Mr. Wensler

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Old man trying to make sense of it all.

Submitted: August 15, 2012

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Submitted: August 15, 2012

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© 10/1/2010  John Tavela, author

 

Mr. Wensler

 

When Mr. Wensler came home from his marketing, he saw that the light was on in his bedroom.   He thought that he had switched it off before he had gone out, but decided he had forgotten.  He chuckled at this new absentmindedness.  "Old age, Wensler, you dotard," he said.

He took the few items from the shopping bag and put them away.  He had taken to shopping every day, more for the exercise and something to do than anything else, now that he had admitted to himself that he was an old man.   He had cried the first time he received a Social Security check in the mail, but his humor had taken over and he had since then made a great deal of fun of himself.  It was not, after all, as if there was any fault in being old.

He opened a can of soup, dumped it into a pan, diluted it, and put the pan on the stove to heat.   As he entered the room, he was shocked to see that a toilet had been put in one corner.  At first he thought it was a prank, but he saw the toilet was bolted to the floor and was filled with water.  He pushed the handle and the toilet flushed.  This seemed to be too much for a joke.

He went to the living room and picked up the phone.  There was the usual long buzz while he waited for the switchboard operator to answer.

"Yes?"

"Miss Thomas?   Can you get me Mrs. Carlyle?"  She was the manager.

He held the receiver against his chest; he could hear Mrs. Carlyle's phone ring through the window opening onto the airshaft.  Her office was almost directly below his apartment although several floors down.   Her telephone bell was extremely loud and off key.  When the telephone's chiming stopped abruptly, he put the hand piece back to his ear.

"Yes, Mrs. Carlyle, Resident Manager, may I help you?"  Wensler thought her voice was especially unctuous today, but he wasn't going to let her get away with anything.

"Mrs. Carlyle, this is Mr. Wensler in 432.  I want to know what the meaning of this new construction in my bedroom is?"

"Why, it's for your convenience."

"What do I need a water closet in my bedroom for?   The bathroom has, even as elderly as I am, always been perfectly close enough for me to use.   It's only a little stroll down the hall; I don't have to take a cab."  He thought he sounded very sarcastic.

"Oh, that.  Oh good.  I was afraid Jason would forget.  His files are disgraceful, but you know how…disorganized these people are.   Just a moment, let me get your card.   Yes, here it is…oh dear, I'm terribly sorry – the brand new unit should have been installed several months ago."

"Why should it be installed at all?" Wensler had shouted.  He apologized.

"As a service to our senior residents, Mr. Wensler, we try to do the little things that keep life at the Blitheway as comfortable and convenient as possible.   At age sixty-five all tenants are entitled to have, at no extra charge a replacement convenience installed.   The new ones are much quieter; I'm sure you'll find.  Jason keeps a suspense file on these installations.  No matter how hard I keep after him, he lets his file become terribly messy.  I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that the delay has cause you.   Now, may I ask you one question?"

"What is it?"  Wensler asked impatiently.

"Did Jason do a good job of cleaning up after the installation?  I'm afraid we've had some complaints of plaster dust and metal shavings being left behind."

"No, no, everything is spotless, but why in the world do I have to have a toilet in my bedroom?"

"Management is bound by the terms of your lease to take whatever actions are necessary to make your stay at the Blitheway as comfortable as possible.  Word of mouth is the only advertising we use.  Please feel free to call upon us for service at any time.   Good-by, Mr. Wensler, and may I wish you a belated happy birthday?"

Wensler hung up angrily.  By the time he calmed down, he had resigned himself to having the toilet in his bedroom.   He had dealt with Mrs. Carlyle for too many years to expect "management" to do anything right or anything that it didn't want to do.  Still, the Blitheway wasn't such a bad place to live.  His friends at the office had always been able to top his complaints with horror stories of no heat in the middle of winter, roaches the size of tanks, and water alternately solid or scalding.  Secretly, he had begun to consider himself lucky in his choice of apartment and thirty-five years had slipped by without his giving a thought to moving.  He was especially happy with the low rent; it did not strain even his retirement income.

He ate his soup with crackers and drank a beer.   Then he settled with a book in front of the television set for the evening.  Many of his friends at the office warned him, half joking, about how bored he'd be in retirement, but he liked to do nothing, to loll reading beneath the stuttering glow of the TV without worrying about getting up in the morning to face a cluttered desk and a hectic day of doing very little.  That was all that was different about retirement.  He kept the same after work pleasures he'd always had, but during the day, he could do what he wanted, not what he had to do.   He did very little during the day, perhaps a visit to the library before food gathering at a super market.   When he felt tired, he took a sitz bath and brushed his dentures.  He put on his pajamas and crawled into bed.  He worked on a crossword puzzle in a paper book for fifteen minutes before he decided to turn off the light.   He fell asleep quickly; sleeping was as easy for him now as it had always been.

He awoke sometime in the middle of the night, gagging slightly on an oyster of phlegm.  He began to turn his body out of the bed to go into the bathroom, but remembered the toilet near by.  He leaned into the corner and spit; the damn thing proved to be convenient after all.

 

********

 

A sheet of paper glided under the door with a hiss.   Wensler picked in up and read it:

To Our Tenants,

We of the Blitheway want you to know how much we appreciate your continued residency.  It is always our pleasure to serve you!

We are all aware of the ravages of inflation.  Skyrocketing maintenance and utility costs have put management in the unfortunate position of having to make a minor increase in rental amounts, although, of course, Blitheway policy is to absorb the great bulk of the inflation.

But there is GOOD NEWS for our SENIOR RESIDENTS living on fixed incomes from pensions and Social Security.  Your rent will remain the same; there will be NO INCREASE despite our increased costs and expanded services.  Where indicated, a slight reduction in your excess living space will be made to partially offset this stabilization of your minimal rent.

As always, we remain here for your comfort.

 

(Mrs.) Belinda Carlyle

Resident Manager

BLITHEWAY LUXURY APARTMENTS

 

 

Wensler almost went to the phone to twit Mrs. Carlyle about the toilet again – increased services like that he hadn't needed.   Still, the damn thing came in handy now and then so

Why bother the poor woman.  She was just stuck here by some absentee landlord, subject to the slings and arrows of outraged tenants.  He crumpled the paper and tossed it into the wastebasket.

 

********

 

Wensler put his package down to work at the door.   He tried to force the key into a lock that it had been opening for three and a half decades.   It would not fit.  For a moment he thought he must have made a mistake, more evidence of incipient senility, but the door had the same grinning face in the wood grain and the same series of dents he had inflected upon it over the years.  There was also the familiar drip of hall paint near the bottom.  It was his door, he was certain, but his key would not fit the lock.  Then he saw the number on it, 423A.  He walked down the hall to the next door; its number was 423.  His key glided into the lock; the tumblers slid with smooth familiarity; the door swung open.  He stepped in.  He was in his bedroom.

There were chunks of plaster on the floor.   The whole room was covered with dust.  His bed and other furniture had been pushed up against the wall under the windows.  On the middle of his bed were what he recognized as the meager contents of his refrigerator and cupboards.  Someone had drunk three of his beers and left the empty cans on the bureau.

He tried the door to the hall of his apartment.  He could not open it.  He thumped it with his hand; he put his shoulder into it, but could not budge it.  He began to pound on it with his shoe.

He pressed his ear against it.  He thought he could hear whispering.  There was a noise that sounded like a telephone being picked up.  He heard the familiar clangor of Mrs. Carlyle's phone.  In a little while a telephone began to ring in the bedroom.  He found it behind the bureau.

"What the hell is this?" he shouted into the receiver.

"Mr. Wensler, this is Mrs. Carlyle.  I've just had a complaint from the tenants who occupy the apartment next to yours.   They say you've been banging on the wall.  Of course, in view of the fact that they are recent arrivals and your one of our senior tenants, I'm certain they must be mistaken.  If you are banging on the wall, however, I must ask you to stop."

"But I can't get out of my bedroom.   My door is stuck.  I was banging because of that."

"Oh, dear!   Jason assured me that your door was properly installed and had been carefully inspected.  We can't have one of our most senior tenants trapped in his apartment.  I'll send him right up.  I'm so sorry.  Oh, Mr. Wensler?  In the meantime, please don't pound on the wall any more.  It does disturb the people next to you.   Thank you."

Wensler began to sputter about the mess in his room but she had hung up.  He opened a beer to calm himself.  It was warm.  Twenty minutes passed, but Jason didn't come.  Finally the phone rang.

"Mr. Wensler, we're being naughty, aren't we?  Jason has just come back and said that your door is open."

"It's jammed shut I tell you."

"Mr. Wensler, were you sitting on your bed drinking a beer a few minutes ago?"

"Yes, this damn mess has me so distraught I was trying to - how do you know that?"

When Jason reported your door was open, I asked him what you were doing to find out if he really went up to check…you know how those people are…and he said that you were sitting on your bed, the door wide open into the hall, drinking a beer."

"Not that door, that door wasn't here when I left.  That's the new door.  I mean the bedroom door that goes to the bathroom and the kitchen and the living room."

"One moment.  No, Mr. Wensler, your apartment is the deluxe furnished senior resident efficiency, all conveniences centrally located in a spacious, handsomely appointed room with windows overlooking a scenic panorama."

"My goddamn windows have overlooked the damn air shaft for the past thirty-five years.   What the hell kind of scenic panorama is that?"

"Well, Mr. Wensler, other tenants are waiting.  I hope you are satisfied that your maintenance request has been satisfactorily fulfilled.

"Shit!"

"Your welcome, Mr. Wensler, and feel free to call for assistance at any time.  Oh, and Mr. Wensler, I note in your file that I failed to inform you that no cooking is permitted in the deluxe senior resident efficiency.  Not that I imagine you have violated the terms of the lease, but merely to prevent any future misunderstanding.   Thank you for letting us serve you.  Good-by."

Wensler held the dead phone to his ear for a moment, then jiggled the cradle.  The phone remained disconnected; the silence in the earpiece seemed menacing.  Wensler put down the phone and went to the door to peer down the hall.  It was the same hall he had been looking at for thirty-five years; there was nothing unusual or frightening about it.  It still smelled bad; it was dirty and dim.  He couldn't be afraid in such familiar surroundings.  He closed the door and went about the business of straightening up.  Then he went to bed and slept.

 

********

 

There was no question about it; the door to the outer hall would not open.  That was the last straw; he would move, even if he had lived in the Blitheway for thirty-five years, even if he had to pay twice as much rent some other place.  He picked up the phone, nothing.  He thumped the door with his forearm, but no one came.  He picked up a full beer can and pounded; there was no response.  He tried banging the can on the door that led to what had been the other rooms of his apartment.  After a little while there was an answering knock.  He pounded harder.  The answer was louder, too.  He smashed at the door with the beer.  The response ceased.  He put his ear to the door; somebody was telephoning.  He pounded again.  On the other side of the door music was turned on very loudly.  It would, he decided, be a matter of a few minutes before some one came to get him out.  

He leaned against the door and listened to the music.  It wasn’t' the kind he liked, but in the circumstances, he found it comforting.  He pulled the ring on top of the can; beer spewed out and soaked him and the wall.  He laughed and laughed:  the old fool's done it again. 

 

********

 

Wensler heard scrabbling on the other side of the door, then a sort of tentative tapping.  He rapped to let them know he was all right.  The tapping stopped.  Wensler eared the door again.   The sound of the music was muffled as though a mattress or heavy quilt had been placed against the door.  Wensler thought, "My god, are they going to blast the door open?"  He jumped away from the door and got behind his dresser, his palms over his ears.  After about fifteen minutes, he decided it had been foolish to think they would blast; they had probably just cushioned the door to protect the wood while they pounded on it.  Indeed, he could hear pounding.  When it stopped, he listened at the door again.  He couldn't hear the music.  He thumped the door to encourage rescuers.  The door gave off a dull solid sound.

 

********

 

Wensler had lost track of the days.   As for tracking nights, he couldn't even be sure of that; a sheet of heavy wood had been fastened over his window.  The motto "To give added protection to our Senior Residents" was painted on his side.  His food had run out days ago, every can battered open and licked clean.  He no longer felt disgust at drinking out of the toilet.  He thought, "Well, so this is how it ends for old fart Wensler.  But what the hell do they get out of it?"

The phone rang.  Wensler took a long time to recognize what the sound was; he had heard no noise not of his own making for what seemed like a long time.  He picked it up.

"Hello," he said very politely.

"Good morning, Mr. Wensler, I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"No, not at all.  Let me out of here!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, this is Mrs. Carlyle.  We've known each other for such a long time, I thought you'd recognized my voice."

"I knew it was you.  What have I done?"

"I'm calling to tell you of a new service to our senior residents, Mobile Meals – no more troublesome trips to the restaurant or food store.   Mobile Meals is available at no cost to the senior resident of the Blitheway as part of our Total Unified Financial Freedom plan for our tenants living on fixed incomes.  Think of it!   No more budget worries, no more scrimping, all expenses taken care of."

"I want to leave."

"There's no obligation, no salesman will call.   This service is available only to residents of Blitheway."

"I want some maintenance.  My door is stuck."

"Certainly, I'll put it on a job slip right away.  I'll write it in red, so you'll get top priority.  Now, what do you think, Mr. Wensler, total financial independence at no cost whatsoever, never an initial charge, never an assessment.  Just give us the authority to plan your affairs.  Incidentally, demand has forced us to limit our MobileMeals service to member of the Total Unified Financial Freedom Plan.  Why worry?"

"You'd let me starve to death otherwise?"

"Mr. Wensler, the plan is completely voluntary.  It's your choice.  You can have as much time as you'd like to think it over.  Should you be dissatisfied with the service, you can leave the plan.  At any time.  There are no strings, no hidden penalty clauses for withdrawing.   And no hard feelings – this is a business relation that has no bearing on our personal friendship.  What could be fairer?  And we take care of all your needs.  Shall we consider you signed up?

"I'll tell you what.  Why don't you try one of our Mobile Meals and then make up your mind.  I can offer you a free introductory meal on the basis of your long residency here.  I would appreciate it, however, if you did not mention it to the other tenants, as they would expect this special offer too.  We do have responsibilities to those already enrolled to keep these complimentary meals to an absolute minimum.  I'm sure you understand.

"And don't worry about the door – you see, I haven't forgotten – it's on a red job slip.  Thank you for calling Blitheway."

 

********

 

The meal turned out not to be the slop Wensler expected, but a veal cutlet sauced with cream of mushroom soup, broccoli, instant mashed potatoes, two slices of Wonder Bread with margarine, chocolate pudding, a small fruit pie and a carafe of coffee.  It was a better meal than Wensler generally fixed for himself.  He ate very slowly, very carefully; he had read about the violent gastric disturbances that followed stuffing oneself after a long fast.  He had planned to ration out the food for a few days, but ate it all anyway.

There was also a slender box containing four cigarettes on the tray that had been delivered through the hidden slot in the bottom of the door.  Wensler did not smoke, but he saved them, for he had also read that anything might come in handy to a prisoner.  HE had hidden all the empty cans under the mattress.  The rings from the pop-top beer cans were secreted in the bottom of his drapes.  His butter dish he had sunk in the toilet tank.  He had taken the staples out of two magazines and hidden them in the light fixture in the middle of the ceiling.  He had slipped a paperclip found under the bed into a crevice in the windowsill.  The cigarettes he hid in a pair of socks.

He went to work on his diary, kept on sheets of toilet paper and written in ink made from saliva and soot that he scraped from the sill.  He noted the items that had been on the dinner tray, his reaction to each dish, speculation on if and what kind of poison or drug might be mixed with each.  He ended the entry with his estimate of what the day of the month was as usual.  HE figured he'd been locked up for at the minimum a couple of months.  When the phone rang, he quickly buried the diary in the trash pile he'd been building in one corner – they'd never think of looking there.

"Well, Mr. Wensler, did you enjoy the meal?  I can promise you all the meals will equal or surpass it.  The menu is supervised by a professional dietician to insure the proper balance of vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates, and it has been approved by medical authorities as an optimum diet for Senior Residents."

"Sure, and the drugs in it?  Are they approved by your medical authorities?"

"Mr. Wensler, I don't know what you mean.  Nothing is added to the food except the normal spices, salt and for enhancement, monosodium glutamate."

"The package the pie came in said it had chemical preservatives in it.  To preserve what?   My old carcass for some kind of experiments?"

"Yes, well, I'm glad you enjoyed the meal.  You needn't make up your mind about the plan until you're good and ready.  Take your time."

"Starve to death, huh, locked up in here?"

"Mr. Wensler, your door was a little sticky from expansion in the heat, that's all.  Jason planed off a fraction of an inch and it works just fine.  He checked the bathroom door and it worked easily too."

"Let me out."

"Mr. Wensler, I'm afraid Jason had to remove your hot plate because of the rules about cooking in your room, but you can use it in the central kitchen if you promise to return it to the porter's office after use.  I wonder if you'd like mail service.  For a dollar, I think Bessie would be happy to straighten up for you."

"No searches."

"Mr. Wensler, please, is there anything I can do for you?  We've begun to worry about you.  Could I call your doctor?"

"Let me out."

"Do you have any family, perhaps a close friend to stay with until you find a place more to your liking.  Is it something I've done?"
"If that door ever opens up, I'll run right over anybody in my way.  I'm telling you.  I'm going."

"Think of what you're leaving."

"I'm going."

"Think of what you're leaving."

 


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