Underground

            The basement had brown wood paneling, and a brown carpet. It didn't need to be cleaned, because it was frequently vacuumed. Peter, the cat, walked across the room and headed up the stairs. He wanted let out, but was not allowed out in the winter, because he had once not come back for a week and was on the brink of death. But he pined for the outdoors, and knew his territory would be in shambles if he did not maintain it for the breadth of the season. I walked in front of him, and he arched his back, but did not hiss. I walked over to the bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I walked to the couch and I settled down.

            There was a pot of coffee brewing upstairs and it was starting to squeal, and I heard it from my relaxed position. I thought about getting up and getting a cup. There was coffee and it was upstairs and it was available. Ashley walked in front of me on the couch and crossed from her basement room into the laundry room, to switch the load over from wash to dry. I sat on the couch and pulled out my computer and opened up Microsoft paint and doodled with my mouse. But it was hard to doodle with my mouse because I only have the keypad one and not an actual point and click with your right hand one, which would have made things easier.

            I read that Steve Jobs invented the mouse, that it was a zen philosophy thing he came up with because there should be a way to make yes no decisions simply, and it revolutionized computers. Smart-phones don't have mouses. But they use the same click system. I don't have a smart-phone. One time I dropped my phone in the snow and I couldn't find it for a week, and after a thaw I found it in the lawn and it was totally intact, which goes to show you.

            Ashley walks across in front of me again, and gives me a smile. I smirk back. She flips her brown hair over her shoulder and goes back into her room.

            There is a table in front of me, and on it is a fifteen dollar keyboard. I purchased it used at a garage-sale. It is small, but has a drum machine and a synthesizer in it. I flick it on and play a few notes. Then I switch it to another setting and play a few more notes. I press the blue button that says style and turn to the rhythm section. Number Twelve, Fusion One, is my favorite. But I also like to switch to Seventy-Seven, Lullaby, for its timid clicking. There is a Klaxon setting too, but it only makes the one noise, the aoogah! Or, ah-oo-gah!, horn sound.

            Peter comes down and peeks his head up at the keyboard, and I stop pressing buttons. He reaches out with one of his paws, and touches one of the keys, gently pressing down on it. It makes a sound and he bolts.

            At work today, where I'm a cashier, this regular named Daniel Dalton came in and he was buying a big bag of dog-food that was on sale for only twenty dollars. The first time Daniel Dalton came in I was kinda afraid of him, because he had brass knuckles on, and had the S.S. Symbol and a swastika tattooed on his neck. He looks kind of like a warthog and has a nose ring that is made out of gold, or spray-painted gold maybe. Today, Daniel Dalton came in and bought his dog dog food, and his eye was all bloodshot and he had a Band-Aid brand band-aid on the corner of his face near the socket. Where I assume he got stitches. I thought he had probably gotten in a fight. His overweight neighbor-lady who he comes in with was making fun of him for having not being able to see which card was which in his wallet when he was lookin' for the rewards card. And he found it eventually. When she was out of earshot he said to me,

            “Did you get the dog-food?”

            And I said, “Yeah, I put it under food too, so no tax.”

            He smiled at me and said, “My dog stepped on my eye, that's why it's all fucked up. We was playing and he landed on my face and put all his weight on it and it felt like my eye was gonna pop.”

            “Jesus, what kinda dog is he?”

            “He's a mastiff, so he's pretty big. But I wasn't mad or nothin' 'cause we were just playin, and then he ran off because I was making like 'damn this hurts' noises. And when I got back from the hospital he was hiding in his crate, and I felt so bad for him 'cause he didn't know what he was doing and it wasn't his fault. He's just big.”

            I do a lot of smiling and nodding at work. While I was smiling and nodding I noticed that Daniel had an ICP prison tattoo that was clearly done with a ballpoint pen also on his neck. I wondered what the rest of his body looked like.

            “He didn't do nothin' wrong, we were playin'.”

            “Just act like you are cool with him, and set new rules for yourself with the playing. I guess, Dan.”

            “You're probably, right. He was a shelter dog and they was gonna put him down but I decided to take him. And he's a one person dog. I only had one other dog that was a one person dog like him, and he was a mutt, not like my dog.”

            “He like, protects you and everything?”

            “Yeah! One time she came over from next door,” Daniel Dalton gestured over to his neighbor who was standing by the automatic doors looking peeved that he was chatting with me. “And knocked, and the dog freaked out and I had to run out and get him to realize it was just her and nothing was wrong.”

            “That's cool though, that means he really cares about you.”

            “I think you're right. That's probably why he feels so bad about hurting me.” I nod, and since he had looked at his neighbor earlier Daniel realized he should probably get going. We said goodbye.

            Peter is back at the piano again and he presses another key, and it rings out. I think maybe I should ask Daniel what his dog's name is next time he comes in.

             Ashley says,“Okay, either you play piano or you turn the thing off. I don't need to hear the cat walking around.”

            “C'mere.” She walked over and I hugged her tightly, and she forgot that she was complaining about the noise. And we sat like that for a while.

            “Okay, seriously, I need to find that hole in my bed and patch it, we don't have time for this.”

            “Can I say something? I know that your Mom's ex-boyfriend gave you that waterbed, but I think it might be time to give it up. It hurts my back, and it leaks at night, and you should just get a regular mattress.”

            “How am I going to pay for a regular mattress? I am definitely not buying a used one, that's for sure.”

            “Somebody we know must have a spare.” I am tired, deadly tired, of waking up, freezing, in a pool of water that has gathered in the middle of the bed, soaking one side of my body. Whoever thought waterbeds were a good idea to begin with is a fucking madman.

            “Maybe somebody at work can help me out. Oh! So like, you know that guy, Paul? Who does the dishes?”

            “The retarded guy?”

            “He isn't retarded! So like, I was talking to him today, and I always thought he was handicapped or whatever but he was telling me about how he is an awesome guitar player, and I asked him what kind of music he plays, and he said, 'Gospel, Blues, Bluegrass, hell, you name it I can pick it.' Which was weird, 'cause I didn't know he was talented like that.”

            “Doesn't he have those bugged out eyes and his parents drive him to work?”

            “Yeah, that's the guy, but he just has a southern accent and is blind. I thought there was something going on mentally. He gave me one of his CDs.”

            “Seriously? Do you have it here?”

            “No, it's in my car, but you can go get it if you want to listen to it. I thought it was pretty impressive, but I don't play any instruments.”

            I started up the brown-carpeted stairs and headed towards the door. Ashley's development was proceeding backwards on the walls. If you walked downwards from the top of the stairs, you would see her class photos going from elementary school down to high school into adult life and when you reached the bottom of the stairs there was one of her with me that made me glad every time I saw it.

            Peter followed me up the stairs and I had to kick him a little bit to keep him from going into the upstairs part of the house, where he would most definitely escape into the winter. I could hear Ashley's Mom in the living-room doing her step-class VHS again and when I rounded the corner there she was. I waved at her and she waved back at me without losing a beat. She'd been doing that same class in her living room for at least twenty years. 'C'mon gang, You can do it! One-two-three and One-two-three-four.' Ashley's Mom was losing her summertime tan, so her skin looked less leathery than usual. Outside in the beat-up green van that Ashley drives I got the CD and brought it back downstairs. Then Peter tried to escape again but didn't and smashed his head into the door. I felt bad for him, but it was his fault, and he should have figured out the rules by now. He played it cool though, and walked back down.

            The couch was aqua but had reddish paisleys all over it and I sunk down onto it. I settled back into comfort and put the CD into my computer where it started spinning with a humming noise. I am not fond of Ashley's Led Zeppelin poster because we are just too young to be having Led Zeppelin posters but I guess it's not that bad. And I do like them, so there's that.

            I put on headphones and shut out the world and listened to Paul play guitar, and it was freaking amazing. He is incredibly talented. I wonder who taught him his first three chords and what happened after that to transform him into what he is now. But he does dishes, so that sucks. A man with a lot of talent is now doing dishes. Playing guitar is definitely something that brings him joy though, so I guess I don't care that that is what he does for a living. He gets what he needs out of his 'pickin' when he gets home. That can be enough.

            I learned that you can wrap your headphone wire around a marker and then heat it with a hairdryer for three minutes and it'll turn into a springy headphone cord instead of just a normal line. I did that to mine and now they are easier to transport and don't get all tied up all the time. I hated untieing them when I had to, back before the internet taught me that trick. Ashley walks up to me and is speaking but all I can hear is Paul running through the blues in C and I watch her mouth move all over the place but can't read her lips. Humans supposedly developed the speech centers parts on the left side of their brains so the motor skills required to speak are really extensive. Peter picked a pack of pickled peppers uses a lot of lips and tongue and shapes. So most people are right handed because movement on the right side of your body is dictated by your left brain. Ashley is left-handed, but she is currently gesturing with both hands for me to take off the headphones.

            “What?”

            “What do you think?”

            “He's really good, I'm impressed. For sure.”

            “I knew it! Its kind of fucked up that I thought he was retarded.”

            “Its not that bad. You didn't really take the time to talk to him.”

            “I decided he was just by looking at him, that is messed up. I feel like I should apologize to him.”

            “He doesn't know you thought that, just change how you treat him now, apologizing won't accomplish anything.”

            “I know, I just feel like it would help.”

            “He isn't aware of the problem though.”

            “Yeah. Alright. It was shitty of me though.”

            “There's nothing you can do about being shitty before. And you weren't actually being real-life shitty. You just were being thought-shitty.”

            “Huh.” She sunk down on the couch next to me and I put my arm on her shoulder. We sat for a minute and she snuggled up against my chest. Her hair was in my face but I didn't mind it. It smelled like lemons.

            With my foot I pulled the headphone jack out of my computer and it's speakers projected Paul into the room, and he was singing a gospel song in his near-indecipherable Southern accent. And it was nice.