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FICTION / Bodhisattva / William Lemon

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As I dragged the king mattress from my apartment, a menagerie of OC Bros offered to assist me. Each had the same stammering laugh when I declined their help. Their voices floated about, echoing throughout the deep, drab canyons of the alleyway. I left the mattress slumped over near the trash bin to escape the noise. 

It still followed.   

Back in the apartment, the mattress left an imprint on my beige carpeting. The alteration led me to rearrange the entire room, moving the television and fiddle leaf and chiffonier to the stained-side of the room, while the new twin went underneath the window. Now, as I reclined in bed, I could survey the entire courtyard, even the mail area. 

“Elpis, please play Air Supply,” I said, head propped up against the wall, scanning the common area to see if someone had taken the old mattress. “Elpis, play Air Supply. Play Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” 

No response. When I reached Elpis, the cord dangled near the outlet, yet didn't touch. Her crown flashed the entire color spectrum once plugged in.  

I opened the bedroom window, then asked her to play the song once again. The salty air drifted in from the outside, the sun burned orange. Elpis did not play music, though. She spoke in a manner I'd never heard before. 

“If I crush this beer, will I be hungover tomorrow?” Elpis said, in her mechanical voice. “Brian seems to be able to take down so many. I better keep up. Last time I didn’t, he called me a pussy and hit me in the nuts.”

The two boys on the stairs heard her as well. One pointed and laughing. The other fell quiet, eyes fixated on me. The beer he’d been drinking dropped, too, foaming between the steps. In haste, the boy retreated to 3b. The beer continued down the stairs and Elpis went quiet.

After spending almost two hours on the phone with technical support, I decided it was time for my ritual. I brought out the vodka, hands fluttering with anticipation. Before beginning the process, I plugged Elpis back in. “You're The Inspiration” wafted around me, filling my living room with life. Instead of pouring the vodka into the glass, I took it as a shot. I chased it with sour orange juice. I tossed the jigger in the sink. The mental clanged against the porcelain, ringing out like a church bell. The noise continued long after it should.  

 

****

 

When I arrived at the Bungalow Bar & Grille, another miracle occured. I sauntered about the pool table without being jostled or asked to remove my drink from the felt. I played whatever music I wanted on the jukebox. I could even cozy up on the wicker rattan furniture outside. Not a soul questioned my existence. It felt like I waited for him at home. 

Hours later, Erik Estrada arrived with entourage in tow, a collection of guys in Hawaiian shirts and sandals. Despite his age, the wrinkles about his eyes could not be seen in this light, nor could you notice his sagging midsection. If only the same could be said for me.  

He sauntered toward the bar, stopping for selfies along the way. Once at his destination, he leaned against the wood, facing away from the bartender, and even when the man asked for his order, he remained positioned toward the entrance. The bartender reached over the counter to alert him but was stopped by one of his compatriots. This man held up four fingers, then pointed at a bottle of tequila on the middle shelf. When the barkeep accidentally reached too high, the entire group yelled for him to go back down to the lower shelf. The posse took two rounds, one right after the other, pausing only to yelp after the drink. 

I sauntered toward the group, but before Erik and his crew could react to my presence, I stumbled, falling toward them. Instead of hitting the ground, Erik caught me in his arms, scooping me up before I crashed. 

“Careful, kid, these California earthquakes will really getcha.”

Erik’s entire posse laughed at the joke, watching in awe as he placed me right side up. He gave his crew a round of high fives. Someone ordered more shots. Erik did not move. He stood there in that white linen shirt, two notches unbuttoned, smiling, waiting for me to speak.

“You gotta stop causing them,” I replied, eyes squinting in a seductive manner. 

Before he could respond, I found myself fleeing toward the door, trained on the exit. I didn’t want to leave, yet every fiber of my being told me to do so. Flexors and extensors expanded and contracted with ease, and not even the copious amount of alcohol could impede my progress forward. Though I did not turn back, I knew the collective stared at me, tracing my every movement. In the moment, I knew I would become a mysterious woman, a modern Cinderella; however, that feeling began to fade just outside the door. A sudden weight appeared on my chest. 

At home, Elpis played what I wanted, drowning out the “what ifs.” As Air Supply crooned, I drank, actually pressing my lips against the bottle. I didn't stop drinking until the entire supply had been vanquished.  

 

****

 

I awoke sometime later, pulled out of my drunk-slumber by a Elpis’s voice.

“Dude, Amber hasn't texted me in a hour. What’s her problem? She with Todd?”

Voices murmured outside my apartment as well. Near my window, I noticed a group of guys drinking beer, probably about five feet away. One even spoke about Amber. He attempted to leave, but his group of friends held him back. Inside, Elpis began to swear, letting out a string of expletives. I sat and listened until the boys left the courtyard. During their rants, I listened with both hands under my chin, nose close to the window. I tossed and turned in bed when they finally left. 

“Elpis, read my mind,” I said, laughing as I did. “Cure my hangover.”

“I don't see Diane as an available device. Please select from the following available devices in the Elpis app.”

I dismissed the thought. It wasn’t until morning, when coffee washed away my hangover, I decided to explore this new development. Once logged into the app on my phone, I found a list of names as she implied.  

Brian T.

Eric A.

Erik G. 

Jake F. 

Taj B.

Taj J.

Tyler S. 

Winston S.

The list went on. I scrolled through, pressing names, listening to their inner thoughts. The act felt hypnotic. Each person at my whim. The reverie broke around nine. The OC bros around me had all been claimed by jobs and the ocean, shuffling to their respective Toyota trucks in with deishleved ties or damp boardshorts. I then shifted my focus.  

Once I’d finished the plans for my next meeting with Erik, I went out into the common area to fetch my old King mattress. Rain created a waterlogged mess. Despite numerous attempts to dry it out with towels and cat litter as the Internet suggested, I still had a wet, shit-smelling mess. I gave up six hours in. On credit, I bought a new one. 

****

 

Just before he arrived at the bar, I took out Elpis, placing her on the empty barstool I’d reserved with my purse. While I allowed her head to poke out of my handbag, I had to let the cord dangle until I found an outlet. 

A grinding noise piqued my attention. Behind the counter, a bartender used a blender to make a frozen margarita; it wasn’t one of those cheap, battery operated ones, either. The blender displayed force. 

Once the bartender left, I reached over and unplugged it with ease. He soon returned, and then placed several dirty cups on the counter. We shared a smile before he went back to washing dirty glasses by hand. 

At the moment her crown glowed with purpose, I heard a woman's voice scream in the distance, echoing throughout the bar like some banshee. Someone must’ve noticed my Erik. I pictured him in his lenin shirt, hair curling out between the buttons with grace. Before I could check, though, an OC Bro wormed his way up to the bar. Elpis began speaking.

“I wish she would’ve done something else,” Elpis said, in her mechanical voice. “She could’ve talked to me first. Abuse is such a strong word.”

“What the fuck is your little box saying, lady?” the OC Bro interrupted. 

He began to push me against the bartop with his chest, leaving me pressed up against the bar.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied, not looking at him. 

Undeterred, he pushed me again. I began to climb upward on the bar, attempting to find anything that would facilitate my ascent. A stray elbow knocked Elpis over. She went down, careening toward where the bartender washed glasses. He appeared oblivious to the entire scene. 

In my mind, once Elpis tumbled in the sink, it would kill him. His hair would stand on end, skeleton now visible. In reality, Elpis’s plug detached before hitting the water. The bartender, of course, didn’t treat Elpis as some inanimate object. He threw up his hands, sending both Elpis and several glasses into the air. Then, he stumbled backward into the wall of alcohol, knocking down half the shelf as he came to a stop. 

I stumbled, then slid over the counter only to find Erik already there. 

“Do you have any medical training, babe?” he shouted at me, though not in a stern or reprimanding way. “‘Cause if not, leave it to a professional.”

I, frantically, inched backward from the scene of the crime. As I shuffled away, I reached down to snatch Elpis from the wreckage below The crowd congregated behind the bar, creating a disjointed ring around the fallen man. 

Once I had the freedom to act, I plugged her back into the outlet. Elpis didn’t falter. She turned on as if nothing had happened. Without reservation, I scrolled through the list of male names at the bar, searching for his. I had to go through the list twice to discover him. My heart burst the moment Elpis alerted me that she connected to Erik. 

I pressed her up against my ear, but there was nothing but quiet. Not static, nor the crinkle of electricity, nothing. To check if she was working, I switched over to another man. She worked perfectly, but when I switched back to Erik, I found that nothing came from her plastic body. 

The paramedics and fire department both arrived at the same time. Red and white lights flashed outside, and the collective calvary arranged itself on the street, swarming the air as if this were occupied land. Erik paused for a moment, acknowledging the racket, but then turned away, focusing on the bartender. Each movement seemed fluid in a way that only a twenty-year expert could replicate. Once the paramedics came, they, along with the firemen, congratulated him, offering thanks in the form of high fives and those shoulder-to-shoulder hugs that are ever-present in greetings nowadays. Only one lone paramedic tended to the man below. The rest took pictures with him.

I was about to give up, yet he then broke away from the crowd, making his way toward me. I cradled Elpis in arm, stunned, unable to move. 

“Hey, I wanted to talk to you about what you did back there,” Erik said, touching my non-Elpis arm when he reached me. “That’s some nerve.”

“Ah, well, oh no. He’s not hurt?”

“Maybe,” he replied. “But that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.”

He moved even closer to me. It felt like the kind of closeness that might make strangers in an elevator inch away. He licked his lips before speaking. Alcohol and sweat dotted the pinky flesh like fresh snow.

“You leapt into action, just like me. You didn’t care for your well-being.”

“Just doing what’s right, you know.”

“Too true,” he replied, moving his hand to my chin. “Well, I’ll be seeing you around, kid.”

Once he left the scene, Elpis glowed, her halo pulsating with color. Once again, she found Erik, hooking directly into his soul. I turned her all the way up, making sure she went to the highest volume setting.

“Man, that bitch has a fine ass,” Elpis said, speaking as Erik. “Gotta get that waitress’ number.”

“Wait, what? The fuck?” I said, out loud, and not at all inside my head.

Elpis, uncharacteristically, repeated herself. 

“Goddamn, that bitch has a fine ass.”

I stood there for a moment, mouth slightly agape, Elpis still in my hand. That fucking piece of shit strutted around the room like a goddamn peacock, leading the charge with his little dick, high fiving all those who’d give him attention. The manager gave him a shot, then took a selfie with him. That small cock asshole gulped it up without a care in the world. 

The static returned. No longer could I hear his thoughts. Only white noise emitted from the machine in my hands, a cacophony of nothingness. I unplugged Elpis from the bar, then headed toward the exit. 

 A groundswell of music came from the traffic in the distance. Horns and voices created a fractured melody. With my right hand, I fumbled with Elphis’s cord, checking to see if she remained unplugged. She was. 

As I sauntered off, I saw different shapes in the constellations above. Andromeda, unchained, winked at me. The once-lively expressions of the congregation of people in the bar seemed stoic. I turned back just before the end of Beach Boulevard, searching the crowd. He was in the bar, with sycophants about, but his face appeared blank, invisible really. A smile crept across my face before I disappeared into the night.


William Lemon currently teaches creative writing and composition at Los Angeles City College. He has been published at Five:2:One, Chicago Literati, Menacing Hedge, and other places. Find him on Instagram @willlemon.