In addition to receiving your regular doses of social commentary, passion, and level-headed analysis on pertinent issues from Wes, your menu will now include works of prose, poetry, short film, spoken word… whatever I can muster.
What follows is a short story. It has been trimmed down and twisted a couple times now. It’s still malleable. Workshop it, react to it, come up with a better title, please, and I hope at some point you enjoy it. My apologies for the format.
Across The River
We made it over the bridge to the other side of the river, had a few drinks in a club, and then finally it began.
It was Bradley, Freddie, and I on the sidewalk having a cigarette. Amy, who has been sleeping with Freddie, went in to close her tab at the bar. She has been at the club since 8pm for the birthday of a coworker and I assume (the heavy hanging of his eyes) that Freddie arrived there at the same time.
I start, “You know the only question Stephanie asked me? The first question after we shook hands. She leans in and gos, ‘Have you been laid since getting to town?'”
“Well, have you?” Freddie manages.
“No. No night has led to it.”
“It’s cause you’re hung up.” Bradley taps Freddie in the shoulder and points at me with his cigarette, “This guys heart-broken.”
“I can’t believe you’re still going on that.”
“He’s got all the symptoms.”
Freddie nods his head and mutters something that resembles ‘I can see it,’ but his eyes are fixed downward, toward the street.
“I’m really starting to get insulted. You won’t listen to me.”
“I’ve seen the music you’ve been playing and I know what it means, man. Music speaks to me.”
“Why even deny it?” Freddie utters before his chin sinks to his chest with a burp. He tries to pull it together by raising his shaking cigarette up to his puckered lips.
“I wouldn’t deny it. That’s what I’m saying.”
“You’re not even a little,” Bradley pinches the air in front of his eyes, “just a little heart-broken?”
I pull a heat from my cigarette. “I hope I’m always a little heart-broken.”
Bradley shrugs. “David says you talk about a girl all the time.”
Bradley and I continue our bout while the nighttime people pass. Walkers teeter on the curb or step out on the street to get around us. Occasionally I give up, or make a show of giving up, and I lean my back against the wall next to Freddie. Then the people pass freely. Though it’s never long before I’m back in the sidewalk and we’re at it again.
“What about your girl in New Mexico?”
“Oh, we don’t talk. I blocked her number, her email.”
“Because you don’t want to talk to her or because you’re afraid of what might happen inside you if you do?”
“The second one.”
Bradley is a guy who got into trouble as a kid and tried a whole bunch of drugs because all the typical teenage matters weren’t enough to satisfy his curiosity. Tonight he’s wearing his fancy hat and we stand for what seems like quite a while talking about our position in the world of women while the line for the club grows longer and tighter down the hill.
“Can we… I don’t like… I’m not feeling this spot,” Freddie stammers.
“Oh, okay. How about up here?”
“Yeah, this way.”
We turn and start up toward the nearby street corner slowly. Freddie nearly falls into me when he stands off the wall. I raise my hands to guide a fall, but he rights himself like a newborn horse and we turn. We step fifteen whole feet through a couple crowds to an arched pipe in the sidewalk for locking up bicycles.
“You doin’ alright?” I crane my neck to look Freddie in the eyes.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Freddie settles up against the bike pipe. He lifts his hand up to my shoulder and squeezes too hard twice. Earlier he gave the same double squeeze to my ass.
“Did you see those three guys in the striped shirts?” asks Bradley. “Totally a gang. Look, those are their two body guards.”
“I didn’t see them,” I say, and I look toward the back entrance to the club.
Freddie looks around and then sits cross-legged on the sidewalk, still trying to smoke his cigarette. Bradley points down at him. I shrug.
The electric light mounted up on the building pours light down on the corner of the street. I recognize the bodyguards down the way and see them step up onto some in-set steps. The taller one lights a cigarette and passes the lighter. Then Amy appears around the corner and spots us. She walks our way and stops short.
“This is normal?” I ask.
“He’s always getting so fucked up.”
Freddie doesn’t hear a thing. His head is settled nicely into his palm, his eyes closed. Bradley offers his hand down. Freddie doesn’t notice. Amy exhales and reaches around in her purse.
“I’m so glad we’re not having our office party at this place this year.”
“Yeah, I don’t need to go back in there. Where to next?”
Bradley is trying to get Freddie’s attention – his hand still extended downward, a bounce in his knees. “Maybe, we’ll fly away.”
“Stephanie is down at a place on 2nd,” says Amy. “Freddie!”
We all knew Stephanie would be the one who determined our next move. She has been trying to get ecstasy for the friend who is celebrating his birthday.
“We’re gonna fly away,” Bradley says. He does a little dance. Freddie looks up and lifts a hand up for Bradley to help him stand. Then he’s up, and no time has passed in his world. He starts talking excitedly and right up close to my face. I can smell the sweet drinks that have shaken him.
Amy walks around Bradley to put her arm around Freddie and rub his back.
“Yeah,” Freddie interrupts his dialogue toward me and knocks his arm against Amy’s abdomen while trying to get it around her. He slides his hand down and squeezes her ass.
“Tonight’s the goddamn full moon,” he leans back toward my face, unwraps his arm from Amy, and uses that hand for emphasis.
“Momentum ready… to move us forward.”
“I like that, let’s do it.” I give two taps to Freddie’s back.
And we’re off down the sidewalk past the entrance to the club. A limousine slides up and stops at the curb. All the people in line turn to look. Bradley and I cross the street. We unlock our bikes and walk further down the hill. Freddie and Amy walk across a large slab of sidewalk up ahead. Freddie stumbles. Amy catches him and gets her ass grabbed as a reward.
“He’s a friendly grabber, that one,” Bradley says.
“I got some of that inside.”
“Look at him go.”
“He gives a serious squeeze.”
“I’ve lived some years. I’ve had my ass grabbed. But never like that.”
Bradley leans on his bike, laughing. He vears up close to the building we’re walking beside and then aims himself back in line with me. He speaks through his laughter.
“It’s a’ how ya doing,’ ‘how ya feeling,’ ‘what. is. up!’ kind of ass grab,” Bradley keels over one more time and then calms himself.
We continue on and weave through the city more than a dozen yards behind Amy and Freddie. Eventually Amy turns back to us and points to an alley lit with strings of white lights hung between buildings. We cross a huge one-way street and slip between crowds outside a late-night donut shop. There is a homeless man standing against a picnic table selling a publication. A guitarist plays soft music for a girl sitting in the back seat of an SUV, her head peering out the window at his hands.
Amy and Freddie have found Stephanie by the time Bradley and I lock our bikes. We walk over to the table under the strings of light and shake hands with the guys seated there. These are all people that Amy and Stephanie work with. I sit between a large stubble-faced man who is quick to mention he was born in Italy and a man with a great mustache who immediately strikes up the chivalrous conversation about who we are and what we’re doing.
We all talk and I watch Stephanie work her way around everyone at the table. She stays on the fringe of the group, peering in, and talking privately. When the spotlight falls on her, she makes a joke.
We all get on well at the table and the breeze slides smoothly through the corridor. I go inside to get another drink.
I return to find an arc of vomit on the ground beside the table. I soon learn that it came out of Freddie. He is inside cleaning himself up. I round the table and sit in the same spot as before. Stephanie comes out with two glasses of water to pour on the carnage.
“That kid is a masterpiece.”
“I’m sorry I missed the show.”
“Oh and it’s on my dress,” Stephanie wipes a spot on the bottom of her long summer dress with a damp paper towel and tosses the towel down on the splash of orange.
“Always carrots and hummus.”
Amy is apologetic when she returns from escorting Freddie to the bathroom. Stephanie shrugs it off. She once dated Freddie’s older brother for several years and is used to him. Then Freddie returns, apologizes, and sits down next to Stephanie. She rubs his head.
“I really am sorry about that.”
“It happens. In your case, it happens a lot.”
“Not usually in public.”
“There was the PT Cruiser…” Stephanie holds herself back.
“That was different. That was just a bad investment. Who buys a wood-paneled, maroon PT Cruiser?”
The Italian-born fellow suggests we move tables, presumably to escape the smell. He walks over and starts to push two tables together. I help him match them. He thanks me but remains rather bothered by what must have been quite a spectacle out Freddie’s mouth. It doesn’t seem that he blames Bradley or Amy or I by association, but it does seem like he wants to go home.
Bradley saddles up next to me. The conversation twists around and across the table in the haphazard pattern of nighttime. Something leads us in the direction of brothers and so Bradley and I pull ourselves out of the table talk to tell tales. Bradley once picked up the phone when his brother was expecting a call. He said, “hel–” and was punched in the face, the phone slap-smacked to the floor.
“It’s a ranking thing,” I say.
“It’s not as much about ranking. It’s about respect.”
Somehow Freddie is still holding his head up. He actually looks better now post-spew. He’s able to speak again and around and around he goes speaking from the depths of his psyche.
“I forgot to eat,” he says, and then very slowly, “everyone has their downfall.”
Bradley turns to me, “You ever lost yourself?”
I look around the table at all the people talking, a hip bumps my shoulder. Upward my eyes find the walls of unfamiliar buildings. My heart thickens the way a mouth salivates at the promise of something sweet still foreign to it’s tongue.
“Yes,” I say.