It starts well for a Sunday. Like, it is not a Sunday at all. It’s nine-something AM and big grey clouds have invaded the sky, but they look friendly. The air is cool. Rain is coming. It smells spring and sun, bush fires and wet dirt. It is one of those cool days. I haven’t slept for the last two days. I did not shit either. Did not eat anything. I just drank, quietly intoxicated myself for the sake of it. I am truly and perfectly alone in my small apartment—no friend left and my wife had insisted to divorce me some time ago. She took the kids away from me. I am out of work—two days ago I lost my job in which I never had any interest. I am a failure, a good-for-nothing; but I feel great. I am drunk, but I feel really great. I am achieving something, and, although I don’t know if I am feeling great because I am a failure or the other way around, I don’t care—knowing does not mean a thing; it’s all about feeling, and feeling good makes the difference; it makes me feel alive.
I stand up. There is some wine left in the glass. I sip it. I try to get up, but my body weighs tons. My legs are weak; I never had strong limbs. My mother never had a strong body, nor my father, and my brother had a record of broken arms and legs. I fall down on the couch—old stuff. I try again and it works better; it is always better the second time. I stagger to the window. I open it. There is only one car in the parking lot. The homeless shits who frequent the place are quiet. They do not move—probably sleeping. I shout feebly, “I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD.” Nothing happens. I hate the bastards. All of them. I despise them, the worst failures in the world. Defeated losers. I go back to the couch, lay down, and say again, “I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD.” My world, a world in which no one has a right to come it. A world in which I am the only one alive. They are all dead. My kindgom is alive. It vibrates with life.
I switch the TV on and put a DVD in the DVD player. It is one of the movies I had picked up just before I was fired. The boss fired me because I am a chickenshit (his words) and said that he’d rather do the job himself than let me—he stopped. “PLEASE!” I had pleaded. I can be dumb sometimes. I wanted to express that I felt sorry. He raised his hands, “Don’t. No apologies. No reasons. You’re WRONG.” Exactly what my wife kept saying to our children. “HE is WRONG. Don’t trust him.” She did not like me either. I am as right as any one of the others and it makes a hell of a difference when people don’t like you. They don’t even know what they want you to do. They just complain and hate you. You can do your job, be a good husband, and they don’t care. They are prejudiced bastards. I think the same of people who do like you: bastards, too.
I press the power button on the remote and relax on the couch. Victoria Paris appears on the screen dressed like a Roman goddess. She is not my favorite porn actresses. I’d rather see Scarlett Johansson in a transparent toga. Now, Scarlett Johansson—she is a hot number. Classy. And those eyes? You really feel like she is looking at you, like she wants to fuck you. But Victoria Paris, she’s another story. Look at her, undulating like a snake and disguised as a goddess. Anyway, she has more life in her than most people I know. Vibrates. And it’s still a good Sunday.
Someone bangs on the door of my apartment. This is the type of things I truly hate, someone banging on the door or knocking or ringing the bell when no one is expected. The real surprise. Fuck, it upsets me. It makes me feel bad, like I have secrets and they want to find out who I really am. I am clean. I have nothing to hide. Not even that I am toying with my dick in front of a stolen and bad porn movie. I just want to be alone.
I reach the remote and kill Victoria Paris’ fake moans. The movie goes on in silence. Keep moving baby, I’ll be back very soon. I gather my bathrobe around my waist and walk to the door to quiet whoever is making all that fucking noise. “SHIT, AREN’T YOU GOING TO STOP?” I ask through the door, “I AIN’T BUYING NOTHING. LEAVE ME ALONE.” I hear a guy laugh and he rings the bell again and he bangs on the door again. I am in no mood to kick him back to hell. Standing up does not make me any good. I am drunk, almost sick. “Come on, open that door, Bobby, open that door.” Do I really hear that? Do I really hear someone using my name? Do I really recognize the voice? Shit. Yes. It cannot be who I think it is. I open the door because I need to check, but, yes, it is. Or maybe not. I could be dreaming or dead. I raise one hand. I double up with sickness and I think I am going to puke. Yes, it’s real. It is happening.
“Hey Bobby,” he says “What’s going on? You don’t feel good, do you?” Do I have to answer to this one?
“Yes,” I say.”I am fine. How are you, Dan?” It’s Dan. Big Dan. We haven’t seen each other for what, 15, 20 years? I know the exact figure but I don’t want to remember. He was my best university friend. We shared books, shared ideas, shared dreams, shared clothes, shared love, shared bottles of wine, pizzas and hamburgers, cigarettes and weed. We were together, always together, two sides of the same life. I trusted him. I loved him. At least, until he vanished. He disappeared and left me behind and alone. He did not only deny what I had done for him, but he denied me. I hated him. I was sure I had done something wrong. I felt sorry for myself beause of him and I hated him. It was a long time ago and there is no need to explain why seeing him in front of me could make me suddenly feel bad. Really bad. Dead. As bad and dead as I felt good and alive minutes before.
“Hey, Dan,” I say again. I am not sure what he expects me to say. My mouth tastes so bad. I can barely move my tongue. I think I should have slept more these past 48 hours. Drank less, or no, drank more. I could not have opened the door.
He steps back and looks me over.
He says, “You may want to tie your bathrobe.”
I lost the belt a long time ago. I can’t do that.
I say, “Yeah, sure,” and hold it against my waist.
I ask, “What’s the necktie for?” He doesn’t answer. He is that kind of guy, the kind who wears ties on Sundays. Ties and a $500 suit with a pink striped shirt and black, leather, perfectly shined shoes, and doesn’t understand when one asks why. I am the kind of guy with an old stained bathrobe.
He flashes a toothy, white smile, like this is one of those great moments we have to be happy about, even after all these years. Dear God.
He asks, “Ready for a coffee?” as if he were thinking should we not?
I say, “Why not? Just let me put something on.”
He says, “OK, I’ll be downstairs in my car, the black SUV.”
I close the door and walk back inside. Has Dan seen Victoria Paris being banged on the screen of my TV set? I turn the volume up. Victoria is crying out in pleasure. She has her way of doing it. It’s cool and she’s good. She likes it. The guys with her enjoy it too, in a peaceful and quiet way, but I’ve lost interest. I no longer enjoy it. I take a shower and leave the apartment. Victoria Paris is still moaning. Outside it’s wet. It’s raining. Dan is in a black SUV, waiting for me.
He asks, “Where are we going?”
I say, “We could go to Denny’s.” Denny’s is my favorite place miles around. It’s one of the rare places where I feel safe, at home, alive. They use powdered eggs for their omelets and a special artificial mix for the pancakes and the syrup is artificial, too, but it’s alright. I like that.
Dan says, “I’ll drive.” I usually walk because I no longer have a car, but Dan has a car and he wants to use it. It’s funny. The world looks different, like we are in a space shuttle and we are going to Pluto, except that we are just going two blocks away from my apartment, two crossings, two traffic lights.
“Hey Johnny, how’r you doing today?” she asks. She is Juliet. She is one of the regular waitresses—my preferred one. She is a nice girl: fat-assed, red-eyed, but kind inside. Soft and honest. Everything is simple with her.
“Hey Cassie, fine. What about you? And the kids, are they okay?” I ask.
It’s a joke between us. Juliet, bah. I don’t like that name, and she doesn’t like mine; it reminds her of her brother (he was a rapist). She suggested once that she could call me Johnny if I didn’t mind. I did not, and I decided that Cassie was cool, too. Cassie and Johnny. Dan looks puzzled. “Yeah,” I say, “I know.” There is not much I could say. It’s our joke.
We take seats in the back of Denny’s main room. From here I can see the traffic in the street. The rain falling. I can see whoever enters the place and whoever leaves. I can also see the other customers. It’s Sunday. The place is crowded, full of noise and color. It is quite something. Next to us, a couple is having breakfast. The guy is alright. He is nothing special—average. But the girl. I’ve always wondered how those girls could be interested in those men. She is greatly above the average American woman. Above the average American man, too. Maybe she is French, or British, or she comes from Mars. She is cute. Sexy. Has a perfect haircut, a beautiful nose—a bit too long but exciting. Her voice rings high and cool. She reminds me of Victoria Paris, of Scarlett Johansson, who wanted to marry my brother in my dreams, and I look at her and smile. She looks back and smiles too. I like that, but I wonder what she expects from me.
Dan orders coffee. I order a coffee, too, and a shot of whiskey. Of course, they don’t serve whiskey in diners. Cassie says, “You should drink less, Johnny.” She is right. But I drink. Whiskey or wine. Anything. Dans asks, “Do they serve whiskey? Good lord!”I know he is not the kind of guy who drinks alcohol on Sunday mornings. I felt it because of the tie and the suit and the shirt and the shoes. I say, “No, they don’t serve whiskey. She is my friend”.
Cassie’s gone. Dan asks, “Did you make her?”
I ask, “Make her?”
He says, “Yes, make her.”
I say, “You’re nuts. She is the mother of my children.”
He asks, “The mother of your children?”
I say, “No, she is not. I was just kidding.”
He says, “You are kidding. Yes. So you didn’t do anything?”
I say, “Of course, no. But I love her, really do.”
He says, “You never loved anybody. Remember?”
I say, “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But Cassie’s good vibrations. Huge vibes and I love her.”
He asks, “Good vibrations?”
I say, “Yeah. She is positive. She is 100% life. Pure life.”
He asks, “You have changed, no?”
I say, “I bet I have. I am a better man now.”
He asks, “You are a better man?”
I say, “I’ve improved myself.”
Cassie brings us what we have ordered: a decaf with a shot of whiskey in a second coffee cup for me, and a coffee for Dan.
“So,” he says.
So, I think. But I don’t say anything because I don’t feel like saying anything.
Dan starts a conversation, which is not an actual conversation. He does not feel like listening to me. He speaks about his life, but not all of his life. Just bits of it. How recent? I don’t know. He does not give dates. The marriage with Lise-Ann and the divorce with Lise-Ann. The marriage with Sandra and then the divorce with Sandra, and the marriage with Sylvia. No divorce yet. They are happy together, with him working hard, very hard, and making a lot of money, big money. They have three cars, a black Lexus SUV and a dark-blue Bentley that he almost never uses and remains parked, waxed and polished next to Sylvia’s own SUV. It is black, too. Shiny and classy. He does not say which brand it is and it is not a problem because I don’t give a shit which brand it is. I don’t know anything about cars. He does not say, either, what Sylvia does with her life. I might have asked but I don’t. It’s too late. I lose track. My concentration softens, weakens, and vanishes aways. I see Dan’s lips moving, but his words get lost. I am completely out of it. My mouth smiles against my will. My mind is away. I remember that last night I had a dream . A sad dream, one of those I never could mention to my psychologist. I was discussing a new version of Titanic with James Cameron and I was supposed to be the male lead role and I was telling him that Scarlett Johansson would be a rocket choice for the female lead but Cameron wanred me that she wanted to have a baby with my father. Technically, he would be my brother or she would be my sister. My mother was hysterical. My brother was jealous. The dream is sad because I never had a brother in real life.
I say, “Cassie, bring me another one.” I need another shot. The question now is: Did I really think once that I owed him an apology or something? Dear God. I wave the empty cup like a white flag. Please Cassie, don’t forget me. Please. And Dan resumes his lecture. He leans towards me—maybe he realizes that I am no longer following him—and he puts his hands on my shoulders and holds me tight. “I am doomed”, he says. “Women and cars and money. I am doomed.” He says that he has always missed me. All that we did together. The parties. The girls. The ideas. We were idealists, but that was good. That was life, and he has lost it. All that happened after me was nothing. Artificial. The death row. I was life. Now that he is back in town, back home… we were friends. Friendship never dies. He shouts, “FRIENDSHIP NEVER DIES!” like he is singing a Bon Jovi song. That’s ridiculous. I never had a real friend. Mum always warned me not to lose oneself in friendship. That’s useless. And I did what I was told.
Dan looses control. His voice slips slowly out of tone. His eyes are turning red, brightening. He starts crying like a woman, like a baby, like a child. Like a shit. When was the last time I cried and begged for help? I don’t know what I am supposed to do. I could envy those who already have a word ready for such circumstances. I am sick. Sickness has replaced everything in me. I am just a big mass of sickness. A big, solid mass of sickness. I put my hands on the table. I stare at Dan. I hear him saying “I’m sorry.” I don’t even hear how I am replying. “I’m so sorry”. Again. I’m not sorry, you asshole. That’s what I think. Asshole. I think, Oh my, will I go back to my world, ever? I stand up and start walking quietly towards the exit. One pace after the other. I move farther from him. A split second, an I-wish-I-was-a-better-man kind of thought creeps though my mind. It is not made of words, just of impressions, feelings I feel because I know other customers are looking at me. The cute blonde. Cassie. Dan, too, probably. All of them. Reproaches hidden from their eyes, in case I notice something. But the thought vanishes as rapidly as it came. I don’t want to be a better man. I just want to live with my meanness. I walk out of Denny’s. It will only take me a few minutes to be back home, back to my life, back to Victoria Paris, all beautiful flesh and hot blood as she is. She is not that bad. Maybe there will even be some wine left. I would come back to my world. It will take just a couple of minutes. I just have to cross Coles, turn left once the light turns green and walk, what, a few hundred meters? Now, I understand the point for good. Don’t mess with them anymore. They are just a mess. Just a few minutes and I am back to my life.