Chapter 24: It's A Boy
Donny walked into Buck's Bar over on Lake Shore Boulevard on December 23, 1974, around 5:30 P.M. In his native universe, Roy Sr. used to point to that same building and say, "That's the bar where I waited while you were being born. That's how it was back in those days. The men stayed the hell out of the way and waited for the phone call. It felt like it took an eternity to get that call."
Donny had to go inside and see for himself -- he had to see if this thing was gonna go full circle. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and walked through the door.
Sure as shit, there was a carbon copy of his old man, Roy Ingersol Sr, bellied up to the bar. He tried to seem casual as he took a seat on the empty stool immediately to his pop's right. Donny's heart hammered in his chest, and he had to make a conscious effort to get it under control. He ordered a Schlitz and took a big gulp. That helped a little.
"How's it goin'?" Donny said to his doppelganger father.
"I'm waiting for my sister-in-law to call from the hospital. My wife's in labor," Roy Senior explained.
"Yeah, he was wearin' a groove in my floor, pacing back and forth like a maniac," the bartender interjected. "I had to buy him a double of Wild Turkey just to get him to take a load off."
"Yeah, and I donated a pack and a half o' Camels to this Nervous Nancy already," a jovial patron added as he slapped the expecting father on the back and plopped down on the empty bar stool to Roy Senior's left.
"I appreciate the moral support, guys," Senior confessed. "I'd probably be committed to an insane asylum if I wasn't here gettin' my mind off things."
After another round of beers, the phone rang and the patrons fell silent.
"Buck's Bar," the bartender spoke into the phone. "Yeah, he's right here. It's for you, Roy," he said as he passed the receiver over. "This is Roy. Yeah, yeah ... ten fingers, ten toes, the whole nine yards? All right, now we're talkin'. I'll be down there in a minute. Hey everybody -- it's a boy! I got a seven-pound-nine-ounce baby boy!"
A jubilant cheer erupted like a monstrous wave breaking against jagged rocks. "Hey, Tommy, let's get everyone a drink on me," Roy Senior yelled before draining the rest of his Schlitz, dropping a fifty-dollar bill on the bar, and sprinting out the door.
About an hour later, Roy Sr. returned with the customary box of cigars and an instant Polaroid of himself, his wife, and the newborn Roy Ingersol Junior. Whiskey and beer flowed like rivers for the rest of the night.
At about 2:15 A.M., when Donny was good and pickled, he walked up to the Polaroid that was tacked to the wall right by the jukebox. There were his mother and father, and of course, himself. He thought about how the aliens would happen upon Roy Junior's etheric energy somewhere in the expanses of space, and how they would track that energy all the way back to Rosecliff Drive in Cleveland, Ohio. They would do it just as easily as a wolf pack would pick up on the scent of a newborn calf on the breeze and track it back to the ranch.
Tommy flicked the lights on and off a few times and yelled that it was last call. Donny knew what he had to do. He had to get ready to fight the aliens. He bought the bar one last round and raised his oversized mug of Schlitz high above his head.
"To Roy Junior," he toasted.
"To Roy Junior!" the bar echoed.
The hangover arrived the next morning like a skull-breaker coming to collect an overdue debt for a bookie. Donny fell out of bed and crawled to the refrigerator which housed a lone can of Schlitz.
He cracked the beer -- no simple task because his hands trembled noticeably. The tangy aroma of alcohol wafted into his nostrils, and he brought the beer to his lips, but he did not drink. Not even a sip. "Drink it," the real Donald Harris shrieked from somewhere deep in his head. "Drink the beer you maggot!"
Donny poured the twelve ounces of liquid salvation down the kitchen sink, ran to the bathroom, and puked in the commode. He curled into the fetal position and tried to will the world to stop spinning. It was bad already, and he could only guess how much worse it was going to get. Hell was in the mail -- express delivery, no doubt.
Somewhere inside his psyche, a tiny ember of willpower smoldered. He was either going to die on the faded bathroom linoleum, or he was going to get sober and fight the megalomaniacal aliens of the Asteroid Colony. Of course, that would probably also result in death, but death wasn't the thing that concerned Donny anymore.
What concerned him was doing one noble thing with his life before passing into oblivion. All the opportunities, all the eons he pissed away might not be in vain if he could save Roy Junior from the same fate he had already suffered in another time, in another place that was somehow also this time, this place. That, he believed, was the unfinished business he had to square away.
Donny oscillated between states of delirium and unconsciousness until the two states melted into one indistinguishable nightmare from which he could not wake. He very well may have died on the bathroom floor had it not been for the middle-aged Czechoslovakian cleaning lady who tidied up around his house once a week. He made her acquaintance during his stay at the American Motel and recruited her services when it became obvious he was incapable of maintaining even the lowest standard of sanitation in his apartment.
Coming from a war-torn European country, the woman was no stranger to the horrors of alcoholism. She had seen the disease ravage her father and brothers like the plague. Except this was something far more insidious than the fabled Black Death of the middle ages. This was an affliction that masqueraded as liquid hope, even as it petrified the organs and softened the bones of its victims.
She had seen some people affected by the bottle in such a way that made them look as if they had been salted, cured, and hung in the smokehouse. She had seen others with stomachs so distended they reminded her of the cows she had found keeled over in patches of white clover -- dead from the bloating disease.
But this man lying on the bathroom floor in suite 102 of Bluestone Manor Apartments wasn't that far gone. Not yet. The cleaning lady grabbed Donny under his armpits and dragged him into his bed. She propped him up with pillows and spoon fed him a few sips of beef broth from her thermos. Then she set an empty mop bucket next to him and said, "This is for vomit, or whatever else needs to come out. Do not ruin sheets."
The cleaning lady stood watch for a few minutes and was mildly optimistic when she saw that Donny had been able to hold down the two spoonfuls of broth.
"This is good sign you can eat and no throwing up. I come back in one hour, then we see how you doing."
The alcohol withdrawal shook Donny's body and soul like an earthquake. The violent tremors in the depths of his psyche stirred up a tsunami that propagated across the sea of his mind at astonishing speed. As it approached the shores of his consciousness, the monstrous wave began to compress, causing it to pile up on itself. It heaved upward, forming a vertical wall of water that filled the sky. Darkness enveloped him. When Roy finally woke he realized the ghastly specter of the real Donald Harris had washed up on the beach.
"You mother fucker," the apparition wailed in his head, "You stole everything from me!"
It occurred to Roy that he was now engaged in a war of wills for control over Donny's physical self. His hands, now possessed by a very real and very pissed off Donald Harris, grabbed his throat and squeezed.
It took a moment for Roy to regain control and will his own hands to release his windpipe. He coaxed the manic hands into interlocking their fingers before finally coming to a rest on his lap.
"Just hold on," Roy said out loud, as Donny, "There's no sense in killing both of us."
"I'd rather be dead!" Donald Harris said.
"I'm not planning on sticking around much longer," Roy explained. "You'll be whole again once I leave."
"You know what kind of an inbred sheep-fucker you sound like right now? Whole again, my ass. I'll never be whole again. Not after what I been through. Now get me a god damn drink before I smash that mirror and slit our goddamn throat with a piece of glass!"
"You don't have control, yet," Roy said. "Like I said, I just need another day or two. Then I'll be out of your hair."
"When did you turn into such a teetotaling pansy? Just a beer. One can of beer for Christ's sake."
"You can have all the beer and whiskey you want when I'm gone. For now, shut up and let me sleep."
"Yeah, well you better sleep with one eye open," Donald Harris grumbled.
There was a knock at the door, and then the locked turned.
"It's Liliana," the cleaning lady said as she stepped inside. "Is time for supper."
"Liliana, thank you so much for your kindness, but I feel like I can take care of myself now."
"Ha!" she scoffed. "I hear you talking to self. You are weak and crazy. Today you will have cup of vegetable-beef soup to make you strong. Is homemade. Is very good."
"I'm sure it's delicious, but I don't feel well. Maybe just a few bites ... "
Liliana dismissed him with a wave of her hand as if she were shooing a fly away. "You eat whole cup. Then we see how your strength feels."
She poured the soup from her thermos into a Styrofoam coffee cup and said, "Do I have to feed you again, or are you big boy now?"
"I can do it, thank you."
"Okay. So do it."
"Wow, this really is good," Donny said. The soup got his salivary glands going again, and for the first time in about a week, his appetite was back.
"Yes, I know is good. I make myself," Liliana said as she flipped through the channels on the Zenith television set. "I hope you do not mind noise, but I must see evening news."
The weatherman talked a lot about more snow and blustery conditions. Then the camera panned over to the anchorman, Peter Hoban.
"All right, Dick, let's hope all that snow scares away the U.F.O. that has been seen hovering over Lake Erie. That's right, dozens of eyewitnesses have reported seeing a glowing orange U.F.O. in the sky. Don't believe it? See for yourself."
They rolled some shaky amateur footage of a fuzzy orange light dancing around in a dark sky for about ten seconds. Then they cut to field reporter, Susan Nickels, who was on location with the man who filmed it.
"I'm here with Stan Margolis on the shores of frozen Lake Erie right off of Neff Road," Susan reported. "Stan, what are your thoughts on this strange light over the lake?"
"Well, people around here have been seeing the same orange light for days now. Last night I decided to set up the old eight-millimeter and see if I couldn't get it on film, whatever it is," Stan explained.
"Well, you definitely got some interesting footage. What do you suppose it is?"
"Susan, I don't have any idea really. It doesn't fly like an airplane, that's for sure. It doesn't make any noise, and it likes to hover in one spot like it's looking for somethin.' Then it takes off like a dart, stops on a dime, and hovers some more. It's just odd is all I can say."
Susan rustled up two other eyewitnesses from the neighborhood for the sake of objectivity.
"Maybe it's coming back for the ones that crashed in Roswell in the 50's," a bald guy theorized.
"I bet the Soviets infiltrated our airspace with some kind of new spy plane," a thin, nervous-looking man with a military-style crew cut postulated. "Or it could be a scout ship from an alien armada assessing our ground to air missile capabilities. Of course, I'd prefer aliens to Russians."
"There you have it, folks. Weird and wacky stuff over Lake Erie on Cleveland's East side," Susan closed. "Back to you, Peter."
"Weird and wacky indeed, Susan," Peter agreed. "When we come back, Tom will have the latest sports update on the New Year's Day showdown between Ohio State and U.S.C. in Pasadena. Stay tuned."
A commercial featuring Crazy Al from Al Smolinsky's Lincoln Ford in Parma, Ohio came on, and Liliana switched off the television.
"I've seen it," Liliana said. "I don't like it."
"What?" Donny said in between spoonfuls of soup. "The new Lincoln Mark IV?"
"No, not cars. U.F.O. I wish it would go away. It flew close to me one night when I walk home."
Donny gulped down the last bit of vegetable beef soup and said with some conviction, "I wouldn't worry about the U.F.O. I don't think it's gonna stick around much longer."
"No? How you sound so sure?"
"I'm gonna handle it myself," Donny said casually.
"Huh! Last week you can't even get up off bathroom floor, then today you have one cup beef-vegetable soup and you going to handle U.F.O.? You are sounding ridiculous."
"It's not ridiculous, Liliana. I'll take care of it, but I might need some more soup. You know, to get my strength back."
"Okay big strong man. I give more soup, then you fix U.F.O. problem. Okay?"
"Okay, deal," Donny said, and they shook on it.
After Donny finished his second cup of vegetable-beef soup and Liliana had gone, Donald Harris asked incredulously,
"Why the hell didn't you make a move on her, man? Are you getting' a little light in the loafers or what?"
"I'm checkin' out any minute now, Don Juan. Then she's all yours. Maybe if you stay sober you could ask her out on a date," Donny said.
"Yeah, maybe. Hey?"
"There's a lot of your weird memories and shit floating around in here. You dealt with these aliens before, huh?"
"Yeah, I had a run-in with them a long time ago."
"What are you, anyway? Like a time traveler or somethin'?" the real Donald Harris asked.
"Somethin' like that, I guess," Donny said. He yawned, stretched, and switched off the lamp. "Now if you don't mind, I'm gonna call it a night."
"Yeah, sure," Donald Harris said. "Just one more thing."
"Are you gonna try to blast that thing out of the sky with a bazooka or somethin'?"
"I don't know how I'm gonna do it, but it'll get done. Trust me on that."
Long after Donny had dozed off, the December wind found its way through the cracks in the walls and the windows. It coiled around him like an icy serpent, startling him from a dreamless sleep.
The floating feeling was there again. After all those years it had come back. It was in his hands and his feet. He couldn't move, and the helium feeling crawled up his arms and his legs, into his stomach, and finally into his head. He was filled with the weightlessness, drifting out of the hydro-carbon husk that he had worn on Earth for so many decades. Thanks Donald, he thought as he floated away, I hope you can get your life on track. I left you with an ex-wife, two kids, and a good chunk of money. I hope you can figure somethin' out. I really do.