By Christopher S. Bell
It was the third time I’d moved back. Settling was always the hard part, every little adventure in-between acting counter-productively. The mementos on my windowsill had fresh dirt in-between their crevices, although with each repositioning, it got harder to recall their significance. There were still boxes at mom’s filled with fractured knickknacks from days spent evaluating the term student; how it barely summed up a fraction of my being. I was a surveyor of basements, an awestruck romantic, eager to see more while still aware that the view improved exponentially with company.
Like pins in a map, there were now clusters of souls left behind. We’d all keep each other updated, maybe phone in a favor before the next expedition. Most had comfortable couches with furry friends to warm their feet. I should’ve taken Beatrice with me instead of leaving her with Paul. We would’ve been a lot better off together, even if this city isn’t suitable for anyone. “Keep things shitty,” Anton spouted, guzzling from his pounder. Out of all the houses with cracked plaster and shaky piping, his had a room open; a barrage of crusty companions filtering in with skateboards and mild flirtations.
Evenings without Internet led to alcohol and disregard; each job never feeling like a career, despite rumblings of optimism in the lady’s room. They’d talk of their partners with little care, feigning joy while wiping away another layer of gloss. Humoring others had never been a problem; mom suggesting my smile could part The Red Sea. She never anticipated this roundabout existence; that soft sting of early thirty despite numerous articles preaching normalcy.
Anton moved in with Vanessa, sticking me with the rent before Mabel finally ended it with Todd. It took us a good month to adjust, each of us crying in seclusion on opposing days. I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of my sadness, how it crept in without warning and faintly lingered until I wouldn’t let it anymore. I needed more than just a man or temporary fling, hell-bent on feminist ideals and an acceleration of the individual. Society had its thorns, but I was immune so long as we all kept dancing.
“So I really needed this,” Mabel shouted over the bass.
“Me too,” I called back, colored rays flashing like angels on her forehead.
I knew then that I never wanted to take any of these people for granted. If they needed me, I would be there, no matter the circumstances, how uniformly they entered or exited my life with rambunctious dreams of misconstrued popularity. Like a swarm, they engulfed me in their tattered embrace, concocting opinions before sharing to my wall, anxious for likes or comments. I was connected again, no longer the girl snowed-in with a good book by the fireplace, watching shadows of flakes on the pages.
Mabel and I ultimately adjusted out of synch, her hangover wearing off long before mine. It wasn’t a crutch so much as an excuse to enjoy the last shreds of something that almost felt legal in this country. Drunks were often viewed sentimentally in my family; grandfathers and great aunts all uncertain of their limits. I occasionally crossed the threshold in search of enlightenment, perhaps a chance to feel just a little younger in the right room.
At Jesse’s house show, Neil got wrecked and kissed me in the stairwell. I hated how good it felt, my admiration rekindled in our messiest moment. He texted an apology the next day, said it had been awhile since he’d gotten out. I tried not to think about it; weeks passing in brief exchanges online or otherwise. Mabel had a secret boy that we weren’t discussing, half of her nights spent across town.
When I first spotted Lyle in our fridge Sunday morning, neither one of us knew how to react. We’d all been friends for so long that I never considered him and Mabel a possibility. It was more common for his partner to have between four and six tattoos and at least one streak in her hair. A lot of them were selfish, but would usually pose nude for his pet projects. “Is it cool if I kill the milk?” Lyle asked.
I just started laughing, quickly accepting all subsequent adjustments. Black paint on our coffee table, dirt in-between the couch cushions, hair in our drain. And to think of how simple life was when it was just us girls. Maybe I wasn’t ready for another subtle change; their relationship taking up a significant portion of my free time, as each discussed its faults when the other walked into a neighboring room. It got harder to listen in the winter, our bedroom doors often closed to keep in the heat.
Neil’s daughter, Helena, turned one in March. I wasn’t expecting an invite to her party, but attended if only to catch up with a side often forgotten. They grinned drunkenly, youngsters bouncing like pinballs, grabbing sustenance in-between pings. Shannon looked worn by motherhood, dark circles and minute bumps underneath her eyelids. Every sentence sounded somehow inauthentic as she walked her guests through months of nursing, the redecorated shades blending together. I couldn’t tell if her husband had said anything about our kiss, whether it was a bump in their road or too insignificant to mention.
When Gloria and Chuck arrived, I latched onto their indifference, roaming between fridge and patio to smoke cigarettes. They were less enamored with each manic display, our fellow humans grasping at strings with hopes of riotous laughter and applause. I couldn’t remember the last time I tried to impress anyone; such occasions often reserved for perfect strangers as opposed to old friends. Chuck informed me of what I wasn’t watching or listening to, before Gloria started in on politics. None of us were doing enough, to which I could only agree, soon realizing that despite their lack of offspring, these two were exactly like every other visitor. It only mattered that I listened until they ran out of things to say.
Neil thanked me as I zipped my coat at his front door. “We really need to get together more often,” he said. “Sorry, if I’ve been out of the loop for so long.”
I hugged him and walked a block to my car, uncertain if the wine had done anything. There was no going home afterwards, my mind restlessly anxious to connect with someone on whatever level appealed to both of us. Mabel answered her phone after three rings, feigning exhaustion through the receiver. My efforts to lift her spirits only prompted more bad news. Lyle had asked her to move in with him, our voices shakier with each subsequent detail. It was difficult forcing enthusiasm past a snowballing cluster of predetermined worries, although every ounce of me wanted it to work out.
Luna Tavern’s was packed, a few familiars validating their weekends with multicolored bombs. I squeezed into a crack and ordered; Lindsay shaking my shoulders not long after. We embraced before she giddily held her ring up to the light. Rob joined us not long after, spouting off plans for the next three years. I watched every reaction before their crew picked up and headed to another bar. Stepping outside, I lit a cigarette just as Carter rounded the corner. We hadn’t spoken in months, the last shreds of our friendship loitering until one of us finally got far enough away from the other.
“You just missed them,” I said, as he stopped.
“But you’re still here, huh?”
“Yeah, at least for a little while.”
“Are you with anyone?”
“Myself,” I exhaled. “I mean, there are still people inside I could probably talk to, but out here has its benefits.”
“Did they say where they were headed?” Carter asked.
“I don’t remember. Why don’t you just text Rob?”
“Because he won’t see it for an hour, and then who knows where we’ll all be?”
“How do you feel about the big news?”
“Fuck, I don’t know. He’s definitely dated worse girls than Lindsay.”
“Yeah, but never married them.”
“Well everyone’s gotta tie the noose at some point.”
“Ya know, I’ve missed this optimism.”
“Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“Same here,” I sighed. “So how’s the living arrangement gonna work now?”
“Our lease is up at the end of the month. I suppose I should start looking before they do.”
“That way you have all the power.”
“Exactly,” he smirked.
“Well if it makes you feel any better, I’m in the same boat.”
“Mabel’s moving in with Lyle.”
“No shit? Ya know, for some reason, I forgot that was a thing.”
“If only I could forget.”
“I don’t know, at least they’re still young enough where this probably won’t affect their lives too much,” Carter observed
“What about Rob and Lindsay?”
“Oh, they’re fucked.”
I laughed a little, before putting out my cigarette. “So maybe it’s not the right time to broach the subject, but I could use a roommate.”
“Jesus Christ…” he smiled. “I think I might need a few days to dwell on that one, Eve.”
“Understood.” We contemplated at a distance. “I don’t think you’ve ever seen my house, have you?”
“I was at a party there when it was still Anton’s.”
“Well I’ve tried my best to erase his presence entirely.”
“I’m sure there are still a few stains.”
Returning inside for a drink, we then jumped between bars, before I finally invited him back. Carter commented on every room in a snobby European accent. He didn’t seem in the least bit worried about Rob and Lindsay’s engagement or any one person keeping them company. I wanted to bring up everything we hadn’t said, but knew it was better pretending like our friendship hadn’t been biologically tested over and over. He moved in at the end of the month, and I soon realized we were far luckier in close vicinity, no longer edgy, waiting for another lease to end.
Christopher S. Bell 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 archive focused on digital preservation with roots in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (www.myideaoffun