by Shannon Morrissey
When he put the music on, showing the black surface of the record to me before setting it up, I was forced to hide my displeasure. David settled down and closed his eyes, listening with a peaceful expression and a rise in the corner of his lip. He did this and still I did my best to hate him.
“This isn’t exactly what I would call smooth jazz,” I commented, keeping my eyes locked on his glass of red wine as I did my best to maintain conversation.
It appeared that even the laziest of Sundays had the ability to put me back into David Munro’s living room. I had hoped that this wouldn’t be the case anymore; this day didn’t start the way they usually did when that happened. After years of being away from someone the chances of meeting them in the sleep-aid section of the drug store just around the corner from your apartment stops becoming a major worry for you. And yet, low and behold.
The woman who stood between David and me in line held a get-well-soon card loosely in her hand. I had turned my head to read the friendly and delicate lettering on the cover–some sappy poem to be given to some older relative in all likeliness–when I looked up and saw David, busy checking out the shopping list on his phone, and I quickly turned away. The sight of his familiar rose colored jacket and burgundy scarf. His dark skin–always soft, even in the coldest of months. That gentle crease in his eyebrows as he moved to read the label on a bottle. He had a resting face that was admiringly approachable and any stranger would have been lucky to stop and chat with him.
I looked at him for a bit longer than the standard glance. Is that David? I couldn’t believe it. But, my God, it did look like him. And finally–oh no–it was him. I turned and left the aisle as quickly as I could in wet boots. The squeaking must have caught his attention.
“Billy!” He called after me, and my finalizing thought, that it was indeed him, sounded like a church bell in my head. Ignoring the tightening of my stomach, I turned to face him with feigned curiosity. We hadn’t exactly left off on the best of terms and this was too much of an undesired surprise for me to fake happiness.
“My God,” I said. It was all I could think to say.
We talked for a couple long minutes about mindless things that acquaintances who knew each other in high school or past co-workers talk about. How have you been? Where are you working? You’re really still in this city? After all these years? The shameful social norms that all of us must submit to or be shunned.
And then we came here, to the same cozy flat he rented when I knew him. It really was as simple as that. He said we could have a drink, and I said yes. I know, it’s all quite foolish of me, but he insisted, and it was a lazy Sunday after all.
“Cosmo’s Factory,” David said, opening his eyes and sipping at his wine, which I was finding too sour to truly admire. “It’s your record. You never took it with you.”
Of course it was. I looked to the carpet. Never in all the time I had known him had David listened to the same bands as I did. Now he was doing it to make me happy. It was cruel.
I readjusted myself on the couch, trying to appear as comfortable, curling to the side and laying my legs over the armrest, daring him to say something about it. “How has the band been doing, by the way?”
“Oh, Bill, the craziest thing happened on the last tour, actually,” David uncrossed his legs and tucked them onto his chair, following my lead and sitting in a more relaxed position. It’s not as if we weren’t friends. He licked his lips as if the wine didn’t satisfy. I made as if I was eagerly awaiting the continuation of what I knew to be a thrilling tale.
He asked me if I remembered Joel. With a sigh I said yes, I remembered Joel.
“Now that Self Titled is becoming a big name in punk,” David began, and I had to fight myself from rolling my eyes and instead raised my eyebrows in delight. “They’re playing at bigger venues and performing for larger crowds. This one show in Raleigh, where this story takes place, had over two hundred people in the audience. And they were all going nuts!” David never took his eyes off of me. “Absolutely bonkers.”
They loved Self Titled, but more importantly they loved Joel Stiles, the frontman, who despite his best efforts had a singing voice of a broken violin. It was the way he emulated Mick Jagger while looking like Tim Curry that made the crowd fall in love with his originality.
“So they did their set, and then an encore, then another encore,” David’s enthusiasm was almost enough to make me feel guilty for currently despising him, “and I told the band that was enough, but the crowd wouldn’t stop. We were about to have a full blown riot on our hands if they didn’t keep playing.”
“No, sir,” David took another unhealthy swig of his wine and refilled his glass, not bothering to steady his hand to protect the white velour seat he was planted on. By then I was sitting up again to see if this would become some sort of trainwreck. “You’ll never guess what happened next.”
“Did a riot start and cause thousands of dollars in damages to the amphitheatre before Blink-182 came on?”
“Stop it,” he said with a chuckle.
What I gathered between David’s mild drunken babble was that Joel had spoken into the microphone to the crowd of his adoring fans. The moment he did, a cadence similar to the moment of Christ’s birth came over the air. He asked them to stop and calm down and they submitted to his every word. Never in David’s life had he seen a Wall of Death cease before the death had begun. The way he bounced in his seat as he told the story, swinging his arms around in dramatic gestures for emphasis and finally spilling the wine down his arm, I knew he believed that this story was on par with Homer’s in the ranks of epic tales. Or maybe that was the alcohol talking.
“So, how’s Callum?” I changed the subject.
And just like that, it was as if I had told a group of cardinals that I worshipped Satan. His enthusiasm all but withered away from his face. He looked to his left and saw the framed photographs, the ones happy white families do, from what seemed to be a lovely day at the beach for the two of them. Flying a kite together. It looked professionally done, too, all nicely lit and perfectly timed for an action shot. I could see why they got it framed. He put his glass down and looked at his hands. “He’s doing well. Just got a promotion, actually, at the firm. He’s no longer just an intern. That’s where he is now, if you’re wondering.”
“Good for him.”
“And you, Billy, how are you, really?”
What was there to say? Nothing had changed. Everyday I went to the studio and worked from ten a.m. to ten p.m. and everyday I went home to my apartment alone. Sometimes, if I was lucky, there would be a bag of McDonalds with me. Maybe The Green Mile would be playing on some channel and I could fall asleep slowly, reciting the film’s script in my head until I woke up in the morning to begin a new and similar day.
“You know me. I’m great,” I said with a smile, taking another sip of the unappealing wine and putting it down, looking over to his kitchen, which had a counter full of plates and mugs and a toaster that looked as if it had seen better days. A fly attempted a landing on the discount chandelier. The difference between the kitchen and this beautifully decorated and evidently expensive living room was disconcerting enough for me to never look in that direction again.
He responded in silence, nodding his head and leaning back in his chair. After a few dull moments, he changed the subject with a laugh.
“You know, I never did understand why you like this music.”
He had the ability to insult my music taste, but do so kindly, and I hated him for it.
“You know this song is about one big acid trip,” I said, pointing at the record player as Track 5 came on.
“No,” He said it oddly, and I wasn’t sure if it was sarcasm and that he knew this all along or if he was faking interest in what I was telling him the way I did with his story. I told him to listen to it, and he did, from what I could tell. He had this way of listening to music where he squinted his eyes and focused really hard. His tongue would dart out every once in a while. He was easy to stare at.
“How could someone possibly write an entire song about drugs?” Again, I couldn’t tell if he was seriously asking me that, and if he was, how naive he was.
“The same way people write whole songs about love,” I swirled the remaining liquid around in my glass. “When you’re passionate about something the words never stop flowing. Wouldn’t you agree?”
He put his empty glass down and looked at me. I turned my head away and pretended to take in his living room, even though nothing had changed. When I looked back at him to see if he was still watching, he was. He was using my own methods against me and he knew how that made me feel.
David stood up and moved to the record player gracefully, almost as if he wasn’t drunk at all. With the swish of a finger he turned the volume dial. I quickly glanced at the ceiling, where his elderly neighbours resided and hoped that we were still at a volume that they could tolerate. When I looked back he was in front of me, holding out his hand.
Back in the day, this never happened. David understood boundaries and knew when he crossed them. It must have been the alcohol. It was the only explanation. There was no explanation, though, for why I took his hand and allowed myself to be pulled up, or why as soon as we were standing close together I forgot that we had already been apart for three years.
“This isn’t exactly dancing music,” I said but he ignored me, and before I knew it our hands were locked and we were swaying out of time to the fast pace of the song. I stared at him, not smiling, and for some reason that made him laugh. He laughed all the time and I hated him for it.
As the music played and we danced, from some section deep inside my brain or my chest, a gap that time had caused filled up. As we swayed and my mouth pressed against his shoulder, I looked at the pictures from the beach again. I smelled a familiar shampoo in his hair.
Things could never be the same.
Shannon Morrissey is from Toronto, Canada. A fan of literature from a young age, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Ryerson University. While completing this degree she had the opportunity to indulge in classic works of literature, many of which influenced her own style of writing.
Shannon is a fiction writer who is still finding her path in the literary world. Her short story work has seen previous publications and her goal is to expand into novels in the future. Her work has often been described as natural, dealing with the everyday lives of people, but intelligent and emotional in their subtly. Currently she is furthering her education through Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario, where she studies Protection, Security, and Investigations. She gains further writing inspiration from the knowledge and experience she seeks out everyday.