Hm, so I was inspired today to start another chapter story. Basically, Roger becomes mysteriously and extremely self-absorbed (not to mention insecure) and runs away after Mimi's death. This isn't a revolutionary response to grief, but he gives no respectable explanation and leaves everyone in the dark, especially his best friend. Fourteen years later (2002-ish) he decides to come back to pick up where he so bluntly left off. Unbeknownst to Roger, that's going to be kind of difficult to do...
Begin scene: Mark is forty and in a library...
Roger has always loved libraries.
An unseemly quirk, right?
Not necessarily. You'd have to know him to know why.
And I know Roger...
…I realize I'm mercilessly squeezing the novel I've pulled from a shelf. I lessen my grip and wipe away the finger marks I've sweated onto the plastic cover.
'Anorexia: The Struggle to be Thin'.
I also realize I'm not putting much effort into finding reading material…
Of course I'm not! All the effort is going into silently narrating Roger's traits…
Distracted, I shove the anorexia book into the bulimia shelf, dog-earing every possible page and inevitably causing a domino effect with an entire part of the eating-disorder section. The books slump, ransacked, and settle, defeated, in a linear pile. I sigh and stare at them for a moment, with a look of, "Now who did that?" Then I set my jaw and glance at the hanging dividers chained to the ceiling. What the fuck am I doing in the self-help section?
Roger would never carelessly demolish a neat row of books. Now that I think about it, he should have gotten a job at a library at some point in his life. Surely he cared enough to straighten them. He was a stickler for details too. That we shared. Working here he would've been productive. More productive than a careless heroin junkie, for one thing. More productive than notebooks full of wasted songs and a rugged guitar. More productive than two dead girlfriends and a revoked potential. More productive than a turncoat-
A loudspeaker crackles.
"…Attention library patrons, the time is now 8:15 and we will be closing in fifteen minutes. We recommend you save your work if you are using a computer, and that you make your final selections and bring them to the front for checkout. Thank you."
I blink and shake my thoughts.
Right. The self-help section. I wandered into this aisle.
I unball my fists and smirk to myself. I wonder if they have, 'How to Stop Internal Narration and Senseless Reminiscing?' Or how about, 'How to Skip Your Mid-Life Crisis and Redirect Your Time and Energy Into Coping With Failure?' Or maybe, 'How to Effectively Stop Thinking About Roger Davis, Because He Has Completely Stopped Thinking About You?'
Or maybe just, 'How To Snuff Sarcastic Internal Inconsistency, and Go Two Aisles Over to the Novellas, Where You Wanted To Be In The First Place, and Pick Out A Book and Leave Because The Poor Librarians are Trying to Go Home to Their Families?'
I was always the one who hated the library. I mean, I respected what the library stood for, but it was always so damn quiet. I was quiet. I didn't like my surroundings quiet. That was half the reason I moved to busy, noisy New York. I never liked silent films.
…Willa Cather. James Joyce. Fitzgerald, Twain, books on tape, VHS, CD rack, self help, dingy carpet, cherry wood check-out desk, Mark Cohen standing stupidly in middle of aisle, blocking library traffic. Waves of pity undulating from his temples. Weak knees. Anger.
I poke two fingers under my glasses and stab at my eyes. I need a stronger prescription. I think it's been two years, or whatever, the period in-between optometrist visits is supposed to be. I can't make out the book titles. My eyes are giving out. They really don't care to read anymore. Or maybe I'm just concentrating on blurring my vision.
…I used to come to the library to do homework. But I'd get in and get out. Find the resources and leave. Smile politely at the plump librarian with the beehive hair, steal a bookmark and duck out to the parking lot. Sit in my car and listen to Tracy Chapman. Study with my legs tucked under me, my back to the steering wheel.
…I got into Brown on loud music and cramped spaces.
I absentmindedly spin the short story rack and watch Cather, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Twain morph into one simultaneous tower of book.
"Attention library patrons…"
Yeah, yeah shaddup. I rather than flipping off the ethereal voice, I jam my middle finger into the spinning rack and abruptly stop its rotation. Burroughs. 'Naked Lunch'.
…Roger used to come to the library to do homework. He'd come in and curl up in the grandfatherly and battered leather chairs that library-goers tend to praise as ancient and comfortable and magic and coercive to an apposite reading experience. He'd scowl at the plump librarian with the beehive hair, steal away to the secretive windowsills at the back of the Scarsdale Public Library. He'd escape his home life. His father. Escape the noise and the risk, allow himself to get drowsy in the enforced quiet. Chuckle to himself because he was a sucker for a good book. Get lost in a story. Bask in the irony that he adored freelance reading and loathed school. Happy that this was the place where no one would ever bother him.
I flip through 'Naked Lunch'. It's gibberish, I can possibly decide why it's been called a classic. Damn the Beat Generation. I think it's about a heroin addict. Hm…
I met Roger our junior year of high school, so we both had a substantial amount of research papers and book reports under our belts. Although, Roger The Library Aficionado skipped school whenever it was convenient. I don't think we ever went to a library together in our teenage years. The only reason I knew Roger loved the library was because he confessed to me.
Roger told me everything.
Roger has always, told me, everything.
That's what best friends do.
Collins used to be crazy about 'Naked Lunch'. Maybe it's an esoteric love amongst potheads? He left me his book collection in his will…
I put 'Naked Lunch' back, carefully, in it's rightful home, making sure not to interrupt the Dewey Decimal-centric order. I might have a copy at home. You lose, spin again.
I watch the individually colored-spines of the books mesh to a pillar of gray, forgetting to flip off the rack. I halt the ellipse with my index finger this time. I land on a metal divider. Lose a turn.
I take off my useless glasses and wipe them on my jacket. It's corduroy, so I'm doing more harm than good.
I've always done more harm than good.
"Stay." I pleaded with him.
Can't risk another love lost. Can't stick around. Run away hit the road don't commit Roger Davis is full of shit. That sounds like a fucked-up nursery rhyme. Mimi wanted kids. Mimi would've been an excellent mom. I'm sure Collins had Mother Goose in that book collection too. Uncle Mark could've babysat. Would've been a better dad than that bastard Roger Davis is full of shit, doesn't try, has to run.
'How To Stop Replaying Life-Altering Moments in Your Head Over And Over And Over And Over Like One of Your Fucking Films. Oh, P.S. You Do That Too. Because You-'
I don't miss Roger.
A game of chance. I spin the rack.
Maybe I should take up gambling?
'Animal Farm'! Never read it. Sounds depressing.
…I wonder what Roger is doing right now…
I flip through the book.
I laugh. Out loud.
…I wander what Roger has been doing for the past fourteen years…
That is a good question. I stare at the barn on the cover of 'Animal Farm' like it contains the mystery of the universe. Isn't 'Animal Farm' a dystopia? Philosophy? I wrinkle my nose. Collins has this too.
I glance at the library clock. Bend backwards and glance out the library doors. The sun has set. I can see my car at the curb. The meter flashing 'Expired', mocking, red, winking at me and bouncing vibrantly off my side mirror. Tattling. Where's the meter cop?
I bend backwards further and try and catch any glimpse of a pink parking ticket tucked under the wiper. So far so good.
What does it matter if I get a ticket?
It's not really my car.
Maybe April's dad's?
Who cares. He didn't take it with him when he died, she didn't take it with her when she died, and Roger didn't take it with him when he ran.
Basically because he literally ran.
He left on foot.
"Where are you going?" I hand him a sweatshirt off the couch. Our couch. The couch we bought together when we agreed to move in together, the kind of couch you buy when you have a roommate, a best-friend kind of couch. The kind of couch you sit on and face each other and talk about things, secrets, tell stories, jokes, epics, confessions- like how Roger loves libraries.
…I think I've left the present. A dangling line of drool wriggles onto 'Animal Farm'. Whoa, I'm really into this reminiscing.
I shake my head but the flashback persists. Insists.
I hand him a sweatshirt. Give it to his outstretched fingers that are hastily trying to pack. I help him pack. I blink and rewind my memory.
"Where are you going?"
Yep. My hand leaves my side, goes to the couch and makes contact with the sweatshirt. My fingers curl around the collar. I lift. It lifts. Roger takes the offering.
What the fuck Mark?! You helped him pack!
'How To Accept The Fact That You Accepted The Fact That Roger Needed To Leave, And Thus Handed Him His Sweatshirt.'
Oh, that's right…
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know Mark. Away." He laughs and shakes his head. It's not funny. "I really need to get away." He punches at the suitcase, zipping it, hastily. It bulges.
He swings the hefty thing onto the floor. He glances at his wristwatch. He sticks his hand in his pocket and shuffles around. His hand emerges with a bus ticket. One bus ticket. One way.
"No I mean, really…where?"
"I don't know yet. You…you and Coll can handle things, right?"
Until he dies, yes Roger, we can handle things magnificently.
"I'll call you, Mark. Okay? Will you stop looking at me like that? I'll be back soon. I can't take this anymore."
Hm, now what do I say? Take your AZT! That's my favorite.
Wash behind your ears!
Bring clean underwear!
Don't let the bedbugs bite!
Don't let your T-Cells vanish!
Eat your broccoli!
Call your best friend like you promise you will!
Your best friend.
Come back soon!
Keep in touch!
He mumbles. He glances one last time around the apartment and scratches his head. Sets April's dad's/April's/his/my car keys on the umbrella stand. The umbrella stand we bought because we thought it'd be funny to have an umbrella stand, funny because neither of us gave a fuck if we got wet, that is, of course, until someone's immune system gave a fuck and we bought an umbrella.
Last words. Good job Mark. Very original.
I scold myself. How did I know they were last?
Roger forgets to close the door.
I listen to his suitcase bang all the way down the stairs.
I listen to Roger's footsteps come all the way back up the stairs.
I'm already at the ready, guitar case set neatly in the doorframe.
"Thanks." He grunts. "Almost forgot."
You're welcome. Welcome that I can predict you.
'How To Not Sound Like A Stalker When You're Thinking About Your Best Friend.'
I plaster myself to the loft's window. Watch him disappear around Eleventh street, big suitcase banging along behind embarrassingly, guitar case bouncing off his leg.
He rounds the corner. Then he is gone.
I switch reels in my brain.
-My 30th birthday party, four years later. After four years I am almost certain Roger isn't going to come back around the corner. Almost.
It is also an 'almost' birthday party. Some friends from work. A withered Collins. Cindy. Benny drives up from the Hamptons. Joanne.
Maureen is working. Fancy that. Working. She teaches. Drama. Four years of Joanne's insisting and four years of college, determination, and charisma Maureen is a certified teacher. It's a Wednesday, a school day. She'll visit me when the bell rings.
Collins smiles, giggles, wheezes, straps a ridiculously pointy birthday hat to my head. He carefully pulls my glasses from my face and replaces them with lens-less plastic in the shape of the number '30.' Wheezes. Lights fizzing birthday candle. Wheezes. Begins 'Happy Birthday'. Blind, I watch the candle sizzle. I think of Mimi. Mimi reminds me of Roger. I think about Roger. Everyone joins in singing. (Except Collins. He wheezes.) My grin fades. The song ends. Everyone claps. The candle is close to going out. "Quick!" cries Collins. I rear back and inhale.
I blow out the candle with incredible force and wish for Roger to come home.
I switch reels, quickly, because the library is close to locking me in and I don't feel like reminiscing anywhere else but at this library.
-Jump forward five years. Collins is long gone. So is the loft. So is Benny. He moved to San Francisco. He promised to write (and he does) and he conned someone into selling me a place in Chelsea. A flat. I moved away and moved in. Alone, with nothing to do but sit around and edit films and get a job-editing films in Greenwich. The IFC Center. Independent films. I didn't entirely sell out. That was okay. I had to convince myself that was okay. I bought a dog, for company. A German Shepard. I thought it was a girl. Named it Mimi. Paid for its shots. Learned it had a penis. Named it Roger. Hated myself for it. Asked it questions like, "Where is your namesake?" It never answered me. Changed its name to Collins. It got hit by a car. Bought a goldfish. Three years passed. The goldfish died. It never had a name.
Two years pass.
Bohemia died somewhere along with Mimi, Collins, and my youth. I still feel artistic though. But I also feel the early stages of arthritis. I need new glasses. I'll buy designer frames, I think, since money isn't so hard to come by anymore. I miss Bohemia. I miss Benny. Sometimes I have urges to leap on a table and sing. To backtrack a little and do something more amazing and subversive. But mostly I have urges to go to the library and check out a book so I can sit home and read it. I think I'm older than I should be…
It's September. Roger's birthday would've came and went. He's forty too. Happy Birthday Roger. Wherever you are.
"Attention library patrons…"
I squint one eye at 'Animal Farm' and decide that even if Collins has this in his possession that I'm going to get it anyway. Did I come to the library for nothing? I tend to do that a lot lately. Do things for no evident purpose.
An unseemly quirk, right?
You could always ask Roger. He knows that I'm not always 100 sure of myself. Maybe that was my demise.
"Animal Farm." Someone says from behind me.
'How To Break Your Self Pity With An Interruption From A Fellow Library Patron.'
I look up, annoyed that this other person can read, and is reading my selected title.
I smile with the corner of my mouth and shake the book slightly. "Yep." I turn around and roll my eyes, prepared to walk away quickly. Whoever was reading over my shoulder is now breathing down my neck.
"You've been staring at it for a pretty long time-"
What the fuck, go away! "Mm-hm. Deciding whether or not I should get it."
"Ooh, you should. It's a classic."
"I've…heard. Uh, thanks for making up my mind. Um, they're closing now, so, ha, better go check this out then…"
"No problem. You'd better hurry though. The meter cop's patrolling. She's on Bleeker, but she's coming up this way pretty quickly."
My heart drops and I fumble for my library card in my chest pocket. I suppose the last thing I need right now is a ticket. I'll probably end up paying late fees for this book, better shirk the fine.
"Oh! Thanks..." I wave gratefully and hastily over my shoulder and hustle to the checkout. I smile at the librarian and grab a bookmark. The fellow patron brushes past, hopping the velvet ropes and ignoring the librarian.
…How does he know that's my car………….?
"Again, no problem." He mumbles.
My eyebrow goes up before the corners of my mouth do.
Roger shrugs, pushing through the revolving entrance doors.
The little red light on the meter winks at me, bouncing off the passenger mirror. It blinks after him, tattling.
Roger has always loved libraries.