Lately I've been learning to listen more to my writing. That will mostly take the form of reading it out loud, or at least with a low whisper. I'd always heard this was a good way to revise yourself, but I'd never tried it quite this way. In a way I'm just imagining how it would sound on This American Life. It gets interesting results when I try it with other authors, because I seem to automatically drift into their voice. For example, I read a page of Neverwhere and started getting an English accent. Just now, I used espeak to make my computer read it out loud, which was kind of fun by itself. I may have to use
In this story, we visit a background character from "Tuffy's Funeral," and a character that I realized in the revision was basically the hiimdaisy/Gigi Digi version of Col. Volgin from Metal Gear Solid 3.
The Mouse, The Landlord, and the Laundry Room
by Alex Scott
Jerry Baxter sneezed, got out of bed, combed his hair, and skipped taking a shower. He saw a scabbed crack on his lip, and licked it, tasting the dried blood. What did he do last night? Probably nothing important, if he couldn't remember it.
He felt like coffee.
When he got to the kitchen, he found a mouse in the trap by the fridge. It must have been caught sometime last night. He'd known there was a mouse for a few weeks, but had only laid the trap a few days ago. Now the mouse was as still as a ball of lint. He supposed he had to do something with it.
Last time this happened, back in his old place, he stashed the dead mouse in an old Adidas, and forgot about it. Then last week, Luc found it in his trunk, and buried it in a Baptist cemetery with a bunch of ghost hunters. Luc had gotten weird lately.
This time there weren't any shoes Jerry was willing to spare, so he put it in a sandwich bag. Now to get rid of it. If Luc were here, he would probably say to take it to the landlord. There could be more mice, and they might be bothering the other tenants. They might need to call an exterminator.
Jerry got his wallet and put on some chapstick. No reason he shouldn't go out looking decent.
He'd moved to the Spring Hill tenement back in Autumn because it was the cheapest he could find without having to pay for his own water. It was a few blocks from downtown, and close enough to his favorite bars that he didn't have to risk driving home. Sometimes the plumbing didn't work, and sometimes something seemed to be growing in the bathroom, but it did use a cardkey system. Jerry thought it was cool that he could enter the building the same way he'd pay for groceries. Of course, there were times he'd forget. Then he'd have to call Luc, who had a spare, and Luc would have to drive down and let him in, and gripe because he had work the next day. Jerry hadn't really gotten to know his neighbors, so it was Luc or nobody.
Except the landlord, Donald. Jerry had only met him a few times, but he was always incredibly nice. Sometimes too nice. Donald always smiled, even when Jerry came to sign the lease wearing the t-shirt with the demon extending its middle fingers.
Jerry went down to the first floor and pushed the office buzzer. Donald answered almost immediately. His teeth gleamed, and his pecs bulged under a tight shirt. "Jerry, good to see you. And what have we--Oh." He wrinkled his nose at the bag. "Is that where that smell's coming from?"
"No," Jerry said. He didn't sweat that much in his sleep, did he?
Donald switched back to his smile. "Well, I'm glad you brought this to my attention. I have a feeling this guy isn't alone."
He invited Jerry into his office to to sit down. Jerry gave Donald the mouse, and waited as Donald went to the next room to make a phonecall.
Jerry sometimes couldn't believe this was the same building. The office was clean, tidy, and had watercolor paintings of wheat fields on the walls. The apartment's best features were the peeling walls and dirty laundry on the floor. The bookcase had a collection of classic literature, and a stereo. Jerry stocked his only bookcase with voluptuous nude statues. A John Williams score was playing. Was it Lord of the Rings or Back to the Future? Jerry wasn't sure.
There was a door to the laundry room. Jerry hadn't seen it since moving in, not that he'd gotten around to doing his laundry. This seemed to be the only entrance, here in the office. He decided to check it out. He took his card from his wallet, swiped it, and went inside. There were three washers and three driers, as well as a chair with spikes on the backrest, a medieval rack, and a bench. A car battery sat in the corner.
"What do you think of the laundry room?" Donald's voice startled Jerry. He was still smiling. "You want me to show you around?"
"Um," Jerry said. "Is this stuff supposed to be in here?"
"Oh, it's essential." Donald weaved in, and motioned Jerry forward. His hand stroked the chair. "This is what I use to get people into stress positions. Just imagine having to sit in it for hours on end." He kept smiling. "Either you get the spikes, and take excruciating pain, or you sit in an uncomfortable position, and take excruciating pain. Lovely, isn't it?"
Then, the rack. "This baby--always a classic." He grabbed a handle and turned the wheel, jiggling one of the chains. "How long do you think you'd go before you break?" Then, the bench. "Normally there's a trough here at the end. It's for waterboarding. You lie here, I pour water, the trough catches it. I do like to stay current."
Jerry definitely couldn't believe this was the same building. "What's this all for?"
"A surprisingly deep question, coming from you." Donald kept smiling. "For fun, what else?" He chuckled. "And it's a nice way to get around building codes and regulations. What do you think is more cost effective? Calling a plumber and getting charged up the behind for glorified Dran-O, or waterboarding the tenant to make her shut up?"
"Yes, torture is much simpler and cheaper. To tell the truth, I only bought the rack for the aesthetic value. You really don't need much. Doesn't matter if it's loud music or intense heat. I just need to humiliate you." His nose wrinkled again. "Though judging by that body odor, I think you're beyond humiliation. No, what you need is a little exercise. Let's start with backflips."
Donald jumped, grabbed his legs, threw himself back, and landed right on his feet. "Now, you do it."
"I can't do that. What about the mouse? Didn't you call an exterminator?"
"There is no exterminator. Now give me a backflip and promise not to tell anybody, or I'll get my cattle prod and make sure you do it." Donald backflipped again. "I could do this all day." He did it again. "Now give me a backflip, dammit."
Jerry stepped back, his legs shaking. He tumbled back, fell, and flung his legs over his shoulder. He rolled onto his knees, back straight, and looked up at Donald.
"That. . ." Donald blinked. "That was a good--" He scratched his head. "Close enough, I guess."
"I. . . I can go?" Jerry said.
"Of course you can," Donald said. "Can you come back and see me on. . . Friday? I hope you don't have any bad news for me."
Jerry stood and dusted himself off. He tasted blood, and dabbed his lip. His lip had cracked back open. "Uh, later." Jerry left the laundry room and the office, and hesitated before going upstairs. Donald knew where he lived. Did Jerry really want to be there? He got out his cell phone, and dialed up Luc.
"Jerry, what do you want?"
"I really need to get out today, Luc. My landlord is out of his mind."
Somewhere behind him, he heard a squeak.