This friend of mine

Posted: 23/03/2014 in Short Stories

This friend of mine. She called. We sit opposite each other in Bloomsbury at a locally run café. I smell the morning residue of fried eggs and bacon coming from inside. We’re sitting outside. The sun is out but there’s a slight breeze. It’s Saturday afternoon. London is busy. My seat is uncomfortable. I don’t say anything. Last time I saw her she had blonde highlights and she has stuck with them. She’s nervous. She always is around me. She likes to call me an asshole but it has a different meaning each time. The waitress, I read her nametag – Gemma – puts our coffees on the table without delicacy and mine spills over, a thick blotch of brown coffee on my white mug. I am angry at the injustice and my friend sees it and rolls her eyes as if to say “you never change”. I ignore her look and reach for my packet of Marlborough Lights in the inside of my leather jacket. I light a cigarette and take a deep first pull and she interrupts, “I thought you quit?” I shrug and take another deep pull, “They haven’t quit on me yet”.

We sit in silence. I don’t mind. She called. I wait. After taking a fake interest in her surroundings she focuses on me and without any drama says “I tried to kill myself last night”. I’m finishing my cigarette and put it out in the 99p ashtray on the table and I notice, to my further disgust at my stained coffee mug, that there’s no sugar on the table. She’s staring at me as she reads my thoughts. I signal to Gemma and she comes over to the table and I tell her my problem which she doesn’t seem to appreciate. I sigh in frustration that something so simple can be so frustrating. She comes back a moment later with four sachets of brown sugar and I want to cry because I only take white sugar and I’ll need a lot more than four sachets to get through the coffee. I decide Gemma is a horrible human being but I know when I am outgunned. I start ripping the top of each sachet and pour their contents into the mug.

“Did you hear what I said?” she asks, clearly annoyed at me. I give her a confused look and she takes this as a sign that I am taking an interest but my confusion lies with not seeing a spoon on the table to stir my sugar in. I sigh because I can’t bring myself to call Gemma over again and I’ll probably not touch the coffee now.

I light another cigarette and I start to feel better because I have made a definitive decision not to drink the coffee and the sun is on my skin. I think she’s about to raise her voice and I don’t want her to cause a scene so I say something.

“And how did it go?” I ask with the same intonation you would ask how someone’s job interview went.
She can’t decide if she’s happy I’ve said something or infuriated at what I’ve said.
She makes up her mind. “You’re an asshole”.

I take some pulls on my cigarette and shrug my shoulders.

She knows me well enough to know she has to add more into the conversation before I’ll contribute.
“I don’t know why. Nothing is wrong. But sometimes everything seems…hopeless.”

“You’re hopeless”, I want to say, but I don’t. She’s finding her voice now as she starts new sentences in the same breath as she finishes them.

“I tried. I really tried. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted it but I didn’t know why and that annoyed me. That’s why I called you. You’re an asshole, and the devil shouldn’t ask you for advice, but I called. Don’t make me regret it, asshole.”

She thinks she’s witty. Most people do. I would fake a smile to give her some confidence to carry on talking, but I don’t.

“I think my boyfriend is upset with me.”

As she says this I want to go back in time to earlier that day when she called and smash my face into the mirror I was staring at in my room when I picked up the phone. Twenty minutes ago I was in the British Museum reading on how the slaves of Pharaohs were murdered after their masters died so that they could serve them in the afterlife. Then I spot an opportunity in her sentence and for the first time since I saw her I am glad that I am there.

“I know he is” I say nonchalantly, and I lean back in the uncomfortable seat and take a deep pull of my cigarette and wait for her capitulation.

Her eyes screw. “What do you mean you know he is? You’ve never even met him!”

Her voice rises at the end but she manages to grip herself before she gets angry. I’m amused at her fragility but my face displays no emotion except when I look at the packet of Marlborough’s as I muse on whether I should have another cigarette.

I look at her confidently and remind her that “Yes, but I do know his name”.

She’s unsettled now. She knows I speak in Chess moves. She knows something’s coming.
“Cut the crap, what are you on about?”

She says this as cooley as she can muster but she’s biting her bottom lip which unravels her tension. She wishes she had never called but now she needs to know what I’m talking about. Check.
I act as if I’m trying to find my words but I am actually trying to decide whether if I leave in the next ten minutes I can catch the last exhibition of Darwin’s journals at the Natural History Museum. She’s visibly touched at how I am taking my time to choose my words while I try to look at my wrist watch in my periphery vision. I could make it if I leave in the next eight minutes.

I better get a move on.

“I noticed his absence on your Facebook.”

Her eyebrows rise.

I carry on.

“He used to comment and like every one of yours posts and pictures. He hasn’t in a while. How’s your ex?” I say this without any interest.

Her mouth screws and her face crunches. Her body is emanating more heat now and she’s probably digging her finger nails into her thighs because she’s removed them from the table. I reach for another cigarette as I put one out.

“What are you talking about asshole? Why would you ask me that?”

I smile. Not because I want to comfort her but because I am genuinely amused as her pathetic attempts at control.

Should I? Yes, she called.

“Your boyfriend’s absence has coincided with your ex having the confidence to like every single thing you post now.”

I wink at her to give her a chance to gather herself and let her think that I don’t believe what I am saying. That I am just screwing with her. She would believe that. I’m the asshole. She thinks I’m messing with her, that I’m teasing. But her paleness reveals that her nerves have been struck, and her inbox is written on her face as I read it.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about you asshole” she says, but after a moment adds “Are you serious?” because she’s seen a window to talk. That’s why she called. She wants it. I can be told things but no one will believe me if I revealed all. The asshole.

“Should I delete him then?” she asks softly, not waiting for my response, her head bowed in a way that is meant to make me feel sympathy for her but she garners more of my contempt.

I stand up because I need to go before I start eating my cigarettes and I can still make the exhibition if I leave now.

She knows not to tell me not to leave.

“Delete one of them. And next time, take the pills on an empty stomach. I have to go.”

She reaches for my hand and I look at hers touching mine. I just stare at it as she squeezes it and waits for me to return the favour. That doesn’t happen and she’s embarrassed and lets go.

She looks at me with a glare that is meant to be meaningful and deep but all I can see is a lipstick stain on her front tooth. I turn and walk away and head to the tube station. I don’t remember if I left money for the coffee.

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