By Michael Hyde
Illustration by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
An angel gets tossed, knocked flat by a UPS truck in front of my building. Snow’s falling, large flakes, it’s really coming down. The angel doesn’t budge. He’s late for a Christmas pageant, maybe the P.S. at the end of the block, maybe the Greek Orthodox Church, whichever. I could call for help, the police, an ambulance, but I’m not using the phone. It glares at me sometimes, it wants me to use it, but well, I’m not going to do it.
Two women wander from the corner bodega; they’re large in their snow-coats, wear padded mittens. They take the angel by the arms and lift him, careful of the wings jutting from his winter jacket. He’s not dead. Part of me wishes he were. At least that’d make for a good story. I can imagine myself sitting like I used to, at a dive down the block, talking to the crimpy server who’s convinced my name is Bill. I can see myself telling her about an angel that died in front of my building. “That’s so sad,” she might say. “Especially this time of year.”
But alas, the angel flies off down the street. On the steps of the church, he straightens his wire halo, then goes through the high door. I realize now I was wrong about him getting hit by UPS. The truck’s in front of my building still, no driver inside. The kid must’ve slipped on ice.
And now my phone’s ringing. The machine’ll pick up. I’m the last person I know to hold on to a landline, and the machine’s been getting all the one-way dialogue for the past three weeks. I don’t get many calls anyway: the super, pals concerned about appointments I didn’t make or meet. My sister phones on Saturdays: “Just to make sure you haven’t withdrawn from society altogether.” People are the things that disrupt my life, not the absence of them.
My cat Zipper is curled on the windowsill. He and I’ve seen a lot from the window of this fourth-floor apartment. Zipper’s a stringy cat, a stray before he became mine, he doesn’t grow. He’s dreaming probably of warmer weather, catching flies against the window glass, playing them to death or chasing them into the trap of his litter box where he takes delicate bites of them and swallows.
Yo, this is the super . . . . I turn the volume down on the answering machine. The super’s not a person I want to talk to. He distrusts me I think, looks at me like I’m someone who slips razor blades into Halloween taffy, someone children should be warned against. I’m not like that. I could apologize for wishing that angel dead, but I didn’t really wish it. Really.
The phone’s ringing again. The message light blinks, doesn’t stop, call after call, fifteen blips total. I pity the machine. Zipper walks onto the phone. He bats it with his paw, looks at me like he can’t understand why I’m not doing my job. We’ve both been eating out of cans.
I like my naps in front of the TV, no sound. The TV’s always on, no sound. I don’t watch TV. It just makes me feel somebody’s with me, a presence, like a ghost. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but TVs make a high-pitched noise, waves transmitting. I used to think I had a spiritual connection, a gift for hearing and sensing things others couldn’t. If I walked by your apartment door—which I don’t plan to do anytime soon—I could tell you if your TV were on, or not.
“Here Zipper,” and he comes running. Zipper eats his albacore and looks over my shoulder at what I’m eating: canned beets. I don’t even know how they got into my cupboard. I don’t like them. Nobody I’ve ever met seems to either. Somehow these stupid beets wound up in my cupboard. Zipper sniffs and sniffs and even after deciding he doesn’t like the smell, stares at me, begging me for a bite.
Something slams against the front door, something big. My building’s a safe building, but in a city like this, I’m often afraid somebody wants to do me harm. I imagine—in many cluttered drawers in many cluttered apartments—my name on many hit lists, my name printed, reprinted, distributed. I don’t believe in government conspiracies, aliens, hocus-pocus, but I know about people, about people’s ill intentions.
Zipper and I watch the door. A key turns in the lock. It’s been a long time since anyone’s been in or out of that door. The mail waits downstairs. Dead letters. The door opens. Luckily the chain catches. Through the crack, an eye flicks and flicks and spies me.
“Hey, yo, why the hell aren’t you answering the phone?”
I peer into the large and open hallway of my building. Pio, the building super, stares back. He’s never liked me.
“Are you gonna let me in or am I gonna have to use cutters on this chain?”
“One second.” I push the door shut. I hear him breathing, cursing, breathing. I slide the chain-latch.
“What the bleep are you doing?”
I open the door. I smell the smell of my apartment fighting the fresh air from outside. Pio comes in, stomps down my hallway. He’s wearing a green coat with a fur collar. Clumps of snow slide from his boots. The snow glistens, begins to melt.
Pio knows every room in my small apartment, as if the place were his before it became mine. “Man, you got leakage here,” he says, pointing to the radiator in the kitchen. “You’re flooding the place down below. I’ve been calling since yesterday.”
“I’m not answering the phone,” I tell him.
“What kind of shit is that?” he says. “Not answering the phone. You got your radiators turned off?”
“I’m not sure. They rattle, keep me awake. I think that means they’re on.”
“Let me look.” He stomps from kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, bending, looking, then turning black knobs. Steam spits up, Zipper stares at the small geysers, surprised. “Keep ’em cranked all the way on,” Pio says, then he looks down at Zipper. “You a cat person?”
“I have a cat.”
“Yeah, well keep these cranked all the way or both you and this cat’ll freeze to death. You read stuff like that in the paper all the time.”
“I don’t read the paper.”
“Whatever.” His keys slap and jangle from his hip-chain. “Now do what I tell ya.”
“Sure,” I say. “Sure.”
When the door slams, I’m sliding the locks back where they belong. I stare at the radiators hissing and shuddering like bombs. Room to room, I turn each one of them off, giving the snow Pio dragged in just a little longer to live in here.