I barely made it home from work. It cleared up right after. Driving, it still felt like I was at my desk, scrolling past numbers, waiting for any change in the white oblivion. Rena cleaned out the fridge today. There was a note on it all week threatening to pitch everything past its expiration date. I wanted to explain why so many things were outdated, but she’s upper management. Their kind never realize that when people get laid off, they usually don’t bother with what’s left behind.
When I first arrived, my cubicle was full of relics to some long lost programmer. I took him for a slob, letting the crumbs and fingernails gather underneath the desk. They’ve vacuumed since, but there are still chewed pencils and books on code that I’ll never quite understand. I still think about this stranger on occasion in-between casual Internet browsing, whether he was happy to be tossed aside. The average middle-class American lets a layoff lead to depression. I’ve been impatiently waiting for it. Sixteen weeks means unemployment is just a few clicks away. When it happens, I’ll walk out with a smile; some brainless punk thinking these same trinkets left behind were mine.
I can’t spend another weekend alone although options are nil in the winter. A handful of friends would have me occupy their couch, drink my beers, smoke my grass and send me back out into the storm before bed or intercourse. I don’t know who’s having sex and how often, whether the weather has any effect on the necessary urges of these people I’ve known for far too long. I want to say that they take me for granted, but it’s really the opposite. I don’t know where I’d be without the inclination of them on nights like this.
It picks up again if only for a moment; the wind whistling through the tiniest of cracks in my apartment’s foundation. I weigh my options. Exiting means I’ll have to really work; first cleaning off the car and then deciding where to get loaded. There isn’t much booze left in the house; maybe half the bottle of Kentucky bourbon from New Year’s. The celebration was about what I expected. We talked big, but fizzled. Some went home before the stroke of midnight. Maybe they didn’t want to get too emotional. I used to intentionally shut down, but now bravado works to my advantage.
It’s what made Selina get caught up in this mess. I text her at seven-thirty with vague intentions. We’re not accustomed to hanging out or hooking up, although one inevitably leads to another. She doesn’t want to be my girlfriend; we’ve never talked about the inclination. I’m perfectly fine on the cusp of whatever makes her tick. Finding out too much would only ruin the fun. I’m not attracted to her mentally at all. Not that Selina is stupid by any means, but we definitely share different opinions. I deliberately don’t bring certain things up when I’m around her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t do the same.
It takes a few minutes before I get a reply and prepare. I wash my face, brush my teeth and tidy up little parts of the apartment so as not to appear too anxious. The dishes and garbage can wait. She expects very little from me. The feeling is mutual although carries exceptions. I put on a record and play video games for the duration, hacking and slashing my way through overgrown environments. Tamara texts me with some baron details of her evening. I’d like to meet her and listen to all the nonsense plaguing away at her mind, but know that’s only going to get me so far. There’s definitely something there between us, but it’s had too much time to lose momentum.
I represent the friendship standard with most women in my life. They love my cynical demeanor and often soft eyes, but fall for the real dickheads in the end. Selina is as much like the bar-hopping douchebags with backwards caps and inferiority complexes, except she embraces her lack of concern. It’s one of many admirable attributes that make her whole. I anticipate her arrival more than I should, unable to focus on the swarming minions. A deep anger rises up inside of me. I curse and spit before she knocks on the door, making my chest bounce.
“You sound busy,” Selina says, stepping in.
“Anything but…” I give her a good look over; long legs confined to dark purple tights. Removing her jacket, the black V-neck sweater and skirt are enough to attract any twenty-something window shopper. For a second, I feel lucky, though broken in two by the circumstances afoot.
I throw her jacket on the hazel armchair in the corner. “Oh, I see now,” Selina smiles at my paused game on the screen. “Keeping your hands in check, huh?”
“That’s one way of putting it.” I save my game before switching the system off.
“Don’t stop on my account,” she crosses her legs on the sofa.
“I was getting pretty bored with that anyway.”
“Not exciting enough for you?”
“Few things are for the average over-reactive mind.” I stand idle in the middle of the living room. “So, do you want anything to drink?”
Selina pulls a bottle of gin out of her purse. “I brought some thank you. Care to partake?”
My eyes light up. “Yeah, sure. Actually, we’re almost out of everything here.”
“Whose we?” She asks.
“I don’t know. I guess, I just got used to talking like that when I lived with my parents.”
“No, I get it. It’s cute, Rick.”
We walk at a distance to the kitchen. I hand her the proper tools as she’s quick, mixing everything together. The blend is thick. I can never tell where her head is. Selina has always struck me as the party-girl type, although as age and location inevitably put a damper in what’s readily available, she too has evolved. I consider whether I’m the best option, or if perhaps the lack of a challenge is beyond comforting on nights like this, where the vaguest shade of gray can reflect back twice the insecurities.
“So how was your week?” She asks, as we return to our designated seats. Like all previous encounters, we’re aware of how initial space is an absolute necessity.
“Same old,” I sigh and sip.
“So you don’t have anything great to tell me?”
“Not really, but it’s not like I promised you anything.”
“No, I guess that’s true.” Selina arches her back in an attempt to get more comfortable. “Well, I had my fair share of woes.”
“Oh yeah? What happened?”
“Nothing really. Just a lot of flak at work.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“No one’s ever happy. We bust our asses to find these deadbeats some job that’s at least similar to their skillset, and they’re all ungrateful, and I’m the one who hears about it.”
“Maybe you should just stop answering the phone,” I suggest.
“Yeah, if only that were plausible.”
“No one likes their job.”
“I used to like mine.”
“In the beginning, right?”
“No, not even. It’s just kind of turned crappy recently. I don’t know what it is, and I can’t see myself blaming everything on the weather.”
“But that’s what normal people do in these situations.”
“Your rationalizing doesn’t help,” Selina adjusts her neck and exhales. “Man, I think I really need something different tonight.”
“I’m not sure I know what that means.”
“I think it means we need to get out of this apartment, Rick.”
“And go where?” My lack of motivation, enthusiasm and understanding are all intentional.
“That I’m not quite sure of. I wish it were the kind of night where we could just drive.”
“It isn’t. I got a hold of you because I didn’t want to go anywhere.”
“That’s comforting, thank you.”
“I didn’t mean for it to make things worse.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s a rarity that people do.”
“Do you want to listen to something?”
“Not really, but if I let you pick, it’ll be some soul record I’ve never heard of.”
“Not necessarily.” I defend my variable taste.
“I’ll be right back.” She stands and shimmies one room over. I sit and savor my drink.
Like most lonesome mid-twenty something’s, I’ve accrued a fair amount of vinyl in the past year. Selina’s always been unimpressed. I picture her expression, riffling through the frayed edges and dusty sleeves of yesteryear. She doesn’t understand the appeal. I think the individual grooves similar to those in a tree, signifying the passing of time, especially with used records. Certain ones sat on the shelf, gradually getting marked down before a sealed copy eventually garnered just enough interest from an unnatural passerby.
Selina returns with The Moody Blues. She hands me the sleeve as I walk to my player and do something she could easily learn to do if given the time. I don’t have any grass, so we just sit and drink faster than usual, before I make two more and return in time to flip the disc over. She slouches and doesn’t say much. I’m not sure what to ask her. We never talk about our families and share very few of the same friends. Those that know us both would never understand why we spend time together. I’m at a loss for reasons, staring past all the cosmetic imperfections to what really makes this girl worth my time.
“So how have I lost my motivation to get you out of this house?” She finally asks me.
“I’m not sure. We could still go somewhere, I guess.”
“No, that’s alright. I still haven’t thought of anywhere.”
“Not some new bar or hotspot peaking your interest?” I joke.
“The bars in this town are reserved for men who hate their wives and women who have no problem hiding behind their poison of choice.”
“So elegantly put. You get hit on when you go to bars, though, don’t you?”
“Assuming a lot now, aren’t we?” Selina half grins.
“So you don’t get hit on then?”
“It depends on the bar, really; the kind of night. I’d say both chances are reasonably slim right now.”
“I never get hit on anyway.”
“It sounds like you really take that to heart, Rick.”
“Yeah, maybe I do a little. I feel like it’s a lot easier for a woman to buy into all the hype.”
“And we’re not being sexist at all now, are we?”
“C’mon now, you know how it works.”
“I really don’t. Maybe in college, I met a few guys in a bar, but otherwise, it’s usually just an excuse to drink elsewhere.”
“Then I guess I’m wrong.”
“As usual.” She appears gratified, finishing her drink down to the ice. “But really we need to do something.”
“Well there is one thing I can think of, but considering all we’ve talked about, it doesn’t seem so appropriate anymore.”
“Yeah, I’m tired of it being this way with you,” Selina admits.
“Same here,” I sigh.
We’re remorseful and unsettled. She makes us more drinks, if only because driving home doesn’t feel like the best option. We start a movie we’ll never finish. I place the whole experience on par with masturbation. Self-fulfilling, but ultimately empty especially afterwards. Lying on our backs, staring up so as not to look at each other or away, I contemplate why I didn’t say something awful to make her leave before we fell back into the pattern. All that talk about the people we thought we were and weren’t, before blaming the inevitable on alcohol or the wind picking up just enough outside.
When she’s gone, I’ll finally be able to sleep, but until then the air between our breaths is enough to wonder why and how somebody like me is so lucky to be stuck.
Christopher S. Bell is twenty-nine years of age. He has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Christopher’s work has recently been published in the Broadkill Review, Mobius and on Fringelit.com. He was also a contributor to the short-lived Impression of Sound.