|For several days after Uncle Two-Guys had threatened his life, A. J. did
not leave the apartment and, more important, did not cook a steak. He
needed two hands to do it properly and the right one always held the
9mm. The weapon fit his hand so well he was convinced God had intended
him to have but one active finger, the one that spit fire and lead.
Blizzard, an immense, white, Himalayan house cat, noticed this odd
experiment with limbs, but did not complain, as the electric can
opener continued to function on schedule, delivering tuna and chicken in
pleasant, bite-sized chunks. Sheila had abandoned the animal two years
earlier when she left him without prior notification and with all of the
At random intervals, A. J. aimed the gun at the door and pretended someone
was on the other side, or paced back and forth between the peep hole and the
curtains, looking for signs of movement. He did not bathe. The perpetual
shock of hair that dangled across his forehead like a Calder mobile
began to droop, weighed down by excess oil.
His mattress propped against the window as a protective barrier, he
slept upright in his comfy chair for never more than ten or twenty
minutes at a time. He taped the weapon to his hand during these brief
interludes to prevent stray electromagnets or other unseen forces from
taking it away from him. From the same position he watched television
and nibbled, without satisfaction, on an assortment of party-tray
sausages. He wanted a filet, a sirloin, or even a ground beef patty
cooked to a bright pink center. He needed red meat.
On the fourth day, his neglected subconscious began to slip subliminal
messages, all of them with porcine and bovine association, onto his grocery
list. Thus it came about that the microwave popcorn took on unexpected shapes: storm clouds, then storm troopers, then a stampede of longhorn, all coming for him. Halfway
through the third season of Combat, an early 60’s show he owned on DVD,
a fit of self-loathing overwhelmed him. He shoved the bag from the coffee table, scattering unpopped kernels across the floor.
"It was a bluff," he explained to Blizzard, trying to convince himself
he had taken the situation too seriously. "The big dude's not coming."
Uncle Two-Guys had earned his name because he was twice the size of a
normal adult male, at least in one dimension.
Determined to end his state of protein deficiency, A. J. decided that he
would live in fear no longer. He opened the freezer, retrieved a prime
cut, and set the microwave to thaw, all one-handed. Then, after checking
to see that a bullet was in the chamber, he placed the 9mm on the
counter. Taking a couple of steps back, he leapt forward and snatched
it. Satisfied with his speed, he replaced the gun and began to prepare
his dinner in earnest, a real dinner, protein rich, albeit with a
supporting cast of carbohydrates and fats.
"You and me, we're carnivores ... meat-eaters," he told the cat, who had
somehow managed to perch atop the refrigerator. "Anything else is rabbit
food." A. J. turned his back on the weapon in a final act of liberation.
When A. J. opened a can of sweet potatoes, Blizzard mistook the sound
for his own dinner preparation and jumped to the counter. In the process
the cat kicked the pistol to the floor. It discharged.
A. J. grabbed the phone within seconds of the accident, and punched the
magical numbers. "I need an ambulance at the K Apartments on Sixth and
Broad Street," he explained. "No, just K ... Apartment 12 ... A. J.
Ramoni, that's who ... Why? ... You want to know why now? ... This cat
shot me, that's goddamn why."
He drifted in and out of consciousness while he waited, sitting on the
floor, the sizzle of steak and the aroma that began to fill the kitchen
somehow easing the pain. Without thinking, he began to claw at the
linoleum, as if he intended to bury the beef for later retrieval.
Long before the state police arrived, the steak, still in the frying
pan, had blackened and begun to smolder, but A. J. had failed to notice.
Now lying in his own blood, he looked at the torso of Blizzard, who was
sitting a few inches from his face in order to lap up some of the
excess. He mistook the thick white coat for a tremendous wall of pale
flesh bearing down upon him.
"Uncle Two-Guys," he whispered. "I swear. I was going to pay you."