Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chapter One

I'm starting to wonder if I'm already dead.

Everything's dulled. Everything's on mute. Even my thoughts.

Who am I? Isn't that a question for teenagers and fuckoffs?

It's 8am. The alarm goes off, and in my head I imagine that I'm dead. Shot in the face, wrists bloody and gaping. Whatever. Just dead.

But I'm not dead.

I'm alive, and the alarm is screaming, and Warren is beginning to move in the bed, and his little movements move my side of the bed too.

I feel his blinking, watery morning eyes on me. I lay there dead, bleeding out.

Warren crosses the room in his shorts and opens the door to the hall, his footsteps light and clumsy on the wood down the hall to the bathroom. I hear the stream of piss start.

“It's kind of dark outside. Looks like it might rain,” he says from down the hall, his voice full of sleep. He assumes that I'm awake by now.

I breathe in and sigh, and I hear the water running. He's probably rubbing one eye the way he does when he first wakes up. “I might cook something,” I say to him, hearing the water stop.

“You don't have to,” he says, and he clears his throat.


I go downstairs around the same time every day. Warren is usually in the shower or wandering around the bedroom or laying in bed half-dressed by that time. At the end of the stairs you can either turn right for the kitchen or left for the living room.

Mornings are always a right turn for me.

After a few minutes, I'm at the table with my bowl of cereal, contemplating death, and I hear Warren's feet on the stairs. Still barefoot, by the sound of it. When he walks into the kitchen I see that he's still in his shorts.

He goes to the fridge and opens it, frowning at the contents.

“We have no milk,” he says, looking at me over his bare shoulder.

“I'll pick some up,” I say over my cereal. I'm a rebel, it turns out.

You have milk,” he says to me.

I smile and laugh, and he frowns at me.

“We have that dry milk stuff in the cabinet,” I tell him, and he makes a face like I've just told him to drink piss.

“Are you kidding me?” He says.

Every day is so routine. I swear to god, I'm going to lose my mind one day. I may even have a fucking conniption. I hear those are nice.

I have the day off. They don't happen very often for me.

Once I've spent my usual hour hating the dishes in the sink and 10 minutes washing them, I consider going up to my office for a while to stare at the computer screen until I get cancer. But then a novel idea strikes me.

I will go for a walk. I think of the sidewalk waiting outside the house with its cracks and gravel and dead leaves.

Then I think of all the things I still have to clean today, and I realize that it might be cold outside.

I go upstairs, looking out the window at the landing for just a second. I find Warren's blue hoodie on his computer chair and pull it over my head and then I go back downstairs. I smell him on me now, and it's familiar enough to make me a little bit sad.

And outside the world is waiting. Gray clouds rushing overhead, the smell of rain in the air. I am in heaven right now. I swear to god I am.

The streets kind of look the same. Our street is like the next street over.

All the houses look the same too, wide front porches spreading to the sidewalks, all of them staring across the street at one another, old and tired and sagging, hiding wounds behind storm windows, termites holding hands and praying.

I've known this neighborhood for years, my hands leaving prints on the phone poles as I pass. The trees and the leaves, the pocked roads and broken sewer drains, cracked driveways adorned by dented minivans and Corollas and trash bins full of vomit and beer cans.


Bernard Street leads to River Street, which curves along the river, the peeling Victorian houses across the street considering a watery death.

I like to look down over the guardrail at the river going by and wonder of what it must be like to hit the water. I close my eyes and think of drowning.


I get home about an hour later and throw Warren's blue hoodie over the back of the couch and then I cross the living room to the hall and go upstairs.

After an hour or so of sitting in my office staring at my blank screen, I turn in my chair to look at the bills on my desk and sigh. I really should do the bills today. They're almost due. And I think, I'll do it tomorrow.

I wish I were at work right now. Or dead.


While I'm upstairs, I open the door directly across from the stairs, which is a storage room. It's supposed to be a bedroom, and it has a bed in it, but we just throw things in here.

We'll clean that room up later, Warren and I tell each other.

Oh that room, it needs sorted out, we say.

I stare at it from the doorway, the bed piled high with boxes of clothes we never wear, the dresser buried and the floor littered with boxes we forgot to unpack.

This room looks like my life. Packed up, cluttered, unmoving.

And through the window is the same pink siding as out the kitchen window.


When Warren gets home, I'm in the kitchen, making food for us.

I hear the car pull up first, then a few minutes later the back door opens in the laundry room and I hear two sets of footsteps. It's starting to rain outside.

I don't turn as they walk in, but I can tell by the voices that Warren has his cousin Harrison with him. Luckily I made too much Spaghetti as always. This way, it won't sit in the fridge for weeks waiting to be eaten.

Coats come off and Warren and Harrison come down the hall and into the kitchen.

“Aaron, what's for dinner?” Harrison wants to know.

“Your mom,” is the response from Warren, whose name is not Aaron.

“Spaghetti,” I tell him.

“Again,” says Warren, in the tone he takes when I repeat meals. I look down at the knife I'm using to slice the onion for the sauce I make, and I smile.

“Again,” I say to him.

I can feel him smiling at the back of my head.

“I like spaghetti,” says Harrison.

Harrison looks the way Warren did when I first met him on campus, his hair uncombed and always smiling a crooked smile.

We may have believed in love back then.


As always, Warren retires to the basement for a little pot and video games, and he takes Harrison with him.

I'm doing the dishes, looking up once in a while at the pink siding next door and wondering if the people who live there live fucked up normal lives too.

Of course they do. This is life.

I want to break something. I can't stop myself.

So I throw the glass I'm washing at the far wall, and it shatters. Then there's silence. I wait for a reaction from downstairs. Not that anywhere would care.

There's no reaction, and I realize I'm holding my breath. I let it out and gasp for another breath.

Then I get the dustpan and the broom and the glass pieces are in the trash in a minute or two.

I go upstairs to our bedroom and stare out the window at the houses across the street and wish they were all on fire.


There's a real focus on routine in my life. Anything out of the ordinary usually comes from me. And if it doesn't, it's a surprise.

I come down the stairs and as I'm passing the living room doorway, I see Harrison on the couch, watching TV. He doesn't usually do that alone at our place. Warren still appears to be downstairs.

I stand at the doorway, and Harrison turns to look at me over the back of the couch, his eyes sad.

I ask him if he's okay he says he thinks he pissed Warren off so he came upstairs.

“I'm thinking of going home. I just didn't want to leave without saying goodbye,” he tells me, and then he adds: “and I didn't want to disturb you,” and something about his voice makes me wonder if he was already upstairs when I broke the glass.

I retrace my steps. Break glass, sweep up pieces, throw away. Not a single sign of a reaction. I say to him: “Let me drive you home. It's cold.”

He doesn't drive. Warren drove him here.

He looks at me like he thinks he's totally imposing and says “I was going to walk. I don't mind a walk.”

Warren, on the other hand, has given up on walking anywhere.

“I'll walk you home,” I tell him.

He smiles at me crookedly like Warren does sometimes, and my heart's going a million miles an hour. For a second I think it might explode. Maybe I'm having a heart attack.


On the way to his house, I ask Harrison what happened downstairs.

“I don't remember.” he says.

It's stopped raining now, and everything smells wet.

We walk in silence over the leaves and cracks and over and across yards for a while and then he says to me: “Are you happy with the way things are, Aaron?”

I laugh and say: “What a question.”

“It's just a question.” he says.

We keep walking, and a dog barks from inside a house, far away.

“I suppose I must be.” I tell him. “I'm still here.”

He laughs, and then I laugh. We brush shoulders and I draw a sharp breath. I breathe all the time, but this is a sharper breath than I'm used to, and it almost hurts. My heart tightens and I stumble over a curb.

“I suppose you have a point,” Harrison tells me, his voice flat.


On the way home I think of planes and cars and trains and all the other ways I could run away.

I don't hate Warren. He's the reason I stay. Maybe the only reason. He's also the reason I left in the first place. I just wonder why I'm still here.

I look over to the houses across the street, some of them lit up and full of people, others dark and silent, and I almost walk into a trash can that smells like rotting beef.


I take Warren's hoodie off in the living room when I get home, and toss it on the couch. I go to the door to the basement stairs and open it, and I can smell pot. On my way down the stairs, I can already hear the endless sounds of first-person shooting, the sounds of violence growing louder as the room comes into view.

This room hasn't changed since 1975 or so. We call it the family room. Wood paneling, shag carpet, a low basement room with ducts and pipes along the walls. Warren is on the old couch we keep down here. His brown hair is a mess and he's shed all clothes but his shorts.

I climb over the back of the couch and lay across him, my head on his thigh. For a while, we're watching aliens die on screen, neither of us talking. We don't need to. I'm making a decision. My mouth opens to speak after a while.

“What happened down here?”

He frowns at the screen, not looking at me. “What?”

“With Harrison; what happened?”

He laughs but doesn't say anything else.

I look around the room and sigh, and I look up at him again.

“I want blue hair,” I say to him.

The aliens continue to lose arms and heads for a bit, and then he looks down at me, and I look up at him.

“Blue hair.” He says.

I look at the screen. “I'm not known for my stuttering,” I tell him.

“You need pills,” he says quietly, a smile in his voice. The aliens continue to die on the TV, Warren killing them with buttons and gestures, and I sigh at their luck.

“You need pills too,” I tell him, and we look at each other again.

He smiles down at me, a crooked smile, and says: “Well if you get blue hair, I want orange. You're not leaving me out of this.”


Warren's car is pretty cold. It's 4am. We're on our way to Wal-mart to get hair dye.

The song on the radio is quiet, and the windows are down.

We smell like air freshener.


Warren and I are in the bathroom upstairs, looking at our shirtless reflections in the mirror over the sink. We are gods. Orange and blue haired Adonises.

Warren puts his arms around me. He stares at my reflection over my shoulder. Our eyes lock in the mirror.

“You sexy bastard,” he says to me, and I smile a little.

I pull away, something about the embrace making me uncomfortable.

He looks at me in the mirror, his smile fading.

Then he turns and goes out into the hall, not saying anything else.


We're on the couch later and he says, “Oh by the way, your Aunt called. She wanted to know if you were up for a visit.”

I don't say anything for a second, thinking of home. At least 3 hours away. White house in the field, and a past I put behind me.

“Maybe. I don't know. I'll call her sometime.”

Warren is silent, flipping through channels.

“Pick a channel for fuck sake,” I tell him.

We stop at an infomercial, a happy woman is having a happy man try some concoction her device has created, and Warren smiles at me. “You want a hot chocolate maker Aaron? It juices too.”

We watch the infomercial for a few minutes, not speaking, and then Warren says, “Don't you have a cousin too? What's his name?”

I sigh and don't answer, my mood sinking.


We go to bed around the same time, within about a half hour of the night before, and within about five minutes of one another because neither of us can function fully as a person anymore with the nagging knowledge that the other person is already asleep. I get into bed first, and after a few minutes, I hear the bedroom door open and close, and I hear Warren walking toward the bed in the darkness.

His movements on the bed as he lays down move my side of the mattress, and I sigh, thinking of my blue hair.

He pushes up behind me, his body warm against mine.

The room is lit by the streetlight outside the window.

“I love you,” He says in my ear.

After a minute or two, I say “I love you too.”

It doesn't matter that we say the words out of habit. What matters is that we say them.

(c) 2011 Roman Theodore Brandt

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