A Normal, Reasonable Talk by John Haax

The two of us are sitting in plastic chairs in Clancy’s unfinished basement at a little folding table, playing cards. Clancy usually goes by Smith because Clancy’s a faggot name and we all made fun of him for it in high school. I don’t blame the guy, I’d go by my last name too if I was named Clancy.

It’s around midnight and Smith’s wife, Deborah, is upstairs reading or something. I’m on my fourth beer and Smith’s on his sixth. He’s a big guy, so he can really hold his liquor. We’re both looking at our cards.

“Man, today was such a shit show, let me tell you,” I say, setting down one of my cards and picking up a new one from the pile.

Smith takes a drink of his beer and makes a frown. “This is good stuff. Good, strong, dark stuff. What happened?” He sets down two cards and picks up two new ones.

I look at my cards for a second and then push in three bucks. He raises me to five. “I fold,” I say, sipping my own beer. It is dark. “Oh, you know, it’s just all this bullshit with Loretta.”

“She’s still giving you trouble?” Smith smiles as he rakes in the money.

I lean back and take another long drink of my beer. “Well yeah, you know we had that fight last week, right?”

“No, man,” says Smith, getting up and walking over to the mini fridge to grab us both another beer. His knees crack as he crouches down. “What happened?”

“Well, let me tell you.” I take another drink of the beer. “It was yesterday, on Valentine’s Day.”

“Debbie and I never do much for valentine’s day,” says Smith, setting down the beer in front of me and opening his own. “I just usually get her a rose or soap and we call the sitter so I can take her to the motel.” He laughs.

“Yeah, well,” I say, finishing my beer and opening the one that he gave me. “Last night, me and Loretta were sitting in the living room drinking that light beer that she likes. You know, she won’t drink the good dark stuff so we’ve got to drink that piss water.” I take a drink from my beer and Smith cracks a smile. “Anyways, I had bought her some new panties and everything and all the sudden she says that I’m not telling her enough about my feelings.”

“Oh, man.” Smith slaps his hand down on the table. “You gotta hate that shit. Why do they always get into that shit?”

“Right? We were having a good night until she brought that stuff up.” I lean forward and jab Smith in the shoulder, “We were going to have a really good night, too. You should have seen the panties I got her.”

He laughs. “That’s what I’m talking about, man.”

“Anyways we’re sitting there and she starts bitching about me not letting her in enough and not being emotional enough with her. All the usual bullshit.”

“I’ve been there before. Did she cry?”

“No,” I say, pushing back my hair and then taking another drink of the beer. “But she might as well have.”

“I hear you.” Smith finishes his beer and sets it down with the others. It makes a little sound on the cement floor.

“Yeah,” I say, “I tried to give her the gift to sort of smooth shit over, but then she got real mad.”

Smith whistled.

“Yeah, then it became about how all I want is to hump and fuck and what not and that I don’t care about her as a person.”

“Now, that’s a rough discussion,” said Smith, leaning back in his chair.

“She said that I never listen to her. Like I don’t even know her or something. I bought the panties in that light purple she likes. It’s her favourite colour. You tell me who’s not listening.” I rub my eyes. “Long story short, things got fucking hysterical.”

“What did you do?” Smith stared up at the ceiling.

I lean back in my chair and look at the ceiling too. “Can we smoke down here?”

“No, sorry man, I told the wife I quit and she doesn’t like the smoke inside.”

I tap my foot. “She’s probably asleep, man.”

Smith shakes his head. “She’ll smell it.”

I raise my hands and grab the pack of cigarettes out of my front pocket. “ Yes sir. Let’s go up to the porch.”

Smith shrugs his shoulders and stands up, knocking over all the cans under his chair. “Sure, man, can I bum one?”

“Yeah.”

It’s cold on the porch but it isn’t snowing. I like the cold air. It’s good for you, so I never grab my coat and I never shiver.

“Anyways,” I say, lighting my dart and passing the pack over to Smith. “She starts going on about all her usual bullshit and I’m just playing along and making things up and then she goes and asks me ‘what did I just say’”

“Oh, that’s the kicker,” says Smith, passing back the pack of cigarettes. Then, looking up at the window above us, he says, “The light’s off up there. Debbie should be asleep by now.” He lights the dart, takes a drag and blows the smoke into the air. “I hate it when they fact check on you like that.”

“Oh, me too.” I take a long pull from the dart and lean forwards with my elbows resting on the rail of the porch. “Well, anyways it’s not like I was taking notes. I didn’t know—”

“Obviously. Why would you?” says Smith, nodding his head.

“Yeah, I didn’t know like word for word or something, and so then she just keeps going off even more about me not listening and shit.”

Smith groans. “So many accusations–” he laughs a bit. “You’re shivering, bud.”

“No I’m not. You’re the one shivering. I’m not shivering.” I finish my cigarette and light another one. I ash the butt in an old coffee tin hidden behind Smith’s barbecue. “So anyways, we get to shouting at each other— well, actually she’s the one shouting, and finally I say ‘Loretta just calm down’ and she says that I can’t just tell her to calm down like that and starts talking even more, so I throw my beer right through the stereo system.”

Smith chokes on his smoke and leans over the railing of the porch, coughing. “Oh man, I bet that shut her up,” he says,  smiling and elbowing me in the ribs a little.

“Well,” I say, leaning a little closer to him, “get this. She made me sleep on the goddamn couch.”

Smith ashes his cigarette in the coffee tin and burps. “Fucking bitch.”

I look at him for a second and frown. Then I shrug my shoulders. “Yeah, you know what, that was a bitch move.”

“Yeah, man. Whenever Debbie and me fight, I make sure I stay in bed. If she doesn’t want to sleep with me, she gets the couch.”

“Yeah, I should have done that, but Loretta went and locked the bedroom door after I threw the beer.”

“Ah, she beat you to it.”

“Yeah, so I had to mop it all up and sleep on the couch.”

What happened in the morning?” says Smith, lighting another dart. “Was she still mad?”

“Let’s go in to get more beer,” I say, turning towards the door. “I guess she was mad. She left before I woke up and went to her mother’s.”

“Always avoiding the problem,” says Smith, following me inside and down the basement steps.

“Yeah, right?” I say, going over to the mini fridge.

“Hold on,” say’s Smith, grabbing some glasses off a shelf. “Let’s drink some of this.” He sets a bottle of whiskey down on the table

“Sure,” I say as he pours me a glass. “You ever put anything in this stuff?”

“Nah, not even ice.” Smith smiles and pours himself a glass too. “It would be a waste plus I don’t like stuff too fruity or sweet. I’m not a fruity or sweet guy.”

“Yeah, me neither,” I say, sipping the whisky. “That’s a good burn.”

“Yeah man, It’s cheap stuff but it’s good,” Smith says, taking a long drink of the whiskey. “So what happened after that?”

“Well, I went over to her mother’s house and parked out front for a while,” I say, taking another drink of the whisky.

“And?” Smith says, pouring himself another glass full. He points the bottle at me so I finish what’s left and hand him my glass.

“Well, after a while, she sends her mother out.” I take the glass back from Smith.

“Still not facing her problems,” says Smith, laughing a bit and taking another drink.

“Well, she never does. Anyways, her old lady comes out and tells me that if I want to attack her daughter again, I’ll have to kill her first.”

“Man, that must have been irritating. Real irritating.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I never attacked her daughter in the first place, but they must have talked.”

“Did you  do anything about it,” says Smith.

“Like what?” I ask him, sipping the whisky some more.

“I don’t know, like hit her or tell her to fuck off or something,” Smith says, drinking from his own glass. “I mean, she’s just an old lady. You probably could have just walked around her even.” He laughs and sets the glass down

“No. I could have, but I didn’t want to get Loretta all riled up about it,” I say. “Her mother just kind of threw herself in the way like that, I didn’t even know what to do, so I just got in the car and sat there just looking at the steering wheel. Then I drove here.”

“No, I get it, man,” Smith says. “No one want to be the guy to beat up his girlfriend’s mother.”

We sit for a while just drinking the whisky. Smith’s a big guy. He can really hold his liquor and by around one in the morning, the bottle’s almost empty.

I look down into my whisky for a few seconds and swirl it around. I swirl it real fast until it’s almost sloshing over the side. “I just wanted to have a normal, reasonable talk. Loretta can never have a good, reasonable talk.”

“Women aren’t reasonable,” says Smith.

I nod and keep swirling the glass with my elbow resting on the table.

“You want to listen to some music? Deborah never wants me to listen to my music. Too much swearing for the kids.” Smith stands up and moves the table. I spill my whisky onto my jeans.

“Damn it.” I say, brushing myself off. “I guess so, my stereo’s broken now. I can’t listen to music at home.” I finish the last bit in the glass. “But, won’t she hear it?”

Smith cracks another beer. “Whatever.”

He plays a few songs and we sit, back to drinking beer. I lean forward and look into my glass again.

“I should get going, I’ve got work in the morning,” I say, rocking up out of my chair and knocking over my cans.

“Yeah, Man,” says Smith.

***

On my way home, I swing by Loretta’s parents’ house, park the car on the road out front, and watch. There’s a light on in the second floor window, and a bike locked to the pole out front. I think that that room is the guest room, but I can’t be sure. I only ever stayed at the parents’ house one year at Thanks-giving. I start up the car again and drive home.

When I get home, I open the fridge and grab another beer. I go back to hang up my coat and see that Loretta’s shoes are gone from by the door. I sit down and try to put on some music, but the stereo’s broken, so I get up and walk to the bathroom to take a piss. Her toothbrush is gone from the mr. smiley mug that we keep next to the sink too. I hum a little. I’m out of tune though, so I stop.

In the bedroom, all of Loretta’s jewelry is gone from her night stand. Her bathrobe isn’t hanging on the chair by the door either and as I open the drawer, I can see that she’s taken out all of her socks too.

“Fuck,” I shout, kicking the wall. The plaster breaks and I stare at the stud underneath it. I just nicked it, but my foot hurts like a bitch. Cursing, I hop over and sit on the bed to finish my beer. I cross my leg with my ankle on my knee and hold my foot, massaging it. There’s plaster on my socks.

The phone is sitting on the nightstand, across on the other side of the bed– Loretta’s side. I lean back, grab it and call Loretta’s parent’s house. It rings for a few minutes and then goes to voicemail.

“Loretta, baby, why’d you get your mother to tell me to go away?” I say into the phone. “I just wanted to talk. Why won’t you be reasonable?”

I look out the window for a minute and then at the hole in the wall. “I just want to talk. Let’s just get things back to normal, Loretta.”

Then I hang up the phone and sit in my empty apartment.


John Haax is a twenty-year-old aspiring writer from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. He mainly writes literary fiction, and his interests include toxic masculinity, drug abuse and empathy.

 

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