There was a hole in my ceiling, directly over my bed. I’d been awoken from a deep and nurturing sleep by a whooshing sound. Air pouring in through the hole made this sound. As I rubbed my eyes, I wondered if a meteorite had smashed through the roof. I live on the top floor of my tenement and have often speculated what would happen if a meteorite were to blaze down from the heavens and smash through the roof. I arose and thanked God for no rain. Had it rained that morning my bed would have been doused. But as it was the sky presented a plentifully blue bouquet, with feathered boa clouds gently snaking over the city ramparts.
I inspected the hole, and found it distinguished by some kind of turbulence. It resembled in miniature the whirlpool I had seen at Niagara Falls many years ago. I took a ride on something called the Spanish Aerocar over this whirlpool. I still recall the stiff winds of the gorge rocking the Aerocar, and the fear.
Nevertheless, air flowed violently from the mysterious aperture in the ceiling. I am not a meteorologist or a physicist, nor do I believe in magic or supernatural forces. But this hole in my ceiling looked suspicious, that is to say, phenomenal. I didn’t want to endanger myself in any way by inspecting it further and perhaps setting off some kind of chain reaction. I’ve learned during my half-century on the planet to always seek expert help when you have no idea what you’re doing. Overcoming stupidity or ignorance can be achieved, at some risk, through trial and error, or can be obviated painlessly for a price. I was prepared to pay that price.
Of course, my next move was to summon the super, Arthur, who would be inclined to know what the hole was, having superintended the tenement, according to his telling, for more than 20 years. Surely during those two decades he had encountered an anomaly similar to this. Then again, he may have never encountered anything like it. The answer to that question rested in superposition. At that moment, both possibilities were true.
I dressed and went down to his office in the basement. It’s funny, some people are basement people, suited by character or genetics to work and live in the subterrain. Pale, pudgy and gray-lipped, Arthur could be the least helpful person in the world if you caught him on a bad day. What constituted a bad day for him presented a mystery to me, though I believe it may have had something to do with the disposal of garbage. A big dirty job—Arthur always lamented what a toll it took on him, taking out the tenement’s absurd amount of garbage. It was like a garbage factory, he used to say. The residents, many who were pensioned, unemployed or on disability, did nothing all day but produce garbage. In a way, their efforts, and the efforts of individuals like them peppered throughout the city, kept it working. Garbage trucks, landfill sites, recycling plants. Think of all those jobs, all those families. We needed garbage, and my tenement could have been considered a small garbage factory working at the very apex of productivity.
“What do you want?’ Arthur said upon answering his door.
“No good morning? No, how are you? Where’s your humanity, Arthur? You’ve been living in the dungeon for too long.”
“Hey, Sammy, go fuck a duck will ya. What the hell is your beef today?”
“Did a meteorite hit us last night?”
Arthur blinked. His eyelashes were very faint and his emphatic blinking only emphasized their faintness.
“There’s a hole in my bedroom ceiling,” I added.
“Were you yanking your pud too hard last night?”
When Arthur made vulgar little comments like this one I tended to ignore them. Whenever I dared to call him out on his vulgarities, he simply responded with harsher words, verbal assaults of an odious nature, and denigrations of my mother and my family that I could not bear to hear.
“I don’t know what caused it,” I said, “but I suspect a meteorite.”
“Why is that, was there debris? Was there debris on your bed? Did anything burn? I heard no fire alarm.”
“Nothing burned. It may have been an ice-meteorite.”
“Maybe frozen waste evacuated from a passenger plane. I’ve heard of that. Did you find thawing feces on your bed?”
“No, nothing like that. Maybe you should come and look at it yourself.”
Arthur grumbled to himself. He told me he’d be up in a few minutes.
I returned to my flat. I had to get ready for a doctor’s appointment scheduled for ten a.m. across town. My stomach had been bothering me for several weeks. It felt like a hole had been bored into my stomach lining and stuff was leaking into the rest of my abdomen. My bowel movements had been irregular, often accompanied by bloody discharges. The human body is an exercise in pain and putrefaction. No getting around it.
I poured myself a glass of chocolate milk, my usual breakfast. I need something cold and sweet in my stomach first thing in the morning or I feel unsettled and lightheaded. I use lactose free chocolate milk to avoid unnecessary gas. I went into the bedroom to check out the hole. It was still there, still whirling, still blowing air into the room. I saw nothing else to note, no debris, no thawing feces.
When Arthur at last arrived, he had a small swarthy man with him.
“This is Manolo. He’s a roof guy who lives in the building.”
“Yo. What up?”
“There’s a hole in my bedroom ceiling.”
Manolo rubbed his whiskered chin and shook his head. His hair resembled field grasses gathered for kindling. I had trouble meeting his gaze, his black eyes darting hither and thither like tadpoles.
“Let’s have a look,” Arthur said.
“Vamanos,” said Manolo.
As we walked to my bedroom I asked if Manolo was Mexican. Both he and Arthur shot me dirty looks.
“He’s from Panama,” Arthur declared.
“Si, I ham from Panama,” Manolo said. “I ham in Canada dos annos—two years.”
“He’s a refugee,” Arthur said.
“Si, I ham a refugee,” Manolo said.
Being the son of humble Sicilian immigrants who had also escaped their own species of oppression in the old country, I withdrew all judgments about the man’s appearance—modest in a word, that is to say scruffy—and his manner of address. I myself have never shaken off my faint Sicilian twang.
In the bedroom, both Arthur and he gazed at the hole in silence for an interminable length of time. So much time passed that I observed the shadow of my cactus plant creeping across the wall. Arthur and Manolo continued their keen but rather inert investigation.
At last I cleared my throat.
Arthur looked at Manolo. Manolo looked at me. The three of us seemed to telepathically exchange volumes of information, but this impression lacked substance. I gathered nothing from their faces. In a poker game I would have been nonplussed. Manolo seemed altogether reluctant to speak in Spanish or English.
Arthur nodded at me.
“What?” I said. “What do you mean by that nod?”
“Well,” he said, “I think we have a situation.”
Manolo ducked his darting eyes and moved from foot to foot. I noticed he was wearing Jesus sandals. His toenails needed trimming and his feet demanded a good wash. But the same could have been said about my feet, I suppose—though I wore slippers indoors, bear-paws. They provided my feet with the maximum degree of warmth and comfort possible for a middle-aged man. I could care less that they looked childish, clownish. A man with frozen toes hobbling about his flat and knocking over lamps and whatnot looks childish, clownish.
I demanded an explanation from Arthur.
“I’m going to hand over this part of the investigation to Manolo. Manolo, please.”
Manolo cleared his throat and brought a curled hand to his lower lip.
“I ham thinking we need a priest,” he said.
“What!’ I cried. “A priest! What are you saying?”
“That is no ordinary hole, muchacho. I ham sure it is a demon who has caused the vortex you see now.”
“Vortex?” The word puzzled and frightened me. All this mumbo jumbo was giving me acute anxiety.
“Yup,” Arthur said. “A vortex. Not the first time. Back in 2002 a bigger one almost took old Mrs. Coons away. Poor thing died of heart failure a few weeks later anyway. We had to call in a priest on that occasion.”
“Why wasn’t I told this when I rented the place?”
“Statute of limitations,” Arthur said. “Didn’t have to say squat, legally speaking. Didn’t think it would return, neither. Now we got us a situation. And we’re gonna need a priest. Do you know a good priest?”
I had no idea what Arthur meant by a good priest. Most of the priests I had known were not good, at least by normal human standards. Perhaps the Pope and God Himself saw it differently. But seeking a priest to exorcise some kind of demon from my bedroom seemed about as ridiculous as believing the Earth was flat.
“I’m not buying all this hooey,” I declared.
Arthur bent his head and spread his arms. “This is no joke,” he said.
Manolo concurred with a a gentle head bob.
“Well, what am I supposed to do now?” I asked. “Is the place like haunted or whatever?”
Arthur looked at Manolo. Manolo shrugged.
“It’s not so much that it’s haunted, like, by a ghost,” Arthur said. “It’s possessed, you see. The demon possesses the flat now.”
“So I can’t take a shower? Will Beelzebub come up through the drain and eat my balls or what have you? Well, I’ve got a friggin doctor’s appointment. Beelzebub can suck my dick. I can’t go to the doctor’s without showering.”
“Try a sponge bath,” Arthur said.
I glared at him. Maybe he thought he was being funny, but there was nothing funny about this cluster fuck.
“Okay,” Arthur said. “We need to find a priest chop chop. No telling what this thing is gonna do. I’d be careful if I were you.”
With that Arthur and Manolo departed. I went into my bedroom. The hole continued whirling, spewing out cool air. Apart from that, I detected no evil or redoubtable presence in the bedroom. I suspected Arthur and Manolo of magical thinking. Weren’t we well past exorcisms in the 21st century? No doubt some kind of time-space anomaly or quantum disturbance explained the hole. Not much a priest could do except perhaps cause further decoherence.
I showered despite the possibility of something going terribly wrong. I was careful not step awkwardly in the slick tub and dried myself off with great care. I smelled and felt clean and knew the visit to the doctor would be that much easier. I exited and caught the crosstown bus. I like to travel by bus, it’s soothing. Sometimes people can be annoying, but wherever you find people, the annoyance factor is sure to rise.
Dr. Hubert examined me thoroughly and said he was concerned about the puffiness around my midsection.
“Too many cheeseburgers?”
“I’m a vegetarian, doc.”
At the mention of this his eyes perked up. He probed my abdomen with his thumb and hit upon a delicate area.
“If I stuck my thumb in that exact spot on your body, would it hurt?”
Dr. Hubert smiled. His nicotine-stained teeth never failed to shock me. An admitted smoker, he had likely not seen a dentist in some years. But I would never judge him for that. He was a good doctor, at least I thought he was a good doctor.
“I think you should curb the legumes a bit.”
“That’s my major protein source.”
“Yeah, think it’s messing with your digestive system. Lots of inflammation going on. You’re completely inflamed.”
“Gosh, that sounds awful.”
“It’s not good being so inflamed. I’ll give you some anti-inflammatory meds but you have to cut out the chickpeas and lentils and whatnot.”
“That’s messed up, man.”
“Trust me, Sammy. I’m the doctor.”
“Ah, yes. Do you know anything about paranormal activity?”
Dr. Hubert flared his nostrils. “Had an aunt once, who believed she was the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette. She died from overeating peaches and clotted cream. True story. But I guess that’s not what you mean.”
“No, not really. There was a hole in my ceiling this morn. Super seems to think it’s a paranormal presence. He’s calling a priest.”
“Well, priests have to earn their bread somehow, eh?”
With that, I departed, feeling both relieved and concerned. Being human is often a matter of contrary feelings colliding. I had to let one go to deal with the other. Relief could wait. A hole in my ceiling caused by God knows what took precedence for now. I hopped the bus home. Arthur met me in the foyer.
“We found a priest,” he announced, squeezing his hands together. “Father—”
“I don’t want to know his name. When can he perform the exorcism?”
“Hold your horses. That’s not how it works, buddy boy. First you have to dish out some loot—grease the holy palm so to speak.”
This took me aback. The priest wanted remuneration for his services? I guess it made sense. They got paid for weddings and funerals, baptisms. Everyone likes to be paid for their work. Only writers do it for free. Small problem, I was broke. I couldn’t rub two nickels together. I explained this to Arthur, who needed no proof of my penury. I was always late with my rent, always scrambling to get enough money together to pay it. I felt somewhat slighted. Knowing my situation, how could Arthur ask me to pay the priest? After all, wasn’t this on the landlord?
“Mr. Rose won’t pay for it.”
“Why not, it’s his friggin building?”
“Mr. Rose doesn’t roll that way.”
“No? Well, fuck Mr. Rose, and fuck the voodoo priest. I don’t need them.”
“This problem won’t go away.”
“I’ll deal with it.”
“I’m warning you.”
“Arthur, let me worry about it. I’m a big boy.”
With that, I returned to my flat, determined not to let this thing set me back further. I didn’t need more nonsense in my life, which had become a garish carousel of snorting nostrils and spinning heads. My intestines buckled. Ugh. I sat on the toilet and tried to expel whatever was growling in there. Minor success. If I don’t go twice a day I feel ill. A woman I used to date went once a month. Imagine that? She had abused laxatives as a teenager and had lost the ability to go without chemical assistance. When she finally kicked the drugs—due to blood toxicity—she had to resign herself to monthly bowel movements. Despite this, she was an optimistic person, always smiling and joking. But I could see the pain and discomfort and the idea of only shitting once a month shadowing her eyes. The idea that she shat only once a month also shadowed my efforts to carry on a normal relationship.
Life can be a real bastard. I went into the bedroom and looked at the hole. I wasn’t going to let it intimidate me. Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand of life. Sometimes you have to say, This is shit I will not eat!
I stretched out on my bed. The whooshing air from the hole cooled my face. It felt good, albeit somewhat foul-smelling.
“Hey, demon,” I said, “if you wanna cha-cha now’s as good a time as ever. We might have to call in Ghostbusters if you get outa hand. Come on. Show me what you got. I’m raring and ready.”
But the demon must have been having an afternoon nap. There was no action forthcoming. These things only get to you when you let them get to you. Arthur and Manolo were convinced it was one thing, when clearly it was something else. What it was remained a mystery that perhaps would never be solved.
I shut my eyes and let my thoughts dance about for a few minutes before I let myself drift off to sleep. I dreamed of nothing and when I awoke nothing had changed except my view of things.
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