IN the early evening, as most students found themselves invariably: With the perfect looking girl and the perfect bottle of Port or, more so on a night like this, humid and sweat producing, at a nice, dry library or any other air conditioned setting to feverishly read and reread Contemporary Nursing: 3rd Edition or, and this is much more typical of this university, a disheveled and worn 19th century novella by a European who killed himself. Before the sun goes down fully, a brigade of miners will make their way to a famous dive bar, close to campus, noticeably absent of our protagonist’s boyfriend. For the most part, but only within this text, he will be shacked up in a dorm room with a wail of a time wishing they had long been separated.
For what it’s worth, if anything at all, there is a slight storm outside. A late summer storm, nothing dangerously serious but just enough to force all prospecting students to assemble in neat, little circles under awnings and bus stops. Conversations of self-esteem and lightning threats were plentiful. Above, Louise Roitfeld, safe from the gentle puddling, speaks with her Romantic Partner Bogart Moore, two terribly WASPy perversions of reality. For full disclosure, they have not been intimate in some time, citing ’emotional strain’ as a prohibitor. In her little dorm room there, the usual signs of grief were littered, quite literally, across the room. Boxes of half eaten Chinese take out, emptied, but unwashed, bowls of chicken soup and mostly unopened packages of Kleenex. For the following conversation they were positioned, the two, one standing, one sitting, one picking at his bare fingernails, and the other placid, with no discernible nervous quirks, in her dorm room, squished by light cerulean blue wallpaper. Bogart spoke first:
“Do you know why he did it at least?”
“Well sure I know.”
“Well, what I was told, and this is all, you know,” Louise swallowed her food. “From the brain of the guy who talked him into it…”
“I guess they just got into a little spat and he went a little nuts. I mean, I’m not sure I believe him, but I don’t think he lying or anything.” Her eyes wandered as she spoke, looking at her unmade bed with the university standard checkered white and beige sheets, then, in only a matter of seconds, picture frames, riddled with the deceased. One in particular caught her eye, taken most likely in the early autumn of 1957. It featured a young, skirt wielding and devilishly happy Louise standing, arm over shoulder, with her late brother Alex, a fresh faced young man of 17, arriving at a popular university in the American North East. “A little nuts?”
“You’re not the least bit curious about it?”“Of course I am. I’m just not sure it’s my place— “
“He was—is—you brother. You lived with him for 20 years for Christsake. Now, all of the sudden, he walks off a bridge and all you can describe it as is ’a little nuts’?”
“Boy, you’re one bad consoler,” Louise said in a tone best described as chipper, and this is particularly troubling, but I can not place her true emotion. She had a smile, for one, but the conversation and its topic were heavy and not one to joke, let alone be chipper in. “And it wasn’t a bridge, if you haven’t figured out by now.”
“I know, but Jesus Louise, its been a week and you haven’t said anything. Hell, I think I’m more broken up then you.” Louise turned away from Bo, facing her roommate’s desk. Inexplicably, she placed her hands, palms down, on the desk. “And I barely knew the guy,” Bo said. Unsure why she put her hands on the desk, she lifted them, one to her mouth, the other wiped the sweat on the desk left from the half-second of their placement.
“Alright.” Louise started with a certain lack of conviction. “Truth is… Jesus.”
“I don’t really need to know the truth. Hell, I don’t really want the truth. I just want you to feel something. Or at least show me you feel something. And if you don’t, then I’m sorry, you know. But it’s—I think you gotta agree— it’s hard to comfort someone when you don’t even know if they want comforting.” With the sweat gone from the desk, her left and right joined each other at the base of her neck. They massaged her nape as she awaited a response to come to her broken mind. Directly above her hands, and much crucial to the plot, sat a satin pink sweater over her shoulders with one loose thread aching to be pulled. The sweater, it should be said, was bought at the particularly upscale, mid-Manhattan clothing store Cab by the deceased, brother to the dime above and below.
Following the mild mannered outburst, Bo paced the room with no response. Eight minutes passed.
“See Bo, this is what I can’t do.” Louise finally said leaning back, arms folded over her gifted pink sweater, in utter defiance. There was a rocking chair, one passed from dorm to dorm in an elaborate game of tag, that rested in the very corner of the room and where Bo sat. “What someone told me…” Louise started, not really wanting to, but doing so anyway.
“Who?” he interjected, “You’ve only spoken to me once in the past three weeks. So please, Louise, I would love to know, who told you about something that happened during your brother’s suicide. Please. Louise, enlighten me.”
“Take a step back Bo,” she said with a firming lip.
“A step back?”
“That’s right.” Louise said as she reached into a dreadfully warm coat pocket that sat idle on the bed post. What she found in that hung coat was a recently opened but almost empty pack of off-brand cigarettes. She struck a match, also found in that very same coat. She lifted the match to the cigarette end and inhaled. As she spoke the forthcoming words, smoke came out her mouth then, almost that very instant, back in but her nose. “I’m not sure why you feel so keen to get this out of me,” she said very meek like but truly upset. The hand that once wiped sweat from the desk now found itself alone on her forehead with the unashed cigarette delicately intertwined with her fingers.
“I just don’t want you to do the same Louise. And I’m sorry if I am overbearing, I really am. I just can’t help but feeling that if I don’t get you help right now, then you might be gone forever. And that’s just…Well, you know…Jesus Louise.” Bo stopped his manic pacing and looked at Louise and her lightened cigarette. “Can I get one of those,” he said to her.
Louise sent one hand back into the void of her coat pocket looking for a cigarette: A Great Peace Offering. She knew there would be no cigarette but her fingers wiggled anyway. “Sorry Bo,” she said eventually, without any remorse. “This is the last one.”
“Damn Louise, you bought that this morning.” Bo said. “Can I bum off that one?”
“Jesus Bo,” Louise said. “Would you just let me have this. This one thing. Goddamnit Bo.” The lit cigarette was now half gone. It was close to burning the webbing on her hand.
“Hey, watch it Lou.”
As Louise shifted the cigarette in her hand, now resting between her left thumb and index finger, the action lulled. An apology loomed in the air. Louise imagined, more so than Bo, a little hand reaching out into the air, trying to grab the delicate words. She could not find the strength to apologize. Instead, silence filled the dinky little dorm room until Louise smeared her mascara with heavy droppings from her eyes.
For the sake of the waning author’s imagination, a third entered the room and, for lack of a better word, even with as fitting as it is, she plopped in with months of frustration. She was the roommate of our beautiful little dame, Abigail Jones, a financing major from Tacoma, Washington and owner of a peacefully Northern Pacific accent. Abigail’s hair was done up in a way that would give her parents an uneasy feeling. Her hair, brown and curled, twisted and turned around an intricate system of levers and pulleys, letting the front dangle far past her eyes. Apparently, as I am neither a 20 year old college lady nor a fashion connoisseur, this hair do is popular among the Bohemian type on Eastern campuses. Below her hair, around her shoulders, was a white tank top. Even further below, fixed around her plumpish waist, were a pair of red and white men’s college basketball shorts with he number 5 stitched on next to two vertical lines.
“Oh hiya there Bo,” Abigail said, with a tested patience. “I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“Yeah, sorry Abie, I didn’t either,” Louise said as she wiped her running mascara.
“We’ll only be a couple of minutes Abie. Not too long.”
“That’s ok, I’m leaving anyway.”
“Night with Daniel then?”
“Unfortunately.” Abigail had come in the room with a laundry basket full to the brim. As she spoke to the distressed couple, she reached in the basket, taking out certain garments and placing them on the very desk Louise placed her sweaty hands earlier, in the most uneager of manners. The outfit she put together in order of neck to foot was: A silken pearl colored scarf with a vestige of its previous owner, a tiny, almost unnoticeable stain of mustard towards the end, a blue, white trimmed, sweater made from the unmistakable cashmere, a three quarter length white oxford button down, a grey and navy plaid skirt, skort really, and a pair of clean, cream colored socks with a pink lining where they would touch Abigail’s ankles.
“But you two were so great together, Abie.”
“I know, he just gets into these strange moods, you know. I didn’t think it would work anyway. He’s a little prissy, you know.”
“Prissy?” Bo chimed in the conversation. “In what way?” He looked at both ladies. “I only ask because I dealt with a bout of prissiness.” Again, meeting their gaze. “Before I met Lou here, of course.”
“What does that mean, a ’bout of prissiness’?” Lou asked Bo.
“Well you saw my yearbook picture…”
Louise broke into a controlled giggle, hand over mouth. “Abie, have you—you need to see this.”
“C’mon Lou, we were leaving anyway.”
“Hey, you brought it up Bo.”
“Jesus Lou… Well get it over with then I guess.” Louise walked to Bo, it only took a few steps.
“Well I don’t have it— you wouldn’t happen to have it would you.” Bo put his right hand around the shoulder of Louise, with her left hand finding its way to his chest. “Of course not Lou, why would I bring that monstrosity to— why did I even mention it, Jesus.”
“I don’t know Bo, maybe you miss those days…”“Yeah, maybe Lou. Maybe before I met you, my life was pretty swell. Come to think of it, we need to tal—”
“No we don’t.” Louise said. “We are happy just the way we are, right now, Bogart.”
It was only now, after kisses were exchanged, that Abigail had seen this desperate attempt to rekindle romance and threw up over and over, ruining her perfectly set outfit.
“Well, I’ll be off then,” The two lovebird’s spell was broken. “Daniel won’t break up with himself.”
“Alright, Abie,” Louise said cautiously. “Good luck, don’t let him do anything silly, you know.” With that, our third had come and left in only a matter of minutes.
The lonesome two now found themselves, almost instinctively, away from each other. Separated by the stock, default chair this particular university gives to all dormitory residents.
“I hope everything goes right with her. It’s really terrible when things can’t work out, you know.”
“Yeah, but that guy, Daniel…” Louise said with a measured quietness. “Well you know.”
“A little, was he really so bad?”
“Bo,” Louise’s eyes were now fixed, hard, with very steady determination to find the truth in Bo’s words. “Yes, he was.” Louise’s pale green eyes watched as Bo made a move to find any liquor in the room.
“There isn’t any in here, Bo,” Louise finally said after about a half minute of searching.
“Jesus, how’d you cope Lou,” Bo said as he stopped to look at her eyes. “I didn’t mean tha—”
“I know,” Louise moved to the default chair, a drowned yellow and green plastic waste of space. She sat, noticeably uncomfortable, as a man would sit: Right leg rested on the lower thigh, upper knee of the left. She started this monologue still with love for Bo: “I know it must he hard for you Bo, I know that. And I’m sorry for acting this way and all. Some people just have different ways of dealing with stuff, you know. But I don’t think it’s really fair for you to act this way. I can’t just turn on the sprinklers, you know. I know I did earlier and I didn’t really tell you or make a big fuss, I think you saw anyway, but I don’t know what that was. I smoke too much, probably. I read— oh it doesn’t matter.” Louise stopped for a brief second to wipe the edges of her mouth. “I read, sometimes, when someone’s dealing with loss, people have these waves. Waves of tears and, well just really emotions in general. And I think, Bo, I think that is what’s happening. At least I hope so. And the article said that smoking doesn’t help. But I beg to differ Bo. I think the cigarettes are doing something, I don’t know what but something. Breaking down— I wouldn’t call it a break down really— breaking down isn’t the only thing they’re doing to me, Bo. I don’t know what it is about me. I am really terrible. I thought maybe you could help me, or someone anyway, but I just don’t see it now. I am just afraid of becoming one those All-Century Girls who ends up breaking down all over the place after their wonderful little childhood. Or—or heaven forbid, I end up like Al. And all this business with what someone told me…” She shifted to a slightly more uncomfortable position. “Well you were right, I haven’t talked to anyone for weeks. I was lying—or was going to anyway— and I don’t know why. I don’t know why Bo.” She scratched her chin and gave a beautiful look of relief. “Boy, Dr. Hoffe would have a field day with me.”
With the third gone, proper efforts of comfort could begin again. Bogart rushed to her side, finding his arm on her hip this time, and pressed his chest to her canted shoulder. The two were forced to stand, due to the awkwardness of the position. He was much too close to Louise, in all metrics of distance, in all situations and levels of love.
“D’you remember Mr. Carlisle, Steven Carlisle, the Eng—” Bo moved his face away from hers. Then his entire body, as he found the rocky chair again, leaving Louise to stand, then painfully sit on Abigail’s desk.
“Yeah, you to T.Aed. for him in the summer.”
“Yeah, English department, well he read the students a little piece from A Waashat Life: Religion and and something I don’t remember. It’s his new book. You haven’t heard of it—” Louise shook her head with her eyes fixed to the back of her eyelids. “No, right, it’s his new book and Lou, it’s really something. You—”
“What all does he talk about,” Louise asked in a rushed voice.
“Relationships and all that. Lots about how the Native Americans, usually the Wanapum Tribe, and their relationship with the gods—”
“Carlisle,” Louise opened her eyes and looked around for Bo with an entirely too suspect of face. “That’s not too Native American.”“That’s because he’s not Native, Lou. He just likes them I guess—”
“What does he like about them?”
“Lou, you’re missing the point,” Bo said, trying to carry on with his wisdom. “He was saying that the relationship with the gods was so strong that they basically gave up on all other people and focused all their—you know, put all their time in with them. I told him he should tour this book and everything. I told him he’d make piles.”
“You think that’s true?” Louise’s face saw the floor again.
“What. The money? You betcha. I was so brilliant Lou—”
“No, the Natives Bo, do you think they had that type of relationship?” He asked, not waiting for response. “I reckon it was so perfect that when the natives reached their heaven, all they did was say ’Howgh’, or something simple like that. How great would that be, no explaining why you did something terrible or said something bad about some no name jock, just a little ’high, come on in’. I bet it was like the gods were waiting for them their entire lives.”
Louise picked at her pink satin sweater. She found the thread that had previously come loose but she had not the time nor desire to pick at. The thread now caught her eye and she picked at it with a certain intensity, making her mouth go wry and spittle lined her clinched lips. As it unraveled, right in the middle of her hands, she gave a small sigh for the thread, as if she had been missing the thread her whole life and as soon as she found it, she killed it.
Bo had been so worked up with his anecdote about this Mr Carlisle that he had not noticed the sigh but be sure, fine audience, it echoed right down on her, making the thread sway gently. When the air reached the thread, and when Louise had noticed what she had done, she clinched the thread in her palm. Her gangly knuckles went white and any sort of affection for Bo she had was now gone.
“Well sure, but that’s not what I was really going for.”
“What were you going for?” Louise said. “Because that’s what I was going for.”
“Trying to change the s—”
“Do you think that’s how it went for Al?” Louise asked with absolute sincerity, retuning her eyes from the thread to Bo’s disheveled, drooping head.
“Because that’s how I think it went, Bo,” Louise picked the thread clean. It now dangled, with its natural bends and curves in her freshly pumped, rosy hands. “I bet Al gave them a little wave, maybe bowed his head a trifle, not sure if he should or not.” The thread hung there, three inches from her face, swaying back and forth, to a fro, with each coming breath. Louise took the thread by the top most part, and slid her fingers down the thread. When she reached the bottom of the thread, and after it bounced from the sudden lack of tension, she looked at Bo for the following words: “What do you think they say back, Bo?”
Bo took a second or two to answer. “Something polite, I hope.” Louise refined her attention back to the thread.
“I bet they don’t say anything at all,” she said. “I bet they just smile and walk you in all slow and maybe put their arm around your shoulders. I hope that’s how they do it, Bo.” Louise closed her eyes and thought of her brother Al reaching the Native gods.
First, she thought, he would look around a bit, confused and scared. Maybe he’d see something in the distance and maybe it would catch his eye. Then, she thought, he would walk up to it. He would walk slow and passive and afraid of stepping on something he shouldn’t. When he would see the gods, three of them she imagined, he would smile. And the smile, she thought, would be wry and wrinkle his cheeks. It was relief, the smile. And the gods would smile back. Only for a brief second, Louise imagined her brother saying something to gods but thought better of it. Instead the smile went away and Al bent his head. Then she imagined the gods would pick his head up and hold his hands or maybe put their arms around his shoulder and Al would walk into his heaven next to the three gods without saying anything.
“Lou,” Bo said as he leaned over her limp body. “Wake up Lou.” Louise’s eyes widened and she rose off the ground where she fell asleep thinking of her brother.
“How long was I out?” she asked.
“About an hour,” He answered.
“God, I’m embarrassed.”
“Don’t be, you looked peaceful, Lou.”
“Yeah?” She wiped her eyes of sleep, leaving one hand still hanging on her eye and the other propped her body up from the ground. “Why’d you wake me then?”
It was at this moment, when Louise picked herself up from the ground and said those graceful words, that a young man reached his shaky hand out and offered his name: “Thomas Bruni,” He said. “Hi. Louise right?”
Louise looked at Bo for the briefest of seconds before responding to Thomas. “Yes, I don’t think I know—”
“No,” Thomas said, “well, not really, but we have talked before, but I think I have something for you.”
“Thomas, you seem like a perfectly nice guy but…”
“It’s from your brother.”
Louise fixed her eyes back to Bo but, this time, the staring last substantially longer. “OK,” Louise said, finding her eyes back to the intruder.
“Well, we actually spoke on the phone, about a month back—”
“You were the one who got in touch, then?”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “I did— well the police did, but I was the one who talked to you.”
Louise was now upright, standing at attention. Her hands found themselves clinging to the lining of her pockets as she spoke to the wanderer. She searched the recesses of her brain to recall the conversation. When it sparked in her mind, she felt a trifle remorseful as the conversation was mentioned only an hour ago.
“Yes,” she said, with a joyous rouse. “Of course. Thomas right?” Louise looked back at Bo with her brightened green eyes, unaware Thomas here had said his name, and she too said his name.
Thomas smiled, looking towards Bo too in a convincingly naive way. “Yeah, Thomas,” he said. “I didn’t expect you to be this excited.”
“Well it’s just nice to put a face to the voice, you know.” Louise’s hands found themselves inexplicably outside of her pockets now and resting, rather peacefully, as they intertwined across her torso, covering the torn thread’s tiny and unnoticeable whole. “And any time I can meet one of Al’s friends, well that’s just always great.”
Bo found himself lost within the tiny dorm room. We walked over to the radiator, sat down and waited the warmth to take over his iced body.
“D’you mind if I come in?” Thomas said.
“Of course, jeez, what am I— sit anywhere you like.”
Thomas sat where Bo had sat before, a crackling wicker chair that damn near took up half the room. “Spacious,” he said.
“Right,” she said. “Warm at least.”
“That’s key. Al’s and I first apartment was an ice box, I swear to God.”
“I bet, those Boston winters…” They spoke pleasantries, dancing over the dreadful topic for a few minutes until there were none left and a quietness took the air. As the conversation lulled, Thomas, looking around the dorm, found a picture, previously mentioned, of the deceased. He noticed, with his detective eye, a particularly grey blob towards the edge of frame. Thinking for a moment, leaving the conversation to fully decompose, Thomas recognized the blob to be himself. Waiting to say anything of the picture, to be perfectly sure, he let Louise in on the secret. “That’s me there,” he said, pointing to the picture frame.
“Yeah, which one?” Louise turned her neck in the direction of her desk, home of the frame.
“Al there and you. I’m in the corner there.”
“BU, yeah. Freshman year I think.”
“See I’m there on the outside of the frame, I am almost positive I’m talking to your father, maybe mother.”
“No, she wasn’t there. It must’ve been Dad.”
“Have you talked to him at all about— I mean, how’s he taking this all.”
“I think he’s next. Honest.” Their eyes came back towards each other. “For what it’s worth, I could be too—”
“Sorry,” Thomas broke her off. “Mind if I smoke?”
Thomas, like Louise had once before, reached into his soft pea coat and found a perfectly unopened pack of unfiltered cigarettes. He dug his fingers into the thin plastic, ripping the coating and exposing the pack’s beautifully crafted label: A pair of keel boats on the Mississippi jockeying for position with a dimmed sun behind and the etching of a bearded figure behind them, in a translucent sense, with a speech bubble filled with the words: Barges Twice.
“I couldn’t get one of those, could I?” Bo spoke up. Thomas gave one to Louise who then passed it on, down a great line, to Bo who would smoke the cigarette full in two minutes flat. “Don’t miss an opportunity of Barges, sorry,” Bo said as a wafting layer of smoke puddled by the radiator.
Thomas had begun storing his plastic wasting in his coat pocket, until Louise spoke up.
“Here,” she said.
Thomas released the plastic from his gripping and let it rest on top of a mound of used Kleenex. “You were saying…”
“Oh, Jesus, nothing,” she said with a absent grin. “Don’t mind me.”
As the conversation reached a trough once again, Thomas dug into his coat pocket, opposite the cigarette harborer, and pulled nearly two dozen papers. As he shuffled, catching the eye of Louise, he shifted his body weight forward and let a frown come upon his resting face. He licked his right index finger, turned over a sheet, licked it again, and turned another sheet. “Here,” he said, giving Louise two papers. “This is from Al,” he said as the papers were taken, very delicately and soft from his hands.
“I believe so. I only read enough to figure out if it was for me or not.”
“Don’t think it took long.” Louise said as she looked over the papers.
The letter was handwritten, in red felt tip inc, and intended for only one pair of eyes. It read:
I finally get to write one of these. I promise it’ll be my only one. I phoned El and Jay earlier. It was nice. I didn’t tell them anything about what I’m going to do. I wanted to just talk to them, as a brother, and to not worry about being talked down or anything like that. El is good, by the way. I don’t know the last time you two talked but she sends her regards I think—at least I’ve taken the liberty to— you know El. Jay’s the same. I think he’s still struggling a bit. But overall, I think, in a good place. I think he needs to find a girl mostly. He said he wanted to buy an ant farm. I told him no. Then an iguana. Don’t ask me how he’ll find an iguana in Wyoming, please.
I haven’t, and won’t, no matter what you say, talk to Mom or Dad. That’s just not something I can do.
Anyway, I suppose this is goodbye and all. I think the one thing I want you to know is that I’m not doing this because I’m sad or anything, I just can’t find my place, that’s all. It’s nothing serious.
Enclosed, or at least what should be, is a little thing I wrote. I think that, more than this, is the real letter.
Love you all to bits,
Al (his mark)
As a welling grew in Louise’s eyes, she folded the papers and placed them, right on top, of the pulled thread that she once excavated from her sweater. Then she took the remaining papers from Thomas’s hand and began to read them. They have been transcribed, in full, for any willing participant. They wrote:
With hollow stomachs, in the mist of heavy traffic and sweltering heat, our two boys waded through the side walk at a steady pace. Being famished, as they so often are, the conversation was limited to the occasional grunt, nod or point. A hopeful conversation was limited even more so by their positioning on the pesky sidewalk. One, the more daring of the two, walked in front of the other. Their separation was of merely three feet but, in the range of a common ear on a busy city street, a conversation, one proper, without strain, could not be achieved.
Prior to their entanglement with the sidewalk and its deadly inhabitants, it was convinced, by the leader of the pack, to take a peek at the follower’s manuscript. The manuscript was written with the intention, as all things of promise are, of touching certain existential truths. Truths only achievable by suicide or divine intervention. The particulars of the manuscript, overt and uncomplicated, deal with a character’s ability to have absolute sympathy with all people.
Next we see the duo, the manuscript will be read, reread, folded, placed in a coat pocket and not talked about for the better part of half an hour as they wait for their waitress.
“It’s a bit heavy handed, in’it?”
“Well sure, but it has to. That’s almost the point.”
“I like it, I really do, but it just seems…”
“I know what it seems like, that’s the point. It’s supposed to be like that, you know.”
“I’m not supposed to like him?”
“That’s right.”“So you’ve just thrown out centuries of literature and its rules.” This one, the leader of the two, with his scripted actions and lapsing synergy, lowered his voice as to not upset his trusted drinking partner. “If I don’t like him, there’s no need for it. Basically you’ve almost thrown out literature’s purpose.”“Purpose, what is it’s purpose?” The drinking partner bit through with insecurity. “I don’t mean to be a prick or anything but what’s it’s purpose? Is there a purpose? Is there a purpose to art?” Together the two hunched in their chairs closer, elbows on the table and all.
“Relatability.” The leader said with a calmness hopeful of being echoed by all who listened. “That’s why we like songs we like. That’s why we like books we like. Listen— it isn’t because it’s writing is perfect or anything, it’s usually not, it’s because the characters that are created, they’re created to feel like us. For us to feel like them. This isn’t mind blowing stuff here, you know.”
A heavy pause was felt. A deafening pause. A pause that can only be broken by the ear-splitting screeches of more conversation. “You know, why is Hamlet still read today? Or the Iliad? Or fucking Gilgamesh? Because those characters are relatable. You keep going on about points, that’s the point.” The table, previously occupied by two gentlemen fixed over it, is now inhabited only by one bent Neanderthal, the drinking partner, as the leader leaned back to show a certain dominance. A dominance was achieved for the briefest of times, until the follower spoke, creating an unbalance in testosterone.
“Alright. No, I get that. But what you just screamed—”
“Screamed. That is the point.”
Sitting still for a moment, recapturing their sunken minds, the boys eyeballed the menu. They were placed, in this little story, at Bush-Wacked Pub in the East Village. It should be said of the Bush-Wacked Pub that, as most patrons would not care to admit, it is undoubtedly the capital of all things literature in the East Village. The unflinching aura of the Bush-Wacked Pub is one of self absorption, childhood neglect and half smoked cigarettes. The beauty of the Bush-Wacked Pub in the East Village is that it seemingly changes from person to person and a subjective description would only limit the readers to one perspective. When in reality, there are many, much too many, ways to characterize this place. I suppose, the one only true, objective, description would be of a bleakness in an entirely lit corner of the world. Furthermore there is a heaviness about the pub. It is not place to take children or the elderly. Not because of a danger of explicit language or a fist landing to the face, but because they run the risk of hearing dreadful misquotes of Flaubert much too early or late in their lives. If there ever was an apt description of a rundown, scantily lit pub in the East Village, there it was.
“Listen, you know I’m your biggest fan and all and I want you to succeed. And maybe you’re on to something here but there’s the thought of, like I said, centuries of literature is against you, that’s all. If it hits, it’ll be big, if not, who cares. You become just like everyone else.”
“Hey, you know what, the way I see it, I’ll do something pretty good, maybe a few books or something or I’ll, I’ll just be fuckin’ homeless or something.”
“But I think if this can be done right, it’ll be huge, there’s no denying that, you don’t seem to get it.” This one leaned in, doubling the population of the table top. “Now, I think you just need to find that one person to like it. Cause I think you’re on to something, I really do. They, the fuckin’ future people you’ll deal with, might not agree but… Fuck— if just one person, you know… Somebody, Awan… Jesus.” He leaned back, not fully impressed with his imparting but satisfied enough to stop the sophomoric lines. “What are you getting anyway?”
After the brief soliloquy, again, the two sat still, looking at the menu.
With a certain romance, the leader broke through. “Club an’a pint.”
“A club and a pint. That sounds good.”
“Don’t get that too. Get something else.”
“That’s what I want, a club sandwich and pint of beer. Why can’t I get that—?”
“I don’t like getting the same thing with someone.”
“You know that’s like the most popular fuckin’ thing at this place, right?”
“I know and I’m sorry but that’s how I feel. If there was another person here, it’d be fine but that’s not the case. So if you wouldn’t mind, please, get something else.”
“So I can’t get what I want because you don’t want to feel funny? Is that right.”
“Jesus, if I knew this would be a big deal I wou— It’s like wearing the same outfit as your brother when you’re seven. You know, were barely scratching the surface of the menu, I feel like were being close minded if we get the same thing.”
“Christ…Alright I’ll get something else, what’d’you recommend?”
“I don’t know; I only ever get one thing here,” he said as the snapped his fingers to get the attention of an unnamed waitress.
The waitress came around asking for their orders. She noticed, as it seemed evident to most other patrons, that there was an uneasy presence between the men. “Everything ’lright? Seen something you shouldn’t have?” The waitress let out a calming bellow.
“No,” one said, “were good.”
“What’d’ya want then?”
“Club an’a pint for me. He’ll have a burger and a pint, if that’s alright.”
“It certainly is. Be right back…” The waitress left, leaving a hole in the immediate action.
We pick up the action at the Bush-Wacked Pub with the two now, enjoying their club sandwich and burger with the refreshments of dark Belgian ales, not looking at each other. When the follower spoke, for the first time in some minutes, a second foam mustache placed itself on top of the first, unkept mustache.
“What’s more relatable than a broken heart anyway?” He cleaned his face.
“So you’re thinking is to just bombard the readers with empathy? Is that it.” The boys each gave a grin.
“Yes, if I could get as many people possible feeling bad for me, that would be great.” The golden haired minx of a waitress absently checked their drinks. Neither noticed. “That, right there, is my intention.”
“Listen, I didn’t come here to get bullshitted. If you want to have a mental breakdown or something, that’d be pretty great right now.”
“A mental breakdown...”
“Because you’re not a real writer unless you drink a gallon of coffee before noon and have a mental breakdown by 3, right?”
The waitress came around. “’Nether pint?”
“That’d be lovely.” The words came through a sparkling 32 set of teeth.
“Alright,” The leader said. “Tell it again.”
“The whole thing?”
“Sure, take me out of the darkness. I want to see the light, Shaman.”
“Right.” The Writer reached into his coat pocket that had been sitting in the shoulders of his chair. The paper was creased about a dozen times over, torn, scrapped at, burn and otherwise proof a writer had written it. He cleared his throat, straightened his back and pushed on towards the doom of public criticism. “In a sense…”
“Love it already.”
“Don’t fuck with me. I’ll have a fuckin’ mental breakdown like you want.”
“Ah, an improvement then.”
He scoffed, relaxed and began again. “In a sense: heartbreak.” The writer paused, noticing the waitress came around. He waited until she put down their drinks then left, to continue. “We all have gone through it…”
“This.” The low-tipper started with a certain bravado and continued with a swift, unapologetic accuracy: “Is what I wanted you to avoid.”
“Would you let me finish at least.”
“I will but, you wanted to write something, from what I get, so terribly relatable,” As he spoke, he lifted his hands a quarter foot in the air. All could see a slight rotation where the ulna and radius meet at the unification of the hand. “That it isn’t relatable. Ok.” For a second, or so, when the rotating bronchi had fallen to the previous resting place, they moved, seemingly without the knowledge of the mover towards a paper napkin that had, until this moment, been stationary— an immediate fixture in time and space— and played with a napkin. Played with only in a way that a particularly nervous Homo Sapiens could. As the low-tipper played with the napkin, making a great mess on the table without any hesitation, he began the droning conversation again. “That sort of makes sense, not really, but sort of. I feel like I’ve wrapped my head around it a little bit at least. But there is no actual brilliance to it. Not yet, anyway.” A bite was taken from a burger. “If it really worked, we would get this thing that kind of circles around relatability and unrelatability and no one actually knows if it’s good.” The low-tipper stopped. He closed his half-witted mouth, took a deep, agonizingly deep breath. He looked around Bush-Wacked Pub with a certain curiosity until he, as the inevitability of this world would have it, spoke again. “Which makes it good. But it’s billed as the same fuckin’ thing. All I’m saying, if you want something to be like how you say you want it, then don’t write it how you think you want to write it. Because you’re wrong. And with something like this, it has to be so out of the ordinary—novel, you know—that’s what we want right? — that you — the guy sitting in front of me at this’ measly fuckin bar can’t write it.”
It was at that time, the unidentified waitress came strolling over, stopped to take offense, then moved forward to the next patrons with equal parts disgust and outrage. But, so wrapped up in the moment as he was, the young lad did not bother to check his voice but rather, and this is the part that really gets me, continued with the verbal assault on both his drinking partner and the fine establishment at even greater volume. “I’m not saying you can’t write it but the you, right now, can’t. The best thing you can do, right now, is get the fuck outa here.”
Briefly, only so to wipe his parched, mustard riddled mouth with a torn napkin, he stopped. His partner, now at one— finder of the great Qi, vessel of the Holy Spirit— with the Bush-Wacked Pub in an act of solidarity, sat back, comfortably so, in his chair. He cared not what the low-tipper had to spew and paid no attention to the forthcoming words. “I’m serious about this, now. I want— listen to me— I want you to write this fuckin’ thing. I want you to do well, you know. In, in all of this. But. But I do think… Fuck, I don’t know. Do whatever the fuck you want.” With that, the low-tipper ceased to be and, for the sake of all readers, had no remaining lines of dialogue.
A glaze over the eyes of the writer could be seen now for all who chose to see. All in this daze of his, he refolded his dinky manuscript, all three pages, stuck it, ever so artfully into the coat pocket that harbored it before. He lifted the pint just above his mouth (closer to his nose than where anyone would actually drink), and let out a petite, simple, yet utterly traceable sigh. The two would sit, stirring with absolute contempt, in the Bush-Wacked Pub.
It was not only until later that night the writer’s glaze fully solidified, then shattered. Giving way to a true and unrelenting vision. The writer, in what could be called his Period of Great Awakening, burned the manuscript. He placed his typewriter, inflictor of the great pain, inside an empty cardboard box. From there, the box, typewriter and all, was shoveled into a dumpster beyond the reach of the writer’s future.
As the boy reached home, this time empty handed, he took off his shoes. They were thrown, with the emptiest, most resolute of faces, into a corner. His socks, shirt, coat and pants would follow, leaving the boy only in a stained pair of underwear and a swollen face. He walked into to his unlit bathroom, taking his time, opened the cabinet from under an uncleaned sink, and found cords of various lengths. He tied them together, creating the unmistakeable look of a noose, while whistling a long forgotten church hymn.
“So this is about you and Al then?”
“Think so. We had a conversation similar a couple days before he jumped.”
“I’d say it was about you and Al. You’re not painted that bad anyway.”
“That’s the puzzling thing about it all.”
“Hey Tom,” Louise drew her attention to Thomas with an everlasting look of curiosity. In response to the perfectly cute pose, he could only muster a mumbled ’yeah’. “We, Bo and I, were talking about this earlier, and I think it’s just absolutely perfect that you’ve shown up, and I was wondering what Al would have said to a line of Native American gods if he reached their heaven. I thought he would’ve said something simple or nothing at all. I hoped nothing at all but what can you do anyway? So Tom, what do you think, if anything at all, Al would’ve said to the Native gods?”
For Louise’s quickened reading of the manuscript, Thomas had sat, with minimal care, in the wicker chair, creaking his way to a comfortable position for the better part of 15 minutes. In those 15 or so minutes, Thomas did everything but twiddle his thumbs and make funny faces to amuse Bogart there. Occasionally, mostly when it suited him to do something, Thomas released his drabbishly grey corduroys from the tuckings and dips of the splintery chair. Mostly, as a bored kindergarten pupil would do, he found his face deep in rest with his open palms, elbows in on his thighs, releasing large exhausts from his nose. For this particular interaction, when Louise had so delicately placed it, Thomas here had one leg—right leg—crossed over the other in a way most men cannot because of things too indecent for this decency. And also, for this brief period of time, he found Bo close to him, still on the radiator but leaning in, practically moaning the words: ’something polite’.
And Louise, with her coarsed dirty blonde hair, for inquiry sat hunched, bent back, missing the hard wooden beams of Abigail’s bunk bed, on the desk that once comforted her perspired hands. Louise ditched all efforts of enlightenment from Thomas and sought to get the most basic, rudimentary of responses from her lonely boyfriend. “What about Mr. Carlisle?” she asked Bo. “What do you think he would’ve said, Bogart? Don’t be bashful now, you can tell us, it’s ok, it’s nothing serious, right?”
“I don’t think he’d say anything I suppose. Kind of like you want.”
“Maybe. But he’s the expert of sorts. God, I would love it to watch him say something to the gods. Something he’d think was witty, or something like that. They’d freeze I bet. Maybe look at each other, confused and all.” Louise rubbed her thumb and index finger across her nose for dramatic effect. “HA! Nothing like it,” she laughed.
“What is this Lou, you’re not acting right.”
“No, it’s not Lou.”
“That’s what he said, ’nothing serious’.”
“Who said, Al?”
Louise abandoned any strength to hold back tears. She wept, sobbed really, for an hour or so before anyone could calm her down. When she finished and brought herself together, her palms were rosy again and wet and buried deep in her pockets to hide them from the two men.