XVIII. I Know Couch, I Miss Her Too.
Wheeler took off his shirt and tied it tight around his head with the sleeves. He looked pale and gaunt in the nearly night light, and his body odor was unleashed like a radiating monster from his naked upper half. A palpable orb formed around his essence and penetrated me grossly. He sniffed and made a face like he knew it was bad. He walked loosely. His eyes seemed vexed and his mouth grinned tenaciously. It was clear by his apprehension of every horn honk, every shoe galloping by, and the train rattling all else stupid- that he had now applied his superb listening skills to the atonement of our day's mission.
The emos' backyard was trashed with red cups and up heaved chairs. A pair of denim shorts sat discarded on the stoop, and the kiddie pool that Steve had filled for the Flag Day barbecue was now nearly drained, except for a shallow pool of dirty water where a small dead bird was floating. "Sad," said Wheeler, looking down at the bird.
I knocked a few times on the screen door and no one answered. I peeked in the lifeless window and the unlit room looked empty. "Hey!" yelled Wheeler, banging on the door, "Anybody home?" There was a cough. A door slammed. Footsteps approached. Some unlocking of several locks, and the door flung open. Steve was in small white briefs and no shirt. He looked sleepy or drunk and I wanted him to say something classic like an actor in a 1930's gangster film. Like, "Say, what's the big idea!" Instead he gargled out a half yawn half yell, and fervently itched his balls for approximately 15 seconds.
"Laura? Shit. What's up?" I could see Wheeler in my peripheral view; thoughtful and confused. He'd never heard my real name. I gave him a remorseful glance and we all walked inside. Everything was creaky and old and unpolished. I sat at the table, which was etched and carved like the inside of a dirty bathroom stall. There were dicks and boobs, the word 'POOP' in capital letters, some dialogue of nonsense, erratic numbers, a sorry scene of a house and some stick figures.. Next to the numbers, '12 24 4003 11' was the question, "Who threw up in the freezer?" It was a distracting display of art and disgust. Wheeler studied it excitedly. Steve propped himself onto the counter, legs open. He spanked his belly a few times and yawned one final tired belt.
"Steve, this is Wheeler. Wheeler, Steve."
"My man," said Wheeler, saluting him.
He nodded back nicely.
We ritualistically lit our cigarettes and chatted briefly about Cait, skipping right to the part of her being missing and passing over the details of Beatrice and Wiley, of Whim Day and the abandoned van.
"You haven't seen her Steve, have you?" I asked.
"No. No I haven't. My roommate wants to kick her ass though. She shit in his bed, you know that?"
"I doubt that she did," I lied.
"Oh she did in fact. It was fucking disgusting. What kind of girl does that?"
Wheeler burst into a loud laugh.
We'd planned on only stopping by, but Steve went on an accommodating rampage, rummaging through the cabinets and refrigerator drawers for spirits and snacks. He offered us baby dill pickles out of the jar and a bottle of Spumante to share. Wheeler ate the pickles with his bare hands and slurped the pickle juice afterwards, as though it was milk in an empty cereal bowl. Steve didn't have any glassware to speak of so we drank from the bottle and passed it between us. The conversation was dull and erratic, until Steve found a bottle of gin hiding in the back of the pantry. Wheeler took it in shots and the juniper berries coughed out from his loud breathy tangents about losing Cait. Eventually his tangent turned into a libidinous description of their sexual encounter in the lake. Steve interrupted.
"Dude. I banged her too," He said.
I interjected the conversation for an exit. I was hankering to leave, in case Cait had gone home. I was now drunk and bored and vacuous feeling.
"Can I borrow five dollars?" I stood up towards the door.
Steve left and came back with dollars and quarters and nickels and dimes.
"I think it's about five," he said.
I thanked him and left, walking fast back into the crisp air and garbage smelling alley. The door slammed a few seconds later and Wheeler shuffled to catch me.
"I'm coming with you," he said.
"No, you're not!"
"I am. We're in this together." He put his hand on my back. I could smell the juniper and pickle concoction on his breath, and the b.o on his shirt-hat and chest. His fingers were sweaty and they felt small and sharp like hot needles. I leaned over and threw up on the pavement. The puke tasted bubbly on my throat from the Spumante. Wheeler withdrew his sickly touch, and I felt better, overall.
Inside the apartment was dark and arid, like the entries of a strangled corpse. The faucet in the bathroom dripped and echoed towards us, emphatically noting how strange the Cait-less world was. I felt like holding myself, in the same way I felt like holding myself the day my grandmother died. My apartment carried the same morbid lifelessness that I remembered sensing inside her house.
The day after they moved her soulless body from beneath the crocheted afghan on her bed, I went with my mom to collect important things. It was as though the whole house had reacted physically to her passing. We walked inside the foyer and the quiet floor creaked lowly under our feet. The window glass looked darker, the creme walls looked dirtier, the chairs and end tables looked uncharacteristically empty. In her bedroom the white and navy afghan was folded perfectly on top of her pillow. There was still a water glass on her bed stand with a red lipstick mark on the rim. I picked up the glass and held it close to my eyes. She'd breathed into it. She'd drank the water inside the kissed glass. The same smiling mouth that caught me as mesmerizing and wise was imprinted in front me like a relic from a tomb. I poured the rest of the water on my face, expecting to feel her in some way. I did, and I shook, and I sat on the floor and held my torso with my arms, pathetic and lame.
My mother attended me with comfort, as she was opportunistically benevolent and kind. She patted my back and did not discourage me from blowing my nose into her clean ironed blouse. It was a politeness not practiced, that she genuinely obtained from the pureness of heart genes of her mother, my grandmother, whose unfinished glass of water dripped down my teary face. The empathy gene had lamentably skipped me, like baldness or big breasts, cancer or an un-tamable spirit. I'd created outward reactions for tragic or miraculous events that I'd suspected were normal or obvious, but typically felt very little. This one instance with the lipstick stained glass was possibly the only genuinely emotional moment in my whole span of existence. It was painful I remember, and it happened to be real.
It was easy to fake most things, as my conjured tears or unapologetic frown usually resulted naturally from anger about lacking real human sadness, not from the event itself, whatever it may be. But I of course would miss Cait if she truly did not return. I could sense somewhere, if that realization was to occur, that another genuine emotional event could possibly take place. As much as my cognition persisted with positivity, saying, "Don't worry, she's unpredictable. She'll be back! She's Cait. She loves you. She's your best friend," my apartment living room brazenly disagreed. The walls seemed so sad lacking her presence, and just like my grandmother's house, my place reeked of genuine mourning, not merely of temporary absence. I looked at the couch, with it's face like button eyes, and flat stern mouth of detachable cushions, and it looked back at me sadly. "I know," I thought, "I know, couch. I miss her too."
I didn't air any personal inadequacies in front of Wheeler however, in fear that he would persist in a long philosophical tangent about dualism, or worse, that he'd hug me. I turned on lights, I splashed cold water on my face, I opened a future contribution to empty corner and drank small pulls. The cheap vodka brand, which commonly elicits a gag, was sharp and hot and panged my already burning throat. It burned the inside of my nose. It widened my eyes.
"Aren't you done yet?" asked Wheeler.
"No, because I still know what's going on."
He grabbed the bottle and took a medium size pull.