Arthur rolled over blearily, still half asleep. The buzzer in his dreams wouldn’t quiet. Buzz, buzz…. He put a pillow over his head. Then the knocking began and he couldn’t dismiss these noises as phantom any longer. He kicked off the blanket and walked toward the door, tripping over the clutter on the floor. His apartment was not large; most of it was made up of a cramped living space, encompassing the kitchen and sitting room. A tiny bathroom and out of the way bedroom flung to the back. As he walked to the front door he glanced at the clock, 8:30am. Who in the hell would be calling at this hour? Finally at the door, he undid the deadbolt and it swung open. There stood a man not immediately recognizable to Arthur. He was good looking; his curly hair closely cropped to his head, his dress was neat. A starched white shirt and pressed, tan slacks adorned his slight frame. Arthur starred at him.
“Arthur!” said the man, with a smile.
“I’m sorry…. Jerry?”
“Yes! Don’t you recognize me?”
With that, Jerry opened the door all the way and pushed past Arthur into the apartment.
“This is a surprise.” Said Arthur
He followed Jerry into the apartment where he stood between the couch and the coffee table, surveying the space.
“Uh, have a seat.” said Arthur, gesturing towards the couch.
“Would you like a drink or something?”
“Sure,” said Jerry, “
Orange juice would be great.”
“OK, just let me get changed,” said Arthur.
He made his way into the bedroom and shut the door. He stood in front of the mirror and observed himself. Too thin, he thought. His hair was long, almost touching his shoulders, his nose long and roman.
He picked yesterday’s jeans and tee shirt off the floor, threw them on and went back out, making his way to the kitchen. He knew perfectly well he had nothing like orange juice in the house, he didn’t usually have any food in the house, he ate out.
He filled a glass with water and brought it out to Jerry.
“Sorry,” he said, “That’s all I’ve got.”
“No problem,” said Jerry, taking the glass.
Arthur positioned himself on the chair opposite the coffee table and the two men starred at each other for a few moments, it seemed like a few hours to Arthur.
“So,” said Arthur, “I don’t… I don’t… seem to… Why are you here?”
I am seven. Jerry’s mother arranged a play date for us. I’m supposed to be dropped off at his house at one o’clock but my mother is running late. I stand in my snowsuit by the door, the hot air from the vent causing beads of sweat to appear on my young forehead. My mother is bustling around in the kitchen, muttering things like, “Keys, wallet, purse, grocery list.” When she has gathered everything together she sweeps out into the hall, black coat long and swinging. She opens the door and sweeps me out into the cold January afternoon. We get in the car.
The drive is short, four blocks maybe. But she takes the car because she’s running errands. Jerry’s mother is large and warm, her red hair falling over a powder blue turtle neck.
“Hello, Arthur,” she says, “Jerry’s gone upstairs, I’ll call you for lunch.” And she takes my winter things.
The two women exchange pleasantries in the hall before my mother leaves, I climb the stairs and make a game of it. Each stair I step on is given a nonsense name, Caluberry, Micshema, Floodeum.
I see Jerry through an open door at the top of the stairs; he is playing with Lego on his bedroom floor, remnants of a plate of carrot sticks at his side.
“Hi,” he says. I reply in kind.
I sit down and we play in silence. The Lego’s are all different colours. I take up the red ones and start to build a castle from them. First the box – like shape, then the towers on top.
Suddenly, Jerry looks up and stops what he’s doing.
“No,” he says, “Castles aren’t red.”
He grabs my creation and I begin to howl. He’s pulling it apart; little red blocks litter the floor and mingle with the others. My howl reaches a fever pitch. His mother comes in.
“What’s all the commotion?” she asks, looking first to me then my current arch – enemy. Jerry explains the situation.
“Castles can’t be red,” he says, “They have to be grey.” He holds up a grey Lego as if to demonstrate. His mother laughs, short and abrupt. Her laugh doesn’t match her hair.
“Let Arthur build it in whatever color he wants and you do the same. Come down for lunch now.”
She leaves. Jerry resumes his destruction of my castle.
Jerry looked at him a moment before opening his mouth to reply,
“We’re friends,” he said simply. Arthur surveyed him and then said,
“We haven’t seen each other in a very long time,” his voice was flat and sighing.
“I was in town, dealing with some business stuff,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t even remember what we were fighting about.” Arthur remained silent, Jerry couldn’t remember. He didn’t care enough? It wasn’t a big deal to him..? He didn’t press the issue.
“What business? What do you do?” said Arthur, taking a stab at conversation.
“I own my own business,” he said. “We make shoes.”
“Shoes?” said Arthur.
“Shoes.” Confirmed Jerry, “Loafers in particular, for specialty shops, men’s and women’s, we hope to bring them wide.”
“Loafers went out of style years ago,” said Arthur, waving a dismissive hand.
“We’re bringing them back.”
“Who would want rainbow loafers?”
“You’d be surprised.”
“I’m sure I would be,” said Arthur. He paused, “I wouldn’t buy rainbow shoes.”
“You’re not in our demographic.”
“What about those 18 to 25 year old males? I’m an 18 – 25 year old male.”
“Younger,” Jerry shifted uncomfortably. By this time, Arthur was smiling at the absurdity.
“You said men and women.”
“I exaggerated for Christ sake.” Jerry’s face was slowly turning a soft shade of red.
“Well I think it’s a stupid idea,” said Arthur, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs.
“Luckily it’s not for you to decide.” Jerry’s face was flushed and his knuckles had turned white.
“What? Did you stage a hostile take over of the company? Thought that loafers in all colors was a good move, had to take it from someone? Sounds like something you’d do.”
Arthur’s smile was broad, he was enjoying himself.
“Why do you do this?” said Jerry.
“Come on,” said Arthur, “It is funny!”
“No,” said Jerry, breathing heavily, “It’s not.”
I am fifteen. I’m waiting outside a diner called “
Alice’s.” It’s where we all go after school. My friends stand around and near me. They are talking, smoking, rummaging through their bags. We are waiting for Jerry to show up. I am leaning against the window of the restaurant; my face red with the spots of youth. My hair is in my eyes and a leather jacket slung over my arm. I thought I looked so cool. Then Jerry showed up and my image was shattered. He was the pinnacle, the height of cool in our group. It was natural, as though he had popped out of his mother, ready with a clever quip and a snide grin. Greetings all around at his arrival. One boy tripped and his foot fell into a flower pot situated next to the window. Laughter. No one cared about the crushing of happy daisies. Jerry was dressed similarly to me, to all of us, but he was something else.
We went inside and got a table, the waitress came. Jerry teased her playfully, she laughed and swished away. Brought us our cokes in tall, icy glasses. As long as we had been coming here, we always ordered the same thing which was a large and greasy plate of nachos. Half way through our regular after school tryst, I got up to go to the washroom.
Upon my return, there was a strange nervous quiet over the table. I grinned.
“What’s up?” I said. They said nothing; something was very funny to them. I should have known. I shrugged, sat down and took up my glass. The liquid was spicy. I gagged.
The table burst into laughter and I realized that I hadn’t noticed the little pepper grains sprinkled atop the ice. I tried to laugh along with everyone else, as if I was in on the joke. It was not unusual for such a prank to be pulled. I knew who had orchestrated it and I knew because it had been me to whom the prank was directed. Jerry didn’t laugh when everyone else did. He smirked and continued to do so as I looked at him.
Jerry seemed to rethink his anger and fell back against the couch cushions, folding his arms.
“Fine,” he said, putting his feet up on the coffee table, “What do you do?”
“Who cares?” Said Arthur
“I want to know, I told you what I do.”
“I don’t think it’s important, why are people so interested in what people do for a living?”
“Because it’s where you go, what you do all day.”
“Does that make it a definable part of you? The kid working at McDonalds, do you think he’s keen on talking about his job? Keen on defining himself by it?”
“You’re missing the point; I’m not talking about fast food.”
Jerry unfolded his arms and took his legs off the coffee table.
“What?” said Jerry, “Do you hate your job? Do you work with greasy burgers, fat people and college kids?”
“No,” said Arthur.
“Then what? Why do you always do this? Why does it have to be an argument or a philosophical discussion?”
Arthur said nothing.
“Are we going to finish this?” asked Jerry.
“I’m a writer,” said Arthur.
“Oh,” said Jerry, “That’s great, who do you write for?” Arthur stood up and paced the room.
“I write for no one, I make no money, no one wants to read my stuff. I only have this apartment because my parents pay for it. I work; yes I work, in a pub. I do nothing.” Arthur sat back down in the chair, “Happy?”
“No,” said Jerry.
“This is the problem, you have a career you have a purpose. I have nothing and you want to know what I do for a living? You’re always something and I’m always nothing.”
“It’s not nothing.”
“Don’t say things you don’t mean.”
“There you go again, philosophizing, picking apart everything!”
“Right,” said Arthur, dismissively.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, you don’t have to sit around and be a god damned starving artist feeling sorry for yourself all the time.”
“Stop it,” said Arthur, “Just stop it, stop acting like you’re my mentor or something. You don’t even remember why we aren’t friends anymore! It’s things like this, it’s you, it’s all you.”
“I’m sorry, I…”
“If you don’t remember why we haven’t seen each other in all these years, I don’t see how you can say what you’re saying right now.”
I am nineteen. Somehow, Jerry and I ended up at the same university. He studies business, me, English lit. We made different friends but still hung out together occasionally. All his pranks, our disagreements in our time together, I dismissed them. He saw me as someone to be guided, as though he was more schooled in the ways of the world then I was. I ignored it; it was the only way to keep him as a friend although I never fully understood our mutual attraction.
Jerry managed to convince me to go on a skiing trip during reading week. He came up to me in his usual manner, he had a proposition, he said. Would I like to go skiing? Why would I say no? A bunch of us went and brought our girlfriends, except Jerry who had just broken up with his. The mountains were crisp and white when we arrived, dotted with tiny, colourful specks. The skiers swished down the mountain and eased their way back up in the lifts. The lodge was warm and smelled of pine trees. We all arrived early, Jerry leading the way. Madeline, my girlfriend, had never been skiing before. She was excited. Jerry wanted us to get going right away and directed us to our rooms to get ready. We scattered, like so many obedient children. We met out front, me with my old skies, grey and dull. Jerry’s were shiny and red, matching his boots and polls. He motioned for us to follow him to the lift.
The skiing was good, a perfect February day. Jerry offered to get Madeline going on the little hills, he was the best for the job, he said. The best skier. We left him too it and enjoyed the slopes. Afterwards, we gathered in the lodge for a drink. It was like it had been when we were teenagers; Jerry had everyone at the table in the palm of his hand, throwing the odd comment and anecdote confirmation my way. I was exhausted, the alcohol had only contributed to my initial tiredness from skiing all day. But I kept up; I wanted to be a part of what was going on at the table. Finally, everyone decided it was time and each of us drifted away towards our respective rooms. Madeline and I went our way; I went into the bathroom to have a shower. Madeline stretched out on the bed and turned on the TV.
When I finished she wasn’t there. She must have gone exploring the lodge or to get some hot chocolate. I put on some clothes to see where she’d got too. She wasn’t in the lobby or the lounge or anywhere else for that matter. I knocked on the door of one of the other guys, nope sorry man, haven’t seen her. I tried all of them, I was getting worried. I got to Jerry’s room and I should have seen this coming a mile away. You can see it, I know you can. I knocked on his door hastily and opened it,
I found Madeline, anyway. Stuck to Jerry’s mouth. Jerry’s eyes lifted at exactly the right moment and met mine, where they lingered. I left, I thought she loved me, I thought he was my friend, I left. I took my things and left. I didn’t speak to Jerry after that, not a mention, not a word.
“Madeline,” said Arthur.
“Who?” Jerry’s confusion was genuine.
“That’s why I stopped talking to you.”
A look of comprehension dawned on his face; he looked momentarily pleased, and then embarrassed.
“Oh,” he said, “You know I tried to apologize.”
“No, you chased me down the street trying to make me listen. You tried to justify it.”
“What was I supposed to do? You wouldn’t talk to me, take my calls. You disappeared without a word.” Said Jerry, ignoring the last part of the statement.
“You were supposed to leave it. Madeline left it, I forgave her eventually. I hadn’t known her as long as you.” Said Arthur.
“It was years ago! You’re still on about it.”
“It doesn’t matter that it was years ago, you forgot and before you forgot you didn’t think you’d done anything wrong. You still don’t think you did anything wrong, you don’t want to own up to it. And obviously, if you can’t even remember why we stopped talking, our friendship never meant that much to you. And it’s not just that one incident, it’s a culmination. You think you own everybody.”
“That’s not true.”
“It might not be true now but it was then.”
“Get over it, get over yourself!” Both of them were on their feet now, arguing over the coffee table.
“There you go again, it’s never about you. You can do no wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault,” said Arthur.
“It you weren’t so pathetic it wouldn’t have to be this way.”
Arthur held back his reply, his shoulders slumped and the fight went out of him.
“Please leave,” he said, quietly.
“No, we should finish this.”
“We are finished, please leave.”
Jerry picked his brief case up off the floor and made his way to the door. He didn’t look at Arthur. He pulled the door shut hard and Arthur locked it behind him.