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           Costa Koutsoutis
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  ~

  a novella

  ~

  by costa koutsoutis

  © 2016

  ~

  Find out more at costakout@gmail.com

 

  Thanks to my amazing and wonderful girlfriend, for continuing to support this weird hobby of mine. I’d have burned out ages ago if not for her. Thanks to the cat Scully, whose terrible behavior kept me from being as involved with this as I wanted. I hate you, cat, with a fiery passion, and now will only scratch you between the ears and under your chin in protest. Also, a special thanks to Jack Feerick. Writer, poet, critic, and social media buddy who suggested the opening lines of this mess.

  Costa Koutsoutis, January 2016

 

  01

  This was not my shirt, I realized, as I tried to get dressed for the client meeting.

  It was black, with a left-side breast pocket, button-up, long-sleeved. Back in graduate school I’d have considered it a “dress shirt.” Now, as I was struggling to look halfway decent for a video conference with a client about a project, it was officially downgraded to “a clean shirt.”

  Regardless, it was definitely not mine.

  I patted down the front, feeling something in the breast pocket, something that crumpled when I drew it out. Pink, thin, fragile, some sort of receipt?

  The computer dinged.

  Shit, call time. I stumbled over the at to the open laptop, buttoning up the shirt as I sat the desk. Freelance copyediting and research wasn’t a bad gig, but it’d gotten me into the habit of forgetting how to be social. Also, how to dress.

  It dinged again.

  The screen flared to life as my webcam automatically turned on, and as my own face came into view on half the screen, my phone pinged at me. It was a message from the client.

  COMP WEIRD CANT VIDEO NOW NO CAMERA

  Well, shit.

  I jotted on the phone back and forth with him through text messaging, which I hated, about what we needed to talk about. I closed the laptop. So much for putting on a clean shirt.

  I looked at the pink piece of paper I’d gotten from the shirt pocket, crumpled on the desk next to the laptop. Seriously, where had it come from?

  When was the last time I’d worn this shirt? I tried to remember, when I could have worn it, taken it off, and then accidentally put another near-identical one on without noticing.

  “Shit!” I almost tripped again over the cat, wrapping herself around my ankles like a hairy mewing boa constrictor. I’d gotten the cat as a housewarming gift from my mother, who’d gotten concerned I’d “be too much of an inside person” if I didn’t get married, a pet, or some other reason to wake up in the morning.

  The party.

  I’d gone to a party, I remembered. A few weeks ago, a friend had thrown a housewarming party in the Bronx to celebrate adding a new addition to their little place. I’d brought a bottle of wine, put on one of my “good shirts,” and gone out into the cool October New York City night. Rob and Kathy threw decent parties and this one had been no exception. There’d been food, a lot of people, music, and a lot of booze.

  There’d also been her.

  I’d gone home with someone. We went back to her place that night, or at least, I think it was her place. She hadn’t been too familiar with where anything was, though to be fair we were both drunk as the skunks that end up in that “drunk as a skunk” phrase, so who knows. I’d poured so much gin down my throat I’d probably been walking on my knuckles, as the poets said. I did remember a loft apartment and then the next morning…

  …I remember picking up a black button-up shirt off the floor where I’d sworn I’d left it, putting it on in the early predawn grey, her watching me. She’d been telling me something, but my already-spotty memory was nothing but impressions of that night.

  I did remember that we’d talked, we’d talked about cats, about monster movies, and about my job. I remember talking a lot, which as my too-few friends like to point out, is usually a good sign that I’m drunk.

  Jane? Jill? I was fairly certain she’d said her name was Jane. It’d been one of those bland boring-sounding names, I knew that much, and more and more of that night came back to me slowly. I might have said that bit about the boring names out loud, because i had a clear memory of her standing there, laughing, and saying “Yeah, probably.”

  I smoothed out the thin pink piece of paper. It was a pawnshop stub, with a Midtown address and a nondescript name. Under the name, it said “Jane Kimball.” Under the item description, it just said “jewelry, misc”.

  I was right about the name at least.

  Generally though, finding out something of actual value went through pawn makes you realize just how fast and bad someone needed that cash, compared to selling it some other way, even through friends.

  I put the receipt down on the desk, and unbuttoned the shirt. I draped it over the back of the chair, and figured later on I’d call Rob or Kathy and get her contact information so I could return the slip and the shirt. It was the least I could do, especially since I didn’t remember telling her that I’d call…or even my full name.

  Fair turnaround, I guess.

  Over in the kitchen, I could hear the cat mewing, sitting proudly on the floor.

  She’d shit right next to the letterbox.

  -

  02

  “Hey Lee, what’s up?”

  Rob and I had met in college. He went on to a nice office job, a wife, a car. I had a cat and an apartment and worked from home in gym shorts most days, eating leftover Thai food. Ultimately, I felt as if I’d won out by a hair.

  “So lemme run something by you. Remember your little housewarming jam?”

  There was a pause at the other end of the line, a shuffling of something, like papers. “Yeah? Sorry, trying to clean up while talking to you.” Rob’s house was a mess of blues paraphernalia, records and posters and boxes of tapes and photos all over. The only way that I knew Kathy put up with it was that she was a hoarder too, so I guess there is always someone out there for someone else.

  “Do, uh…do you remember who I left with?” i Felt stupid even saying it out loud.

  “You left with someone? Go Lee,” Rob said, somewhat distracted.

  “Short brown hair, nose ring, name of Jane Kimball?”

  Rob laughed. “I don’t know, Kath invited a couple of people from her job, and some people brought friends and dates, so I didn’t know everyone there.” That was true I realized, the little house had been packed to the gills with people that night. “Why’re you asking now?”

  “Long story, I’ll bug Kathy.”

  “Alright, no problem. You coming over for Thanksgiving?”

  My own lack of anything resembling a real life or family had me floating around a lot for holidays, so my sad little social calendar was actually quite lively at times. “I’ll let you know,” I said, putting the phone done as I hung up.

  I started at the phone on the desk, debated how badly I wanted to be invested in this today. I loved Kathy, but in that respectful from-a-distance-friend’s-wife sort of way. Phone calls with her tended to be awkward.

  Not to mention that I actually had real job work to do, for money. Two clients needed drafts looked at by next week, I had emails to return to get more jobs nailed down, and I was a week behind on a big project.

  Fuck it.

  “Lee!”

  “Hey Kath, Rob said I should go to you on this, since it was…”

  “Jane.”

  “Huh?”

  “Rob texted me, told me what you asked. Jane Kimball, she came to the party with that lesbian couple I work with, Dianne and Elle.”

  Again, I had a vague memory trigger, an image in my mind of the two of t
hem sitting on one couch, chatting and checking cell phones, drinks in hands and hair immaculately-done to match their fake-50’s house dresses like Archie Comics characters.

  “I didn’t talk to her that much, like I said, don’t know her. Listen, I got a meeting, but I can ask Elle later for a number, she’s in the office today.”

  I thanked Kathy and got off the phone before she also asked me to Thanksgiving, or want dot tell me about her latest collectible Maori figurine or whatever. She and Rob, hoarders-in-arms together and in love.

  I threw myself into some client work over the next few days, the pawn slip and black shirt sitting on my desk, more or less ignored.

  More or less.

  I poked around on the Internet for a bit to look up this Jane girl, but didn’t find anything. Nothing wrong with that, though, considering how annoying the Internet could be. I found Elle and Diane on their social media accounts though, looked around at pictures. I figured if this Jane was close enough to one of them to come to the party, was was close enough
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