“What do you want me to tell you? You want me to say yes? Alright, if you like to hear words I can go on and on and…”
“Not all words.”
“They’re all the same when none of them are real.”
“I hate it when you talk about things.”
“That’s fair. I tend to…”
“Nothing makes sense. You just talk.”
“I just talk.”
“Don’t get mad Charlie, it’s what you do.”
“I’m not mad, it’s what I do. Excuse me sir, I tend to talk. I’m a talker. She hates what I do.”
“Charlie, stop,” she whispered with a smile.
“What’s your occupation sir?”
“What’s it to you kid?”
“Well, this girl and I were just talking. You see I’m a talker. It’s what I do. What do you do?”
“Curious kid eh?” said the man. “What I do for a living. Well, I’m married to a witch!”
“Really?” said Charlie.
“How do you think I lost all my hair?”
“Genetics maybe?” said Charlie.
The man ran his fingers across his mustache to the corners of his lips and reached for his drink. “No way, my father and his father had lots of hair. They had lots of hair.”
“My sympathies,” said Charlie.
“Charlie, don’t,” she whispered.
“It’s okay little lady. I like your friend. Say, what’s your name kid?”
“I’m Charlie. This is Alice. You come here often?”
“As often as I can get away.”
“I’m sorry sir, what was your name?”
“Just call me Buddy. Everybody calls me Buddy. Charlie…Curious Charlie; CC, Canadian Club…”
“That’s a good drink,” said Charlie.
“You’re a drinker too huh?”
“An occasional one,” he said.
“Everyday’s an occasion kid.”
“Well, in that case we should have one right now.”
“Hell, it suits me. How old are you kid? Ah forget it, it don’t matter.”
“I’m twenty two. She’s eighteen.”
“You’re eighteen? Damn!”
“That’s right, I’m eighteen.”
“I’m fifty two, and I’ve been with a witch for thirty years.”
“You were my age when you got married.”
“I was twenty when it happened.”
“So, you’ve been married for thirty two…”
“Well yeah, but I was in jail for a couple of years. What a witch!”
“Why do you call her that? You shouldn’t call her that,” said Alice.
“I’m just saying. Just saying some words,” he said.
“These aren’t nice words,” said Alice.
“Yeah, but they’re only words.”
“Don’t you love your wife?”
“Hell! Now I know for sure that you’re only eighteen! Do I love my wife? My wife…do I love…love….”
“You shouldn’t have to think that long,” said Alice.
“Love doesn’t make you stick to someone for thirty years. It’s fear, it isn’t love.”
They fell silent, all three of them. I was standing behind the bar with my arms crossed. The little TV was on in the corner and the place was empty. I was staring at the three of them and I could almost feel the silence between them. Buddy gulped down the rest of his drink and Charlie caught me staring. “Hey Frank, can you come here for a second?”
“What can I get you Charlie?”
“My friend, Buddy here will have a refill and I’ll have a shot of what he’s having and Alice here will…well, what would you like?”
“I’ll have a diet coke. Thank you.”
“Is that all?”
“That’s all Frank. Thanks a lot man. By the way, how’s your pops doing? Is he still in the hospital?”
“He’s getting out tomorrow.”
“That’s great Frank. Tell him I said hello.”
“I’ll go get you your drinks.”
“Plenty of ice,” said Buddy.
“Sure thing Buddy,” I replied and walked away.
I closed up at midnight. There were groups of people out in the parking lot; scattered glowing flames traveling in disoriented circles amongst them. There are people here always. It is at its emptiest early in the morning, and even then one can witness a few homeless men and a couple of cabbies sitting idle.
“Hey Frank!” A car pulled up beside me and Charlie’s voice took a hold of my collar. There was a girl sitting beside him who seemed to have bathed in perfume. I could smell it even before the car came to a stop next to me.
“Hey Charlie,” I said.
“How’s it going Frank?”
“I’m alright. You okay?”
“How was work?”
“Same as always,” I said.
“Frank, this is Jane. Jane, say hello to Frank.”
“Hello,” she said with a smile that resembled that of a bitter sixty year old.
“Get in Frank. We’ll drop you.”
“That’s alright. I’m going to walk it.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll give you a ride.”
“I’m serious. It’s alright Charlie.”
“Don’t worry about it Frank.”
I got inside the car and Charlie took off and swerved through the parking lot and out onto the street. The smell of perfume was slowly getting to me. “Do you guys hang out here often?”
“I know the scene but I’d rather be indoors. I came to pick up Jane. She likes to hang out with her psycho friends.”
“At least I got some friends,” said Jane.
“I have friends too. Hell, Frank’s my friend. Right Frank?” he said looking back at me and smiling.
“Yeah, we’re friends.”
“That’s right. I got plenty of friends.”
“Are you gonna come over tomorrow?”
“Only if your mom’s home,” said Charlie with a smirk.
“Yeah right,” she said. “They’re gone out of town. I invited some people. You can bring your friend Frank.”
“I don’t know about Frank,” he said, smiling and throwing me a glance in the rear view mirror. “I’ve got some things to do.”
“Whatever,” she said. “You never come.”
“I came tonight, didn’t I? I’ve got some things to do tomorrow. What about you Frank?”
“I’ve got work.”
“There you have it. He has to work. It’s what people do.”
“Whatever,” she said. Charlie smiled at me again in the rear view mirror and I shrugged my shoulders. It was silent in the car until we reached my apartment.
“Hey, thanks a lot Charlie.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“It was nice meeting you,” I said to Jane as I got out of the car. “Hey, do you guys want to come up for a bit? I mean if you don’t have to be somewhere.” Charlie gave me the same smile that I knew him by and threw Jane the slightest look from the corner of his eye. There came over us a swift and thin layer of silence.
“I don’t know Frank,” he said looking at Jane and continuing, “Do you want to go up?”
“I guess,” she said, taking me by surprise.
“Why the hell not!” said Charlie all of a sudden. “Do you have any whiskey Frank?”
“I’ve got some Canadian Club.”
“Canadian Club!” he exclaimed. “Good man! I’m gonna park the car.”
It was one of those things; one of those things that you do and turn away instantly. It was like throwing a rock in the air without wanting to see where it lands. It was like being someone else. Charlie knew it as well as I did, and so he played along.
Two hours later, they were gone. I remained awake for a while, reminiscing on high school. Drunkenly, I staggered down a narrow corridor of memory, to one night, one unexpected party, where Charlie and I had become friends.
Come to think of it, I never did learn a lot of what they tried to give me, but I managed to get my diploma. My mother was smiling again and my father eased into himself. That was right around the time that my sister had found a boyfriend. Everyone almost was filled with air and no more wanting.
“Frank? Can I come in?”
“The door is open,”
“I thought you were still asleep.”
“I’ve been up for a while.”
“How’re you feeling?”
“You went to sleep late again.”
“I was finishing a book.”
“A book about books,” I replied.
“That sounds interesting.”
“Oh, it was.”
“You really should get a new mattress or something.”
“This thing’s all lumpy and hard.”
“What is it Janice?”
“Paul’s birthday is tomorrow.”
“How is Paul?”
“He’s okay. Been pretty busy lately, applying to different colleges.”
“What does he want to go into?”
“Civil engineering,” she said. “He’s throwing a party tomorrow. He asked me to invite you and said that he’ll love it if you came. You haven’t made any plans, have you?”
“No,” I said and continued, “I don’t think I can make it though.”
“Why?” she said.
“I’m not a big fan of these things.”
“You have to come. Dad says I can go only if you come along.”
“Dad said that?”
“Yeah, you know how he feels about Paul.”
“What, he doesn’t like Paul?”
“Frank, don’t act like you don’t know. Dad hates all the guys from school.”
“I think you’re exaggerating Janice.”
“Whatever. All I know is that he hates Paul.”
“Why don’t you talk to mom? She’ll let you go.”
“Why can’t you just come? Why doesn’t anyone understand that I actually like this guy? Why can’t anybody see that he’s a nice guy?”
“I understand. Take it easy Janice. When is the party?”
“Who’s going to be there?”
“A whole bunch of people,” she said, “people from school, his friends and mine, his cousins; a whole bunch of people.”
“I’m sure if you talk to mom she’ll…”
“No Frank, I’ve talked to her already. You have to come.”
“I guess I’m coming then.”
There I was, drowned in the sound of music, watching everyone else jumping up and down and dancing. I had no idea that Paul had invited the entire school. Everyone was different though. Maybe it was just the fact that nobody had any books and a bell wasn’t about to ring.
“Hey Frank, why don’t you get up and dance with us?”
“Oh, I’m alright.”
“Come on Frank! Don’t be such a little girl! Come dance with us.”
“I’m really alright.”
“There’s booze in the kitchen. Feel free to help yourself,” said Paul as he winked at me and danced my sister away.
I nodded and that was it. They turned and moved amongst a crowd that swayed from side to side in the roar of music. I’m not a big fan of music that yells at you. I’ve got to hand it to them though, they really knew how to dance to it. It is fairly normal for a girl to be dancing by herself in a crowd, but not a guy. For the girl it echoes like a roar of confidence and strength; like a predator appearing to be vulnerable and desirable. For a guy it is merely weakness and desperation. He doesn’t show himself to be vulnerable. He truly is. But what do I know? I don’t even dance.
The kitchen was fairly small. Most of the space was taken up by a rectangular wooden table. There was a guy sitting there with a cigarette in between his fingers. He smiled at me but said nothing as I came in; something about his smile. There were a few bottles of liquor scattered on the counter and one in front of the guy behind the table. There was also a keg of beer in the corner of the kitchen.
“You’re Janice’s brother, right? You’re Fred, right?”
“Frank,” I said. “My name’s Frank.”
“My bad Frank, you know I’ve seen you around in school.”
“I don’t know. I don’t quite remember you.”
“Either way, my name’s Charlie,” he said, stretching out his arm and smiling.
Something about his smile told me that he was drinking but wasn’t drunk at all. It was in his eyes as well.
“What are you drinking?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“Care to join me?”
“Sure,” I said.
“There are glasses in the cupboard over there and ice in the freezer.”
“I don’t usually drink liquor.”
“There’s beer too if you like.”
“I was hoping I’d find some instant coffee.”
“Coffee?” he exclaimed with a laugh. “Why don’t you drink liquor?”
“It puts me to sleep.”
“You can make an exception, can’t you? Don’t worry, I’ll keep you awake. Here, sit down,” he said as he got up and pulled a chair out for me. I sat down and watched as he went over to the cupboard, grabbed a glass, filled it with plenty of ice and sat down again. He poured me a decent drink and placed the glass in front of me. “I’m not gonna offer you any cigarettes, ‘cause I know you don’t smoke.”
“How do you know that?”
“Smokers can always tell.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, it’s nothing to be proud of. Smokers give off a vibe,” he said as he put out his cigarette in a crystal ashtray. “How do you like the party?”
“It’s alright, I guess.”
“Your sister is a hell of a dancer.”
“Yeah, she’s alright.”
“Girls nowadays,” he said with a sigh.
“What about girls nowadays?”
“I don’t know man. Everybody’s growing up faster.”
“How do you mean?”
“Ah forget it. It’s all the same. Tell me Frank, do you have a girl?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Lucky you,” he said.
“I used to go out with Kate. I don’t know if you know her.”
“Kate the blond?” he said, his eyes opening up a bit and his smile getting ready to burst.
“Yeah, you know her?”
“Crazy Katie,” he said and I began to laugh and so did he. “Why’d you go out with her?”
“I don’t know,” I said and shook my head several times as I took a small sip from my drink.
“You were bored, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“How long did that last?”
“A couple of weeks” I said.
“The shorter the better,” he replied quickly.
“It wasn’t anything serious.”
“It never should be. Girls are good,” he said, “but girlfriends, not so much.”
“That’s an interesting thought.”
“What do you say we go check out some girls?”
There were more people dancing now as we made our way through the living room, towards a set of couches that seemed to be calling me. Charlie sat down; actually he dropped himself and stretched out his feet before putting one up on the coffee table. Too many smiles and too many eyes hovered back and forth and around us. The kitchen had seemed just fine to me, even though I was there to keep an eye on Janice. “Get up Charlie! Dance with me Charlie!” said some girl as she approached us. She grabbed Charlie’s hand and on it went. “Please Charlie, I love this song!”
“Yeah, it’s a good song,” he said.
“Oh, come on then. Dance with me.”
“I would, but I don’t want to make anyone look bad.”
“I swear you’re such a punk Charlie!”
“Watching you dance is all I need sweetheart. I want to watch you. You really know how to do your thing, and I love to watch you do it.” I smiled instantly and noticed that he was looking at me from the corner of his eye. “Would you look at that!” he said, letting out a cough and clearing his throat excitedly. We both stared at her like some sort of live show. I wondered what her name was. “Nobody hates to smile,” he said.
“Sometimes there isn’t a choice.”
“There is always a choice Frank. All feelings aside; within all reality, reason tends to branch out.”
“I think I read that quote somewhere.”
“No, you just heard it, because I just said it.”
“Something very similar maybe,” I said as I ran my finger around the rectangular frame of my wrist watch, and for a moment I counted the seconds before he looked away. It was exactly six. I started to gaze again at the girl, struggling to stumble upon a name in those murky waters. The drink had begun to sink in. She was in a whole different world; gliding through clouds of paleness. She was probably numb to all the motion and the occasional bump-ins, let alone the drops of sweat sitting on her skin from the humid heat all around. She had skin of leather. Suddenly I was forced to blink. “It’s unbelievable how tremendously powerful we are. Everyone has the power to make people smile, no matter who they are. We’re all condemned to this power, and attached to this link.”
“What do you do Charlie? I mean, what is it that you’re into?”
“Is this an interview? Can I pour another drink?”
“I’m not stopping you,” I said.
“Look at you! All serious now,” he exclaimed. “You’re not gonna film this are you?”
“I don’t think anybody would want to see it.”
“Damn straight!” He burst with a laugh and continued, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He got up swiftly, still looking at me and said, “Alright, hand me your glass partner!”
“Oh I’m alright. I still got some.”
“I’ll fill it up for you.” He walked away with the two glasses, making way causally through the people in the living room. “Partner…” I’ve always liked the word comrade better. There is more love in comrade. I leaned back and my eyes landed on Paul and Janice. He was sitting down on a chair and she was sitting on his lap. There were a few of their friends in front of them. Janice was laughing. It was nice seeing it. I feared Paul’s hands for a quick moment. It came as a surprise and I realized that I really shouldn’t care. It came and went, smearing a thick residue of stinking thoughts across my perfectly drunk state of mind. My drink was on its way. I even thought why it was taking so long.
There she was again, that same girl. She sat down next to me and said, “Are these your cigarettes?”
“No, they’re not mine. Charlie left them there,” I whispered for some reason. I don’t even think she heard me. But either way, she was going to have a smoke.
“Where is Charlie?”
“In the kitchen I think.” I stared at her skin closely while she was busy lighting a cigarette. Her eyes moved quickly across the room and she’d laugh at certain people and every now and then she’d sing along a line or two. I was still leaning back, watching her while playing with my watch.
“I love it!” Charlie yelled as he approached the couch. “Frankie, I see you’ve met the dancing angel!”
“You weren’t even watching me Charlie.”
“How do you know that? Your eyes were closed half the time,” he said as he handed me my drink and made me move a little so he could seat himself in between us. He put his arm around her and padded me a couple of times on my back as I was now leaning forward again. The iciness of the glass in my hand felt nice. “What are you doing, smoking?” he said to her. She only smiled and exhaled in slow motion a wave of smoke that traveled upwards in a ghostly fashion. “How many drinks have you had?”
“Take it easy Charlie.”
“How many drinks have you had?” he grabbed her arm and placed his drink down on the coffee table, and in one smooth motion, which I didn’t completely catch, he snatched the cigarette from in between her fingers.
“What’s wrong?” she said in a snappy voice.
“What did you do?” he moved closer and closer to her and it seemed as if he was tightening his grip, staring into her eyes and her face. “You’re all messed up! Look at you! I told you not to go near that crap!”
“It’s only one night Charlie.”
“Yeah, it’s always one night. Come on,” he shouted softly as he got up and pulled her by the arm.
“What are you doing?” she cried violently and tired to pull away.
“I just wanna talk to you,” said Charlie, and I’m sure he looked at everyone, who was staring at them, straight in the eye as he pulled her away out of the living room and into the kitchen. I took a long and comforting sip of my drink and it helped me to finally see what had happened. Some of the people dancing and standing around were talking now. The music was still yelling. Janice suddenly appeared to my right as she stumbled passed and laughed at her own dizziness. Paul grabbed her hands and they started to dance. I returned to the cold sweat on the glass in my hand. The ice had practically all melted. For some reason, the ice in my glass always melts faster than others. The couch had cloaked me within itself. Frozen still, my mouth partially open and gazing hypnotically at the glass, I barely even noticed when Charlie came back and sat down with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. He downed his drink in a single gulp. “So, how’re you doing Frank? Not falling asleep on me now, are you?” he wasn’t even looking at me. He was scanning the room like a robot. His left leg was shaking gently and he was biting on the corner of his bottom lip.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“That’s good to hear,” he replied almost instantly. “Half the people here don’t know left form right. Most of the girls are…”
“What?” I interrupted.
“I don’t mean your sister!” he said just as quick as before.
“Probably my sister too,” I said, smiling and my teeth revealing the bitter stains of a sense of humor not so often seen. He was silent and he shook his head from side to side as he let out a sigh and reached for his cigarettes.
“Keep surprising me Frank. I wasn’t even going to come. You wanna know why I’m here?”
“Why is that?”
“Because I’m addicted to anger!” he said out loud. I mean really loud. “You know what I’m talking about; the adrenaline, the rush I get from the moment. Let me tell you something. Almost everybody here is addicted, but not to anything like this.” He was whispering now, going on and on with words that possessed open arms, which grabbed you and provoked a deep silent thought. “I know everyone here better than they know themselves. It isn’t that hard, is it Frank? It aint just me is it? I mean, if you look at these people, really closely, what do you see? Oblivious characters, bent up and twisted, inside some story, which is extremely simple altogether, am I right? You know what I hate? People that spend every miserable second of their natural lives pretending to listen, when in reality they’re all caught up with the thought of what to say next. So many shifty eyes around here; you start to notice them after awhile. They’re all after the same things. Around here, after awhile, people start sounding like a one sided tape. It’s good that you don’t come to these parties that often.”
“I’m not a big fan of these things.”
“You probably get your fix somewhere else, by yourself. Am I right?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you do? What’s your choice of temptation?”
“Nothing,” I replied, clearing my throat and sipping on my drink.
“Everybody does something.”
He poured himself a drink and raised his glass towards me, filling my glass ever so smoothly as I lifted my arm. “Salute,” he said and continued, “to Shakespeare!”
“Cheers,” I replied.
“To anyone who can see all the people and feel all the things and squeeze every breast!” he shouted. I couldn’t help but laugh. He laughed too, if only temporarily. “Goddamn,” he said, “I wonder where the hell Christina went.”
‘Girl with leather skin; she’ll be alright,’ I thought to myself. Charlie managed to smile for a bit, and everything about his smile was still the same. The corners of his eyes and the movement of his head however, partially revealed his intoxication. He was no longer just drinking. At one point he said something that I didn’t quite hear that well. I think I heard him say, “It’s hard being double.” I’m not sure. Maybe he said something else.