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Book 1 – Chapter 5 – Perelandria Regained – Part 1

The heating system in my complex broke the following Wednesday and I got to know my neighbors really well. The hot water cut out during my morning shower, and I had to rinse my hair in the sink. I called the property company and they assured me a handyman was on his way. The system waited for me to come home from work before it decided to die again.

I had a tiny space heater I had bought the last time this happened. I never used it unless I had to, since it put out the same noise as a Boeing jet. Miss Carney from upstairs knocked on my door. She asked if she could borrow it for a little while. I gave in and carried it up for her. She was boiling water on every burner on her stove.

I could hear from the hallway which other rooms had heaters. I bumped into Mr. Green from the Store 24 on the way to the train station. I’d never realized he lived in my building. He had turned towards one of the whooshing doors, but when he spotted me, he said hi and kept walking.

The heat came on eventually, but I only had a minute’s worth of hot water in the morning. As expected, it was dead that night, and Miss Carney pretended she wasn’t in when I knocked on her door. I knew the guy from the corner penthouse brought her groceries sometimes. He was really sweet about retrieving my heater.

I was used to the apartment across the hall sharing its hip-hop with the rest of the building on Thursday nights. I almost thought it was a Friday when I didn’t hear it. The couple upstairs weren’t playing their movies either.

Living without heat is scary. I stuffed the clothing I didn’t wear against the window edges, but the heat still leaked out. I boiled my own water to warm my fingers. I put off using the bathroom as long as I could. My everyday clothes began to stink. My apartment festered into a dank refrigerator. My heater burned me under my comforter, but only kept a corner of my room warm. The voice mail of the property management company was full.

I was in the middle of a call to Trisha to ask if I could crash at her place, and then the heating vents came on. I went to bed in layers anyway, and I had a wretched time trying to sleep. I set my alarm extra early for hot water, but so had everyone else. I counted the seconds and rinsed my hair before the water went lukewarm. I couldn’t dry and dress fast enough. I spent all day in a sleep-deprived coma, and that evening I sucked down hot tea at a poetry slam that didn’t go on long enough.

So I wasn’t in the best spirits when Simon called me Saturday morning. It was around seven, when the sun wasn’t even up yet. “I need your help,” he said. “I have to do an intervention. It’s for a friend.”

I carried the phone to bed with me. “Anyone I know?”

“Remember Jacob?”

Long ago, when I was a young dykeling, that name was the most common word from Simon’s mouth. In his own sexual blossoming, he had been as eager as I was to proclaim that he had a partner and that the nookie was good, even if it wasn’t.

“Barely. What about him?”

“He let a friend stay in his apartment. Leon; you wouldn’t know him. Leon’s manic and things have gotten worse. Jacob wants him out.”

I huddled under my blankets, since every night in my apartment had become a camping trip. “Sure. Are we moving furniture?”

“No, he doesn’t have much. We only need Leon out the door, once we get it on its hinges.”


“Leon called him at work yesterday. He said, ‘You don’t have any water.’ That’s what Jacob heard. He panicked and took the bus home from work. Leon had taken his apartment door off its hinges. And he explained he was out of bottled water. The taps ran fine.”

“Just lovely.”

“Apparently, Leon was trying to secure the door to keep everyone out, and it all went wrong. Oh, and Leon screamed at him until he bought water.”

“How many people are going?”

“You and me. Leon has a girlfriend, and she might be there too. Jacob says she won’t let Leon stay with her, though. I don’t know if she’ll help.”

“Does he have hot water?”

“I think so.”

“My heat’s on the fritz. I’ll do it if I can take a bath there.”

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t peek at you.”

“Where are we meeting?”

“My roommate borrowed my car. I was supposed to grade essays this weekend. Jacob’s near North Quincy station. See you around nine?”

I had to have loved Simon very much. “Sure.”

When I had the strength to leave my bed, I sent Elory an email. We had planned a dinner at a sushi restaurant, and I said I’d give her an update if I couldn’t make it.

The shower was ice cold, so I avoided it altogether. I put on clothes from my dirty pile. My tail was becoming ragged, too.

I brought my garbage to the basement before I left. The bins were near the plywood and chicken wire cage around the oil tank. I saw a white envelope on the ground in front of the cage’s door. It was addressed, “To our handyman,” and it had been torn open. The edge of a pink Hallmark card stuck out from the top. It had been stuffed back in clumsily. The front of the card had a row of anthropomorphic bunnies holding hands under a Van Gogh tree, with the words, “We appreciate you,” spelled out in clouds.

Inside, someone had written, “Dear sir, thank you for your efforts with this old heater of ours. It means so much to us to have someone like you taking it on. In case the rental company isn’t as appreciative as we are, please accept this gift as a token of our esteem. Yours truly, a Grateful Tenant. P.S. I am not signing this so you can’t return it.”

I shook the envelope, but nothing else came out.

The contractor wouldn’t arrive for hours. I only had a twenty in my pocket and that would have been an insult.

I left the card where it had been. With the heat as it was, I had no pity for whoever had emptied it.

The North Quincy station must have been built to give hangovers to people who didn’t drink. The platform was at the bottom of a carved-out hill with concrete office buildings blocking the sun in every direction. The escalator to street level was the length of the average movie’s credits, and the turnstile wouldn’t let me through the first time.

Simon was hunched over his Nintendo DS in the glass bus stop. The regulars had given him a wide berth, so I plopped next to him.

“I never knew how high this stop was,” I said. “It’s like if they pulled the Porter Square stop above ground.”

He closed his game. “Did I tell you about my trip to Ithaca that one time?” he said. “I was on this one stretch, in the mountains. High above me near the peak, someone had built a retreat. It had these massive glass windows towards the valley. You could see for miles up there. When I saw that, I knew humans had to be descended from cats.”

The sun had formed a stripe over my tail, cutting it in two. “That’s such a cat thing to assume,” I said. “I prefer an enclosed space with a roof overhead.”

“Like a closet,” he said. His cheeks spread with glee.

“I walked right into that one,” I said before I realized I’d done it again. “Boy, how about those Red Sox?”

“I like twist ties,” he said.

“I like clips better,” I said. Our bus heaved itself onto the terminal and reluctantly opened its doors.

We had our choice of seats, that early in the morning. Simon patted his belly while the bus creaked towards downtown. “I’m thinking about a gym membership,” he said.

“Good luck,” I said. “I can’t afford it.”

“I know, but walking’s burning me out,” he said. “I’ve been all over the city. I memorized every street in Brookline.”

“Right,” I said. “Round and round, and if you keep walking down a street feeling bad, it’ll make you feel worse the next time you’re on it.”

“Exactly,” he said. “Emotional residue. But I’ve never been to a gym. I don’t know where any gay gamers exercise.”

“You could put an ad on Craigslist,” I said.

“And get many solicitations,” he said. “Not my bag, but thanks.”

“Come on. Why not?”

“Chet’s my meal ticket. Bigwig geek to bring in the money so poor professor me can do what he loves.”

“You’re such a whore.”

“I think forward, or I try to.”

I called him out. “Do you have any ideas how to get this psycho out of Jacob’s apartment?”

“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” he said. “You’re the fox. You’re supposed to be the clever one.”

I pulled my hat-ears down to airplane formation. “Clever, my butt.”

“Then figure out something for me. We go in and we get out,” he said and rubbed his eyes. “And if we’re lucky, Jacob stops letting these assholes stay with him.”

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 5 - Perelandria Regained.

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