A Few Good Conversations (Well, At Least 10)

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

Chapter 8 (v.1) - August

Submitted: April 30, 2018

Reads: 64

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Submitted: April 30, 2018

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On the 5th of August 2014, a voice I hadn’t heard in years echoed through my house.

“We’re home!” It rang. It was followed by the sound of red heels and leather shoes on my bamboo floor. Though I suppose it was really theirs, I was only borrowing it. I was smoking a cigarette in my room when they came through the front door. It’s true that they had threatened to return some time ago, but I had assumed the threat to be empty - like most things they said. I put out the cigarette in my drawer, and quickly sprayed Glen 20 in a rather superfluous attempt to escape the further scorn of my parents. The smell of cigarettes was the least of my worries.

“The grass looks dead.” Were my father’s first words to me in 5 years. Admittedly, I hadn’t taken the best care of the grass. There were certainly dead patches here and there, but I wouldn’t have gone so far as to say that the entirety of it looked dead. Dying, certainly - but not quite dead yet.

“Yes, well…” I said, trying my best to justify my inadequacy.

“We’ll get on that tomorrow.” He interrupted.

“Awesome.”

“How are your grades?” He asked quickly.

“Inexplicably absent.” I jested with a hidden smirk.

“Good.” He said approvingly (though he obviously didn’t actually listen to my answer. “We’re having a dinner party tonight, wear something nice.”

 

What my parents defined as a party consisted of polite evening discourse about nothing led by my father. Our guests that night were a couple who everyone (including themselves) referred to as “The Donovans”. The two middle class people had been together so long that they were indistinguishable from one another. A sinister mix of their identical discourse and the gigantic nose they both shared.

“So for how long will you be with us?” Inquired Mr. Donovan.

“Two weeks at most.” Replied my father.

“Two weeks!” Repeated Miss Donovan. “What a short stay after such a long time away.” Two weeks seemed like a tortuously long time to me.

“We don’t see a reason to remain here any longer.” Hissed my father, and no one uttered a word for what felt like the longest time. In the silence of this dinner table, all my cracks were exposed. I was cold, and I wanted to scream. I wished my father would leave, and I wished he’d never come. Because I loved my father, and I only wished he’d do me the same courtesy.

“Claire, this is truly fantastic.” Miss Donovan said to my mother, pointing her fork at her half-serving of Quiche Lorraine. “I must know the recipe.”

My mother responded by listing every ingredient, and every step in the recipe. And I found that terribly sad.

“Ed, what about yourself? Are your results as excellent as they were when we last saw you?” Inquired one of The Donovans (it was getting harder and harder to tell which).

“They’ve certainly been consistent.” I replied with (hopefully) indistinguishable mockery.

“You’re starting to look at lot like your father, Ed!” Observed the other Donovan. “It’s the hair I think. That’s the Taylor head of hair if I’ve ever seen it.”

My father’s hair was legendarily thick, and he wore it exceptionally long. I suspect that the fact I hadn’t cut mine in several months was what caused it to resemble a less well kept version of my father’s. With the statement from The Donovans ringing in my ears, I stood up quietly and walked the few steps to my bathroom. My electric razor was charging on the only shelf in the room. I disconnected it, and brought it to my head mechanically. I shaved a line straight down the center of my skull. I removed line after line until all I could see in the mirror was a 17 year old kid with a bald head. And every trace of my father was gone.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

The 1907 was by far my favourite restaurant in Perth. I’d like to say it was because of the food, but the life size horse lamp played an undeniably important role in the matter. On the 14th of August, the same atmosphere that all expensive restaurants have clung to its air. It was the type of quiet that manages to convey silent pretension. Mind you, when I was served half a shrimp for the modest price of $100 I, too, was at a loss for words. Annie Rose was wearing a lovely cream dress paired with muddy once-white-but-now-brown converse. It was painfully obvious that she’d been here on many occasions, but she did her best to feign discomfort. Her thin layer of distaste for money was forged with all the best intentions, but it did a shoddy job of hiding the affection she held for the food on her plate.

“I don’t like it here.” She said, tapping some of the mud off her shoes to the tune of waiters observing disapprovingly.

“Now why on earth would that be?” I said with a mischievous grin.

“I wasn’t aware that dinner also had to be a test.”

“Don’t you know, Annie,” I said, “everything is a test.” She grimaced and stuck her tongue out at me. I laughed, and took the only bite of my meal I could. It was an admittedly delicious half shrimp. I watched Annie Rose eat her (entirely more copious, but also entirely more expensive) Boeuf Bourguignon. Just by the mild tremors of her body, I could tell that she was swinging her legs below the table. A childish display of bravery in an all too adult moment.

“You know, my dad used to take us here every Friday.” She said with her mouth half full.

“Used to?”

“Dean of Swanway isn’t anywhere near as lucrative as his previous employment.” She moaned with evident disappointment.

“Which would be?”

“I can’t say.” She giggled. “Consider yourself lucky to have even gotten that much out of me.”

“Regardless, your father still seems to be earning embarrassing amounts of money.” I observed. She didn’t seem to like that, and she put down her cutlery to wipe some of the Boeuf that had accumulated around her perfect lips.

“Embarrassing indeed.”

“Can I ask you a question?” I asked hesitantly.

“Ed, for fuck’s sake,” she scolded, aggressively picking up her fork “what did we say about pussy footing?”

“Who are you?” I asked, putting aside the pussy footing for good.

“Well that’s just an awfully broad question.”

“Only one I want to know the answer to.” I complained with a sigh.

“Have you ever tried to catch a rabbit?” She asked before silence had time to fall.

“Can’t say I have.”

“You should.” She asserted. “It’s humbling.” The thought of anything humbling Annie Rose felt rather ridiculous at the time, least of all a rabbit.

“What is it with you and all these random questions?” I asked, vocalising a thought that had inhabited my head since the first night I met her.

“I wanna know, Ed. I just wanna know.”

“But why?”

“Because that way I don’t think too much.”

She took a drink, and she waited in gentle silence, trying desperately not to think. I imagined every drop seeping into her veins, making everything better in the slickness of her blood. With every drink, the screams in her head grew fainter and fainter - but they never died away. Something I only knew because of the spiderwebs in the recesses of my own brain.

“How can you put up so many walls?” I asked, determined to find an answer to my earlier question.

“I’d prefer it if you refer to them as layers. Like onions, or ogres.”

“Still, why?” She paused, disappointed that her diversion tactics had failed. I could see in the void of her silence that she was thinking. I could also see that she hated it.

“Because the surface is everything.” She concluded with a displeased crease in her brow.

“The surface layer?”

“Yeah.” She quickly replied, visibly glad that we’d returned to the onion metaphor. I stopped to think, and she looked at me disapprovingly.

“I could never do that.” I splurted out, quicker than I would have liked.

“Why not?”

“Someone would see through that.”

“You have. Is that such a bad thing?”

“I think that’s for you to decide.”

“Then I decide no.”

“Aren’t you scared.”

“Forgive me, Ed, but you’re hardly the scariest thing.”

“I thought you’d be scared.”

“Ed, it’s not there to protect me. It’s there to protect you.” She said, and I thought then that I may have been afraid of what lay beneath. I was in love with Annie Rose, but what was I in love with?

“What’s your vice?” I chirped, taking the Annie Rose approach to avoiding thinking too much.

“Terrible TV.” She said. “But I guess every time I catch myself watching it, I can’t help thinking that there’s a rather absurd profundity to 21st century pop culture.”

“I mean, it is absurd.”

“But it’s such an elegant absurdity!” She jeered. “Because it’s us, humanity I mean. It’s our fears, and our pain. It’s what we believe in, and what we want most.”

“And it’s everything you don’t want to be.” I interjected, trying more than anything to sound smart.

“Well, I can’t help being human.”

“But then what do you want to be?” She lit a cigarette with a red Bic lighter. It still had the barcode on it.

“Miss, you can’t smoke that in here.” Said a red haired waitress.

“I want to be what they’re not.” Annie began, pointedly ignoring the staff. “The truth is, Ed, I can’t stand the thought of being like everyone else. I can’t stand the thought of living my life with the same shitty aspirations as every other fucker. Can you imagine, Ed?” She blew smoke and it filled the room. Where had the waitress gone? “Can you imagine growing old, working at a cubicle, having two and a half kids and spending the rest of your life paying off your mortgage?”

Annie Rose was someone who defined herself by opposition. She was beaming through the universe, a shattered identity who knew everything she wasn’t and never who she was. She was cigarette ash on a white tablecloth. She was the atrocious red wine that stained her throat. And she was a bee sting in my life that I wished would never heal.

“Doesn’t exactly sound thrilling.”

“If that were my life, my retirement plan would be a shotgun.That’s why I’m going to escape. It can do its best to catch me. It can come after me all it wants. But I’m going to get out.”

“It?”

“Society, of course.”

“Obviously.”

“I’m going to make a difference, Ed, a real difference. Kids will live to 70 because of me. I’m going to make a real difference.”

“But how? What are you gonna do?”

“What do you mean how? However!”

“I love all these answerless questions.” I said, and we both burst out laughing.

“Questions with answers are no fun.” She teased, and the glint in her eye was brighter than the sun.

“I wonder why.” I smiled, avoiding the actual question.

“Something to do with the human condition, probably.”

I think Annie Rose was so fascinated with the human condition because she suffered from it more than anyone I’ve ever met. She was obsessed with knowing who she was, but every time she asked the question the internal silence that followed left her seeking white lines and thin needles. And so she became a fameless celebrity, waiting to be something more. Waiting to be something she never could be.

“You’re gonna make the world a better place, Annie Rose.”

“Better?” She quizzed. “I just want it to be different.”

“You’re gonna make the world a different place, Annie Rose.”
“Better.” She jested.

“You know what I really love about books?” I said, in an attempt to play this game of incessant non sequiturs. “I mean, other than the fact sometimes you can age backwards in them. It's their permanence. I mean, if you and I were a novel I would always be Ed and you would always be Annie Rose. But one day I'll be Edward working a desk job, and you'll be Annie Myars.”

She looked at me, and made it her mission not to respond to that statement. Her disagreement was manifested solely in the deep crease of the frown that she wore. Eventually though, she had to laugh.

“I don’t like your vision of growing up.” She said.

“I don’t like it either.”

“Then change it!”

“But that’s what life is.”

“Life’s what you make of it.”

“I just don’t think we get that much choice.”

“Why of course you do! I’m a firm believer in that saying about things getting better. Things have to get better. Your future sounds worse, that just can’t be.”

With that, dessert was served. I admit that I didn’t even notice the main course ending, credit to the 1907 staff. We were served something described as “golden chocolate” to share. I can testify that it was delicious, despite the fact I’ve been known to display animosity towards chocolate. It was around this time that we (I) received the bill. The bolded value at its bottom was so exorbitantly large that the very thought of it still makes me want to vomit.

“Wanna go dutch?” I asked in light of the recent loss of my credit card privileges. She laughed and reached into her deep pockets to pull out a platinum Visa credit card (her father’s). With it she lined me up, and she took sips of me through her nose.

 

The 1907 was (obviously) located in Swanway. This had several benefits for me, notably the fact Annie Rose didn’t have to see the piece of shit that was Emmanuel (not to say that I didn’t love that car). The walk to her extravagantly beautiful family home reminded me of the first night I spoke to her. Treading the bitumen illuminated by a corridor of street lights, we were voluntary exiles. She ran in front of me again, because she couldn’t help it. This road was her stage and she danced under the streetlight spotlight. Amid these towers of stone, wood and money she was the most beautiful thing in that street. And not just because she was pretty, but because she was awesome. Awesome in the purest sense of the word, in that she inspired admiration and wonder. It’s no easy thing to be awesome, but Annie Rose was more than willing to put in the work that awe requires. If I could, I’d like to use a symbol or a metaphor to really make you feel what I felt when I looked at her that night. But Annie Rose needs no symbols, no enchanted object. She was herself enchanted.

 

Annie’s room was exactly what I’d expected it to be, even though it didn’t smell like cigarettes. It was white bed sheets and white walls. But it was also Johnny Cash posters and a purple desk, with a bong made from a gatorade bottle resting on it. She pulled out a packet of cigarettes, and put a towel against the crack of the door. I noticed a partially smoked cigarette in the pack.

“Why?” I said, pointing to it.

“Every morning I smoke half, and in the evening I smoke the other half.” She said, as if it was the most natural thing she’d ever said.

“Alright, but why?”

“I like the symmetry of it.” She pulled out that cigarette, picked up the bong, and sat on the floor. It had already been packed, so she brought the lighter to it as she sat down.

That saying invaded my mind. That one about things getting better. And I remember thinking: how could anything be better than this?

How could anything be better than Annie Rose sitting cross legged on her bedroom carpet. How could anything be better than half smoked cigarettes and homemade bongs? How could anything be better than the hit she was holding in her chest? How could anything ever be better than her cream dress and her muddied carpet?

“I feel like I could die right now, and not even mind.” I said.

“That’s ridiculous.” She snorted, finally letting free the smoke.

It was. These were animal days and I was Annie crazed. I was hopped up on chemicals, worn down with the urge to feel alright. I was trailing in her wake as she danced through the night sky. She was a planet, and I a satellite. And I felt good, but it was because of Annie Rose.

Annie Myars suffered from the same affliction.

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

On the 21st of August, I was drinking Jack Daniels and Coke Zero from a teapot when Immy knocked on my window. She looked rather agitated, and it was abundantly clear to me that she was in need of a drink. There were tear streams darkened by mascara running down her face. She wasn’t crying though, Immy didn’t cry in front of people. She was still knocking on my window though, with increasing violence. I stood up, and completed the fiddle necessary to opening my window.

“I just got dumped.” She declared. I responded by handing her the teapot.

“You were in a relationship?” I asked.

“Yeah.” She downed the remainder of the whiskey mix and sat on my bed.

“With who?”

“With whom.” She corrected.

“Whom?”

“Yeah. It’s whom.”

“So you weren’t dating whom?”

“How would I date an objective pronoun?”

“How would I know!” I said. “Serious though, who were you dating?”

“Some kid from your old school.” She snarled. “Jeremy.”

“You were dating Jeremy?” I yelled. And then I burst into uncontrollable laughter.

“Not funny.” She spat.

“Literally hilarious.” I protested. “He doesn’t even have a personality, Immy. How could you date that?”

“He’s pretty hot.”

“True” I acknowledged. And it was true! I would have tapped that. “What happened?”

“He cheated on me.”

“Rough.”

“Three times.”

“That’s just uncalled for.”

“Actually, two and a half. He couldn’t get it up the third time.”

“Well there you go, not losing out on much.” That joke (hilarious as it was) didn’t really land with Immy. She sat, teapot in hand, on the corner of my bed staring blankly into middle distance.

“Make me better.” She finally requested.

We walked down to the basement, and grabbed a bottle of terrible whiskey each. For once, we didn’t have to weave through chaises longues - I’d packed those away. With our cargo acquired we returned to my bedroom to sit on the titular bed. Immy downed half the bottle before she had the heart to say anything more.

“You know what would suck?” She bumbled.

“I don’t know, Immy.” I acknowledged with only a hint of sarcasm. “What would suck?”

“If when we graduated, we all went our own ways.”

It was pretty obvious by Immy’s inability to stay upright that the teapot cocktail was starting to hit her.

“Isn’t that kind of expected?”

“Yeah, well, that’s bullshit. Why the fuck would I wanna do that? I’ve already found the best friends I’m every going to have.”

“Well, how would you know that we’re the best?”

“First of all, who says I was including you in that.” She joked with a pointed finger.

“Ouch.”

“Second of all, I just do. Come on, how could anyone be better than the fuckers we’ve got right now.”

“I guess we do have it pretty good.”

As I said those words I realised that I didn’t really believe in them. I remembered sitting on Annie’s floor, I felt the drink in my hand, and I realised it would get better. Well perhaps not better, but at least different. Because I knew now that 2015 was closer than 2013 would ever be again. Ever since two cars collided in May, I’d started to understand that next year couldn’t be just another season the TV show that is my life. Not only because the cast would be different, but because all good things must end. I had no interest in trying to recreate a glorious past that never existed. The truth is, if you took away alcohol, friends, and Annie Rose - I was hollow. And I knew that the next year could be a year where I wouldn’t have to feel so empty. I knew all these things of course, but I didn’t accept them. I also knew full well that if I didn’t do something, I would get caught maintaining this status quo of tissue thin happiness.

“I'm going.” I said as a simultaneous conclusion and resolution.

“Where to?” Immy asked, perplexed by my sudden outburst. I wanted so badly to say anywhere but here to delay the reality of the decision. But instead I stood up, and grabbed the marker.

“Toronto.” I said, scribbling the word over the bottom part of planner. “I'm fucking going to Toronto.”

I saw in the way Immy recoiled into the warm malt liquor that that was exactly what she feared.

“I’m happy for you.” She said. “I’m sure Toronto can’t wait to have you.”

“But?”

“But what if 10 years from now I don’t even remember the name of the people I used to see every single day!”

“Then you better have a damn good reason to forget me.”

“Aren’t you scared?”

“Of leaving?”

“Of life.”

“Terrified. But I’m starting to think that’s not such a bad thing.”

“Fuck.”

“Don’t get me wrong, you guys are my people. And these are the happiest days of my life. There’s something about you, and Jared, and Blochy that just makes me feel like I’m not alone.”

“But?”

“I don’t feel at home.” I said, smiling at how well Immy knew me. Would I really ever find someone like that again? “And I know if I stay here, I’ll feel broken and I’ll spend the rest of my life pretending I’m not.”

“I wish that wasn’t such a good point.” She sighed.

“Why’s that?”

“Well because then I wouldn’t feel so bad for wishing you’d stay!”

“Will you miss me?”

“Miss you?” She smiled. “Ed, I just might die without you.”

“Sarcasm not appreciated.”

“Why do you have to go?”

“Because I want to be remembered.”

“I’ll remember you.”

“Yeah, but that’s not enough.”

“We’ll all remember you!”

“That’s not enough.”

“I know.”

“I need to get my life together.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah.”

“I know.”

All my justifications of dream fulfillment and happiness were only the surface of why I chose to leave. In truth, I was running from something that clung to me close as the very breath I breathe. There was a new ghost in my life, and it drove me crazy just thinking me about it. There was a new ghost in my life, and I knew then that it would haunt me forever if I stayed. There was a new ghost in my life, and it was Giacci’s. A ghost from which I was running. And that can’t be held against me (don’t you dare hold it against me), all of us are running from something. That’s probably why Immy didn’t say anything at the time, though I could see in her tear stained eyes that she knew. I remember that when the both of us were sat on my bed, I was looking at the shitty cardboard Giacci and I had affixed to my shitty wall, and she was looking deep in the whiskey. The ceiling was spinning around, and I was desperately stuck to the ground. Looking to my calendared sky, I wondered how I got to be this way. All my ghosts were there, but I was too drunk to see them. I was on the lookout for a feeling soft and real. One that won’t ever leave me.


© Copyright 2019 Hans Taylor. All rights reserved.

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