Seven a.m. He was frying Canadian bacon and eggs in the basement apartment he rented from the couple, after an all night bout of bowling and drinking with the girls from the clinic.
The television flickered in a corner of the room. Good Morning America. The president and a minister spoke from the White House lawn about the nation's new commitment to family values, and the sanctity of marriage.
He shook some hot sauce into the scramble, and BOOM, his landlord's voice exploded through the heating duct. "Jesus Christ..." He turned the volume down on the television, and settled in to eat his breakfast.
"If you weren't fooling around, why was it in your purse?"
"I cleaned the bedroom and put it there. Then I took Jill over to Miranda's and went to work. I forgot to put it back. That's all there is to it."
"I work midnights. We don't even see each other. You don't have any use for it, unless youre fooling around."
"You didn't have any business going through my purse in the first place. You were looking for something else, weren't you? Admit it. That's what you were looking for. You were looking for the pills."
"So what? What if I was? I spend six nights a week on the assembly line. I need the stuff to keep up, I need the stuff to stay awake. It's not a party for me, it's a necessity. If I'm not wide awake maybe I lose an arm or a leg. Is that what you want? Do you want that?
"You're being ridiculous. Don't be ridiculous."
"Who knows what you and Miranda do when you're flying on it. Who knows what goes on in this house when Im at work."
"I told you three days ago there isn't any more. I told you Miranda's diet doctor closed the doors. There's no more stuff until she finds a new doctor. You're going to have to get by on coffee like everyone else."
"We should have never moved here. You've gone to hell since we did. You dance three nights a week in a skin joint, and your only friend's a hop head. Jesus Christ, what kind of a disaster did I create?"
"I like this town. Don't worry, she'll find another doctor."
"She's a pill popper. She's a fat junkie, and she's your only friend."
He washed the skillet and the plate. The baby started crying, and the couple just got louder.
"She's a single mother, and she's a sweetheart. You try raising three kids with their daddy in prison, you'd need help too. Besides, if it wasn't for Miranda you'd probably be down to one leg, and I'd be down to a two legged lover."
"So why'd you have it in your purse? Who'd you give it to last night? Who's the lucky man?"
"I love you. Those guys at the Mink are a payday. I'm not making anything extra on the side."
"Some lawyer? Some businessman? Some school teacher? Christ, I couldn't take the thought of you with a school teacher."
"They're soft. They're punks. They made my life miserable for years."
"Since I started dancing, you're the only customer I ever slept with. I fell in love with you. I married you. I had your baby. Doesn't that all add up to something?"
"Tell me his first name. Tell me the school teacher's first name."
"For god's sake, I can't take this day after day. You're wrecking our marriage. You need help. You need a shrink. I should take Jill and move back to Chattanooga."
"Other than dancing and getting high with Miranda, what do you do? Who's in my bed when I'm at work?"
"I clean the house. I cook. I take care of the baby. I do your laundry. I cut the grass. I collect the rent from our tenant, and I do a lot more. There's more to running a house than working at the factory."
"Our tenant. That's why you had it in your purse. You're fucking our tenant."
"You are crazy."
"I'm not surprised."
"You're crazy. He isn't like that. He has girlfriends. He has different women down there all the time. He keeps to himself. I don't even know where he works. I collect the rent from him on the first of the month. He's not that kind of guy, he's our tenant."
"Don't defend him. Every man is that kind of guy."
"You need help. I'm serious, you need professional help."
"He's here all night. You've been giving it away to our tenant."
"If I was sleeping with him, it would've been inside me, not inside my purse. Maybe those school teachers weren't hard enough on you. They sure didn't teach you how to add."
"Maybe you're trying to get pregnant. Two child support checks, life on easy street. See, I can add. I'm real good at it. I'm adding it all up."
"You're crazy and paranoid. It's a good thing Miranda's doctor closed his doors, you need to sleep. I can't believe you'd make such a big deal out of a little rubber disk. I can't believe it."
"I'm going for a ride. I'll take care of the tenant when I get back. We'll put an end to this. The three of us will sit down and talk."
He heard the landlord's car start. He set the suitcase at the foot of the steps, and left next month's rent under the sugar bowl. He turned the television off, and wrote a note on the back of a blank prescription...
"The rent I owe. I'm leaving the cat, please feed him. Take care of the baby. She's all that really matters."
At the bus station, the name tumbled slowly from his tongue, C-H-A-T-T-N-O-O-G-A. He wondered if the married couples there had found the time today to watch Good Morning America, and he wondered what their fat neighbors did to lose weight.