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FICTION
Hanging Jim Kellerman's TV
Kevin Sterne

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Jim Kellerman’s got me on the top rung of a ladder trying to mount this big ass TV to the brick of his neighbor’s house. He says the neighbors never come back here, and he doesn’t want me putting holes in his brick, so better them than Jim Kellerman. Ethically, it’s not my house. Morally, I’ve done worse. And Jim Kellerman is paying me somewhat handsomely for a few hours of work. So there’s that.

It’s mid-June, the air sticks to you out here. My clothes hang on me like laundry on a line. It’s hard to gain weight in this profession because heat suppresses your appetite. There’s a sense of peace to it as well, like I’d imagine you’d get from some religious fasting. So, I tell my customers that if their diet isn’t working try heat exhaustion.

Between the Kellerman’s place and the neighbor’s place is this narrow walkway full of dog turds—which I crab-crawled through earlier. I’ve had to get kind of creative with putting up Jim Kellerman’s big ass TV because his deck is on the second floor and I don’t have a ladder that high. But Kellerman has a ladder. So I took my ladder and I took Kellerman’s ladder and I attached the two with rope and duct tape.

From the deck, Jim Kellerman’s giving me the rundown of his marriage. Apparently the wife and he are not seeing eye-to-eye in the bedroom. “Sam won’t even look at me during sex,” he says. “She either turns away, into the pillow, or closes her eyes. Now how many women do you know who do that?”

“Not many.”

“She’s up to something,” he tells me, “I know it.”

My arms are starting to shake. Sweats trickling down the middle of my belly. Of the women I’ve had, I’ve only repeated with one. And Sarah has blocked my number.

I ask Kellerman if he’s tried talking to his wife. If he’s tried hearing her side of things.

“Every time we talk we fight.”

I read on a garden rock once that in times of conflict we must be the calming water.

“How long has this been going on,” I ask.

Jim Kellerman doesn’t respond at first, then he says, “since always.”

Being a handyman is as much about odd jobs as it is about free therapy. Any given day I might be on my stomach trying to run an illegal cable line from the roof of a housing complex. And while the tenant holds my legs, he or she might engage me in a conversation about couples counseling or old dog adoption. While I offer them suggestions, part of me hopes their enthusiasm for fine living will rub off on me.

I set the TV into the hook and let out a deep breath, shake out my arms. “I think this’ll work,” I say while climbing off the big ass ladder.

I look up at Kellerman on the deck. “What do you think?”

“I think Sam is cheating on me.”

Suddenly and without warning, the big ass ladder crumbles apart.

“Well, that’s no good.”

 

I make my way through the backyard—also full of dog poop—and up the stairs to Jim Kellerman’s deck. The Kellerman’s backyard looks out to the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor has that fake grass, and they got the stuff laid around this sort of Zen garden complete with Buddha statue and reflecting pool. I’m lucky to have not been on that ladder when it collapsed. But I also wonder— and I think on this a lot—if something bad happening to me would make people more sympathetic to me condition. Guidance counselors, my mother, Sarah. Maybe they’d come back. Maybe they’d return my calls.

“Are you coming?” Kellerman hollers from the deck.

I ascend the final step of the deck and give a thumbs up.

As I’m securing the TV wires, Jim Kellerman says he’s got another job for me and would I be interested. I say I’m always looking for work and what does he need.

“I need you to spy on my wife.”

That is really not my line of work. Kellerman says it would only be for a few days.

“Just follow her around. See if she goes to any shady places. If she’s using two cellphones. That kind of thing.”

“I don’t know,” I say, trying to deflect. “This is my busy season.”

“I’ll give you a thousand bucks.”

I contemplate my future prospects. Tomorrow I’m scheduled to unclog a toilet for a guy who only communicates to me through his house intercom system. I’ve never seen him and likely never will, but I know while I’m jiggling my hand in his toilet bowl, he’ll be watching me through some hidden camera. Will spying on Kellerman’s wife lead me to some weird back alley thing? Probably not.

“If it makes you feel better,” Kellerman says, “you can think of it like babysitting, but from far away.”

This doesn’t make me feel anything.

So the next day I’m spying on Mrs. Kellerman from my Tahoe. Throughout the morning and early afternoon I watch the nanny, the dog walker and the cleaning ladies shuffle in and out of the house. At one point, the neighbor with the Zen stuff drops by. They’re also one of my customers. Sometimes I upcharge them slightly—because I know they can afford it. Their house has an elevator and a roof-top Olympic pool. The thing to know about most of the people in this area of the city is that they’d rather pay me a little more money than spend time finding someone else. Plus, I’m semi-reliable and know the best places to adopt a golden doodle.

No telling what the neighbor and Mrs. Kellerman are doing inside, so I decide to call Sarah to see if she’s still blocking my number. It rings three times, four times, and then goes to voice mail like usual. I figure I’ll try again later.

Eventually, the neighbor walks out and I mark the time—1:38pm—and the event—Zen neighbor exits through front door—per Jim Kellerman’s request.

I’ve been doing this since 7am. My rear hurts from sitting and Jim Kellerman doesn’t come home until at least 6pm. I open my door to stretch my legs and my cellphone rings.

“This is Todd.”

“This is Sam Kellerman.”

“What can I do for you Mrs. Kellerman?”

“Why are you watching my house.” I almost drop the phone.

I force a laugh. “What makes you say that?”

“I can see you across the street, Todd.” Jim Kellerman’s wife says my name in a way that makes it sound like everything in my life to this point has been a mistake. I look at the front of the Kellerman’s house. She’s standing on the front porch, looking right at me.

“Come here,” she says, then hangs up the phone.

 

At the Kellerman’s kitchen table I confess to everything. Sam Kellerman is making both of us a mixed drink. Something with orange zest and bitters and some clear alcohol. She seems to know what she’s doing. She pours the concoction into two small mason jars. I’m typically a beer guy, but I accept, because I don’t feel I have a choice here. Jim Kellerman’s wife is at once incredibly attractive, with soft green eyes and blond hair, and incredibly intimidating. There’s a strict decisiveness to her movements, her muscles are tight and she talks with a confidence I’ve known only in women who hate me.

“And he’s paying you?”

I nod. “A pretty good rate.”

She takes a drink from her drink and then smiles at me. I feel more comfortable now, maybe she’s sympathetic to my situation. I return the smile back.

“Cheers,” she says and we clink our little jars. She pushes a few strands of yellow hair behind her ear. I take a drink of my drink. It’s a very strong drink. She drinks hers quickly and so I drink mine quickly. Then she makes another round.

I try my best to take stock of what happens next. There’s the marble stairs and the Kellerman’s bedroom. The softest sheets I’ve ever felt. Hanging on the way, a picture of Sam and Jim Kellerman on beach somewhere.

I am convinced we do bad things because we find a way to justify them to ourselves in the moment. As I kiss Sam Kellerman’s mouth, I close my eyes and imagine it’s my ex-girlfriend’s mouth, Sarah’s mouth. The same with Sam Kellerman’s neck and breasts and all the other parts of her.

When it’s over I am panting and sweaty. I know I am just a vehicle for revenge, but I still try sliding my arm around her as a sort of lean-in cuddle thing, something I did with Sarah.

“Let’s run away,” she whispers in my ear, and for a second I imagine it’s Sarah saying this.

I turn my head on the pillow and look at her, Sam’s green eyes gaze back at me. “Really?”

She gets up and starts dressing. “Of course not,” she says flatly, “Don’t kid yourself into thinking this is anything other than what it is.”

I sigh a little and run my hand over the warm spot where she was just lying.

“Todd,” she says. “Get out of my house.”

So I get out of the house.

Of course, when I’m walking to my truck I run into Jim Kellerman, who is apparently getting home from work and the bar.

“You wana see my new stereo?” Jim Kellerman smells like straight whiskey.

So I follow Jim Kellerman back into his house. Sam is sitting at the kitchen island next to all the knives.

“Honey cakes,” he yells, “I’m home.”

“I missed you,” she says without taking her eyes off the fridge TV.

“I missed you too baby.”

I can tell that I’m now in the middle of something far beyond my depth. But for now Jim Kellerman leads me passed his wife.

We take the elevator to get to the stereo. There’s a leather coach and the entertainment system. It’s made of stainless steel pipe with black granite shelves. The speakers come up to my chest. Very sleek set up.

“Sam said it was this or the motorcycle. I’m still going to buy the motorcycle though. Once I make this sale I’ve been working on.”

Jim Kellerman tells me about the sale. “These people are fucking cocksuckers.” And that’s all he tells me about the sale.

He puts on a Boston record, The Boston record. “More Than A Feeling” plays and we listen. Jim Kellerman cranks it loud, definitely loud enough for Sam to hear in the kitchen.

He has me stand in the middle of the room and says it’s the best spot for optimum tunage. “People think the more decibels the louder it gets. But you and I are talking perfectly fine right now.” Jim is practically an inch away from my face. “That’s called pure sound.”

“Right. That’s neat,” I say. I take a step back. My head is starting to hurt and I think of what I did less than an hour ago, just a floor below. Right where my forehead scrunches in to make a butt, that’s where my head is throbbing.

“It’s super loud, but we can still talk, you know.”

I take a smaller step away. I ask him what he’d like to talk about.

“What?”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Nothing. I’m just saying that’s how good the sound is.”

“It is a good sound.” My head is splitting. Maybe it’s my guilt trying to escape.

 

I stop at the liquor store on the way home and spend some of the thousand bucks on beer and a bag of ice. I drink two of the beers in my car to kill the headache. Then I drink a third one on the drive home.

I try to block out what happened and my mind goes to Sarah. I think of last year around this time. We were at a mutual friend’s place. There were couples and non-couples, friends I didn’t know. We all drank a lot, but I guess I had more. At some point Sarah found me on the couch with one of the new friends. Apparently the new friend and I were kissing. If I had to relive it again, would I have done things differently? Probably.

At night I get four beers into season seven of Alien Encounters and for some reason decide to call Sarah. I turn down the volume on the TV. There’s like a damn monsoon out my window. Really coming down. The phone rings, three times, four times.

“Hello?”

“Sarah?”

“Todd.”

“You’re not ignoring my calls.”

“Not this time.”

“How’ve you been?”

“Fine.”

“I think about you. I think about how things… you know. I feel terrible about—”

She sighs. “Todd, I’m engaged now.”

On TV they’re showing a dramatic recreation of this reptile-like alien walking through a motel room. The room has these blue curtains that the camera moves through to track the alien. There’s a woman in the motel room and she’s crying she’s so scared.

“What’s that?”

“I’m getting married.”

I take a long drink of my beer. “You’re getting married.”

“Yes.”

“I’m not going to ask to who.” I finish my beer and immediately open another one. “Because you’re a bitch.” I’m standing up now.

“You’re drunk.”

“I’ve had a little.”

“Todd. Please stop calling me.”

“Well go fuck yourself Sarah.”

For some reason I get it in my head that going out and standing in the rain is a good idea, so I go outside and stand in the rain. The rain is nice. I let it hit me, let it do its thing. I walk down to the empty lot where the street lamps don’t work. I just stand there a while getting soaked and watching the sky, not looking for anything. At some point I go back inside.

It’s still raining the next morning, Saturday. There are eight missed calls on my phone, all from Jim Kellerman. I’m still in my chair, the TV is still on, and it’s just passed 7am. My phone rings. It’s Jim Kellerman. Technically this is off hours. I let it go to the voice mail I’ve never set up. It rings again.

“This is Todd.”

“Are you alone?” It’s Sam Kellerman calling on Jim’s phone.

I sit up in my chair. “Yes, are you?”

“No. Listen, the storm blew the TV down.”

“TV?”

“Yeah.”

“Jim needs you to come over.”

“Right now?”

“He just wants you to come over.” She hangs up.

 

I haul the ladder and my toolbox down the turd alley, which has turned into a wet turd wind tunnel. And it’s dark because the sun can’t cut through the storms. I bang my head on an overhanging part of the house. When all this is over, I’m going to recommend Jim Kellerman install a spotlight back here. I won’t charge him.

The TV is dangling by a thread off the neighbor’s brick, liable to fall at any moment.

I climb up to the deck and bang on the sliding glass door. I can see into the kitchen, there’s the hurried remains of many mixed drinks on the counters. Suddenly Jim Kellerman emerges in a white bathrobe and bath slippers. He has some sort of cocktail in his hand. He’s remarkably drunk. He puts up his finger to tell me to give him a second, then turns to yell something, presumably at Sam. He slides open the door.

“Good, you’re finally here. Here to save the day,” he says, “You want a drink?”

I shake my head. “I need your ladder.”

“Of course.” He pats his robe for keys and steps onto the deck.

I follow him to the stairs leading to the garage. As he’s descending the steps he slips and falls right on his rear.

“I’m okay. Drinks okay. We’re good.”

There in the pounding rain, sitting on his ass, he gives me the thumbs up and takes a drink from his drink.

I get the two ladders taped together and lean them up against the neighbor’s.

“You want me to hold it?” Jim Kellerman asks.

“That’d be ideal.”

“Well, let me go get a new drink and then we’ll do this. We’re gonna do it.”

I watch him almost fall again, grabbing the railing for support. His bathrobe is soaking wet, must weigh thirty pounds.

I start climbing the ladder to the TV. The rain is loud on the deck, sloshing in the gutters. The hook that was supposed to hold up the TV is bent, clean at a 90-degree angle. As if someone or something had tugged on it. I step back down to grab my drill and a new hook.

Jim Kellerman and Sam Kellerman are now on the deck screaming at each other in the rain. I act like I don’t hear them, try to give them their privacy, and climb back up the ladder.

I start drilling into the wall and between the buzz of the drill and the rain this temporarily blocks them out. They’re really going at it. Jim Kellerman is screaming. Sam Kellerman is screaming. Jim Kellerman is crying and Sam Kellerman is crying. And just I’m trying to fit the TV onto the new hook.

At some point the distinct of sound of glass hitting siding cuts through the shouting and the rain. I turn on the ladder to see and as I do the big ass ladder breaks.

I guess I was asking for this all along. The ladders go down, I go down, and the TV comes down with us. At some point I hit my head on something or something hits my head, maybe a part of one of the ladders. I don’t feel much, not even the rain, which is probably for the best. 


Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago. He writes about music, craft beer and culture for Shuga Records, Substream Magazine and ANCHR Magazine. His super weird and highly offensive fiction has appeared previously in Drunk Monkeys as well as in Praxis Magazine, Word Eater, Defenestration and many places you’ve probably never heard of. Kevin is the creator of a really terrible magazine called LeFawn. He is also a co-editor with Long Day Press. He did not vote for Trump.