Bottled Up

by Leland H. Smithson


I should never have given in to that cute locksmith, Lise thought. She peered about the room, wondering why she had him install so many locks. They were a new type of lock with a key to get in and a separate one to get out.

If she had gotten into her apartment last night, then she had used that jingling herd of keys for penetrating the complicated schemata of spindles, hasps, and talons that now surrounded her. Where were they?

She had already searched under the dresser, the drop-leaf table, through all her cupboards and purses and coat pockets, scouring every corner of the apartment she could think of, but still there were no keys. If normal hinges had seemed too frail, the doors too thin, and the windows in need of double-panes before, then now they were maddeningly unnecessary.

Lise whipped her faded blond hair into a ponytail then dropped onto the couch into her favorite yoga position. She needed a positive outlook to find them again. She focused on drawing pure blue air into her left nostril and exhaling the dirty pink air out of her right nostril. Streams of purity should never mix with streams of impurity. When the blue light filled her, the keys would appear. That was her hope. Unfortunately, she lost her concentration and sucked impure pink into her left nostril, ruining the whole effort.

Perhaps Morning America would help. She clicked on the television remote and found herself transported to Buckingham Palace in London, where the popular host, Mr. Gray Gimble, suavely seated in a director’s chair, was interviewing an austere redhead Scottish designer about the spread of American fashion in Britain. With a strong brogue accent, the designer enthused over American fashion, fawning over the camera like a tadpole approaching a food source.

Wait a minute, there was only a half hour to make it to work, and with Friday morning traffic, she was going to be late. Should she call in sick? Her panic switched to enthusiasm as she pictured herself beginning her weekend early, sitting all day vegetating before Oprah and Springer reruns. Yet, as exciting as it sounded, she had to make one more big effort.

She slipped off the couch and began crawling about the living room and bedroom floors, looking under everything she encountered. She made her way into the bathroom to investigate the areas behind the toilet and another next to the tub, but to no avail. Worst-case scenario was calling her boyfriend Robert at IBI and getting him to come over with his key.

A funny sensation passed over her as she headed for the phone. This was the only way out of the apartment now.

The dial tone sounded odd. It seemed a little too loud, and whiny. A vision of her decomposing corpse suddenly flashed before her eyes while she nervously punched in the office number for her boss, Erin Reinhardt. A distant ringing enveloped her in a narcotic bliss as she waited for Erin’s familiar voice, so she could explain what had happened. A loud squealing erupted inside the receiver instead, followed by a recording telling her to hang up, check the number, and dial again.

Her anxiety shot up and struck the circus bell in her head, and she burst out in a panicky, unsteady laugh.

She stared at the room in front of her, embarrassed. She was sure she had hit all the right buttons. She put the receiver down, recited the numbers to herself, and carefully punched the sequence.

The ringing began again, but this time her narcotic bliss was tainted and jittery, and as the resurging squeal hit her ear, she felt quashed. The recorded voice said she should check the number again and... To hell with Erin!

She immediately punched in her boyfriend’s IBI office number to quell her rising sense of panic, but the strange screeching and recorded voice came on again. She hung up and pounded the buttons a second time. It rang and rang, and then it squealed. Then as the squealing became an irritating screech, a wild sort of fury seized her. Even if she got through, Robert would only ridicule her for installing the locks in the first place, saying “serves you right,” or something like that.

She dialed ‘O’ for Operator; heard a busy signal. She dialed for information; heard a busy signal. She dialed 911. “We are sorry, please check the number and—”

Here was a junky's cold shower. “Damn you!” She screamed and slammed down the receiver.

She was beside herself now. All of her keys and phone numbers were lost somewhere in outer space. She stared at the two-faced door before her. One face studied her indifferently trapped in her apartment; the other faced out into an exciting outside world where life sailed around free. It pissed her off...

An uncomfortable sort of somberness fell over her as she stared at the wooden face, once a friend, now an enemy. At least she had stocked the refrigerator with fruits and vegetables, vegan cheeses, and juices, and the cupboards with cans of soup. She certainly would not starve here in her apartment.

She was proud of her vegetarian diet and animal activism, and recognized more than ever now what it meant to be an animal trapped in a cage. After this experience, she would spend more time on the front lines of the beauty clinics and animal experiment stations. She would make signs, wave her arms, and accost more scientists and beauticians over the immorality of their acts of experimentation and beautification. She would do it right now if only she could!

On the television, Geo and Alan were doing a segment on lying to one’s spouse, while Genie Gone was doing one on conservative makeovers for large-size women. Carnie was doing something on reunions with first loves, Bolonda on violence in relationships, and finally Stark Walberg on modern methods of dating via the Cloud and personal ads. Of course, there was always New Sesame Street, with its dancing dinosaurs, alphabets, and kid superstars in coveralls and straw hats.

She watched these happy automatons for a minute, and then switched the channel in disgust.

The Stark Walberg discussion on modern methods of dating appealed to her. She had tinkered with the notion of finding someone in the Cloud just as her boss Erin had done many times... She switched the channel.

As the Cloud Turns exploded across the screen with two women screaming at each other over some hunk-of-a-guy standing to the side. Oh geez, she said to herself, preparing to again punch the button, but then the hunk said something intelligent, and she froze. He waxed poetic for a moment, then seized the woman with dark hair and kissed her full on the lips.

Blonde Barbie attacked him, but he subdued her. Then he and Dark Barbie stormed off, leaving blonde Barbie sobbing in a room that looked remarkably like Lise’s own. This looked interesting.

She settled back on the couch, wondering what blonde Barbie would do now that blond hunk was gone. Blonde Barbie eventually got off her own couch and began wandering dispiritedly around the apartment, picking up objects and putting them down, until she encountered a small picture frame on a side table.

The camera zoomed in on the picture; it was the blond hunk! The camera twitched and turned as the soap director swept the audience inside the picture frame next to blond hunk as he stared out through the glass at blonde Barbie’s approaching hand. Her fingers encircled the audience, causing the screen to go black for a moment.

A new camera angle reared up, and the audience found itself hurtling through space toward a wall next to blond-hunk-in-a-picture-frame. The image exploded.

This was fun! Lise jumped off the couch and ran into her bedroom. She returned with a framed photo of her boyfriend Robert, paused a moment, and then flung it against the wall above the television set. The glass shattered, sending glass and plaster bits scattering across the carpet.

She reseated herself just as Barbie cried out, dropped to her knees before the audience, and seized a jagged piece of picture frame glass. She held it to her wrist staring teary-eyed into the camera. A commercial break cut in.

Lise dashed into the kitchen to get a beer from the fridge. What the hell, trapped or not, she was going to enjoy herself. Throwing Robert’s picture against the wall was exhilarating.

The commercial break ended, but blonde Barbie had vanished, and the camera panned instead toward a remorseful dark Barbie staring at a picture of her blonde Barbie friend. The ingenious Director again submerged the audience beneath a layer of glass looking up into dark Barbie’s face. Big tears formed in her eyes and dropped across the camera lens, blurring her from view... The credits started scrolling across the screen.

It took Lise a minute to realize that tears had formed in her eyes. She felt stifled. What had happened? Had blonde Barbie killed herself over blond hunk? Was dark Barbie sorry about stealing him away? She checked the TV listings to see when the next episode was playing. There were repeats of the current episode with the next installment showing on Monday.

A sudden and inexplicable rage seized her and she flung the half-filled beer bottle at the screen. It careened off the cabinet and smashed into the wall behind sending more fragments of plaster and glass onto the carpet.

The beer stain on the wall irritated her. She jumped off the couch and ran to the kitchen for a sponge. She grabbed another beer from the fridge and, dashing back into the room to wipe down the plaster, cut her foot on the broken glass.

She yelled, hobbled over to the couch and started picking out the slivers. Why did she need to clean the beer stain off the wall anyway? That did not seem right. Robert could do it when he got off work and dropped by to help her. Of course, she would have to hide the broken frame picture she had thrown.

Now, surreally, her phone started ringing, and she lurched upright, the slivers cutting into her foot. Her new beer spilled across the coffee table in a long damp isthmus and gurgled onto the carpet. She ignored it and ran bleeding into the hall to grab the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is Paul there?” It was a man’s voice.

“No he... What number are you calling?” she asked, breathless.

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. “I was dialing 748-1025. Are you Julie?”

“No, I’m Lise and this is 745-1025. You’re off by one digit.”

“Oh I’m sorry...” he began.

“Please don’t hang up. I am locked in my apartment!”

There was a long pause. “Did you try 911?” he asked.

“Please don’t hang up! I can’t call out,” she pleaded. “Something is wrong with my phone also.”

The airwaves were tense.

“Please, do you think you can call 911 for me, or maybe come by and help me get out of here?”

“Lady, are you joking? Is this some kind of joke?” he demanded gruffly.

“No! Please sir...” she stammered urgently, suddenly scared.

“You have got to be kidding. Goodbye.” The connection went dead.

A strange sort of hysteria broke loose in her as the dial tone resumed its satanic buzzing, and she started nattering into the receiver anyway: “Thank you sir. Did you say Emergency Services are on their way? That is good news! You are supposed to keep talking to me until they arrive, right?”

She pressed on with her dial tone pantomime until a degree of calm returned to her and she hung up. She tried all the numbers she had already called, but the results were the same.

This must be some kind of hell, she said to herself, and remembering the new beer spill on the front room carpet, she dashed back to try to wipe it up.

* * *

Monday morning found her staring out through cracked but unbroken windowpanes onto the deserted street before her apartment building, still looking for someone, anyone, to signal. Yet no one had appeared. It must have been a special holiday or something, because no one was around.

She had ripped the phone from the wall and buried it under a pile of clothes. Her cell phone was missing, along with her keys. Granola-bar wrappers, half-finished beer, empty cracker boxes, and moldering cheese littered the coffee table or lay scattered about the carpet. The sole witness to Lise’s weekend excesses was the television screen glowing faintly against a wall. A stench filled the room.

She turned slowly away from the window toward that silent shimmering blue screen. It was time. She poked at her disheveled blond hair to beautify herself, then grabbed the remote and took a seat.

She accidentally knocked over a beer bottle and spilled the remainder of its contents onto the sticky coffee-table surface.

She cussed, seized the bottle by the neck, and smashed it across the table edge. Even being naked had not helped. She had stood topless all night before her illuminated front window like some lonely porn star looking for company. Where were all the lecherous men when you needed them?

Her face went blank as the soap theme music started up. For the benefit of those who had not watched it on Friday, they were replaying the episode. She had seen it no less than eight times now; all weekend long in fact.

Once again, the camera panned behind blonde Barbie as she hurled blond-hunk-in-a-frame against the stage wall. Lise cried out and dropped to her knees with Barbie.

As blonde Barbie seized a glass frame shard and held it to her wrist, Lise grabbed a beer bottle shard from the coffee table and held it to her wrist. As blonde Barbie stared teary-eyed into the camera, Lise stared at the shimmering screen. Then the commercial break came on.

She had already seen the commercial, had already repeated this moment too many times to wait any longer for the outcome. She clenched her teeth, tightened her grip on the bottle shard, and raking the jagged edge of glass lengthwise along her wrist, she swan-dove into an abyss with the Director.

The shimmering blue screen flickered vaguely under the first spurts of blood, and then calmed into a static mist as Lise dropped unconscious below the television, her apartment keys jingling on the silver chain around her neck.


Copyright © 2015 by Leland H. Smithson

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