House of Payne
Of all the names in the world, at least all the ones he could think of, Chas Payne feels that his is most appropriate. Bending over the toilet in the bathroom of his New York apartment regurgitating stomach acid and the last remnants of Percocet and morphine tablets, the irony alone is killing him. Twisting and retching while the world becomes darker and less defined, he didn’t expect this much pain. Yet, he falls to the cold tile floor jarring his forehead on the porcelain bowl, and still clutching his insides as if they would burst from his front at any moment. And all he can think about is the excruciating, tortuous ache in his gut.
The pain begins to subside. His stomach stops churning and comes to accept its fate. He lets out a small sigh trying to free the stale air from his lungs. His head slides over and into the small pile of roach poison that he had laid out last week.
“Fitting,” he thinks.
His body goes completely numb as he fades in and out of sleep. Chas wonders what lies just on the other side of this dark hallway that he’s wanted to walk through so badly. He thinks that he would smile…if he could feel his face.
* * * *
“Go on ahead, Hun!” Chas shouted over the hustling crowd of tourists, bell hops, and caterers. The luxurious Thornbury Castle was having a grand ball this particular August evening and Chas was beginning to regret staying in what he referred to as Satan’s Torture Hotel of Death. A 15th century castle in Thornbury, England, fully restored and turned into a luxury hotel. Forty-three floors of 15th century suck-ass madness.
“Yeah, there’s room service, but there are no elevators. I mean what kind of a place was this?” he asks.
His wife Trish threw him a stern look over the pink lily suitcase she carrying. He could see the anger in her eyes. And after forty-three of stairs, Chas thought that was the only face she could make anymore.
“The hotel manager said they wanted to keep a natural feel and doesn’t think elevators should ever be placed in a castle. I like it though, I think he may be on to something.”
Chas thought he was a schmuck.
The crowds of dinner guests and service staff were flooding the staircase by the time Chas, Trish, and Ben, their nine year old son, reached the ground floor. The crowd was getting immense and he was losing his family on the staircase when he remembered Trish’s wedding ring sitting on the bedside table. Their faces already disappearing into crowded hotel lobby, he decided it would be better to run back upstairs and grab the ring while he was still here. Most people would have brushed it off, called the hotel and have it sent home. But Chas, is not most people. And he’s regretted it ever since.
He called Trish on the way back up the forty-three flight climb to their room.
The phone rang twice before she picked up.
“Hey! Where are you,” she asked.
“I’m running back upstairs. I didn’t grab your ring after you asked me too.”
He heard her angry sigh on the other line. He knew she was pissed. He knew that he was going to get an earful when she saw him. Trish hated flying. She carried the “Oh-my-God-I’m-going-to die-on-this-plane gene and she was going to absolutely hate him for not being on the flight with her.
“Jesus, Chas! You’re going to miss the plane!”
He said, “Don’t worry about it, sweetie. You’ll be fine. If I don’t get there in time, just board the plane. I’ll catch the next flight out and meet you in Sacramento. I love you. Bye.”
After a long and arduous sprint up the winding stairs of the God Forsaken Castle of Slow Agonizing Death, Chas stopped to catch his breath. He’d only had to stop twice the whole way up and felt a little too proud of himself for it.
Chas collected himself and made for the hallway in search of room 4307.
He passed a door marked BROOM CLOSET and wondered if King Henry used a Swiffer. He reached the door as he dug the key out his pocket. He slipped the key in the lock turning it forcefully, and entered the room. He spotted the ring on the bedside table, snatched it quickly, and placed it on his left pinky next to his own ring.
He checked the gold Rolex that Trish gave him last night for their anniversary. Quarter to four. It was the first time Ben and Trish had flown without him. He had often poked fun at her for her fear of airplanes. He just never understood it.
Now he understands it.
Chas opens his eyes to pulsating light of his apartment bathroom. The fluorescent bulbs are infuriating the already raging pain in his head. He shuts his eyes tight and tries to get his grip.
“Where am I? Am I Dead? No…Goddamnit!”
Chas begins to smell the sharp odor of vomit rising from the bowl above him. He raises a hand and fishes for the handle for a while.
“OK. I’m alive. What now?”
He raises himself off the ground to inspect the damage. He looks fine. He feels fine. He might be dying from the roach poison that may or may not have gotten into his mouth, but he doesn’t think he’s that lucky. God would have to have a pretty sick sense of humor…then again, maybe he does. In either case Chas rinses his mouth out and looks in the mirror.
“What a sorry sack of shit. Look at yourself. You’re pathetic.”
He wanders out of the bathroom and down the hallway of the apartment, his head pounding. He thinks if he is about to deal with living through a suicide, the first thing he needs is coffee. He stumbles through the dimly light hallway and into the kitchen. He finds the coffee and tries to think of the ways it might kill him, but doesn’t think there are any.
Chas makes a pot and waits while the coffee boils, staring at the kitchen cabinets. He had given all the china to charity and goodwill. He doesn’t really need dishes or silverware anymore. Chas usually eats fast food now. He doesn’t see the point of spending time on a meal that he wishes he wasn’t around to eat. Besides, they say fast food will kill you these days.
He waits for the coffee to finish and pours himself a cup. He thinks about Trish and Ben. He thinks about dying. He thinks he doesn’t want to have to clean the bathroom that he failed to die in. He thinks maybe the bathroom floor is too cliché of a death place for him anyway. Chas looks over the kitchen bar into the living room.
The whole apartment is empty now, but it once had life to it. The white walls used to beam with pictures of Chas, Trish, and Ben. They gave the room a sense of warmth and welcome, as did the large white leather sofa and the Ecuadorian coffee table, or so Chas always thought. He used to love sitting on the sofa, feeling the cold leather on the back of his neck. He used to set his feet on the antique table just to get a rise out of Trish. She couldn’t stand it when he did that. Something her parents had passed on to her. Now she’s not around to get pissed, so Chas doesn’t put his feet up.
He sits on the floor of this apartment, sipping his coffee and trying not to think. The feelings of warmth and welcome have been traded for cold isolation. The white walls stand naked. There are no pictures, no coffee table, no TV, no bookcases, or end tables. Nothing. Chas sips his coffee with his arms tightly gripped around himself, and stares at the carpet.
Chas strolled out the front doors of Thornbury Castle feeling sorry for his wife and son at having to fly alone, but fairly amused with thought of it. He decided to walk to the airport in lieu of a taxi because his flight wouldn’t be leaving for another hour. He took his time wandering through town conversing with the locals and stopping to have lunch at corner market café. Chas felt guilty that he was having such a good time without Trish and Ben. He thought of them clutching each other for dear life as the plain takes off. He thought of Trish screaming while the other passengers looked on in annoyance. He thought of the frantic panting that would follow a panic attack. He chuckled.
After a two pints of New Castle and club sandwich, Chas walked to the airport. He noticed a large crowd of people hovering around a television monitor out front, but paid it no attention. It was probably some new political scandal or celebrity gossip. These things did not concern Chas. He always thought people’s private lives should never be intruded upon and celebrities and politicians are no different. So he never cared. Moreover, he didn’t want to be late.
Chas entered the airport and walked toward the security gate. No sooner did he reach the checkpoint that he realized that his flight had been delayed. He would be stuck there or another hour. He walked away from the security and into the lobby for a drink. He pulled himself up to the bar and ordered a jack and coke. He turned to face the TV and his heart sank to his feet. The BBC had interrupted the current program for a special announcement.
“Ladies and Gentleman. We bring you live coverage of the Continental Airlines commercial flight that crashed into the Atlantic earlier this evening.
* * * *
Chas glides down 3rd Avenue replaying the events over in head. He’s going nowhere in particular and just wants to find a place to smoke in peace. You can’t walk down the sidewalk smoking nowadays without somebody giving you a monumental piece of their mind. He doesn’t really want to hear anybody else’s shit so he waits for a smoking area. He has enough on his mind.
He stops in front of a Walgreens after noticing a sign for a DESIGNATED SMOKING AREA. He sits on the bench next to an old man wearing an old gray coat and a bucket hat like the one Gilligan wears. Chas notices veins on the man’s hands, raised and blue like oceans pouring over the dry white knuckles.
“How’s it going, sonny?” the old man asks.
“Terrible actually,” Chas replies hoping the conversation would end there.
“Sorry to hear that. But you know even the most terrible days have their upsides.”
Chas couldn’t believe how angry he was getting. The old man was just trying to be nice. He was trying to make Chas’s life just a little bit brighter. But Chas didn’t want his life to be any brighter. He wanted his family back.
“Look Grandpa, I appreciate the words but I’m not really up for proverbs today. I just want to sit and smoke and figure out the rest of my short life. So I would appreciate it, if you would kindly fuck off.”
Chas lights his cigarette and likes the way the smoke scratches his chest. Like an itch that desperately needs to be scratched, like the pain in Chas’ gut that he desperately wants to relieve. “You know son, I’ve seen boys like you before. Searchin’ for a piece of sanity, some divine providence that might just prove there’s justice in this world. But I got bad news, Sonny. It ain’t. It never was and it never will be. He that giveth, taketh away.”
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, old man.”
Chas stares across the street in silence. He watches a family through the windows of a Starbucks. He sees their happy faces and how blissfully they take each other for granted. He knows the pain of living every day without something to live for. He feels the Big Empty that’s been left in his body.
Chas gets up and walks away without looking back at the old man.
* * * *
Chas sat in the airport bar trying to catch his breath. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing on the news. Flight 247 out of Thornbury crashed into the Atlantic just over an hour ago. Time stopped. His heart was pounding faster than it ever had before. He thought it was going jump out his chest and onto the floor. Chas clutched his chest and struggled to comprehend what was happening.
Maybe it wasn’t their flight. Maybe it’s a mistake. He turns and races through the terminal to find a list of passengers. He passes checkpoint after checkpoint and locates one of the monitors he had dismissed earlier. He looked at the screen as the list people rolls down in front of the video coverage. He couldn’t see their names. He figured its ok. He remembered the ticket he still had from the same flight. He frantically searched his bag for the evidence. His fingers found the slim paper rectangle under his planner. He pulled the ticket into the light and read the lines.
Flight 247. Departing Thornbury. 4:00 PM
Chas’s heart stopped as he imagined Trish and Ben holding each other for comfort. He imagined them screaming and crying as the passengers around them cried out in despair. He imagined Trish trying to comfort Ben as the plane nosedived into the ocean. Running her fingers through his hair and telling him it will be OK.
The news said it was a engine failure. An uncommon mistake, but one that happens. Boeing will make an official apology. Chas’s family will still be dead.
Chas died in an airport in Thornbury. Well, he might as well have.
* * * *
Chas sits comfortably in seat forty-seven aboard American Airlines flight number 274, departing Sacramento for London. He thanks the flight attendant as she brings him his drink. He can’t wait for the in flight movie. He hopes there is turbulence during takeoff. He hopes there is mayhem. He prays for a crash. He hates that everyone will have to die. If this one doesn’t go down, the next one will. Or the next one, or the next one. Who knows?
Chas knows. He knows that if you hit a dog enough times it will stop barking. And he also knows that if you ride a plane enough times it will eventually go down, especially if you slashed the fuel hose prior to boarding.
Chas lies back in his seat, swallows three Vicoden, and waits.