Kenny Kruse

Reality Television

A cell phone rang in the apartment next door. I had half a mind to walk right over to the office to tell Cynthia about it. Mr. Morrison once complained to her about noise because Silas and Kristen and I had been chain-smoking on the balcony until dawn. There was a blonde woman in a yellow velour tracksuit walking a golden retriever past my bedroom in the park. She was talking on the phone and kept jerking at the dog’s leash. Silas had already told me what Mr. Morrison told him, though, and that’s why I didn’t. Mr. Morrison told Silas, Silas told me when we were drinking margaritas with Sadie and Noah at that Mexican place on Rural, that Mr. Morrison was a hit man. I laughed, at first, and Sadie spilled some salsa from a chip onto her lap.
            Noah was in the bathroom. I hadn’t been to that Mexican place since I stopped hanging out with Simon, maybe two months before, and they had put in some jungle stained glass, and there were these new, big wooden parrots hanging over the dining room. A red car drove past the complex and I could feel its bass in my chest. The bar in the restaurant had flat screen TV’s, now, and they were all showing the same baseball game. We were the only people in the restaurant.      
            Sadie asked the waitress for some more napkins. Silas laughed and told us that Mr. Morrison had stopped him by the pool to ask him if he knew who was leaving clothes in the washers all day on Thursdays. Mr. Morrison always did his laundry in all three washers on Thursdays. Mr. Morrison walked around the complex without a shirt, always these loose, blue swim trunks on, a pair of black flip flops. His skin was smooth, not a hair anywhere on his body that we could see except for his eyebrows. He was tan but not wrinkled, probably in his early forties.
            Silas had felt compelled to talk to Mr. Morrison and ended up complaining about the Pakistani couple who lived above us. “I don’t even know why I said it,” he said, slurping the lime slush. He had big salt crystals stuck to his bottom lip. “I just wanted to say something.” Silas had said that he couldn’t bear the smell of Mrs. Chaudhary’s cooking and Mr. Morrison offered to kill them for us for five hundred dollars each. “I told him that was out of my price range, but that I appreciated the offer.” 
            “That’s a dumb story, Silas,” Sadie said. We all ordered more margaritas the next time the waitress came around. Noah had returned from the bathroom and put his arm around Sadie. She shook it off. “It’s cold in here,” she said, tracing her forearms with her long purple fingernails. I had lived with Silas for three years, by that point, and I knew he wasn’t lying.
            Sadie moved out a few weeks later. She had come down to Phoenix from the Hopi reservation and when her dad found out she had a white boyfriend he wrote her a letter saying she had three days to come back home or he would make sure she never had a boyfriend again. I heard the fridge open and close. Somebody turned the TV on and I thought it was The Real World but I couldn’t tell what season. She had a friend who was working for a defense contractor in Iraq. His house downtown had been broken in to a while before, and Sadie had been checking in on it for him every so often. I heard a cat pawing at my door, and when I sat up I saw that Pablo’s whole arm was swatting at my carpet through the crack. She and Noah planned to live there. She left in a hurry and never came home to get the rest of her stuff. She left a bunch of clothes and a broken arrow. I kept the arrow.
            I threw on a shirt and some shorts and walked out to the living room. Kristen, Silas’s girlfriend who practically lived with us, was smoking a joint on the couch. She was wearing Silas’s Radiohead t-shirt and a bunch of turquoise rings. She was from Michigan and had this whole cowboys-and-Indians idea about living in the desert. “Hey, why don’t you just move into Sadie’s old room?” I asked her. She shook her head with her teeth clenched, sucked a deep hit of the joint, and squinted. “Fuck that,” she said. “I’m not paying rent.” She had a dorm room that the university paid for, somewhere.
            Regina yelled at me when I got to work because I was late again. I smiled at her and then Mika gave me different martinis she was thinking about putting on the menu. I got pretty drunk and then Silas and Kristen came in and ordered two bowls of pho and I spilled Kristen’s on her when I set it down.
            She yelled that it was fucking hot. I was pretty tanked at that point and Regina made me lay down in the office until I sobered up. She shook my shoulder and handed me five twenties. “Sean,” she said, her hair pulled back tight and her eyebrows arched with it, “Sean.” She shook her head. I stood up. “We have to let you go.” She squeezed my shoulder next to my neck.
            The floor was slick and there were melting ice cubes under every surface. Feng was still there, cleaning the line, and I told her I was leaving, for good. She made a pained face and told me to wait. The trashcan in the bathroom was overflowing with paper towels. Feng came out to the dining room and gave me some spring rolls, pork and shrimp. I stole a bottle of hot sauce for the road.
            It was a weekday but there were groups of drunk kids all up and down Mill. I unlocked my car and gave away my dog blanket to a homeless guy on the corner. All the lights were green on the way to the bar. I made out with a short, old guy with a trucker cap on in the bathroom and ate a whole plate of fried mushrooms. The waitress brought me two things of ranch. I called Simon and left some desperate messages but there was an automated recording and who knows if he even still had the same number.
            When Simon and I were hanging out we used to drive to the desert together every night after I got off work. We would stop at this diner and get breakfast burritos to go. “Look at all these fucking breeders,” Simon would say, punching his open hand with a fist. “I bet they’re all going to have fucking garage sales this weekend.”
            The cloned mansions stretched to every horizon and then they stopped, abruptly, and the highway was two lanes and the air was cold and everything was sand and orange except for when the lights hit a cluster of sage, the rigid arms of saguaro, a pickup passing with its brights on. We would pull off the road onto this cliff overlooking Canyon Lake, always the same spot, and turn the lights off. Sometimes we would fool around but mostly we’d just talk. Simon was ten years older and he’d tell me about his time in the military, about how he biked across the country for six months once, about how he had a thing for midgets and Asian twinks.
            The last night we drove to the lake it was moonless. We sat on the hood of my car. We couldn’t see the lake. Every star was there. The air was cold and we didn’t touch. It was always Simon’s decision whether or not we fooled around. We saw bright lights down on the bridge and psyched ourselves out. “They’re going to kill us. Rape and kill us,” Simon said. “This is where we die.”
            There were two serial killers in Phoenix at the time, and everyone was on edge. All these women were getting murdered and raped and it made you wonder what kind of world we lived in, where people were capable of these kinds of things. Just the week before two women had been found dead inside their snack truck. We jumped back in the car and I drove as fast as I could until we got back to the highway. We listened to opera in silence the entire way. “This is a monster of a world,” Simon finally said when I pulled up to his apartment complex. We never saw each other again.
            When the cab dropped me off I had to run inside and shake Silas awake. “Silas, spot me a twenty,” I said. He groaned and smacked his wallet on the nightstand. The cab driver was getting a call. I crawled into Silas’s bed with him and when I woke up I had no pants on and Silas had lost his shirt and neither of us said anything.
            It was closing in on monsoon season and there was wind and rain. I turned on the news. There was a sixteen-car pileup on the sixty because of the rain. People got confused with the glare. There was a commercial break. There were commercials for a laundry detergent, a reality show, a congressman’s reelection, new tires. When the news came back on my sister was there. The headline read, “Phoenix Teens Robbed at Gunpoint in Own Home.” She had a white bandage around her head and she was gesturing manically at different corners of the screen.
            I turned the volume on. She was talking about the gunmen, how they were white and short and wearing ski masks. “They were convinced we had drugs and money,” she said. She called me later to say that Mom and Dad had found out, that they were furious that she hadn’t called them. Kristen came over and we waited for Silas to get off work. We each drank a drink that was half hot sauce and half Everclear. She gave me half a Xanax and we needed cigarettes. We biked through the rain on the sidewalk. There was a dead pit bull in the gravel outside our apartment. We got to Rite Aid. There was a security guard in her seventies sitting in a chair in front of the store. She was reading People. There had been a shooting at the pharmacy the week before.
            When we got home Jeopardy had started. I got some of the answers right. It was a reunion show. The contestants had been on when they were in middle school, and now they were on again. There was a white girl who studied at Sarah Lawrence and a black girl who studied at Occidental and a Latino guy who studied at Mesa Community College. That’s when I realized that this guy was Marco, my first kiss. We had been in eighth grade. Alex Trebek was trying to be polite about Marco’s being in community college studying to be a CNA. The other contestants were pre-dental and political science. I turned to Kristen. “Hey, I’ve kissed that guy before,” I told her. Her eyes were barely cracked open. “Yeah, but he’s my boyfriend,” she said. She sat up and slid a cigarette out of the pack.
            You can turn on the TV and see your sister held up at gunpoint or your first kiss losing on Jeopardy. It is that kind of world. I open my computer and find a website where people post their stories and try to find kidney donors.
            “He’ll be home soon,” Kristen says. I nod. I try to coax a cat onto my lap. I change the channel and it’s some show about the ocean and some creatures in it. Outside it is starting to rain again. Mr. Morrison walks by the window in his blue shorts. He is holding a bottle of laundry detergent in his left hand. We watch three rounds of commercials.

            Mrs. Richards, the grandmother from the apartment down by the dumpster, is looking through our back window. She knocks and waves. Kristen pulls the blinds shut and twists the rod until they close and it’s dark. I turn the volume up two more green bars and wait for them to disappear.

Kenny Kruse is from Park City, Utah and is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. He is a co-founder of Tuscaloosa Writers in the Schools and teaches with the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project. He has two dogs and one cat and is in the market for a good turtle.

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