03 | “That Night”

By Andersen Richards

January 13th, 2016

When people ask what I like to be called I really don’t know what to say.

I’m not really a fan of “Andersen”, but it’s my Dad’s name and I really would rather not offend him. I hate “Andy”. Hate, hate, hate “Andy”. It reminds me of when I tripped and fell in the second grade, when the teacher yelled my name so loud across the playground even though everyone was already laughing. I hit the ground, smacked my head, my glasses were falling off.

I didn’t even wear glasses. I don’t know why I remember it like that. I just… hate the name so much it makes me see myself differently. So, I tried going by my last name, Richards. I’m sure you can guess where that lead.

“Dick!” Everybody loves shouting that one.

“Dick!” Like they’re so unbelievably clever.

“Hey, Dick!” It’s this awful joke that everyone else seemingly hears for the first. Except me.

I hear it every time. Every time it makes someone smile or they laugh, I feel so alone. I’m a hostage to that joke, like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, like watching reruns with canned laughter and knowing the laugh is coming even though the joke isn’t funny but there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

“Dick” was how they addressed me Sunday night. My friends. My stupid friends whom I realized long ago could not be bothered to care how much I hate that name.

My “friends”.

It’s been… three days. Everyday seems so long now. They’re so cold. But it no longer hurts to breathe and the swelling has gone down in my face. I was encouraged to talk about what happened. She (my friend) told me I should say everything but… I’m doing this by phone, so… a little bit at a time.

Ever since my apartment got torched and my face has been on the news, I’ve stopped socializing. I just feel safer with no one really knowing where I am. Trevor text me and invited me out, I said “no”. He persisted, I maintained but I gave up after a while. Not because of any point he made, I just…

Well, let’s not get into that.

The point is, I decided to meet him at the bar.

“Dick!” Trevor shouted when he saw me. There’s just something about the way people say that name that makes me want to punch them in the face. But he had a beer waiting for me so why be too hard on the guy? Some of our friends from Mesa joined us. I thought it was supposed to be just Trevor and me and it made me uncomfortable when suddenly there were five other people standing around the table. But how anti-social can you be, you know? Free beer.

“How’ve you been, man?” he asked, shouting over the others. Normally his breath smells like Natty Light, that cheap beer he used to drink when we were minors and somehow he never got past it. Not that night. That night it was almost clean.

I’m learning to notice things like that.

When I’m in a crowd, I periodically have to survey the people around. You want to look for people with their heads slightly away, just enough so they can watch you in the corner of their eye. People think this is very sneaky. But I didn’t notice anyone doing it so I decided to enjoy my beer.

There was a girl on the other side of the bar. Between the rushing bartenders with their low-cut shirts and boobs blessedly bouncing out, and around the idiotic bar-back who had no idea he what he was blocking me from, sat a girl with round, locked eyes. She was somewhere short of six foot, with short hair cut in a fury. It seemed black until the bar-back moved and light sent a purple shimmer down the strands.

Her hands rested on either side of her drink, the glass empty and the condensation circling the bottom. It had been untouched for some time. Her left pinky was bandaged and noticeably shorter than the right one.

And yes, I did notice a lot about a girl on the other side of a busy bar. What do you want from me?

Seeing as how those big eyes were still locked on me, I decided the best thing to do was smile at her. I tried to be charming but I think it must have been sort of a clumsy smirk that came across my face. She wiped her left eye and looked away.

“So, Dick, what have you been up to? What are you doing these days?” Evan shouted from behind me as I pulled my beer up to my mouth.

If a girl asks me what I do, I say I’m in “fashion”. If a guy asks me, I say “I work at a clothing store”. Neither are true anymore after what happened with Rob. But Evan knew that.

It was weird to me Evan was even there. It’d been a few months since I’d seen Oscar and him in the same room. They’d be gym-buddies, or at least we all thought. Turns out he and Oscar spent as much time showering off as they did sweating it up. Oscar didn’t want to have to keep it a secret, got drunk and told everyone. Evan didn’t bother to show anywhere Oscar was after that. Yet here was Oscar standing like a brick-wall on my left, his beer nearly full in his hand, smiling at me.

And Evan, blocking me in on the right.

“I just mean, I heard about what happened to your place, man. It sounds rough. Where are you living these days?” Evan asked, his elbow on the table. He waited patiently as I scanned the bar again for side-lookers. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, taking another drink. “I’ve been bouncing around a lot actually. Staying a few nights here, a few there. Nothing consistent.”

“You’re not staying with your folks?” he asked, sipping at his beer.

“No…” I said flatly. Jackie and Karen were sitting across. They’re fun, a bit high-energy for me at times. Accept this time. They didn’t run to hug me like they did to everyone, say “hello” like a couple of coked-up cheerleaders. “What classes are you taking this semester?” I asked.

I wanted to keep the topic off me as much as possible.

Sorry, I have to rest my thumbs. Typing on a tiny screen like this is nuts. I don’t know why people complain about how big phones are getting. How small do they need to be? If I wasn’t just sitting in the backseat of my car unable to sleep I probably wouldn’t bother with the effort.

Anyway, before long they were asking me why I don’t turn myself in.

While the group began guilt-tripping me, Trevor had brought me another beer. “Don’t worry, bro! I got ya’ on this.” My beer wasn’t empty yet but he put it in my hand and began drinking his own a bit quickly.

“Have you even given it any thought?” Evan interrupted.

“Dick, you have an opportunity to help people… to save lives…” Jackie said.

“You have to think about others,” Oscar added.

“Besides,” Trevor began from the other side of his glass, “wouldn’t you rather do it on your own terms than have some douche-bag turn you in?”

Throwing my glass against the wall occurred to me. Smashing it against the edge of the table had, too. It’s funny how we complain no one expresses themselves honestly but there are so many honest expressions that get you in trouble. “It’s easy to look at someone else and ask them why they haven’t done their part for the community, isn’t it?” I asked.

Karen sipped her rum and coke, “People are dying, Dick.”

“People aren’t dying,” I reassured her. “They have treatments.”

“Those treatments are worse than chemo,” Oscar said. “They let people keep their minds… but their bodies rot away from them.”

The only place I had to hide was behind my beer. I didn’t care who was paying for them at that point. Oscar was right, I guess. The Ratfanger treatments aren’t much better than the disease. “So, what? You want me to turn myself in?”

Their look was more than a bit familiar to me. That fixated glare, not the lost consideration the purple-haired girl had shown me. It was the one I saw that last night day of work, the one Rob had given me.

Trevor was just staring into his glass. “Actually…” Jackie said looking into her drink as it began to sink beneath the ice, “We’re going to have a lot of debts we can’t pay off in a few years. Since we’re friends­­―”

“The reward for bringing you in is $70,000, man…” Oscar said. All of a sudden I began to ask myself what could have Evan and Oscar back in the same room.

A cocktail waitress with a tray filled with empty glasses grabbed Jackie’s drink and placed a new one in her hand, “Here’s another coke for ya’.”

Another coke. Not a rum and coke.

Trevor’s glass slipped from his hand and smashed on the ground. Trevor did likewise.

“Holy shit, how much did he put in that drink?” Jackie shouted.

We all stared at Trevor a moment. “I think he drank my beer by mistake,” I said.

As soon as I felt them start to look back up at me I bolted. Oscar body-slammed me into a doorway. It hurt but I spun. I recovered and broke through a crowd of people. I created enough chaos that I heard him stumbling on the people I knocked over.

It bought me a moment. It was a moment I lost jumping onto a table to try to jump over the crowd. My weight was too close to one end, the other flew up and hit me, sending me into a wooden banister and then the tile floor.

Believe it or not, this was not my first escape like this. I am, actually, getting better.

My memory is a bit spotty at that point. I don’t know if it was because of the fall, because the drinks were starting to catch up to my empty stomach or Trevor had put something in both drinks. I just remember what was happening like a radio beginning to lose its reception.

I was pushing myself up when Karen shouted from the table “EAT A DICK!”

A year ago, people might have thought that was funny. I read it’s one of the highest trending tags now. Everyone knew what it meant. Everyone looked right at me.

From that point I have no idea who was grabbing me, who was pulling at my shirt. Who had their fucking hand down my pocket like they were looking for a good grip. I struggled to get out of the bar. How I succeeded, I don’t know. I do remember that moment thinking I had done it, I escaped.

The next thing I remember is Evan pinning me in the backseat of a car, hitting me in the face.

I don’t remember how I got out. But I feel that moment even now, pinned across the upholstery, knuckles slamming just beneath my eye. It’s like a memory that hasn’t stopped recording.

After that I was running against traffic in the street.

Then in a donut store, leaning over the counter to dial the phone with one hand and steal donuts with the other while the girl was in the back.

I laid in the alleyway, eating the donuts in an oil puddle beneath a truck while people looked for me. I don’t think I knew any of those people.

I can’t really write much more right now. I’m going to rest my thumbs. Thank you if you’re actually still reading. I don’t know if this is as cathartic as I as was promised it would be but… And I’m tired of my phone’s auto correct putting “tgat” instead of “that”. Where did “tgat” even come from? I’m going to have to fix all those.

Why won’t my phone unlearn it?

Published by Patrick Healy

Writer. Artist. Menace.

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