Authors: Eckhard Gerdes
Tags: #General, #Fiction
The Unwelcome Guest
Nin & Nan © 2010 - Eckhard Gerdes Published by Enigmatic Ink. All rights reserved. Except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher. Please contact:
London, Ontario, Canada
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is purely coincidental.
First Paperback Edition, 2010 Published in Canada
Book design and art: D.Grîn
Two sections of
The Unwelcome Guest
have previously appeared in literary journals in slightly different form. "Worms of Wisdom" appeared in Fiction International, and "Cities" appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review. The author thanks the editors of those publications for their support of his work.
Nin & Nan
have previously appeared in literary journals in slightly different form in other publications. "The Sign" appeared in Blatt in their on-line Blogspot, "A Pied Piper Arrives" appeared in Golden Handcuffs Review, and an earlier version of the novel appeared in the Bizarro Starter Kit (Blue) anthology published by Bizarro Books. The author thanks the editors of those publications for their support of his work.
The Unwelcome Guest plus Nin & Nan
are dedicated to my sons Sterling, Ludwig and Ulysses for their unwavering love and their support of my writing.
The houseguest who was welcomed through the front door but leaves through the back has obviously been up to no good.
He’d been my guest for two weeks before I had an inkling of what he was up to. If I could find him now, I’d teach him a good lesson, but he’s disappeared.
Other than his raspy and stilted way of speaking— imagine Foster Brooks impersonating a stoned hippie— the first mannerism of his anyone would notice was his apparent lack of control over his gestures, like the teacher in Sherwood Anderson’s "Hands."
To some extent I understood his idiosyncrasy—"It’s not easy being apparent," I’d once told him. "It’d be easier to be invisible." Some of us, though, take our responsibilities a little more seriously than he did.
The first time I’d heard of him was in Dubuque. I’d been running errands with my two youngest sons. After stopping at the hardware store, we began walking up the hill back towards the house. Jackson, the elder son, asked me why we had left the car in front of the store. I’d forgotten that we’d driven. We returned to the store, but I didn’t see my gray Camry anywhere.
"That’s not my car."
"It’s Mom’s. You borrowed it. Remember?"
Sure enough, my key fit into the ignition, and we were
off, driving up the hill before I’d noticed that the sideview mirror was askew and the front windshield was too dirty to see out of.
I rolled down the window to fix the sideview mirror and must have crashed because the next thing I knew was I was lying on a bed and being attended to by a physician.
I wasn’t in a hospital, though. I was in a diocesan office of the Episcopal Baptist
. I saw the diocesan secretary standing to the side behind a long counter.
The doctor addressed her and said, "I’ve got a foot we can attach." I realized I must have come apart in the accident and that he was piecing me together. I also knew that I wasn’t alive yet.
When the doctor left the room and the secretary was busy, I found a pen and a book on the nightstand. A name came to me. I had to write the name down before I forgot it. I tried writing, but I had poor control over my hands and fingers, and what I wrote was illegible. I turned the page and tried again. My "L" looked like an "F," and my lines overlapped. Still illegible. I tried a third time: "Edwin L. Thoth, Baptist minister." That was all I had time for. The secretary looked up just after I’d put the book back.
"Do you know an Edwin Lawrence Thoth? A minister?" I asked.
She didn’t seem very shocked to hear me ask a question. "Let’s see," she said, opening a filing cabinet. "No— the only Thoth in our diocese is a woman. Do you want her information?"
"Could he be in another diocese?" I asked.
"I’m not sure. Our national registry books are all out of order. I’ve been working on them with my assistant."
I was sure that part of Edwin Thoth had been surgically attached to me. I had to find out.
I’m not sure what happened next. I found myself walking on a beach and spotted something on the ground: a two-inch-wide political campaign button that said, "Hall for President." I assumed it meant Gus Hall, the old communist whose running mate had once been Angela Davis. I picked it up and clipped it on. It was in perfect condition.
Then I pulled back my shower curtain and found my cat inside the shower. "I should rename you Shower Liquor," I said, which was ironic—the cat’s name was really Whiskey. I’d let Edwin name her that.
"That way when you’re calling your cat, your neighbors will think you’re a desperate alcoholic," he’d said. I’d been drunk enough at the time to find his suggestion amusing and to go along with it.
My wife and I brought the kids to their grandparents and went shopping downtown. We had been drinking as well and stopped in our favorite three-story bookstore. Lotte left me in the atlas section while she went to use the washroom. I waited for a long time before becoming concerned. I thought I’d look around for her. Then I saw Edwin. I thought that perhaps Edwin had frightened her and that perhaps she was outside waiting. The alcohol befuddled me, though, and once outside, I lost my bearings. I sat down on a bench to clear my head. Not until the doors closed did I realize I had climbed aboard a bus and was sitting on the bench behind the driver. He demanded a dollar and seventy-five cents from me. I had to give him a five because I only had that and a ten on me. And of course, bus drivers carry no change: the money all goes into those stupid machines.
I guess I fell asleep. I woke up at the bus terminal on the north side, near Wrigley Field. I could hear the game. I knew I had to get downtown again to find my wife. However, I couldn’t figure out where the return busses left from. Plus I needed change. I found a little drug store that was still open. In order to get change and directions, I bought an
comic book. The store turned off its lights as I left, and I saw a streetcar passing in front, heading the right way. I caught it and climbed aboard, paying the exact fare. I must have fallen asleep again. The streetcar stopped miles from my destination. I grabbed the bag with my magazine and got out. I hailed a cab for those last few blocks. In the cab, I pulled out my magazine, but instead of
I had some lousy Italian fashion magazine. Someone else must have accidentally taken my magazine while I was sleeping in the streetcar. When I arrived at the bookstore downtown again, I called home. My wife was there, safe, and said I should take the train north and then transfer to the bus home. I figured I could do that so long as I didn’t screw up. If I got on the wrong train or bus, I might never make it home. I threw the magazine into a curbside garbage can and began walking to the train station.
When I arrived at home and began explaining my getting lost to Lotte, she did not at first hear me. I heard Jackson mutter, "It was Edwin’s fault." However, I had not mentioned Edwin. How, I wondered, did Jackson know Edwin? Perhaps I had misunderstood.
"What did you say?" I asked him.
"Nothing, Dad," he said in his usual dismissive way. None of them ever talked to me about anything serious. They saved that for their mother. I was just the overgrown playmate. She was the confidante. Sometimes I really resented that. Other times I was glad for not having to deal with pre-teen angst.
Twenty years ago I published my first novel. Its characters included Viking-like cold-weather circumpolar people. One of these was a self-absorbed creep named Stambler. When I ran into Edwin in the grocery store one day, three years after I’d figured I’d washed my hands of him, he bored himself back into my attention and confronted me by stating, "I’m Stambler, right? You based Stambler on me."
That was untrue. Stambler was a fictional creation, as all my characters are. I told Edwin that, but he laughed it off and said, "Of course he’s me. He’s just like me. You must have based him on me."
I told him that at best my character may have been a composite formed from real acquaintances and imaginary types, and that perhaps he was in part one of the composite characteristics. I didn’t think that was true, but I was trying to extricate myself from this confrontational conversation, this "duelogue," as another friend called such talk.
"I knew it," he said, walking away convinced of his position of privilege. I did not know then that I’d just made an enormous mistake. I did not know then just how diabolical Thoth would become.
He claimed to be a relative of one of England’s Prime Ministers. That, of course, was also a lie.
The chair of my division, a squat Bulgarian fellow, told me I had to deliver two 100-gallon drums of hazardous materials and lone large wardrobe-sized carton from our warehouse to the business across the highway from the university. I asked him whom specifically I was to deliver these to. He said, "You’re going to have to go in there and act as if you’re the Chancellor. Don’t ask. Tell them you’re the Chancellor and you’re dropping these off."
I was used to the chair’s mistreatment (i.e. micromanagement) of me. He’d demoted me to the smallest office in the building, a windowless closet across from the bathrooms. He inspected my outgoing mail and monitored my phone conversations. He had his secretary rebuke me for using expensive paper for notes and for not leaving notes on my door if I’d left my office during office hours in order to go to the bathroom.
In a work climate where one’s bowel movements are monitored, anything is possible. He’d asked me to schmooze rich wives of university system Regents in order to make him look good. He’d happily exploit my reputation as a novelist for the university’s benefit, but woe to me if I sent a query letter to a publisher on the university’s dime. So being asked to move a couple of haz-mat barrels wasn’t that surprising.
The warehouse was a god-awful mess. I’d worked in warehouses before, and what was clear was that here as in all aspects of the university, operations were run by the incompetent. He pointed out the barrels and carton and left me to them.
They were buried by carts of books, dollies filled with unopened boxes, and loose construction materials. Unloading the carts by moving their contents to the shelving units took forever. The warehouse held more books than Barnes & Noble. The boxes were endless and were stacked incorrectly, sometimes precariously. I found large boxes atop small ones atop large ones atop small ones. Invariably such a stack would fall over and its contents—usually books—would split the corner of a box and tumble out. I’d have to unpack those boxes and check their contents against the packing slips because I wasn’t going to be accused of mishandling the warehouse materials. The penalty for that would be a semester of only freshman composition classes, of extra committee work, of hideous outside social obligations.
I was finally able to clear a swath wide enough to move a forklift through, and after that, moving materials became easier—I palletized them and lifted them against a blank wall.
When I got down to where the haz-mat barrels and wardrobe carton had last been, though, they had disappeared. Someone had taken them. I was dumbfounded and no doubt would be in enormous trouble. I decided I’d be better off not returning to my office, so I continued to rearrange, neaten, and organize the warehouse for the remainder of the day.
When the time for leaving arrived, I made my way down narrow walkways and along catwalks in order to avoid the throng of faculty and students, particularly the chair. I decided to leave my car in the faculty parking lot and to take the train instead. On the way, I realized I had to see a man about a horse, but the only washrooms I was aware of were in the shopping mall above the subway downtown.
The washrooms there were cavernous. The unpartitioned urinals were packed together so tightly that one had to rub elbows with one’s neighbor while letting go—if one could overcome such self-consciousness in order to let go. And shaking off the last drops would elbow such an assault on one’s neighbor that fights would break out. The doorless stalls, the few that were there, were so narrow that one couldn’t spread one’s knees. The stalls were also so urine-soaked from those with bad aim that one’s pants, when dropped to one’s ankles, would soak up the collected urine du jour.
All I needed was a urinal without neighbors. The first washroom had a waiting line. I went to the next floor. There the men’s room was out of order. I thought of using the ladies’ room instead, but their line stretched out the door.
The third floor men’s room was also overcrowded, but I waited my turn, and, as luck would have it, a stall opened up. However, as soon as I began to unbutton my fly, a gruff voice behind me swore at me and said, "If all you’re doing is pissing, go to the urinals, asshole." I buttoned up and left. The fourth floor had no washrooms at all, and the top floor consisted only of an expensive restaurant one would have to patronize to piss in the pots of.
I climbed down the fire escape and figured I’d just go in the alley, but the alley below was actually a bazaar. I found the main street, entered the subway, and thought that perhaps a dark corner of the subway would suffice. My bladder was near bursting, and the story of Tycho Brahe’s explosion began to ring in my memory.
However, the train arrived as soon as I reached the platform, and I was bustled inside. I made my way to the last car and looked longingly on the track behind us, but another train was directly on our heels.
I walked home from the station and thought about ducking into neighbors’ back yards, but thoughts of arrest prevented me from going there.
By the time I got home, my teeth were floating. I rushed upstairs to the bathroom, but Lotte had locked herself in and was taking a bath. I went to the kitchen to use the sink, but Jackson and Alain were playing checkers at the table.
Finally, I hit upon a solution. I climbed into my bedroom closet, over the shoes, opened the window, pulled a chair in, stood on it, and pissed onto the rosebushes below. Never had a piss felt so good.
I had to go live by myself when I quit the university. Unfortunately, the only places I had keys for other than home were my car and my university offices and facilities.
One office was hidden on the fourth floor of a threestory building. At the top of the least-used emergency stairwell there was a forgotten storage area, formerly housing the building’s air-conditioning units, which had been unused since all the campus air became synthesized centrally. Forgotten except by me. I had transfigured it.
Other than my living situation, I was free. I’d never let anyone like Edwin the Kleptomaniac impinge on my generosity again. Do someone a favor, and in turn he comes on to your wife and leaves his scuz in the tub for the kids to see. What would you do? Out the door immediately is the only way.
And then the stuff that was stolen: the Kiel Sailing Olympics brass bottle opener, back issues of
magazine, and a stuffed Tasmanian Devil doll—a "Taz." And other stuff, too.
I didn’t like Edwin’s being around anymore. He’s bade farewell.
He’s unwelcome even here, in this book.
When I felt sure they were only a day away, I packed up and left. I figured I’d sleep in the car, but my plates had expired. I’d ordered and paid for them two months earlier but had not heard back, so I went to the tag office.
I told them I wanted to pick up my plates.
"No problem. That’ll be $220."
"What? I already paid that."
"Not according to our records. If you want your plates, you have to pay $220."
"Oh, jeez. Another example of corruption in Georgia," I said.
"Then go back where you came from," said some fat white woman.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"The County Tax Commissioner."
"I’m offended by that. I’m a native Georgian, born in Atlanta in Crawford Long Hospital on Peachtree Street. I probably have more of a right to be here than you do." I left in disgust.
I went to the County Supervisor’s office next door to complain but was intercepted by two policemen who said the tax commissioner had called and said I was drunk and threatening her. The police gave me a breathalyzer, saw my level was quite low, and told me to go home and cool off. I could come back tomorrow.
"They’re just mad at me because I know too much," I told the police. "Like that $175,000 fire engine that can’t be used." The city had bought the fire engine from "a friend." The engine had the Jaws of Life, which could pry open vehicles involved in major wrecks, as on the highway. Unfortunately, the municipal fire department was not authorized to perform rescues on the highway, so the engine was used as a storage shed for Homeland Security equipment.
When I first moved to Macon, into an unfinished apartment, my wife saw the landlord giving the plumbing inspector $600. Immediately, without any more work done on it, the apartment building passed inspection.
I’ll go, all right. I’ll leave behind students who believe that Nelson Mandela was the first African-American to be elected president of South Africa, and that Christianity is a Father-Son relationship.
I’ll gladly leave Georgia. But don’t tell me where to go. No law requires I go home—I’ll go where I please, thank you.
I’ll visit my friend Anselm, a photographer who used to teach in Illinois. He’ll sympathize with me now that I’ve stepped out of the system.
"There you go again, fool." He’s called me that ever since we were classmates in high school. "Don’t you know you can only effect change from within the system? That’s why I’ve never stepped out of it. If you hadn’t been afraid of the water in the first place..."
He was referring to the fact that I spent ten years out of school working in retail management before I decided to finish my degree and enter the professional world of academe.
I wondered then why I’d gone to visit him. He and his other friends, I suddenly remembered, had always had a habit of making themselves feel better in comparison by insulting anyone unlike themselves. Their derision of me— one idiot even suggested that for me writing wasn’t an end in itself but merely a means to an end (what end? poverty? isolation? depression? What a fucking idiot!)— was plainly little more than the by-product of their own insecurities and narcissism.