My stomach stings as I attempt the crunches for the night, all the while trying to think of her and not the seven frozen pizzas I stocked in the ice chest last week.
My dreams intertwine most nights—brown-eyed giggles and slow rising crusts.
The phone rings, abruptly cutting off a vision of a pie so oversaturated with toppings they fall off the crust. I answer and am interrupted by Justin, who sounds chipper, as if he’s just been laid.
“Justin? You fuck, dude. What the shit are you thinking calling me at 3:47 in the god damn morning?” I rasp my voice enough to convincingly sound freshly awoken, a technique I don’t recall the exact moment I became an expert at.
“Feel like hitting up the diner,” Justin asks, “I’ve got a few items to go over with you before…” a pause of recollection, “Oh, wait. You’re not still on that diet are you?”
I answer with a long sigh, thinking of devouring a hamburger with a slice of melted provolone cheese and extra bacon. And marinara. Oh and pickles. And onions.
“You should really consider giving that broad up, Dale. She is half your age and I’m willing to bet she only goes for guys in bands.” The long hesitation on my part really angers him. I can feel it. “For fuck, Dale! You’re breaking my heart, you know. She doesn’t even talk to you. That cunt is sure pulling you through some obstacles, dude. By the balls, too. By the balls. By the balls.” He continues to repeat himself, raising the pitch in his tone every time.
I interrupt, “That’s not entirely true, bro. We talk on the phone like all the time.”
“Who calls who? Who does the dialing of the phone number? Does she even have your number, man?” Silence. “I’m going to throw up, Dale. By the balls…”
“Will you let me speak, asshole?” I grow tired of his lecture, “Fuck off, dude. Your wife left you for another woman. A beautiful. Gorgeous.”
“Shut up, Dale..”
“Breathtaking. Drop Dead model.”
“And you’re looking to take it out on the entire sex. I know what you’re doing, Justin, and you can suck my dick, you pathetic prick,”
His rebuttal is in the form of the click the receiver makes when he hangs up on me. Mentioning his ex-wife or job will throw Justin into a rage of sadistic hilarity. I feel a little guilty this time, however, seeing as he just read about Nancy’s affair with the model in People magazine. But again, I live to piss the son of a bitch off. The excitement returns briefly enough to accompany me to the bathroom, where I sit on the commode to take a shit. I catch a glimpse of myself in the medicine cabinet mirror. The thought of my protruding teeth wipes any smile I had on my face and my gut hangs over my package, blocking any god damn view. The left side of my head houses hair substantially longer than that of my right side, to allow for the disgusting comb-over. I wipe my ass, flush the god damn toilet, and avoid the mirror on the way out of the god damn bathroom. The only light in my apartment is that of a small halogen lamp resting on the endtable next to my large bed. The light shines on the answering machine and a stack of brochures, the top one reading So You’ve Lost Your Drive…, with a photograph of a balding middle-aged man looking into a mirror. In a drawer on the side of the endtable, I keep my latest manuscript, which I generally read portions of before going to bed. The thought of giving her a quick call crosses my mind, but I decide it might be a little late. I turn on my side and close my eyes, only to turn onto my back and ask again, should I call her.
I pick up the cordless and dial her number so quickly and so rehearsed that I’m embarrassed for a split second. She answers before my line even rings, bringing it to my attention that she’s been speaking with someone on the other line. “It is 5:12. What the god damn are you doing up so late?”
“Who is this?” she speaks sternly as if confronting her father.
“It’s Dale. Just wondering what you’re up to.”
“Dale? Dale. It’s 5:12, Dale. Why are you calling me?”
The incident has gotten me so embarrassed I don’t respond. I just keep quiet.
“I’ll call you tomorrow, Dale.”
“Will you? Do you even have my number?” her rebuttal is in the form of the click her receiver makes when she hangs up on me.
My blood pressure has risen and I feel so restless I pick myself up from bed and decide to drink another supplement shake. I switch on all the lights I come across on the way to the kitchen, exposing all my literary awards, all my honorary PHDs, all my photographs with celebrated people, and all my letters from past Presidents. All reminders of how it used to be. Before the court dates, before the lawyers, before the judges. I’m so very tired. I’m a tired old man.
I leave the supplement shake blending while I scan the refrigerator for a snack. I pull out some celery and carrot sticks wrapped in cling film, and jog from the fridge back to the blender. I keep jogging in place as I pour out the contents of the blender into a sports bottle, jog back to my room, shut the halogen lamp off and notice the blinking red light on the answering machine. The caller ID flashes back the number I dial so many times with such ease. It’s her. I play back the message:
“Dale, I think you have the wrong idea about me. I want you to stop calling me.”
I walk back to the kitchen, turning all the lights on once more, this time preheating the oven to 425.