the short story project


Mark Pollins

Only room for one  


Around quarter to eleven at night, the young man turned off the TV, his PC and any other electric appliance that was on.  He walked around his apartment and took every plug out of its socket, made sure the  timer for the hot water boiler was not set late night or early morning hours, turned all the lights off and went from room to room to make sure no standby led or blinking router had been forgotten.  The only thing left working was the fridge.  He hoped by doing all this he would at last have a deep long sleep.  The young man tossed from one side to the other, embryo position on the right, embryo position on the left.  The humming fridge was unbearable.  The next night he disconnected it too.  After a night of solid sleep he found the few items in the fridge had warmed and gone off.  In the freezer the items were soft.  The young man had to compromise, he could not stop the hum by turning the fridge off but he could hide the inner light.  The first try he stuck several pieces of masking tape on the plastic cover of the bulb.  In the morning when he wanted to restore the inner light he found that pieces of the masking tape had stuck to the plastic cover, it was very difficult to get them off.  A dark mysterious mood prevailed in the fridge.  After work the young man went to a shop that sells spare parts for fridges.  He bought a new plastic cover for the  bulb.   That evening when he wanted to extinguish the inner light of the fridge, he covered the little plastic button in the door with taut masking tape.  By doing this the appliance thought its door was closed all the time and there was no need for a lit bulb – let there be darkness.  He stood in the middle of the dark living room and concentrated on the hum of the fridge.  He slept like a baby that slept all night.


In the morning the young man went down to the local mini market and bought new items instead of those that had gone off in the fridge, he also bought some items that hadn’t been there beforehand.   On the way to work he hummed and whistled bits of tunes he had heard the last few days on the radio, on his PC and television programmes.  The local library opens its doors at eleven o’clock, he has to be there at ten.  The young man has advanced well in the three years since he’s been there.  He is already deputy manager of the library and his workers are the Ethiopian cleaning lady whose name has just slipped his memory, and the security guard Yusuf, who asks everyone to call him Yosef.  When the young man arrived that morning full of energy, his two workers were already waiting for him on the stairs of the library.  After the good mornings ritual he opened the main door and the three of them went in to the kitchenette.  They each had a cup of coffee which they drank in virtual silence.  The young man walked among the bookcases, straightened books that were lying diagonally using bookends and put misplaced books on a trolley.  He placed chairs in their proper position, pointed out to the cleaner where there were stains and bits of rubbish on the carpet.  Everyday, he and the manager of the library Moshe Azulay, decide who will sit at the main counter and interact with the reading public.  Azulay had told him he would be arriving late so the young man had time to deal with his own business while among the shelves, till the first reader came in.  He got his mobile phone out and searched his favourite dating websites.  Within minutes he had started to chat with an impressive young lady called Zohar.  The fact that he presented himself as a man of means, deputy manager of an important government establishment with two academic degrees who has a large library at his disposal, really helped with the initial connection.  The photo he added to the site was of a movie star that everyone said looked like him.  Zohar means brightness, he told her that he knows she is radiant like her name and they made arrangements to meet that evening at a small bistro in Tel Aviv.  


The young man arrived at the bistro exactly at eight as they had arranged, Zohar walked in a few minutes later.  They ate, drank and had a vibrant conversation about all sorts of unimportant things, and after he had paid the bill they walked into the street air.  Zohar whispered into his ear that she shouldn’t really do this, but she felt like it, and invited him to her nearby apartment.  When they were deep in the heavy breathing stage he shared with Zohar the fact that there must be absolute darkness in the bedroom.  She immediately jumped up from the bed and turned out the two side lamps that were on.  When she got back to the bed and started kissing his neck, he turned around and searched for his mobile phone on the bedside table.  He turned on the built in flashlight.  With the help of the light he reached for the router and looked for the on/off button.  Zohar wondered “What are you doing?”  he explained “I can’t stand those tiny green or blue lights, I can’t relax with them blinking.”  She sighed and said “Well, I suppose we can get through one night without the internet… we’re not going to look for a movie on Kodi now, right?”  They both chuckled.  He then wrenched the PC plug out of the wall socket without shutting it down properly.  The young man got back to the bed for some more heavy breathing.  When Zohar fell asleep he remained wide awake.  The light from the hallway reflected off the tiles under the closed door.  He got up and turned the light off.  He still didn’t fall asleep.  He got up again and walked around the dark apartment, went to the fridge and opened it, very strong light poured out.  He looked for and found sellotape in one of the kitchen draws and stuck taut pieces of sellotape over the button in the fridge door.  By doing this he made the appliance think its door was closed all the time and there was no need for a lit bulb – let there be darkness.  He went back to the bed and slept like a stone. 


“Oh shit.  Fuck.”  Additional curses and shouts could be heard from the kitchen.  The young man and Zohar woke with a fright and groped their way to the kitchen in absolute darkness.  The fact that he had unscrewed all the bulbs in the apartment did not help.   When they reached the kitchen they found Zohar’s flatmate shining the flashlight from her mobile phone in different directions.  “What the fuck, why is there no light?!… be careful Zohar there’s broken glass on the floor.  There’s no light in the hallway, the kitchen, not even in the fridge.  What’s going on?”  The flatmate shined her flashlight in his face “Who is this?” she asked.  “He’s with me” Zohar answered affectionately.  “Perhaps there’s a power cut?” Zohar wondered.  “No, no, I can hear the fridge humming.  I’ve just come from a crazy rehearsal and I’m starving.  I was dying to get something out of the fridge.  Finally I got to it, opened the door, and it’s pitch black inside.  I held my mobile in one hand using it as a flashlight and with the other hand I started to get a bowl of food out and it slipped.  It smashed on the floor.”  “That’s really bad luck.” The young man said.  “Where is your broom and dustpan?  Turn your flashlight to the floor.”  He started sweeping up.  Zohar got on a small ladder to check the ceiling bulb in the kitchen and screwed it in – the bulb suddenly lit up in her hand.  While he was clearing away the little pieces of glass, the flatmate checked the inside of the fridge and found his quite professional sellotape job and tore it off – the inner light immediately came on.  “God, what’s this?” and Zohar joined her “Wait a minute.  The whole fucking evening you’ve been turning off lights and disconnecting things.  It’s you.  You’re psycho.  What’s your problem?”  It became silent in the well lit kitchen.  The two young women seemed quite upset.  “Take your things and fuck off, or I’ll call the police.”


He got to work exactly at ten o’clock.  He had to walk swiftly and did not whistle or hum.  Many hours of sleep he did not get that night.  Yusuf told him that the library manager had already been there when he arrived in the morning.  The young man went straight to Azulay’s room and informed him he was continuing with his accurate survey.  Azulay nodded without lifting his head from his papers.  The accurate survey was a project the young man had been working on throughout the bookshelves.  It was a neighbourhood library and the people who used it were from the neighbourhood.  Many of the books were taken from the shelves and returned to the wrong place, even though they had repeatedly asked that books that had been taken from the shelves should be put on a trolley after use.  He took it upon himself to scour shelf after shelf, to make sure each book was in its proper place.  An eternal task that allowed much time to deal with his own concerns.  He returned to his search on dating websites, and quickly started a chat with an attractive young lady called Pnina.  Pnina was also a librarian and she really did work at a large government establishment – she ran the major record library of the Kol Israel radio stations.  Pnina means pearl, the young man told her that he felt he was having a conversation with a real gem.  They arranged to meet at eight p.m. in a small cafe by the sea.  When he shoved his mobile phone into the back pocket of his trousers and got back to the accurate survey, the library manager walked over to him and said he had just been informed that the CEO of the municipal libraries in Israel would be making a surprise inspection.  The manager pulled out of his trouser pocket a number of bank notes “Please go to the local supermarket and get some burekas, pickles, drink, so that we’ve got something to give him.”  The young man took the money and said, “I’ll ask Yusuf to go.”  “Yosef must be here all hours of the working day” Azulay immediately made clear.  “O.k. I’ll ask the clean… “  he didn’t get to the end of the sentence, Azulay informed him “Mrs. Mangisto has taken the day off, her son is finishing his officers course today”.  “Right, keep your eye on the counter, it’ll be eleven soon – we don’t want any disgruntled readers.”  He left the building.


When the young man arrived at the cafe by the sea that evening, Pnina was already waiting for him.  He noticed that the picture she put in the website was not of her.  He found this to be a very sexy fact.  Her face was fatter and she had a pimple at the end of her nose, which didn’t bother him at all.  They started talking immediately, and he understood very quickly that she didn’t run the record library at  the Kol Israel radio stations, she was just a junior employee.  They didn’t finish what they had ordered to eat and drink, she leaned over and whispered in his ear “Take me home.”  He asked her where she lives, She whispered again in his ear with great delicacy “Your place, your place.  Where do you live?”  He paid the bill and left a generous tip, they walked out into the street and caught a taxi to his apartment.  They entered and went to his dark bedroom where they kissed and hugged on the bed.  After a couple of hours, when they had finished, they lay next to each other.  Pnina turned to the side and looked for her mobile phone and put on its flashlight.  She got up and stood in front of him, naked.  “Where’s your masking tape?” she asked.  When the young man got his voice back, he told her it was in the top drawer next to the gas stove in the kitchen.  After she had fixed the inner light of the fridge, she turned off the TV, his PC and any electric appliance that was on.  She  walked around his apartment and took every plug out of its socket.  She made sure the  timer for the hot water boiler was not set late night or early morning hours.  She turned all the lights off and went from room to room to make sure no standby led or blinking router had been forgotten.  After a few minutes she came back to bed, turned her mobile phone off and gave him a long good night kiss.  She said “Only this way we will really sleep”.  Indeed, Pnina slept excellently.  He lay awake all night.


Early in the morning, with the first rays of sunshine, the young man got up.  He took his pillow, walked over to the other side of the bed, placed it on Pnina’s face and pressed down with all his strength.  He didn’t stop pushing till she stopped moving.




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