NOMS by Jon Carroll Thomas
The noise—when you first hear it—strikes you as funny, he tried to explain. Even now he’s unsure if he should laugh or not. He said it sounds like a cartoon, like an actor’s impression of a flat tire or a pig in mud. His own impression, I confess, made me laugh—GRAWB, GRAWB, GRAWB—his eyes almost as wide as his mouth. Then he laughed too, and then added, nervously, “Only it doesn’t stop.” I can tell he is distressed, even more than he thinks he’s letting on. The fact that he’s in my kitchen says something in itself. But, when he rang my bell this morning, he introduced himself as Tad Wilkes, my neighbor from across the street—as if I hadn’t seen him around the neighborhood a thousand times—as if he had completely forgotten the time, a couple of summers ago, that I came over for gin and tonics. Granted, it was his girlfriend at the time, Ester that invited me; maybe he just hoped I had forgotten. Together, they had occupied the largest apartment in a six-unit building. It was bright and spacious, but also cozy— rent-controlled, utilities included—the only apparent drawback was that they had to share the ground floor with their land-
lord; he had a small apartment strategically located by the stairs to the laundry room, but knowing Mr. Funka as I do, that’s a small price to pay unless you need something fixed in a hurry. What actually went wrong I never could guess; they seemed perfectly happy. Their break-up must have been very sudden; I never even saw her leave; I only began to suspect that something had happened when I noticed that the front windows by which she liked to do her morning exercises were now always closed and covered. Since that day, I’d only seen Tad in passing and he never had time for more than a few words. I only asked about Ester once and he seemed to ignore the question. Until he showed up this morning, I had given up on being neighborly. Now, as we chat beside the fridge in my kitchen, he acts as if we were friends all along, which is part of why I feel so uneasy. He also holds eye contact for too long. To distract him, I take out the bottle of rum that I keep in the freezer and hand it to him. “Yeah, good idea,” he says. Outside, the seasonal winds are worse than usual; I hear them groan through the exhaust duct over the stove; somewhere nearby, a trash can is blown over.
Dedicated to the late, great H.P. Lovecraft