In which unwelcome visitors surround a man wishing not to be visited.
The phone is ringing and Nelson knows who’s on the line. He knows that if he doesn’t answer it it could mean losing a third job in as many months. He considers this on the second ring, balancing the consequence with the effort that the charade he will, in seconds, put on and what that will take; coughing and sounding weak and tired. Of course, procedure dictates that he should have already called in two hours ago and that just saying he is sick doesn’t excuse his absence. Like so many things in the last year or so, it feels impossible to motivate to do anything; let alone pick up the phone. Still, he picks it up on the third ring and explanations about sickness of a vague kind ensue. He doesn’t lose his job, but neither does the voice on the other end of the line tell him to feel better.
It isn’t food or the need to relieve himself or his mother at the bedroom door, that finally gets him out of bed at about eleven, although he requires both of those things. It isn’t boredom or guilt pushing him either, although there is that loop of a voice in his head informing him that he will never know what real comfort feels like. His mother had knocked, they had a conversation through the door, she had gone away. In general he feels nothing, and he expresses this by sitting at the edge of the bed for a very long time, staring at a middle space between the bed and the dresser—the place where clothes lay in limp piles of expectation. The idea of showering and getting dressed enters next his brain before politely excusing itself and leaving, a little embarrassed at its effort. He continues to stare. After several long moments, now at the window, he comes to believe that fresh air might alleviate him of the fog in siege around his brain, so he gets up and opens the bedroom window. He looks down from the second story of his townhouse onto a street on which nothing at all is happening. A fresh cool, afternoon breeze bustles in, but only succeeds in making him want to be warm again, under the covers, and so that is what happens next, again.
The covers too warm, his brain makes a fevered plea for him to remove their bulk in the form of a dream in which he is making his way through some fairgrounds. His hands are covered in sticky barbecue sauce and he cannot find a napkin. The fairgrounds become complex, the pathways more narrow, until he is pushing his way through wooden scaffolding and barbed wire, sticky hands and all. Then horrible looking dogs arrive on the scene, barking and gnashing, just barely behind him as he crawls under fairground tents in mud and wet grass, hands slathered in barbecue sauce. The dogs are about to tear out his throat when he opens his eyes with a gasp, then immediately pushing the covers off.
It takes a moment to orient himself, to catch his breath, to realize that he no longer needs napkins, and as his mind comes into focus, an unusual sound presents itself; a whir. It is not the air conditioner, a running toilet. It is not the sound of something broken—the whir is thorough. He lays in bed, listening to the quiet hushed irritant. Finally, lifting his head up, he looks to the bedroom window where just peaking inside the frame of blue sky, he can see a small mechanical object with fans atop it. He squints but there is definitely something there–certainly not a bird or anything natural. Standing up he sideways steps to the window so as to catch a glimpse of the thing that could be someone peering in his room before whatever can catch a glimpse of him. As he comes closer in parallel to the window, the thing rotates into view and he has even less of an idea of what he is looking at. It’s a helicopter of some kind; an X of a machine with rotors on each arm and about the size of a dog. It is hovering just two feet outside of the window.
After staring at it, he steps back to the bed where again he can only see the front left propellor. Then he steps to the bedroom wall and slides along it to the edge of the window, kind of having fun at being a thief in his own home. Remnants of the floor-is-lava games from childhood surface and adrenalize his uncaffeinated brain. Peering around the corner, through the window, he is looking down at the machine. He can see more detail now, but there is no sense in it, no more indication of what the device is or whom it might belong to, no insignias, no logos. Just as he is scanning the top of it, the little machine leans to one side, its engines increasing the pitch of their whine, and then it easily hovers up to the level of his eyes where he can see, buried in the undercarriage, a large lens. He steps back away from the window with his back to the wall.
Where it had not phased him in the least before, he is suddenly aware of standing in his pajama bottoms with no shirt on. He goes to the dresser and puts on a t-shirt.
Read the whole story so far: Droning
Characters and Places: Nelson Finch