The Man in Room 145

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: January 09, 2018

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Submitted: January 09, 2018

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In a nondescript brownstone walk-up on 9th avenue in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, an old man cries alone in his fourth floor apartment. The man sits in his underwear reading and rereading a yellow piece of paper. He’s been doing this for days. He doesn’t eat and the only rest he gets is when he passes out on occasion. The apartment is a mess and he smells bad. Empty vodka bottles litter the retired old priest’s room. He doesn’t care. Father Sera lays his head down on the cold Formica kitchen table and stares into a half empty milk bottle. The contents now spoiling after two day out of the ice box. He doesn’t see the milk, the bottle or anything else.

 

The morning sun, defused by the large beveled cut windows in the building’s front door, flooded the hallway and made Mrs. Yanowski squint her eyes as she descended the stairs. Jimmy Dorsey’s saxophone could be heard behind the manager’s door that was just right of the mailboxes. She walked over to the little ornate brass boxes and fished a large ring of keys from her purse. She looked at the manager’s door and promptly dropped them. The keys made a sound like broken bells when they hit the old mosaic entry tile. She waited a beat, then scooped them up. She watched the door. Nothing. The Polish lady moved a little closer and dropped them a second time. The door opened.

 

“Good morning, Mrs. Yanowski.” the manager said, in an annoyed voice.

“Oh, good morning, Mrs. Taber.” Mrs. Yanowski said, in a surprised voice.

“What good luck it is to be running into you.” she continued.

“Is it really?” Mrs. Taber said, looking down at the large ring of keys in front of her door.

“Oh, yes. I accidentally dropped them.” she said, and stooped to pick them up.

“Twice?” Mrs. Taber asked, with mild amusement.

“And in front of my door? How conv….” she was saying when Mrs. Yanowski cut her off.

“The man in 145, Mrs. Taber.”

“What about him, Mrs. Yanowski?” she asked, back to being annoyed.

“It’s just...he’s smelling up the hall! You have to talk to him again, Mrs. Taber. I won’t live in a smelly building. I won’t!” she said in a huff.

 

Mrs. Taber hadn’t spoken to him the first or the second time. The truth was she had lied to her tenants. Mr. Sera hadn’t been any trouble since he moved in five years ago. He kept to himself, never complained and he always paid his rent on time. But she knew she would have to do so soon. Mrs. Yanowski was right. He was starting to smell up the whole floor.

 

“Yes, Mrs. Yanowski. I will talk to him again.” she said.

“Today?” Mrs. Yanowski pressed.

She let out a sigh.

“Yes. Today, Mrs. Yanowski.” she said.

 

The older Polish woman raised her chin a bit and let out a “Hmm” as she turned and headed back towards the stairs.

 

“Oh, Mrs. Yanowski! You forgot to get your mail!” Mrs. Taber called after her.

 

She had made it up three steps and looked at her Landlady over her left shoulder.

 

“I got it last night. Good day, Mrs. Taber.” she said, and continued up the stairs.

 

Father Sera now lets the tears flow freely. The thin wrinkled tissue under his faded blue eyes, torn and raw from the wiping of tears. His mind flies back over the years. All of those secrets. The hiding his true self. His treasure and his curse. The fact was, the real true love of his life was considered a sacrilege. So, he hid his love away and doted on him when he could. He was a beautiful young man. Father Sera kept him in a nice apartment far from his own parish but close enough to see him on occasion. He bought him nice clothes and a car. He even put the boy through university. One day though, when he was able to sneak some time with him, the boy uttered the words Father Sera dreaded but knew one day he’d hear. And so the boy went off to see what else lay out there in the world for him. He kissed the boy goodbye and bravely hid his tears. Father Sera was heartbroken. The beautiful boy had gone. He did received unsigned postcards from all over the states...for awhile. The cards stopped coming and one day the priest stopped looking for them. He had his memories and they would have to do. Right now they played through his mind like an 8mm home movie, but with better detail. The old man’s eyes burned and his breath came and went in shudders. He pushed the yellow piece of paper off the table with a controlled rage.

 

After the pots had been watered on the stoop, the entryway mopped and late notices placed in mailboxes, Mrs. Taber could put it off no more. She retrieved her manager’s keys from her office and trudged her way up the eight flights of stairs and to apartment 145. Before reaching the third floor she could smell something foul on the air. By the time she reached the fourth floor landing, her hand was over her mouth and nose. She knocked on the dry old door in rapid a succession five times. Down the hall she heard doors opening. Mrs. Yanowski came out and stood glaring at her from her door. Mrs. Taber glared back but the effect was lost behind her covering hand. She turned and knocked again.

 

“Mr. Sera!” she shouted into the door.

“Mr. Sera! Open this door, please. This is your landlady Mrs. Taber. Please open this door!” she said.

 

A few more people entered the hall from their apartments.

 

“You’ll just have to go in.” said Mrs. Yanowski. There was a mumble of agreement from the onlookers.

“I’ll ask you all kindly to mind your own business and go back in your apartment, Mrs. Yanowski.” she replied.

 

The Polish lady only folded her arms and held her ground. The others followed suit.

 

Mrs. Taber pulled the keys from her smock pocket and inserted her master in the door. She turned and looked at the pushy woman.

 

“You stay right there.” she said before entering the retired priest’s apartment.

 

She immediately gagged. The smell was overwhelming. She looked about the room. It was in a terrible state. Empty booze bottles and dirty clothes. She would have never guessed the quiet old man was like this. She moved into the kitchen and froze. There in front of her was the reason for the smell. Sitting in a dining chair, was a skinny gray corpse. It lay across the small kitchen table staring at her with dry eyes and an open mouth. Behind her she heard

 

“Oh, Mary, mother of Christ!”

 

She turned and saw Mrs. Yanowski with her own hand now over her nose and mouth, cross the living room and throw open the windows and curtains. The Polish woman then gagged as a wave of putrescent air rushed by her and out of the room.

 

“Get out of here, Lena!” Mrs. Taber shouted at her tenant, and then coughed out the corrupt air she used to say it with.

 

“What’s this?” the Polish woman asked, as she ignored her and pushed on into the kitchen.

 

She bent down and picked up the yellow Western Union telegram that lay on the floor.

 

Mrs. Taber looked around the room and felt depressed. It wasn’t the dead man that made her feel this way. She had found many bodies over the years. All she could think about at the moment was the mess the old drunk had left for her.

 

Lena nudged her arm.

 

“What?!” she snapped at the Pole.

“Read it, Margaret. I can not read English so well.” she said.

 

Annoyed with everything, she grabbed the telegram from her and read it out loud.

 

“Commander’s Office, US Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii”

 

“Dear Sir - STOP- It is with my deepest regret to inform you that your son Lt. John Mark Sera - STOP - Was killed in action on 7 December - STOP - while saving the lives of three of his men in a fire aboard the USS Oklahoma (BB 37) - STOP - Dear Sir - STOP - your son died a hero - STOP”

 

The telegram was dated 10 December 1941. Two weeks ago.

 

“That poor man.” the two of them said in unison.


© Copyright 2018 R.Guy Barringer. All rights reserved.

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