This story is by mark heyer and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The foe rubbed the wiry yellow fur of his belly with his gnarled yet delicate claws as he studied his profile in the window at the TMobile. “Damn, when did I get so fat? It’s these TMobile windows. Soooo busy. No one looks good here, am I right? I look better at Verizon. Stately. Boost Mobile’s like some kind of sex toy operation. Calls the whole enterprise into question. No, thank you. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing… something-something. What’s the rest of that one, Bernie?”
“Right. It’s worth doing right. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Although it had been a week, Bernie was still anxious when speaking openly to the foe and wore a disconnected Bluetooth headset to seem to be talking to someone on the phone.
“No, that’s not it,” said the foe. “It’s something to do with sewing. Stitches, bitches? Why don’t you google it, Bern?”
“I don’t need to google anything. I was right.” The newly unemployed network technician struggled to keep up with the loping unimpeded strides of the foe in the morning rush of shop openings and deliveries. He kept bumping into people and apologizing as they passed through the foe’s hairy legs.
“What’s with all the coffee shops? Man, I gotta pee like a drunken sailor.”
“Race horse,” Bernie corrected.
“Drunken sailors don’t pee now? Since when? That can’t be healthy. You should google that.”
“It’s ‘curse like a drunken sailor’, ‘pee like a race horse’.”
“Nope, definitely wrong. A horse would never win a race if it had to pee all the time. And I don’t care for your snooty attitude about sailors. They’re just letting off a little steam. You should try it, B-dog.”
In spite of everything, Bernie fairly swooned at being called B-dog. It was one of those moments when he wished other people could hear the foe. Other people being Priyanka from 12.
Bernie had twice disabled Priyanka’s lan service and waited for her call in the basement service area amid the precarious stacks of discarded computer equipment. He’d toyed with the idea of bringing a rat from one of the “humane traps” and pretending to catch and slay it as it chewed through the wires under her desk. Despite the obvious pluses, this plan carried possibly ruinous consequences – masculine rivals in the rat dispatching trades who would assume command of the situation and thrust him aside. He shuddered at the almost palpable romantic failure envisioned.
The first time he deactivated her connection, he’d missed her call. It was early and he thought he had time for a shoeshine on the riverfront. He’d stood outside the shoe repair watching a ferry back out of its slip and pilot over to Wall Street. He imagined himself in a white kurta handing a floral garland to Priyanka, who was wearing her stunning maroon brocade sari from Diwali, an outfit, if ever there was one, only suited to throwing garlands from ferries. By the time Bernie returned to the office, Paresh had taken the call and re-enabled Priyanka’s connection and no doubt muttered something about watching where she put her feet. Priyanka, it was true, was a shoe princess who had at least twelve pair under her desk alone, a fact which prompted Bernie’s ill-fated shoeshine.
“Gonna be a hot one,” said the foe. “We should take our clothes off and sit in the fountain.”
“You’re not wearing any clothes.”
“I was being collegial. Ooo, look, everyone’s there already!”
Bernie strained to see other foe frolicking in the fountain at city hall but, as always, without success. But he no longer doubted they were there.
“Whaddya say? It’s not like you have to be anywhere anymore. Who knows, maybe girlfriend shows up and you’re upgraded to maverick in her books. Worth a shot, right, B-dog?”
The moniker once again hit Bernie like his own theme music swelling, and he followed the foe into the busy street mid-block, resulting in slamming brakes and violent cursing. The foe was across in three quick strides and called back encouragement. “C’mon, B-dog, last big climb!”
The second time Bernie had disabled Priyanka’s connection had started better. He shined his shoes the night before, and, at the urging of the foe he bought a kurta on Newark Avenue. “Red: love must always be drenched in red!” the foe insisted, slipping his gangly arm through the shop window and caressing what looked to Bernie like the ceremonial pajama top from an ominous ritual. “This one will be perfect!”
“You’re sure? Me, in that?”
“Never been surer of anything, B-licious. They’re closing soon. Time to choose between love and obscurity.”
Love. Bernie absolved the foe then and there. Love.
From the moment of the foe’s first appearance, sitting on the back of a bench along the river walk late at night with his legs hanging over the railing and disappearing into the swirls of high tide, Bernie felt he knew him somehow. “Where ya headin’?” His eyes continually changed color in their matted yellow fur sockets. Bernie looked around to see who was sharing this bizarre experience with him, but there were only a few disinterested couples left at that hour. “Take a selfie together. It’ll relax you, B-dog. Don’t be lonely. Sit.”
Bernie turned out to have been right about the rat. Priyanka’s “What are you supposed to be?” response to Bernie’s red kurta threw him off balance and he forgot to get a firm grip on the rat before opening his tool kit. The rest was mayhem, topped off by Paresh discovering and reporting that Bernie’s ID was used to disconnect Priyanka – twice. Someone else found the opened rat trap in Bernie’s locker.
“Look, she’s coming! Get in, get in!” said the foe. Bernie finished removing his clothes and sat on the back of a cherub spitting a jet of water.
A passing policeman stealthily called for back-up into his shoulder mic.