Kim said, “I can’t talk about this. I’m at Ralph’s. Like a normal person.”
She hung up as the lookalike started her speech again. The lookalike wanted a case of Dom Perignon delivered by sunset or she would call the press. Kim hated the stunt more and more. She wanted to drive home, make spaghetti, work on her novel, and listen to Ye play one of his new instruments.
She was waiting at the checkout with a scarf over her hair, big sunglasses, and a plain overcoat. The man ahead had too many items, and he kept trying out jokes on the thin, bald cashier, who laughed at them. Kim tapped her foot, then noticed it and stopped. Her arms were crossed, and she still had her phone out. She hoped she would get to the Corolla in time to call in the champagne. The money man had wanted to hear her voice since the lookalike faked a text.
The mansion was for show. The fashion line, the social media, the app—it was all for show. She was good at business, and that business mandated a certain persona. It wasn’t her fault. She wanted quiet, and most days she had it. She ran her empire from her Android, at home in their studio apartment.
The fortune was nice. She could afford things like the embarrassment wrapped in brown paper at the bottom of her purse. The lookalike might not follow through—she would lose her playground—but calling her bluff would risk that fortune. She had only been a headache since the faked text.
The man was now packing his feast into six bags. He kept up his jokes. The cashier laughed at another one, then turned with a leer to wave her forward. She took out her wallet.
“He had more than fifteen items,” she said and regretted it.
“Babushka,” said the cashier, “you have an oddly familiar bottom.”
She considered flashing the card that made eyes pop, but pulled out the other one.
“I’m in a hurry,” she said. “You can keep your job.”
He thought she was joking.
The elevator was out again, so she carried her bag up the stairs. An elderly man was braving the first flight, and he stopped when he saw her, pulling close to the railing so she could pass. She thanked him, but kept her face hidden. On the third floor, she could hear Ye’s thumb piano, as frantic as the harpsichord at the end of the fifth Brandenburg. He had detuned it with pliers, and the music sounded evil.
She let herself in and set the groceries down. They didn’t have much furniture, but it was well-arranged. She had hired a decorator, but had to keep insisting on cheaper items. The art was modest. There were several plants that made the apartment seem homey. The music came from the bathroom. She knocked on the door.
“I got groceries. Can you give me a hand?”
“Hold up,” he said, still playing. “Remember Bonnie and Clyde?”
She picked the bag back up and carried it to the kitchenette, where she unloaded the vegetables into the crisper. He sounded high, which was odd—he never got high. He probably wouldn’t care about the embarrassment in the brown paper. He usually wasn’t interested. They talked politics and philosophy.
“Can you play something else?” she called. “That’s kind of creepy.”
“Yeah,” he said, and the music stopped. “The kalimba just sounds that way. I have a flute.”
“Play something happy,” she said, but she knew what he would play. The apartment filled with his new waltz. Kim smiled. She’d liked it the night before, but he’d fixed it since then. The closet held his favorite of the instruments. The rest were already in storage. She opened the cupboard.
“Hey, Kim,” he said at the long rest. “Remember Bonnie and Clyde and my face?”
“I remember,” she said, dropping her scarf by the bag. He often forgot that he’d told her. She grabbed a box of spaghetti. “It’s a shame about your face.”
“Hey, Kim,” he said. Then there was flute. Then he said, “Acid!”
A flourish from the flute and then Kanye was screaming. She dropped the spaghetti, ran to the bathroom, and threw in the door. He was on his knees. Flesh dripped from his face into a bucket. He wore swimmer’s goggles. She skidded in and put a hand on his back. She held her phone in the other. He slapped it to the ground, then fell back and pulled her hand to his chest. There was a toolbox on the toilet lid.
He was still screaming. She let herself join him, then focused. She pulled him up. They stumbled to the futon. She laid him on his back. His nose was almost gone. He’d tilted his head too far into the acid, and his chin was unharmed, but a lot of his hair was gone. The burnt parts were still bubbling. She pulled off the goggles, then thought she shouldn’t have. There were rags in the bathroom that were caked in baking soda. She tossed them on his lap. He buried his face in them.
He kept screaming until a neighbor knocked. As she talked the neighbor away, he lowered his voice to a high moan. She spotted the belt on his arm, and ran to the bathroom to grab the toolbox. She’d thought it was some kind of heroin kit, and it was. Things got easier.
He moaned all night. A few times, he slurred, “No doctors.” Other times it was, “Bonnie and Clyde, right?” She couldn’t make things easier. At midnight, she called the Ralph’s and, by the end of the call, the cashier was fired. She sat in the loveseat with her laptop, but stared at the words there. One of the seals on his goggles had broken, and he was blind in that eye. At 4 a.m. she dug the embarrassment out of her purse and threw it in the kitchen trash. She buried it deep. By morning, he had stopped moaning.
“Oh man,” said Kanye as the sun showed up. “Man, my flute.”