Lorna acted like it was a surprise that I was still awake, even though I knew she knew that I would be. I closed all the porn windows when she walked in. It was just the background and all the icons on the screen, as if I was trying to hide something. My erection slowly descended as she stood in the doorway. I always liked how she looked in her uniform. It was working class, but somehow turned me on strangely. I thought about the two of us meeting somewhere in the middle of it all. She would be living with her redneck father, looking for the easiest of ways out. I would order two slices of pie and ask her out that night. We would make love in a cornfield and run away the next morning, shotgun blasts and disappointed inbred cousins silhouetted in the background.
It wasn’t that simple with her family. We saw them too much. They would drive in for holidays, or sometimes just to visit. Her parents never came together; despite the fact that they were both inevitably married. One would come up with an excuse for the other, most likely that they were too busy sitting around being retired. I suppose it was easier this way for all of us. I could handle one of them, on my own. After all, there were enough empty rooms in the house. Both would have been incredibly stressful. I would have most likely called Robert and asked to sleep in their basement. He wouldn’t mind it. We both hated our in-laws to an equal suburban degree.
Lorna walked into the office, the bright light illuminating how perfectly exhausted she looked. It made me feel somewhat warm inside every time I would see her after a long day. I enjoyed how settled the two of us were. We only fought occasionally, and over the most minimal of details. We both accepted each other for exactly what we were. I hated everything, and she somehow managed to remedy that problem. I turned off the monitor as she wrapped her arms around my neck. Her uniform reeked of burgers and chili cheese fries.
“So, what were you doing?”
“Nothing really. I just finished up a chapter, so I was sort of waiting for you to get back.”
“Well, I’m back.”
“I see that. How was work?”
“You don’t wanna know.”
“You’re probably right.” I took her hand as the two of us walked out of the office, past Oscar’s room and into our bedroom. She turned on her dresser lamp. I undressed, tired from a day of boredom. She did the same, before both of us were in bed together. It wasn’t a night for sex, just unwinding. I thought she would pass right out. My insomnia would most likely keep me starring at the ceiling for some time before inevitably walking into the living room and flipping mindlessly through the barrage of channels that I knew I was paying too much for. They were there for people like me. I had no upper level motivation to do anything, and didn’t feel like thinking about what August meant.
We would have strenuous meetings discussing new policies to which I would only attempt to forget about. I wanted my students to think for themselves, and yet that was a distant fantasy, as there was always some sort of crushed viewpoint on the outskirts of that blue and gold building. Books were never banned, just placed in boxes in the library closet. I was sick of teaching Shakespeare. I didn’t care about how elegant it sounded; it offered zero appeal to me, and even less to my students. We were all somehow lost together, treading water until something dared to change. I waited for somebody to impress me. I wanted to read something original that tore away all my preconceived notions of their generation. There had to be a similar voice intermixed with the rest of those ironic staples to modern society.
Too many of them were exactly like their fathers. I would have the occasional meeting with one of them, over a bad grade on a paper or after a detention was dished out when they called me an asshole. A part of me hated being authoritative, just because I knew they were telling the truth. I was an asshole. Trying to deny it would have only been hypocritical.
They would walk in wearing new suits, ready to talk business about their offspring. I always gave in for the most part. I didn’t really care what happened. Discipline didn’t mean much of anything in the world we lived in. There was always a way out of it. I didn’t have the strength to fight for any kind of cause. It’s not like I wanted golf membership or anything. I hated every aspect of the sport. I just became too much of a pussy over the years. I used to call it pacifism. That’s what writers do sometimes.
Lorna started reading a book I knew she wouldn’t get through. She used to love being a literary slut. I would show her new pages, and her eyes would instantly go wide, before quickly scanning the paragraphs and then pointing our my grammatical errors. She managed to get some strange high out of it. I used to love watching her melt before my eyes. I would write for her a lot of the time, never about her, though. My characters were scrambled amalgams of younger hipper versions of my former self. They would get the girl or discover some sort of highly useful life lesson after not getting the girl. They managed to do and say the things I never could, and yet she never loved them as much as me.
We were always in a position that was far past the bullshit. In this way, I couldn’t ever turn her into something she wasn’t. Traces of Lorna would vaguely appear at the end of shorter works, casual quick-lipped conversations or magnificent looks from across filled bar rooms. Nothing ever memorable. I saved our best moments for later award-winning achievements. She always understood.
“So I’m pretty tired.”
“No you’re not. You’ll be up longer than I will. You’ll wake me up when you go downstairs to watch TV.”
“Not tonight. I’m really out of it.”
“How much did you smoke?”
“Just a joint awhile ago. It’s worn off, that’s why I’m tired.”
“Well, I have like two paragraphs left in this chapter, can’t you just shut the fuck up until then?”
“Okay, fine.” It was weird when she silenced me like that. It was never as if either of us had substantial life-altering things to say to one another, just minor gripes scratching under skin.
“Great.” She leaned over and turned off the light. I stared at the arch of her back. It was beautiful, and I felt at that point as if I had never really noticed it before. It was strange thinking about all the parts of Lorna I hadn’t noticed in awhile or ever before. She still somehow managed to surprise me even after all the years of getting to know one another. I suppose we still occasionally kept each other at a distance. She hadn’t read any of the new stuff. She said she wanted to wait until it was published. I told her that it was probably going to be awhile.
Ernie was slowly starting to fall apart in the city. I knew that. Besides being my editor and agent, he was also my drug hook-up. Needless to say, we had a strange fuzzy relationship. I should have just started asking Oscar to get me stuff. It would have helped us bond on a new level possibly. Lorna would hate us both if she found out. I could never break the rules. This could always be attributed as my main dysfunction.
“So did you get a lot done today?”
“Not really. I sort of slacked off, watched all of A New Hope on HBO.”
“Well, that’s only like two hours Jude.”
“Yeah, I know. I hung out with Robert for awhile too. He was spraying some new shit on his lawn or something. I forget what it was called. Needless to say it’s always gonna look better than ours.”
“Do you really care?”
“No, I don’t. I just kind of wish it wasn’t always a competition.”
“It isn’t. Robert just uses his lawn as his number one creative outlet. You do a lot more than that, and the lawn’s just his sad way of trying to catch up, level the playing field.”
“You’re too good at explaining these things.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So I’m pretty sure Oscar was high when he came home tonight.”
“What else is new?”
“What, you knew about something like that before?”
“I smoked with Harris and him two days ago in our basement while you were at the mall.”
“Yeah, really. I was leaving for work, and I caught them. I felt weird punishing them over it, though. I mean, we both do it. It just felt really hypocritical, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t yell at him or anything. I just let it go.”
“Well that’s good. I mean, I figured we were those type of parents.”
“Yeah, I guess. I’m just not sure if I wanna be Lorna. I mean, what if he starts inviting tons of kids over here to get high. That could be bad, considering that I have half of them in my classes.”
“Well, I don’t think Oscar’s going to make tons of new friends anytime soon.”
“You’re probably right. It’s just… God, that’s a really shitty thing to say.”
“Yeah, I know, but that’s the way it is. I mean, we both know him well enough to know that he mostly hates everything.”
“Well, I wasn’t any different at fifteen.”
“I guess I wasn’t either. Christ, it’s strange to think about, isn’t it?”
“I feel old.”
“You shouldn’t. We’re still younger than the rest of the PTA parents.”
“Well thanks Jude, that’s very reassuring.”
“I’m sorry Lorna. Do you wanna have sex or something? Will that make you feel better?”
“I’m too tired.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Liar.” She leaned in and kissed me, before rolling back over and quickly dozing off. I could hear her fall asleep, as thoughts about getting out of bed, and meandering into the living room inevitably resurfaced. I couldn’t do it, though. It would mean that she was right, and I hated when she was right about me. I wanted to be unpredictable, somehow surprising even. I thought those were the elements that kept a marriage alive. It couldn’t just be love anymore. We all needed something else to keep us going. There was still passion, but it felt watered down. I began to think of myself as far too useless in the summers. There were things around the house that I could have learned to do, or possibly hired somebody to do.
I could have asked Robert. He would have helped me out. I just didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of realizing how much of a fuck-up I was when it came to handy work. It was strange to think about, as I never saw myself as that type of person, and was adamant about never being him. Yet there was a weird jealousy about it. I felt obsolete and less than alive most of the time. I rolled out of bed and walked down into the living room. There was a bunch of softcore stuff on. I jumped around from one to the next, never waiting for the plot to develop. They would all end the same way.
I was up earlier than I thought. Jude and Lorna were still in bed. She had had a rough night. I knew that. He was just a lazy piece of shit. I managed to get to the leftovers first, skipping breakfast, which was over in about an hour anyway, and deciding to reheat the burger and fries sitting in the white Styrofoam container on the bottom shelf of the fridge. It wouldn’t have much of an effect. My metabolism worked faster than my libido at that point.
I ate in the living room, flipping through the channels with no real intention of settling on anything. It was on Cinemax when I turned the TV on. Jude was probably watching some shitty softcore extravaganza with cave woman or astronauts. They were all shit. What was the point of having sex in space anyway? There wouldn’t be any time for it, with all the galactic wars and intelligent machines. I shuddered to think about it.
I left a note for both of them before walking over to Harris’. It was another sunny day full of possibilities that would never necessarily come together. I wanted my summer nights to be full of new discourses. I was getting sick of the same routine, over and over again. Mrs. Clark offered me lunch, to which I quickly declined. Harris sat on the basement couch, flipping through the channels and eating a bowl of reheated spaghetti. I sat down on the cushion, which still held my imprint from the previous night. I looked in the corner and saw Elisha’s backpack sitting on the floor next to an empty cardboard six-pack holder and Sid licking his balls in front of the both of us. That dog was always unapologetic.
“Hey, I wasn’t expecting you for at least another hour or so.”
“You see that Elisha left her backpack?”
“Yeah, I was gonna say something.”
“Yeah, well I got head last night.”
“It was pretty fucking awesome man. I mean, that was like the second time we’ve hung out, and she wasn’t even that drunk. I was, but that’s beside the point.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So did you do anything with Rosa last night. She looked pretty disappointed when we came back downstairs.”
“I can’t stand Rosa.”
“Well so what? It’s not like conversations all that stimulating with Elisha.”
“Still… I didn’t wanna put the moves on her. I don’t like her, and she’s far too annoying for me to even lower my standards for a causal make-out session.”
“Well, I am surprised by you right now man. I thought you wouldn’t have cared. I mean, this is just like bunting or whatever. You’re gonna have to get some experience under your belt if you’re ever gonna get anywhere with Gina.”
“Whatever, fine, don’t listen to the voice of reason.”
“If you’re the voice of reason Harris, then I think I might just have to shoot myself.”
“Whatever works Oscar.”
“So how long until your mom leaves for work?”
“She has the day off.”
“Fuck, I guess we can’t smoke down here.”
“No. Are your parents home?”
“Yeah, they’re both still asleep.”
“Ya know, I wish your dad fucking did something. He’s such a loser during the summer.”
“I know, tell me about it. It’s weird thinking about being more social than him, because I’m barely fucking social.”
“Exactly. That’s what I’m saying.”
“Well, I still have to return Taxi Driver. Do you wanna go smoke in the woods?”
“I guess. Is Gina working today?”
“I think so.”
“God, you’re such a fucking stalker. You own the Scorcese boxset, and yet you go up there and rent Raging Bull or Meanstreets, just to see her. I’d call that some kind of deeply repressed psychological problem.”
“You gonna come or not, I stole a joint from Jude’s stash this morning.”
“Oh man, close to Pulitzer prize winning bud. I’m game.”
“He never won anything Harris.”
“Well not yet.”
“I don’t think he ever will either.”
“Well, whatever. Let’s get out of this basement.”
“Good call.” The two of us stood up from the brown couch and went out into the world. The video store was an easy enough explanation for Mrs. Clark. She figured we would most likely browse everything twice before coming to a decision. It was reassuring to know that our parents knew us well enough to not ask questions. I hated answer bullshit, or coming up with excuses on the spot. Lorna was always cool about everything. I suppose Jude would have been too, if he ever took the time to notice what was going on. For a writer, he was less than perceptive. I could have been doing lines of coke off of loud hooker’s asses in my bedroom, and he would have just turned his music up louder. He knew better than to try and parenting. It would have just been something listed as another potential failure on his resume.
We walked into the woods behind both our houses. There were broken beer bottles, condom wrappers and the remains of joints lining the trail. All members of our tight-nicked neighborhood understood the sanctity of the woods behind our houses. It was first come, first serve, and always readily available for activities that we weren’t supposed to be doing. I fingered Harris’ cousin Rachel the previous Fourth of July, by the firepit, after both of us drank too much keg beer. He never knew about it, and she lived in Ohio. The smallest of secrets never resurfaced with best friends. We were all on a need-to-know basis.
I sat down on the stump from the dead tree that Mrs. Clark had paid to have chainsawed that spring. It was old and dying anyway, kind of like grandparents living homes; the younger generation just didn’t want to have to put up with any of it anymore. We used the tree for firewood and piece of mind. I pulled the joint out of my pocket and lit it quickly. Harris sat on the ground, leaning against another a tree, surrounded by crushed cans of Miller Light. We passed it back and forth as both us slowly waited for some kind of effect. My tolerance was at a maximum that summer. Never had I ever felt so numb to everything that was surrounding us. Part of it was like paradise, while the rest seemed far colder.
I would walk to the pool and watch girls from my class sunbathe or work up a sweat at the nearby tennis courts. Sometimes I would walk back to the woods and just be alone for awhile. I always brought my headphones and some kind of anesthesia. Harris was becoming far too annoying sometimes. It wasn’t Elisha or Rosa either. It was a lot of other things. The second we moved into the house, the two of us related to one another far too well. In middle school it became addictive. The halls would be full of potential occasions to get punched in the testicles or laughed at by girls with zero brain capacity. They were already sucking variations of high school dick, and spreading the word on similar fans of fellatio like they were Olympic judges. Some girls got tens, while others only ones and zeros.
We would go to school-sponsored dances and hide in corners, or possibly go outside to see what drugs were available. I took ecstasy at the last dance of my eighth grade year. Kevin Lommer’s older brother had some sort of college hook-up. It was twenty dollars and well worth it. I told Terri Durbin that I had a crush on her, to which she simply laughed in my face. I ran home embarrassed and tweaked out. The woods helped me settle that night. They always did.
“So what are you gonna say to her?”
“Fuck if I know. I’m just gonna return the movies and play it by ear.”
“Ya know, it’s really sad that I don’t do something to help you snap out of this shit.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, this infatuation isn’t healthy Oscar.”
“A lot of things aren’t Harris. Last week when the two of took LSD and played Ping Pong in your basement, probably wasn’t too healthy either.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, well just leave it alone. I’m allowed to have the occasional impossible fantasy, alright?”
“Yeah, okay fine.”
“Alright.” We were both quiet as birds chirped or took slow descents. Harris and I never really argued, but rather just gave our own points of view and left it at that. It was a strange friendship, and one that I still haven’t quite figured out. It wasn’t like our fathers. They had nothing in common with the exception of the fact that our lawns bordered one another. In this way, it was easy for Jude to accept Robert in some vague sense. He had lived a large life in cities before deciding to settle. Robert was the guy who lived and died in the same town. There was no way out, and I could tell that Harris was always afraid of the same thing. Even when we were both taking advantage of our highly refined suburban situation, I could see that he hated moments of indecision. Harris wanted to get out, and so did I. I couldn’t end up like the rest of them. At fifteen I needed to live up to the idea of escape.
The joint was smoked to the point where both of us managed to singe our fingers. I walked ahead a little bit, down the sidewalk, overly anxious to see her. Gina looked disappointed as always the second we walked into the video store. I dropped Taxi Driver in the return slot, and gave her a quick head nod. I was too stoned to be anything other than a mere browser of viewed titles. Nothing was appealing, though. Harris stared at the adult section for awhile, laughing at titles. The store was empty for obvious reason. Renting had become a thing of the past. All the tapes had been sold or shipped back to the distributor, most likely to be crushed under some extreme pressure, or buried in the deserts of Mexico next to all the unsold Atari games.
I wasn’t finding anything and started to slowly long for something familiar, that I owned and would watch over again. I considered renting it, but figured there was no point. Harris was right. Gina Gearhart was the wrong path to walk down. Rosa was alright, just sort of mind-numbing. She was like all the drugs in this sense. I couldn’t just stop prescribing to any of it. It would be a hard habit to kick. I started to walk towards the door as Harris caught on quickly. Gina glanced over at me, as I was seconds away from walking out. She must have been really bored. That’s all I could think.
“Couldn’t find anything?”
“No, not really.”
“Well uh, can I ask you something?”
“Do you come in here stoned everyday or only the days when I’m working?”
“Mostly just when you’re working.”
“Well, why do you suppose that is?”
“I don’t know Gina. I suppose our paths just tend to cross like that from time to time.”
“I wouldn’t really worry about it if I were you.”
“Oh, I’m not, really. But uh, do you know where I can get any?”
“Oh, uh… I stole a joint from my dad today.”
“Mr. Solomon smokes?”
“He’s a writer. Of course he does.”
“Well, I suppose I should have figured that. I haven’t read any of his stuff. Doesn’t he have like one book or something?”
“Uh yeah, Organized Injustice, it’s not bad. I mean, I like it, but I guess that’s kind of weird to say, ya know? I feel biased.”
“Well, what’s it about?”
“Just the time he spent in New York, and this girl that he knew. I don’t know. It’s kind of derivative of a lot of things.”
“Well that’s how things are sometimes.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“So what are you guys doing tonight?” I turned back to find Harris standing a few feet away, pretending like he was still browsing when I knew that he was just trying to look like he wasn’t listening in. Gina noticed it too. It was a small space full of too many pictures.
“We don’t really have any plans, why?”
“Well, do you know Floyd?”
“Uh yeah, sure.” That was a lie. Floyd Hildebrand had at one point kicked a soccer ball that managed to first ricochet off of the gym wall and then hit me smack dab in the middle of my face. He broke my glasses, so I got contacts after that. Never an apology, just a disappointed look that I happened to be in the way of his bad aim.
“Oh, well he’s having people over to his house tonight. I guess his parents are gone or something, so the two of you should come. I mean, he told me I can invite whoever.”
“We’ll be there.” Harris walked over away from the drama section. He always managed to step in before the inevitable stuttering.
“Well, cool. I guess I’ll see ya there then. Around nine or so.”
“Yeah, we’ll see Gina.”
“Bye.” The two of us casually walked out of the video store, attempting to hide our enlarged smirks. It was a first invitation of the sort. I wasn’t expecting it, and yet my expectations always had a certain manner to them. They were either high or low, or sometimes too comfortable being in-between. We stepped into my house, and headed straight for the basement. I could hear Jude in the office again, Loveless playing in the background.