My Friend Gill

Mike Liska

One of those stubborn dead lives across the hall, drinking gin all day and listening to AM radio. Name is Gill, got the lowdown from Mrs. Apple by-the-stairs he was hit by a train, crossing the tracks somewhere in Jersey to go fishing at a secret lake behind a factory. Big Catfish, he claimed when the ambulance crew hiked up to him with a stretcher. Going after them Big Catfish hiding at the bottom of a secret lake. Just took a graze from a slow moving black coal train, last of its kind. Died of head trauma on the way in, woke up at his funeral with a bad train hangover and says, I ain't goin'yet.

Gill's not a bad sort, says hi when we pass in the hall. The police would come knocking when he first moved in, looking to get him back in the plot of earth his relatives paid for in Jersey. Gill'd sit all quiet in his apartment with the chain lock up as if they were Jehovah's Witnesses, waiting until they got frustrated and left. Moved to the City for some god damn peace and quiet, he said to me, and they still come knocking. He's hiding and smoking cowboy Luckies because it just doesn't matter anymore, not one of those heroic happy dead I read about in literature. Pretty soon, he thinks, he's not even going to be on the books anymore and then they'll stop and he'll get his peace and quiet. Gill will talk to me and Mrs. Apple by-the-stairs then and that's it. Someday, I think, he'll lock himself up in there and never come out, afraid one of us is going to rat him out to the Divine Authorities, as if we knew where to find them. Thinks that they're going to send devils or angels after him. He don't know which, but figures it will work itself out the same.

I don't know where he gets his gin or how he pays his rent, but Gill gets by somehow, sitting in there listening to news programs and the great big bands that went with the dinosaurs, the shiny brass rulers of the earth. They play in the kingdom of heaven now, he told me. Glenn Miller and Count Basie and Duke Ellington, they play for Jesus who has a mean Lindy Hop in him, but only Saint Peter will dance with him because of the holes in his hands. Gill has to listen to them on the radio because he'll never make it there - fishing is a sin. Gill will sit there in apartment 3B for as long as he can hold himself together and avoid the attention of whoever the hell's in charge around here, though it seems lately like they've turned away, cut their losses and started working on another world from scratch someplace else. I was coming home from work at the record store the other day and Gill smiled at me on the stairs with a snifter of brandy in one hand and a newspaper in the other, wearing corduroys and no shirt. Those are some nice sandals, he said to me, and his bottom lip flapped free and dropped into his snifter. I'll get that later, he said embarrassed, slipping the lip into his pocket and finishing the last sip of brandy. I know it's long overdue, he explained to me, but I can't go yet. He raised the newspaper as evidence and said there's just too much going on.