BY CARLY DODD
Carly Dodd has been telling stories all her life. Copyright is held by the author.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” — Matthew 18:21 & 22
“EVERYONE’S CAUGHT ON to everything you do.”
I look down at the grimy, filthy grey tiles of the floor with disgust. There are layers upon layers of muck and god knows what else mixed with unidentified liquids I sorely hope are just water. The leaky taps that line the wall certainly aren’t helping the mess; rust stains ring the tiles around the base of the drains as pools of scummy water seep their way down the clogged holes. There is a putrid smell of piss, beer and sweat mixed with rotting garbage and some unidentifiable stink that might be rat. The muffled pounding and thudding of a loud bass beat rumbles through the floor and I can feel its steady rhythm running through me, the hammering a sickening throb in my gut.
The cracked smeared wooden door which hangs precariously from its rotting hinges on the right-hand wall swings open with an almighty screech and a jumble of other noises flood the room. Raucous yells, drunken singing and maniacal laughter echo off the cold walls and floor. I look up at the intruder with a cold hard glare, and the lop-sided smile slides from his scarred and worn face. His eyes show a glint of understanding behind their glazed surface and he backs out once more with a slightly confused little nod.
I turn away from the door. Reflected in the chipped mirror before me, under layers of smeared germs and grim the back of his head lolls from side to side. I follow my gaze downward and look at the sorry wretch directly. His limp semi-conscience body is sprawled across the filthy floor, legs spread wide, head rolling from one shoulder to the other as he tries to remain focused on me. His hair is matted and dirty and he has the air of a handsome man who has let himself go. His half-closed eyes blink slowly, trying desperately to take in our surroundings with some kind of meaning.
“Everyone’s caught on to…”
“I heard you.”
His voice is gruff and slurred as he cuts me off, reaching a hand out to grab the edge of a stained urinal and pull himself up. He fails miserably at this, but succeeds in slumping in a slightly more upright fashion. He’s really done it this time. There’s a slight clink of glass on tile and a stream of foaming brown liquid spills out across the floor. The empty bottle which he held full only seconds before rolls towards my foot and I kick it aside, sending it spinning towards the overflowing garbage bins. His reaction time is slow and he looks down at his now empty hand for a moment as though trying to decipher what has just happened. A grin spreads across his face instead, and he looks up at me again. “Woops.”
“Woops?” I say, the well controlled anger I’ve been holding at bay for so long threatening to boil over. “That’s all you have to say to me right now is woops?”
“Oh come on,” he laughs, and the sound is like stabs of ice. There is nothing more infuriating than being laughed at when you’re thoroughly pissed off at someone. “It’s just a bit of fun.” Before I can stop myself my hand shoots out and punches him hard in the face. His head snaps back with a jerk and when our eyes meet again, they seem finally focused, a hot anger now rising behind their deep grey even as the blood wells up in the cut now dividing his lip.
“What the Hell was that for?” he asks, a flicker of hatred running across his face.
“You promised,” I say simply. I see the dawning in his eyes for a moment, but then just as suddenly it’s gone to be replaced by that numbed happiness that’s been plastered over his features so often these past few months. The ghostly numbing blankness that has encompassed him, my once best friend, and turned him into something else entirely. Something vacant. For a moment, I feel myself slipping back into memories, but I stop short, remembering how he promised, he swore it. And here he was, passed out drunk on the floor again. Again! This wasn’t the first time. Hell, there were days when we’d be pissed as shit together, having the time of our lives. But this, this was something else. This was different. The sight was beyond revolting, it was heartbreaking. I should never have left him alone, I knew that now. But it wasn’t my job to be his babysitter, either. Fuck, he wasn’t a child.
“Get up,” I say steadily. For so long I’ve held it all together, but a night like this is begging to pull me apart. He’s done it again, and I thought we were so far beyond this. He looks up at me. The face I once knew so well has changed, hollowed. I can see pain and anguish beneath his happy facade of drunken numbness and a hard brazen look as he tries to stare me down.
“Get up,” I say again more forcefully, and he can hear the hardness in my tone. I’m not fucking around this time. His word is shot to hell and I will afford him no mercy. “Get the fuck up you sad bastard and look me in the eye when I’m talking to you!” All I want is a fight, right now. All I want is his old self back. The one that wouldn’t take this shit lying down, who’d have already landed a few swings and choice words. I felt as though if only I could get him angry enough, maybe he’d snap out of it. Maybe he’d come back fighting, stronger than ever.
He leers and lurches upwards, desperately trying to right himself. “You promised me you weren’t going to do this again. Look at you – you’re pathetic!” I grab the back of his once so well groomed hair and turn his face around, pushing him hard against the cracked mirror. “Look at yourself. You really think you’re happy? How can you look yourself in the eyes? You’re nothing but a sad pathetic wretch.” I’ve never felt so livid in my life, my hands shaking with rage.
With immense difficulty he manages to open his eyes again and peer at his sorry reflection beneath the layers of beer, grit and oil that deface the mirror’s surface. I can’t tell what he’s thinking, but I know he’s trying hard, a slow sluggish dawning growing behind his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says finally in a whisper so quiet it’s barely audible. His voice is defeated.
“Don’t apologize to me!” I say, looking hard into his eyes reflected in the mirror. I’m more angry now than ever. He doesn’t have a right to go all soft and pathetic on me, I’m pissed and I need him to get pissed back.
“Look what you’re doing to yourself. You don’t even see it! I hope you choke and die on the next round, maybe then your sorrows will be drowned for good.”
“What am I supposed to do? Everything has gone to hell,” he spits back. There, a flicker. The first sign of resistance. I can’t tell if he’s looking for some sympathy with his sentiments, but I have none to give. He’s drained every last bit of pity from my veins and brought it all on himself.
“Not this,” I say, “the answer was never this.”
“Is it so wrong to not want to feel anymore? There’s nothing good left in this fucking world.”
I clench my jaw tight as images of him with the rest of the boys flash before my eyes. His family. His life.
“You still had us.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
“But it is! You just don’t get it. Is this what you call dealing with your problems? Do you think you’re being subtle with this little routine? Every night it’s the same, get so fuckin’ plastered you won’t feel. And that’s all well and good for a little while, you think you’re doing just fine numbing it all out, but then the highs aren’t so high anymore, are they, and the sorrow and despair start to catch up with you. So you have another, and another, trying to chase your fears like some twisted drinking game. Are you winning? All the liquor in the world couldn’t keep your deepest fears at bay. So what exactly did you save yourself from? You used to be so much more. Shit, that’s what everyone always loved about you, man, you always had that goofy-ass smile on your face. Now look at you. Your fears have crippled you. I’m not picking you back up this time.”
His hands have gone white as they grip the sides of the dirty basin, his head hanging slightly, but his eyes are still fixed on mine through the mirror. His greasy hair flops over his forehead and his clothes are ripped and stained. He stinks of alcohol and cigarettes and the putrid fumes of despair.
“I won’t let you let me down again. I’m not putting myself through that. It’s been one too many times, and I’m not putting up with your shit anymore.” My words are coming like venom, every ungrateful, selfish, hateful thought I’ve ever had spilling forth unbidden. “Fuck it.”
I breathe in a deep steadying breath and turn on my heel, not looking back. He’s pushed my hand away one too many times, and it’s up to him now to pull himself back together. I’m not his fucking mother. Shit it would break her heart to see him now. He lurches towards me, whether out of anger or pleading I don’t know and his hand lands on my shoulder, gripping. I react immediately, without thinking, my clenched fist swinging around in one fluid motion to hit him square across the jawbone. There is a sickening crack and he staggers backwards. He swings back at me, his arms floppy with fatigue and drunkenness, and lands a blow on my shoulder. My next blow hits him in the nose and he falls backwards, I hear his solid frame crash to the floor, his head smacking against the hard tile with a sickening crack. His eyes flicker shut as a stunted gasp escapes his lips. There is dark thick blood mixing rapidly with the beer and piss that coats the floor tiles, swirling crazily as it heads for the slanted drain, rushing down and down. I inhale deeply. How many times must I forgive?