He had lost all interest in the newspaper, even though it was the Sunday edition and contained fourteen sections in all. When he had bought the paper late that night, he had assumed he would read it from cover to cover; but in actuality he had read only two articles — one about how the stock market had dropped 350 points the previous day and another about how the CIA was pushing for a looser interpretation of the law which prohibited it from engaging in political assassinations. If he had been either heavily invested or a liberal, one of these articles might have stimulated productive thought in his mind. As it was, however, the only thoughts which he entertained were homicidal or otherwise insane.
There were two people toward whom Guy felt the most hostile and primitive of impulses. The first was the Baby Doll, outside whose locked apartment he now loitered, his buttocks adorning the ample welcome mat. The other was the Baby Doll’s date, whose whereabouts — quite luckily for the Baby Doll’s date — were currently unknown to Guy. Of course, the date was of little or no consequence of himself; he merely assumed importance to the extent that the Baby Doll lavished attention upon him. The true focus of Guy’s brooding consciousness was the Baby Doll — that treacherous and unfeeling incarnation of all human woe at whose doorstep he now slouched, nursing vengeance.
It was nearly three o’clock in the morning, and the wheels of destiny were even wearier than Guy. They had been spinning all day. Long before he had walked into the restaurant that his friend Gabe had recommended with the purest of intentions early that afternoon, they had been spinning, ensuring his demise. Even before he had awoken somewhat groggy and disheveled that morning, he was quite certain, they had turned many a time. Looking with stoic resignation down the new-smelling corridor, Guy could not help wondering at the magnitude of the odds that he had unwittingly surmounted to arrive at the Baby Doll’s welcome mat. If he had brought with him a Yellow Pages instead of the Sunday paper, he mused, he could have performed the necessary calculations at his leisure. It would have taken only a minute or two, since all he needed to know were the number of pages in the Restaurant section and the average number of restaurants per page. Having multiplied these two numbers together, he would then have had only to take the reciprocal to derive the odds of stumbling, on an ordinary Saturday night, into the very same restaurant as the Baby Doll and her date.
Guy glanced at his watch, then smiled down at the well-worn laundry bag which lay by his side. He smiled because he knew that the bag was not just a bag, but a vessel filled with cruel irony and poetic justice. In actuality, it contained no fewer than thirty-three of the Baby Doll’s former possessions, most of which she had given as gifts to Guy over the past four years. Once returned, these possessions would cease to exist as painful reminders in Guy’s apartment and begin to exist as cruel ironies slash poetic justice in the Baby Doll’s. The oldest ones clearly had the greatest revenge potential, while the newest were useful mainly in adding to the bulk of the total haul. Guy calculated that the bag, completely filled, weighed in excess of twenty pounds — or nearly one fourth the mass of the Baby Doll herself. She wasn’t called the Baby Doll for nothing.
At nearly three on the nose, Guy felt a twinge in his throat as he realized for the first time that he had not the slightest idea what he would say to the Baby Doll when she returned home, as he knew she eventually must. He had not thought before to prepare a speech, and now he began to feel terror at the prospect of not having something good to say when she showed up. Removing a pen from his back pocket and a page from the Travel Section, he began scribbling terse invective destined for the deaf ears of the Baby Doll. (The ears, it should be emphasized, were deaf only metaphorically, in that the Baby Doll had a two-month history of rejecting Guy’s appeals to her better judgment — the earliest of which had been made in person, the most recent of which had been left on an answering machine.)
Sometime after four, while Guy was practicing some of the more demanding parts of his speech, the elevator shook its way to a full stop on his floor — or rather the Baby Doll’s floor, which was the one on which he waited. As the door rolled open with a heaviness common to all things at indecent hours, Guy’s entire body came to attention. His skin awakened with a feverish prickling, his thigh muscles contacted, and his left hand moved reflexively towards the trusty laundry bag. But then, even as the drama of the inevitable confrontation built to a feverish pitch, he heard a drunken whistling emanate from the elevator. Guy released the breath from his lungs with a low moan, audible only to him. He had never known the Baby Doll to whistle.
“Hey, there,” one of the Baby Doll’s least favorite neighbors said, looking down at him.
“You locked out?”
“No,” answered Guy with a cheerfulness he could scarcely comprehend. “I’m just waiting for someone.”
“Oh,” the neighbor said, turning away. “I see.”
Guy knew all too well, however, that he did not see. Even if he had not been completely ignorant of the circumstances which had resulted in this odd exchange, how could he have understood them? He lived in a different world, the world of men who did not love the Baby Doll. He could not know the sensation of butt on mat, head on door, eyes on wall which Guy now felt. Far less could he envision the more than fifty concerts and plays the Baby Doll had attended gratis over the course of her four-year association with a Guy; the minimum of one hundred elegant restaurants in which he had sat, eating tiny, expensive portions of roughage; the several choice vacation spots to which the previously happy couple had traveled in cars rented at the expense of Guy’s father’s successful accounting firm. All these things were beyond his capacity for understanding.
The next time the elevator opened, it spewed forth the Baby Doll, slightly rumpled, but mercifully alone. Before it had even begun to close, the air filled with loud, educated voices whose vehemence made the neighbor cry out from the solitude of his one-room flat: “Shut up!”
The voices ceased, as if on cue, and left the corridor walls quivering with echoes.
“What did he say?” the Baby Doll asked loudly.
Then the neighbor’s door opened, and the neighbor’s head sprouted into view.
“Look,” he said, fixing the Baby Doll in his sights. “Take it inside, okay?”
Even before Guy felt his jaw muscles tensing into tight little balls, he had turned menacingly towards the neighbor’s door.
No one does that, he thought. No one yells at my baby doll.
Banner Image: By The McClouds from Chicago ‘burbs, USA (New welcome mat from my parents) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons