He sat at his computer, tongue licking his upper and lower lips in anticipation. A long-nailed, fat and grimy index finger clicked on the mouse at a dizzying pace. An observer might have thought there was an insane miniature tap-dancer somewhere underneath the piles of filth that surrounded the man. However, no tap dancer could effectively practice their talent in this cramped and deplorable dwelling.
The apartment smelled old - old food, old clothes, old sweat and old urine. Older keepsakes from a time when Meek was a different man than the behemoth sitting behind the computer now, peeked through the places where the trash didn’t take over.
A narrow path wound its way around the dwelling, taking Meek to the vital places he needed to go when life interrupted. A path to a bathroom that was rarely used anymore and another that forked thirty degrees to the apartment entrance. Others led to the kitchen and what might have once resembled a dining room. Another path ended abruptly in front of the bedroom’s entrance – a ramp of filth almost reaching the smoke alarm above the door-frame.
The high amount of detritus that formed those paths were monuments showing the sloth of the recent past - an involuntary story from the ground up. Most of the bottoms of them were newspapers he used (back when caring seemed to still be second nature) to soak up the vomit and spilled beer. After the insulating layers of refuse began to accumulate above them however, the carpet became passé to his thoughts. An empty and flattened tampon box, whose corner jutted out from one of the disgusting hillocks near his computer, caught the corner of his eye.
His wife, Marie, had left him about a year or more ago, but he barely remembered what she looked like. Even the dust and grime-covered picture lying face-up near the monitor offered a view of a woman he didn’t really remember knowing. She took their infant daughter (Chrissy? Christy? Christa?) with her as it became clear that Meek was quite incapable of anything besides playing his online game.
He suddenly kicked the small mound of pizza boxes under his desk in frustration as his main game character fell to his demise off of a ravine and into the pixelated lava below. The group he was running this dungeon with would undoubtedly boot him out of the group for his failure to keep up. He kicked the mound again; his long, yellow big toenail piercing a hole through a box and into what he perceived to be the wall beyond.
The pain barely registered at first due to Meek seeing that his internet connection had been terminated. He stomped his other foot into the moist and brown-colored spot on the floor to his left. A pungent smell that he had all but become immune to ran through his nostrils.
He glanced at his fractured toenail, now resembling the misshapen tip of a bloodied spear. He grabbed the foot in pain and cursed the monitor before him; his game character a skeleton at the bottom of a molten-orange doom. He worked hard to get his game character to this point. Now this. Did he cut into the coaxial cable that supplied his internet access with his toenail? Did he kick something else?
“Bald-headed Christ! Fuck!” he shouted to the screen before him, a middle finger echoing what the mountains of garbage near him wouldn’t let his voice do.
He quickly stood; the crusty and stained seat-cushion briefly sticking to his rear and bringing the chair up, and then down with a plastic-wheeled bang. Trying to think quickly for a solution to his connectivity problem, he made his way along the kitchen path, slowly limping to the telephone.
He was surprised at how much he had been sweating. Was the AC broken too? He silently thanked his dead mother for the trust fund that she had left to him that sustained his living these past few years. He would call the landlady after the cable company.
He became lightheaded as his overweight frame limped among the refuse, and vomited into an empty cereal box before entering the kitchen. Grabbing a dusty and half-full beer off what must be the dining room table, he drank, expelling the acidic taste from his mouth. He dry-heaved from the taste of the old beer, thankful that the taste of puke no longer lingered.
He hadn’t used the phone in ages. No need to, really. He used both hands to claw through some hamburger wrappers and matted paper towels to about where he estimated the phone to be. Several cockroaches scampered away at his touch, their surreptitious duties temporarily put on hiatus. He was correct in his assumption of where the phone should be. He was incorrect by thinking the phone was still there however.
He faintly remembered Marie saying how the phone’s ringer woke up the baby at night. Since they could only afford a one-bedroom place at the time, the kid had to sleep in the living room. And since they both had cell-phones at the time, the home phone was redundant.
So…did she move it? Put it away? Throw it out?
“Fuck me!” he said as he picked a small, itchy brown piece of crust from the back of his leg, clawing at the skin underneath. His toe was bleeding worse now, the toenail much worse than he thought as he examined it in the brighter light of the kitchen. The nail cracked vertically all the way down, apparently breaking beneath the skin as well. His toe was easily twice the size it had been before his gimpy trek to the kitchen, a sickly wedding of purple and yellow.
Meek didn’t know the first place to look if Marie put it away somewhere. And quite frankly, he didn’t feel like digging through more mounds to look. Another option was the bedroom. There was a landline connection in there. Maybe it was buried somewhere in there?
His desire to get back to his game coupled with his throbbing foot prodded him to go back and look. He wobbled along the bedroom path straight down the hallway, the carpet he trod on making sickening wet sounds.
He paused for a glance into the bathroom he stopped using months ago. A brown conical shape of a solid brown and green substance protruded from the grimy toilet. He could see several flies tending to their young among the shape – buzzing with parental defense as they sensed Meek’s presence. Matted balls of toilet paper stood knee-high, occasionally broken by the mouths of empty beer bottles. The bottle-tops almost looked like brown mouths drowning in a sea of disgust. Smears and handprints of a darker color lined the tiled walls.
A picture hung by the entrance of the bathroom – Meek and Marie standing in front of the lake at Epcot Center. The baby was nestled in Meek’s arms, the peaceful shroud of sleep evident on her face as her happy father kissed her forehead. "Was that taken before or after the wedding?" he thought. He remembered that day – the baby cooing as the boat made its way through the tunnels in the Mexican section of the park. He had no idea why, but he also remembered Marie giving him a light but tender kiss on his neck as the boat sloshed its way through the artificial passages.
He made his way toward the bedroom entrance, having to limp-wade through trash that he didn’t remember making. Glancing behind him, he noticed that he left a red trail as his foot dragged behind him.
Clearing the way to the door took longer than he had thought. There were several large boxes hiding beneath the garbage that were heavier than he expected; their contents unimportant as the longing of getting back to his game took precedence over all else. They were stacked high as well – almost reaching where the door met the frame. Throwing the last box behind him down the hallway with a grunt, he grabbed the doorknob and tried to open the bedroom door. It was locked. After several minutes of determination, a few pulls from his obese frame, and many curses of frustration, the door gave way, splintering the frame and showering Meek’s forearm with wooden debris.
The room was dark, cool and surprisingly clean. The light shone from the hallway behind him, exposing the motes of dust that chaotically danced at the door being thrust open. Had he really not come in here at all over that year or two? The carpet was the perfect beige it was when his family moved in a few years ago. The pictures that Marie picked out still hung around the room – Parisian beatnik monstrosities that Meek still gave a disdainful glance to. She insisted that since there were no windows in the room, she would make it as “sunny” as possible. The bed was made as well, the dark brown comforter looking eerily the same color as the putrescent contents of the bathroom he glanced at minutes before.
The phone was on the nightstand on the side that Meek used to sleep on during cheerier times. With a sigh of relief that any heroin user could relate to after finally getting a reclusive fix, he limped over to the phone. One foot left a bloody streak and the other left brown footprints on the unmarked carpet. Sitting down on the bed, he picked up the phone’s receiver and started to dial when he noticed the square-shaped thing in the corner.
Since he didn’t think to turn the light on when he came in, and the hallway’s light didn’t reach the corner, he couldn’t make out what it was. He gave his toe a rub, hand coming back bloody, and winced in pain as the dread of realization crept up on him.
There was no dial-tone.
This could mean only one thing – Marie had cancelled the service at some point without telling him. Or more likely, he didn't pay the bill after she left. He couldn't remember. Grabbing the phone in frustration, he threw it in the direction of the square-shaped thing, cursing. He was getting very light-headed now – the coolness of the room doing little to alleviate the sweat drenching his balding, fleshy head.
He stood and hobbled over to the square thing in the corner. As he came up beside it, he grabbed the edge of it and winced in pain – his foot feeling as it was on fire. He looked into the square-thing, now finally realizing what it was; not just because of its physical shape as much as its contents.
The long-decayed corpse of an infant lay in the center of the playpen. The skin almost resembled one of those purplish super-hot peppers he used to see at the grocery store, making bizarre spiral patterns along the top of the skull. The infant had a permanent scream on its wrinkled and deformed face, as though it was seeing something horrible before its death. That horrible thing must have been loneliness, Meek thought as he glanced at his daughter.
That thought was quickly dashed however, as he noticed another figure sitting upright in the darker corner beyond the crib. Marie’s eyeless face pointed to the ceiling in a look of pain – as if she had died crying. One hand still rested on the corner of the playpen, the other pulling down the shirt where her breast had been. She must have given the infant (Kristina! That was her name!) one last meal before she herself had expired.
Cursing in worried anticipation, he picked up the phone (it was thankfully still in one piece with the cord from the wall still attached to it) and hobbled to the bedroom door, deciding he would try the kitchen’s phone receptacle, now out of a feverish desperation.
As he made his way through the door-frame, he immediately saw a problem. The heavy boxes that he had thrown behind him in a frenzy moments before, now made a heavy wall that merged with the garbage piles. He could see a portion of his computer monitor beyond – a bubbly orange haze through cardboard and refuse.
His foot throbbed and his chest suddenly contorted in pain as self-preservation began to take hold of his fevered body. Dropping the phone, he fell to his hands and knees and crawled toward the barricade. The first box before him wasn’t so bad to move but the next was impossible, positioned as he was, and he slumped over it. He sensed a cockroach that he must’ve only partially killed with his weight, tickle the side of his torso. "Just a rest," he mumbled. "The kitchen is just around the corner. So close".
I will have my internet back within the hour. Just one phone call, he thought.
Longingly looking at his computer screen through the cardboard and refuse cracks, his heart finally took his frustration, his toe-pain and him along with it.
Written by Mystreve