Lorna and I barely talked that morning. She had to go to the mall and buy her niece Wendy a birthday gift before another long shift at work. I sat in the office, trying to piece enough of the puzzle together to get some variation of a perspective from Ernie. He was driving in that day, bringing with him more sustenance and hopefully some news of offers. All of it sounded like shit, though. I thought I was writing the occasional epiphanies. A lush thick phrase that would bring women who turned me down in high school to tears, and manage to make all those non-believers talking about my earlier moderate success being somehow circumstantial, falling down in complete awe. It was a bad habit to always surround myself in inevitable lapses in reality, but at the same time, was the only way I could handle the rest of the day.
I heard Oscar and Harris walk in the back door and quickly go down into the basement. They were most likely beyond out of it, as I could hear subtle laughs filtering down the hallway. I was missing the last joint I rolled the previous night. I couldn’t confront them about it, though. They would lie, and I would back down. I couldn’t discipline my own son, even when he managed to do something that at one point I could possibly consider wrong. I didn’t want him to think I was proud of him, because that wasn’t the case. I was just slowly becoming more and more aware of how shitty of a parent I was. This made things harder to write about, as there was far too much on my mind.
I saved what little progress I had, and printed out my newest chapter. I made sure to edit it enough to shut Ernie up. I hated it when he nit-picked away at everything. Occasionally I would miss a semicolon or forget a word. That’s what happens when somebody writes under the influence. He shouldn’t have cared. If he wanted Gone with the Wind, he would have found a more reliable clientele. There weren’t many of us. I was the most successful out of them, which didn’t necessarily make me feel better. Some kid who wrote poetry from Vermont and an old housewife who spun out a trashy romance novel about once a month. They always sold, and I knew her house was most likely bigger than mine. Ernie would always bring it up over coffee. He was such a fucking dickhead sometimes.
I went into the living room and began the inevitable flip. I was meeting Ernie at Ralph’s at six for dinner. Lorna would be working, which gave me the perfect leeway to actually discuss future endeavors rather than have it all pushed down my throat. Oscar walked up into the kitchen at the same time I was searching for food. Lorna hadn’t gone to the store in awhile. We had just been living off of the bare minimums, ordering take-out, or eating leftovers from the restaurant. I could have gone, I suppose. I just was never good at it.
I would sometimes buy food with the intention of learning how to cook it, only to have it later go bad as we would inevitably order more garbage again. It was strange to think about all the motivations I lacked in the summer. During the school year I had some sense of constructive living. Papers would pile up, and things like grocery shopping fell to the back of my head. Not then, though. We were living like slobs for no reason other than the fact that it didn’t seem at all worth it to try and rise up from our evolutionary chain. I didn’t feel like looking for game or learning how to make fire. I just wanted to wait for the others to figure it out.
“So you finding anything?”
“Didn’t your mother bring stuff home last night?”
“That was breakfast.”
“Oh… Well, I’m going to meet Ernie in a little bit. I guess I can just wait.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Going to a party, I think.”
“Really? That’s kind of funny.”
“Why is that funny dad?”
“I don’t know. Do you ever go to parties?”
“Not normally, but this is different. Tonight is different.”
“Well, okay. Are there still chips in the cupboard?”
“Harris and I finished them yesterday.”
“God damnit… Alright, maybe I’ll go to the store.”
“Whatever you wanna do.”
“I’ll go to the store. Do you wanna come?”
“I just came up for a soda.” He grabbed one out of the fridge, and walked back downstairs, giving me one of the normal looks. I felt like such a loser around him. It was weird, like no matter what I did, I wouldn’t live up to my own expectations of what I thought he thought of me. I grabbed a few CDs and walked out of the house. It was my first time outside all day, which was always some sort of strange phenomenon. It was mildly shocking, seeing the sun for the first time. I was on the verge of being a recluse my entire life. I would have easily quit the teaching job if I could have afforded it. Maybe if I had never met Lorna, or if we would have been more careful. We had so much sex when we lived in the city, like it was more than just routine. She would call off work, and I would refrain from phrasing. We always run out of condoms. It was a normal practice.
I could have been somewhere else completely if I had been more careful. There was a chance it wouldn’t have worked out with her. I would have found more illustrious women. Upper class sophisticates that were so full of themselves it would seem like a brash caricature when I told those friends from back home about them. I would vacation in the most remote spots, and we would escape to remaining places of sanctity and make love away from it all. It wouldn’t be love, though, just another stepping stone before I ultimately found the one, somewhere I wasn’t exactly looking her.
It didn’t seem worth thinking about, and yet as each cart wheeled past me in the multicolored aisles, I couldn’t help but imagine better places and situations with less than regularly accepted practices. I wanted to dare to breathe differently for once, not be so used to all the statuesque figures comfortable in their boring dispositions. I wanted to see it all from a higher pedestal for once, but my point of view never really changed. It just became more dulled by typical American standards, like I was taking a test every month to see if I showed any signs of improvement. My lower-level brain functions were deteriorating as a result of everything except the drugs.
I blankly stared at the cashier’s cleavage as she let each item slide across the red line. She was young, about twenty or so with the whole world right in front of her, and yet her expression screamed indifference. She looked stuck and lost with no clear outlet. She would most likely go out that night, get drunk with her boyfriend or at least someone who felt like he could fill the position, and then fall asleep after no orgasm and a less than stellar view of the trashy bedroom ceiling. I couldn’t help anybody. My words offered no inspiration. I was treading water, running in circles, and becoming just like everybody else. I didn’t bother to push my cart back to the store. I just let it sit in the middle of the parking lot, occupying the space where my car was before. The bag boys hated me for it. I knew that they would.
Ernie was sitting on the front steps when I got back. His shitty blue Ford sat in my parking spot, occupying more space than I would have liked. He smoked lights and sighed lifelessly as I walked over in front of him. He was wearing shorts and a Hooters T-shirt. My agent, the master of literary devices and poor taste. I tried to hide every facet of my lingering contempt. It would be difficult, to the say the least.
“What the fuck man? I thought you said meet here at five.”
“I said meet at Ralph’s at six, but it’s fine. Help me carry the groceries in.”
“Yeah, alright. Ya know, no one’s home.”
“Yeah, I figured. Oscar’s probably next door.”
“Oh, is there some cute girl he’s sticking it to over there.”
“No, just his best friend.”
“Oh, so Oscar’s turned fag on us now, huh?”
“No just uh… Get the bags out of the trunk Ernie.”
“Fine, but ya know this means I get ten percent of whatever’s in them.”
“Fuck off man. Stop being so useless.”
“Ya know, I just got here Jude.”
“I know, and already we’re like this. It’s gonna be a long night.”
“You know it.” I set the bags down on the table. No note this time. I didn’t care where he was. I felt better thinking about the hypothetical possibilities then knowing the truth. He was completely independent from us for the most part. It felt good to know we fucked up enough to have him simply feel like running away rather than sticking around to stomach us. Then again, the more I thought about, it the easier it was to realize that he knew Ernie was coming, and in any case, if I had the choice I would have easily hid across the street as well.
I put all the groceries away as he lit another cigarette in my kitchen. I didn’t have the strength to tell him to go outside. He sat at the table, rummaging through old newspapers, and bills addressed to the house. I didn’t understand Ernie for the life of me. Maybe if he sold more, I could have leveled it out, weighed the pros and cons evenly, but it was all cons at this point. He was like every idiotic friend I quickly dropped out of touch with once high school ended. There was no point in dabbling in temporal relapse for the sake of being friendly. I was tired of every intricate part of their stupidity. I was better off away from it all. I avoided the reunion, despite thoughts of a cheap affair with one of the gorgeous blondes who was most likely past her prime at twenty-eight. I was already too comfortable.
We didn’t talk much in the kitchen. I grabbed the folder with the new chapters, and handed them to him, before we both took separate cars to the diner. I needed to listen to other annoyances on the way there, plus if we took the same vehicle, I would inevitably be stuck wherever he decided to drag me later that night. I didn’t want that. I had my own corners to hide in. The office was lonely without me.
Lorna faked a smile as he gave her a hug. It made me uncomfortable, a reaction to which he would later explain as something I needed to further spin out better tales of pure emptiness. I ordered a BLT, and he got a steak. The same thing every time. It was easier for him to choose, because he knew I was paying. I even paid when I went to city, which was once in a blue moon, when he thought that some small hidden part of the literary world seemed strangely interested in my soon-to-be-dead passion. We bullshitted for awhile, before he gave me the familiar glare. The let’s-get-serious glare. It made my stomach turn inside out, and throw-up a little in my mouth.
“So how much longer is it gonna be Jude?”
“I don’t know. I’m going back and rereading a lot of the earlier chapters, and not really liking them that much. It takes awhile for everything to develop.”
“Well this new shit’s pretty good. It sounds like you’re close to an ending.”
“I don’t know yet. Part of me doesn’t want it to end like all the others.”
“What, you mean with your character being sad and alone, contemplating suicide or some kind of escape.”
“Yeah, exactly. It feels too used, ya know?”
“Well fucking everything’s used man. Not just with writing either. Fucking women, are so used all the time. I met this girl the other night at a club. She looked incredible, and then I get back to her place, start taking her clothes off, going down on her, and I see the scar from the C-section. Her youngest son walks out in the living room and wanders why my tongue’s in his mother’s vagina. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. I had nightmares.”
“Well, why do you insist on telling me these fucked up occurrences Ernie?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you can use that somewhere, ya know? Maybe put it in the middle for comic relief.”
“It’s not that funny, really?”
“Well, to each his own.” He always had the most elegant way of ignoring anything I was trying to say. Ernie thought everything he said was a good idea. I suppose it helped him sleep at night. Nothing else was. We finished sooner than I thought. I tipped big, while Ernie commented on how good Lorna’s ass looked in her uniform as she walked away. I hated how used to each other we were. I knew what was coming next as well. He couldn’t just drive back with some sense of where my novel was going. He needed to drag me into some ungodly dive and wait for real sparks to fly. It was supposed to help with the process. I always looked like I needed a night out. I hated how right he was sometimes.
I kissed Lorna quickly, before we both walked out. I followed his car mindlessly, smoking some of the new product on my own. It was sort of shakier than the shipment from the previous month. He had been losing ground somewhat with his connections. I could understand why. If I was a drug dealer, I could see it as an easier process to murder and bury Ernie in some secluded location, rather than continuing to sell to him, and have to listen to the timeliness of his disappointing life.
This bar was new. It had too many options and spectators. I missed the dives, watching Ernie hit on some toothless loss of dignity, while I sipped warm cheap beer and thought about why it all seemed to be so meaningless sometimes. Not this bar, though. This bar was a bachelorette party being loud and irritating in the corner, slipping singles in the waistbands of men hired solely for their looks. I saw lonely men huddled in groups, hitting on the bartender or calling for more support and comrodory.
We ordered pints and sat on a high table, both starring at dispositions. He began to thumb through the folder, reading what little progress I had made since last time over again. I suppose part of me was afraid to finish it. I had no new ideas coming in, and even if I did, they wouldn’t live up to previous incarnations. I had lost my love of the craft along with every sense of what it means to be somewhat productive. I tried not to stare when she walked in. I tried to look away and act like I didn’t notice her, like I hadn’t before when we were both stuck in the same places, pretending like we didn’t know each other, because the second both of us were willing to admit to it, meant that it was going to be all the more painful. Ramona hadn’t changed in the least bit. She was alone and like all the others. I still wished she hadn’t noticed me.
We were only halfway through the movie when Elisha called him. I walked back across the street with him as a similar scene of the previous night managed to come full circle right in front of me. I sat on the couch next to Rosa, flipping through the channels and patiently waiting for nine o’clock to roll around. She didn’t talk much, and just the fact that we now had to bring both of them to the party at Floyd’s, meant bad news. I wouldn’t be able to explain anything other than the looks from persons who barely recognized us. Spectators from Spanish class, or long lost friends somewhat diluted by the discourse of darkened blue and gold hallways. In any case, I was going to breathe and attempt to get past all of it. I had a million things to say to Gina, and less than zero to reiterate with Rosa. The two of us were just bad at dealing with each other.
“I can’t believe those two. It’s weird that they don’t think we know what they’re doing.”
“They know that we know what they’re doing Rosa.”
“Well still… It just seems weird, is all.”
“Whatever. I’m not one to worry about it. You really shouldn’t either.”
“I’m not worrying about it. I’m just bringing it up in conversation. I mean, I don’t know about you, but if we don’t talk about how shitty our friends are sometimes then what are we gonna talk about?”
She managed to somehow beyond right with this comment, and all of a sudden I felt myself strangely relating to Rosa. She was more than just a substitute, or a person to temporarily fill in the blanks. She was bigger than that. I would later think about how incredibly distant the two of us were every day after that one, and why I had been that way. It didn’t help to dwell in the past, put checkmarks by previous mistakes, and yet as I began to subtly hate everything that would later resurface, I longed for moments spent in basements with girls like Rosa, full of anecdotal vices that only provided half the answer. The other part was somewhat hidden, behind glass façades and fixtures worn on the faces of every fake friend I ever made and knew I had.
“So is this party gonna be worth it or just suck like all the rest?”
“I don’t know. Have you been to any of the other ones?”
“Sam Brennan invited us to his lake house like a month ago. It blew hard.”
“Well was it the party or just the fact that you didn’t really connect with anybody there?”
“It was everything Oscar. I’m not really the biggest fan of social events, especially high school ones. I mean, when you think about how much you hate people in high school, why would you possibly want to reconvene with them during the summer?”
“I don’t know. Things get boring sometimes.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” It was the first shred of a real conversation either of us had. Of course, it wasn’t exactly helping the time pass. Our eyes met and I made a move to which I instantly regretted. She fell in place as we managed to become awkwardly comfortable on the basement couch. It was cute and brief. The time passed before our friends came back down. We heard their steps and stopped before they could take the time to discuss the inclination of possibilities with either of us. It wasn’t like that. I was just practicing a possible future technique. I wanted Gina to fall hard, and without much regret. It was more than a little idealistic, but that was fifteen at the time. I’m sure there were others who didn’t dream quite as big. I called them sadistic realists. They were everywhere.
Elisha and Harris held hands as we walked down the cracked sidewalk. The sun had just made its descent, and the day felt less than worthy of further conversation. I was thinking of topics she would be interested in, cooler, more reclusive drug-induced experiences that I would bring up just out of thin air, and make her all the more jealous over. I wanted Gina to melt in the air, to become dust and emotion. I wanted her to be more than the idea of what I had in my head. I needed her to be different from all the others.
The four of us were mostly silent on the way over. I wasn’t sure if I could consider the lingering hormones a part of it. It was a stranger feeling in the air, like fates were intertwining and little voices were whispering in the back of all our heads that this situation wouldn’t last. We would have falling outs and all manage to hate each other once we decided where we thought our lives were going. He would change majors. She would drop out. He would do everything perfectly and be left with even more to think about, and she would be called a slut by her friends when we all managed to betray one another in plain view. A repeat of an episode that elegantly reiterated: this is how it’s always going to be. Nothing will ever change.
It wasn’t so difficult walking in. Apparently Gina and some other lost and dazed babies had spread the word on the suburban working-class circuit, managing to make all the masses draw to one single empty stock of real estate like it was a magnetic perversion. They were all there, using parental prescriptions and estimating dosage. The hippest ones hid in upstairs bedrooms, smoke and ash filtering out into the hallway. The popular ones made it look like they mingled long enough before escaping to those dark rooms. There were those lost in the thick of it all. College offered no solutions. Some had already dropped out, while others were adamant about the idea of reconsidering there options. The attendants and bus boys, those with stubble and new haircuts, cigarettes in their mouths, and the most familiar of disapproving looks homing on the four of us as we walked in the front door.
There were those we knew for the longest of times, and had been through their own brash ceremonies of initiation. They were like all the rest now; full of stories that offered only small snapshots of what it was like to be an intricate part in the fall of modern civilization. They had to invite some of them. There were the older brothers collecting for the alcohol or varying stimulants. Those in the corner surrounded by wide-eyed inquisitors looking for popularity intermixed with mind-numbing psychotropic substances. My best friend from third grade danced like an asshole with the first girl I thought about when I masturbated. Surprisingly enough it wasn’t Gina. She would come in later; taking center stage, and occupying that particular corner of Broadway like it was Cats.
Harris and Elisha stayed close, first finding booze, and then a hiding place. I was with Rosa for awhile. I paid for her cup as we began to down foamy liquid in unison. Her eyes wandered and so did mine. I didn’t see Gina, despite the constant searching. I thought about her upstairs, moaning on her back, or passing a joint around with friends, all of them magically tied to whatever story she was telling. It could have been on the dullest of subjects, and yet that wouldn’t have mattered. I could have written chapters on her way of telling it. Her smiles and smirks, stares of subtle distance, and blurred nuances that managed to get to me in the worst of possible ways. They existed in the last place anyone would look. I couldn’t get the idea of her out of my head.
After about an hour of awkward corner hopping, the occasional look of “What the fuck are you doing here?” coming from all those who weren’t used to Rosa or myself, she quickly appeared in the living room, dressed in summer attire and ready to spark magnitudes of falling interest from guys like myself. We were all stuck in our repertoires and fixations, and like a moth to the flame I wandered away from Rosa and towards a sense of muffled destiny. It would prove less than cataclysmic. I was far too ready for shades of self-embarrassment. The summer had managed to make me somewhat forget the regularly accepted rules of the trade. It wasn’t that easy. It would never be that easy.