Jack Chelgren

from The Spite House: A Novel


The night started off getting shitfaced with Andy

Rick’s old friend from high school, really his friend with benefits

Although “benefits” was generous

They were probably half fuckbuddies, half fucked-up buddies

And they’d been on again, again, for the past several weeks

Usually this meant getting wasted and jerking each other off on Andy’s couch

Before hitting the town on some wretched spree

Stealing grease-dogs from 7-Eleven or spraypainting DICK RANDY on a pharmacist’s dumpster

(Not an anagram of their names but when drunk close enough)

But it wasn’t until last night that they’d wound up side by side

French kissing not each other or even someone else

But the cold metal hood of a cop car, their punishment

For little more than jaywalking and a few sloppy blocks’ 

Bungled getaway attempt after the first cop flagged them down

And then called in a veritable SWAT team of backup

Who’d immediately gone all UFC on their asses

Tackling and twisting and slamming and smashing

Like Rick and Andy were a pair of twink-sized Bop It!s

All this boosting Andy’s side in an argument they’d been having

Ever since Andy got ACAB tattooed on his right middle finger

He’d asked Rick to get it too, but Rick had refused, calling it poserish and dumb

The real reason being he didn’t want to feel tied to Andy

A symbolic lack of ties which felt formalized that night when

After pleading with his mom on the phone to come get them

Rick’s dad, not his mom, bailed out Rick but not Andy

(I’m not sure I approve of your relationship, Rick’s dad said)

But then Andy, when he got out, blamed Rick for the whole thing

In a virulent text calling Rick a “pocked asshole”

Rick wondered if he’d meant to say “posh,” but no matter

It’s my dad! Rick protested, He did it, not me!

That’s your answer for everything, Andy said and stopped answering

As proof of his definite non-poshness or -pockedness

Rick refused his dad’s offers to return to his parents’ suburban home

For a Serious Family Discussion of the previous evening’s affairs

And instead won the mercy of getting dropped off at his apartment

Where he found a piece of notebook paper taped to the door

CLEAR OUT! scribbled on it in smudgy blue ink

This was from Gage, his landlord—the axe was finally falling

Rick had been one or two or five months late with the rent

A side-effect of never really having a job

Or of piecing together gigs for the past year or so

Since the catheter and bedpan supply store let him go

Lately Gage had been calling two or three times a day

As if blitzing Rick’s voicemail would loosen his bank account

Rick wondering meanwhile how he could keep him at bay

He left the note on the door so Gage would think he hadn’t seen it

The next morning Rick awoke to a call from his dad

He checked the voicemail, it said I am turning 55

(That’s right, Rick forgot), would Rick meet him for brunch?

Normally Rick might not even have replied

But given the whole bail thing he figured he owed him that much

He was typing out a “Sorry I can’t make it” text

When he heard someone pounding down the door

Was it Gage? he thought, panicking, After only one day?

But no, it was Andy, sounding already sloshed at 10:30 AM

Reluctantly Rick opened it—Andy avalanched in

Slurring all over Rick, trying to pull off his clothes

Rick steering him toward the pullout couch he used for a bed

Andy hiccuping wetly Come on baby let’s fuck

Rick saying No Andy, Andy saying But WHYYYYY

Because I have to go, Rick said and left, texting his dad

Rick met his dad at a horrific brunch restaurant

Rick’s mom had come too, which Rick should’ve expected

Look at us, his mom glowed, The Whole Family Together

(Apparently excommunicating Rick’s long-lost brother Carl)

Pretty soon they had ordered and then the food came

Rick’s dad making a stink about his undercooked eggs

Excuse me ! Excuse me ! This is not what I ordered !

I asked for two eggs over HARD

Rick’s mom shaking her head stagily

Rick wishing he could melt away down the shiny metal legs of his barstool

I am so sorry sir, said the waiter, Forgive me

I’ll get you new eggs right away

Right then a guy at the next table cut in

I’ve had it ! he cried, My eggs are wrong too

This isn’t even worth the AAA discount !

The waiter retreated, promising runnier amends

And Rick’s dad and his newfound ally got to talking

What a dump, said Rick’s dad, Bet they’re closed by New Years

If I had my druthers, said the Ally, I’d tear this place down TODAY

Really DO something here, get CREATIVE

Like what? Rick’s dad asked, eliciting a grin

The world’s oldest investment, said the Ally, Something everyone needs

Well, what is it? said Rick’s dad, fiddling with his toast

The Ally’s grin widened—How about a little game?



When you come into me, it’ll cost you

      (said the Ally)

When you leave me, I’ll pay you right back

Keep you cozy and warm

Or I just might transform

Into gold if you have the right knack!


A casino! said Rick’s dad, A hot tub! A hooker!

Creative! said the Ally, I like where your mind went

Come on, I’ll give you another



My name is spelled almost like “horse

And it rhymes with who gets a divorce

But although some may grouse

That I’m hard to renounce

If you use me right, you’ll be unbridled


A horse you divorce? Rick’s dad scratched his head

Uhh, Rick? he said, Honey? A little help here?

Rick was twisting his napkin into avant-origami

Rick’s mom was playing blackjack on her phone

An ass? Rick’s dad ventured when neither replied

Not quite, laughed the Ally, But I see how you got there

Try one more and I’ll cut to the chase



I have a roof always but don’t need a ceiling

All want me, but few understand

I’m a hideyhole only

For the average pony

For the wise, I’m a retirement plan


A horse and a pony, Rick’s dad muttered slowly

I’m definitely picking up something hoofy in all this

Let me hear the second one again

THE ANSWER, it turned out, was houses, flipped houses

Houses you fix up, you hold, and you sell

With the right permits, the Ally said wistfully

You could squeeze a dozen or so townhomes in here

He threw his arms wide, nearly clocking a waiter

Rick’s dad was rapt: So you’re in real estate?

Casually, said the Ally, I have a day job

But a good flipper's always on the lookout

What about you? he asked, You ever invest?

Only stocks, said Rick’s dad, I have a portfolio

By day I do sales, the hospitality supply business

Mostly mid-level stuff, one- and two-star hotels

That sounds profitable, said the Ally, But listen, tell you what

Here’s my email—drop me a line if you feel like something new

I have some deals coming up where I could use a partner

Rick’s dad and the Ally exchanged AOLs

The Ally asked for his check, paid up briskly and left

Only then did Rick’s dad seem to recall he had guests

By the way Rick, he said as if no time had passed

I wanted to talk to you about paying back that bail

Maybe get an agreement in writing

An agreement! Rick yelped, But I don’t have a job! And—

He hesitated—I might be losing my apartment

You ARE?! Rick’s mom screeched, Goodness, sweetie, you’ll be homeless!

You could move in with us for a while

Well, said Rick’s dad, We could talk about that

The point is, said Rick, I can’t really pay you back

I was hoping that the bail could be, you know, a gift

That’s a pretty big gift, Rick’s dad muttered darkly

Let’s talk about this later, said Rick’s mom

When Rick got home from brunch, he found Andy had gone

Leaving a barely wiped-up puddle of puke on the bed

$50 and some weed were missing from Rick’s nightstand

Rick called and left him a furious voicemail

Unsurprisingly, Andy neglected to reply

The next day Rick’s dad called again

I’ve been thinking about your little housing crisis, he said

And remember that guy, the realtor from the restaurant?

He has a couple rentals he says you could move into

Once you're settled, you can start paying me back for that bail

I didn’t mention your bad credit, hopefully he won’t ask

He and I might be going into business together

I’ve been thinking about it, real estate’s pretty promising

I’m getting tired of mid-level hospitality

Jack Chelgren lives in Chicago. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bedfellows, Tyger Quarterly, and Blush. Jack is the managing editor of Chicago Review.