THIS IS UNEDITED. I'm just kind of posting this as I go without going back and looking for things to edit. Again, feel free to point out any negative with any positive. I want all the feedback I can get. Thanks for reading.
It was about two-thirty or so when I woke to the sound of the doorbell ringing furiously. I groped around in the darkness before finding my shorts in the crumpled pile I had thrown them the night before. Cracks of light broke the shades , sending ribbons of white across the room. I divided the shades and peered down into the blinding white light. Outside of the front step were two familiar figures.
They didn't stop ringing the doorbell until about ten seconds after I opened the door in front of them. Colin and Byran, my fellow inmates in the prison block that stretches beyond around the four square blocks of houses around mine, with only a small strip of green keeping the other cell blocks at bay in either direction. Bryan cracked a wicked, large grin and held up a twelve pack of some cheap domestic beer: "It's Friday, buddy. Let's do this shit right and proper, huh?"
"It's Thursday," I replied, rubbing my eyes while adjusting to the bright light as the sun shown down into the culdesac, illuminating the dim pillars of smoke from the still smoldering fires beyond the hill. It looked like a bonfire from a distance, and I almost thought of teenagers enjoying their last days of summer freedom until I remembered the day before, and the fitful sleep I endured because of it.
"No, man. It's Friday. As in the weekend. As in no work until Monday. Did you sleep through yesterday?" Colin adjusted his sunglasses, revealing pink marks pressed against the side of his stubby nose, his hands still oily from work the night before. He paused to wipe his palms on the front of his shirt, the buttons in the front pressed tightly against his stomach. "We need to get you a calender or something. A day planner."
"I know what day it is. Give me a break, you just woke me up. So, what's the plan? Finish that in an hour, finish the partial bottle of gin from Wednesday, the last three of my beers from the week, and just go to sleep by five or six? Or are you going to tell me there's actually something going on tonight. Because if it's just the same thing we do every Friday, I'll just go back to sleep until the weekend's over."
Bryan reached his hand out and caught the screen door, jerking it open in a quick motion that left it rattling against the frame;"Colin got fired last night, dude. We're blowing everything we have to get completely wrecked tonight if we have to. Heard some of the farm kids are having a party out on Westland. I figure we can wander through the Old Man's field, grab us a cooler, and haul ass back here before those idiot rednecks realize it's gone."
"You got fired?"
Colin fidgeted with his sunglasses again, before returning to wipe his hands on his shirt; "Yeah. Manager said I had too many complaints. That was strike three. Told me not to bother coming in anymore, that she'd find another person to do the night prep."
"That's rough. I'm sorry. Did you try to talk to the owner?"
"Not worth it. I was done with that place since the day I started. I guess it's just convenient, you know? It gives me an excuse to work on my newest project. Going to try to submit this one again. Get them to finally recognize me. I'll get unemployment and everything. Just be a little less money." Colin kicked his foot into the step. He didn't make eye contact, and Bryan stood there with his huge grin holding the beer in front of my face. Like every other time, I didn't really have a choice. I sighed, and opened the door for them. Bryan let out a laugh, and charged in past me, towards the basement. Colin shrugged, and followed. As I closed the door behind them, I saw the Old Man standing on top of the big hill.
The basement was just barely finished enough. A few squares of carpet hovering over concrete, creating a foot bridge of warmth towards a larger square of carpet. A couch, a futon, and an old reclining chair sat huddled around a television, sordid monuments to previous nights scattered among them. The faint smell of must co-mingled with the smell of old wooden furniture. Along the wall, bookshelves overflowed with old paperbacks and hardcovers of every possible distinction and subject. Bryan opened the battered old fridge, and set the pack of beer alongside the half-used condiments condemned inside. He grabbed a bottle from on top and brought it over to where Colin and I were already sitting. The clear liquid sloshed around inside as he handed it across me towards the futon, where Colin sat fiddling with the remote control, "you're first. Take the sting off, yeah?"
"Thanks." Colin grabbed the bottle in his stubby hand, and almost dropped it as the frost on the glass slipped in his grip. He sloshed the bottle up to his lips, and took a large gulp. His eyes watered as he shuddered abruptly.
Bryan reached back over and took the bottle from Colin's hand, "good, yeah? Nice fire in your stomach. You're free of that hellhole. Take another gulp." Colin nodded and took the bottle back, tipping the contents back into his mouth again. He sputtered, letting a little spray of liquid out of his mouth before coughing. Bryan started laughing like a madman, a long, slow guffaw that pierced across the room. I couldn't help but smile, reaching out to grab the bottle from Colin's almost death-like grasp. I knocked back a large gulp, and felt my throat burn as the gin flowed out of the bottle. It was refreshing and torturing at the same time, a precarious sort of sensation that meant the night was going to be a slow, drunken one. Bryan snatched the bottle back out of my sagging grasp, and took one long pull out of it, liquor running out of the corner of his mouth. "I do not know why this is the only bottle you keep in your house, man," he said, wiping the sleeve of his jacket across his face; "It's gross. I never understood your obsession with gin. It tastes like I blended pine needles with some gross vodka."
I gave him a quick shrug and reached back across for the bottle, "it works, doesn't it? Sorry I don't have the cash to pay for some high quality liquor for your upscale palate. Or need I remind you which one of us is trailer trash?" Bryan had a stung look on his face, as if I had reached out and struck him with the palm of my hand. "Sorry, that crossed the line. I just like gin. When you two are here it's the only time it gets drank straight out of the bottle." Bryan didn't make eye contact as I looked over at him, just kind of gazed towards the tv as Colin continued to fiddle between the channels. I took another gulp of the savage, clear liquid before setting the bottle on the floor in front of me.
We spent the next three hours watching a marathon of some unfunny sitcom while breaking through the beer that Bryan had brought with him. It was the typical cheap, domestic beer. Six dollars and ninety-nine cents, plus tax, at the local liquor store. I used to think that only college kids back home on break or for the weekends were the only ones that bought it; I was wrong. It was part of the ritual that Friday was: the same cheap beer, whatever liquor I had left from the week, and, if we were feeling less thrifty or more drunk, head down to the local crap pub to see the same people who never left this place. The basement was a monument to that routine: beer cans and the occasional bottle spilled over in a makeshift garbage can, smelling of the backwash of cheap beer that remained at the bottom of each container. Next to that, a pile of food wrappers and boxes covering what used to be a garbage can. I was constantly aware of the state of my basement, but it never occurred to me to care enough to clean it on a regular basis. Yes, there was a point when it would have made a difference, but that quickly faded from my priorities. It didn't help the mood, however; it was always a constant reminder of our station in life, stranded.
It was reactionary, really. That moment when someone decides they're going to take a swing at you, and the reaction you sometimes have is to grab the nearest object. In this case, it was a simple branch. Granted, a large branch, but still, nothing too serious. So when Dennis tackled me to the ground, and began pummeling me, I grabbed the branch next to me and swung it at his head. Pretty sure it was oak. Solid.
After the swift motion, Dennis keeled over on the ground, clutching his head as blood began to seep out around his fingers. I picked myself up off the ground and gave Dennis a swift kick to his ribs. He started crying. Like he was in shock that I had hit him with the branch, and the kick put him over the edge. He just lay there, clutching his head, crying, as every onlooker stood around laughing or shouting. I suddenly felt a pair of big hands on my shoulder, as they grabbed me and spun me around: "MATHERBY! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?"
"Matherby! Come on, man! You paying attention?" I blinked and glanced over at Bryan as we walked down the sidewalk. "You just spaced out. You remember the time you clocked Dennis with that branch in Middle School? Hilarious. His wife was telling me he still has the scar from that day."
"Yeah. I remember it." I fished my pack of cigarettes out of my pocket and paused in my walk to light one.
"Colin, it was before you moved here. Classic moment. Dennis starts with the retard strength he used to get when he got mad, pounces, and get bashed in the head with a branch!"
Whenever Bryan started talking about old stories, it would always bother me. It was always a reminder that I had been in this place for too long, and hadn't been able to escape indefinitely like I wanted to. But, that's the feeling that Bryan always brought; I had been friends with him for so long, that he knew everything about me, all my secrets, and vice versa. At this point, the entire friendship felt forced and stale, like my parents' marriage before I left for college. That's how life goes sometimes.
We continued to walk down Main Street, mostly in silence. No one felt like talking, just kind of feeling the late summer air as it coursed through our small town. Every car or truck seemed packed with teenagers heading somewhere for the night: this was the last weekend of summer, their classes beginning in earnest the following week. I couldn't help but feel a momentary twing of nostalgia for it, but it passed when I had reminded myself of how far behind me those days were. The "last" weekend of summer, despite already being in school for a few days before, marked the last moment of freedom in this town. It was almost mandatory that everyone take the weekend off of their part-time jobs to enjoy themselves: take a trip somewhere, taking advantage of the extra day off. Younger children would follow their parents to some last minute trip, or some daytime excursion relatively nearby. Other than the old Homesteaders, the town would be almost empty. The stream of cars passed us, the occasional one honking in our direction, as the few people who recognized us and knew exactly where we were going.