started to feel much better. One day, Jayhole woke up and his knee pain was gone. He tossed his cane into the closet and decided it was time he opened his own bounty hunting agency.
“I’ve gotta be my own boss,” he explained. “At this point in my life, I’m too set in my ways to answer to another douchebag in a suit and tie.”
To get his body in shape for the grind of bounty hunting, Jayhole lifted weights in our garage. He did yoga, sometimes naked, sometimes not, in our living room.
“I just need a little startup money to open up shop,” he told me. “I just need a couple of bucks to buy tasers and tear gas. I’m not asking for much, but every single person I hit up for money tells me no.”
I knew exactly what Jayhole was talking about. I was having the same problem getting my jewelry kiosk off the ground. Over the last month I’d asked my relatives for seed money, but no one would help. Most of them gave me bullshit excuses like “I just got arrested for vehicular homicide” or “I finally decided to start paying my child support.” The rest of them were shocked that I had the balls to hit them up for money after all the meat and lingerie I’d stolen from them over the years.
“I’m trying to remain positive,” Jayhole said, “but it’s damn hard.”
It was hard. So far, I’d invested hundreds of hours designing my fall collection, but I knew no one gave a shit. When I’d started making jewelry I had visions of hot women handing me cold flutes of champagne, dreams of gold-toothed rappers stopping by my kiosk and begging me to design them diamond crusted crucifixes. None of that had happened yet. I still did my visualization exercises to help make these things happen, but remaining positive was getting difficult. At the swap meet each weekend, I laid my piece of black velvet across my card table and spread out my wares, but almost everyone walked by my booth without breaking stride. On the rare occasion someone stopped, they laughed at my jewelry like it was some sort of gag gift.
“Keep plugging away,” I told Jayhole, placing my hand gently on his shoulder. “Don’t listen to the naysayers. Our passion to our craft is the only thing that matters.”
Jayhole must’ve appreciated what I’d told him because after I said this he pulled me into his arms and locked me in a bear hug. He held me there for a long time, squeezing my head into his chest. When he let me go, I saw there were tears in his eyes.
“You’re the only one who understands,” he said.
I knew the horse steroids were giving him crazy mood swings, but from what I could tell his gratitude seemed genuine. Maybe Jayhole just needed some time to trust me? Maybe these jokes he played on me masked some sort of unresolved inner pain? Maybe everything would be wonderful between us from this point forward?
Later that evening, Jayhole broke into my room and wrote the word “Fuckstick” on Stabby’s fur in purple marker. He also took a scissors and cut cock and ball shaped holes in all of my t-shirts.
While I scrubbed the marker off Stabby, I thought about disassembling all my jewelry and selling the stones for scrap so I could get enough money together to move out. I got out a pliers, but I just couldn’t tear everything apart, I didn’t want to give up yet. In the end, I decided the best plan of attack to survive the next few weeks was to avoid Jayhole as much as possible. To make it harder for Jayhole to keep tabs on me, I started to climb in and out of my room through my window. When I was inside my room, I used a flashlight and moved around slowly, trying to not make my floorboards creak. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the darkness, but soon I became proficient at eating soup from a bowl I couldn’t see and pissing into a Snapple bottle using only the faint light of the moon.
One night, I heard Jayhole out in the hall doing some pushups. I was paranoid he’d heard me moving around in my room so I slid underneath my bed to hide. As I lay there among the dust, I noticed a manila envelope taped to the bed frame with the words “Dan’s Suicide Note” written on it. I ripped it open.
“To whom it may concern,” the note inside said, “I’m killing myself because my roommate Jayhole is driving me insane. He keeps playing horrible pranks on me and every time I try to move out he tracks me down and brings me back here. It’s like some demented game to him. I’ve tried to escape a number of times over the last year, but he won’t let me leave.”
I must have ripped open the envelope too loudly because the next thing I knew Jayhole burst into my room, grabbed onto my ankle, and yanked me out from under my bed.
“What’s this?” he asked, snatching Dan’s note out of my hand.
“I found it while I was cleaning,” I lied, “but I hadn’t gotten a chance to read it yet.”
Jayhole read Dan’s note and then he crumpled it into a ball. He took his lighter from his pocket and lit it on fire and then he dropped it onto my floor and stood over it while it burned. The fire alarm in the hall went off, but Jayhole yelled over it.
“That Dan,” he bellowed, “that guy really had a bizarre sense of humor, didn’t he?”
That night, after Jayhole left for his dart league, I put Stabby in his carrier and packed my suitcase. I was planning to sleep in my Corolla that night. The next morning, I’d go to a laundromat and steal some newer bras and panties to give to my sister-in-law as a peace offering. I hoped this would be enough for her to let me crash on their couch again.
I loaded Stabby into the trunk first. When I walked back to get my suitcase, Jayhole popped up from the azaleas. He was dressed all in black and his face was painted camouflage. Strangles was draped around his shoulders. I ran to my car, but before I got there, Jayhole shot me in the neck with a blow dart. My hands went numb and I dropped my keys. My knees went sideways and I toppled over into the shrubs.
“I didn’t think I put enough tranquilizer on that blow dart,” Jayhole said as he stood over me, his head blocking out the moon, “but watching the way you fell, I might have used too much, huh?”
Even though my eyes were having trouble focusing, I could tell Jayhole was excited about catching me. His eyes were open wide and his nostrils were flared. I tried to yell for help, but my tongue wouldn’t cooperate. Jayhole set Strangles down on the ground beside me and I felt him curl around my calf. Even though I was scared shitless, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
In the morning, I woke up handcuffed to my bedframe. Jayhole stood across my room from me, flipping through a batch of earrings I’d recently made. I heard Caruso’s music upstairs, the heavy bass of his speakers pounding through the ceiling and into my chest. Jayhole’s scrapbook was sitting on the floor. There was a new picture of me pasted in it. When he saw I was awake, he walked over and pressed his boot into my stomach.
“What you need to understand,” he said, “is that no matter where you go, I’ll find you.”
He pressed his foot down harder, making it difficult to breathe.
“Now you say it,” he told me.
I thought about Dan and his suicide note. I understood how awesome it might have felt for him to jump from that bridge and fly through the air for a few seconds before he hit that water. How wonderful those precious moments of freedom probably felt before his face smashed into the river and his nose got pushed up into his brain and everything went black and Jayholeless.
“No matter where I go, you’ll always find me,” I repeated.
Jayhole bent down and unlocked the handcuffs. Then he went out into the kitchen and fried up one of my stolen steaks. I curled up under my covers. I listened to the bass of Caruso’s dance mix, ooontz, ooontz, ooontz, pounding over and over, never stopping, never ceasing. The pounding sounded so close it felt like it was happening right inside my stupid head.
Maybe it was Stockholm Syndrome kicking in, but over the next few weeks I learned to accept my situation with Jayhole. Like most abductees, I started to focus on the positive aspects of my current living situation. I had a roof over my head, didn’t I? Other people certainly had problems with their roommates too, didn’t they? Numerous scientific studies have proven that humans can get used to just about anything as long as they maintain proper perspective, right?
By now Jayhole had started to ask me to do him an occasional favor. Doing his laundry or helping him steal a Labradoodle from his ex-girlfriend’s yard. That kind of thing. I did these favors without asking too many questions because Jayhole asked me not to ask too many questions as a personal favor to him.
One day Jayhole asked me to run to the liquor store to get him a case of beer. When I got back with the beer, Jayhole wasn’t home and there was a strange man passed out on our kitchen floor. The man’s long black beard was knotted around our radiator.
Besides being beardtied to our radiator, there was a balled tube sock stuffed into the man’s mouth and his hair had been cut in an unflattering way. The word “SHIT” had been written in capital letters on his forehead.
“Did Jayhole do this to you?” I asked the man. “Are you another one of his jokes?”
The man removed the tube sock from his mouth.
“I’m looking for my wife,” he told me.
The man was about my age and I could tell from the tone of his voice he was very tired of saying this particular sentence. I could tell that he’d said it too many times and now he wanted to say something different or better. The man tried to struggle to his feet. I warned him to stay
down, but he got halfway up before the skin on his face pulled taut and he made a sound that reminded me of when Jayhole and I were down by the river and Jayhole kept hitting that muskrat over and over with that golf club.
“You’re beardtied,” I explained to him. “You’re beardtied good.”
The man slumped back down to the kitchen floor. I noticed he had a tattoo of a Jesus fish on his left arm. His fish had claw marks on it though, like he’d tried to scratch it away. I wanted to tell him about how Jayhole had recently beardtied me to the handle of his van, about how I had learned my lesson about beards. I wanted to tell the man that while the finely trimmed goatee I now wore might look dapper and sophisticated, it was mostly for safety.
The man was jerking his head back and forth to see if he could pull himself free, but this was useless, his beard was really knotted, he was wasting his energy. I handed him my pocketknife.
“It’s the only way,” I said.
The man’s beard was a thoughtful beard, something you could tell he took great pride in. It wasn’t something that had occurred because of laziness or because he’d lost a bet on a college football game. He tried to get his fingernail inside the knot, but that was not going to work either.
The man soon stopped pulling. Then he picked up my knife and started to saw. When he’d finished, I handed him a beer. He gulped it down. His beard was a jagged mess now, totally ruined. I could see the wheels turning in his head. It was starting to come back to him, how he’d arrived here, who’d done this horrible injustice. I was expecting him to yell out Jayhole’s name, but instead he shook his fist and yelled “Caruso!”
The man’s name was Harley. He said he’d driven here to win his wife Erica back from Caruso but then Caruso had jumped him from behind and bonked him on the head with a lead pipe or a baseball bat, he did not know which.
As we talked, I heard the front door open and Jayhole walked into the kitchen.
“This looks like a fun time,” he said, noting the knot of beard around the radiator. “This looks like a fun time indeed.”
I popped open a beer for Jayhole, explained how I’d thought that Harley was one of his practical jokes, but then found out that Caruso was responsible.
“Christ,” Jayhole said. “Beardtying is my move. Isn’t anything sacred anymore?”
Harley pulled out a worn picture of Erica from his wallet and pushed it across the kitchen table. In the picture, she was wearing a skirt. She had incredibly curvy calves, calves that I could only think about running my tongue, slowly, up and down, over and over again. I’d long imagined finding a woman that would let me do this to their body without charging me premium prices, but I hadn’t found one yet.
While we sat there, we heard Caruso start to tromp around above us. The overhead light rattled and the dishes in our kitchen cabinets bumped together. The saltshaker on the table tipped over.
“Is he jumping rope up there?” Harley asked. “Or doing Step Aerobics?”
“That’s just his normal walking,” I explained.
“That’s incredibly noisy normal walking,” Harley said.
Jayhole took off his boot and chucked it at the ceiling, but that didn’t do anything to make Caruso stop. Soon Jayhole stormed out to the garage. When he came back he was holding a chainsaw.
“What’s that for?” I asked, but Jayhole didn’t answer me. He walked into my room and climbed up on top of my bed. He started up the chainsaw. As he revved the engine, my room filled with blue smoke. Harley and I moved under the doorjamb and watched as Jayhole shoved the chainsaw into my ceiling. Chunks of plaster and wood rained down onto my jewelry table and bedroom floor. When the dust finally cleared, there was a hole in my ceiling. Caruso’s head quickly popped through it.
“What in the fuck?” he yelled down. “Are you crazy?”
“The girl comes down here now,” Jayhole yelled up.
“No, no, no,” Caruso said. “No way in hell. The girl stays put.”
“This here is her husband,” Jayhole said, motioning to Harley. “And he wants to talk to her.”
Caruso’s head disappeared and I heard him discussing the situation with Erica. Before this, whenever I’d climbed up on my bed to eavesdrop on them everything was muffled. I couldn’t hear their conversations clearly and I could never tell if they were moaning in pain or moaning sexually. The hole in the ceiling made the acoustics wonderful; you could hear everything they were saying like they were whispering it right into your ear.
“You stay here,” Erica said to Caruso. “I’ll handle this.”
Erica walked down the front stairs and into my room. Her hair was ratty and her face was so-so, but her calves looked even more buxom in real life than in the picture Harley had shown us. At first she held out her arms to Harley like she was going to give him a hug, but when he stepped closer, she clocked him. It was a good punch and Harley fell to the ground.
“We’re done,” she yelled down at him. “We’re finished. I’ve told you that a hundred times already, but I guess you needed to hear it again?”
Erica stormed upstairs. I knelt down next to Harley. There was a small river of blood sliding out of his mouth and down into the neck of his sweater. His eye was swollen and the word on his forehead was smudged. You could still make out the “S” and the “H” pretty well, but the “I” and the “T” were really hard to read.
The next morning I found that Caruso had covered the hole in my ceiling with an area rug. Unfortunately whenever he or Erica walked around upstairs plaster dust rained down into my room. I wiped things down constantly, but there always seemed to be a new layer of dust covering everything. While I wiped down my mini fridge, there was a knock on the door. When I opened it I found Harley standing there.
“What would it cost me to sit in your room and listen to Erica walk above me?” he asked.
The skin under Harley’s left eye was ringed purple and one of his nostrils was swollen shut, but he’d already heeded my advice and shaved off his beard. I could tell that the skin underneath it hadn’t seen sunlight in a long time. His forehead and nose were leathery while the rest of his face had a grayish, waxy look.
“How about twenty bucks an hour?” I said.
I didn’t expect to get this amount, but Harley dug into his wallet and pulled out forty bucks without complaint. I cleared off a recliner for him and he sat down. He pulled a six-pack from his bag and held out a can to me.
It didn’t seem worth it to me, to pay to interact with his wife in such a limited way, sometimes not at all, but Harley didn’t seem to mind. He kept stopping by, a couple times a week, sitting in my recliner while his ex-wife walked overhead.
One morning, I woke up to Erica staring down at me from the hole in my ceiling. Her legs were dangling into my room. She kicked them back and forth and then she crossed her calves, one over the other. She massaged her right calf with her big toe, slowly kneading it. I felt the blood rush to my cheeks.
“Is that you I heard crying the other night?” she asked.
It was me, but it wasn’t really crying. A couple of nights ago I’d gotten home and found that Jayhole had turned all the furniture in my room upside down. My bed, my desk, my jewelry table, everything. What came out of my mouth then was more of a low-pitched wail. There were hardly any tears at all.
I wondered how long Erica had been watching me sleep. I’d started to sleepwalk recently. A few weeks ago Jayhole had found me in the kitchen spreading mustard all over my chest. Another time I woke up sitting on top of our refrigerator, naked and hunched over like a gargoyle. I suspected it might be a side effect of the aphrodisiac but hell if I was going to stop taking it.
“Maybe I could help you with Jayhole,” Erica said. “Stop him from bullying you.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I told her.
The last time I’d tried to escape from Jayhole was the time he beardtied me to the door handle of his van and drove off around our neighborhood. I kept up with him for a block before I fell, but he kept dragging me for another block to teach me a lesson. I knew by now that it was better to laugh off his jokes, to play along, to not try to escape. Maybe one of us would die soon and maybe that person would be Jayhole.
“I know you stole Caruso’s aphrodisiac,” Erica told me. “I saw you eating some of it.”
I thought about the sex dream I had last night. How I got swallowed by a whale, but how there was a woman with large floppy breasts inside of a whale and then how we ended up screwing right on top of the whale’s tongue. It was wet and exciting. These sex dreams were the only thing keeping me sane right now. There was no way I was giving this aphrodisiac back.
“I don’t know what you think you saw,” I told Erica, “but I don’t have the aphrodisiac.”
Erica moved her legs out of the hole. A few seconds later a ladder slid down into my room. She climbed down the rungs and walked over to my mini-fridge. She took out the Tupperware container of aphrodisiac and swallowed a spoonful of it and then scrambled back up the ladder. I was too shocked to do anything about it.
“Thanks!” she yelled down.
I heard Erica moaning a little while later. She hadn’t put the rug over the top of the hole to muffle the sound at all. I could hear everything clearly, which I thought was pretty neighborly of her.
The next day Caruso and Erica got into a huge fight. I’d just returned home after I’d shoplifted some fancy grass fed steaks from the co-op. I took the aluminum tent pole from the kitchen and pushed the area rug away from the hole so I could hear them better.
“Where were you last night while I was deejaying the Rosales wedding?” Caruso asked her.
“I told you already,” Erica said. “Jill and I went shopping.”
“That’s sounds like fun,” he said, “except I called Jill and she told me she hasn’t seen you in a month.”
“You checked up on me?” Erica said.
“Now were even,” Caruso told her.
“Fuck if we’re even,” Erica said, “we’re never going to be even.”
Sometimes during their fights, Erica mentioned something hurtful that Caruso had done to her recently, some mysterious and horrible thing, but she never mentioned exactly what that thing was. All I knew is that she wasn’t going to probably forgive or forget whatever it was anytime soon.
“Jesus Christ,” Caruso said. “Can’t we ever just move on? Haven’t I done enough penance?”
Erica yelled “No!” and threw a vase at him. The vase shattered against the wall and a river of water and glass cascaded through the hole in my ceiling and onto my floor.
“I can smell the aphrodisiac on your breath,” Caruso yelled. “Were you the one who stole it? To use with someone else?”
Caruso rifled through the drawers of their apartment, dumping their contents out. Erica picked up a coffee cup and threw it at him. It smashed apart and some of the coffee started to drip down into my room.
“You don’t know what the fuck you are talking about,” Erica yelled. “You don’t know the first goddamn thing.”
Soon Caruso ran down the front stairs, got into his car, and drove off. After he was gone, Erica’s legs slid down into the hole in my ceiling. I was busy sweeping up the chards from the vase.
“Can you believe that shit?” she asked. “Can you believe he’s so controlling?”
Erica slid her ladder down into my room. I watched her legs as she descended the rungs. Had her calves gotten more buxom over the last few days? Was she doing toe raises to pump them up? She stepped off the last rung and went over and opened the door of my mini-fridge and took another spoonful of the aphrodisiac and swallowed it. This time, instead of immediately climbing back up the ladder, she took another spoonful and carried it across the room and put it up to my lips.
“This is a one-time thing,” she said, pushing me down onto my bed and straddling me.
When Harley stopped by later that day I was busy making Erica a pendant. It had a smaller heart inside a bigger heart. There were some small pink stones filling the smaller heart. The pendant was meant to be worn below the knee and above the ankle. I called it a calflet. It was one of the most sensual pieces of jewelry I’d ever made and I was excited to see Erica’s reaction to it when I draped it over her mid-leg.
“It smells like sex in here,” Harley said.
I felt a little guilty about what had happened between Erica and I, but not enough tell Harley. Erica had been a generous lover, letting me run my tongue over her calves for a very long time and she hadn’t looked at me like I was a creep when I finished. She told me that I shouldn’t fall in love with her, but I was having a hard time doing anything but.
“That’s just Stabby,” I told Harley. “It’s his glands.”
Harley sat down in my desk chair. He’d brought a cooler full of beer with him and he passed one to me. We clinked bottles in a toast.
“To love,” Harley said.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” I said.
While we sat there Caruso and Erica started to yell at each other again. Caruso was asking her where the aphrodisiac was and Erica was denying she had it.
“They’ve been fighting like that a lot lately,” I said.
Obviously Harley enjoyed hearing this. I was happy too, thinking about how Caruso would probably storm off after their fight and then how Harley would leave and then how Erica would slide her legs down the hole into my room. After we made love we’d open a bottle of wine and fry up a few grass fed steaks.
Soon though, the fighting between Caruso and Erica softened and we heard giggling. After that, soul music began to flow out of Caruso’s speakers and we heard some lusty laughter and then Erica began to lightly moan over the bumping of the bass and then Caruso began to grunt in an erotic way and next there was some skin on skin flapping sounds that coincided with the rhythm of the soul music and then the moaning and grunting got louder and the skin slapping sounds got more urgent.
Harley covered up his ears. I wanted to do that too, but I thought if did it might give away the fact I’d slept with Erica so I just listened to each one of Caruso’s thrusts like it was no big deal, like I didn’t care one bit.
When Caruso and Erica finished, I motioned to Harley that he could uncover his ears. Except they weren’t actually done. There was a short period of rest but then Caruso put on a different record with heavier bass and quicker drumbeats and then everything started up again, the moaning, the flapping, even louder than before.
“I’m going to get some fresh air,” Harley told me, but I could tell he was done for today, that he might not come back ever again.
I tried to distract myself from the noise upstairs by dusting, but it was hard to concentrate. It sounded like Caruso and Erica were boning right next to my ear. It was also hard to listen to them because it sounded like Erica was having much more fun fucking Caruso than she’d had fucking me. I looked up into the hole to see if I could see any sex shadows or stray feet, but every time I looked up a bunch of plaster dust fell into my eyes.
Soon Jayhole stopped by my room to see what the racket was. While Jayhole and I stood there, we heard a cracking sound. When I looked up I saw that a hairline crack on the ceiling had grown into a small chasm. It was growing wider with each one of Caruso’s thrusts.
“Move!” Jayhole yelled as he pulled me under the doorjamb as the ceiling collapsed and Erica and Caruso fell through the air and landed on my floor with a loud thump.
Jayhole and I waded through the mess of wood and plaster. Erica had some cuts on her face, but she looked alright. She’d been riding on top of Caruso and hadn’t taken the brunt of the fall. Caruso didn’t look good. He just lying there, his mouth open, his neck twisted in a strange way, blood trickling out of his ear.
“That doesn’t look good,” Jayhole said. “That doesn’t look good at all.”
The next night Erica knocked on my door. Her face was bruised and one of her feet was in a walking boot. I’d spent most of the day returning my room back to normal, carting the plaster and lath to the garbage can. It was still a mess but I cleared a spot for her on my recliner.
“Caruso’s awake now,” she told me. “But both of his legs are broken and his neck is all messed up.”
Erica walked back into her bedroom. I heard her pull the covers over her head.
While she was sleeping, I got the ladder from the garage and I snuck into her apartment. I didn’t want to do anything too creepy while she was sleeping, so I just sat by her bedside watching her breathe in and out. After I’d had enough of that, I tied the calflet onto her leg and climbed back down into my room.
The next morning Jayhole needed me to run a couple of errands for him. While I was out, he went into my room and dumped out a bag of marshmallows on my rug. It was a hot day and they melted into the shag.
“That’s going to be really hard to clean up,” Jayhole cackled. “Way harder than I thought. Wow. Sorry.”
In the last few days, Jayhole had given up on the idea to start his own bounty hunting business. No one would lend him the startup money.
“The universe is trying to tell me something,” he said. “I was deaf to it for a while, but now I can hear what it is saying.”
I wondered if I should quit making jewelry too. At the swap meet last weekend, no one had even stopped by my table to look at what I was selling. Was this the universe telling me something too? If no one really cares what you make, what’s the point of working so damn hard on it?
I picked at some of the marshmallow slurry in my rug with a fork. When I tried to pull it out it left a bald spot. The rug was ruined and I rolled it up and hauled it out to the garbage.
“That sucks,” Erica said from upstairs. “That’s not cool to do that kind of shit to another human being.”
Erica had just showered and her wet hair hung around her shoulders. She was wearing a pair of shorts and the calflet was draped enticingly over her leg.
“Thanks for the gift,” she said, pointing to her calflet, “but I told you the other day was a one-time thing, okay?”
“Maybe you could let our one-time thing be a two time thing or four or nine time thing?” I asked.
“How about I help you get revenge on Jayhole instead?” she asked.
“I don’t think you can help with that,” I said. “I don’t think anyone can.”
“I can help you,” she said. “Caruso left me some information I can use.”
I shook my head no. “Let’s just leave well enough alone,” I said.
“Has Harley been coming over?” Erica asked. “Was he in your room before the ceiling fell?”
“He comes over to listen to you walk around above him,” I said.
When I told her this, I noticed a softening around Erica’s eyes. Her mouth curled into a quick smile. I could tell she was remembering something good that Harley had done for her once. I could tell she was rooting around in her file of Harley memories and she was wondering if whatever had gone wrong between them could be patched up.
“That sounds like something he would do,” she said.
Later that day, Harley knocked on my door. Erica had gone to the hospital to visit Caruso.
“She’s not here,” I told him. “She might not be back for a while.”
Harley held out two twenties.
“I’ll chance it,” Harley said.
I went and walked around my neighborhood for about an hour to give Harley some privacy. When I got back to my room, Erica’s ladder was lying on my floor and my bed sheets were twisted and half of the aphrodisiac was gone. There was a padded envelope sitting on top of Stabby’s cage. I opened it and two pairs of panties fell out on the floor.
“Harley and I patched things up,” the note said. “We’ve going to give it another go. Here are a couple of things to add to your collection. Tomorrow, you’ll receive an even better present from me.”
When I got up the next morning, I found two women, one old and one young, clearly mother and daughter, sitting on the kitchen floor. They both had the same color eyes and the same pursed lips and they had both tied their long hair in a knot around our radiator. They were sharing a bag of potato chips, passing it back and forth.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“We’re not leaving until we see Jayhole,” the older one said.
“We’re sitting right here until we talk to that delinquent bastard,” the younger one said. “He owes us a ton of child support.”
“Thousands of dollars’ worth,” the older woman said.
“Lots of zeroes,” the younger one said. “Time for him to pay up.”
Soon Jayhole walked into the kitchen to make himself breakfast. He’d just gotten out of the shower and was wearing his robe. When he saw the two women sitting on the floor, he jumped backward.
“Oh hell no,” he screamed. “No goddamn way.”
“We thought that’s what you’d say,” the younger one said.
“Those exact words,” the older one said.
“Unfortunately we know you too well,” the younger one said.
“Too bad for us,” the older one said.
“Too bad for us indeed,” the younger one said.
Jayhole stood across the room from them. The younger one had Jayhole’s nose and his scratchy voice and she seemed to be taking great satisfaction in someone else’s unease in the same exact way Jayhole liked to do.
“Damn,” she told him, “you’ve really gotten fat.”
Jayhole cinched the belt of his robe tighter. I poured a bowl of cereal and sat down at the kitchen table to watch.
“Now that we found you,” the older one said. “We’re not leaving here until you pay up.”
“How the hell did you find me?” Jayhole asked.
“You were fucking easy to find,” the older woman said. “We have our ear to the ground and people hate you.”
“So damn easy,” the younger one said. “You’ve got tons of enemies.”
Jayhole ran to his room and I heard him ranting to himself about how unfair this was, how this was bullshit, that a mistake he’d made twenty years ago was still haunting his ass.
“Same old Jayhole,” the older one said.
“Same old Jayhole,” the younger one said. “He’ll pack his bags tonight and disappear, but then we’ll track him down in a few months and fuck up his life again.”
I chatted with the ladies for the rest of the morning. I found out their names were Julie and Lisa and that they’d driven here from Ohio when they’d gotten the tip about Jayhole’s location from Erica. While we talked, we heard Jayhole packing up his possessions. He carried the aquarium with Strangles in it down the hall and outside. Soon we heard his van peel out.
“He won’t ever pay up,” Lisa said. “So we like to track him once every six months to mess up his life.”
“That’s the fun part of it,” Julie said. “We love doing that to him. It’s like our hobby now. We plan our vacations around tracking him down. We’ve seen a lot of the country this way.”
Soon Julie and Lisa untied their hair from the radiator and I gave them a tour of the house and introduced them to Stabby. While they were in my room, they looked over some of my new spring jewelry collection. A lot of it they didn’t like, but some of it they did. They bought a couple of pairs of earrings, a necklace for one of their friends. It wasn’t much, but it was what I needed right then, a small victory, something to build on, something that told me I was on the right track.
JOHN JODZIO's stories have appeared in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney’s, and One Story. He’s the author of the short story collections, “If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home” and “Get In If You Want To Live”. His latest collection “Knockout” is forthcoming from Soft Skull in Spring 2016.