Still Alive

It’s my graduation.

The room is dimly lit and the dissonant jazz is soft. There’s a smile on every face around. Just smiles. No eyes, no other features. Just smiles. I close my eyes. I still see two faces.

There’s no sensation of floating up towards the skies. I was lied to. I’m falling. I’m falling freely through space. There is no ground to hit. I feel weightlessness, just not the kind I was promised. Imagine being stuck in an elevator but you can’t tell whether it’s going up or down.

She shoots me in the chest. No, that can’t be right. I open my eyes. She’s still smiling.

“Do you hate me for that?”

I don’t know. Do I? I feeling nothing at all.

I’m not dying. I’m just dreaming. I see my best friend of a decade. He’s more of a wall than a person. I can work with that. I’m an echo chamber. He is a wall. That’s the only way someone can be my friend. I have never faced judgement from him. I have never faced reproach from him. He is a wall.

She’s here again. She turns around to leave. I grab her arm and ask her to stay. She turns around in exasperation. Her hand is cold. My cheek stings. Why did she do that? Her mother asks me to leave. No, that can’t be right.

I open my eyes for real this time. I wasn’t really asleep, but I wasn’t really awake either. Most of the time I can tell the difference. I see the dust particles swirl in the small beam of light penetrating through the hole in the board covering the window. It’s 11 in the morning. My neck hurts from sleeping awkwardly.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Panic hits me like a bucket of cold water. Then it’s rage. I do the breathing exercises again. I am calm now. It’s late. Time is money. Money, it’s a gas. No, that’s a song.

I get up to make some tea, one hand on my aching neck. One quick glance at my phone tells me there’s nothing to do today that can’t wait. Uncle Trevor’s been out of town all week. He’s expected to return this weekend. I’ve been house-sitting. Apart from keeping things from getting dusty, I haven’t disturbed anything in the house, save the bedroom.

“What are you doing out of town anyway, Uncle Trevor?”
“Looking into a career as a shepherd.”
“Sheared sheep look ugly.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t have to love them now, do I?”

He never really tells anyone what he’s ever up to. Nobody knows how he has enough to get by on. I don’t think he’s written anything in a month.

I’ve been trying to be more socially active in his absence. I’ve met X every other day. He wants me to meet his boxing buddies and tell them a story today. It’ll be all me, my show, my moment to shine. I leave the house in ll grey everything. I stand outside the cafe for a good five minutes, looking through the glass, trying to figure out if he’s in there. He is. I enter.

The ambience is unsettling at first. The street outside was almost deserted, with no more than one vehicle passing by every couple minutes. Inside, it’s bustling with activity. There’s people moving to and fro, people on their phones, people discussing serious business face to face, people laughing at proper knee-slappers. The unintelligible static of a dozen voices all talking simultaneously makes me feel invisible. He’s with two others. They’re laughing at something he just said. No matter what, that’s always the kind of scene he seems to be in. He talks. People respond favourably. He calls me over.

“Alright, man. Tell us a story.”

Why is he putting me on the spot. I know we agreed to this, but this isn’t how normal conversations work. I know which one I’m telling. He knows the story too. He was a part of it. Should I just start? Should I introduce myself? He hasn’t introduced them.

One of them offers me his hand to shake. Okay, I suppose I should begin.

In the old neighbourhood, we had this way of picking teams.

“Yeah, we’d get into pairs and pick secret codes. Say, I pick green and you pick yellow. Then we’d ask the captains if they wanted green or yellow. That’s how it worked.”

Thank you. Now let me finish this?

“Anyway, sorry. Go on.”

So, this one time X and I were a pair. One of the captains pulled me aside and asked me to pick leaf and make X pick feather so he could have me on his team.

“Yeah, I remember that.” he grins. Of course he remembers.

And that’s what I did. When we asked him to pick, the asshole picked feather.

“Wait, so he intentionally didn’t pick you?” one of them asks.
Yes, that’s the point of the story. “Yeah, it was kind of a dick move. I mean he could have just asked X instead of me.”

“Not much of a story, was that? Anyway, that’s what you get for not playing fair.” X says. He’s laughing.

I suppose it is somewhat funny, if it didn’t happen. You don’t see me laughing.

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