I prayed the cell phone would explode. It rang so long I wouldn’t have been surprised if Sherri’s neighbor crawled in the open window to answer it. Sherri was slow to wake, even though I prayed she wouldn’t, that she’d stay captive to whatever kind of dream could do so to her.
“If this is Dana I’m going to fire her Monday morning,” she says and throws the cover off her nude front end. Dana is Sherri’s secretary, paralegal assistant and friendly basket case. Sherrill Cain is my girlfriend and a divorce lawyer, working out of the Penobscot building on top of down town. She destroys people and families and generally sleeps like a baby animal. Dana just drinks a lot to deal with the fact people sometimes commit suicide because of her work.
One second I’m staring at a textured ceiling, nodding off. The next second Sherri sticks a glowing LCD in my face. I say the obvious in a voice that I think sounds just a scorch annoyed, said it’s a Detroit number and this line isn’t for clients. I tried to laugh but it sounded like a hiccup. Rolled over and closed my eyes tight enough to see a haze of lights clashing together like flame and broken mirrors.
By the time Sherri answers the phone it’s dead. “Six new messages. Why didn’t you wake me up?” Sherri asks.
“I didn’t think it was important.”
She plays the messages broadcast on speakerphone. Only the highest form of drama will do tonight.
“Johnny? You there, fucker?” The woman’s voice let roll all the whiskey thunder that I’d never be able to drink because of her colossal lushness.
“You fucker,” she said, “fucker, fucker, fucker. That’s what you do and what you are and I still want you. Call me back; you said you always have your phone on you. So call me.”
Next message and I was already wondering why it all just wouldn’t go away. I only want to sleep. Sherri is sitting against her throne of pillows and says nothing.
“Why haven’t you called me, yet? You said you’d call in two days when you where with me two weeks ago. You’re fucking with me, this better be your real number, I’m starting to hate you.”
I’m starting not to care if I slept or died.
In the background of each message after that we hear the echoes off of tiles and hard walls. I picture the woman on the end of the line, on the bathroom floor, elbows on toilet rim, long, bleached blonde hair mixing with cold water and bile. “Damn it, Johnny Fucker, you better answer your phone.” The voice is slurred and raw. Drink, cry, gag, and repeat. “It’s me, it’s Crissy. Please call me. You said you would!”
She’s imploring, now. Great sex does that to people.
I sit up to see Sherri’s face lit by the display screen and nothing else. She looks at each entry with the intensity of a monk copying all the Latin bibles I’ll never read. I look down to the white bed sheet, listening to Crissy’s next diatribe, eyes jammed closed.
“Fucker? All kidding aside, Johnny—you’re a fucking piece of shit. You’re a goddamned liar and I hate you!” She screams the last three words loud enough for me to wonder what that’s like—being her neighbor. “You better call me, I can’t believe you’d do this to me… after everything we talked about that night.” She stopped to blow her nose. “You know how I am, because I told you,” her voice gave out—but not for too long.
“Fucker!” She hangs up.
Sherri’s a silent profile beside me. It’s always impossible for me to read her face in the dark. Even in the light, she gives up only those secrets she doesn’t care to keep. “Crazy fucker. I knew you where about games like this as soon as you swanked into my shop and sat down. I was right. I wanted something, but not this. I don’t want to play games! I never did and I told you that when I was there holding you and you held me. Remember what my fingernails did that night? I know you’re remembering right now. I don’t want to play this game with you,” she sobbed long and hard, a noise that was entropy, absolute.
I willed myself to sink deep into the pillow, a slump straight backward into hell’s heart. The last message scratched its way from the phone.
“I still have a piece of you, fucker.” She no longer sounds sick or drunk or tired. Her voice is a tigress purring, “I have something of yours. I have a lock from your head; I’ll bet you wouldn’t have thought that kind of thing.” I covered my face with a pillow and thought about suffocation as a sleep aid. I wanted Sherri to turn off the phone, chuck it out the window or anything. I’d put it in the fish tank, personally, but I’d never say that to Sherri. I just need Crissy to shut up. That’s key, even if it won’t fit her door.
“I promise you, Johnny, you will feel everything. I know! I know exactly how to do that to you, fucker. Just like you know how to fuck me, every way, and you’re fucking me right now. You are! I don’t even need to see you at all, fucker! I don’t because I know where and how to get your soul even if you have no heart. I love you, even though its over now.” The only sound remaining was her breath on the line. Then it sounded like she dropped her end to the floor, left it to sit. Thick silence remained and I welcomed it as a new lover.
I looked at Sherri, she at me. Our eyes locked for a fragment of eternity. I met her gaze, trying to speak to her in that language she loves most, one that needs no voice—until a timely toilet flush from the phone reminded us both about the flimsy nature of human hearts.
“Quit staring at me so I can sleep,” she said, as she lays her phone down and turns herself off.
Soon I hear only my own pulse, pounding like a dying machine, the desperation of a telling heart. If I were a praying man, I’d do so now. But I won’t, because I don’t. If I still live by sunrise, I’ll go downtown to get flowers and a haircut while Sherri sleeps, as she does so quietly, a cute little creature of litigation.
Crissy’s shop might be open if she survives the night and the hangover. I was due for another haircut, by any measure. No matter what, I felt I was due.