Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 60

J oe Bailey pushed the door open to his newly-rented third floor apartment on First Avenue in West Haven, Connecticut. The door got stuck a bit thanks to the heat and humidity, but he wouldn’t complain to the landlord. He doubted he would answer the phone anyway. He dropped the three library books he had just taken out on the table in front of the couch. He had no TV, and getting a library card was the best, and cheapest, way for him to entertain himself on the long, lonely nights in his new apartment. Joe had just gotten out of an abusive relationship with his boyfriend, Hal, a little over a month ago. Hal was the one with the high-paying job, and he was able to keep a nice apartment in a good New Haven neighborhood. Joe had finally had enough of the shouting and hitting after the third time a neighbor had called the police. They were rude and dismissive when they interviewed him about the domestic problem, and Joe wondered if they would’ve been the same way if they were called to a straight couple’s home. He could almost hear them snickering like boys in high school once the door was closed and he was once again alone with Hal. Joe’s family had disowned him when he came out of the closet to be with Hal back when he was naive enough to believe he would be with him for the rest of his life. He knew he wouldn’t have been able to stay in the closet forever, but he had hoped that his family wouldn’t have taken his sexuality as bad as they did. Now Hal was out of his life, and he had almost nobody. Even his friends, who had praised him for finally getting out of his relationship, didn’t seem to want to be in his life now that he was barely making ends meet on an assistant supermarket manager’s salary. He didn’t even care about that stupid cloud that seemed to be the topic of nearly every conversation. Even the people at the library were talking about what they were calling “The Cloud”. A crimson cloud of what they assumed to be cosmic dust was floating its way through the galaxy toward earth, and it was due to pass by soon. Everyone had a theory of what it was going to cause: widespread cancer, an electromagnetic pulse that will render any and all electronic devices useless, complete radiation and mutation of the entire planet, or even a zombie apocalypse. Joe didn’t care what it was going to do. If it killed him he would die happy knowing it took everyone else as well. Joe reached over to turn on the air conditioner for some relief from the late-August heat, but it didn’t whir to life when he hit the button. “Great,” he sighed. He looked over to the table in the kitchen and the numerous letters from the electric company threatening to turn off his power if he didn’t make arrangements to put the power into his name after the landlord took it out of his. He had been meaning to call, but he didn’t quite feel like having the argument when most of his day was full of arguments with old ladies who insisted every day was double fucking coupon day. Joe scoffed at the air conditioner, picked up one of the books, and decided to read outside despite the heat. He walked down the stairs he had just ascended minutes before, left through the back door, and made his way toward one of the old wooden chairs in the backyard. He wasn’t sure which of the tenants put the chairs out, but nobody else was outside. They probably wouldn’t mind him reading for an hour or so. Once the chair was dragged into the shade of the lone maple tree in the yard, Joe sat down and opened his borrowed book to the first page. He enjoyed the silence of the afternoon. Normally, the neighborhood was full of the noises of kids playing or people talking, but everyone was inside glued to the television, watching the progress of The Cloud on every news channel as it approached the earth. Three pages in, Joe put the book on his lap with a breath of exasperation. He was reading, but nothing seemed to stick in his mind. All he knew about the book was that the main character’s name was Holly West and nothing else. All he could think about was Hal in the nice apartment, probably having a cold drink with friends in the air conditioning. He was probably already dating again, tricking guys into thinking he was some kind of saint before donning his other face. The night he knew it was over came unbidden into Joe’s mind as he tried to pick up the last paragraph he had started from the beginning. They were shouting, as usual. Joe didn’t even remember why halfway into the argument. So many old, unresolved issues had come up since they started, and it was impossible to keep track. “I’m not saying you can’t look at other guys!” Joe shouted. “I just asked that you don’t leer at them in front of me!” “Would you like it better if I was blind?!” Hal retorted. “Are you even listening what I’m saying?!” Joe snapped back. “Sometimes I really think you’re a -” A slap to the cheek stopped Joe mid-sentence. His head rocked to the side after a flash of light filled the left side of his vision. He turned his head, hoping he’d see some kind of remorse in Hal’s face. Instead, he Hal’s open hand hit him again, harder, knocking him down with a blow to the side of his head. Joe looked up, and he saw Hal standing over him with his fists clenched. He had almost gone too far, and Hal had let him know violently. He knew if he got up he’d get a lot worse than a couple of slaps, so he stayed down, waited for Hal to leave, and got up. Joe wasn’t surprised when Hal left the apartment. 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