BY GARY WOSK - United States
Herman Boswell noticed that the door to
his bedroom was open soon after he
awakened one morning. He was perplexed
because he always kept it shut except when
he walked to the bathroom in the middle
of the night.
He thought to himself that maybe he’d
absent-mindedly forgot to close it after
returning to his bedroom. Another
possibility entered his mind. Perhaps his wife, Claire, opened the door as a hint that she needed some whoopee.
Scratching his head, Herman decided he would bring up the subject of the closed bedroom door in the kitchen with wife as they prepared their breakfast.
They hadn’t seen each other in hours. The recently retired Boswells slept in separate bedrooms across the hall from each other because they both snored. They’d close the doors to their bedrooms to block out the sounds of each other’s nasal symphonies. They also wore earplugs to keep out the white noise of the nearby traffic.
Their lives weren’t exactly exciting. Other than his visits to the gym and her running some errands, they were pretty much a stay-at-home couple. Even when they moved into their new two-bedroom, two-bathroom suburban home several months earlier, instead of hosting a housewarming party, the celebration consisted of going out to dinner at a local coffee shop with their best friends Stanley and Patricia. He ordered his usual turkey burger and she her usual Cobb salad. And of course, they had to be home by 9:30 for bed.
The mornings obviously didn’t get off to a rip-roaring start. They’d greet each other with the perfunctory “good morning” and that was about it except for maybe, “anything new?” which was a foolish question to begin with.
At least now they had something to talk about over their breakfast which usually consisted of his egg whites served on an English muffin and her bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats and milk. Typically, they’d settle down afterwards in the living room to watch cable television. Depending on who possessed the remote control, they’d watch either CNN, MSNBC, the Home Shopping Network or HBO from their living room’s his-and-her recliners.
“Okay, did you open my bedroom door last night?” Herman asked his wife after washing down his daily fish oil vitamin with cranberry juice.
“What are you talking about?” answered Claire as she waited for the Keurig to complete brewing her Hazelnut blend.
“You left my bedroom door open, didn’t you?”
“No, it wasn’t me,” she insisted.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure. What’s the big deal?”
“It’s not a big deal. It’s just that I keep my bedroom door closed at night as you know.’
A former deputy district attorney, Herman searched for more evidence that would implicate her as the culprit of this shenanigan. The cross-examination of his wife continued. A former librarian, the mellow Claire did not appreciate her husband’s prosecutorial tone.
“Back off, Herman. I’m tired of being accused of this and that.”
“Claire, you can’t fool me. You were in the mood for a little intimacy, right?”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”
“Come on Claire. Why didn’t you wake me up if you were in the mood?”
“I wasn’t. And if I was, I know better than you awaken you from a sound sleep. You’d just lay there anyway, and I’d have to do all the work.”
“Tell me the truth, dear. Do you want me back in the sack so we can have more fun?”
“Sure, but I want you to see a specialist first about your snoring.”
“My snoring? How about yours?”
“My snoring doesn’t keep you up.”
“That’s what you think.”
It was now her turn to cross-examine him.
“I noticed this morning that there’s a trail of dusty footprints throughout the house,” she said.
“There’s even dust on the couch.”
“And as usual I’m the suspect, right?” said Herman defensively.
“Turnaround is fair play.”
“Did you track in the dust from your daily walk?” she asked.
“Absolutely not. I swear on the bible.”
“Look me in the eyes.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“And it wasn’t me.”
“Do you want me to take a polygraph?” he asked.
“Don’t be silly, of course not. Let’s not argue about this. You probably just don’t remember stepping in dirt. Can you please vacuum the house?”
Herman put his heart and soul into vacuuming and even worked up a little sweat. Not a speck of dust was left until the next morning when the dusty footprints reappeared. His bedroom door was also open.
So, he vacuumed again, and again, and each time the dust returned.
“It’s time we told someone about the mystery,” said Herman.
“Who’s going to believe us?” said Claire. “They’ll place us in an institution.”
“Paul Kramer will believe us. He’s our friend and he sold us the house. I’m sure we can confide in him. And we won’t have to worry about being labeled as lunatics.”
“How do you like living in your home?” Paul asked Herman over lunch at a local Italian restaurant.
“Something strange is going on. That’s why I wanted to meet with you.”
Uh-oh, I bet I can guess, Paul thought. Maybe I should have told them. I needed the commission from the sale of the house to pay the outlandish utility bill and didn’t want to scare them away. Better later than never, he figured. I probably should tell him now.
“It’s interesting you should bring up your open bedroom door and the dust,” said Paul. “The real estate agent of the family that previously lived in your house told me the same story about an open bedroom door and dust. I thought he was just pulling my leg.”
“And you didn’t’ share that with us?”
“Their real estate agent thought they were a bunch of kooks. I agreed. “Obviously, we were wrong. By the way, and this is getting kind of personal, but do you and your wife snore.”
“Well, yeah. Why?”
“The former residents also snored. It might just be a coincidence.”
“That would seem to be a fact that would neither here or there,” said Herman.
“Yes, on the surface it wouldn’t seem that relevant,” said Paul, reluctant to share all the details.
“Is there something else you want to share with me about the house?”
“No.” There was actually something, but the restaurant was not the place to discuss the subject. Paul didn’t want to ruin Herman’s appetite.
“Claire and I are thinking of selling the house. We’ll let you know.”
“I definitely understand. I would probably do the same if it was my house. If you and Claire want to stay at my house, let me know. You’re both more than welcome.”
That night, Herman awoke after his shoulders were shaken.
“No, please, Claire some other time,” he pleaded.
“She’s not in the mood either, buddy,” said a wiry man in singed blue overalls hovering over him. His face appeared to have been placed in a meat grinder. The air was very musty and somewhat smoky. “When I last checked, she was sound asleep.”
“Please don’t hurt me. I’ll give you money. Take the jewelry,” Herman implored the ghastly man between coughs.
“I’m not a burglar,” the man said in a raspy voice.
“I can hardly hear you.”
“Sorry about that. My vocal chords were scorched.”
“Didn’t Paul tell you?”
“No, actually he didn’t.”
“I’m Barney Greenjeans. I’m an electrician. The people that lived here were remodeling their kitchen and I had to climb into the attic to check out some of the wiring. I was electrocuted up there six years ago. The fire burnt me pretty badly. I’ve recently started coming down. And just in case you were about to ask me why I’m still in your attic, you can probably figure it out?”
“Sorry. I can’t.”
“I’m in purgatory.”
“Why are you in purgatory?”
“I still haven’t finished the job on your kitchen. There’s still some dangling wires in the attic. The big boss doesn’t like unfinished earthly business especially when it involves electricians, so I’m being denied entrance until the job is done. And I’m serving extra time in this state of limbo because I didn’t have a license.”
“When are you planning to finish the job?”
“I have to admit that I’ve been taking my sweet time. I’m a contractor. There’s no rush.”
There was silence for several moments until Barney said, “Here, put this on.”
“What is that grotesque apparatus?”
“It’s called a CPAP. A sleeping device. Wear it. I’m tired of sleeping on the couch because of your snoring.”
“I’m not wearing that.”
“After what I went through to find this device, I’ll have to insist.”
“You stole it?”
“I borrowed it from Kaiser Permanente.”
Using his skinless gooey hands, Barney shoved the mask onto Herman’s face. As the exposed ligaments and tissue rubbed against his face, Herman screamed, but his wife was sound asleep behind her closed bedroom door. And she was wearing ear plugs.
Barney reached down onto the floor for the rope he had found in the garage.
“I’m sorry I have to do this. You’re just going to take the mask off and I need a good night’s sleep.”
Surprisingly, even though Herman was tied up and forced to wear a creepy mask that Hannibal Lector might like, he calmed down. He didn’t go into shock because he realized that there would be something exciting to talk about with Claire in the morning.
Gary Wosk was raised in the Bronx and Los Angeles. Since graduating from California State University, Northridge with a journalism degree he has been newspaper reporter, organization spokesperson and a media relations manager. My Gym, They Are Here, Bezillgo Versus the Allerton Theatre, Bubbe to the Rescue, Flameout, On the Cover of the Rolling Stones, The Violation, Best Intentions, Sugar, Full Bladder, Typecast, Adrenalin Rush, Big Frank, Infirmary 909, Pearl, The Recliner, The Cabbie, Trini, The Raid, Executive Material, Tick-Tock, Scare Tactics, Bon Appetit, and many of his other short stories have been featured in anthologies. Gary is member of the California Writers Club. He lives in North Hills, California with his wife, Mina, and Australian Cattle Dog named Shelley.