It was a quiet day. Or, no, rather it wasn’t a quiet day, but the unassuming banality of a day that carries the inertia of a bullet in a chamber, belying the hectic nature of its happenings by becoming the platitude of a moment.
So, maybe it wasn’t a quiet day, but it certainly was a banal one, as incidence was the underlying experience of meshing days.
I was on the dock of the lake cabin we were staying at for the last week of summer. It belonged to Ben’s grandparents. We called them Peepaw and Meemaw. In that entire week, we never bothered to learn their names. It was Friday evening and I was on the dock of the lake cabin we were staying at for the last week of summer. I was trying to be quiet and enjoy the rare break of calm.
It wasn’t a quiet day. It would never be quiet until my head landed on the soft clutch of the pillow I was using that week.
The sunrise and sunset mesh and coagulate into the illusory forever that is time, punctuated by ruptures in the underlying linearity. Or so it feels like.
I was slouching in my seat, trying to be comfortable and calm. Earlier, we stuffed ourselves with a tasty fish fry at some lodge, apparently The Lodge, staked down the forest street. We ate there every day. They had a different theme each day for dinner. I remember, quite angrily, Mexican night. I enjoy Mexican food. I particularly enjoy burritos. That night, I ordered a burrito. It was Wednesday, I think. Luke, whilst I was about to enjoy this burrito, a whaled monstrosity so carefully nourished and prepared, nary sobbing with sauce or stale like cardboard, decided it cute to tarnish my dinner with an ingredient I think told him I did not like. He plopped a quarter cup of sour cream, an abysmally insulting flavor to the symphony of earthy and piquant trills of my meal, onto my meal. What drives a man to intentionally try and ruin the meal of another? What madness held the blades of his shoulders and rotated those cuffs in the precise angling so that he could lift the cup of sour cream, motion it above my meal, invert his entire arm so as to precariously hold the opening of the container downwards, and then, thoughtlessly, squeeze the plastic so as to enact entropy onto my dinner. They laughed. They laughed more when they spent the rest of their meal joking about how I was their adopted Mexican friend(?). I ate my burrito; my symphony was ruined by the screaming toddler that suddenly felt the urge to be a nuisance.
Luke was coming. I heard his stifled giggling creeping atop the blades of grass from the cabin. It was a devilish giggling, the one that filled itself with the screaming of those drowning in flames and the joy of those that would plunder Jericho. But it sounded like a typical giggling, the kind a person breathes when they’re madly in love with someone’s bad joke. He approached the precipice of the dock. I tried to pay him no mind. I glanced back out to the glass waters, a cerulean frozen, and reflected on my thoughts; the water felt the clammy lick of wind and started to motion, cracking and splintering in my face. The sun, a golden mausoleum to Apollo and Ra and Ameterasu and the storage of all our hopes and fears, was burying itself for the day and would soon be the moon, the death of other bygone beliefs. I watched the sky burn, I think. Or was the sky embracing the sun, catching its color as the lake blue absorbed the flames of our burden.
—Time and memory are fickle partners, bickering incessantly and married ever so dully.—
I heard pumping behind me.
No, it was clattering; the instantaneous friction of setting shot glass to table glass alarmed me. I was a bit belligerent. Not to say belligerent as though I am an angry or reckless drunk, but in the youthful sense, but for me I suppose being youthful was ostentatiously reckless. I howled at every little observation in this scaling tenor laugh, cracking at the back of each pronunciation likes whips to the rhythm of a jubilee. It was fun. I was fun. I had drenched my eyes in rose dye and my charisma wore Liberace’s finest gaud. The world melted around me, and I was arguing with them because they had taken my phone from me, as I had the phone with me the other night and I had texted women. I demanded of them that I received my phone to continue these self-delusional serenades. This was my second time inebriated, and it was the second time because the first time they promised me that they would not let anything happen to me if I got drunk. It was fun. We had fun.
I, in a fit of uncontrollable hyena laughter, slapped my legs forward to grasp what I presumed was the location of my phone. Tyler leapt out of the way; Tyler could hold his liquor. I couldn’t; I fell forward and by the grace of whatever kept me alive for eighteen years I missed the edge of the glass table. Ben, never drunk, popped from his seat and engaged in pretending to stomp on me and Tyler joined in. I cackled so heartily. They smiled as well. Apparently, they were doing this to keep me on the floor so that I wouldn’t break anything. The moment blurred over and now I had become excitable with the maddening neural popping that the repression of sexual energy of someone my age. I engaged Luke and we wrastled on the couch, Ben and Tyler partaking as we all joyously took on the juggernaut that was I, invincible and bursting sunbeam laughter in deluges. My face burned over and I was becoming cherry-faced, stretching out and reddening and squeaking with a naïve love of stupid things.
Luke and I flew over the couch and there was Luke, atop my chest, barrel and hirsute, and he swung on them like conga drums, and I could hear the reverberations of revelry in my heart, pounding. He was passionate in this game, hitting again and again. It was fun. I had fun. Apparently, they were smiling. We all had fun. What a fun Tuesday.
—If the relationship between time and memory was a marriage, then the archetypal woman would have to be time, absolute and embedded with the intuition of goose bumps for every moment; she would always be nagging about things to come and things past and things wasted.—
I looked into Luke’s eyes and mine began to close.
I thought, “is he just fooling around? Isn’t this what guys do?” I was under the notion, for a very long time that if I were to be held at the barrel of a gun, it would be by my enemies, not by a jester. Traditionally speaking, this was the entertainment of ‘guys’ and ‘boys being boys’, an adage that’s perverted the gender negotiations of society for however long cruelty has been an instrument of camaraderie. I had believed this on that Tuesday.
No, it was Thursday, the day before Fish Fry Friday. Tuesday was the first night I got drunk, where I birthed the manic locked inside my prison introversion and let him puppeteer my sanity. Tyler, Luke and Ben were the hype team for my tranquilized mind and the bestowal of my speech to reptilian drive. It was fun to be stupid and it was fun to listen to stupid, shouting about vaginas and ass incoherently as I kept falling off the bed and into th murky conscious of a stormy lake disappearing in the absence of light. I drowned, as I do in depression, in mania. The drunkenness, like the sun, dispersed in sleep. Thursday brought sunlight into me, bursting violently in firework displays that screamed all over the blue, covering it with the burden of my self-destruction, so that I would disintegrate once I was exhausted. But my exeunt would be an explosion that went
Boom! Luke fired on me.
I was almost killed-
-On Thursday night, they took my phone away outside; as well they should have, for on Tuesday night I was an absolute embarrassment. They were not having fun with me, but rather putting on the pitiable faces of a commedia dell’arte. Outside, when we were shooting fireworks by the lake, watching the spectrum of color escape into oblivion in the all-eating blue. I wanted my phone, if only so that my affairs could be held private, the last privacy in a long line of privacies they tried to ram through, for it wasn’t the phone but the words stored in that phone that held the scattered pages of my suicide note, my manifesto and my great American novel all in one.
Ben, a giant towering the cabin whose roof I lived under, ensnared me and collapsed with me to the ground. He held me, my hands constricted behind my back and his gangling Oak legs pulling mine back, my body groaning with the bend. Luke was shouting, “serves you right! Get him, Ben!” I chuckled. Ben was weaker than I was. I would roll onto him and suffocate him.
And then, suddenly, Tyler reappeared with a carton of bottle rockets and tossed them into the side of the bonfire, the one we started outside the lake cabin we were staying at for the last week of summer, which faced me. The white of my eyes were consumed by the pupils trying to blind me to my death and my mouth unhinged as I heard the first horseman go off, flying into the night. Ben was right behind me, using me as a shield to this fusillade and my lungs filled with terror and spoke on behalf of my entire body’s built-up trembling. I screamed and the end of days was prophesized in the indecipherable syllables of how scared I was to die.
—Memory was the man, clumsy, forgetful and considered rational, but really a haphazard installation art that gives honesty to the phrase “a true piece of work”; he was slothful most of time, had a strong penchant for either the good ol’ times or the worst of times, and tried so adamantly to argue with time.—
The only thing that keeps that moment humble is when I watched the invisible bullet race toward my face on that dock, outside the cabin that we were staying at for the last week of summer.
Or maybe it was the night I almost took to arms myself, marching to the door out into the witching hour paranoia of the unknown. Unknown if the gang had died. Unknown if they were pranking me. Unknown if they had been taken and I was the next victim. The latter thought held the trigger to the gun I was carrying on Wednesday night. It couldn’t have been Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, so it must have been Wednesday. I still sit in silence at that moment, where I hung up the phone from the woman I was talking to- that pent up sexual energy- and I went upstairs into the bedroom, a single room that ran down the apex of the roof, slanting down on both sides over the two rows of beds on each side. I didn’t turn on the light. I hovered my phone over my bed, noticing it was askew. I went to ask Luke what had happened to my bed. His was the same, but without him atop. The next bed, and then the next. No one was in their bed.
I went downstairs to investigate, to see if they were lurking behind the couch to eavesdrop on my conversation. I flicked the light on and the stage revealed a horror to me: chairs overturned, the table crashed onto its side and the cluttering of our garbage was less cluttered. I ran upstairs to find these childish sons of uncouth minds, and there I find, to my dismay, when the light shot open and my mind’s eye swallowed, the manifestation of every fear they knew I had in one indigestible gulp and all that I could produce from this was a single “oh shit”, my voice shattered and my timbre brittle. Oh shit, every thing was disseminated violently and every fabric was overturned and every person was gone. I searched tirelessly, my constitution limping in every step until it howled in agony and tears rushed to brace the red of my sober face.
I had no choice but to race for the gun.
When they revealed themselves, cherubim laughing with pleased blushes, I felt the sweep of the placid lake take me over and drag me into it. My thoughts were gone and I stood stupefied, petrified at the bottom of the blue. I was trembling, though, because was I that cold? They demanded that I, despite hardly being able to hold a pencil steady, act as historian to this memorable night in my journal, knowing I wouldn’t need a journal, for memory would shout at this moment forever in its late night fever dreams and time could do nothing but hold it and let the water smooth over the wounds. My hands trembled as I wrote their great comedy.
My hands trembled when I lifted them off my face and there was blood all over it.
Luke shot me
— Memory often won, in his mind, but was undeniably wrong.—
Everything exploded in my brain. The drunkenness, the fear, the guilt, the repressed sexual energy, the burrito that tasted of sour cream in my stomach, the loss of breath from when Luke pummeled me on the chest again and again until I almost stopped breathing, he was so possessed by his madness. Ben so possessed by his selfishness. Tyler so possessed by his aimlessness. Even time exploded. It was the quietest detonation on the footstep of the quietest betrayal and I saw the thing that drives the hearts of men to their greatest inhumanity, and I saw what made the sound of the sunset, the prologue to Balkan chaos: I saw the death of belief sink behind the lake and I saw that fire which burns across cities eschewed into the frozen cerulean.
He shot me. My friend. It was a metal pellet gun, but a cruelty possessed him to lift the gun off its butt, take bullets into the chamber and saunter onto my execution dock, surrounded by water, lift it to his shoulder, pump the weapon until it hurt him to pump it any more, take aim, catching face in the crosshairs, and take fire.
It was the same gun Ben used that one time he hunted rabbits and arranged their corpses on my lawn. That was not this summer, though. That was a Tuesday during our senior year of high school. Not the Tuesday I got drunk for the first time because I believed they would take care of my demons and I. I apparently did not remember that Tuesday with the rabbits, but that is because memory is fickle. Or maybe memory is the wife, nagging of things to come and things past and things wasted, like that girl who I liked in my freshman French class but never told. And time is forgetful, because it lets these things happen again and is a redundant thing.
I’m not sure. Just like I’m not sure why I believed him when he said he was just joking and he didn’t mean it, even though he said that before. Just like how I somehow forgot about the bullet in my cheek for over a year until that Thursday at the dentist when they asked me what this dark spot in my cheek was. I quickly remembered how I was both pummeled and stomped on in one night, and how I laughed about it. I was a sun, a big dying sun ready to implode at a moment’s notice and let my tears be the blue that absorbs my fire as I wither into nothing.
That week had the inertia of a bullet in a chamber, but only in the time, expanded into years, from the click of the trigger to the discharge. I was the bullet.