This is actually based on a short story I’ve been struggling with for a few years now, because I don’t know how to end it. While I haven’t solved my dilemma by writing this super-condensed version of it, writing this has helped me realize that maybe I don’t have to resolve it so neatly, because really, life is not so neat and tidy and resolved the way some stories and movies and TV shows would have us believe, now is it?
Copyright 2010 by Rona Fernandez (All rights reserved)
Marc had known David since they were sixteen and sat near each other—David in front of Marc—in the same Spanish class. The first time their communication went beyond the cursory “What up?”—some form of which young boys the world over use to both greet and size each other up—was when Marc, desperate not to flunk the first test of the class, kicked David under his desk and cleared his throat loudly. When David looked back at him, Marc held up three fingers and raised his eyebrows pleadingly. David grinned, then waited for the teacher, who loved to read thrillers and mysteries, to turn her back. Then he passed Marc the answer to Question #3: “fugitivo”. He proceeded to do the same for five other questions that Marc didn’t know how to answer.
Marc only passed the test by a slim margin, but their cheating collaboration was that first and most important act of friendship: the act that establishes trust, that lets you know what stuff the other person is made of.
He doesn’t know why, but it’s this first act of shared deceit that Marc thinks of now, as he sits in his apartment living room, wondering if he should call David. It’s been a week since they last spoke more than a few words to each other—and if Marc had had his way they wouldn’t have spoken at all, but they worked together at the car dealership downtown and everyone knew they were friends, so it would’ve been too telling not to acknowledge him. Marc had kept it to a curt “What’s up”, just like it was before that test in Spanish One, and David hadn’t pushed it.
Now, Marc is looking at his cell phone, and the TV’s on but he’s not paying attention to it. He drums his fingers on the armrest of his leather couch. The same couch where he’d sat next to David last Friday, watching basketball highlights at two in the morning after a long week. This was the same couch where David had fallen asleep after too many beers. This was where Marc looked over at him, and felt a strange stirring in his gut. Like tiny fingers circling inside his ribcage. Then Marc had moved—towards David, very close, and something had taken hold of him. And then it had felt like he was watching from a distance, like he was watching himself play a part in a movie on TV. Marc had reached over and touched him, touched David. And he hadn’t known why, and he didn’t know why now either. But it’d felt good, so he kept going.
“Stop,” Marc tells himself now, getting up abruptly from the couch, as if he’s spilled something. He doesn’t want to think about David, or that night, or the way that David’s body had tensed when he woke up. Or the way the TV was on and the lights were all off. He doesn’t want to remember what happened. Marc shakes his head, walks outside to smoke a cigarette. He bought a pack today for the first time in months. The smoke filling his lungs seems to numb the jagged edges of his nerves, smoothes things out. He tells himself he needs to go to the liquor store and get some tequila, that that will make things all right.
The grass outside his apartment building is getting brown again. Drought, Marc thinks, taking a long drag off his Marlboro. The sun is disappearing in the sky, and soon it will be dark. Time, Marc thinks, just keeps going on no matter what. It’s a small comfort to him, like the cigarette and the thought of throwing back shots of tequila later on, with limes and salt.
He finishes his cigarette then walks back into the apartment to get his phone, which he’s left on the couch, before he heads out to the store. It’s a reflexive act, something he does whenever he’s leaving his apartment. And then Marc remembers—the way you remember that you’ve left your keys in the ignition in that split-second of realization, just as the car door is swinging shut—that he doesn’t want to bring his phone. David might call, and then what would he do? But he’s already reaching for his phone, and it’s too late, too late. It’s already in his hand, cool and impersonal, slightly unfamiliar. He looks at it, wondering.
The phone rings.