I stared at the phone in disbelief. The kitchen swam out of focus as tears distorted my vision. His voice echoed in my head, bouncing around. “I’m sorry.” Ghosts, from a past life. “I should’ve told you…” a falter in his voice, and a stifled sob – “…months ago. Bye.” Click. Gone. I listened to it again to make sure it was who I thought it was. I listened to the message forty times.
He had planned this years ago of course. I knew that. Everyone who mattered knew that. I had simply made the mistake of letting it all fall to the wayside. I had paid no heed to the warnings. It was over. There was no doubt. I should’ve been trying to call it in, maybe contain some of the damage. But all I felt was… nothing.
A tear escaped my eye, and once it started, the rest followed suit, paving a liquid highway down my face, into my beard. But I wasn’t crying. I was, tearing up, I guess. Not crying. There was nothing to feel, no emotion left in me. There was nobody to care for anymore. That ship has sailed on someone else’s saltwater.
Patrik came out of his room and starting messing about in the kitchen. Placing a bowl on the counter. Filling it with cereal. Regular, mundane actions. The noise he made was harsh and grating, surreal and obscene. I wished he go back to his room. It made no sense for people to just go on living when something had just ended.
He must have noticed the water on my face. He stopped pouring cereal. “Dude, y’alright? Max?” I said nothing. I strongly willed him to leave the room. “You ok? Hello?” I closed my eyes. Patrik stalked away, back to his room muttering under his breath about crazy roommates.
The little turd. Punk. Just upped and offed himself, like it wouldn’t matter to anyone. Not that it did matter, but it was… irreverent. Disrespectful. A voicemail. And I had missed the call. Who leaves a voicemail to say goodbye? He was lucky it wasn’t a text or I’d track him down and kill him myself-
Suddenly I was crying, and I couldn’t say I wasn’t. Tears poured like hot wax and covered my touchscreen, making the display go haywire. I wasn’t quiet about it. A muffled shout from Patrik’s room – “Jesus!” – then the calls started. Mom. Rebecca. Trenton. I hit ignore at first, then I just let them ring and ring, ignoring the knocks on the walls to remind me it wasn’t sound-proof. Oddly, I starting picturing really bland foods and imagining what they’d taste like. Plain rice cakes that stick to your tongue and make your mouth go dry. Tasteless tomatoes. Eggs with no salt on them. Thinking of these things was funny. It let the time slip away. Forgotten.
A door opened. Patrik was standing in front of me, in a t-shirt and boxers. “What the hell is wrong with you? Pull yourself together, man.” This coming from Burger Bum himself. I was going to punch him, but I didn’t. He wasn’t worthy of my anger. In fact, I had no anger. Just numbness.
I stood up. “Hey! Where are you going? Don’t just walk out on me while I’m talking to you! You better explain what-” But whatever Patrik wanted me to explain was lost behind the slamming apartment door. I took a train to the city. I wore my hood low, so my red eyes were invisible. The train rumbled on the tracks. The little turd. Like it wasn’t hard for the rest of us? Little scenes of us growing up, trading punches and cigarettes and magazines. What gave him the right? “What’s up, chief?” I’d ask Stephen. “Nothing, I’m all good.” Of course he was lying. He was always lying. I knew him best. Knew him well enough to have seen this coming. And deep down, I had let this happen.
The doors of the subway flew open and everyone surged forward. Columbus Circle. I walked through Central Park like a zombie on Xanax and Adderol.
67 missed calls. Texts. WHERE ARE YOU. CALL ME NOW. CALL ME NOW YOU ASSHOLE. ITS STEPHEN HE
Rebecca would be frantic. They all were. I tossed my phone in the lake. I could imagine it sizzling as its gears were fried. Little genius Stephen. Figuring the way out. There was no way out. You can’t just decide to cash your chips and leave the table. You have to play, even with the chips stacked against you, even with the world’s shittiest hand, you play. Even when you’re losing bit by bit, you fight those monsters. It’s life. You are every inch of ground you stand even as it’s pulled out from beneath your feet. You play anyway.
Stephen folded. They found his body floating in the Hudson. He sent Trenton a text. I suppose I should be grateful that I got a call at least. A call I missed. I could’ve stopped him. Maybe it was true. Too late now, right?
I moved West. Put some money under Patrik’s door and split. Got a shitty job at a Burger King in Akron, Ohio. Working my life doing nothing so I don’t have to think about what went through my mind in Central Park. The way the water rippled. The way it swallowed my phone and smacked its lips. The faint hiss of wind through the leaves.
I was going to join him. Leave the world to the other suckers. Little Stephen and his grand plans. He opened a door for me, and I almost stepped through.
I called Rebecca before I left. “Max! Where-” She gasped. I cut her off. “I’m fine, I’m done, don’t try to find me.” Even as I hung up I heard her calling me out at me, cursing me. I didn’t feel the slash to my chest. Her words meant nothing. I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel anything. I was alive, and that in its own way was a victory worth going all-in on.