Mike the maintenance man waved me over as I was walking across the parking lot of my apartment complex. As I was walking over he took a quick sip of whiskey and screwed the cap back on. Mike was bone skinny and always had a red face. He was leaning against the opened driver side door, on the inside panel with his tool belt in the passenger seat. He wasn’t supposed to drive but he did anyways.
“Hey Mike, you heading home?”
“Yeeaaa buddy,” he said scratching his head. “I got your water pressure fixed. You shouldn’t be having any more trouble when people do laundry.”
“Oh, okay, thanks.”
“Sure thing.” He started whopping a fresh pack of smokes into his open palm.
“Hey, what you got in the bag?”
“Shit, Bill! How the hell did you get one a them?”
“The store made me buy it.” I carefully pulled it out of the bag. The thing was built like a graham cracker. “I scratched it up. It was a display one so it wasn’t as expensive as a regular one.” Mike fished a smoke out. “The manager made me sign up for this payment plan thing.”
“Really? What a fucking asshole.” Mike lit his cigarette and inhaled with a squint. “Let me see that.” He held out his hand. I gave it to him. He laughed. “Yup, Billy, it ain’t broke, but you sure fucked it up.” Mike held it in both hands like a food tray, his cigarette lodged between his pointer and middle fingers, smoke rolling across the damaged screen.
“I can’t use it. You can have it if you want it,” I said.
“Shit, thanks. But I ain’t got money for something like this. Don’t think I’d use it much to be honest.”
“You can have it for a hundred, just pay me whenever you can. It’d help me out. I need to start saving up so I can pay back the store.”
“Alright, since you put it that way.” Mike scratched his chin stubble with his thumb and pondered at the iFad. “I’m sure my sister’s kids will like it. They won’t mind the screen.”
Mike turned it on and started swiping things across the screen, not minding scar running the length of it. He looked up. “You still coming over for the cookout this weekend? My army buddies want to meet you.”
“Is it okay if I take the bus? I don’t fit in taxis.”
Mike laughed. “Billy, I don’t care how you get there, just don’t show up wearing a suit or anything.”
I laughed. I was getting better at it. “Do you need me to bring anything?”
Mike set the iFad in his truck seat and waved a hand at me. “Nah, don’t worry about it. We’re cooking some ribs. Gives us an excuse to drink.” He laughed and so did I.
“I’ll bring the same beer we drank last weekend.”
“I can’t argue with you there.”
“I’ve got to feed Steve and get ready for my class tonight. See you tomorrow Mike.”
Mike took another drink and pointed at me. “Alright. We’re going to see you there, right? My sister wants to meet you. She’s a bleeding heart and all.”
“I’ll be there.” I waved goodbye.
I fed Steve. He lived in my bathtub and mostly hung out under a chunk of cement I found for him in the empty lot near my apartment. His dark spiny legs and pinchers only moved in slow motion. I cut his rubber bands off his pinchers and was able to get some worms and minnows from a fishing store. I reached into the Styrofoam dish on my sink counter and pulled out some night crawlers and tossed them in. Steve liked the minnows more, but the night crawlers were cheaper. I gathered my shopping list to show Mrs. Yellow.
Our class was at night and it was in the basement of a community center. Last month’s class was called “The History of Geopolitical Placement.” Here we learn all about us being Subterranean Dragons. We are scientifically called Homeo Varanus Sub-terra. Most people just call us Grubs even though they’re not supposed to. We’re from a giant cave under the ground in this place called Southeast Asia. This was all on the final test last week. A mining company discovered us and the army guys put us in a place called China. This was a bad place. Then this other place called Switzerland. After that we came to America, where I lived in a culture camp for five years. I am told we are humanoids, but we have scales, not skin. We are not humans. We get released in groups to live with people. Each city around the world gets some of us. How many of us are sent to a city depends on how many people already live there. This is called “Populace Dispersion Stabilization.” This was on the final test. I got a C for average. Last week started a new month. This month was about “Proper Consumer Skills.”