The television was on in the background, but Rachel hadn't really been watching it. She had the sound turned down so low she could only make out exactly what was being said if she concentrated very hard.
"Oh yeah?" she said to herself, and watched the images on the screen for a few seconds. The camera panned out over the bobbing sea of heads at a nightclub. Rhythmic, bass-heavy music could be heard muffled and distorted behind the newscaster's voice. Several high-school snapshots flashed on the screen, accompanied by quick litanies of biographical information. All Rachel heard were the names.
The newscaster's face was grave, and Rachel heard just enough of the story to know that it was an expose of some kind. The words 'youth' and 'culture' peppered the report, and the didactic graphics that were currently whizzing across the screen seemed to describe a new drug of some kind. Someone had certainly been killed.
Rachel got up and turned the television off, looking briefly around for the remote first. Angel had probably taken it to bed with him again, she guessed, so she didn't look too hard. Who wanted to go into Angel's room? It was the kind of place where he could easily be hiding a large dresser or a compost heap or a supercomputer console, and nobody would ever know under all that stuff.
A loss of a feeling of connection with reality my ass, she thought to herself as she stared at the blank face of the television. Just because somebody won't swallow the plastic-wrapped version of 'reality' that the mass media tries to feed them, Rachel thought, all the sheep automatically assume that person is out of touch.
Rachel had been studying for her psychology midterm, and it had gotten her all stressed out because she only really understood about half the material and the test was in two days. It was time to stop for the night, before she chewed the ends off all her pencils. She didn't feel like she was going to be getting to sleep anytime soon, however, and she needed to get to work in the morning. Maybe she could take a bath? Have a glass of wine? She went to the liquor cabinet, futilely hoping that Carlos and his girlfriend hadn't finished the Carlo Rossi.
Rachel opened the cabinet, and found something small and gray-blue sitting in it. It looked like a little person, except that it was only about six inches high, had no ears, and had leathery wings folded up behind it. It was sitting, with its knees drawn up in front of it, sleeping.
As she turned on the light to have a better look, though, it woke up with a start. Its eyes were small, and beady, and black.
"Hi!" it said.
"Hi," said Rachel. The two of them just looked at each other and blinked for several moments.
"I'm Maurice," said the thing.
"I'm Rachel," said Rachel. She didn't extend her hand to shake like she normally would, obviously. They looked at each other again for several minutes, and then the creature stood up and dusted itself off. Himself, she corrected herself. Although it didn't appear to have any gonads, it had said its name was Maurice.
"Well," he looked around and sighed, "I suppose I'll be going now."
Rachel didn't say anything as he jumped down from the liquor cabinet onto the counter-top. He extended his wings as he did so, catching enough air to glide down softly.
He puffed his chest out slightly, then looked up at Rachel and winked and smiled. He stretched his legs, arms and wings, popped his back, and took to the air. As Rachel watched, he flew to the open window nearest to her and ascended up and out of her apartment. It was the one window in the house without a screen.
Rachel stood for several minutes just staring out the window at the house next door, then turned back to the liquor cabinet. There was a sticky-looking stain where the thing had been sitting, and a strange smell that she hadn't noticed before.
It was definitely time to replace the screen in the window.
When she woke up for work in the morning, Carlos was already in the kitchen, and coffee was brewing. That was odd, considering he went to work an hour later than she did, and usually didn't get up any earlier than twenty minutes before his shift was about to start.
"Decided to start showing up on time?" she asked as she shuffled into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes.
"Yeah," said Carlos. He sounded distracted. Rachel opened her eyes, and noticed that he was looking into the liquor cabinet.
"Hey, do you know what the hell this is?" he turned and held up a sticky fingertip, "it's all over in here. It smells like . . . watermelon," he sniffed again, and made a face, "and cockroaches."
"I found some weird little creature in there last night, I guess it had flown in and just gone to sleep. Angel must've left the liquor cabinet open again."
"Where is it now?"
"Flew away," Rachel said with a yawn.
"Huh," was all Carlos said. He proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee, and Rachel did the same.
"Did it say anything?" Carlos asked after several minutes. Rachel looked up at him. He must have seen it, to ask that question. He must have, and just wasn't owning up to it.
"Yeah, it said its name was Maurice," Rachel replied from over the top of the newspaper she was reading, giving him a challenging stare that he ignored completely. Carlos was back to inspecting the liquor cabinet. He gave one last sniff, and wrinkled his nose.
"You hear they're bombing again overseas?" Rachel asked as she perused the story from the front page. The story was not about the bombing overseas, it was about a little girl that had gone missing from an affluent neighborhood. Snatched right out of her front yard, the headline screamed in huge letters.
"Yeah," said Carlos, "there's a protest at three. You should go."
"Mmmm," said Rachel, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
"Hey, the wine's gone!" Carlos said as he rummaged through the bottles.
"I figured you and Stacey had drunk it," Rachel said, and took a sip of her coffee.
"Nope," said Carlos, reaching far back into the cabinet, and producing an empty bottle, "I left this here full."
"Huh," said Rachel.
Both of them peered at the wine bottle carefully, and Carlos ran his hand along the side. There were a series of tiny holes in the glass, that looked like they had been drilled into it. A strange look came over Carlos' face, and he put the bottle in the recycling hastily.
"We should really replace that screen as soon as possible."
He slammed the liquor cabinet closed with a crack, and poured himself another cup of coffee.
N.L.A. Brock writes from San Francisco. Brock teaches English and Journalism at the high school level.
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