by Meg Tuite
The phone rings. The name appears on the screen. The Debt School. Who the hell would answer that?
I’m standing in line at the ATM. It’s rush hour in Chicago on a Friday afternoon and everyone is happy to be out for the weekend. I’m stuck in the middle between about a dozen people. I’m still in my dress-up clothes for work. I’m considering where to go that night and who to call when I feel this crushing blow to the back of my skull and I fall to the pavement. I grab my head, crying in pain and turn. Some guy with a shopping cart and two dogs attached to it points his finger at me and says, “That wasn’t very funny, you know,” and then wheels away. This girl behind me helps me up, asks if I’m okay?
“Did you see him coming?” I ask. “Yeah,” she says. “But I thought you might know him.” There’s nothing to say. I search the other faces behind her and they just look away. I walk home checking over my shoulder every few moments.
The phone rings. Some guy asks for me, mispronouncing my last name. I am drinking a few beers and I have a few friends sitting around. I say, “Who the hell is this? Why do you perpetuate this stalking? I mean it’s embarrassing. We both know what you want. I know who you are. I watch the movies. You’re the fucking CIA,” I shout. Now my friends are smirking and their eyes are getting wider and they are riveted by my performance. I lower my voice to a whisper. “Listen, you heathens, and listen closely. If only you’d open your arms to him and repent. I mean, there’s at least two churches on every block.” I started gasping and crying now. “I can’t help you. I can only show you the way to righteousness and a life free of crime.” I hear a guy on the other end trying to interrupt, “but,” “wait, no” “it’s about,” and now I’m ready to raise the roof again. “I see your Cadillac out there at night. I know who you are. The goddamn Rockefellers. The Illuminati. I know where you live. Whatever you do, just keep looking over your shoulder, cause I’ll be watching!” I groan and start hyper-ventilating. “It’s my heart, my damn heart…” I get up and throw my chair on the floor. “Oh my God, call an ambulance. I think it’s a fucking heart attack,” but by that time we’ve all lost it and I slam down the phone. After we somewhat compose ourselves someone asks, “Who the hell was that?”
“Oh,” I say after taking another swig from my beer. “It’s the folks from the bank that took over my student loan when I never paid it. They don’t seem to believe in free education anymore. It’s really a damn shame.”
I’m walking home from the el train. It’s dusk and fall weather has jacked the sun down to three less hours a night. I see some guy in a white raincoat across the street from me. I’ve got my headphones on and I’m carrying some bags. Something resonates a freak-out register in me. I check back across the street and I’m sure the guy is closer than he was now. He’s like a block down from me. My heart starts to pump to hip-hop and I’m listening to Cat Stevens. I have all these crazed thoughts in my head. I never took a class in self-defense. I check back again and now he’s less than a half a block. I pick up my pace. I’m telling myself that everyone’s in a rush. This guy is no damn different. It’s that endless crap that we hear that makes us frantic. I try to focus on the lyrics in my head, but it’s that damn white raincoat. I mean who wears that? The Pink Panther. Not someone attempting to be discreet and unsavory. I am a few doors down from my apartment building when I can’t help myself. I look back one more time as this white sleeve with a hand attached to it is going for my face. I throw bags over my head and roar, “Fire,” at the top of my lungs. I see faces at windows and the white raincoat has started running in the opposite direction. I don’t know how I did this? That’s what they tell you to scream in all the manuals that I never read.
Now, I read them all.
The phone rings.