Rick Rossi is a good-looking man. But not conventionally so. With dark eyes, hair so naturally jet-black it almost looks dark-blue and a light, olive complexion. At first glance most superficial men would have killed to be in his shoes--as well as how, at first glance, most superficial women would kill to be in his bed.
But the women who'd mustered the courage to approach him--at stores, in churches and bars--would invariably notice something strange.
That Rick has conversations with himself.
The first voice, always deep and authoritative-sounding.
Second voice. A weak falsetto. The only way a man can cheaply sound like a women. Or a child...
Adult's voice now speaking, Rick's own, natural voice:
"Today we have to go and visit Ma."
Then falsetto comes voice, sharply protesting "No. Please. I just can't bear seeing her like that--wasting away in a goddamn noisy iron lung.
"Arnie," the adult voice had counseled. "She's our mother. And she needs company. Also, watch your language--that's no way for a kid brother to speak."
Awkward silence. Then: "Oh. Have I told you yet?"
"What," the falsetto voice asks.
"Sue's finally getting married--to Cliff."
Sue is Rick's only daughter.
With the exception of talk of his daughter's maritial engagement, today's routine is no different than every other for Rick Rossi. At 8 o'clock, every day, Rick rises to Elvis's voice on the alarm clock. Showers. Has a bowl of oatmeal, toast, and walks for hours and hours, and miles and miles the streets of New York City.
Public reactions to Rick's self-conversing varies. Some men ignore him. Others, ones more insecure about their own masculinity sometimes try to provoke him to violence. "Aye, Fuck-O. You makin' fun of me? How's about I break your fuckin' nose?"
Women are generally nicer. Generally.
Psychiatrists are baffled by Rick--being unable to catergorize his disorder/affliction as any specific illness.
They could not get to the root of his illness because they never found out about Arnie.
Arnold Rossi: Rick Rossi's barely younger twin brother. Best friends to his last day--the day a hit-and-run rammed into Arnie and his scooter.
Arnie wasn't to blame. Blame, if it need be placed anywhere twenty-five years later, should be placed on the unknown driver's shoulders for running a stop sign.
His mother ran outside, screeching "Oh Jesus why?" her screaming this, again and again. Rick never forgave himself for being, in his eyes, even as a twelve-year-old boy, a "coward"--too afraid to even go outside and help his little brother when he really needed him.
He remembers: Sounds. The sounds of commotion outside. Shuffling footfalls, the blares of sirens, and blasphemous shrieks coming from his mother's mouth only.
A brother's horrific realization: Arnie was dying. But Rick couldn't lose Arnie if he could hear him. He reassured himself, in Arnie's voice, "I'm fine, big bro. Don't you worry about me. I'll be home--soon. Then we'll have fun like we always do."
Twenty-five years later, in his mind, Rick Rossi still believes he talks to Arnie. In Rick's warped mind, Arnie complements his entire personality, making Rick, as a person, more palatable.
"Before visiting Ma today we gotta go see and congratulate Sue. I'm so happy for her."
Falsetto voice speaking. "Yeah, big brother. No problem. But," he sighs, "for some reason today, my legs are tired. Could we hail a cab to Sue's--I know you don't usually like doing it."
"Not usually, you're right. But for you, little bro. I will make an exception."
Rick raises his right arm. And a taxi comes almost crashing into Rick. The driver up front is dark--middle eastern, maybe. He seems impatient.
"Yes, you want ride," he asks hurriedly, cigar dangling over the side of his mouth.
"Excuse us a second," Rick turns his back to the driver.
"'Us'? Ishab waits long for no one!" the cabby shouts.
"Little bro," Rick says. "I don't think we oughta go with this driver--his driving seems a bit careless to me."
Falsetto voice replying. "Ricky, my legs are killing me. I can't wait for the time it takes to hail another cab."
Onward the go. Rick in the backseat feeling nausea set in from the abrupt halts, turns and swerves. The cabby yelling, almost screaming obscenities out the window.
"You American sons of whores!--in my country you would not act in such a way!"
A mile from Sue's apartment complex the yellow-and-white taxi cab side-swipes an old Mack 18-wheeler. The taxi driver lay in the front, gurgling blood, his final utterance of verbal sarcasm. Rick in the backseat. Shards of broken glass stuck in his face and chest. Pain. Inordinate pain. Coughing blood. Blood everywhere. And--and--
And that same morbid intuition Rick had had twenty-five years before. The day Arnie was hit and killed.
"Oh God. I'm dying. Oh, God! If you're up there. If you exist. Why? Why...?"
"Don't worry about it," the falsetto voice said, panting and getting weaker. "You'll be just fine."
"The Man Who Couldn't Stop Talking to Himself"
Copyright: © 2010 Jack Bristow
Jack Bristow graduated Long Ridge Writer's Group in 2009. He lives in New Mexico. His next short story, "Our Bus Driver, Fred" can be read in the upcoming issue Thirteen of Cantaraville: An International PDF Literary Quarterly.