Worst Case Scenario
by T. Sean Steele
I was hiding from my sister’s landlord with the lights off and the curtains pulled.
“I know you’re in there,” he said. “I’m in the backyard. Your tent is out here, along with all your clothes on the clothesline, and your books, and your dumbbells.”
I sat on the floor next to some cabinets.
The landlord’s onto me, I texted Kim.
It can’t be the landlord. The landlord is abroad. More than that, the landlord isn’t even a person, it’s a business.
Who to believe? Kim said the man in the backyard wasn’t the landlord, that in fact the landlord wasn’t even human, but then who knew more about the landlord: Kim, or the man outside claiming to be the landlord? If the man’s claim was true, then likely he knew more about the landlord, being the man himself. If the man’s claim wasn’t true, did that mean he knew less about the landlord than Kim? No. It only meant he wasn’t the man himself.
I hear you are trapped. Now it was Moon texting me. I am sorry you are trapped. Are you sweating?
Yes but only because it is hot.
If you tape over your pores you will stop sweating.
Tape? Over my whole body? I couldn’t let myself be distracted. I was fending off an intruder. Or, possibly, I was an intruder fending off the owner.
What does he look like? Kim again.
I crawled to the door and peeked through the curtains. I wanted to give Kim a good description. I concentrated. Lately I had been trying to be impressive.
His nipples wisp out of his chest like the tips of soft-serve cones.
So he’s shirtless?
And pants? Is he wearing pants?
Then my phone rang. It was Devon, back in Chicago. They were also having landlord problems. How was it that we were both having landlord problems? Devon was not surprised. In fact they did not want to talk about the coincidence at all.
“Listen to me,” they said. “Beeth didn’t make it.”
“Didn’t make it?”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, listen, what do you know about retaining walls?”
“No more than anybody else.”
“I ask because me and Keeth buried her in the backyard. But the backyard’s on a hill and it’s been raining. She’s going to slip out the side of it.”
“How did she die?”
“The water in her ears and the cough it gave her. She couldn’t beat the cough. Paralyzed people can’t handle a cough the way you or I can. It moves your insides imperceptibly until finally you aren’t organized in a way that allows life.”
“Why are you helping Keeth bury the body?”
“He’s the landlord, I’m the tenant.”
“That’s not a very good reason,” I said.
“Before we buried her, he made me hold her against the wall so he could trace her onto it with a paintbrush. Then he looked at the outline and caressed its cheek and sighed. ‘I’m going to do this all the time now,’ he told me. ‘She never let me touch her gently like this. She said if you gently touch a horse, it’ll kick you. Anytime I tried it, she would shout, No! Like a horse! and make me get a really firm palm there on her face.’ I think he’s got a lot of built-up trauma about all sorts of things.”
“That’s not a very good reason, either,” I said.
“I have other reasons. You’re not here anymore. We had built a life together. I’m just filling my days. It could be anything, but it’s this.”
“Like a horse, huh,” I said, looking out the window. The landlord was still out there, but now he was getting dressed. He stepped into a pair of dark slacks and pulled on a green polo.
What was he doing?
He said his name was Thom. Tom? No, Thhhhom. He was proud of me for suspecting he was not the landlord. Now, might he in turn suspect something about me? Would that be OK? “I suspect you’d like to be a doorman.”
No, I stayed focused. I stepped onto the porch.
“Moments ago you were naked,” I said. “I’ll kick your ass. You saw those dumbbells.”
“It’s what we need!” he cried. “Not my ass, but the asses of people who try to sneak into shows. Not only those who have tried to sneak in. Even if they paid, they can be kicked out. If they’re rowdy. Having paid or not. Rowdy? They must go.”
“What kind of shows? What kind of people come to the shows?”
“Big band! Three nights a week. And people? All sorts of people. Good people and, if not good, then interesting.” He gestured at the tent. “You look like someone in need of friends. You know what they say about making friends.” For the next sentence, he slapped the back of one hand into the palm of the other, emphasizing each word. “The! Trick! Is! To! Be! Somewhere! Regularly!”
I looked at him, feeling totally helpless.
“You get to carry a wad of money to make change for the entry fee. This wad, right here. Of course, remember now, you don’t get to keep it. It’s not your cut. It’s only for making change. This has been a point of contention in the past.”
As a gesture of trust and goodwill he insisted on tossing me the wad of cash. It was rubberbanded. I slid the rubberband onto my wrist, then back onto the wad, thinking, yes or no, yes or no. Thinking, Thom could have taken my clothes off the clothesline. But no, he had brought his own, not that it meant anything. People could always be worse, or better, than they were at any given moment.