Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor
Roger has never been good at coping.
He read the note. He looked around the apartment. He found her in the bathtub.
He went to Mark and Maureen's.
He set up the reel. He turned the projector on.
That's the way that Mark finds him; watching the reel of the previous New Year's, April and Roger drinking champagne, her giggling and flashing that smile of hers at the camera. Mark doesn't know it's the sixth time and counting that Roger's watched that reel. Mark doesn't know why he's there, how long he's been there, what's happened.
Mark doesn't know a lot of things, until Roger tells him.
"I'm dead," he tells Mark. He believes it. There is nothing to live for, and he'll end up dead sooner than later.
"You can survive this... you can, oh god, she - "
"She left me like this," Roger says harshly. "She was a coward."
"I'm a coward, too."
Mark doesn't know what to say to any of this. It's all too much. He follows Roger's gaze to the reel that's playing once more. "You'll live."
The image that endures of that night; Roger draws up his sleeve, and traces his fingers against the tracks on his arm.
Roger gets worse. Mark doesn't even try to stop him anymore, just avoids looking as Roger blatantly cooks the heroin in front of him, pushing the needle underneath the skin with practiced ease.
There are a few scares over the years, more each year. After the first and the fistfight that ensues, Mark stops bringing it up, and just shakes Roger awake the best he can and calls Collins to let him deal with it.
It's the day after the anniversary of April's death, when he gets the phone call from Collins, that Mark gives himself the guilty emotional beatdown of a lifetime. He never thought it would go this far, but now he's in a cab on his way to the hospitalwhere his best friend is dying of a heroin overdose.
They were just playing around, Roger kept saying, they were just born to be bad, rock and roll lifestyle.
"Born to be bad," Mark mutters in the back of the cab. "Bullshit."
They won't let him in the room. Collins stands outside the room with a grim look on his face, and Mark asks, "Is it bad?"
Collins is silent for a moment. "Yeah, it's bad."
"Of course it's bad, it's fucking heroin."
They drink a few cups of tea before they're finally let into the room, and Mark stares for only a few moments until he can't do anything but stare at the generic flowers beside him. "Christ."
"I'll cover it," Collins says quietly.
Mark doesn't go home until the nurse kicks him out. He takes out all of the reels with April, packs them into another box, and tapes the box shut. He shoves it under his and Maureen's bed, and, ignoring her snore, he attempts to sleep.
"Pookie," Maureen starts, as Mark crawls out of bed.
"I have to go see him."
"Let me come with you," she implores, crawling across the bed and lounging there as she watches him change.
"I have to talk to him about something, Maureen," Mark says patiently.
She frowns deeply, with every fiber of her attention. Vintage Maureen. "Well, I'll be there soon."
He goes to the hospital. Roger is there, staring up at the TV. General Hospital is on. "I know what you're going to say, so don't bother."
Mark leans on the bar at the end of his bed. "You're going to go into rehab."
"No," Roger says incredulously, "like we can afford - "
"How can you afford smack?" Mark cuts in, weary.
"You know," Roger snaps.
Dammit. He wishes he didn't know. He wishes this was all a different language to him, not something he actually had to deal with, not a world Roger chose to live in, no matter his damage. "Right. You're selling."
"Shut up," he hisses, "not so fucking loud, yes, I'm selling."
"You're going to get caught."
Roger snorts. "You think the cops care about another HIV positive junkie and all his junkie friends killing themselves softly?"
"Damn it, Roger!" Mark seethes.
A nurse looks in. "Please," she chides.
Mark glares at Roger, who looks defiantly back. "We have enough for some rehab. I hocked your guitar."
Roger sits up, tensed instantly. "You hocked my guitar?"
"With that and a few other things, nearly a grand." Mark straightens. "You can't live like this. This is for your own good."
"Mark, I want my fucking guitar back!"
Mark shakes his head, unable to keep his disgust and disappointment off his face.
"Close on Mark, as he turns to leave his pathetic junkie friend in the gutter where he belongs," Roger says caustically.
"I'm not going to leave," Mark retorts, furious. "You're going to go into rehab."
Roger hesitates only briefly before snapping, "I'll go if you get my guitar, I'll get the rest of the money myself, but I'll go."
"By selling?" Mark isn't angry anymore; he's won.
"Fine." Mark tries a wan smile. "You're not a coward," he adds as he heads out of the door. "You just proved that."
At this point, pissing off Roger is about the last thing Mark wants to do, even though the idiot deserves it, so he tracks down Benny.
"How's Roger?" is the first thing out of Benny's mouth.
"He's... Roger." Mark really thinks that says it all. Unrepentant, hot-headed, stubborn and hopeless. "Did Collins tell you?"
"I need some money to get Roger's guitar out of hock." Mark has the decency to look sheepish.
Benny blinks. "...You hocked Roger's guitar?"
"But I'm getting it back," he points out.
"Idon't have any money. Ask Collins?"
"Collins is already footing the hospital bill." Mark sighs. "Where's Maureen?"
"Life Café, she's there with Collins. I can't believe you hocked Roger's guitar."
Mark ignores it this time. "You're coming to Maureen's performance, right?"
Benny shakes his head. "I'm busy."
"Too busy for Maureen?" Or rather, Maureen's response to being ignored, really.
"I have a date."
"Well, bring her," Mark says reasonably.
Benny smiles wryly. "Somehow I don't think she'll be interested."
"Your loss." Mark shrugs. "See you." He leaves.
There's a rush of air as Mark pushes open the door of the Life Café, and then the undeniable sound of Maureen's laugh. He smiles to himself, shaking his head as he looks into the building. Collins isn't there, and Maureen is flirting with the waiter. He isn't smiling when he sits next to her. "Hey," he says.
"Hey," she says, suddenly grinning. She kisses him, and he curses himself even as he forgives her for what feels like the thousandth time, kissing her back.
The waiter is long gone. Mark would be glad, except he wants - no, needs - tea. It's been a long day. Still, he's a man on a mission. "Where'd Collins go?"
Maureen has that look of genuine empathy on her face. For a moment, he feels better just seeing that look on her face. "To see Roger. What's wrong, baby?"
He leans onto the table; her hand goes into his hair. By now she knows he loves that. "I need money to get Roger's guitar out of hock or he won't go to rehab."
"Will he be out of the hospital by the performance?"
Sometimes it is astounding how self-involved Maureen can be.
"No," Mark manages to say. "No, he won't."
She kisses him on the cheek. "You should start setting up soon, but go see Roger first."
"...I'm going home." He stands. He doesn't look at her.
"You all right, pookie?"
"Yeah." It's what she wants to hear. "I'll set up early."
She takes his hand. "I love you, Mark."
How Hollywood. Still, it gets him. "I love you, too." He squeezes her hand, giving her a forced smile before he pulls himself away and out of the café. He doesn't go home.
He goes to Roger's.
It's been a while, and Mark barely recognizes Roger's apartment. It's trashed. Roger has never been a neat freak - Mark is the closest that any of them gets, and his organizational skills boil down to a Sharpie, a roll of tape and a beaten up box to store reels in - but this is worse than Mark ever thought it'd be. No one could live here.
Then, Roger isn't really living here, is he?
He doesn't know why he's here. It just seems more important for him to be here than setting up Maureen's equipment, drinking tea at the Life Café, or... whatever. This is what's important. This is where Roger was.
The apartment is silent, the sounds of the city muttering outside, but as he stands in the door, he feels like an intruder, a grave robber, then shakes his head at the mere thought of the phrase. This is not a grave. Roger is going to survive. Roger has to survive.
Mark wanders over to the refrigerator. It's broken, and there's a rotted carton of milk. He wrinkles his nose and closes the door. He opens up the freezer, and hesitates only a moment before yanking out the gym bag crammed in there. He balances and unzips it, and it drops to the floor seconds after a rubber-banded stack of bills hits the floor.
"Jesus," Mark breathes, kneeling. Five hundred, right there. "The fuck, Roger?"
He opens the bag further, finds the smack and five more banded stacks. Of course. The urge to just flush the heroin down the toilet is overwhelming. Hateful shit. Hateful shit that's been stealing his best friend for years and nearly took him away.
Hate yourself. You could have stopped him.
No. I tried, I couldn't.
Shut up, Mark.
He replaces the money and zips the bag shut when he realizes that he's holding drug money, that any thought of taking this - fuck, even using it for Roger's rehab - might get Roger killed. He walks over to where he remembers the phone being, clears a pizza box off of it and picks a pair of panties from the receiver, and picks it up. There's no dial tone.
He shoves the gym bag back into the freezer and leaves, going down to the payphone across the street.
"Can I have Room 417, please? Thanks."
There's silence on the line. Mark knows Roger is there. "...Yeah?" Roger finally says.
"Hey. Get my guitar?"
"No, but." Somehow, I went into your apartment looking for drug money and found it doesn't sound like the right thing to say in this circumstance. "You don't have any money you can use?"
"I have money, but none I can use," Roger answers. "Maybe this should just wait until I get out of here."
"Roger, we need to use your... money." Mark glances at the girl wandering past, not wanting to be overheard talking about this. "We can't afford rehab and your guitar."
"If you touch my money, Mark..." Roger is starting to get pissed off. Damn it.
"Tell me where to sell and I'll sell what you have left," Mark says quickly.
"You're going to sell," Roger says skeptically.
Mark leans on the payphone. "What, is there training?"
"Well, lesson one, you don't make fun of a fucking junkie."
He smiles wryly to himself. "Got it."
"Don't touch it. Never mind," Roger sighs. He sounds tired or ill. Mark frowns; it's a habit. "It's still there, right?"
"What's still where?"
Oh, fuck. He hadn't thought of that, because he's never exactly been able to afford going back for any of the stuff he's pawned, has he? "Yeah," he lies fluently.
"Good. ... You coming up again?"
It's more of a relief than Mark would ever reallyadmit that Roger still wants him around. "Yeah, tomorrow."
There's a click. "I have to go," Roger says.
"See you tomorrow."
Mark puts the phone back on the receiver, leaning on the stand again as the coins clink into the payphone. He pushes himself up after a moment. Time to give the diva her stage.
Maureen's performance is all about "the Grey," the villain of her story, a bland, banality-of-evil thing, the idea of conformity spreading even into the colorful fantasy word of Alphabetland. It fits her usual theme, plus the tongue-in-cheek reference to the real estate investor that keeps trying to buy out the buildings in Alphabet City.
There are a lot of lights in this one. Mark has his work cut out for him, but it's worth it once he gets to see her perform. In many ways she's totally insane, but her sincerity and earnestness as an artist rings totally true. He fell in love watching her perform on a stage just like this.
At the end she wails out melodically like some sort of modern Andromache mourning the fall of her civilization, and flails out her arms – and the one violin note rises, a ray of hope, just as Mark bathes her in light and color.
Watching her in the heat of the moment takes his mind off Roger, of everything. That's the beauty of Maureen and her art, the truth laid bare in one split second, everyone experiencing that same moment and moving with it or against it.
She owns the crowd in that moment, the silence before the applause; they're all hers in the way that Mark is always hers.
Maureen giggles and hugs Mark once she sees him, gushes about his work, and sends him off bossily to pack everything up. He watches her talk to some admirers, then decides to stop torturing himself by feeding the well-earned voice of doubt in the back of his head. He gets to work.
"Hey, man, you Mark Cohen?"
It isn't usually him people are looking for after one of these, so Mark is completely unprepared. "Uh. Yeah. Hi," he greets the guy, then realizes he recognizes him. "Will, right?"
It's definitely him now that Mark gets a closer look. He was the drummer in the last band Roger was in, the one that fell apart because they were all fucked-up junkies of one stripe or another. Will crashed on their couch once or twice and used Mark's razor. In retrospect he was kind of an asshole.
"Yeah." Will doesn't seem too impressed. "Whatever, you have the stuff with you?"
"The stuff," Mark echoes, puzzled, and glances down at the monitor case when he gets it. The drugs. But this guy is definitely a junkie. "What about it?" he asks warily.
"Roger called me. Said he'd trade this for the shit he bought off me." He sets a guitar case in front of Mark, unlocks it, and there's Roger's guitar.
Mark can't help but grin a little bit in relief just at seeing the guitar, safe, about to be returned to its rightful owner; he didn't fuck everything up after all. "Right over here, it's all yours," he agrees, and opens the duffel bag to take out the money.
"Wait, wait, what are you doing," Will interrupts, grabbing his arm to stop him.
Mark freezes. "… Well this is Roger's money," he says.
"No, it's my money." Will starts to jam it back into the duffel bag, and with a single look sets Mark a wary step back. "See you 'round, little man."
"Yeah, all right," Mark excuses, closes the guitar case, and goes back to setting up.
Collins clears his throat from where he's sitting on the speaker box. "What was that?" he asks, eyebrows raised.
"Some unfinished business of Roger's," Mark says, casually, like it didn't kind of scare him to death. "No big deal."
He doesn't look convinced, but Mark's okay with that. "You need some help?" Collins asks.
Any help is more help than Mark usually gets. "Yeah, sure," he says.
They don't talk about it, but he doesn't want to, because once Roger has his guitar and his rehab, this whole shitfest will be over and he'll never have to deal with junkies, drug deals and hospitals ever again.
Collins cracks some jokes about Maureen's acrobatics in the performance, teases Mark about her flexibility, how far her legs can spread. As they laugh, the images of drug deals and near-death experiences fade, and everything looks a little bit brighter.
It looks like Roger might be asleep when Mark first enters his hospital room, but he's not; he just looks so exhausted, eyes half-lidded, that he might be feigning sleep to avoid conversation. Not for the first time since the heroin took over his life, Mark feels totally unwelcome in Roger's presence.
"It's me," he says unnecessarily.
Roger turns his head to look at him. "I know."
He looks like hell. Methadone detox, maybe. Mark doesn't know enough to tell, but it scares him, so he walks past it. "Ran into your friend Will at the performance last night," he says.
"Oh yeah?" He gives a dry laugh. "Is he still a prick?"
"Yeah," Mark confirms, the corner of his mouth turning up in a smile. "Anyway, your deal worked out." He grabs the guitar case and holds it up. "Got your guitar."
Roger starts to sit up, his mind seeming to clear as he sees the familiar, battered case. "Thanks," he says, and gestures for Mark to bring it over.
It's not an enthusiastic response, but it's a response, and Mark's just glad to see him relax a little bit. He sets the case in Roger's lap and watches him open it – then he closes it, and sinks back in the bed with a sigh.
Something just happened but Mark has no idea what. "What?" he asks, some dread creeping into his voice.
"Can you take it with you," he asks, less a question than a weak plea. "I just can't."
Sorry Mark, I know you just did a drug deal and risked your life to get me my guitar back but I just can't. Seriously? He just stares at Roger. "...I don't understand," he confesses.
"I can't play with an IV in my arm," Roger says, and Mark's frozen into silence by the emotion in his voice; he hasn't heard a lump in Roger's throat or frustration since before April's death. "I can't even remember how to start. Get it out of here."
This feels final. Mark pulls the case gently away from Roger and sets it down on the floor, out of sight. "This'll be over soon," he says, doing his best to console without offending.
"You can't fix me, Mark. I can't do this, I won't stay clean, so you'd better just – sell that fucking thing for cash so I can have a casket, man, and call my mom when I finally bite it," Roger adds; Mark has the intense desire to punch him in the face. "She'll want to know. Got that?"
"No," Mark says shortly, heated, fueled by their characteristic cocktail of love/hate. "You WON'T die on my watch."
"Then turn your back, Marky," Roger retorts.
Mark snaps, almost completely, and throws his hands in the air wordlessly before he finds words for his frustration. "I won't leave you alone to die. Not again. Got that?"
Roger just laughs. "You bet on the wrong horse," he says, not without irony.
"That's not funny," Mark says bleakly, and yanks the nearby chair towards him so he can collapse into it.
"You're wrong," Roger says, and tilts his thin focus to the window. "It's hilarious."
They don't know it at the time, but the next morning, when Mark wakes up in the chair to find Roger's taped the guitar case shut with the help of a nurse and some medical tape, it's obvious. Today is the first day of the rest of their lives, together and alone at the same time, stranded with company.
Even as Roger learns how to fake his way into looking improved and personable, he's not a real boy. Not yet. Even when he plays checkers with the other guys in rehab, joking and freely sarcastic, Mark knows it's a matter of time.
Roger lost April and lost himself, Mark's losing Roger and he's slipping, and Maureen is...
Maureen is gone.
Sometimes she's there, but she's not with him. She's dreaming of someone else, something else, someone better, who isn't addicted to a friendship with a guy who wants to be dead. Soon she's fucking other people, who aren't under so much stress that they can't get it up sixty percent of the time. He's useless, like he's got emotional methadone flooding his system, purging it out of him before he explodes. His scripts turn dark and his directorial inclinations grow abstract and ideological, and he grows to hate words and context and characters.
"We need to talk," Maureen says, as he sketches a storyboard for a story that's more of a concept, all nihilist and painfully wry, and looks up with an expression much the same.
"Yeah, I think we do," Mark answers, prompt and expectant and self-loathing to an extent he hasn't felt since high school.
Maureen is a lesbian, Benny owns their building because he married the daughter of the real estate tycoon Gray, and Collins hasn't called since Roger left rehab. It's starting to feel like Mark's past is just backstory to populate the big picture, that it doesn't matter what happened, that everything's changed.
Roger gets it. Good for him. "Things are fucked," he says when Mark tells him about Maureen. "We are so fucked."
"Correction: we are not fucked, because we have no girlfriends," Mark interjects cheerfully.
Roger grimaces at that. "Fuck."
Mark considers their situation and adds, "Not like you've seen a woman naked since the last time Maureen forgot to wear a towel."
"Far as you know," Roger says vaguely.
"Face it, we've both seen less pussy in the last two weeks than Maureen did last Friday."
Roger pus a valiant effort into not laughing or even cracking a smile until Mark sends him an innocent look, and then he snorts and withdraws, clutching at the notebook he's been writing vague phrases into for the last few weeks.
"You good?" Mark asks after watching him for a moment.
"Yeah," Roger says, simple and terse, and shuts him down with a collapse of his shoulders inward.
That's when Mark realizes the battle was pointless because the war was won too long ago. Roger is alive, he's there, but he's gone, and fuck knows what can bring him back.
He watches him, hoping for clues, like this is a movie with foreshadowing he can find, and finally turns the camera on Roger, Christmas Eve, on a last leap of narrative logic.
"First shot: Roger, tuning the Fender guitar he hasn't played in a year."