I was cooking dinner — roast garlic chicken with fresh summer squash and sautéed spinach — when my phone rang in the other room. I let it go to voice mail. It rang again and again and again, each time going to voice mail. It rang and went to voicemail and then immediately rang again maybe ten times before finally I picked up the phone.
"Speak," I said.
"Mister Parish, there is a man …" he lingered on the "n," then the voice faded in a familiar way. I recognized the name Parish and the slow soft voice.
"Eddie? What the hell. Eddie, what do you want?"
Eddie used to work for me as a cook many years ago when I was in the restaurant business. One day he started calling me Mister Parish. Never in front of other employees and always with a deferential tone. I interpreted this new address of his as two parts weirdness and one part compliment, and I allowed it without comment. Maybe I allowed it because he was the only person in the restaurant who called me Mister, or maybe I just liked the oddness of it and being connected to this small mystery. I had always thought of him as an odd fellow and now I was in some small, apparently harmless, way complicit in his oddness. Months later he started calling me at home to let me know things that were going on when I wasn't there. It had probably been twenty five years since I'd last heard Eddie's voice.
"Eddie, how does the man know where I live?"
"Mister Parish, he knows. I don't know how he knows but he does know and so he will come to your door. He is not like the others, but is a very bad man. A frightening man."
Then he hung up. In the past he would always wait for me to speak last before hanging up. I might say, "Eddie, run after the man who took the fifty dollars from the cash register and tell him if he does not return the money I will be forced to fire Sharon tomorrow, because, as you well know, every action demands a reaction. I know you are fond of Sharon, and I'm sorry it has to be her, but I have no choice. Do you think you can catch the man, Eddie?"
He would always catch the man. In the morning he would recount some version of: after great effort he caught the man, got the money returned to the cash register, but when his back was turned he thinks the man may have run off with either: a fork, a teaspoon, a small bag of coffee from the waitress station, a raw hamburger patty from his cook's line. One time he said the man got away with a lemon and maybe a lime too — "Mister Parish, he had both of his hands closed when he was running away; I don't know what else might have fit so perfectly that he could close his hands all the way like that." The man also brought liquor into the restaurant, took money from a waitress's purse, ate a meal without paying, wrote graffiti on the dumpster, masturbated in the employee bathroom.
The man was never given a name or age or description. It was sufficient that the man committed actions that mostly could be undone and that Eddie kept me apprised of his doings. He also kept me informed on what others were doing. I came to understand that if Eddie didn't like someone, which was almost everyone I hired, then I needn't worry about that person. The occasional new hire that he'd praise, I'd almost immediately replace. When other managers came to visit my restaurant if Eddie was working I always introduced him as my head cook. This pleased him greatly, and I might go two weeks thereafter without a phone call.
While eating my dinner I ruminated on those long ago times and mostly smiled at the recollections. After a full night's sleep I woke to my morning pot of coffee and my normal routine with no thoughts of Eddie or his warning. Midmorning, after a long bath and full shave and an extra slap of cologne, I left my apartment for the office. I may have been whistling when I turned to lock the door.
My door was painted red. All of the door was freshly painted, including the knob and lock. It was slightly sticky to the touch, with the obvious implication. I looked up and down the corridor, both sides of the hallway: all doors and walls and ceilings white, except for my red door. Was it maroon or scarlet or raspberry or merlot? I don't know. It might have been one or all of those colors for all I know. I know the names but not the colors because I've always hated red and done my best to avoid it since childhood when I almost bled out from a boy's game gone wrong.
What I've recounted happened last evening and this morning. I did not go to the office, but instead called maintenance and insisted they come immediately to repaint my door. I was told multiple units had A/C problems and those repairs took priority but that they would get to my door soon thereafter. The tone of the young lady's voice suggested she didn't share my urgency. I thought to argue with her but decided she was unlikely to be persuaded, not over the telephone and not with my argument saddled by an increasing level of agitation. So I wait. And if they have not painted my door by this evening I will go to the hardware store and buy a gallon of white paint and a brush and any mess I make in the hallway will be their problem. I will not live behind a red door and I will not flee. There is always a man. And there is always another man after that one.