When Rene went to pay his tab, a slip of paper fell out of his wallet, caught a breeze from the night air coming in, and flew behind the bar. Jeff handed it back to him, taking note of what it was, which was a lottery ticket, folded and faded.
“That looks like it’s been in there forever. I assume it’s not a winner,” Jeff said.
“Actually I don’t know. I prefer not to know. It’s like Schrödinger’s lottery ticket. As long as I don’t look, it could be a winner.” Rene said with a practiced cadence. “I play for entertainment value. This is the entertainment part, the part I can savor.”
Gathering his jacket, he walked towards home. But when he passed by the parking lot next to the mechanic’s shop two blocks away, Rene noticed a thin, shambling question mark man kicking up dust, talking loudly at the ground. Rene angled closer to the street, keeping his eyes straight ahead. Don’t make eye contact, just keep walking.
“Rene old buddy how have you been” the man said with a sharp nasal tone and bright friendly tone.
Rene kept walking and did not look towards the man.
“I bet you heard the news but maybe Danny gets to got to tell you” Danny said, shuffling closer and closer.
But when he brushed up against Rene and leaned his face in, breath smelling of mint and beer, Rene jumped two feet away. “Get the fucking Hell out of my space!” Rene hissed, and Danny’s white haired head snapped back. Rene composed himself and kept walking, unsettled, but the old man in dirty clothes just chuckled and did not follow.
He just wanted to get a rise out of me, Rene thought. Well, it worked. He kept his stride long but tried to maintain an even steady pace towards home.
Unlocking the front door of his small bungalow he felt something was off, but it wasn’t until he stepped inside that the awareness reached his conscious mind. A breeze and a sound from the back of the house in the dark living room first; then he snapped the light on and discovered his couch cushions in a mess, and a screaming void where his giant television and sound system had been. In a panic, he ran from room to room, where at least one thing was out of place and tossed. Drawers open, closet contents flung around. He’d been robbed.
He called the police, and then he called his girlfriend, who was working but promised to come as soon as she could, and then he called his friend Brice, who showed up before the police. He filled out paperwork, and left a message for his insurance agent, and tried to calm down, and he couldn’t stand to be there even though it was his home. The police were professional, and calm, and pessimistic, and the night was a blur, and Rene fell asleep, eventually, on Dawn’s bed, on top of the covers, with a grocery bag of clean clothes, waiting for her to come home.
She made him breakfast and accepted it when he insisted on going to work even though he was late. His boss, Tara, came to see him at his desk and took him into her office to find out what was going on. Rene explained about the break-in, and Tara’s response was, “You have my sympathy but I need to tell you that if you’re late again before the end of the year I’m going to have to let you go.”
Rene bit back on the first response that came to mind, and he finished out his day.
On autopilot, Rene only remembered that his home no longer felt safe when he was within a few blocks of it. He stood and took deep breaths on the front stoop for a minute before finally digging out his keys. Stepping inside, however, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up again, and his stomach acid felt like it was boiling over.
There were noises inside the house. Strange noises. Someone else was in here.
He grabbed a table lamp and yanked the cord out of the wall, hoisting it like a club. He sprinted towards the back of the house, the kitchen, skidding on the parquet floor in his dress shoes. In a flash, he took in the following: the back door was open, the kitchen smelled of sour milk, there was a beer can pyramid in the middle of the floor, and Danny was sitting on the back door sill, facing out into the backyard.
“What the fuck are you doing in here?”
“Your refrigerator is broken I threw out your milk don’t worry those are my cans I didn’t drink none of yours,” Danny mumbled. Danny didn’t even look back over his shoulder, hadn’t startled at all when Rene had run screaming in waving his lamp club. Danny flinched, now, just a bit, when the sudden silence began.
“Get out of my fucking house now,” Rene said, cold, his fists clenched but down at his side for now.
Danny nodded his head and smacked his lips, and he turned around and, one by one, disassembled the beer can pyramid, holding each can in his arms. “I get ya I get ya I’ll get out of the way I just livin’ here once.” He tried to stand and lost one of the cans and started to pick it up and another one fell down. Rene rubbed his face and went into his pantry and got a paper bag, and he handed it to Danny, and when two more beer cans clattered to the floor Rene picked them up and put them into the bag.
“Wait. What did you say?”
“I use to live here long time ago can’t don’t like to see it like this I saw the door open” Danny said just a bit more coherently. Rene’s hand was holding a beer can over the paper bag, and Danny looked, really looked, at Danny’s face. His face was covered in dirt and nearly the color of the bag, and his beard was wild and stained several shades of brown and yellow, and the whites of Danny’s eyes were jaundiced and bloodshot, but the irises were a pale blue.
“You remind me of. Of my son. I miss him.” Danny said. “We lived here.”
Rene said, “That can’t possibly be true. I bought this house from the original owner.”
Danny held Rene’s gaze for a second, then another. Then a sly smile spilled across his face. “I grew up in Indiana. Bloomington. Actually.” Rough, hacking laughter emerged from somewhere in his beard.
“You crazy motherfucker. You goddamned crazy motherfucker.” Rene went to his fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer. “Sit down. No, on second thought, you reek. Let’s go sit outside. Tell me about your son.”
“I don’t have a son. Two daughters. They live on the East coast now.”
“Here,” Rene said, “this is for watching my house while I was at work. But if I ever catch you in here again I’m calling the cops.”
They sat outside on the patio, and Danny told Rene some stories, and some of them were even true.