THE arms of the clock, hung on the dingy white wall at the back of the apartment, were pointing at quarter to one, as the gray-haired man stood stark naked in the kitchen pouring a stiff glass of whiskey, with another sitting on the counter to his immediate right. The moonlight, hardly recognizable behind the mid-October haze, filtered in through the thin sheets draped across the double-hung window in front of him, just enough to notice when the drink he was pouring was about to overflow. His hips swaggered about in circles to the tune of a Nat King Cole record which played from the living room and spread about the entire floor - "To make her stay, to turn the tide. To ease the pain that you feel inside. Oh, when her eyes say it's over and done, then you simply must face the fact."
With the two glasses topped to the brim, he staggered his way around the corner of the kitchen through the living room, careful not to spill a drop of the whiskey he took so long to prepare. As he came through the doorway of his bedroom the phone rang, sending ice cubes over the edge of the glass and melting into the knotted gray carpet at his feet.
"Christ Cal!" cried a young woman who laid naked beneath the under sheet of the older man's bed, as she reached over to pick up the telephone off the night table alongside her.
"Don't dare pick that thing up," Cal said, as he lodged the whiskey's down on the dresser next to the door, pushing aside his tobacco roller and Woodhue cologne. "You remember what happened last time."
He stumbled his way through the clothes on the floor to answer the phone before the lunatic on the other line got impatient, stubbing his toe on the corner of the night table as he picked up the receiver. "Ah, Jesus! Hello?"
"Dad, did I, did I, wake ya again?" The voice on the other end was Cal's son. He was shooting the words out of his mouth like bullets but was also carrying a stutter which he was known for, especially around four on a Saturday morning. "I woke ya didn't I? Ahh, Jesus. I woke ya didn't I?"
"No Jerry, I'm wide awake. It's not even one o' clock here. Waddaya want?"
"Ya left your glasses here," Jerry said. Cal went out to visit Jerry a week ago but left just a day after getting there because his friend back in San Francisco was dying. " I found 'em on the back of the toilet just then when I was takin' a piss. I was there just, ya know, takin' a, takin' a piss and I looked down and seen your glasses sittin' on the back of the toilet. I, I figured ya missed your glasses. Why haven't ya called lookin' for 'em?"
"Christ Jerry, it's four o' clock in the fucking morning in Elliot Lake and you're making a long distance call to tell me you found my glasses?" Cal was sat down on the corner of the bed now, rubbing his hand up the young woman's leg from the back of her knee to her ass cheek and back again, as she sipped on the whiskey like it was poison ivy. "I live over 3000 miles away. Waddaya expect me to do, just drive over and pick 'em up?"
There was a silence from Jerry's end of the line and this is normally where Cal would hang up and go back to whatever it was he was doing, but under the circumstances he didn't. "Jerry? Ya on the bottle again, Jerry?" he said.
"Yeah, I'm on the bottle again. I'm always on the bottle again. It's Marion. She's lucky she turns me to the bottle and not the fuckin' shotgun. She's crazy, Goddamn crazy she is."
"What? Who's Goddamn crazy? I couldn't hear ya." Cal said as he took his hand off the young woman's leg and held the phone closer to his ear.
"Marion. She's, she's crazy Dad. I told ya she was crazy from the day ya made me put that Goddamn ring on her finger. She's been - "
"Jesus Jerry, it's time to get yourself straight. Marion's a fine young lady. Nobody's gunna bend the bones at every joint in your body for the rest of your life".
The young woman suddenly polished off her glass of whiskey and rolled over to the other side of the bed, wrapping herself tight in the under sheet like she never planned on getting out.
"Hold on a second, I'm going out to use the phone in the kitchen. The chord is getting bad on this one, or something." Cal said, as he stood to his feet and hauled on a pair of underwear.
"Ya wearin' any socks?"
"No Jerry, I'm not wearing any socks. Why does it matter if I'm wearing a Goddamn pair of socks? Are you sure you're not the crazy one?"
"Your kitchen floor. It's tile isn't it? Your feet, they're, they'll be freezin'!" said Jerry.
"I live in San Francisco Jerry. The floor is never cold in San Francisco. Hold on a second, for Christ sakes."
Cal laid the receiver down on the floor and took a look over at the young woman, her greasy blond hair strangling like a set of half open blinds in front of her eyes, as she seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness. He tip toed out of the room, careful not to trip over the heap of clothes at the foot of the bed this time, grabbing his glass of whiskey on the way.
When he got to the kitchen he took a swig of the drink and placed it on the corner of the counter, hoisted a chair over near the refrigerator and picked up the phone which sat oddly out of place between the toaster and spice rack. "Jerry? Ya still there boy?"
"Yeah I'm still here. Christ, did ya move your phone out to Oakland?"
"Cut the shit Jerry. Tell me what's going on."
"It's Marion I told ya. She - "
"I know what you told me, just get to the Goddamn point. Soon enough the sun's gunna be over Ontario and California and neither of us are gunna have a wink of sleep. I need some sleep, Jerry."
"She's gone crazy. First she started by, by pourin' the deep fryer fat down the sink instead of the toilet, and now she takes these Goddamn adventures in the forest just outside the city. Says she's gettin' in touch with her spiritual side. She's gunna be eat by a Goddamn black bear. I told her that, I told her she's gunna be eat by a Goddamn black bear. She won't listen to me for Christ sakes. I got home from the mines a couple evenings ago, lungs all full of radon gas and what not, and not a fuckin' thing made for dinner. I came home beat to a snot and there's not a Goddamn thing ready for me to eat. I nearly lost my top, I swear to God I nearly lost, nearly lost my top." Jerry was yelling into the phone at a thousand miles per hour as if he was in the line of fire during the First World War, trying to declare his innocence to the German front. " Ya know what I had to do Dad?"
"I have no - "
"I had to run over to ol' Ms. Grandy's house next door and get her to fix me up a Goddamn dinner. The poor woman has to be eighty years old and here I am, never spoke a word to her in my life, never shoveled her driveway in the winter or cut her grass in the summer, here I am gettin' her to fix me up a Goddamn meal. She's gone mad. She's gone completely up the wall. I assume she's gone completely up the wall, she hasn't been back to the house since she left and I'm not expectin' her."
Cal heard the sound of a match striking the rough on the other end of the line as Jerry lit up a cigarette, inhaling the smoke and trying to catch his breath at the same time.
"Was that a match? You smoke now, son?"
"Yeah I smoke now. Do ya give a damn? I'm here with my brains shootin' outta my skull, my wife's turned into a loon for Christ sakes, and for all I know she could, she could be face down in a river or mauled by a black bear ten miles from the back of my own house." said Jerry. He was growing impatient with his father's casualness on the other end of the line, as if Marion had just taken off for a half hour trip to the grocery store. His father, despite being equally as drunk as Jerry, was usually a good listener when he had something of importance to say to him, and always tossed up some word of advice or an old story of his own for Jerry to take or leave.
Cal took several large swallows from the glass of whiskey which he poured up nearly an hour ago, slammed it back down on the counter as if he was trying to ring the bell of the strongman game at the carnival, and let out an exuberant sigh.
"I'd really like to stay up and chat with you Jerry, but I, well, I got to get some shut-eye. Big day tomorrow. Big day, Jerry. I have a job interview at... some company. You wouldn't know much about it. Ya really gotta put down the bottle, son. It's time to get your ducks in a row and keep 'em there. Don't go tryin' to shoot the ducks out of the air this time, for Christ sakes. Listen, give me a call sometime next week. I'm gunna be busy for awhile with the company stuff so, give me a call next week, Jerry."
There was a long pause on Jerry's end of the line again like earlier in the conversation. This time Cal hung up the phone and realized that the Nat King Cole record had returned to the same track which played earlier while he was mixing the drinks, and was just ending - "So you leave and think it's over but you come hurrying back. Hoping she'll change her mind, praying she'll take you back. But like the lady said, 'That's all there is to that'."
He began to pace back and forth the kitchen, making a step with every tick the clock on the dingy white wall would make. He walked over and put his empty glass in the kitchen sink as he pulled the sheets across from the window. He peeked out and seen that the haze had lifted and a dead pigeon was laying on the sidewalk just outside his apartment. It's guts and feathers spattered all over the place, seemingly mauled by a cat.
"In the name of Jesus..." he muttered under his breath as he stormed back to the bedroom where the young lady laid naked on top of the sheets, wide awake once again. She had fixed her hair since Cal left, and began to bat her lashes as he entered the room, grazing his body from head to toe with her eyes as if she was flattered by his partially gray beard or the stretch marks which ran faintly across his back.
Cal picked up the phone which he laid on the carpet earlier and put it back on the night table. He crawled into the bed and tucked himself beneath the sheets like an eight year old on a school night. There was a long moment of awkward silence until, with his head facing towards the wall and both arms sprawled out horizontally, bent at the elbows so his hands were under his pillow, Cal said "Marion. You really have to get out my apartment... GET OUT!"