They walked to the flat quietly, the weather worsening so that they could barely see in front of themselves. The snow helped to hide the quiet. They did not come across a single person on their way. Street lamps flickered, weakly burning under the blizzard. Mark looked at it for a while, how it looked beautiful somehow, half smothered and helpless. Without thinking he told Donny this, as they marched on, their boots crunching against the thick layers below. Donny nodded to him and they headed to a small bungalow ahead, lost in the blaze apart from a red door that was the color of weak blood against the sky.
Donny pulled the single key from his belt carefully and opened the door. Minutes later they were inside, each carefully slipping off their shoes. It was as bare as the flat he had left this morning, a single television, a small radio in the corner, a sofa, a small crippled chair. Nothing on the walls. Just a space that would never be filled. Donny walked up to the player and carefully placed the four games by its side. He pushed eject and slipped the disc in.
“Shall I open up some of the food, Donny?” Mark asked. He felt unsteady, not knowing where plates were kept, knives, boards. Donny nodded, concentrating on setting up the game.
He moved into the small kitchen, as bare as the rest. For a moment he felt as if he were breaking and entering into some deserted city. He imagined going from house to house, moving through the hidden, leftover parts of other people’s lives. He collected up the bowls, glasses. For a moment he closed his eyes and used his fingertips to find items he thought they might need.
When he moved into the room, the game was flashing up on the screen. Two square rally cars buffeted against the edges, smoke rising and spelling out the rules. The sound was down so the commentator’s voice was a low hum, like a part of the cars that would not quite start properly. Mark remembered a friend who died in a car crash when he was fifteen. Everyone was in love with his sister. The other driver had been reaching down to stop flowers he had bought for his wife from slipping into his lap. After the crash the flowers were taken from the wreck. Not a single petal had been disturbed.
He placed the bowls on the floor. He put out the food; put the whiskey and beer in the center, with two glasses.
“Do you drink, Donny?”
“No, tried it once. Too sour.” His eye flickered remembering the taste.
“Do you mind if I do?” If he said no, he would pour the whole bottle away without a second thought.
“I don’t mind. Do you want to play?” He put a finger to the second joystick, his own already gripped solid.
They began to play. He struggled at first, got a little better. He half-played, half-watched Donny, watched as his eyes opened wide, tightened with the corners, listened to his breath as the times came up. After each few games, they stopped for a while, ate from the bowls, sipped whiskey or water. After a while they decided to change games. There were a few seconds where there were just the sounds of Donny snapping the CDs, moving the console, snapping down.
“How old are you, Donny?” He wondered when his birthday was, how he celebrated.
“I’m twenty-seven years old.” He said. He said it particularly.
“I’m twenty-eight.” Once he’d helped a man who’d collapsed in the street. He had loosened his tie, loosened his collar. He watched, crouched by his head, holding the man’s hand, talking without knowing what he was saying. Then the ambulance swallowed him up. As it drove away, he knew the man had died on the edge of his fingertips there and then. When he went to the hospital, they found out the man was twenty-nine.
“I like the raindrops.” Donny suddenly said. He looked up from the disc, held it at an angle, so the light reflected off and made it look like a sunbeam. “I like it when the light rain falls into lakes. It looks like the water’s full of tiny explosions.” He looked down to the disc, turned it in between his fingers.
“When did you see that happen, Donny?”
“A long time ago. I saw a lake from where I sat. I went outside by the stairs and watched all the rain.” He pushed the disc into the machine, pressed a button, two. The screen flashed an emblem. He watched Donny’s eyes return to the screen.
He edged over to the floor, making space for himself as he waited for the game to begin. He wondered if Donny had ever been in a photograph before, what the occasion would have been. He wondered how he had ended up by the lake, to see the rain explode.
“Do you mind if I put the radio on?” He asked, even though he liked the sound of people moving without speaking. Donny nodded and he flicked the switch. A man’s voice came on, deep. He was in a play of some sort.
“Would you like this channel?”
“I like this one. An older lady talked about it in the shop. The frequency is 104.03 on the middle dial. They tell stories each week. I like the way they use their voices.” He imagined Donny in the aisles of a supermarket, standing frozen and rapt, listening to other shoppers, finishing quicker than they would as they finally became aware of him.
“What stories did you like best, Donny?” He memorized the dial, resolved to put it on his own battered stereo.
“There was a story about a wristwatch that got passed on to people all around the world. Everywhere. I liked that one the most. I wished they’d play it again.” He looked back to the screen. The load sign appeared.
They played for a few hours, refilling their bowls. They worked through the games, asking each other occasional questions. He looked outside. The snow was still falling, a blanket over the stars in the night sky. He stood at the window for the longest time, watching the snow shift with the breezes, early evening traffic, articulated lorries and office workers. He poured the rest of the whiskey down the sink, threw the beer cans in the bin. He took Donny’s coat from the hook on the back of the door and ran warm water on the spit mark. He scrubbed at it until the stain was almost gone.
He stood in the doorway of the kitchen and watched Donny take the last disc out of the player. He got on his knees and carefully put the disc in. Then he sat back reading the names of each disc running his finger along each letter.
“I’ll think I’ll be leaving now, Donny.” He said from the kitchen doorway, already feeling the distance. He watched Donny’s head nod, without turning. He said ‘okay’ quietly. The radio in the corner was saying the news was coming up next. He didn’t want to know anything about the world right now. As he made his way to the door, Donny stood up and walked over.
“I had a nice time today, Donny. Real good. Thank you for that.” He looked Donny right in the eye, watched his eyes fall to the ground. A plane moved overhead.
“That’s okay. What about the food that’s left?”
“You eat it all up, Donny. I’m sorry those boys were nasty to you. I’m sorry I didn’t do anything. To help.” He felt his chest tighten up, stiffen.
“You picked up my cases.” He looked over to the cases, then back.
He put his hand out, hoped Donny would take it. When he did, they shook briefly. Slowly Donny’s arms fell back to his sides. They stood facing each other. He didn’t know how long they stood like this. When he edged back he opened his mouth, but the words were dry and he had to clear his throat to speak again.
“I’ll see you around, Donny.” He said. He didn’t recognize his voice. “Goodbye.”
He stepped out of the bungalow. The snow was steadily falling. He looked out to the streets. He looked back to the door, which had already closed. He looked back. Tears fell and then dried. The future was where he would walk to now. Into the night streets and past the damaged houses. All he had now was the warm buzz of a stranger’s hand on his palm that somehow kept the cold from his skin. He focused on that and started to walk into the night-time of the city.
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Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice