Short Story: Senior

The day of the promotion Junior felt a surge of excitement which he had not felt in a long time. Last time he had this feeling, he had been accepted into his architecture program, which he still hoped to complete one day. He kept the acceptance letter in his desk drawer at work, occasionally taking it out and reading it over again, thinking about how it would have felt if he had been able to graduate. Now, however, he had another letter, one that informed him of his promotion. He carried that with him in his breast pocket so he could show his father.

He parked his car in front of his fathers’ house. As he went around the hood of the car, he almost stepped into the puddle of water which was slowly draining into the street gutter. The rain had just stopped on his way over here. Luckily, he caught himself and was able to skip over the puddle and onto the neatly kept front lawn. He went and knocked on the front door, which his father had built himself. It was made of thick red oak wood and it hurt the knuckles but you had to knock because the doorbell didn’t work. It was as if you had to pay a price to see him. His father’s footsteps fell upon the floor with authority, whose verdict he felt under his own boots. Something stirred inside of him from merely feeling the vibrations of his fathers’ footsteps, his presence coming nearer, and he straightened his posture and he held his wrist behind his back like a young solider does when a drill sergeant enters the room. He eased out a long, drawn-out breath and waited. The steps were not hurried. His father did not rush for anyone. He was always in control. The door sprang open and his father stretched across the gaping entrance. Junior could tell his father had not been expecting any company for he simply wore his robe with no undershirt and he could see his father’s broad chest and specks of grey hair that covered it. Junior found himself lowering his head as if he were bowing, a natural reaction.

“Is it Friday already?” His father voice was deep and his lips barely moved. There was some stubble on his chin.

“No, it’s still Wednesday.”

“Of course I know what day it is, you think I’m that far gone?”

Junior smiled, embarrassed at taking his father’s question literally. His father often joked and asked questions that didn’t need answers but he found himself answering them anyway.

“I thought you only came to see me on Friday?”

His father stepped back, granting Junior space to come inside. Junior squeezed past his father who closed the door behind them. His father was a big man, shoulders still strong for someone his age, chest still stuck out further than his belly even though men his age often had fuller bellies. He pulled him in for an embrace. There was a musky smell to him as if he had just been exercising. When he let him go, like a little child, Junior found himself staring up at his father.

“So, what’s the special occasion?” He asked patting Junior on the back which made him stumble forward a little. Before Junior could answer his father started for the kitchen and Junior hurried to keep up with his long strides.

“I was just making some coffee. You want some?”

“Sure. Two teaspoons of sugar please.”

“I don’t have any. The doctor said to lay off so I’ve been having it black. It might be too bitter for you.”

“I think I can handle it,” Junior said.

“You sure? I guess you’re a grown boy now.”

The sound of the news anchors filled the open room as the shifting light from the television set fell upon the yoga mat that was set in front of it. The mat was flanked on either side by two sets of dumbbells. You had to take a step up from the living room onto the kitchen floor where the table was lightly decorated with just a crystal bowl in the middle with a couple bananas in it and a war novel lay on top of the morning paper. The table was surrounded by a few chairs and his father pulled one out, gesturing for him to take a seat as he went to pour the coffee.

“This any good?” He asked his father as he picked up the novel and read the back summary.

“Junk,” his father replied, “none of them can ever capture it correctly.”

He put the book back down.

“How’s Emily?”

His father joined him at the table, placing a cup of coffee in front of Junior.

Junior felt the warmth through the mug as he lifted the cup to his lip. His father was not lying about the coffee. He had to consciously stop himself from making a face as the bitter drink went down his throat because he could tell that he was being watched. He took another sip for good measure.

“Better now, she’s almost over her cold,” Junior said, lowering the cup down to the table.

His father spread out on the chair and faced Junior. Junior felt as if he was back in school, in the principle’s office having to answer for some wrongdoing, that he hadn’t done. The silence alone was heavy enough to cause him discomfort as his father calmly sipped his coffee. He cleared his throat and attempted to say something but his father cut him off.

“I have been meaning to thank her for letting me stay with you for those few months.”

“Oh, that was nothing. It was the least we could do.”

“I must have been a real nuisance for you to get rid of me so quickly.”

This time there was only the illusion of silence as he tried to think of a way to counter his father’s ruling but instead, he sank further into the chair or perhaps his father grew larger. Junior stared at the tabletop where his coffee cup was, watching the steam rise. Although his father had been a difficult house guest because he needed so much attention, Junior could never bring himself to tell his father the truth.

“No, it was never like that,” Junior muttered, his voice was subdued, barely above a whisper, a courteous man would have leaned closer but his father kept his imposing position. It was as if his father’s gaze could change his tone, manipulate his words, cause the letters to come out quickly, in a hurrying manner as if he were breathing hard, trying to catch his breath.

He reached for the novel again but stopped, instead he folded his hands in front of him.

“Come on, I’m only joking,” his father’s loaded hand patted Junior on the shoulder, “we can joke with one another, can’t we? That’s what men do. Your mother never understood it but I told her that it’s all play between us.”

Junior replied with a smile and a soft, “yes,” that was barely audible and sounded more like a deep exhale.

“But I must say, I would like to see you and Emily more than once a week. I’m getting up there, not much left for me. If I can’t even get my boy to come to see me, what am I still doing here?”

“Don’t say that, please, I know I should come more often but I’m just trying to do for what you did for me. I’m trying to make it easy for you. Also, while we are on that subject of work—” he went to take the envelope out when his father asked, “How are you liking my old job?”

“About that—”

“Do they still talk about me or have they forgotten about the old workhorse?”

“They remember, of course, they remember, how can they forget someone like you?”

“What good is a horse if he can’t gallop,” his father said, his voice flat and toneless as if he were making a statement to himself.

“Mr. Edwards speaks so highly of you there that I’ve had trouble keeping up.” He said which made his father smile. “I’ve been working so much overtime recently so that I don’t fall behind on anything.”

“Just make sure your bride doesn’t mind. That was a good thing about your mother, she understands a man’s need to work.”

“Emily is a doll. She’s always putting up with my headache but I’ll take her on a vacation or something one of these days.”

His father finished his cup of coffee. He stared at Junior’s almost full cup, knowing he had been right about his son’s taste. He took his own empty cup to the sink and started to rinse it.

“I can do that for you,” Junior said, joining his father at the kitchen sink. There was a window above the sink but the curtains were drawn. The faint sound of the drizzle outside could be heard tapping against the window. He noticed the lack of dust on the windowsill.

“I’m not that old yet,” his father replied.

“I didn’t mean that,” said Junior whose voice was drowned by the flow of the tap water. His father shut it off and placed the cup to dry on the cloth that was placed beside the kitchen sink.

“So they still remember the old bull?” He asked.

“Oh, very much, in fact, Mr. Edwards was talking to me about you today.”

“My works got you looking soft,” his father poked Junior in the belly. “Here, look at mine, still solid,” he slapped his own stomach with an open palm, “Now you must know how hard I used to work to keep in shape.”

“I guess Emily’s been keeping me too well fed,” Junior smiled.

“That’s no excuse. A man has to stay tight. Softness is an illness to his character. How can you expect others to follow you if they see this belly of yours? You can’t lead men if you can’t even control what you put in your mouth.”

“You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right, I’ve been doing your job much longer than you have.”

“About that—”

“I saw the doc the other day and you know what he said?” His father didn’t wait for an answer although Junior opened his mouth to reply. “He said I’m in the top percentile of his patients when it comes to physique. I told the doc I’ve never missed a day of exercising. Every morning I exercise. You should do that too or else you’re gonna fall apart when you get to my age.”

There was a hint of a joke in his father speech and so Junior smiled, weakly. His father patted him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time to straighten up.”

“But listen I got some good news for you,” Junior said.

His father turned towards him, leaning onto the kitchen counter, arms folded across his chest.

“What’s that?”

Junior pulled out the letter from his supervisor.

“I’m being promoted,” He said, presenting the letter to his father.

His father did not accept it.

“About time we got that position.”

He turned his back to his son and picked out a glass bowl from the cabinet above. “The son always eats the sweet fruit of his father’s labor,” he said, as he poured cornflakes into his glass bowl.

“I am very grateful.” Junior’s arm hung beside him and his hand still holding the letter.

His father spoke, as he poured milk into the bowl, “I suppose that is what the purpose of being a father is, I lay the foundation, build upon it, make it nice and pretty for you to come and see further than I ever did. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

His father took a spoonful and aggressively shoved it in his mouth, some of the milk dribbled down his chin which he wiped with the back of his hand.

“I was thinking,” Junior said, “This new position can allow me to hire some help to look after you the days I can’t come.”

His father chewed, his jaw flexing and relaxing, his eyes staring right at Junior and Junior’s own shifted back to the tabletop, where his coffee had lost its steam.

“So you’ll be coming to see me even less?” His father asked.

“No, no, nothing like that. I just felt it’ll be good for you to have someone around to talk to and be with.”

“Why can’t that someone be you?”

Junior’s voice softened. “These past few months I’ve been neglecting Emily too much and I just thought the two of can spend more time together.”

His father did not reply. Instead, he quietly finished his bowl of cereal, the metal spoon scraping the glass bowl after each bite. Once the bowl was empty, he let out a sigh and leaned back into his chair.

“It makes sense, more time for your bride and less time for your old man. Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon, you’ll have plenty of time after that.”

“Please don’t talk like that.”

“All these years I spent working, I only did that so I could see you do good in his life. So, I’m happy for you and now, if it means to watch you from afar, then I suppose I’ll do that, I’ll clap for you from the stands.”

He stood up, towering over Junior, “You do what you think is best, after all, you’re the man of the house now, right?”

Junior looked down, staring at his father’s strong legs and feeling the weight of his father’s touch as he lightly patted him on the cheek. His father picked up the coffee mug and carried it with the empty bowl to the sink. He poured out the coffee into the sink and rinsed out the cup before cleaning the bowl as well. He left both the cup and bowl to dry beside the other mug.

He seemed to be waiting for Junior to say something, perhaps apologize, to take back what he had said, thank him for the promotion but Junior stayed silent, his voice not allowed to speak.

“Well you must be a busy man these days,” his father said, “I shouldn’t keep you away from your mistress much longer.” He started for the door and Junior stood up without a word and followed his father’s strides.

His father held the door open for him and Junior stepped through.

“It was good seeing you,” his father said.

“Please, I would come more often if it wasn’t for Emily and the work—”

His father smiled, quieting Junior with his look.

“Your grandfather would not tolerate such words, in fact, I think he wouldn’t like you one bit for saying such things. I’m different than my father, I don’t judge like he used to. He would have judged you to be a lousy boy. Inconsiderate. He was a hard man from a different time but I still loved him and took care of him because that’s the duty of a son. But me, I don’t judge you. You do what you think is best and send my regards to my workers and also to Emily.”

The light from the sun cast his father’s shadow upon Junior whose gaze was fixed upon his father’s feet, unable to raise his head and meet his father’s eyes.

“I’ll try to make it work,” he said.

“You do what you like, son, you’re the man now.”

His father closed the door.

For a moment he stayed in the silence that was only present in his heart as the street behind him busied itself with an utter disregard. He felt so alone and so small. That silence that was within him began to break and it started as a whisper first but in seconds it turned into screams, screams of yearning, screams for acceptance, screams which wanted to hear his father simply say “I’m proud of you”, screams which were ultimately just the tantrums of a child, he understood. He took the letter and crumpled it into a little ball and threw it down the gutter as he got into his car and headed back to work. The rain fell tearfully from the skies.

Short Story: Everything Works Itself Out

The death of Katherine Moore overshadowed all other news for the past week. It was mainly due to the gruesome nature of the killing, her body was found littered with knife wounds, but also because she was an up and coming actress. All the news channels and the newspapers used the same professional headshot of hers where she was candidly looking slightly to the left of the camera, getting a profile view of her slender nose and her long blonde hair and her lively eyes, as the newscaster said. They kept referring to her looks as graceful and soft but he didn’t understand that. How could you tell that from a black and white photo? What he did understand was the use of words like potential and budding because she had just starred in her second movie which, to him, meant that she was on her way to becoming a relatively successful actress. Because that’s how life worked. It was like a ladder, you have to climb it one step at a time, no skipping, and she had started climbing and eventually, her work would have lead her to greater success and so, in that manner, her death was tragic.

“Her life unexpectedly—” The newscaster was saying when he changed the channel and right that second his mother’s nagging voice rang.

“Jaaake, I was watching that,” she said from somewhere in the kitchen behind him. He heard the tic-tic-tic of the knife striking the cutting board. “Put that back on, please.”

“Haven’t you had enough of that same ol’ story by now?”

He did as his mother said.

“The horrific scene was first reported by the victims’ landlord some three days after the initial incident as the other tenants complained about the foul odour—”

“Here, hun, eat something before you go.”

His mother joined him on the sofa with a plate of sliced apples with salt sprinkled on top and a handful of almonds bundled together on the side.

“Not hungry right now,” Jake said.

“It’s always good to go into big days—”

“With a full stomach,” he completed her saying, “I know ma and I’ve told you before that those kinds of things don’t matter.”

“Listen, mister, you may have gone to a fancy college but there are something books don’t teach you.” She kicked off her slippers and sat on the sofa, Indian style and had one of the apple slices herself as she watched the news. There was no point arguing with her. Her way of thinking was set so he just grunted in response and bit down on a slice, snapping it in half, making sure she heard the crunch.

“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” she shook her head as they showed pictures of a young Katherine in her first school play. She was dressed in a white tutu with wings. She was meant to be a fairy.

“Poor thing.”

“If you keep watching this kinda thing over and over your brains gonna rot,” he said, “like it ain’t full of worrying already.”

“You sure you didn’t know her?” She had completely ignored his comment.

“Yeah.”

The newscaster said they were still looking for the individual who did it and that the police had a few leads they were pursuing.

“I bet you a dollar it turns out to be a man.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just a feeling I got.”

The news switched to a different story. This one about a highway robbery in California and she turned off the television and placed the remote control on the table in front, on top of the newspaper with Katherine’s face.

“What are you wearing today?” She asked him. “Wear something nice so Mr. Edwards can be impressed.”

“I’m wearing one of the shirts and ties he got me.”

“That’s a good idea.”

Mr. Edwards was his manager. He gave him a birthday present each year. The present was the same every year. A collared shirt with a matching tie, nothing fancy but a nice gesture. By now, he had five such combinations and in another month he would have six. He wore one of the combinations for this special day.

A dark blue collared shirt which would be neatly tucked into his freshly ironed trousers. With it, he picked out a checkered pattern tie with various blends of different shades of the colour blue. He made sure to match his shoes with the outfit for Mr. Edwards was an old school kind of man who put weight on a man’s shoes.

“Dark blue?” She asked.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Oh nothing hun, you know you look handsome in any colour but extra handsome in something livelier. Don’t you have that salmon shirt?”

“I don’t like that kinda stuff. It draws too much attention.”

She cupped the bottom of his chin tenderly, “Why don’t you want to draw attention to such a handsome face?” He batted her hand away. She continued, “And I bet that burgundy tie will look something special with that Salmon shirt.”

He replied with a grunt.

“Okay, fine, you do what you like.”

She took the empty plate to the kitchen but not before sliding her forefinger across the surface of the plate and picking up some salt that was left behind and licking it clean off her finger.

“Are you sure today is the day?” The sound of the tap turning on and rushing onto the plate filled the moment of silence that followed her worrying.

“I told you everything is in order.”

“But don’t get too worked up if it doesn’t happen today.”

“Course it’ll happen today. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two. I put in the work and now I’ll get the promotion.”

“Okay, I believe in you—”

“I got a favor to ask you though.”

He joined her in the kitchen, leaning against the dark grey granite countertop with spots of black in different circular shapes. He folded his arms across his chest. His mother opened the cabinet beside the stove and took out a pot.

“What’s that?”

“I need the place to myself tonight.”

The burner clicked three times and came alive. She placed the pot over the flames and turned to look at him.

“What’s the special occasion?”

“I’m meeting someone for dinner and if all goes well, you know, it’s best that your not around tonight.”

“Whose the special lady?”

She poured milk into the pot and the twisted the pink bottle cap back on the milk carton.

“Amy. Friend of a friend.”

“She’s no hussy is she?”

“Ma, come on.”

“Sorry, dear, just don’t want my boy to get taken advantage of.”

He let out a sigh, “Could you please just go to Aunt Jenny’s or something.”

“Jenny might be busy tonight.”

“Ma, please.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll go.”

“Great. I’m going to go get changed.”

His mother smiled at him.

“Hurry up, I’ll have the milk ready by that time. Lukewarm just how you like it.”

The meeting with Mr. Edwards went off without a hitch. First, Mr. Edwards compliment him on his salmon shirt and burgundy tie. Second, he invited him to take a seat and got straight to business. Mr. Edwards wasn’t a man who liked to waste time in small talk. Third, a few thank you’s and handshakes later, he left Mr. Edwards office with the thought of the car brochure that was in his desk drawer. 

Apart from that, the meeting had only further solidified his understanding of life. You moved up in a rational, orderly, step by step basis. Now that he had the promotion, the car was next and then, getting his own place. It was all falling into line. When he remembered he still had his date with Amy, he thought maybe today would be the best day of his life.

“You got the promotion?” She sounded surprised as if it were even up for debate.

“Didn’t I tell you. There was no other possibility,” he said as he flipped the brochure page and paused to admire the red convertible BMW.

“I’ll bake some cookies for Mr. Edwards.”

“You don’t have to do that. In fact, don’t do it. It’ll look too desperate.”

“Nonsense, he will love them. I’ll start right after this.”

He flipped the page and grunted in response. He knew there was no point in fighting his mother once her mind was made up.

“They say they’re getting real close to identifying the suspect.”

“What suspect?” He held the phone in-between his ear and shoulder, leaning back, he folded the top corner of the brochure page that he liked.

“The one who killed the Moore girl,” she said, “Are you sure you didn’t know her?”

“Yeah ma, why would I know some random woman?”

“There’s just something familiar about her.”

“Like I told you before you probably saw her in some dish detergent ad or something.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Or maybe at a grocery store.”

He could hear his mother thinking. If she were a poker player she’d be a bad one because every time she wrestled with her thoughts, she’d take these long inhales and quick exhales like she was hyperventilating. Thinking of poker, he thought it may be a good idea to go celebrate at the casino on the weekend.

“Ma, I gotta get going.”

“Huh? Oh,” she had forgotten she was on the phone he thought, “Okay hun, I’ll call you later.”

“Don’t forget about going to Aunt Jenny’s.”

“Oh, almost did.”

“Ma.”

“I’m only teasing you. Now, whose worrying?”

“Good one.”

His mother laughed by herself as he rolled up the brochure and batted it around as if he were hitting home runs at the park, “Speaking of it,” he said, “Did Amy call by any chance?”

“I don’t think so, no, only call I got was from telecommunication—-”

“I think I accidentally gave her our home number. I was meant to confirm with her about our date tonight.”

“I’m sure it’s fine and I’ll keep by the phone in case she does call.”

“Okay, thanks ma.”

“Take care and don’t drink and —”

“I know, I know, you don’t have to worry about that, I’m not a little kid.”

“You’ll always be to me.”

“Make sure you’re not home, ma, I don’t want another Monica Lewis situation happening. She never talked to me again.”

He rolled his chair closer to the desk so he could put away the brochure in the drawer.

“She was a hussy. I did you a favor.”

“Ma, I mean it, if you mess things up with Amy I won’t forgive you that easily. I really like her.”

“Fine, don’t be so dramatic. I already called Jen and made plans for tonight.”

“Great.”

The giant tv screen played the last few minutes of the Bulls game. He had been watching it since the first quarter. The Bulls were out of it by the end of the second quarter. In front of him were four empty bottles and a plate of french fries with only the small, burnt ones remaining along with the smeared ketchup. He took of his burgundy tie and tossed it on the wooden table which was marked with spillage over the years. The smell of cigarette smoke passed him as a group of guys walked past. To his right were a series of pool tables, from one came the sound of a gunshot as the cue ball scattered the other balls.

He went to the bathroom to relieve himself in order to make more room for the liquor. As he was leaving the bathroom stall, he bumped into another man who was coming in.

“Sorry,” he mumbled moving aside to let the man pass.

“Jake?” The man called his name.

Jake studied his face for a moment, trying to recall a figure in his memory that resembled this man whose face was half hidden by a patchy beard and the brim of his dirty hat shadowed the other half of his face. Only his eyes were clear which were paler than the rest of his tanned face as if he had been out in the sun for a long time with sunglasses on. He failed his attempt to correctly piece the picture together, an attempt that was made difficult with the liquor that circulated in him.

“Sorry do I know you?”

The man cracked a smile and put a hand on his shoulder. For a second he tried to remember if he had been coming in or going out of the bathroom.

“It’s Roy,” he said, “Roy Campbell. Remember?”

The name was familiar, very much so, but the face still didn’t match any of his memories of Roy Campbell. It was as if some stranger had picked that name out of a hat in some twisted reality show and now, he could go on living a life that didn’t belong to him and it was up to people who knew the real Roy to figure out if this one was an imposter or not. If he got it right maybe a camera crew would jump out from the corner.

Roy seemed to have read his mind as he scratched his beard and kept smiling.

“I know I look different. Haven’t had the time to clean up, you know how it is.”

He didn’t but he said he did.

Roy asked him to wait a moment as he went into the bathroom. He quickly returned and the two of them sat down at Roy’s table. Empty peanut shells littered the round stained wood table, along with a tall glass of water in which the ice has melted adding to the volume in the glass.

Jake reached for a couple peanuts which he cracked open.

“I’ll get us a pitcher,” Jake said.

“Not for me,” Roy replied, he dug into his back pocket and got out his wallet inside of which was his AA token. “Almost sixty days.”

“That’s great.”

“I just came here to watch the game,” he nodded at the big screen.

“What a blowout,” Jake replied.

Roy cracked open some peanuts and emptied the shell out in the palm of his hand before tossing them back into his mouth.

“What you been up too?” He asked.

“Just working.”

“Going good?” He chewed with his eyes fixed on the tv screen.

“Got a promotion today so yeah, going pretty well I say.”

“Big shot over here,” he said, “No I’m kidding, that’s great. How’d you do it?”

The waitress brought him a bottle of beer and refilled Roy’s glass of water.

“What do you mean?”

He took a sip and held on to the bottle to feel its cool temperature run through the nerves of his fingers and into his palm.

“How’d you stick to a place long enough to fool them into giving you a promotion? I tried so many times but I couldn’t hack it. After a few months I would pack my things up and keep on moving. Even now I’m getting the itch to get going, to go somewhere else, to run away in a sense.”

Jake shrugged. He was recalling now why he hadn’t kept up with Roy over the years.

“We can’t all just leave, besides that’s how things are. You put in the work for long enough and you’ll get rewarded. Two plus two equals four.”

He rubbed his eyes with the moisture from the cold bottle.

“That logic is too simple,” Roy said. Before Jake could reply, Roy changed the subject. “You married yet?”

“Not even close.”

“Really? We all thought you’d be the first one to bite it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know, you just seemed like the type.”

“Looks like you bit it.”

Roy closed his hand around the glass of water but even through it you could see the pale moon like ring imprint around his finger.

“I was about too,” Roy said, “Was engaged but then I found out she was cheating on me so I decided to return the ring and get something for myself.”

“We got one thing in common then.”

“What’s that?” Roy asked.

“Lousy luck with women,” he said, “Was supposed to meet a girl here but got stood up.”

“Yeah, it is like that sometimes. When I found out she was cheating on me it kinda broke me, you know. Couldn’t get myself to go to work after that,” Roy explained, “And got let go but that’s a blessing I think.”

“You’ll land on your feet.”

“You think so?”

“Oh I know, we always said Roy was the kind of guy who was going to do big things. You just got to start stepping.”

“Two plus two equals four.”

“Yeah exactly.”

The game ended and for a brief moment, the channel switched the news coverage of the actress’ murder. Roy watched, quietly sipping on his water and as the newscaster began to talk about her promising movie career the channel switched to a football game and Roy shook his head, placing the glass of water down.

“Maybe she deserved it,” Roy said.

“Huh?”

This time Roy shrugged as he leaned back into his chair.

“Who knows what she did to get the guy to act that way.”

“Does that matter?”

“Two plus two, right?”

“What do you mean?” He asked Roy.

“Well, outside the moment of madness, there must have been a catalyst for the person who did that to her and if that catalyst was her then it adds up to it being her fault or at least part of the equation.”

“Man, that’s twisted. I’m sure whoever did it will be caught soon. It’s only a matter of time.”

Roy washed the peanuts down with his water.

Jake had finished another beer and got the urge to use the bathroom again. As he stood up he stumbled a little and caught the back of the chair to stay upright. Roy asked if he had enough and Jake slowly shook his head but even that simple movement caused him to grab the chair.

“Don’t drink much,” Jake explained.

“I can see that. You need help getting up the stairs?”

“I might just head on home.” He squeezed his temple.

“Can’t let you go by yourself. Did you drive here?”

He nodded and immediately regretted it.

“Give me your keys, I’ll drop you off and take the train back.”

“It’s a bit dirty but I’m gonna get a new one soon,” Jack tossed the empty McDonalds paper bags in the backseat and sat down. He apologized for the smell as he cracked the window, he said something about the gym bag in the backseat but Roy told him not to worry. The radio station started to play “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd and he turned the volume up as they drove.

“Every time I hear this song it reminds me of Cor,” he said, “Remember when he got a standing O for playing this at the talent show? Man could he sing.”

“He’s dead now,” Roy said as if he were commentating on the incoming dark clouds which gathered above them.

“What?” He turned the song down. “He’s what?”

“Dead.”

“Stop saying that. I got a letter from him just the other week.”

“A lot can happen in a week.”

“You must be mistaken. I’m talking about O’Connor.”

“I know. He’s dead.”

“Stop talking like that, like it isn’t a big deal like you aren’t talking about something serious. What’s wrong with you?”

“Sorry.”

The song ended and a radio advert of new tires replaced it. Jake turned the radio off.

“You sure?” He asked.

Roy kept his eyes fixed on the road and nodded.

“I got a call from his sister. She was trying to get some old photos of us all. O’Connor never liked pictures so he didn’t keep many.”

“How’d it happen?”

“Just random luck. He smoked some weed that had some other shit in it and he went to sleep and threw up in the middle of the night and it went back down into his lungs. Pretty much drowned in his own vomit.”

“Can’t imagine a worse way to go.”

“He was all alone too. On the road for some gig. That’s the worst way to go. Being all by yourself. I couldn’t handle being by myself.”

“I should call his mother.”

Roy nodded in agreement.

“Life can be so chaotic,” he said, “One moment your riding high and good and the next it all goes to shit.”

The rest of the ride was spent in silence except for the occasional directional instructions which he told Roy.

“Make yourself at home,” he said as Roy followed him into his house. “I got some food and drinks in the fridge but not much.” He hurried upstairs, saying that he’d been holding it in for almost an hour now.

Roy went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Upstairs, he could hear Jake walking. There were a couple cartons of milk, some fruit, and vegetables, a Tupperware with some rice in it, leftover Chinese food and a box of four cupcakes with the word ‘congratulations’ stickered on the plastic. He closed the fridge. There was a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter, beside the telephone where a yellow light was flashing. He opted for a chocolate chip as he pressed the button to hear the voice message.

“You know I think you’re a real jerk and in all my times I’ve never seen anything more cowardly than to get your mother to call off the date,” a woman voice rang through the speaker. He ended the message without listening to the rest.

The phone rang right after and the name ‘Aunt Jen’ flashed on the little screen.

He picked it up.

“Hello, Jake?”

“No ma’am, it’s Roy.”

The woman’s breathing picked up and for a few seconds, she said nothing.

“Hello?” He said.

“Roy who?”

“Campbell, ma’am. And you are aunt Jen?”

“No, I’m Jakes mother.”

“Oh, we met a few times but I don’t blame you for not remembering me.”

“Where’s Jake? Put him on the phone. Please.”

“He’s not here right now.”

He could almost feel her beating heart from the quick exhales.

“Put Jake on the phone,” She said. “Let me talk to him.”

“I can’t right now.”

“Why not? Where is he?”

“He had a little too much to drink but don’t worry, I’ll look after him.”

“Tell him I’m on my way. Tell him I’m coming home. You hear?”

“Don’t worry ma’am.”

She finally broke.

“Oh god, Jake, Jakey, oh god. I know what you did. I know it’s you who did it.”

“It’s okay, ma’am, it’s going to be all right. Do you understand?”

“Where’s Jake? Put him on the line.” Her tone became more authoritative like mothers usually are and it reminded him of his own mother and he smiled sadly to himself, thinking about what his mother would think of him.

“I can’t ma’am.”

“What have you done? What have you done to him?”

“Ma’am you remember that Bob Marley song? Don’t worry, be happy, ma’am you remember?”

He heard Jake walking upstairs again and told the woman he’s got to go now. She was crying. Another woman voice said something the background but he couldn’t hear what was said. He tried to think of something to say, some comforting words but his own mute screams were deafened by his cries of loneliness.

He hung up the phone and disconnected it.