One or Two Afternoons

Lincoln Michel


The woman at the door wore coveralls and carried a long metal tube. Her mouth was large and closed.

"Bug lady," she said after a second. She shook her spray nozzle in front of my face.

"I didn't schedule any," I said.

"Mandatory." She gave me a wink.

I stepped back inside and she followed. She closed the door and flipped over the lock. Her coveralls had a picture of a cartoon ant with foam coming out of its mouth and crossed out eyes.

"Kitchen first," she said.

She had to hunch to carry the metal canister on her back. Her eyes darted all over the apartment.

"It's back that way," I said.

I followed her into the kitchen. I didn't have a lot of lights on. The sunlight was shining off bits of dust in the air. It shone even stronger off her hose.

"Is this your child?" she said, picking up a picture next to a pile of magazines. She was looking away from me, but her face was scrunched up.

"Oh," I said. "No. I haven't taken the display picture out of the frame."

"Ah," the woman said.

Her coveralls made it hard to get a good look at her body. She wore a lot of makeup.

She got on her knees to look at the wood under the sink.

"See these little holes," she said, pointing with the spray nozzle. "Termites. You could lose the whole kitchen in six months."

I bent down to see what she was seeing. I had to prop myself with one hand on the tiles. When I got my head down low enough, the woman twisted up the nozzle and sprayed my eyes.

There was a short period when my senses gave out and I didn't notice anything.

Then the woman was screaming. I was on my back and rubbing my eyes with two knuckles.

"You didn't even recognize me, you fuck!"

I couldn't see anything. Tears squeezed out of my eyelids.

"What?" I said.

"Carl Carrington," she said and smacked my lips with the nozzle. "You left me in the Sun King Motel four years ago, pregnant! Ring any bells?"

She kicked the side of my head with her boot. It felt like something in my ear popped.

"Wait," I said. "Pregnant?"

"With our child!" she said. "I didn't make her on my own."

I could hear her pacing. I rolled onto my knees and elbows and she kicked me in the hip. A little blood fell out of my ear.

"Where was this?" I said. I spat on the kitchen floor.

"Tulsa, you piece of shit."

"Hold on a minute," I said. I grazed her ankle with an outstretched hand. "I've never been to Tulsa. Is that in Nebraska?"

The spray had gotten into my lungs. I was heaving above the tiles.

"And my name isn't Carl Carrington," I said. "It's Chris. I don't even know any Carls."

I couldn't hear the woman moving anymore.

"Oh God," she said. "I thought you looked different without the beard, but… Jesus."

I reached out for her leg, but she stepped back from me. She was cursing herself.

I got my eyes halfway open in time to see her blurry frame leave through the door.

"Wait," I said.

I lifted myself to the sink and ran water over my eyes and then I lay back down on the floor. Outside I could hear children running around a backyard. They were making gun noises with their mouths.




Another time, I pulled my car over at the mouth of a neighborhood. A dog barked when I went to the first fence.

I worked for the cable company at the time. We were rewiring the whole district, stringing new cables through the dirt. I had a few lengths looped in my hand.

I flipped up the fence latch and patted the dog on the head with my glove. It jumped and bit onto one of the cords. I pulled it two feet into the air before it let go.

"Cable man," I said, ringing the bell.

I stood there for a long time.

"Who is it?" a voice finally said.

"Just checking your box," I said.

The woman opened the door in a yellow bathrobe, a towel wrapped around her head. Her face was wet.

"What?" she said. "Oh God!"

She raised a hand, but I shoved her backwards. She was holding a plate of microwave nuggets that shattered and scattered around the floor.

I stepped inside and closed the door.

"Okay, let's just get a few things straight," I said.

The woman sunk a piece of the broken plate into my ankle. Blood started to soak into my sock and shoe. I knelt down and took her in my arms, bending hers backwards and looping the TV cable around them. The towel fell from her head. Wet hair whipped my eyes.

"You goddamn piece of shit," the woman said.

A few tears dripped on my hand when I placed the bandana into her mouth.

"Jesus," I said.

My shoe was filled with blood and made a squishing noise when I walked. I took the woman's hands in mine and pulled her to the closet. I had to move a mop to fit her in. She was trying to say something through the cloth.

I walked to her kitchen sink and raised my ankle so it was just beneath the faucet. The water washed it to pale white, but the red came back when I turned off the stream. I tied my ankle tight with a rag from my tool belt.

The stairs were on the other side of the house.

My heart was beating very fast as I climbed.

At the top of the stairs, I sat and took off my blood-soaked shoe and sock. I walked a bit, then stopped and took off the other pair.

There was nothing in the first room, only a TV and some chairs.

In the second room, I found a girl. She had two dolls in her fists. The sunlight shone pink off her walls.

"Hello," I said. "I just wanted to see if you were really real."

The girl had short brown hair that looked like it had been cut with a bowl. Her mouth was small and open. She had several bright teeth in her gums.

I bent down beside her.

Downstairs, the woman thumped against the closet door.

"I'll probably have to go soon," I said.

The girl put one of the doll's heads in her mouth and bit down. Her nose had a little snot running from it. I wiped it off with my thumb.

I stayed there squatting for a minute. My ankle ached and dripped on the carpet. The girl's face was bunched up, mirroring mine. I stood up and walked to the door, then I turned around.

"Always be a good girl," I said. "Be kind to other people and try to think of the positive side of things."

I stepped back into my shoes and rolled my socks into a ball to put in my pocket.

When I walked outside, the sun was very bright. It was shining right into my eye.