for Manuel

The following is an excerpt from a short story that was published in an edited version in Flowers & Serpents, Volume 3: A Summer Reader of Short Fiction by New Niu Press.

Daniel Brinks awoke to the fact that rent was overdue. A four note fortissimo startled him into consciousness. Repeated at short intervals, the motif of Beethoven’s Fifth was rattling his apartment door in its frame. His landlord’s insistant signature knocking sent him from sitting up straight in bed to jumping into his jeans.

“¡Tranquilo!” he yelled towards the door. While he threw on a shirt, he located his three valuable possessions. He slid his phone into his pocket, grabbed the laptop from the desk and stuffed it into his messenger bag. The camera was hanging from the coatrack next to the door.

“Coming!” he shouted as he hopped about, slipping on his worn-out Chuck’s one after the other. Back in bed, a figure stirred, stretched and yawned. Daniel’s date from the night before slipped on panties and made her way to the tiny bathroom, muttering “¡Qué rollo!”

“Ya abro.” Even before he swung the apartment door wide open, Daniel could smell his landlord’s Partagas smoke wafting in from the hallway.

“Señor Lopez, so kind of you to call on me, ¡Entra, entra!”

Daniel retreated back into the apartment, ushering the landlord in with hurried gestures.
In the hallway, señor Lopez sucked in the air so his white shirt visibly tightened across his chest, maneuvered the cigar stump from one end of his mouth to the other with a chewing motion and hitched up his pants before he stepped forward.

“Tres meses! Tres!” he pointed out with thick fingers while sticking an open hand in Daniel’s face demandingly.

“Sí, sí” Daniel said as he looked about him, checking if he might have forgotten something. Wallet and passport were in the messenger bag. He spotted his jacket slung over the back of a chair. The landlord’s eyes followed his, and he planted himself more firmly in the doorway. Daniel moved towards the jacket.

Did he owe three months already? Spring had swept across these floorboards, and now, at the onset of her summer sister, it was already hot in the one room atico. Señor Lopez took out a cotton handkerchief and wiped his brow with it.

Daniel picked up the jacket and laid it over his arm. Turning to face señor Lopez, he said “I have to leave for work, but I’m happy to step out with you and we can find an ATM together.” He was hoping to lure him into the elevator or simply out into the hallway, away from the door he was blocking.

The toilet flushed, and as the girl reappeared in the doorway, it occurred to Daniel that she looked nothing like the Tinder profile picture on which he had swiped right.

Señor Lopez gawped and took the cigar stump out of his mouth. He made a step towards the topless apparition. Daniel lunged for the camera, managed to retrieve it from its hook and sling it over his shoulder on top of the messenger bag, and side-stepped señor Lopez as he turned around in his spot.

He took the steps of the narrow spiral staircase two at a time, clutching his jacket tightly and holding onto the straps of his bag and camera with the other hand. He hammered on the button of the elevator one floor below, just to make absolutely sure the landlord wouldn’t overtake him should he decide to come after him in the slow and tiny cage. Señor Lopez didn’t; instead, he stood gripping the top banister and leaning over it in rage. He hurled expletives and the chewed-on cigar after him, its scent and the words cabron and coño already an afterthought, Daniel’s memory of the apartment fading like the face of his hook-up.

He lept from the front door and hit Carrer d’Ataülf running. Bar Mingus at the corner had its shutters up, either already or still open, with laughter and beer fumes drifting out into the street together with the smokers. Daniel said a quiet goodbye to the place; he’d avoid it, lest he ran into señor Lopez on the street. Another one on a long list of places where he’d better not show his face. As if in pursuit for real, he was weaving in and out of guided tours.

Newly homeless once again, Daniel tried to recount how many landlords he had run out on in the past year. He lost count after five. However, having split on one debtor, he was just in time for meeting the next one.

He ignored all the shopping temples left and right, loud music blasting from boutiques and shoe stores. He was nearing the end of the Avenida, and Plaça de Catalunya came into view, one of his least favorite places to meet anyone or hang out.

He posted himself on the island in front of El Corte Inglés. A bus pulled up and threw his reflection at him, and Daniel had a brief glimpse of his unshaven self. The stubble did little to hide his boyish face. His ex-girlfriend had always called him pollo in the mornings, because his hair tended to paste itself to the sides of his skull while he slept, so that the usually woke up with a comb sticking up in the middle.

“A young chicken, born in spring,” Ona had used to tease him.

He passed a hand through the mess on top of his head and then over his eyes. Over time, her doting nickname had become one of disapproval, and she had called him the headless chicken, running around without aim or purpose.

He hardly had time to roll a number before he spotted Shasia stepping off the aerobus. He pocketed the joint, hoisted his shoulder bag and siddled over to where she stood squinting in the sun. As he approached, she shook her blonde hair, lit a long filter cigarette and threw her arms open exaggeratedly. He leaned in for the hug, she exhaled behind his back, gave him a small pat and rub and then took a look at him. She lowered her Gucci shades from her hair over her eyes and said, “Boy, you reek of sex! Did you abandon another tourist tramp on the morning after?”

“Something like that,” he replied.

“I could use a shower myself,” she said. She glanced at her wristwatch.

“It’s too early to check in at my hotel, would you mind taking me to your place?”

“I could go for some breakfast,” Daniel countered. “Don’t you want some breakfast?”

“Daniel,” she whined, “I’ve just stepped off a transatlantic, I want to freshen up. Don’t tell me whatever easy girl you managed to lure back to your pad is still there?”

“Come on, don’t be a baby, we’ll find a sunny spot, grab something to eat, and then you can check in and take all the showers you want.”

“Where are you staying these days, anyway? Have you moved again – wait, do you even have a shower?”

“Where are YOU staying,” he asked, “that they don’t let you check in before noon? You think because I owe you money you can order me around like a busyboy?”

Shasia took another drag of her cigarette, let it drop on the asphalt and ground it out with one of her high-heeled boots. Exhaling through her nostrils in mock exasperation, she said, “Fine. Breakfast it is. Lead the way.”Jakob writes - Happy For A While - New Niu Press Jakob writes - Happy For A While - New Niu Press Jakob writes - Happy For A While - New Niu Press

This short story was first published in June 2015 by New Niu Press in Flowers & Serpents, Volume 3: A Summer Reader of Short Fiction.