Jonas Turley spent his last breath in a frayed easy chair, listening to a vacuum that reverberated with the sounds he grew up to. In the early morning hour, the north wing of the Phoenix had exhausted its revelry, hallway empty except for old Barney Ellis, a down-town drunk who squatted every night when the manager passed out. Jonas’s end-table was cleared, but for the ring of dust that still held the shape of his FM radio. The pawn-ticket crinkled in his grip. The shades were drawn down to the crack of dawn as it pulled the shadow of the adjoining block across his bed. The vacuum continued to hum, eliciting a scratchy grumble from Ellis. He cursed the maid in English; she returned it in Spanish before she rapped on Jonas’s door. She was a nice old woman, curses aside, always offering her garbage can to save Jonas a trip downstairs.
Or maybe she collected bottles.
Jonas had them all; domestic, Mexican, European, micro-brew—every night he’d sit in that room, traveling the world in a brown bag. Everyone knew him as the gracious, easy mannered guy with the taste for fine beer and classic Motown. He was a running catalog of Motown artists; you name them and he could give you at least two paragraphs, no matter how obscure. Too bad there wasn’t a job for a guy with Jonas’s skill.
He had a son in his thirties, James; he stopped by the Phoenix every month to check up on Jonas, bringing food sometimes, or toiletries. James didn’t drink, but he never got on his dad about it. Jonas was absorbed in the heavy liquor through most of his kids’ lives, but he never took to being physical. He had a quiet, happy drunk, but he was a drunk. The kids went without often as they grew up, and Frank and Jenny stopped visiting years ago. James was the last one left.
“Yo Jonas,” an agitated voice came from the hall with a quick knock, “Lemme’in man, it’s Charlie!”
Charlie tried the door handle, and it opened up. Jonas never locked his door; he was usually there. Charlie walked in and slumped down against the inside wall.
“You sleepin, Jonas?” asked Charlie, not bothering to check. “…that’s OK; I just gotta take hits, and the cops been up this way all day.” He pulled out a glass stem and the corner of a pinched baggie that held twenty bucks of Charlie’s panhandling money. Like a surgeon, he split the rock in two, stuffing one in the stem and the rest back into the baggie, back into his ratty coat. With the lighter rigged to burn hotter, he torched the rock, greedily sucking every wisp of smoke from the air.
“You don’t know what you’re missing, Jonas,” Charlie said, “It’s like lookin’ through God’s eyes.” The pawn-ticket fell from Jonas’s hand. Charlie scooted over to pick it up.
“Oh man, that sucks, Jonas.” He said. “I’ll hook you up.” He took another hit, holding it in until he couldn’t help but choke out. “You need some sun up in here – it’s like a motherfuckin’ death house.”
Charlie polished off the half-rock he’d shoved in the stem.
“Suzie, that slut; she be creepin’ around here.” He said. “You let her in here, she’d clean you out.” Charlie looked around. “…not that she’d get anything…”
Charlie put the stem in his pocket. He walked over to the window, navigating his way through beer bottles, cans and fast-food wrappers. Jonas wasn’t ever good around the holidays – Charlie had known him for well over a decade. Come Christmas and New Year’s, Jonas always shut himself in his room for the two weeks that comprised the holiday season.
“Arright, Jonas,” he said, “I’ll let you sleep it off.” He went to pat Jonas on the shoulder, but he just made a half-motion. Then he slowly closed the door. Shortly after that, the maid did the return trip. She had a transistor radio on her cart. As she came back around, that sweet music wafted into Jonas Turley’s room.
The first fly was crawling around his left nostril.