Porter opened his eyes—correction—he tried to open his eyes, but they were matted shut. He used a thumb and index finger to gently unstick them, then opened them. Then wished he hadn't. The light pouring through his bedroom window hit them like needles, hot needles that went straight through the eyeballs and pierced his brain. What the hell was wrong with him? He turned to look at the old Big Ben wind-up alarm clock on the nightstand. It said eleven-fifteen, which couldn't be right. Porter Hamlin woke up at 6 AM, day after day after day. The alarm was set for 6:05, but it was never needed, hadn't been for fifty years. Turning his head made the pain worse, if that was possible. (Yes, definitely possible.) He rolled over on his side, buried the left side of his face in the pillow, and looked at the sunlit window, gradually opening his eyes to admit more of the soft light that powered through the blue curtain.
After a couple minutes it started coming back, little flashes at first, then more and more. He had gotten drunk. Very, very drunk. He had started at Harold's bar and after that…what? He closed his eyes, tried to concentrate. He remembered Harold refusing to serve him another drink, remembered it pissing him off, but what—oh crap, now he remembered: Debra. His sister-in-law who didn't exist. Debra, with the beautiful feminine hands. (The rest of her wasn't bad, either.) The stories she told. The book she showed him. A book that looked older than him, older than Alice, but had their picture in it. Cripes, if the book was really that old, it had a picture of a movie theater that was created before movies were even invented. How was any of that possible?
The phone rang in the kitchen. He had wanted to install more phones in other rooms of the house, but Alice refused because she hated phones, didn't even want to see them any more than necessary. Yes, she got her way on that, like she got her way on most things. Why was that? Why hadn't he been more assert—
Another ring yanked him from his mental meandering. He rolled out of the bed, stretched, then gave a start when he realized he was naked. Porter Hamlin was a pajamas man, thank you very much, content to see as little of his aging body as possible. The blasted ringing continued, each strike of the old clapper on the old bell in the old phone a direct strike on his brain. He turned to head toward the kitchen and nearly jumped out of his saggy old naked skin. Lying in the bed, his bed—his and Alice's bed—tucked into the covers with a sweet little sleep-smile on her face, was Debra. His mind ceased to work in any meaningful way. He covered his privates with his hands until he could tiptoe to the door and retrieve his bathrobe from its hook. (He had picked up the tiptoe thing when he was a kid; his bedroom had tile floors that were always ice cold on his bare feet. Talk about old habits dying hard.)
Safely wrapped in the robe, he stumbled his way to the kitchen, where the phone continued its assault on his senses. He yanked the receiver off the hook and stuck it to his ear. "Who is it and what the hell do you want?"
After a moment of silence, Larry Walker's slickish lawyer voice said, "Uh, Porter?"
"Yes, Larry. What is it?"
"Are you okay?"
"I'm…fine. What is it?"
"Need you to drop by the office sometime this afternoon."
"I have a letter I'm required to read to you today."
"Wait, what day is this?"
"It's Sunday. And no, I normally don't work on Sunday, but I have to make an exception for this. What time can you come?"
"How about two?"
"Perfect. See you then."
Porter hung the receiver back on its hook, stood there a moment, then turned to go back to the bedroom and see if perhaps he was really still asleep and this was all a dream. There was no need.
Debra stood in the doorway to the bedroom. Naked as a jaybird. She smiled and said, "Hey, sweetie. Who was on the phone?"
Porter's senses swirled, then faded to gray on their way to black as he crumpled to the floor.