• By J. Matthew Smith

A Buffalo Tale

Updated: Dec 26, 2019


“Imagine,” Kate said in equal parts anger and amazement, “getting a call at three in the morning from your neighbor that there’s some guy passed out cold, laying on his stomach on your front lawn with his pants and underwear pulled down to his ankles. I mean, what the fuck?

“My father shit, just hit the roof. He slammed the phone down so hard I jumped out of bed from a deep sleep and nearly had a heart attack. At first I thought something horrible happened, but when I heard him swearing I just knew that you were involved somehow.”

OK, I admit: this was even worse than that time I woke up in the satellite dish in Dayton. Old Crow, it never fails. Hell, drinking gasoline would probably be safer. God knows why I never foresee what’s in store for me once I start drinking this stuff. I should know better. Once that bird starts flying, that’s when the trouble starts. It was Old Crow, in fact, that got me a few months ago, too, downtown when I was robbed after passing out in the alley between that shoe repair shop and liquor store on Allen Street. The fucker stole my wallet, my watch and even took the glasses right off my face. So here I am again, hung-over and feeling like someone dropped an anvil on my head, trying to hide from the sunlight blaring through the windshield and fighting the urge to vomit as she drives me home yet again from another night in lockup. Kate pounded on the steering wheel.

“My father was just livid… LIVID,” she yelled, shaking her head in disgust. “I swear, he wanted to shoot you. I never seen him so pissed. I had to beg him not to kill you.”

“You should have let him,” I moaned with a degree of self-pity that astonished even myself. “Besides, why would you care anyway?” Kate said nothing. By now my act had no doubt grown loathsome to her and easy to ignore. She kept her eyes fixed straight ahead on the road, while breathing angrily through her nose like a bull that’s ready to charge.

“I’m sorry,’ I said in a half-whisper. “I just wanted to see you. I just wanted to talk.”

“Oh Christ, Baze. You’ve gotta stop this. Really. Just back off a little. Give me some space.”

“If it was only space that you wanted, Kate, then that would be one thing. I could deal with space.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do. Unfortunately. I think the picture you painted for me a few months ago was quite clear. You know, when you crushed my heart. How did you put it exactly? Oh yeah, ‘I don’t love you anymore.’ Yep, that was it. So, yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Goddamn it, Baze, grow up. It’s over. Did you know my father wanted me to get a restraining order against you after you broke into my car last month and passed out in the back?”

“How was I supposed to know you had switched cars with your mothe? Believe me, she scared me just as bad when she screamed as I scared her when she noticed me.”

“She didn’t notice you until she was half way down the street!”

“It’s not my fault she didn’t see me.”

“You were on the floor under a blanket!”

“It was cold!”

Kate shook her head in both disbelief and disgust.

“When are you going to move out of your parents’ house anyway?”

“As soon as I save enough money. You know this was only temporary anyway. I needed a place to crash for a while after I moved out. And why am I explaining this to you? It’s none of your business.”

“You're my business, Kate.”

“I not your business anymore.”

“Nice. Real nice.”

“And stop acting like you are the only one this has been hard for. It’s been hard on me, too.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Fuck you, Baze.”

I kept quiet, and tried to string together the events of the night before. Pants down, ass up and out cold on her front lawn. Oh man, just pathetic. I’m guessing here, but I can only assume I passed out while relieving myself. I have no proof — nor memory — but given the fact that my clothes smell like the floor of a men’s room at the county fair on a hot August day, I’m making an educated guess.

The car was suddenly submerged in a painfully awkward silence. She was right, of course. She was none of my business now and I couldn’t handle that. But shit, we were together six years. How do you just move on after that? That’s not to say I have the right to be so pathetic. Trust me, I’m making myself sick. She’s absolutely right. I’m not stupid. I see that. It’s just that at the moment, the only thing making me happy is wallowing in my own self-hate.

“A restraining order, huh?”

“Yeah,” Kate said, chuckling slightly. “And just when I finally talk him out of it, the next thing you know you’re found passed out with your pants down on his lawn in the middle of the night.”

“Thanks for talking him out of it.”

“Well, good thing for you, otherwise you’d be in a hell of a lot more trouble than you are now.”

“It’s just public drunkenness. I’ll pay a fine, that’s all.”

“Oh, just a fine. And with what money will you be paying this fine? You can’t even pay for a cup of coffee.”

“Think I might be able to borrow some money?”

“Oh Jesus.”

* * *

She said I lost my swagger.

“The first time I saw you, I remember thinking, ‘There’s something about the way he carries himself.’ You just had this confidence. You exuded it. You looked, I dunno, cool. You had swagger. What happened? It’s not there anymore.”

Again, she’s right. I can’t tell you when I lost it – that swagger - but I know that I did. It’s been gone for a while. Everything’s been gone for a while, in fact. Everything just seems like bullshit to me.

A few weeks ago, I was driving behind a van that was shuttling a bunch of mental patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. I’m assuming they were mental patients, at least, by the way they were thrashing about in the van as we were stopped at a red light on Elmwood. One of the patients turned around and looked out the back window at me, then pressed his face up against the glass and starting blowing. As I watched his face inflate, I thought to myself, ‘God, I envy this guy.’ Really. I mean, in a sense, he was free. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do at the exact moment he wanted to do it. He was following his primal instinct. Given his situation, he was absolutely free to act any way he pleased, follow any impulse he had, and just go with it. He had no inhibitions. He didn’t care what anyone thought of him, and he didn’t have to. It’s strange when you think about it. Here’s this guy, locked up in the Psych Center, and if he wants to smear his feces on a wall, he’ll do it. Meanwhile, here I am, considered to be a free man, and I’m expected to act the way others want. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say I want to smear my feces on anything. All I’m saying, I guess, is that life has its share of intrinsic ironies.

Anyway, if I’m being truly honest, I’ve merely been going through the motions for quite a while now. Truth is, I find most people unbearable and I’m interested — really genuinely interested, that is — in very little. I don’t know. The world is full of assholes, and maybe I just finally had enough. I haven’t worked in four months and that seems to bother everybody but me. I don’t know what everyone’s so worried about. I’ll get a job again. But I refuse to work for some Napoleonic control-freak who acts like I’m committing some egregious crime against humanity if I walk into work at 9:13 in the morning, instead of nine sharp.

My last boss, Ken Reynolds — a humorless, power-crazed, barrel-chested midget — was up my ass so much you’d swear the guy was a proctologist as opposed to a sales manager at a life-insurance agency.

“Work your plan, and plan your work!”

“Think outside the box!”

“Work smart!”

This guy was simply incapable of not speaking in clichés.

“Look, Basil, it’s mission critical that you get here at 9 a.m. Time is money. And if you aren’t going to do it my way, then it’s the highway. So, either get your head around that concept or hit the bricks. Remember, cream rises to the top. But, the low-hanging fruit, well, we kick that to the curb.”

It was bad enough his speech was saturated in the most horrible business clichés ever to pollute the English language, but even worse was the fact that the clichés he strung together were completely disjointed. Christ, you pick low-hanging fruit. You don't kick it to the curb.

Regardless, I couldn’t take his bullshit anymore. The way I began to see it, man was not put on Earth to be some hapless office drone forced on a daily basis to eat the shit of some poorly spoken cheese ball afflicted with Little Man’s Disease. So, I told him to take his job, and shove it — a timeworn cliché he surely could understand, and, that, when translated means “Fuck You, Asshole.”

The day I quit, I walked out of that office with a sense that the world was mine. Finally. I was free from the stress of spending my entire day trying not to attract the attention of the prick for whom I worked and watching the clock until the small hand struck five and the big hand struck twelve. I called Kate and told her the good news. But strangely, she didn’t seem to share my joy.

“You quit? What the hell Baze? You have absolutely nothing lined up. Nothing.”

“Don’t worry. I’m young. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. I just couldn’t take the bullshit anymore. I didn’t need the stress.”

“The stress? My God, that job was the only obligation you had. You have no family, no mortgage, nothing. You don’t even have a car payment. You wouldn’t know stress if it bit you in the ass, Baze.”

“C’mon Kate, Reynolds was an asshole.”

“You’re an asshole, Baze. You need to grow up. This isn’t funny anymore.”

* * *

Considering Kate’s reaction that day, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when, a month-and-a-half later, she rejected my proposal of marriage. Nonetheless, I think what caught me off guard was that she not only turned me down, she actually used the opportunity to break up with me.

“Oh Baze, marriage? Really? You don’t even have a job.”

“Yeah, now… but Jesus Kate, there’s a thousand jobs out there.”

“And you don’t want any of them.”

OK, she was right, again. But that’s not to suggest I was somehow intent on staying unemployed forever. It was more that I was just carefully planning my next move. I was searching for my niche. You know, people spend their entire life doing what others expect of them and then before they know it, their life has passed them by. I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“Look, I just what to find something that interests me. What the fuck, Kate? Insurance? I couldn’t stand another minute in that place.”

“Baze, no one said you had to do that for the rest of your life. But it gave you a paycheck and you could have stayed there until you found something you liked better. Besides, it’s not even that you quit. It’s just your whole attitude…”

“Oh God, this is your father talking, Kate.”

“No, it’s not. Although, he’s right. You’re lazy. You have no goals. You have no motivation. And on top of that, you want to marry me? Why would I accept that for myself?”

“Your dad’s full of shit. I’m not lazy. Although I’ll tell you what: I have no problem not succeeding, at least in terms of how he defines success.I’ll succeed and when I do, it’ll be on my own terms.”

“Oh, Christ. You know, ‘The World According to Baze’ I used to find endearing. But I don’t anymore. It’s no longer cute.”

An unsettling silence consumed the room, that sort of silence that is not only discomforting, but that also foreshadows something quite horrific. And sure enough, my instinct was dead-on.

“Baze, I think we need to go our separate ways.”

My heart plunged into my stomach.

“Wha… what?” I stammered.

“I’m sorry. I just think… I think it’s time we end this. It’s not working anymore.”

“Not working? What do you mean, not working? I’m in love with you Kate. Did you not pick up on that when I asked you to marry me just a few short minutes ago?”

“Baze, don’t…”

“No, Kate. I don’t get it. Where’s this coming from? I love you.”

“It’s what I’m feeling.’

“What are you feeling, Kate? Do you love me?”

“Please, Baze, don’t…”

“Do you love me?”

“No, OK? I don’t. Not like I used to!”

“My God. Don’t let your father force you into doing this.”

“It’s not him.”

“Bullshit.”

“It’s not, Baze. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.”

“Thinking about what, goddamn it?”

“I just think… I just think I’ve outgrown you.”

Outgrown me?

Wow. I think that’s the most brutal thing anyone has ever said to me.

***

I’ve never been one of those guys whose sexual fantasy involved a girl in a Catholic school uniform. Trust me, I went to Catholic school my whole life with girls who were required to wear these outfits, and the truth is, they are boner killers — the Pope’s very own saltpeter.Contrary to the picture that’s painted by porno mags and adult films, there were no Catholic girls going to school wearing their uniforms with thigh-high leather boots, fishnet stockings or high heels. Rather, flats were the only acceptable footwear, and knee socks were required, as well. Let me assure you, too, there is nothing at all sexy about flats and knee socks. Pulled up to just above the kneecap, the socks had this strange way of making everyone’s thighs appear chunkier and pastier than they really were. And when combined with flats, most girls looked downright stumpy.

As I said, ‘most girls.’ Kate, of course, was the exception. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her: She was standing in the middle of the gym after school, talking with a few of her friends. I had never even seen her before that day, but when I walked into the gym that afternoon, there she was. I was frozen. I had never seen anyone so beautiful. It’s hard to explain really, but I could just tell by looking at her that she smelled good. She looked clean, almost sparkling. And the figure she cut in that school uniform was unprecedented, as if someone sculptured her while the rest of us were in class that day and then just left her in the middle of the gym for all of us to discover. Her beautiful olive skin, dark eyes and dark brown hair were in perfect contrast to her crisp white school-issued blouse. By the end of the day, most girls I went to school with looked like the building and grounds crew used them to roll sod. But not Kate. Un-rumpled and not a hair out of place, she appeared as if someone had dry-cleaned her. Her face was angelic, her breasts were idyllic and her waist descended gradually and perfectly into a shapely ‘V’ that fit neatly into the waist of her Navy blue skirt. Her olive skin was enough to combat the usual unflattering side effects for which those atrocious white knee socks were so often responsible, and despite her tan and worn, leather flats, her thin but muscular calves and firm behind staved off any hint of stumpy-leg syndrome from which the others seemed to suffer. Certainly, Kate was an absolute vision.

“I can’t get my off eyes off that girl. You know her?”

My friend’s sister, Kristen, was in the gym and I had called her over after noticing she had been speaking to Kate.

“Yeah, she’s a friend of mine. She’s in my class. Her name is Kathryn Meehan. She goes by ‘Kate.’”

“My God, she’s beautiful.”

“You like her, huh?”

“I’d drink her bath water.”

“Sick! My God, you’re gross.”

“I can’t help it. I would. You gotta hook me up.”

“Not if you keep acting perverted.”

“Oh grow up. Where does she live?”

“In South Buffalo. She takes the Metro to school, like everyone else who lives there.”

“She’s perfect.”

“Oh brother,” Kristen said. “Calm down, would you? You’re like a slobbering dog. I’ll let her know she has an admirer. Anything else you want me to tell her?”

“I dunno. Lie. Tell her I’m super good looking or something. I mean, you know, tell her you think I’m good looking. Perk her interest.”

“I think you’re good looking? Keep dreaming. I’ll tell her you’re creepy, and that you want to drink her bath water,” Kristen said through a laugh.

“No! Come on. Help me out, would ya?”

“Ok, ok. I’ll say something. Get a grip, ya perv.”

Kate never did notice me that day in the gym, and even if she had, I probably would not have made any significant impression upon her. I am not the kind of guy to whom women are immediately drawn. No female sees me and decides right then and there that they must have me.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not hideous. My problem is just that I’m basic — a regular guy. It is easy to not notice me. So, when it’s come to meeting women, I have always had to work extra hard. I’ve always had to plan — or more correctly, scheme. Like a virus, I will latch onto someone and wear her down until she can’t help but succumb.

And so it was with Kate.

Once Kristen put in a good word for me, the seed was planted. I learned Kate’s routine and, all of a sudden, kept running into her repeatedly — (accidentally, of course). Then, finally, I worked up the nerve to talk to her, starting off at first with charming quips — (“We really need to stop meeting like this, ha ha!”) — and graduating to more meaningful conversation — (“Hey, that’s a really nice sweater.”)

“Ya know, I’m probably going to be a millionaire,” I said to Kate as I approached her one morning while she was making her way to class.

I admit, it was a very lame line, but I was completely desperate and given that I had absolutely no business, whatsoever, talking to this girl in the first place, I just said the first thing that popped into my head.

“Excuse me,” Kate said, unsure at first that I was even speaking to her.

“Yeah, I’m probably going to be a millionaire and I just wanted to let you know.”

“Oh really? That’s… that’s nice,” Kate said, giggling nervously.

“Well, I just thought you should know. I mean, I’m not just really good looking, I’m going to be super rich, too.”

Kate didn’t answer. Instead, she kept staring at me, wondering if I was insane. But, as she did so, her lovely lips blossomed slowly into a smile.

“By the way, I should probably tell you my name, that way you’ll be able to tell people that you knew me before I became filthy rich.”

“I know who you are,” Kate said with a hint of mock caution. “You’re Basil Tetreault, the guy who for some reason I happen to keep running into all of a sudden. My friend Kristen warned me about you.”

“Warned you?”

“Yeah — she mentioned you wanted to do something with my bath water,” Kate said, grinning. “Did I get that right?”

She was in control now and she knew it. “Play it cool. Just relax,” I reminded myself.

“Bathwater, huh? Hmm, no that doesn’t sound like something I’d say. Strange. Anyway…”

Kate knew she was making me sweat and she was enjoying every minute of it.

“Yes, anyway…,” she said, smirking.

“Well, what I was going to say was since I’m going to be rich and all, and money, obviously, is no issue, I was wondering whether you would go out with me on Saturday night? I was thinking I’d pick you up around 7:30 or so?”

Kate stood there for what seemed like eternity, staring. Finally, she smiled, and when she did her chocolate-drop eyes widened.

“I don’t usually make it a habit of going out with guys I barely know. But, Kristen did vouch for you and said you were friends with her brother.”

“I am, and if you asked him, I’m sure he’d tell you I’m a wonderful guy.”

“Actually, he told me you were a complete tool.”

I was speechless. “I’m joking,” Kate finally said, laughing. Then, after what seemed like forever, she said, “Yeah, OK, 7:30 sounds fine.”

***

Beautiful, engaging, determined Kate. From nearly the first day, the consensus was: What the hell is she doing with that guy?

No one was wrong feeling that way, of course. What she ever saw in me exactly is a mystery. Kate says it was my swagger, which, to her, exuded confidence. If that is indeed the case, then I can understand why I might have appealed to her. Kate has never been one to want for determination. But what she possessed in determination she lacked in self-assuredness. So, perhaps my confidence, whether real or simply perceived, was something from which Kate drew strength.

It didn’t take long before Kate and I were inseparable. I fell head over heels and never wanted to be apart from her. And as one year passed into the next and the more serious we became, the more Kate started talking about the future.

“I just never want to settle in my life,” she said. “I don’t want mediocrity. I want the best.”

Kate did not mean this in some sort-of spoiled diva way. Her definition of the “best” had nothing to do with material goods. Instead, she wanted the best for her family and herself. She wanted to make something of her life. And most importantly, she was determined not to become her mother.

“I’m so afraid I’ll end up like her,” Kate would say. “God, help me. The very thought keeps me awake at night — like what if I’ve inherited some sort of gene.”

Kate’s mom never treated me with anything but kindness. She is a sweet woman, who clearly was the parent responsible for her daughter’s beauty. And, she always made me feel nothing less than a welcome member of her family, even when she had more than enough reason not to — especially these past few months. Nonetheless, she was a lost soul. Behind her warmth and pleasant smile was an unrelenting sadness. She was unreliable and irresponsible with her family’s finances, often resulting in calls from bill collectors, utilities being shut off and on a few occasions, vehicle repossessions. She gambled, shoplifted and lied. She was a sick woman.

She also was, however, adored by her husband, who was convinced he could help her simply with his love. He wasn’t blind, but he just refused to see. But Kate saw. She saw her mother destroying her family by what she considered sociopathic behavior. And, she saw her father enabling it all. There was a glimmer of hope, which came when Kate’s mom was prosecuted and sent to a halfway house for six months after being charged with embarking on a shopping spree with a stolen credit card. But, it wasn’t long upon her release until she was back to her old ways.

“My mother may be the criminal,” Kate said, “but my father is the one in prison. I wouldn’t blame him a bit if he escaped.”

And though she admired her father’s unyielding commitment to his troubled wife, Kate was emphatic: “It drives me crazy how he’s just settled for this kind of life. I’ll never let that happen to me.”

***

So, yeah, maybe the writing was on the wall. I mean, it’s not like she never told me what she expected out of life. Maybe, I got what I deserved.

As I said, despite being driven, Kate was not without her anxieties. She was an aspiring psychologist who often questioned whether she had the intelligence that it took to succeed. She feared her family’s constant financial problems would derail her education. And she was the daughter of a terrifically screwed-up mother who often wondered whether she was destined to repeat the same behavior as her mom’s, as if she inherited some type of sociopath gene.

I found her worries, of course, to be silly. If anyone was likely to succeed, it was Kate.

But, instead of being her partner, I acted more like her patient. It was not intentional, nor did I even realize. I admired — and still do — Kate’s determination to become “a somebody.” However, as far as I was concerned, the more thought I gave to what it meant to succeed in this life, the less convinced I was that it mattered.

***

“I’m sick of hearing myself say this, but you need to get your shit together once and for all. Your mother and I have just about had it.”

At their request, I had met the old man and my mother for lunch at Riley’s, just up the road from the home where I was raised and where my parents still lived. I knew what was in store, and so I got there early so that I could have a few drinks to ease the pain that would be caused by yet another sermon from Dear Old Dad. I thought once I was out of the house and on my own, I was immune from these type of lectures. But the old man, like Kate, hardly considered me a grown up.

“I do have my shit together, Dad. Jesus, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. Everyone has gone ape shit just because I decided I didn’t want to sell insurance for the rest of my life.”

“Oh, don’t give me that. No one expected you to sell insurance forever,” my father answered sharply. “You know exactly what I’m getting at.”

“We’re concerned about you, Basil,” my mother added. “We worry.”

“Well, there’s no reason, too, Mom. I’m fine.”

I caught the waitress’s attention and waved her over.

“What can I get for you?”

“Yeah, can I get a Screwdriver, light on the ice?”

“Sure thing. Anything else,” the waitress said, scanning the faces of my mother and father.

“We’re fine, thanks,” said the old man.

I watched our server walk away then looked back at my parents. My father was staring blankly at me. My mother’s face, meanwhile, was colored with disapproval.

“What?”

“You really need to be hitting the sauce already?” my Dad asked. “It’s barely one in the afternoon.”

“Oh Christ, gimme a break, will ya? It’s one drink.” Little did they know it was actually my fourth.

“This is exactly what we’re talking about,” the old man said. “It’d be one thing if you were simply out of work and looking for a job. We’ve all been there at one time or another. But it’s like you’re turning into some sort of bum right before our very eyes. You’re out of work, doing nothing at all to find a job and your drinking, frankly, is out of control.”

“It is not,” I protested. “You guys are over-reacting. I’m going through a rough patch, that’s all.”

“Look, mister. I warned you the last time you showed up at the house drunk off your ass: As long as you keep this up, you aren’t welcome,” my father said. “Have some goddamn respect, if not for yourself, then for us. We worked our asses off to raise you right and I’ll be damned if we’re going to sit by and watch you destroy your life.”

“We know about the latest trouble with the police,” my mother said. “My God Basil, really? Naked and passed out on Kate’s father’s lawn?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I saw Kate after Mass on Sunday and we talked for a while.”

Goddamn it. Besides shitty weather and Super Bowl losses, the two other surest things about Buffalo is that there’s either a church or a bar on every corner. And while it’s a safe bet you’ll find me at the bar, it’s a safer bet you’ll find my mother and Kate at church.

“You saw Kate? How’d she look?”

“She looked good. She’s doing well.”

My mother looked uncomfortable, as if she had more to tell me but was unsure whether she should continue.

“Well, did she say what’s she’s up to or anything?”

“Basil, she was with someone. A man.”

“What do you mean, a man?”

“A man… you know.”

“Like a boyfriend?”

“Yes. She introduced me. Oh, what was his name…Nathan? Nate? No, that’s not it. Blond hair, and one of those goatees that all the men wear these days.”

“Neil?”

“Yes, Neil, that’s it.”

“Neil? Fucking Neil Gooding?”

“Hey, watch your mouth in front of your mother,” my old man said.

“Neil Fucking Gooding? What the… She’s with Neil Gooding now? She knows I hate that fuck. Anybody but him. Fuck! That smug fucking asshole. God what a bitch. She knows I hate that fucking guy. That fucking mule was kicking in my goddamn stall the last two years that Kate and I were together.”

“I’m sorry,” my mother said.

I wanted to be sick. I looked down at the table and grabbed my Screwdriver.

“Goddamn her!” I said, shaking my head before pounding my drink.

“I think she said he’s a lawyer.”

“Yeah, he is. Perfect job for an asshole like him.”

“Well, what did you expect?” asked my father. “He’s a lawyer and you’re a drunk.”

I looked at my old man, raised my hand and gave him the finger.

“Classy,” my father said.

“Would you two stop? Just stop it,” said my mother, her faced filled with disapproval once again.

***

Yes, I know, making a drunken late-night call to your ex is never a good idea. But after lunch with my parents devolved into a session of angry finger pointing and name-calling, followed by hours spent drinking alone as I contemplated Kate’s new life with my nemesis, I had to talk to her. I needed answers. I had things to say. I needed to tell her how I felt and how much she still meant to me.

“Hello?”

“So, did you sleep with him when we were still together?”

“Excuse me…”

“Did you sleep with him?”

“Basil?”

“Tell me the truth Kate. Did you cheat on me with that asshole?”

“Goddamn it, Baze! I told you to leave me alone.”

“Why him Kate? Of all the fucking men out there, why him?”

“I’m not having this conversation with you. This is none of your business.”

“You’re a Judas… Et tu, Brute?” I slurred horribly.

“Look at yourself, would you? God Basil, get it together. You have to accept it: we’re through. Move on, please. Get your life back on track.”

I started to sob like a child. “Have lunch with me, Kate. I need to see you. Please…”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Please, meet me tomorrow.”

“Basil, no. I told you. Get it through your head. I don’t want to see you, and I’m not going to see you.”

“You fucked him didn’t you?”

“I’m done, Basil. Leave me alone.”

And a few seconds later, all I heard was a dial tone.

***

“I can’t say I was that surprised to hear from you, Tetreault.”

“Yeah, well, you know…”

“I knew the day you stormed out that you’d be back. You know what they say: You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.”

Against my better judgment, I decided to swallow my pride and call Reynolds to ask for my miserable job back. We met at Culter’s, a yuppie bar just around the corner from the office downtown. Going back was the last thing in the world I wanted. But, if going back to my shit job was going to get my family off my ass it was worth it. And most of all, I could tell Kate I was working again, which would help me get back into her good graces.

“So, Tetreault, you want to come back, huh? I guess my question is: Why should I take you?”

I shifted in the booth uncomfortably and scratched my scalp. I would have just assumed stabbed myself in the jugular with a fork than have to go crawling back to this bigheaded midget.

“Look, I made mistake. I admit it. I was wrong. And as far as taking me back, the benefit to you is that you wouldn’t have to train me. That will save you time and money. My numbers were respectable, too, so you know I can do the job. I just think it makes sense. We both win.”

“I’m already a winner, Tetreault. Always have been.”

Christ, I wanted to punch this fucker. What a smarmy little dwarf he was. If Kate knew what I was putting myself through just by sitting there and listening to this freak, she’d see exactly the level of sacrifice I was willing to make for her.

“I’m not sure, Basil, that you have what it takes. You gotta want it. See it and be it, ya know what I mean? Sometimes I look over at you and I can’t tell whether you’re even breathing. I feel like I need to come over and take your pulse or hold a mirror up under your nose. I want people who are going to reach for the brass ring, Tetreault, not just do enough to get by. You gotta want to lasso the moon, George Bailey, ya know what I’m saying?”

“I know, I know,” I said, ignoring his reference to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ as well as my urge to throw up. “Look, my head wasn’t in the right place before, but it is now. I’m completely driven,” I lied.

Reynolds looked at me with well-deserved skepticism. I wouldn’t blame him a bit if he told me I was full of shit. Just saying those words to him made me want to vomit. It’s a wonder I said what I did with a straight face.

Reynolds rubbed his face, and then sat back. “Maybe I’m going to regret this,” he said. “But, you can come back. I want you in tomorrow — nine sharp. This is it, Tetreault. You get no more chances after this. This is your ninth life, Morris the Cat.”

“I appreciate it, Ken. Really. You won’t be sorry.”

“I better not be. You better be ready to work. Remember, I drive the bus. You either hop on or you get left behind. And this time, the bus isn’t coming back to pick you up.”

Oh brother, what a complete douche this fucker was.

***

On my way home from Cutler’s I decided to swing by Kate’s and tell her the good news. I knew she wasn’t going to be happy with me dropping by unannounced, but I was hoping that maybe the good news I was going to deliver would offset her anger. I was nervous, but excited just the same. I was returning to work, just as she had wanted. I was going to be a productive citizen again. It would be impossible for Kate to be anything but pleased with me.

However, as I approached her house, the excitement I was feeling turned to dread. There, in her driveway, was her father. No one on Earth hated me more.

I parked my car across the street from Kate’s home, and sat there for a moment trying to summon the courage to exit and walk up her driveway. As I got out of her car, Kate’s father walked down to the edge of his front yard to greet me.

“Um, hi, Mr. Meehan. I was hoping to see Kate for a moment.”

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I just want to talk to…”

“I don’t want you around my daughter, do you understand? If I were you, I’d get back in your car and get out of here.”

“I can certainly understand your frustration with me, Mr. Meehan. I…”

“Frustration has nothing to do with it, mister. I don’t like you. My daughter deserves better. Now get outta here…”

“Daddy…”

Just as my heart was sinking to the pit of my stomach in fear, Kate walked out of the front door and down the porch steps to the yard where her father was standing.

“Daddy, it’s fine. Let me talk to Basil. Just go inside.”

Kate’s father looked at her, then at me. If looks could kill I’d be laying in a pool of my own warm blood.

“Stay the fuck away from my daughter,” Mr. Meehan said pointing a finger at me. He then looked back at Kate and walked back up the yard into his house.

Kate watched her father make his way through the front door. She then turned toward me and said, “What the fuck do you want, Basil?”

“Hey, look, I know I put you on the spot. I’m sorry. Really. I just came by because I wanted to tell you I’m going back to work. I got my old job back. I met with Reynolds today and he’s taking me back. I’m starting again tomorrow.”

Kate looked at me. She was silent. She then looked back at her house where her father was standing in the window.

Turning back toward me, she said, “I’m not really sure what you want me to say, Bas.”

“Well, I thought you’d be happy, I guess.”

Kate folder her arms and looked down at the ground. “Look Basil, I’m happy for you.”

“I thought this is what you wanted,” I said. “I’m doing something with my life.”

“Who are you doing it for, me or you?” Kate asked.

“Does it really matter? Shit, Kate, I’m doing it for us.”

“There is no us,” she said, exasperated.

“No there’s not. Not now. But maybe there can be again. This can be the first step back to that,” I said, almost pleadingly.

“Listen Basil, I gotta go.”

“Kate?”

Kate looked at me for a moment, and touched my face. Then, after a brief silence, she said, “Basil, I really hope it works out. I hope it works out for the both of us.”

I smiled weakly. “I’m not sure I understand what the means.”

Tears began to fill in Kate’s eyes. She touched my face again. Then she turned around and ran into her house.

***

The alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. just like it used to.

The commute into work was just as shitty as I remember.

Finding a place to park downtown was impossible.

The office was a six-block walk away in cold rainy weather, and the nine o’clock hour was bearing down upon me, getting closer with each step I took.

Eight hours with that awful midget Reynolds. The man was nothing less than a cliché-ridden Type-A nightmare. Ah yes, the things we are willing to endure for the people we love.

The crew from the graveyard shift at Millard Fillmore Hospital had been out of work since 8 a.m. and they were well into their third round by now at the Happy Mug. I could hear Van Morrison’s ‘Moon Dance’ blaring from the Mug’s juke as I walked down Delaware Avenue toward the office. God Bless a city that’ll serve you a cold one during morning drive time.

I looked at my watch. It was 8:58. Reynolds, no doubt, was hovering around my desk, making damn sure my ass was in my seat at nine sharp. Time is money, after all, and the early bird catches the worm.

Van Morrison’s voice grew louder. So, too, did the laughter inside the Mug. I loosened my tie and pulled it off, sticking it inside my briefcase. I turned my cell phone off and slipped that into my briefcase, too. Then I walked over to the trashcan along the curb on the edge of the street, opened its cover, threw my briefcase inside and put the lid back on. It was 8:59 when I walked into the Mug. And at nine o’clock sharp, my swagger was back.

#Fiction

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