A Few Good Conversations (Well, At Least 10)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 11 (v.1) - November

Submitted: April 30, 2018

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Submitted: April 30, 2018

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By the 1st of November 2014, I was pretty confident that I was going to fail high school. I was also pretty confident that I was going to drop on the spot by virtue of the fact I hadn’t slept in a just over a week. I don’t say that in the metaphorical sense either, I had quite literally been awake for 200 hours. Turns out you have to take some quite drastic measures when you want to cover a year’s worth of content in the space of 4 weeks. Oh, also, I was sitting my English exam at 9AM that day.

“Ed my man,” said Jared “how you feeling?” I’d arrived quite some time after the others, as I was studying Physics earlier that morning. Blochy, Jared and Immy were sat together on the grass outside Pally Hall. There was a patch that Sally had consumed a couple of months earlier, and I almost had the energy to find that funny. I spotted Fresty and Oscar hanging out a little closer to the hall itself. Oscar was playing with a butterfly, and Fresty was… being Fresty?

“I am aware of my heart’s beat.” I responded in the dry, monotone voice that had become my own.

“You don’t say.” Jared gurgled.

“I can feel every pulse.”

“What does that even mean?”

“I am supremely unwell.” One of the many consequences of my voluntary insomnia was the fact that I felt like I’d contracted the plague.

“I meant for the exam, actually.” Jared clarified. In my defence, that was quite unclear. In his defence, we were about to sit said exam.

“Have not read the books.” I mused.

That might sound a bit confusing knowing that I’d studied so extensively. Four weeks, as it turns out, is insufficient to study six subjects. By consequence, I’d had some corners. One of those corners being English, which I’d entirely removed from my mind.

“Neither.” Replied Jared.

“Really? I thought you liked English.”

“Love it.”

“Then what?” I inquired.

“Genuinely could not be fucked.” That was fair enough, Jared was known to not be fucked to do most things.

“That doesn’t seem like the right attitude.” I said.

“It’s probably not, hey.” He acknowledged. “Blochy, could we read your notes?” The man in question turned from his (probably quite insightful) conversation with Immy to address us.

“I doubt these’ll help you much right now.”

“Give us the damn notes, man.” Pushed Jared.

“A’ight.”

Blochy’s notes were confusing. That may have had something to do with my lack of sleep, or perhaps the fact I hadn’t read the books in the first place. I pretended that they were crystal clear regardless, and I read through every single page.

 

By the time we were called in, I was still completely lost. I was periodically blacking out, and for once it had nothing to do with alcohol. One thing led to another, and I was sitting down at a desk in Pally Hall. I’d forgotten to observe anything on the way in, but the majestic indoors looked too holy for comfort. The rows of desks were eerily reminiscent of the benches in Swanway church. It hit me that this hall was probably also an imitation, but it somehow felt more genuine.

“Alright then,” said the invigilator, just before I blacked out again. I’m pretty sure he started handing out papers at that point too. He reminded me a lot of the bloke who invigilated my entrance exam, but that may have been because he was wearing a suit.

 

An unknown amount of time later, there was a piece of paper in front of me and the frantic scribbling of my school mates informed me that I could start. There was a section that demanded the date from me.

“I no longer subscribe to  your concept of time.” I wrote in it. Then I blacked out again.



 

***



 

On the 20th of November, I sat my final exam. It was History, another subject I had failed to study for. I won’t even bother with the exam itself, or what happened before it for that matter. But I can tell you this. When I walked out of that exam, my last exam, I felt nothing. It’s funny that I would say that, because I always thought that it would have some kind of symbolic significance.

“How does that fucking feel!” Said Jared as we walked out of the hall for the last time.

“It doesn’t…” I whispered, treading grass again and feeling the bright sun on my face.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He agreed. “Beer?”

“Beer.”

 

For some reason, we ended up going back to mine instead of Jared’s. The four of us sat in the basement, Jared and Blochy ended up on the floor. Unfortunately for the plan Jared and I had made earlier, I didn’t have any beer at the time. So a jungle mix of whiskey and several other malt liquors was on the table.

“So I guess it’s all over then.” Said Immy.

“Just like that.” Added Blochy.

“What do we do now?” Asked Jared.

“Drink.” I said. “We drink.”

And drink we did. We swallowed the chemicals in my quiet basement until the alcohol permeated through every single one of our cells. I felt so empty. It was hard for me to tell whether a weight had just been lifted off my shoulders, or if the ground had just been swept out from under me. From the silence in room, it was obvious similar thoughts were crossing all our minds.

“Hey,” said Jared “should we break into the school pool?”

“Why?” Asked Blochy.

“Why the fuck not?”

“Sold.” I said.

We stood up, and I immediately fell over again. The alcohol, as it turns out, was really getting to me. As was the sleep deprivation. With that in mind, we hopped in the Stallion and I drove us to Swanway. The use of the phrase “break in” somewhat hyperbolises our actions. What we actually did is drive to the school, park in the NO STUDENT PARKING spot, and then walk to the pool. We did jump a fence to get into the pool itself, but it couldn’t have much higher than my hips. Regardless, we felt like rebels without causes. The spontaneity of the moment had breathed temporary life into all of us. We all sat around the pool with our legs dangling in there, and I was so pleased to not have any koi nibbling at my feet. I lit a cigarette, and we started passing it around. I was sat between Immy and Jared.

“Do we really have to go?” I asked.

“Where are we going?” Jared replied.

“I dunno, onwards with our lives I guess.”

“I don’t see a reason for this to ever end.” Promised Immy. I know that of all of us there, with the possible exception of myself, she was the most acutely aware of the fact it would all end.

“Do you reckon we’ll ever look back at this, and think about how fucking dumb it was.” Jared wondered. What a great thought it was too.

“I’m thinking that right now.” Commented Blochy. We gave him a very brief laugh.

“But I mean, really. Do you think we’ll change that much?”

“Honestly,” I said “I think we already have.”

“Isn’t that a bad thing?”

“No, I don’t think so.” I theorised. I sat there, in silent awe of the moment. I didn’t even have to think about trying to capture it, because it felt just like it should. “Guys?”

“Yeah?” Retaliated Immy.

“I wanted to say thanks.”

“What for?”

“For 2014.” I explained.

“That’s a bit ridiculous.”

“No, I mean it!” I exclaimed  “It’s been the fucking year of my life. It wouldn’t have been this without you guys.”

“We’re not gone yet!” Complained Jared.

“But one day you will be,” I confided “and that’s okay.”

“Hey, fuck off,” said Blochy “we’re not leaving.”

“No, seriously guys. We’ll grow up, and that’s okay.” I insisted, trying as best I could to convince myself. I wasn’t doing that good a job, really, but it was starting to sound real to me.

“No way is that okay.” Shut down Immy, not taking any part of my act.

“It is,” I disagreed “because we’ll always have this memory. Memory of the days when we were just kids, and we weren’t afraid of anything.”

“Apart from the future.” She said.

“Apart from the future. And how it’s here, and how it’s now.” I added.

“The only thing worth being afraid of.”

“Do you reckon this happens every year?” I wondered.

“Kids breaking into the pool?”

“No, I mean, this existential crisis about all this bullshit to come.” I clarified, waving our cigarette in the night air.

“It must,” theorised Immy “I don’t see a way to not be terrified of it.”

“Doesn’t that cheapen this moment?”

“Cheapen it?” I asked, “dude, it’s what gives it meaning.”

“How?”

“If we were special, if we were unique, then this moment would be sad.” I explained, making little splashes with my submerged feet.

“Why’s that?” Jared wondered.

“Because we’d have no way of knowing that it’s all going to be okay. And I don’t know whether or not things will get better, not really. But I know some people are damn fucking happy right now. And they stood here before we did. They were scared before we were. And they’re okay now, they’re happy now.”

The thing is, after finishing that last exam, we all expected a wave of relief and a profound sense of catharsis to flow over us. But no such thing ever came. Indeed, it’s one of those feelings that you don’t experience all at once. It pops up once or twice a month for the rest of your life, and you suddenly remember that what once felt so large has fallen into relative insignificance. Life never stops for you, it carries on and you’ve just got to try and keep up. In light of that, the truth of the matter is that the real world that we’d all been so afraid of isn’t something external, it’s no looming threat. It’s a shift within us, and I think that’s even more terrifying. You don’t stop smoking joints and day drinking because the world frowns on it, you stop because you do.

The sad thing about that is that it feels so far beyond your control. Time’s relentless charge forwards makes you feel like you’ve got to catch up. We all get caught running the same race, jogging for a position, but the competition never ends. At some point in that you outrun life, and you’re too focused on pressing on to realise that you’ve grown old.

We were running then, too, just in a different direction. We were tugging hard at time as it ran away from us. But we were disintegrating, destroyed by time as she flew over us carelessly. Because this day was the end of the thing that bound us all together, so we would break apart soon into pieces that we once were anyway. Until then, we were little boys hanging onto time’s dress. And the benefit of that night is that our blood will never forget the alcohol that ran through our veins, even if our mind forgets who we were.




 

***




 

On the 24th of November, I was invited to attend the Manny Grove branch of the National Australia Bank to discuss a possible internship. You may think it odd for someone like me to be pursuing this offer, I found it odd too. My presence at the bank was mostly spurred by the fact I had nothing better to do. And after all, it was time to grow up anyway. Bank = Grown up.

“Hey,” I said to the very pretty receptionist “I think I’m here for a meeting of some sort?”

“Your name?” She replied dryly.

“Edward,” I said “Ed Taylor.”

“Right on time!” She exclaimed sarcastically. It was 10:30, and I was half an hour late. “Could you please fill out this form, and we’ll be right with you.”

She nodded towards the seating area, which was reminiscent of a doctor’s waiting room with its rows of blue chairs and magazines.

 

I filled out the form, and handed it back to the receptionist. She grabbed it without a word, and motioned back to the chairs. By 11:30, someone came out to greet me. Thus informing me that the bank was significantly better at this waiting game than I was.

“Mr. Taylor?” Called a slightly overweight man who wore a beard to hide the fact he didn’t have a jawline. Unfortunately, the beard didn’t do such a good job of shielding the stomach that was seriously stressing his shirt’s lower buttons.

“In the flesh.” I bleated.

“My name’s Andrew,” he exposed sounding overly casual, “I’m the branch manager. Would you please follow me in?”

I always love how business-type people try to make everything seem like it was your idea. Realistically, I didn’t have a choice when it came to following Andrew, but he’d like me to think I had. The branch manager led me to a set of offices, all of which were only separated by walls of glass (windows?). This particular branch was only a single floor, and the layers of clear wall revealed a veritable ant-nest of bankers. So many months ago, Annie Rose had asked me never to talk about anything real. I broke that promise with her, but when I was walking through these offices it hit me like a train. In this altogether too windowed place, I was looking at a man shredding papers somewhere in the distance. They were probably incriminating. There was a woman wearing a suit making her 7th phone call that hour. An employee was making himself a coffee talking about absolutely nothing with his coworker. And I could see that nothing, nothing at all, about this place was real. The crushing phoniness of this adult world sucked all life out of me, and I had no choice but to sit down. Fortunately for me, by the time this existential crisis hit me I was already in Andrew’s office. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was alone in this black suit and this black tie, surrounded by the colourlessness of this dead place stacked to the ceiling with money. Do you ever wonder what those fuckers ever do with a that money? I mean, security and all is fantastic, but there’s got to be a limit to that. I just don't know if after that you get a return on your investment. You can hardly buy your mind or your time back.

“Edward?” Said Andrew with intonations that told me I’d probably spent quite some time daydreaming.

“Sup?” I replied.

“How does that sound to you?” He continued.

“How does what sound to me?”

“The offer.” He clarified with a stupefied look. ”25 hours a week.”

“Sorry,” I reasoned aloud “there’s somewhere else I have to be.”

 

I walked home after that. The Manny Grove branch was so close to Giacci’s that it felt like he accompanied me. I was home by 3PM, and I sat in front of my computer with a Jack Daniels and Coke.

“1. TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?” Said the screen.

“My name is Edward Taylor,” I wrote “and I am a future University of Toronto student. At the start of the year 2014, I wanted nothing more than to be remembered. As such, I devised a plan that involved a 12 month planner, a black Range Rover sport, a prestigious school, and a kid who’s now dead. The prestigious school bit went terribly well, and that’s probably all you care about. I guess as of a few days ago, I’m technically a graduate of Swanway College, and it’s hard to communicate how weird I find that.

Anyway, here’s where it all gets interesting. My dream, as it turns out, was just a shoddy facade that I’d put up in order to shield myself from the onslaught of time (amongst other things). At the start of this year I didn't care if I was to be good, I just wanted to be great. That was my first mistake. You see, time will go on without me. I am but a pinpoint in this world, in this universe, and this timeline. So then what’s the point of defining my dream at death-point. Even if I’m remembered, it doesn’t give me substance. When my body’s in the ground I will be indistinguishable from you. Even if I’m remembered, there will be a last time that someone ever thinks of me. That’s inevitable. So I’ve got a new and improved dream now. One that will see me attend the University of Toronto. Because I’m determined to live my life for its own sake. I have something mundane to look forward to, and for once that word doesn’t taste bitter in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m scared as ever. If I’m not saying this in 10 years, like I was the 5 before this, then I wouldn’t know what to feel.

But I’m sick and tired of feeling sorry for myself. So to the world, this is a both a warning and a promise. I’m going to get my shit together, and I’m going to live to make my life something worth living.”

I leaned against my wheely chair, and I felt relieved to have finally written something down. You may think me a hypocrite, going to Toronto to pursue grandeur despite what I’d just written. Don’t get me wrong, Toronto was evil. But it was the lesser of the evils which presented themselves to me.




 

***




 

On the 26th of November, Jared had just discovered that his parents were planning on moving at the start of the new year. By consequence, they’d made the decision to sell the cylinder. This had then led to Jared inviting all of us over for what he called “the last party”. I suspected then that it would not, in fact, be our final party together. But calling it that made Jared happy, so we thought it best to indulge him at least a bit.

 

By 10PM, we were all sat around the pool table passing the hookah around. That alone should be enough to tell you that we were in no state to being doing much of anything.

“I still can’t believe we’re done.” Said Blochy. “Just like that.”

“We’re real people now.” Said Immy.

“Do any of you feel more real?” Inquired Jared. That gave me a brilliant idea. Then I punched Jared in the face (that was the idea).

“What the fuck man!” Screamed Jared.

“Did that feel more real?” I asked. He actually paused and rubbed his jaw to check.

“No, no it did not.”

“Well, in that case, I propose that we’re not in any way more real than we used to be.” I proposed.

“Then when do we become real?” Wondered Immy.

“Uni,” said Blochy “I guess.” We universally nodded to that suggestion, not realising how ridiculous it was.

“So what are we all doing next year?”

“Apparently agriculture at Udub.” Said Immy. (Udub was what we called the local university.) I can reveal to you that Immy certainly didn’t graduate with a degree in agriculture.

“I’ve got a scholarship for this uni in Europe.” Whispered Blochy, trying as best he could not to sound cocky. “Political science and shit.”

“Holy shit dude, that’s amazing.” Jared remarked.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Fuck man, I don’t know. I’m just waiting to see if I even pass.” (He didn’t pass)

“You gonna tell them, Ed?” Immy asked me. I really would rather have abstained, but she had look in her eyes that made me feel as though she may stab me if I opted for that.

“I’m heading to Toronto on the 31st of December.” I said. “Hoping to get into U of T.”

“U of T?” Investigated Jared.

“University of Toronto.”

“That’s such a shit abbreviation.” He observed.

“I know right!”

“So this is it, hey.” Said Blochy. “We’re up shit hill creek without a paddle from hereon in.”

“Guys?” I said, “it’s gonna be pretty fucking fun.”

“What is?”

“Life.”




 

***




 

The Stallion took me to Annie’s house like it knew the way by heart on the 27th of November. I parked in the driveway, took my bag out of the boot, and rung the giant bell once more. The gate swung open just as the sun was setting. The magnificent mansion was a house that I’d only entered twice, but it felt like I was coming home. Actually, with the sun setting in the background, it felt like a line off a shitty country song. I made my way to the door, and I knocked three times. Myars opened it.

“Well, last time I saw you, you had a cow.” He said.

“Allegedly.”

“I saw you, Ed. I saw you with the cow.” He insisted. He was playing this game well.

“Allegedly.” I repeated, more slowly this time. “And also her name was Sally.”

“Congratulations on finishing exams, Ed.”

“I’d forgotten about those, thank you sir.”

“So you’ve figured it out.”

“I have, sir. I’ve figured it out.”

“So tell me.”

“All this time, I’ve wanted to mean something to all these people. I wanted my name to be engraved in their minds more deeply than even their own. I thought that would give me some form of permanence. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d have to be remembered poorly for that to ever work. If you think of 3 names that everyone will remember forever, I bet at least 2 of them have committed crimes against humanity. So, I don’t want to worry about something that I will never enjoy. I don’t want to waste years of my life hating myself, all to eventually grow up to be a new and improved version of my father. I want to live life in such a way that when I get to that fateful end, however it presents itself, I’ve got the balls to say that I did it well. I want life to have been worth it, and I want to wish I could live an eternity of it.”

He didn’t say anything, he just smiled at me. We were both still standing in the doorway of his huge home.

“So did I get it? Did I get it right?”

“What do you mean? How would I know?”

“Well, you have to know.”

“But I don’t know.” He admitted. “It sounds good, but no one knows. Only time will tell.”

“That’s shit.” I concluded.

“That’s why we need good dreams, Ed.” He said, and then I saw Annie Myars climb down the stairs in a white night gown. Fuck me, she looked excellent. I wanted to run, to avoid the conversation that would follow. That part of me that seeks so desperately to preserve moments was screaming at me. But I had come for 2 reasons, and I’d only completed one of my missions. I slid my backpack to the floor and pulled out four t-shirts.

“I’d like you to have these.” I said.

She walked down, and she stood in the doorway quietly. Her wild hair was half-brushed, and it drew nonsense lines around her face. There was a slight wetness to her face. Was she crying? I think she might have been crying, but it was hard to tell in the harsh white light. I shivered either out of cold or awe.

She grabbed the corner of one of the shirts, and shook it violently to open it up. It was a Rolling Stones t-shirt, a white one with the classic mouth on it and nothing else. Myars was still standing rather awkwardly near us, and so he tiptoed away. He was probably wondering how I knew his daughter, but he had the good grace to not say a word. The best thing about Myars was his grace.

“Why are you giving me these?” She finally squeaked. The offbeat intonations told me she already knew.

“I think they’d fit in your collection.”

She grabbed my hand (and all the shirts), and brought me up to her room. She put a wet towel under the door, and she pushed me onto the bed. She slapped on the Rolling Stones shirt, and the others fell to the floor. It was so quiet up here, I’d never noticed it before. She suddenly filled the silence with words, unable to find comfort in the void. I reached into my bag, and filled my lungs with all the cigarettes that I could find.

“Can I ask you something?” She asked. (I know right, questions like that never make much sense)

I thought about what Annie said when I asked her that question. I smiled just enough for her to think that was a sign she should go on.

“When was the last time you were actually happy?” She inquired.

“Probably just before I started studying.” I proclaimed. Upon reflection, that was actually true.

“What?”

“Yeah, I studied the whole course in like a month.” I laughed “absolutely wrecked me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said “what did you think it would be? The last time I was happy, I mean.”

“I hoped it would be some time when we were together.” She confessed, “or maybe a bit before.”

“How obvious is it that I’m fucked up then?” I wondered.

“Ed, it’s your defining trait.”

“Go ahead,” I said “rip my heart out why don’t you.”

She looked at me terribly blankly, an expression that hid so many thoughts. Annie Myars was such a pretty young thing. Even in her moments of wonder you could tell she’d been let down by all sorts of things.

“I’ve got work tomorrow,” she said “you should probably head.”

“Where do you work?”

“Woolies.” She admitted. In my mind, I saw her outfitted with the local supermarket uniform, beeping overpriced produce through the scanner. And you know something, you’d think that would have ruined Annie for me. I thought it would, I thought that any shred of reality would ruin her. She obviously thought that too. But the point is that it didn’t ruin her. For some fucked up reason, it only made her better. It made her lie, her imitation, her character even more compelling.

“Do you wanna get high?” I said, in response to her invitation for my departure.

“God yes.”

In no time at all, she rolled us a perfect joint.

“Ed,” she said taking the first puff “I hope it all works out for you in the end.”

“What?”

“I hope it’ll all be okay.”

She stole one last cigarette from me, and she lay on her bed, letting me finish the joint alone. Her eyes were wide open, the moonlight tracing out her features. There was this time in my life when Annie was the cigarette in my mouth. I smoked her till I threw up, but I wish I'd still lit her up for at least one more year. I lay on her bed for most of that night, just looking at her. I was thinking about how fucked up she was, and all the other dumb things about her. The months, then the years, they’ve all faded slowly but surely, but Annie never fades. And even now, every time I think about it I see the fake smiles, the lies and the slander in her eyes - and I love it more every time. Because these were days of being young and being almost in love. Let the records state that I never loved rain for the bows, and I never loved Annie for the Rose. Whether you hate her, love her, or neither I implore you - fly on the wall of my past - to judge Annie for Annie. But if you’re judging me, and your kind heart is on the lookout for some sort of redeeming quality, then I must warn you that the search is futile.


© Copyright 2019 Hans Taylor. All rights reserved.

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