Glen Pourciau

I'd been working for years for the same outfit, long hours, tired when I got home and not much appetite left for people. I huddled in and didn't want to look out the window or to see anything moving. Even at work I kept my head down and seldom let myself get involved in extraneous conversations.

A new guy named Mark sat in a cubicle near mine. He liked to talk, which was bad enough, but he had a nosy angle in a lot of things he said. He asked questions that would have led to other questions if I'd answered him, and he told me where he'd lived and about his brothers and sisters, implying I should share the same type of information with him. Mark was about my age and wanted, or maybe needed, someone to air his thoughts with. After months of failing to coax any personal revelations out of me he grew resentful, seeing it as unfair that I wouldn't talk to him when he was willing to tell me almost anything. I dreaded seeing him every day and when I got home enjoyed the silence and not having him nearby.

One Sunday around midday I heard a knock on the door. I usually ignored knocking, figuring it was a salesperson with some opportunity I wanted no part of. I didn't invite people over, and opening the door would lead to an awkward effort to drive away the intruder. In this case the knocks became more insistent, so I crept to the door and looked through the peephole. I saw Mark, unshaven, giving me a wave with his fingers. He must have heard my footsteps.

I counted to ten, but he stayed put. I opened up and his head dipped toward me.

"I just made a stop in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by. Am I interrupting?"

I didn't ask where he got my address. I never asked him questions, fearing reciprocation. Alarms were going off inside my head.

"Invite me in? I know you don't like talking when we're on the clock. It's more rigid at work."

I didn't answer and waited for him to leave. I asked myself what he was doing here.

"Come on. Can I just use your restroom? It'll be quick."

He made a face as if he really had to go. I let him stand there awhile, but he didn't move.

I pulled the door back without speaking and he hopped inside, pretending to be uncomfortable. I shut the door and pointed toward the restroom.

"I hope I'm not disturbing your family," he said, taking a right turn into the hallway. "I'll just be a second, I promise."

He probably knew or guessed I didn't have a family and lived alone. He meant to provoke a reaction and then build up a dialogue from there. I admit I stood by the door and listened to estimate his progress. I heard nothing and was bothered by the idea that he could be sitting on my toilet. He stayed in the restroom far too long and I suppressed an urge to barge in and see what he was doing. What if he was naked and gazing at himself in the mirror? What would I do then? I imagined I'd tell him to leave when he came out, without seeming agitated, a simple demand.

He finally emerged, no flush, no hand washing.

"False alarm," he said. "That bathroom is spotless, not a single hair on the floor. Not bad for a man who lives alone. You do live alone, don't you? I've never been completely sure."

He started down the hallway, asking for a tour. I choked down my anger and followed, deciding to hold my peace, not to get tangled in his reply and my reply to him and his reply to me. He walked into my bedroom and looked at the walls and furniture.

"Your bed's made, and on a normal day no one would even know it except you."

He nodded and sniffed, and I tried not to let his sniffing provoke me. He passed by me in the doorway without a glance, I suppose daring me to start an argument so he could unleash his thoughts. I let him lead, as if he was giving the tour, and he turned and entered my living area, taking it in without a word.

"I knew I smelled food," Mark said as he approached my table, my lunch plate still on it. He picked up the last tater tot and popped it in his mouth, chewed it with relish, and watched me watch him chew, waiting for me to react, wanting me to feel he was closing in.

In the kitchen he looked at the sink and down the drain. Then he moved to the refrigerator and looked at the three magnets at eye level. He chuckled, noticing I'd begun to come toward him. He opened the refrigerator door and crouched behind it. I heard him shifting things on the shelves.

By the time he stood and shut the door I was close to him. I dropped down and grabbed the bottom of his pant legs and yanked them forward. He fell on his butt, and I spun him around and dragged him, his head bumping the floor. He cursed me, squirming, and I gave him a kick in the balls to get him quiet. I pulled the door open, rolled him on his side, and shoved him over the threshold. I slammed the door, Mark jerking his reaching hand away, and locked it.

I listened to him yell at me. He called me the usual names and said he'd come back. I looked for blood on my floor, repulsed that he could have left a wet trail behind him.

Glen Pourciau's new collection of stories, VIEW, will be out from Four Way Books next month.

See more of his work in the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of German Blanco.

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