To Live Is To Conquer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two young men aimlessly search for fulfillment.

Submitted: March 20, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 20, 2008



The speakers played rock music, loud, midtempo. The singer mumbled his lyrics, punctuating verses with "c'mon baby, c'mon." My mind stayed focused on deciphering what the song was about while they talked. Every once in awhile a word snuck into my ears, such as "subwoof" or

"bass" or "buzzing." My eyes wandered the walls, studying out-of-state license plates and eventually

finding some softcore pornography. My gaze remained there until I glanced over and saw more.

"OK, you ready?" Mark asked me.

"Yeah sure man," I said.

"Well let's go then," he said, jingling his keys and sitting down low in the driver's seat. I

took one last look at the Latina brunettes bending over above the red toolbox at the workbench.

There was a sign there which read "IF YOU WANNA BE THE MAN, U GOTTA PAY THE

MAN!!!" I pondered this as I walked around the black Mazda.

"Good to see you again, baby," Mark said to his steering wheel, petting it.

"Ahura the Mazda," I said. Ahura Mazda was the name of G-d in the ancient Zoroastrian faith. I don't think Mark knew that because he never laughed when I said it.

"Anna Ohura the Mazda maybe. I'm not naming this thing after Star Trek," he corrected me. I looked through the window at a different wall, which had pictures of Asian girls sprawled on beaches like they had washed up there from some distant, magical place of abundance.

"Sometimes I wish I didn't get your sense of humor. This would be one of them." The feeling was probably mutual. Mark slowly backed the car out of the garage as the door made its way to the ceiling like the sun climbing the sky, gradually, with grandeur and ceremony. Mark hit a button and country music blared proudly through the new sound system.

"What the?!" he exclaimed, then hit another button. Heavy, angry rock came on. "What

the?!" he shrieked. Another button: the hiss of snow. Another button: more hissing. "That faggot

changed my stations!" I glanced over at the man in question. He had two ears full of rings, a shaved

head, bulging forearms, and he almost never spoke. His small black radio also played hateful, screeching heavy metal. The man turned and I saw his black t-shirt shirt read "DRUNK 24:7" in blurry white type.

"It smells like cigarettes in here," I pointed out, sniffing.

"Is that just the garage you think or is that my car?" he asked frightfully.

"I think it's the car, man." Now I saw another guy in a navy blue suit with his hair slicked back. That was the guy we paid, I remembered. Handsome son of a bitch, I thought. I found myself hating him and his Don Johnson stubble, loathing the angular symmetry of his face. "Assholes," I grunted, trying to comfort him.

"Let's get out of here," he said, pushing buttons and resetting the radio stations.

''Yeah." Quickly we found ourselves out under the tumbling gray clouds, the car pouring out exhaust smoke in a wispy trail behind us like a nebulous tail wagging. The engine roared insistently over our voices and over the R and B music on the highway. After an off-ramp, he turned the system up and the floor vibrated beneath my feet from the bass.

"I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T do you know what that means?" played loud in our ears. I could hear the ocean under the hip-hop; I could hear the sirens of tinnitus wail and found myself losing track of the letters as Webbie spelled them. By the time the song was over, we were driving around in circles at the mall looking for a place to park. I could hear Mark swearing underneath the noise.

He accelerated then stopped, putting on his blinker. “Are you going? Are you going?” He yelled at the dashboard. No, I almost said. He turned off the directional and accelerated to a screeching halt again. His face looked exasperated.

“That's not a space,” I said. He didn't hear me.

“Is that a space?” he hollered.

“No,” I mouthed, shaking my head, but he was not looking. He swore some more, this time punching the leather of his steering wheel. A third time he sped to a stop, finally parking. He turned the key and the rap music vanished out of the air. I looked up and realized we were at the end of the parking lot. Mark flipped open the mirror behind his visor and adjusted his hair. It stood straight up, spiky and black, which made him look taller. He said that girls really like that. I took his word for it. I even considered taking the idea, but I left my hair as it was: a dusty mop, like matted-down yellow straw in clumps over my forehead. “Do you wanna get ripped first?” I asked. We had forgot something.

“I don't have enough for both of us,” he said, reaching behind the passenger seat and producing a ziploc bag with brown and green little splinters in it. “Do you want it?”

“Nah, I mean, it's OK.” He looked at me, silently asking if he could have it now. “Go ahead,” I said, moping. He opened the bag and stuck his nose in it.

“It's real good shit too,” he said. “Skunky. Smell that.” He shoved it in my face; he was right. It was strong.

“Nah, have at it.” He pointed toward the glove compartment. I opened it and found a red glass pipe and handed it to him. I watched as he quickly packed it with the smoothness that comes only from practice. He made quick work of it, and in seconds his lighter out appeared. A few tugs of his lungs later, the pipe was back in its home.

The weed didn't hit him until we were at the doors. “That was a long walk,” I thought out loud.

“Shit,” he coughed, squinting.

“Hey. Mall cops.” I could tell he was pretending he wasn't afraid. “Mall cops. Be cool, be cool,” I joked.

“Dude, shut up,” he said, staring straight ahead at the filthy tile floor.

We tried our best to swagger through the mall; we walked on the left side against traffic, which we were not supposed to do. We should have stopped and got on the right side, but we didn't want to look like we didn't know what we were doing. We pretended we did it on purpose. The whole time, our eyes scanned the expanses of the room like we were quarterbacks reading defenses: we saw shoe stores, hat stores, ice cream shops. We walked by Abercrombie and Fitch, which called to us with its blaring techno music, its moody mannequins. We were good at this by now; we managed to check out every girl or woman within an acceptable age span. To us, that was a big parameter. After a few minutes, though, we realized we needed something to do rather than something to look at. “I dare you to penguin slide into that Victoria's Secret,” I pronounced, standing and gawking at the life-size photos of Adriana Lima stretched out on beds, beaches and floors. “What the fuck are they eating in Brazil anyway? Is there something in the water?” I pondered out loud.

“No way, man. I'm not doin' it. I dare you.”

“Fine, watch me,” I said, trying to prove my masculinity. The more foolish, the more manly, I thought. He had already proved his manhood with his new car and sound system. It was my turn; so I dove with my arms out like I was flying like Superman. I landed hard on the round soft padding of my stomach and slid head-first like Pete Rose into the underwear store. It probably lasted only a few seconds, but it felt like a solid minute.

A woman stood over me in a black skirt. “Can I help you?” she asked furiously.

“Nah ma'am I think I'm fine,” I said, rising and dusting myself off. I looked down at my shirt, which now had white streaks. I wasn't sure what they were made of; I turned around for a second and saw that Mark's hand covered his mouth, his eyes still squinted and his body was bent over in laughter.

“That was awesome,” he said.

“Yeah, thanks. Now what do you wanna do?”

“We could know...go in the store.”

“I don't know, it might not be safe.”

“C'mon dude, I wanna talk to those chicks,” he said, pointing out a pair of young girls walking the aisles dumbly. “You see a bad bitch, point her out,” he added. I assumed they probably didn't actually intend to buy anything; they probably didn't have any money.

“Those chicks?” I asked.

“Yeah. Why, what's wrong with them?” He asked, clearly a little self-conscious.

“Nothin', nothin', it's just...I don't know.” I shrugged and looked around.

“Why? What? Just say it, dude. Say it.” Neither one of us had taken our eyes from them.

“No, there's nothing wrong with them,” I said.

“Fine, then let's go.”

“Fine.” We both hesitated for a second, waiting for the other to lead the way. We both walked slow, expecting the other to go faster and get there first. “Kid, this is your idea. You talk to them,” I said.

“You're not gonna talk to them?”

“You gotta talk to them first.”

“Dude, you know I can't open. That's like the one thing I can't do,” he whined. Actually, there were a lot of things he couldn't do.

“Look, just...go up there and be brave.” I patted him on the shoulders.

“I'm not scared.”

“You're too baked to be scared.”

“But besides that...”

“Sometimes you get...”

“I get what? I get what?” He now glared at me, afraid.

“Look, just be a man. Stop bein' a bitch. Just go up there and talk to them.” I finally shoved him. We could no longer hide our intentions. They had noticed by now that we were talking to each other and looking at them. That tends to give it away pretty easily.

“Sup ladies?” he asked.

“Hi,” they said, not totally looking at us.”

“You guys are lookin' good,” he continued.

“Thanks,” they said in unison.

“Lookin' real good,” he added.

“Thanks,”they cooed again at once.

“My name is Mark by the way.” He always has to say 'by the way.'

“Hi,” they say, still not caring. Mark looks at me for a moment for guidance. I give him another small push.

“So, do you ladies wanna...I dunno...what are you guys up to?” They don't even respond. I give him another tiny shove. “Well, we're goin' to the Food Court. You should come with us.” I didn't know we were going to the Food Court; that was news to me.

“No thanks,” one moans. Still, they barely looked at us.

“Be more aggressive!” I whispered angrily in his left ear, leaning my chin over his shoulder.

“You have really nice boobs,” he said as a matter of fact. They said nothing, but at least now they were looking at us and paying attention. “Yeah, they're like...stout...warriors.” His cheeks were now as red as his eyes. I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

“What?” The brunette said.

“Yeah, what?” the blonde asked. “You're talking to me?”

“I'm sorry ladies, he gets like that sometimes. Usually he's more poetic. My name is Eric,” I said, putting my body in front of his, extending my right hand.

“Hi, I'm Brittany,” the brunette said, shaking my hand. Her hand was soft and moist.

“I'm...also named Brittany,” the blonde said, still uneasy. She gripped by palm delicately with her fingers. I wouldn't even call it a handshake.

“So where are you guys from?” I asked without hesitation.

“Waterford,” the brunette said. That was a town next to ours in Devonshire County.

“I'm actually from Utah,” the blonde said, as if she were better than us, cleaner than us.

“Oh, Utah,” Mark said, grinning. “Yeah, they grow 'em right over there. Somethin' in the water in that place.”

“Excuse me?” she said, her hand flying back to her torso.

“They make 'em big.” Their faces continued to change shapes and colors with every word. “I used to date a girl looked just like you.”

“Good to know,” the blonde Brittany said, horrified.

“Used to. Used to. She left me though for not banging her right. I need some practice.” He paused as the awkwardness descended over us. “Yup, some good genetics. Good DNA. I bet your mom is a MILF. Betchur mom's built big too.” Their faces panicked together.

“Ew,” she said. “Bye.” They wouldn't even look at us, storming away with faces like they had just tasted something sour. I knew they weren't going to buy anything anyway.

“OK, dude, when I said to be more aggressive, I didn't mean to be creepy.”

“Kid, I was just being honest. Is that so wrong? Am I a bad person for being honest?”

“Don't be that honest,” I said, slapping him gently on the cheek. “Wake up, get your game together. Remember, there's two of us. Don't bring me down with you.”

“That was my game.”

“OK, well you need to work on that.” I paused. “We need to work on that.”

“Easy for you to say. You're better looking than I am. You don't even have to try. Don't act like you have game. You don't. You just stand there and suck in your gut.” He didn't look happy.

“Well sucking in your gut is half the battle,” I said. “Maybe you should start doing that. Look, you gotta pretend you don't want it, but hint that maybe you want it. Don't just go and say you want it like that. Take it easy.”

“I'd like to see you try,” he fired back. “You think there's some magic code, that I can just wave my hand and I'll be having sex with them. It depends on the girl.”

“I know that, but if all women were so different you couldn't call 'em all women. They've all gotta have something in common,” I argued, proud of myself for thinking of that.

“Just forget it. Let's just move on. Those chicks were ugly anyway,” he said angrily.

“Yeah. Sluts. I think they might have been in high school,” I cautiously added.

“That's always a possibility.”

“Are you still baked by the way?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, can we actually grab some food?”

“Yeah, you need to be 100%.” We swaggered in the direction of the Food Court. “OK, we got Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian...McDonald's, Burger King...”

“American. McDonald's,” he said. At the counter he boldly declared, “Give me one of everything on the Dollar Menu.” I looked up at the Dollar Menu.

“Actually the Dollar Menu at this McDonald's is the Value Menu,” the overweight blonde murmured, looking sad, tired.

“ what? Just give me that. One of everything on that.”

“It's not a dollar.”

“What? No dollar menu?” he asked, alarmed.

“No, it's a dollar fifty.”

“A dollar fifty!” he shouted suddenly by accident. He turned to me. “Do you have any money?”

“Dude, I got like...two bucks maybe.”

“Gimme those. I'll hit you back.”

“What if I need...”

“I'll hit you back,” he interrupted.

“OK fine.” I handed him the two rumpled, greasy bills from my black leather wallet. I always have a nice wallet because it seems like I get at least one new one every Christmas. Now it was empty.

“You still don't have enough,” the cashier groaned.

“Oh c'mon. All right, well...delete the pies. No pies,” he said.

“You don't want the pies? That's like the best part,” I asked.

“OK keep the pies, delete the...fries.” I would have complained if I had realized what he was saying. My focus was entirely on the Latina girl bringing up the food to the cashier. I wasn't sure what she was, what kind of Latin, but I liked it. I wanted to practice the Spanish I had learned in high school, but all I could remember was 'Puedo ir al bano?' and 'que hora es?” I just stared with all thinking numb and all feeling heightened. She looked at me like que quieres tu maricon no me mires asi cono hijo de puta vaya te but I thought that was really hot.

“Hola,” I murmured at her without even thinking.

“Hi,” she said, without an accent. She's American, I realized, somehow deflating the experience.

“Que pasa” I said.

“Nothin',” she replied, confirming my suspicions. She turned away from me and went back to what she was doing. And just like that, all of her exotic appeal vanished into the steamy McDonald's atmosphere. She probably smells like French Fries, I thought. She probably doesn't have much money. These thoughts consoled me. I watched her move through the room. What an ugly uniform, I thought. Gross. We sat down to eat, but I couldn't help but keep glancing over.

“OK, I'm thinkin' we go to a store or something. I'm thinkin' maybe we explore the mom market.” As he said this, I just sat there, watching him eat. I was getting hungry. “You know what I'm sayin'?” He looked up at me from his double cheeseburger.

“I know what you're sayin'.” Out of the corner of my eye I watched her handing out bags and trays, talking to a tall man who looked like a manager. Fucking jawline, I thought. He must be a manager.

“So what do you think?”he asked, his eyes wide and bloodshot.

“I think you need to work on getting' girls, you know, your own age.”

“I dunno, maybe a change of pace or somethin'. Maybe this is good training,” he said as he looked around, as if to suggest I do the same.

“This is not good training. This is out of our league. This is advanced-level stuff that neither of us is ready for. I mean, I don't know the first thing about what moms want,” I said. Now I saw her filling a white paper cup with a milkshake.

“Well, they probably wanna be fucked by a young guy, really hard and for a really long time,” he reasoned, looking like he was really thinking this through.

“But there are a lot of young guys,” I interrupted. “How are we gonna distinguish ourselves from some other random guy?”He was starting to annoy me now.

“I dunno, I think they just want really good-looking, really exotic and taboo guys from what I've heard.” He sounded it out in his same, slow, reasonable voice. It almost made him sound like he knew what he was talking about.

“Heard where?” He crumpled up the double cheeseburger's wrapper.

“I dunno, like...Desperate Housewives,” he mumbled, unfolding a chicken sandwich.

“C'mon man, you can't just assume that shit's all true.” I didn't know what to say. Sometimes ideas are so simple and obvious that they cannot be explained or rationalized. “Besides, we're not really good-looking or exotic, or taboo.'' By that I meant that he wasn't.

“Maybe we should just forget this whole idea.” Now he was playing the guilt card. Great.

“What else are you gonna do with your Saturday?” My voice asked if he was serious.

“I dunno. Play Call of Duty 4. Jerk off,” he proudly and confidently retorted.

“You can do that afterward,” I scoffed, annoyed.

“Since when are you so motivated? I've never seen this side of you.”

“What can I say, this is my passion,” I said.


“Getting laid,” I corrected him. “Moms...that's your passion. I prefer girls my own age thank you very much.”

“Oh c'mon. Like you've never liked an older lady. Stiffler's mom?” he asked, clearly upset.

“All right fine. I'm sick of arguing about this. We'll go somewhere moms go,” I ordered.

“Where do they go?” he asked, taking another bite.

“Stores. Shops. The Hallmark store,” I said.

“Bed Bath and Beyond?” he asked, looking up.

“That's a good idea,” I agreed. When we got there, the smell hit us first. Again our eyes struggled explore the landscape under the dizzying fake light, with the air like thick like in the tropics. “OK, we have a number of options here. Let's see...trophy wife, trophy wife...or trophy wife,” he said,

“Stop pointing,” I whispered. “Look natural. Act casual, like you're buying a gift for your girlfriend.”

“OK let's just walk around like we're looking for something,” he said. We snooped through the aisles of soaps and perfumes surreptitiously. Looking around at all this clean stuff, I realized that my shirt was still dirty. It even made me start feeling dirty. “Lavender,” I murmured in disbelief. “Do you think maybe some people can bathe too much?”

“I dunno man. I guess this stuff smells good, just not in the store where the smells all blend together. It's weird. I don't like this place,” he said with his nose turned up.

“We'll just get in and get out.” Suddenly, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Eric, what are you doing here?” a voice chirped.

“Hi mom,” I replied.

“Hi,” Mark shyly squeaked.

“We're just looking at some gifts,” I said.

“Oh really? For whom?” she asked.

“For you, of course. Great, now I just ruined the surprise.” I was stalling for time with the jokes so I could think of a real excuse.

“My birthday isn't for another two months.”

“Gotta plan ahead,” I joked.

“I'm sure, I'm sure.” We three stood there in dumb silence, Mark and I unsure of how to get rid of her, she unsure how to get us to be honest for once. Finally, she said, “Well I guess I'm gonna let you guys get back to hunting for my birthday presents.”

“Bye,” Mark and I said in unison, relieved. "I dunno man," I breathed to him. "This is too much. I can't work under these conditions."

"I can," he said. "Look," he gestured with his head in the direction of some blonde bending over to tie her shoes.

"Then you go right ahead, leave me out of this," I said.

"You're coming with me, though, right? You don't even have to talk, just stand there," he said.

"You're a big boy, you don't need me for this," I moaned.

"Yeah I do. I can't just go over there by myself. They'll think I'm some kind of freak, some kind of loner. It looks way better to be with somebody." I shrugged. I couldn't argue with that. After all, I remembered making the exact argument to him a few times. I had to give in to protect myself for any future adventures I might want to have.

"Now you're gonna behave yourself this time, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, no comments about the breasts," he repeated like a mantra to himself.

"At least not at first anyway." He walked up fearfully as I remained a step behind him.

"Hi, how are you?" he began. Maybe he's overcompensating, I thought. Maybe he needs to be more aggressive.

"Good...Do you work here?" she asked, assuming that's why we would approach her.

"No." I couldn't help but laugh. I tried holding it in, but it slipped out. "I was just bein' friendly is all," Mark said.

"Oh. Well, hi. And if you see anyone who does work here, I'd like some help finding something," she said, thinking that we would leave her alone.

"I can help you with that. What do you need help finding?" Mark tried.

"I'd just like to look at some more shams," she said.

"Shams?" Mark asked.

"You know, like pillow covers," she replied.

"Oh, yeah, yeah. Shams." Mark clearly still didn't understand.

"I pretty much need someone who works here. Thanks anyway though."

"Wow you're in really good shape," Mark's mouth shot out. I shuddered. She looked surprised.

"Well...thank you." I sensed fear in her voice.

"I mean, like really good shape. Do you work out?" Mark asked.

"Good guess," she said, looking a little afraid.

"It really'am,” he declared.

"Thank you very much," she said, turning away from us to tell us to leave.

"Like...REALLY shows." I still stood behind him. I wondered if she had noticed me at all.

"Okay. I get it. Thank you," she said, not looking at us.

"So shams huh? What are you looking at shams for?" He asked. I looked in her cart and saw she had all sorts of bedding stuff. "For your bed, huh. Your bed."

"Yes, for my bed," she said.

"I'd be very interested to see your bed." I knew he was going to say that.

"Please just leave me alone," she uttered. I detected a small amount of absolute terror. That phrase hit me hard; I felt bad for this poor woman. She didn't deserve this.

"Hey Mark, let's get goin' OK?" I suggested nervously. Mark turned to face me and she started to walk away in a hurry, leaving her cart behind. I sensed doom.

"Just one sec, just one sec," he said, his confidence clearly shaken; he was trying to repair it.

"No, Mark, right now. We gotta go." I wasn't getting any less afraid.

"Right there," she said somewhere. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I wondered if it was my mom again. Even more dread hit me now. I turned just in time to feel the fist hit my cheek. All of my weight went back and I hit my head on the tile. "No, not him, the other one," I heard her say too. Soon I heard Mark's skin slap against the dirty white floor. I looked up and saw a tall blurry balding man standing over me with black pants on. "Let's just leave. Let's just leave," she pleaded. The room spun just enough for me to notice it moving, but not so much that I couldn't get up. "Call security," she added. "Arrest these men."

"Are you OK? Are you OK?" People ran up to us and watched us bleed. "They're bleeding!" one said. "Get some gloves on!" Another said. I even heard a scream.

"Mark, are you OK?" I asked.


"Are you OK enough to get out of here?"

"Yeah." Slowly we got to our feet. More screaming, more running. I could see now, but the light seemed even brighter than usual. We walked toward the exit in fear, not knowing if the tall, musclebound husband would come after us again. "Just go, just go," he said. "Run!" We gradually walked faster and faster until we started running, clutching our faces. At the door, we ran into some mall cops.

"Excuse me," one said. "Excuse me. No running."

"Arrest me, asshole," Mark said. We burst into the chilly evening. People stood by the door smoking cheap cigarettes and looking at us funny, like we were making a scene. "Woo," Mark breathed. "We made it."

"Technically we're still at the mall," I said. We started running again toward the street and our inconvenient parking spot. "Dude, you know what I realized? That guy was old. The guy who hit us. He had like gray hair and shit."

"Whatever. He's a pussy. He suckerpunched us." My cellphone rang. MOM, it said.

"Shit," I groaned.

"That's your mom isn't it," he said. I answered the phone.

"Hello," I intoned.

"What the fuck just happened?" she asked in a shrill voice.

"I'll explain later," I sighed.

"Where are you guys?” she asked, obviously concerned.

"We're leaving.”

"Well, some people here are looking for you."

"That's exactly why we're leavin'. Look mom, we gotta go, bye." I hung up. I sat down in the car, which still smelled a little bit. The car turned on, and so did the stereo system.

"I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T do you know what that means?" blared at us. I turned it down and Mark looked at me like I had betrayed him.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said.

"Do you know of anything to do?" I asked.

"I don't know. Do you wanna just go home?"

"I don't know. What else is there to do?"

"I don't know, dude," he said impatiently, putting it back in Park.

"I don't care where we go. Let's just go somewhere."

"This was supposed to be awesome. I got the new speakers, we were gonna show em off and that went worse than ever. Nobody even got to hear 'em."

"Somedays you just have bad luck."

"You know what I mean, though, right?"

"Hey at least you have a car. I don't. I need a car to get a job, and I need a job to get a car, and I need money to get a girl, but I once I pay for a car I'm gonna be broke." I sighed.

"Do you wanna go back in there? We could sneak past the mall cops," he suggested.

"How's my face look?" I asked.

"Well...ehh." I opened the mirror.

"Fuck it. Let's call it a day. Sometimes you just gotta take an L." Mark put it in Reverse and backed us out. In a few moments we rode on the highway past the strip malls, the fake lighting of the city. I rolled down my window and a breeze flew in.

© Copyright 2018 SJJ Stafford. All rights reserved.

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