Droning


by J.D. Hager

V ince developed severe insomnia almost immediately after his wife left him. Something about the way she declared him the biggest loser she had ever met, and rode off into the sunset on the back of her Pilates instructor's Vespa. It felt like he went weeks without even closing his eyes, hopeful and expectant that his wife would come skidding into the driveway any moment, denouncing the errors of her ways and reiterating her undying love for Vince. He still loved her despite how she felt.

Vince soon lost his job, and began experiencing hallucinations triggered by sleep deprivation and delusions of reconciliation. He consulted a doctor, who prescribed a particular sleep enhancing medication with the unfortunate side effect of sleepwalking. So while Vince awoke well rested, he was never sure what adventures his sleeping body had taken on. He'd managed to lock himself out of the house numerous times, and even woke up in the back of a police car once. It was brutally awkward, but compared to the curse of the unclosing eyelid, the sleepwalking seemed not so bad.

One day Vince awoke sprawled across his living room floor in his underwear. No blankets or pillows, just his nearly naked body stretched out across the carpet like a homicide victim. He'll never get used to waking up in some strange place that is not his bed, no matter how many days in a row it happens. Vince's body was wracked by hypothermic tension, his various extremities on the verge of surrendering all feeling and control. Ever since the heater malfunctioned the house was an icebox, regularly achieving temperatures far below whatever the wind and cold outside could muster. Vince could see his exhaled breath, floating like smoke signals, as he shivered on the brink of frostbite in his own living room.

It didn't take Vince long to realize some evil, degenerate force was ringing the doorbell over and over. He had no idea what time it is, but it felt far too early for anyone to be so vehement about their use of the doorbell. He imagined his wife standing there apologetic and teary-eyed, but doubted whether she would bother ringing the bell. More likely it was his wife's lawyer, with divorce papers tucked neatly into his briefcase and a restraining order rippling through his fingers. Vince stood, struggling against his clumsy, frozen limbs. He grabbed a blanket from the couch and wrapped it around himself, taking a few shaky steps toward the front door. When he reached up to rub the blur out of his eyes he realized there was a penny pressed into the flesh of his cheek. He peeled it off and held the coin in his hand as he stepped to the door and opened it, wrapped up like a burrito.

Vince discovered the neighbor kid Jango dressed as a bumblebee, poking his doorbell with a stick. Jango, the eight year old of dubious intelligence, with the blank stare and the overbite as severe as any cartoon character. Every time Vince saw the kid he at first felt sorry for him, and then asked himself, who the hell names their kid Jango?

"Jango, what's up? Stop ringing the damned doorbell!"

Jango dropped his stick and took a step away from the doorway, his yellow bee antennae hovering above his head like UFOs. "Trick or treat," he said, smiling and holding a hollow plastic pumpkin out in front of his bulging bee belly.

"You've got to be kidding me. Do you know what time it is, Jango?"

Jango looked at his calculator watch. Vince didn't even know they made those things any more. "Seven forty-four," Jango announced. He smiled and raised his pumpkin in Vince's direction. "I'm a bee."

Jango and Vince were well acquainted. Jango was home-schooled, and usually lurking around the neighborhood when most kids were locked away in conventional public facilities. Since Vince had experienced recent problems finding and keeping a job, Jango and Vince tended to share similar schedules. Vince and Jango's parents cohabited a duplex with a single, enormous yard. Bored, depressed and drinking green tea, Vince watched Jango's daily adventures from his kitchen window as the boy traipsed through their backyard. He dug for dinosaur bones. He catalogued the insect species endemic to their backyard. He spent hours entertaining himself poking a stick in the dirt, and Vince couldn't help but feel envious of Jango's carefreedom. Jango's tireless explorations of the moment at hand provided Vince fleeting instances of respite from himself.

"I'm sorry, Jango. I don't have any candy."

"That's pretty fucked up, Mister K."

Vince was regularly both surprised and disturbed when engaging Jango in conversation. He said things out of the blue, things like you know, many mammal species eat their offspring , or, your skin has the pallid complexion of the dispossessed. Things an eight year old shouldn't say. He often appeared to enter some kind of trance when he spoke, the tone of his voice so level and assured that it twisted Jango's blank stare into more of a mystical, all knowing gaze. Every time it happened, Vince couldn't help but feel like it was all just some freaky, recurring accident.

Jango stared at Vince like Vince was the sun, like Jango couldn't quite see him and was blind from trying. Jango's jutting overbite did nothing to improve his dimly lit demeanor. He looked dumbstruck, and Vince felt moved again by a wave of pity for this poor kid, what with his goofy appearance and goofier name.

"How about a penny?" Vince held the penny peeled from his cheek out toward Jango.

"How about a dollar?" Jango said, pulling his plastic pumpkin away from the offering in Vince's hand.

"I'll give you a dollar if you can tell me why you dressed as a bee."

  Without so much as a pause, Jango reported "Because they have one of the most spectacular mating rituals of any arthropod." The way Jango's eyes lit up when he said mating rituals gave Vince a queasy shiver. "When the Queen is ready to mate with the drones, they swarm and mate hundreds of feet in the air. Then when it's over, the drones' endophallus gets ripped off and the queen flies away with part of the drone still inside her. The drone falls paralyzed to the ground and dies within hours. Pretty spectacular, huh?"

Spectacular wasn't the word that came to mind. Jango's scholarly manner frightened Vince, as if he were an eight-year old entomologist giving a lecture. He wanted to ask Jango where he procured this information but felt unable to speak. A picture of his wife entered his mind, flying off and leaving him to die behind, paralyzed, his endophallus wrapped in newspaper and stuffed into her purse like a souvenir.

"Jango, that's, that's…" Vince trailed off searching for the right word. "Horrible."

"That's life, Mister K."

Jango the bee and Vince the burrito stood facing each other in silence for a moment with stares now equally blank. Vince felt as if he had gleaned some horrible fact of life, a grim peek at the inner workings of the universe that he hadn't been prepared for. It felt like a punch in the throat.

"Happy Halloween, Mr K." Jango turned back toward the sidewalk, and started waddling his bee butt away from Vince's front door, his little foam stinger waving back and forth like a reminder of something lost. Then Jango stopped and turned back to face Vince one last time. "You owe me a dollar."

Vince suddenly noticed the awful taste in his mouth, like he'd spent the entire night sucking on that dirty penny. He closed the door and wrapped the blanket a little tighter around himself. A wave of fatigue hit him and he could barely keep his eyes open, as if the months of restless nights and zombie walks had accumulated into a smothering, suffocating mass. He shuffled back to the couch, flopped down onto it as gracefully as he could while wrapped up like a taquito, and slept like a man freed.




J.D. Hager lives in Northern California with his wife, his labradors, and the rats in his attic. He teaches middle school science, runs a school garden, and scribbles furiously into notebooks when blessed with a spare moment. He completed his first collection of short stories in second grade and has been writing ever since. His stories have appeared in the Porter Gulch Review, and are forthcoming in Cease Cows, Glimmer Train, and many other places (though Glimmer Train doesn't realize it yet). He shares leftovers, incompletions, and other collections of words on his blog the intrinsickness, at jdhager.wordpress.com .