THE DOORBELL RANG.
“Would you please answer that?”
“I’m writing to our senator, you do it.”
“You’re not writing, you’re wasting time and ink and, while we’re at it, valuable amounts of air, blood, and human flesh.”
“Yeah, well, fuck you, too. Why can’t you get it?”
The doorbell rang out like an old .22 being fired into a paper target inside the close, echoey concrete walls of a suburban firing range.
“Why the fuck are you naked?”
“I’m practicing to be a nudist.”
“Last week. I was having a hell of a time finding a pair of pants that fit comfortably, this seemed a viable alternative.”
“That’s a remarkably strained conclusion.”
“It’s cheaper, easier, and my nuts don’t sweat nearly as much as they used to.”
“I’d rather not have any knowledge of your testicles or their workings, thanks.”
“Well, you’d better get used to them; I’m committed to this nudist thing now.”
The doorbell rang, like the tinny, ringing sound in the ears of someone who was too close to a really, really loud noise, like a giant gong or something.
“Then answer the fucking door!”
“I’m not comfortable enough with my body to do that yet.”
“Then you’re not really a nudist now, are you? Put on a towel and answer the damn door.”
“You could’ve answered it three times by now! I know you; you can’t write and yell at the same time. You’re just not that skilled.”
“Well... I’m not expecting anyone.”
“Neither am I. But since you have pants on you should answer it.”
“That’s flawed logic.”
“It’s common sense.”
The doorbell rang, echoing off the apartment’s thin walls like the cries of a fat man would echo off of a canyon’s much thicker walls if said fat man ignored his tour guide, got too close to the edge of the canyon, and was plummeting to his fat, stupid doom.
“Do we have to answer it?”
“Well, no, I guess not. I mean, we should, societal mores say that we have to, but there’s no physical presence that’s going to force our hand and make either of us answer it, no.”
“So, what you’re saying is, since there’s no guaranteed gain or reward for either of us attached to the finger that keeps pushing that doorbell, and since we don’t seem to have any sort of curiosity that needs to be sated, the only reason to answer it is because everyone else in our complex, our neighborhood, and probably, to some extent, the rest of our country, expects us to.”
“OK.” Pete paused for second or two. “You know, I’ve never been able to live up to anyone’s expectations, my own included.”
“You’ve certainly failed me time and again.”
The doorbell rang, resonating like the cry of a barefoot Catholic schoolgirl who just stepped in a freshly crapped pile of dog turds.
“Exactly. But, you see, this raises a problem... I think. The ringer, whoever, or whatever, he or she or it is, wants to meet us for some heretofore unknown reason. Now, to truly meet us, he or she or it would have to be exposed to us in more than just a physical sense; he or she or it would have to take in our personalities and, therefore, all of our faults. This includes our inability to meet any and all expectations placed upon us. Thus the conundrum. The ringer, by expecting us, is expecting the doorbell to not be answered. But. If he or she or it is expecting us to not answer, the only way to be true to ourselves and our self-appointed roles as failures of society is to fall short of his or her or its expectations and answer that fucking door.”
“Yes. Except that if we do answer that door, we will then be fulfilling our original, intended role in society. And if we do that, my friend, we throw everything and anything that everyone and anyone stands or doesn’t stand for completely off-kilter.”
The doorbell rang, like the doorbell on a TV show that someone’s not really watching and then he can’t tell if it’s the real doorbell or the TV doorbell and he tries to remember if he ordered a pizza or not.
“What if it’s a singing telegram? Or a mime or something?”
“What if it’s someone handing out free ice cream, ooh, or sherbet?”
“What if it’s your mom?”
“Then she’d be in violation of the restraining order.”
The doorbell rang with the urgency of a radio exploding violently and unexpectedly.
“He, she, or it is getting impatient.”
“I wonder why they won’t go away.”
The doorbell rang with the urgency of several radios, and a microwave, exploding all at once and injuring a stray dog.
“Only one way to find out.”
“You’re gonna regret it.”
The doorbell rang, cutting the momentary silence like a fork through warm gelatin.
“Alright, here goes.”
The doorbell rang. Pete rolled backward in his desk chair, got stuck on a lump in the carpet, swiveled the seat, stood up, walked across his room, then the living room, and approached the door.
The doorbell rang again.
Pete answered it.
“Can I help you?”
“Um, yes, is Susan here?”
“Susan?” Pete didn’t know any Susan. Then he remembered all the weird religious propaganda he’d been getting in the mail since he moved into the apartment complex. “Oh, Susan! No, she was the previous tenant, moved out a couple months ago. I mean, I’m assuming, she might’ve just vanished or spontaneously combusted or something, I really can’t say, not with any authority anyway.”
“Oh... really? Shit. I was... Shit.”
“I might be able to, I dunno, find a forwarding address, relay a message...”
“Well, no, that wouldn’t... I mean, I appreciate the offer but, see, wow, this is awkward... I was actually... I was coming here to, uh, well, to kinda kill her.”
“Yeah... But, this might be good in a way ‘cause, well, I’m not really feeling up to it. You know, at all, really.” The woman who had come to kill Susan paused for a moment, turning and staring off into the sky for a bit before turning her attention back to Pete. “Actually, I think I might... well, I guess I’ll go turn myself in. Could you... give me directions to the police station? Unless, maybe, you wanna take me? There’s supposed to be a fairly substantial reward; not really gonna do me any good. I mean, I doubt they could even give it to me. There might be laws against it.”
“Um, sure. Lemme just get my shoes.”
Pete walked back to his room to get his shoes.
“Who was it?”
Pete tied his shoes, the right one first, then the left. Steve let loose a rather loud fart from the other room.
“How’s society holding up?”
“Turned on it’s ear, apparently.”
“I fucking told you, man.”
“That you did, brother, that you did.”
The doorbell rang, slicing through the apartment like razor wire through tomato soup.
“No rush!” said the woman who had come to kill Susan. “Just wanted to see what it sounded like.”
“Pick up some doughnuts?” asked Steve.
“Sure,” replied Pete, “Boston creme?”
“I was thinking coconut, actually.”
The doorbell rang out like a shot of tequila.
“You know,” said the woman who had come to kill Susan, “your doorbell sounds kinda weird.”
Under the Table:
by James Claffey
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