Friday, April 4, 2014

Amongst Friends and Voices



“You remember that firing range?”
“What?”
“It was opened from May to September, all summer you could hear the pop, pop, pops in the air.”
“Is that what that was?”
“Yeah, it was down in Touissett, probably a mile, mile and a half away. It’s funny, but over time I just connect those pops with summer time.” I finish the last of my drink in one large mouthfull.
     
“You’re right.” He pauses to consider. “I guess so.” Another pause. “I never thought about it much.” Yet another pause before his face contorts in an expression of understanding. “I mean, yeah, those popping sounds were just there. Just part of everything; background noise; like muzak.”
     
“It was a pretty quiet neighborhood.” The bartender, fills my glass once more. The bartender is a good soul, doesn’t talk much.

Victor is still nursing the same Scotch and soda he ordered when he walked in. “Still is.” He stares into his drink returning to a pondering-of-thought moment.
     
“You’re still living in the neighborhood?” I ask.
     
“Uhm, yeah. Been there my whole life. Bought my parent’s house a couple of years ago; I’m taking a swing at the suburban lifestyle from the other end.”
     
I raise my glass to him and throw back its contents in one move. It burns from my lips to my stomach; the remaining content of the drink lingers in my throat.

Victor looks at me with eyes that seek to ask a question and I oblige his look with a nod, the warm inhale of the alcohol tingling the highpoints of my face. He is reluctant, breathing in words before they escape his mouth, a fit of false starts until,“Have you ever seen yourself? Not in the mirror sort of way; in the walking down the street way?” Victor appears deliberately bashful. For a second I’m not sure who Vic is talking to, his drink or me. He downs his drink in a quick blast and ends up choking and coughing, gagging on his courage.

I watch my old friend hacking away the tears streaming down his face. He’s putting himself together, forcing in breaths and wiping the tears with his sleeve.
“You all right man?” The bartender calls out from the other end of the bar. He walks over and hands Vic some napkins to clean himself with. “Take it easy friend. No one’s pushing you out the door.”
     I decide to give Vic some pats on the back to help it go down.
“No. No. It’s good.” Victor is managing to breathe in between his sentences. “It just went down the wrong pipe. I’ll have another, please.”
“You good?” I’m still nursing an empty glass.
“That one’s rough. Damn. I’m all right now.”
Refereshened glasses are placed before us.
“So,” Victor approaches his drink carefully. Like a child who’s afraid to touch the electric socket after being electrocuted, but does it anyway. “Have you?”
I reach for my freshened glass and pause for a minute before guzzling it down. “My dad died four days ago.” I swallow it all and allow the burn to subside before I open my mouth.
“Oh, wow,” Victor replays those pauses again. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
     “It’s all right. How would you have known?”
“Your family isn’t still in the neighborhood?”
“No. Mom and Dad sold the house for their own Floridian daydream in ’97, right after I graduated college. Mom never made it though. She died three days before they were supposed to leave. A massive stroke hit her brain and she bit it on the kitchen floor.
“My Dad didn’t want to waste all the planning they had done, so he went anyway. Left the day after the funeral, he remarried seven months into his new life.” I slide the glass away from me.
Victor had a dumbfounded look on his face. Taking another sip of his drink and reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
I gesture for one and he fumbles with the pack before he hands it over. “My mom caught me smoking in the garage when I was sixteen.” The recollection warms itself over the alcohol. “She took it from my mouth and took two deep drags before squashing it out on the cement floor.”
Victor gets the lighter, “My mom has had a cigarrete attached to her lips since the day I was born.” Ignites his, then mine.
     Tendrils of grey smoke mingled amongst us as witness.
“He’s being buried as we speak.”
“Shit.” Victor sips some of more of his drink, “I remember my mom telling me your parents had sold the house. It was probably that summer. She said they were moving and you had just graduated B.U. and were living in Boston. I had another year to go at Amherst. I remember thinking I should try and look you up, never happened though, damn.” He takes a slow inhale of the cigarette and another sip of his drink
     “Let it go. It’s all past tense. I just figured you would want to know is all. I mean it’s not like my son of bitch father dying would drive me to come here and drink myself silly. Just figured you should know.” Myself and Victor got lost in our own internal pauses. I inhale the last of the cigarette and throw the burnt filter to the floor. My glass gets a refill, but I decide to leave it there for now.
I gesture to Victor for another cigarette; he places the pack in between the both of us. I take one and light it up, breathing in the chemical reaction as if it were my own.
“This was years ago,” Returning one more to the initial question, “Twenty, twentyfive years now. I don’t know, we were kids and I was riding my bike up and down the street, waiting for Matt to come out so we could do something.” I take another breath of the poison. “Anyways, I was having a good’ ole time on my bike. It was brand new; I had just gotten it for Christmas. So, I was down by old man Rosalino’s house, right where the road bends and then there’s Matt’s house and then yours. And this car pulls onto the street from the other end; at first I probably didn’t even know it was there. I didn’t notice it until it was creeping back and forth and almost ran over the Gomes’ mailbox. It was moving really slow, like idling down the street, and then it stopped. It just parked, kind of crooked, right in the middle of the road.
“At this point I’m standing by at the curb, waiting to see what’s going to happen. From where I was I could see the driver, just the shape of the person, not really any features. It looked like a guy and he seemed like he was arguing; really yelling and thrashing about so much the car shook. Finally the guy throws open the door and steps out of the car, while it’s still running. I’m bracing myself to book ass out of there if he decides to do anything. He just walks a little ways from the car and stands there. I looked around to see if anyone else was witnessing this and no one was around.”
“He just stood there?” Victor finished his drink.
“Just stood there. He was there for a while, I really don’t know how long, but long enough that I got bored and decided to start riding again. Slowly, I made my way toward the car; doing small circles in the road; inching my way toward the man; never taking my eyes off of him. I started to make out some features on the man; his face was almost serene the way it looked, he was probably in his late thirties, early forties. Then out of the blue he lifted up his arm and started to wave at me, one of those large farewell waves, with his hand wide open.
“I stopped my bike right there in the middle of the road and looked at this guy, waving at me. Then he just walked back to his car, got in and slammed it into reverse. He peeled out. Backed up into Timmy’s driveway and sped off.” I finish the cigarette and throw another butt to the floor. I take the shot glass finishing off its contents.
“But I don’t get it, how did you see yourself?”
     “Funny you should ask. About two weeks ago, one dank and miserable morning, I got up and went to the bathroom for a shit, shower and a shave. As I was standing in front of the mirror, getting ready to lather up my face, I got this strange feeling that I’d seen this person. I recognized the face but couldn’t place the name. I mean, I knew it was me, but I was reminded of someone. It took me all day before that incident popped into my head. The guy in the car.”
I tip the glass over and place it upside down on the bar top. “In the past two weeks I’ve made up this little theory. I’m guessing it’s like an omen, some glitch in the great big system that I was privileged to receive. One of those looking glass moments that’s meant to demonstrate to me, maybe other people too, who knows, exactly how far we’ve come or haven’t.
“A doppelganger.” Victor reaches for the smokes and takes another.
“A nemesis.” The bartender states while clearing away my glass and wiping the bar.
“What?” Victor hands him the glass, waving a negative on a refill.
“Victor this is Jackie, the barkeep.” Upon introductions it dawns on me that I have never been introduced to this man, people around here call him Jackie and I have been here enough times to call him Jackie as well.
“A nemesis, some sort of counter part that will eventually be your undoing. Like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes, the Joker to Batman.” Jackie takes Victors glass and sprays down the bar with cleaner; who knew the man was this deep.
“Wait, so I’m supposed to believe that what I saw was my ultimate bad guy? Somehow me and this stranger will have to fight it out to the death?” Jackie doesn’t seem pleased by my sarcasm.
“Seems more plausible than the idea that some how you saw some evil twin; what do you think this is Star Trek?” I’m suddenly impressed by the fact he used the word ‘plausible’. Victor hasn’t said a word, he’s looking kind of pale and his eyes are slowly moving away.
     “I don’t know Jackie, you’re scaring me with all this deep philosophy spewing from your mouth, no offense but I didn’t even know you were a reader.”
“Really, smart ass? Well try this one, if that was your nemesis, and you say now that it was most likely you or some older version of you, which means you’re your own nemesis. Or at least you will be.”
Victor stumbles out of his chair like someone who’s been electrocuted. The chair crashes to the ground and he starts making his way to the exit.
“Hey! Where you going?” I grab his cigarettes from the bar and rush over to Victor who’s at the door. “Come on man, what’s the deal with you?” He looks deranged, like he’s suddenly unaware of his surroundings.
“No. Don’t worry.” His pauses now have more the effect of missing words rather than finding them. “I just gotta go, that’s all. Something at work, I just remembered I got to do. You know got those deadlines and shit.”
     “What’s up with you? You don’t look to good.”
“No. Seriously, I gotta go. Hey, I’m sorry about your dad and all. I wish… I wish I had known… maybe we can get together sometime… soon, o.k. Come by the house, you remember where it is. Yeah, just a… yeah, I gotta go.” And on that note he bolts out the door.
I walk back to the bar stool, Jackie is pouring me another shot.

2.

The power of the cars engine left scorch marks on the pavement as it spun in place for a good half circle, retreating, leaving only the stank of vulcanized chemicals and pale smoke as its only evidence of existence.
“Hey, what’chya’doin?” Matthew approached Donald on his brand new Mongoose sport bike, which he had gotten the month before and had been the envy of the whole neighborhood since.
     Donald stood in the middle of the road with his bike propped in between his legs. “Hey, nothing… that car had this guy…”
     “Yeah, and…?” Matthew circled Donald like a vulture, standing on his pedals to make himself appear taller.
     “I don’t know, he was just standing there and he waved at me…his car was stopped in the middle of the road. He got out, stared at me for a bit and he waved at me”
     “Really?” Mathew’s voice was dipped in child like menacing sarcasm.
“I think he knew me. Then he just ran back in to the car and spun out like that.” Donald was minimally aware of his friend next to him.
“Maybe he was out to kidnap you.” Matthew made a final circle, heading off down the street at a casual pace.
     Donald saddled up on his bike. He caught up with Mathew and quickly overtook his buddy. Matthew peddled harder to maintain an equal placement with his friend. He peddled faster to surpass his adversary. Donald stood on his pedals to give himself greater leverage and speed. Within seconds he was beside his opponent. He passed Matthew with a smile of confidence at his pace.
     The two peddled with all their strength; one maintained a lead, the other desperate to catch up. With Donald’s focus on the lead position, he was unaware of Matthew’s abrupt stop and when he realized what had changed, his opponent was scurrying back to the starting point.
     “I win! I win!” Mathew was chanting as Donald approached, “I told you this bike was faster then yours.” Mathew attempted to conceal that he was out of breath.
     “No Fair! You cheated!”
     “We had to make it back to where we started from. You’re just a sore loser.”
     Donald circled Matthew, “We weren’t racing, and if we were, you cheated by turning around when you did.”
     “It’s not my fault your parents bought you some crappy bike for Christmas. What is that anyway? Some kids bike from the toy store? Mine’s a real bike, from a bike shop, not a toy.”
     “Fuck off.” Was Donald’s retort.
     “Eeeeee! I’m telling!” Matthew, like a bullet, aimed himself for Donald’s home down the street. “I’m telling on you! I’m telling on you!”
     Donald went off after his friend, knowing full well his intentions. Mathew was well on his way to the front door when Donald sped into the driveway, on a collision course with the shiny chrome monument that was his opponent’s bike.
     The precious artifact went crashing to the ground, making a slight ‘ting’ as the metal hit the rough pavement. Both friends stood there in awed silence before Matthew charged at his adversary, flinging himself onto his friend’s chest, causing himself, Donald’s bike, and Donald to go tumbling to the concrete. Donald was trapped beneath the bike as his friend’s weight pushed the metal frame onto his leg.
     “What did you do? What did you do?” Mathew’s voice imbued fear disguised as anger. “Who do you think you are? You stupid shit! Do you know how valuable that bike is? Do you? You retarded fuck!” Matthew maintained a firm grip on his friend’s shirt, pushing his weight onto Donald’s chest; his enemy gasping for air.
     “Let…go…of…let…go of me.” Donald squirmed his hands free and began swinging his arms.
     “That’s my bike!” Mathew’s voice was reaching a panic, “My dad will kill you!”
     With his eyes closed, Donald’s swings finally made contact. His enemy yelled out in shock and Donald felt the pressure on top of him lighten as Matthew rolled over onto the pavement.
     Donald crept out from beneath the bike using it to steady himself as he got up. His friend, a heap of flesh, crying, with his hands cupped over the left eye. Donald hobbled his way to the house, leaving his friend to fend for himself.