The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
A month after his fiancé died, Kai started to make the phone-calls. He rang the people he knew first; the caterer, the florist and explained what had happened. The first call had been a mess, the second and third not much better.
Slowly, over the course of the day, he managed to control his voice, hold it to a level; to not scream or burst into tears. By the end of the day he had crossed off most of the names on the list and for the first time in over a month, Kai Hopkins smiled, feeling an odd, terribly small sense of achievement.
In the evenings he sat and watched DVDs of the two of them dancing, practising the first dance. Next to the machine were other DVDs they made together, of them making love, which a part of his brain said they should watch but he could not bring himself to; it was the last thing on his mind. Instead, he watched the one recording over and over; he rewound the moments when she faced the camera and spoke; he replied out loud and then paused the recording, so her smile arrived after he answered her. To his left was a bottle of whiskey, to his right chips. Over the weeks he felt himself get larger, even as everything inside tightened and fell apart.
The list occupied him for most of the week; by Friday he had only two names left; Tom and the car people. The auto-shop had been blanking him; Kai knew they were holding out for a portion of the money. He sent off his articles for his job and thought about killing himself. It was not something he’d ever done before, not even as an angst-ridden teenager; he actually enjoyed listening to the Cure and Joy Division. He just didn’t know if he would have the actual nerve to carry it out; to step in-front of a bus, or swallow forty pills at regular intervals. Kai was not a coward but he was not especially brave either; he would break up a fight but he would not throw a punch. He hit speed dial and heard his call being diverted to the auto-secretary.
This went on for two hours. It became a weird battle of wills to Kai and suddenly very important. Each time the woman would try and diffuse the situation, Kai would simply repeat his request. Once or twice he could actually hear the men in the background monitoring what was happening; he wondered if they were interested in the money or seeing how the woman would cope with the stress. He imagined them laying side bets on who would crack first; the wish-wash customer or the softly spoken secretary. Kai felt his anger rising, as much for her as at her; he sank his first whiskey before it got to dusk, breaking his rule and sharply thinking; I hope the bosses’ wife dies tonight so he can understand.
The door bell rang.
Kai winced at the sound. The last person to ring the bell had been a policeman. He felt his heart rock at the memory and spilled the coffee. Dried coffee looks a lot like dried blood; it was what he had said to himself out loud when he had left the hospital that night. Kai immediately lunged down and began to dab the coffee with his emergency tissues from his shirt sleeve. The bell rang again, and again.
“Just a second, god damn it!” he shouted and felt himself almost explode. He had meant to be silent, to let whoever it was just slip away but now…Now he would have to open that hateful, spiteful, god damned door. He flung the tissues towards the bin and walked out of the kitchen. Kai walked, counting his footsteps, not wanting to stop now, wanting to carry his momentum and get it over with. He almost slammed into the door when he got there and quickly flipped the chain and swung the door open without taking another breath.
“If it isn’t my brother from another mother,” Tom said, dropping the suitcase and opening his arms out wide.
“What…” Kai managed to say, before his best friend drew him in and hugged him. Kai was a good six inches taller than him, so his head burrowed into his throat, stopping him from talking; it was like even God understood the dynamics of their friendship.
“Are you all set?” he said, as he pulled himself away and reached down for the suitcase. He raised his eyebrow as he looked up and then stepped into the apartment, the case slamming into Kai’s shins as he did.
“What…” Kai repeated, watching his friend pitch the suitcase onto the sofa and look around.
“For the weekend break! I couldn’t refund at a month, so I thought we’d go, get you out of this stuffy apartment. Get some sun on your back, you know?” Tom dropped into the chair and finally stopped talking; he looked at Kai with a suddenly cold stare.
“You can’t be serious,” Kai whispered. His voice was low but it always dropped around Tom, as if to allow for the weight and speed of his friend’s machine gun talk. Tom went on staring, slowly nodding after a few seconds, making Kai completely at a loss at what to say next.
“You need to take a break from all this depression, Kai, seriously. A weekend break with your oldest friend. Talk about things, think about things, and see things a little differently. Who have you spoken to about it since you called me up that time?” He sprung out of the chair liked a wired cat and was already in Kai’s face. His arms gripped Kai’s like a preacher carrying out a baptism…or an exorcism. Kai felt the softness of his biceps as his friend’s wiry fingers dug into his flesh and felt a new bloom of shame; once, he had been an amateur wrestler.
“I already apologised about that,” Kai mumbled, feeling his cheeks flush. A three a.m. call, the bottle empty; Tom listening without saying a word, the rustle of sheets in the background, the sound of a woman, a stranger to Tom as well as Kai, padding barefoot to the bathroom.
“Apologising for grief? Jesus Christ, Kai, what are you, English? This is what I’m talking about. You need to get away from the city for a time, just a weekend. You take your laptop for work, I’ve left a little space in the case, and we’re all set. Plane leaves in three hours.” He drew breath and Kai saw his chance.
“I have things to do. I have to cancel-” before he could finish, Tom had spun around and walked to the kitchen where the phone sat tilted in its cradle. He wore boots with heels and the sharp clip-clop against the floor brought back a sharp memory of her, readying for a night out, reluctant to wear heels but doing it all the same. The two of them had made a promise to go barefoot all through the honeymoon; flips flops at dinner at the most: The last joke they shared, the last laugh.
“Those assholes at the car shop?” Tom screamed, clutching the piece of paper and holding it up like a treasure map. “I knew it, I knew it!”
“I’ve rung them, like twelve times, trying to wear them down,” Kai said, walking in and watching him punch the numbers; the phone rattled; he wondered if the plastic casings would shatter under his thumb. The phone rang as Tom drew it up to his mouth. His face was perfectly still and calm; his skin had gone white-hot with fury. At the last moment, as the woman’s voice came on the line, he looked round and winked.
“Put them on,” he said coolly. The garbled voice on the other end rose. “Put them on,” he said in the same tone. Kai knew it was going to be the last time. There was more interference; a second rolled over and then he exploded.
Kai edged away as his best friend of twenty seven years screamed down the phone line. Even though he was still, the apartment seemed to vibrate and hum with each fresh roar that poured out of him. Kai followed his own name as it was hurled into the air, heard his own tragedy come out of Tom’s mouth; it didn’t seem real, like a TV movie. It was only when he went to itch his cheek that he the felt wetness there. His hand jammed up his sleeve but then he remembered his tissues had been used up for mopping the blood/coffee and he pushed his palms over his face like he did when he was five years old. Too numb to even feel tears, a part of his mind wondered dreamily. The phone crashed back into the cradle, announcing the end of the conversation in the kitchen.
“We’re all set,” he said walking back into the living room, balling the paper up in his hand and throwing it over his shoulder. “Cancelled, backdated as of one month ago.”
“But I can’t,” Kai began to say and then stopped, trying to think of what to say next, aware his vice was hoarse-‘better than sounding like an ass’-his pa. “It wouldn’t seem right…” It sounded hollow, even to him. When he looked up, Tom’s eyes had softened, indicating he couldn’t quite believe Kai was offering that up for an excuse. “I mean-”
“I mean my ass, Kai. I’m calling a taxi now, we can take the bottle for the ride and we’ll be out in two hours. I’m going and I want you for company. And you…you need somebody; buddy and it may as well be me. Get your gear and meet me right here, in this spot, in ten.” He walked away to the whiskey bottle scooped it up and then went into the kitchen. Kai turned and faced his bedroom walked towards the cupboard and opened it, grabbing the first things that came to hand.
Drinking in the cab was an issue until the driver accepted a toot and then they were golden. The mess of checking-in went by in a blaze of answering lazily framed questions and chewing powerful gum. The department lounge was that odd mix of jaded families, jacked up singles and dead on their feet business people. Tom’s voice was in his ear like a radio; the setting never changing, the volume steady and unbreakable. Sometimes he stole a glance at his friend when he was looking on; Tom Hoffman drew people in; he could have been thirty three or twenty three. He was like a tattoo you’d see on a stranger’s shoulder; immediately but not knowing why, you wanted to know the story behind it. Girls went to Tom without question; Early on, he had asked her why she had been drawn to him and not his livewire friend. ‘Because it’s all there, on show,’ she had said then, loosening her scarf and pitching it round Kai’s throat to draw him close. ‘There’s no mystery with him.’
It was only after they boarded the plane and Kai clicked his seatbelt, did the reality of what he was doing kick in. Maybe it was the sound of the seatbelt snapping like a gunshot that brought him round. Kai looked round the plane and suddenly understood that Laura Green should have been sitting next to him. She should not be dead and buried under six feet of mud, but sitting next to him, right then, in that moment. He reared up in his seat for a moment, enough for Tom to look up from his magazine and look round. Kai looked at him, saw his perfect face crack and flinch for a moment. Kai went on wrestling with the belt as if it were bobby trapped; he couldn’t loosen it. He felt Tom trying to calm him down, as other passengers looked round to him.
“Kai, what’s the matter?” his friend said; he sounded far away, as if his voice was coming from the small TV set built into the back of the headrest. The shadow of the air stewardess cut into the aisle. Men and women began to murmur, as if the pilot had made an announcement about severe turbulence. Tom’s hand cut across the belt where his fingers twitched and Kai flicked it away as if it were on fire.
“Laura wanted the window seat,” he said, not knowing until he spoke what the problem was; now he knew. As they planned the trip, she had mentioned the window seat, seeing the ocean, the island. He had teased her, saying he was going to rush in and steal it away from her; ‘left swinging in the breeze’ was how he put it. He would take it and leave her in the aisle, faced with all the elbows and asses.
“Laura was supposed to have the aisle seat,” he repeated, his voice flat and not his own anymore; he sounded like a stranger to himself. People were gathering around him now, concerned chatter rising; Tom’s voice was working overtime to diffuse the situation.
She had punched his arm as he teased her and it had left a tiny bruise on his arm. After she had gone, he checked the bruise each day; his last contact with her. As it faded he pinched the spot, prodded it, trying to sustain it on his skin. One day he woke and it was gone and then there was nothing left of her but memory.
There was a rush of movement around him that he couldn’t quite follow. Kai felt himself be moved and then he was still again. People spoke and then simmered down. Everything was a muddle and a blur, although Tom’s voice seemed to cut through it, providing a sort of sound-tracking. He’s providing the commentary for my breakdown, Kai thought and almost laughed. His eyes cleared and he became aware of Tom reaching over and dabbing his eyes with a tissue and everything came into focus. He was sitting in the aisle seat now and the widow-the window- seat to his left was empty. Tom was to his right, having moved out of his seat.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, still looking at the empty seat. It should have been sad but somehow it wasn’t. It was still her seat.
“You’re welcome,” Tom replied. “I bought a new pack in the duty free,” he said, knowing that wasn’t what Kai meant at all. “You know…for emergencies.”
“Thank you,” Kai repeated and then stilled. He let his hand slip down onto the spare seat and let the cool air of the space soothe him. After a while, he slept; the sound of silence in one ear, his best friend’s in the other.
The hotel was top of the range stuff. Kai looked around the reception as Tom checked them in. The stars lit the place up and somewhere there was a last party just finishing up. Kai took the suite and Tom the spare; apparently every honeymoon suite had one in case of ‘complications,’ as the concierge put it. The two of them drifted left and right of the suitcase they had dumped in the centre and crashed out without saying goodnight; outside, it was almost dawn.
“Let’s do it!” Tom’s voice fizzed from someplace Kai couldn’t quite put his finger on. He woke up and looked round, got his bearings and saw the beach from his window. The shower died off and seconds later Tom strode into the room wearing a ridiculous white bath robe; in his hand was a cigar.
“You look like a pimp,” Kai said smiling.
“The hell I do; I look like Warren Beatty.” He winked and walked over to the window. “Some view here, man. Some view. Get yourself sorted out. Breakfast and then we’re blowing this joint. We’ve got a schedule to keep to, my friend.”
“Schedule my ass,” Kai said, walking over to the bathroom.
“My god,” was all he could think of to say. The breakfast was laid out on the table in the living room. “Are those silver plates?”
“Platters, Kai, platters. Learn the language of the rich. Check this out; the pineapple doesn’t even come out of tins: This baby’s fresh.” He hoisted a chunk with his fork and waved it in the air to back himself up. “I gave the waiter a tip and he looked like he was going to wipe his ass with it. What was it your pa used to say?”
“Any tip is a good tip,’” Kai said, smiling. “You know he was worried that a telephone in the house would make us too white collar?”
“Different times, my friend, different times. You know my old man used to read the papers and say he was glad he wasn’t going to see the future. The bastard meant it too.” Kai watched as Tom rubbed his forearm, like he did whenever he mentioned his father; the scars came up clearer in cold weather; it was why he loved the sun.
“So, this schedule,” Kai said, trying to move it away from the vicious old man. Tom looked over, smiling, knowing it, too. The two of them talked about everything and nothing; sports, films, music; all the small bits and pieces that build a friendship. Neither of them mentioned the plane or the seat; neither of them mentioned her. Instead, they passed the platters and smoked their cigars and drank coffee; the morning hour slipped away, Tom winking to the concierge as they left the reception, slapping Kai’s ass for good measure just to infuriate the old timer a little more. The two of them stepped into the forecourt.
“Are you shitting me?” Kai said, as the buggy pulled up. In the back were the clubs, the shoes tied onto the bag.
“They say golf is a good way to get ahead in business, Kai. If I take a meeting and they say they want to talk over eighteen holes, what am I going to do? Recommend the crazy golf on Craven road? I figure we’ll try it out, get used to the sticks and we’ll be pro in no time.” He climbed into the cart and Kai slid in next to him.
“‘Clubs.’ They’re called ‘clubs,’ not sticks. They’re not weapons, for Christ sakes. Do you even know how to drive this thing?” The buggy lurched into life, bumped twice and then began to move.
“Oh yea of little faith,” his friend said, as he slipped on his sunglasses.
“So… ‘Top ten celebrity women you’d most like to sleep with,’” Tom said, as his first shot flew into the trees. “I’ll go with…” Kai concentrated on the ball. It had taken him two minutes to get the thing to sit on the tee and now he was ready. He didn’t know his ass from his elbow, his sole experience coming from pitch and putt when they were twelve years old. They said the key was to relax as you swung; everything in his body was tight and knotted. In a flash he lunged at the ball and it shot into the air, landing somewhere on the grass.
“Whoa! You really clubbed that thing. Jesus, Kai, you went at it like you were holding a baseball bat. Clubber Lange! So, anyway, you?” Kai looked out, guessing where the ball might have gone. He looked over for a second, adjusting his glasses. “Top ten?”
“You’re kidding right?” Kai said as he climbed into the buggy. “I don’t think…”
“You don’t think you have a dick anymore?” Tom looked over him; his glasses slipped down and he looked for a second like a crazed teacher. He slid in and turned the key. “Come on, man. I’m sure the girls won’t hold it against you, bearing in mind they will never meet us in this life or the next.”
“I just don’t think right now, I can think about girls…” Tom zigzagged the cart and they jolted over to where his ball sat in the rough. He jumped out, Kai following him; above them, the sky was pure blue.
“So you don’t fantasise about chicks? Who was the last girl you thought about, seriously?” He stepped into the rough and looked back to Kai. “Am I allowed to put the ball back on the tee when it’s rough like this?”
“No, but you can because I don’t care.” Kai looked out to the fairway. Rich peoples front lawn. Who would own so much money and waste it on this? He sighed. “Laura. I fantasised about her, when she was on her work course for the weekend. That was the last time.”
“Really?” Tom said, placing the tee under the thicket. He took a step back and swung wildly and missed. He looked down at the ball and then over to Kai. “That’s beautiful, man: Romantic.” He swung again and missed. Kai thought about telling him to just throw the damn thing. There was a long pause where neither of them spoke.
“But she’s not a celebrity.” Finally, he connected and the ball spun away low through the straw and onto the grass.
“Wasn’t,” Kai said and climbed back into the buggy; it swayed a little and Kai began to realise just how overweight he was becoming. In his mind he had a vision of the cart slowly tipping over; him trapped against the asphalt. Doomed for all eternity to watch assholes with spiked shoes and loud socks pass by. Tom jumped in and reached back for the hip flask. They both took a pull and drove on in silence for what seemed like a long time.
“Cameron Diaz,” Kai said quietly; Tom slapped him on the back and began talking again.
“Was that eight or nine?” Kai said as his ball plopped into the hole. One hole down; an eternity to go
“I’ll give you an eight. I think I hit a twelve.” He nodded, filling in the card. When he looked up, he looked deep in thought. “This is bullshit. Let’s go.”
“Good plan,” Kai said, almost running over to the cart. Tom jumped in, looking re-energised.
“I’ll take them to a strip club, right? That’s what most business people do, right?” He jerked the buggy into life and they tore down the course, ignoring the shouts from the old men who were playing behind them.
“That’s what I hear,” Kai said, looking away form the men and ignoring their hand gestures. So much for etiquette, he thought and reached for the flask.
The two of them hit the beach, Kai in the shade of an umbrella, Tom swimming and then reading the papers at the bar and talking to the waitress. The heat made it impossible to think and Kai was grateful for that. Instead he watched the people go by, trying to guess their story; it was another game she had promised they would do when they got here. So many people, all having a good time, he thought. So many people with their heads buried in their phones, ear-buds connected. From time to time he heard Tom’s laughter and smiled, bringing him back to reality.
A girl walking by smiled at him, everyone else drifted by not paying him any attention. The girl looked back and smiled again; Kai tried to smile back but couldn’t seem to make it happen. Then she was gone. He went back to thinking about her; his mind split in two directions:
She’s at the bar ordering food, a part of him repeated over and over. He sipped his cocktails slowly when he told himself this, trying to make himself believe the lie. On the edge of his mouth was a smile.
She’s dead; the rest of him nagged flatly, the truth sucker punching him in the gut. His stomach throbbed and he drained the tall drinks until they were empty, feeling no buzz at all. His eyes burned and he picked at his eyes, the way everyone else at the beach did when their sun-tan lotion ran over their brows.
“Let’s go grab a bite,” Tom said, appearing over him like a cloud. He offered his hand and hauled Kai out of the sun-lounger.
“I thought you were talking to the waitress,” he said, adjusting himself to standing after so long on his back.
“Now I want to talk to you,” He said, as they drifted out of the heat and into the thatched cover of the bar. The two of them walked towards it and Kai suddenly remembered the two of them back-packing, how one day they had climbed a glacier, someplace in New Zealand, almost as a dare to each other. We were so young, Kai thought then, almost stunned thinking back to it, all the time that had gone-by; no, we were invincible, he realised, as they stepped towards a table with some shade.
“I guess I’ve never had anyone die, like a girlfriend,” he said just after they had just finished ordering their burgers. At first Kai thought he must have mis-heard and said nothing.
“I mean, I heard about Janice, she died in a speedboat accident, or an allergic reaction to bee stings or something, but that was much later…my point is, no-one like you and Laura. I guess the closest I could come to was my ma.” He stopped and leaned forward and took a long sip through his straw. “And that still hurts everyday.” Tom looked over and let the straw fall away; the ice cubes rattled as he waited.
“I…it hurts,” was all Kai could think of to say. He looked out and saw the sun was beginning to set; it was too hazy to be beautiful. Instead it just seemed like a smudge. Tom was talking and then he was waiting.
“I guess…I’m scared of never having that again. Her touch was…” he knew there was a word and he squinted, trying to find it. “Her touch meant something to me…it was…” the bubble in his head grew and grew. “Her touch was eternity,” he said loudly, enough for a couple to look round. Kai took a long sip of his drink. He felt hollowed out, not alive enough to get drunk.
“And now she’s gone,” Tom said quietly.
“What? What did you say?” Kai felt himself flush. He couldn’t quite believe what he had heard.
“‘Now she’s gone.’ That’s what I said. She gone, right? She’s gone.” He folded his napkin, as if he was reading from it. In a moment of horror, Kai thought that he was; he snatched the napkin and looked at it. “She’s gone,” he said, almost whispering.
“Stop saying that, Tom. I mean it.” he felt the heat rising in him; the drink was nothing in this, not even a sting.
“She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone…”
“She’s dead!” Kai screamed at the top of his voice. He slammed both his hands down on the table and each of their empty glasses tipped onto their sides. One rolled into the flower pot, the other rested by the menu. The couple, who had been looking, edged away.
‘Burgers 49 and 50; Hawaii Surprise and The Monster are now ready at the service bar.’
“Hold that thought,” Tom said, raising both his fingers and then edging out of the booth. Kai felt the heat slip away and went about collecting the glasses. He looked around to apologise to the couple, but they were long gone. He held the ice cubes in his hands and ran them over his face, his eyes closed. When he opened them again, Tom slid the food in-front of them, the drinks to the side.
“I couldn’t get into it, what had happened with my ma, the grief of it, until I said it out loud, you know? Like you just did,” he said, grabbing his glass and raising it high in the air between them. Without thinking, Kai copied him and their glasses brushed in the middle; some of the drinks spilled onto the menu in the centre.
“After I said she’d died, out loud, I could talk about her, all the things that made her special, stuff like that.” He picked out a gherkin and flipped it into his mouth. “You know once she said something to me; ‘is that tree high, or is it life?’ Never understood what she meant by that, but it was okay, because she was the one saying it, you know? I never really knew much aside that she loved plants and hated Japanese knotweed. Okay, so top ten films…” he went on, pulling the cocktail sticks that pinned the burger together from the buns and hoisting it to his mouth.
Kai walked back to the hotel alone; Tom had mentioned splitting for an hour, which might have had something to do with one of the girls from one of the bars. Kai felt the cool drift of the late evening air roll over him and re-lit the morning cigar Tom had given him. For a while the idea of returning to the room seemed unnerving to him, so he went to the empty hotel pool. He swam ten laps, taking a pull on the cigar from the ash tray each time he reached the table at the far end.
He had just put the television on when there was a knock on the door. Kai smiled, setting down the coffee on the table, looking forward to the story of how Tom had managed to lose his keys. As he drew the door back a beautiful woman smiled at him and said his name. He nodded and she walked into the room.
“Tom said there might be some champagne in the fridge,” she said as she sat on the sofa. Kai looked at her for a second, and then walked out to the kitchen; sure enough there was a bottle and two glasses. He walked back and saw the woman smooth down the black dress; she was wearing flat shoes, he noticed.
“You’re the waitress from the burger bar,” he said suddenly recognising her. She smiled and nodded. She looked as uncomfortable as he felt.
“The wages are terrible and the tips are worse,” she said and suddenly Kai imagined this was how she actually talked in real life with her friends.
“‘Any tips a good tip,’” he said quickly, without thinking.
“What?” she said blankly.
“Nothing…it’s just…nothing.” He popped the cork of the bottle and poured the drinks quickly. The sound echoed and filled the room. They awkwardly raised glasses and then sipped their drinks, one after the other.
“I’m not going to…I mean I don’t want to…” he sipped his drink again. He looked over for her help but she just sat, waiting, as if this was all part of it. She didn’t speak.
“Could you brush my hair?” He said out of nowhere. Kai winced and then topped up her glass. “If I get my comb would you brush my hair? She used to do that for me and I used to like it, so…it relaxed me, you know?”
“Sure,” she said after a few seconds and shrugged. She set her glass down and he did the same.
“Outstanding!” he said too loudly, and slapped his knees with both hands. He pulled himself up and walked to the bedroom, the embarrassment almost tangible and coming off him in waves. Kai grabbed the comb and stopped to splash some water on his cheeks. When he stepped back into the room she was laying on the sofa, her dress pulled off the shoulders and almost over her chest. She looked up and tilted her head to one side.
“Oh, you weren’t kidding,” she said and adjusted the dress back to her shoulders.
“No, not really. When my hairs wet, you know…it relaxes me.” He sat down next to her, looking away as she pushed the rest of the dress back into place. After a few seconds she reached over and took the comb out of his hand. Without speaking, he turned around, as if in a hairdressers and closed his eyes. Slowly, she began to run the comb along his neck.
“So how was it?” Tom asked as he stepped back into the room. He had theatrically knocked before entering and looked round, grinning. The girl was long gone, the bottle and glasses empty. Kai smiled took one of the beers offered. Midnight had come and gone; parts of the island were raucous, others were asleep.
“It was fine…fine,” he said quietly, helping Tom with the brown bag; full of junk and what they really enjoyed. Tom looked up for a long moment and then shook his head.
“Did you even kiss her? I figured you wouldn’t even do that.” he cracked open his beer and brushed it against Kai’s.
“Not even close. But it was…nice.” He wiped the foam away from his mouth and smiled.
“I just wanted you to talk to another girl, man, that was all.” He flopped down on the chair and then took a small bag of weed out of his trouser pocket. “Meanwhile…”
The beers gone, two of them went out onto the balcony, looking out to the sea. Kai took an occasional drag, one to every three of Tom’s and still felt high. The clubs were dying out; soon it would be morning although that seemed impossibly far away.
“Checkout’s at eleven,” Tom said, looking out. “You know Liz, that girl I was with, the one with the braids?” He went on, out of nowhere, his voice tight with holding the smoke.
“Sure, she was nice…nice girl.” Kai answered, taking the joint.
“I thought I was going to marry her, you know? I thought she might have been the one.” He took it back and poured a little whiskey into his glass.
“What happened?” Kai said, lifting his own drink. He remembered the bullshit excuse when it was over and knew it was not all of it.
“I was watching TV one day, the news, you know? And I saw this story about how this whale beached up. It got stuck and it just…died. They all tried to save it, all the locals, but it just dried up and died right there on the beach. And I watched it and I was a mess, man, seriously. It really upset me. And I told Lizzie about it and she just…laughed man. She thought it was dumb as hell; me getting bent out of shape about nothing, about some dumb creature. That’s what she called it, a ‘creature.’ I mean, there were a hundred other things on top, but that was the one that did it for me, Kai. That was the straw…how do you say that?”
“‘The straw that broke the camel’s back.’” Kai said and took another hit. “Or ‘the last straw,’ maybe. That’s a shame, what you said.” Tom looked over to Kai’s outstretched hand but didn’t take it.
“You think you got nothing, man, but at least you had something.” He took the joint and blew the tip off. “At least you had something.”
Kai looked at Tom and the two of them stared at each other, in that way, for a long time. Kai felt as if they could have started something then; one punch and then another, or something else; cruel and mean words. But instead there was just a silence and after that, they smiled. Kai first and then Tom; a smile that shifted into a grin, a grin into fits of giggles, the way school kids snorted halfway through class. Kai kept giggling and then Tom laughed. Kai thought it sounded almost like a roar; they laughed until Kai wasn’t sure if they were laughing or screaming. In the end, it didn’t matter; they screamed and laughed until the drink was all gone, the smoke was gone and their throats were raw and done and it was all over.
The two of them walked inside into the living room. Kai walked into the bedroom and wiped his eyes. He lay on his half of the bed; he couldn’t move any further over; he had laid a wall of cushions as a divider down the centre to make sure he didn’t stray over to her side. He lay looking at the ceiling and heard Tom walk in; he lay on the other side of the bed and stared straight up too.
“Relax,” he said and the two of them laughed. Outside the window the light shifted; the last of the grey was rising and soon it would be morning.
“It’s going to be okay,” Kai said, his voice hoarse and torn up. It barely sounded like his voice at all.
“Okay,” he heard Tom say, his own voice beaten. Kai felt Tom’s hand in his and he gripped it tight. “Okay,” Tom said again. They lay there for a long time.
“It’s going to be okay,” Kai said a final time and squeezed his friend’s hand a final time. Outside, it was dawn.
© Chris Castle June 2012
More life stories
“Mr....?" comes a voice, pulling him out of his drink. He looks up to see a young man, twenties, with the whitest, straightest teeth he has ever seen. It looks like someone kicked 24 pearls straight down his throat. He has the sort of teeth that could close deals and open legs in minutes.
Running to Yesterday
“It’s a good place,” Jack said, looking at the high beams, the empty walls. The ceiling reached at an impossible height. It felt as if he was living inside an old black and white movie.
“It’s what we need,” Ellen replied, setting down the battered suitcase.