'Hi, Paul,' he smiled, staring off.
He seemed nervous and I followed his gaze to the darkness of the college, back to the houses on campus. I don't remember, or know, why he was staring off like that. Maybe he was just nervous and too shy to talk to me. Behind him people were leaving End of the World and heading either back home or to The Graveyard.
'Do you know that girl with Mitchell?' he asked, which I took as a lame conversation starter.
You mean Candice,' I said, gritting my teeth. 'Her name is Candice.'
Yeah. That's right,' he said.
'I was in a class with her but I failed it,' I said, getting wistful.
'I was in that class too. So did I,' he said, surprised.
In that instant, looking back, mutual rapport was established.
'I didn't ever see you in there,' I said, suspiciously.
'That's why I failed it,' he admitted; a sheepish smile.
'Oh,' I said, nodding.
'I can't believe you failed it,' he said.
I hadn't failed it. I had actually gotten an incomplete, which I finished over the summer. In fact it was an incredibly easy, undemanding class (Ethnic Chamber Drama) and I was shocked anyone could fail it. whether you showed up or not. But Sean seemed impressed by this and I kept it up.
'Yeah, I failed two others,' I said, trying to gauge his reaction.
"You did?' His mouth, the lips were full and red, sexy, maybe sensitive but not really, fell open.
Yeah.' I nodded.
'Boy, I'd never think that you'd fail anything,' he said, making it sound like a compliment.
You'd be surprised,' I said. The first outright flirting of the conversation. It comes easily at Friday night parties.
'My type of guy,' he laughed, self-deprecatingly. Then
he remembered that he came for the beer, or had he? He reached for the tap, but it was all gone.
I stood there, looking him over. He was wearing jeans and boots and a white T-shirt and a fairly tacky leather jacket with fur trim: the casual American boy look. And I was thinking it would be quite a coup to get this person into bed. Then I sighed and realized I was being so stoopid. The party was ending and I was getting depressed and the keg was sputtering, so I cleared my throat and said, 'Well, see you around.'
And then he said the strangest thing. The thing that started it all off. I wasn't that drunk to misunderstand and I was taken aback at such a bold proposition. I didn't ask him to repeat his invitation. I simply rephrased what he had asked me: You wanna get a quesadilla?
You want to go and get a quesadilla?' I asked. You want to go out to dinner tomorrow night? Mexican? Casa Miguel?'
And he was so shy, he looked down and said, Yeah, I guess.' He looked bewildered almost. He was hurt. I was touched. The Supremes were singing, 'When the Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes.' And even though it seemed like he wanted to go now, we arranged to meet tomorrow night at Casa Miguel in North Camden at seven.
SEAN The party is starting to end and I've had my eye on Candice the whole goddamn time. But the moment comes and she leaves with Mitch and I'm not as upset or surprised as I expected. I am also considerably loaded and that helps. The last people are hanging out, and the last people hanging out at these parties waiting to find someone to go home with always depress me. It reminds me of kids being picked last for teams in high school. It's weak. Really improves one's sense of self-worth. But I don't give a fuck in the end. I walk over to the keg and Paul Denton's standing by it and somehow the keg has run out and Tony's selling bottled beer for two bucks apiece over in his room and I don't want to spend the money and I'm not in any mood to snake it from the guy and I suspect that Denton's got some bucks so I ask him if he wants to go with me and get a case of beer and the guy is so drunk he asks me if I want to have dinner with him tomorrow and I guess I'm drunk too and I say sure even though I don't know why the fuck I'm saying that, confused as hell. I walk away and end up going to bed with Deidre again which is sort of ... I don't know what it sort of is.
LAUREN Wake up. Saturday morning. Tutorial on the postmodern condition. Believe it or not. At ten. In Dickinson. It's October already and we've only had one session. I doubt there's anyone else in the class. I was the only one at the first meeting a month ago and Conroy was so drunk that he lost the rollsheet. Go up to brunch. Pass Commons lawn. People who've probably been up all night are clearing the debris away. Maybe they are still partying, still having a good time. Eternal End of the World Keg Party? The kegs are being rolled away. Sound equipment packed up. Lights being taken down. Should have gone. Maybe. Maybe not. Stop by Commons. Coffee. No mail from Victor. Walk up to Dickinson. And . . . guess what. Conroy's asleep on the couch in his office. Office reeks of marijuana. Marijuana pipe on desk next to bottle of Scotch. Sit at the desk, not surprised, unfazed and smoke a cigarette, watch Conroy sleep. Getting up? No, he's not. Put the cigarette out. Leave. Victor recommended this course to me.
SEAN I get up early, for a Saturday, sometime after breakfast. I take a shower and kind of remember about this
tutorial I happen to be up in time for. I smoke a couple of cigarettes, watch the Frog sleep, pace. I can't believe I have a roommate whose name is Bertrand. I go up to Tishman because there's nothing else to do. Saturdays suck anyway and I've never been to this class so it can't be all that boring. I get to Tishman but it's the wrong building. Then I remember that it might be in Dickinson but I go to the wrong room but then I find the right room even if it looks like the wrong room. It's the teacher's office and there is no one here. I'm not that late either, and I wonder if maybe they've changed rooms. If they have, then I'm dropping this class, I'm not going to put up with that kind of bullshit. The office smells like pot though, so I stick around in case someone comes back with more. I sit at the desk, look for signs of what this class is all about. But I can't find any. So I go back to my room. The Frog is gone. Maybe I'll check out the AA meeting in Bingham, but it's not there and after hanging out in the living room, waiting, smoking, pacing, I go back to my room. Maybe I'll take a ride, go to Manchester. Saturdays suck.
I was in a class yesterday (terminable, because of you) and I noticed Fergus's back (though if it had been your back I would have noticed it sooner) and 1 wrote to the person next to me (a person I had never seen or witnessed, a person who does not know and does not care about me, a person who would spread her legs for you - perhaps already has, everyone has, everyone has, to me-) that Fergus has a sexy back and she wrote something down and it said "Yeah . .. But look at his face.' The simple dumb cruelty of it all! That stupid response made me want to cry out and I thought of you. I left another note in your box, yet another tepid warning of desires in my heart. You probably think that I am a babbling insane creature but I am not. I repeat, I am not. I only want You. There must be something you want from me. If only You knew. These notes I leave are hard to compose. I have refrained desperately from spraying them with my perfume -trying to grab at any of your senses: aural, oral, nasal, etc. After I deliver these notes into your box I clench my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut, my hands feel like terrible claws, a patient in an eternal dentist's chair. It takes courage though. An irritating and tugging courage. The touch of you, or my imagined touching, seems both repellent and oddly succulent. It stings. These feelings sting. My eyes are always ready for you. They want to grapple and lay you down in fluffy white sheets of linen, safe, in your arms, strong arms. I would take you to Arizona and have you meet my mother even. The seeds of love have taken hold and if we won't bum together, I'll burn alone.
PAUL I didn't make it to Casa Miguel on that Saturday night for that first date in early October. I was in my room getting dressed, so unsatisfied with what I was wearing that I had changed four times in the space of thirty minutes. It was getting ridiculous and near seven and since I didn't have a car I was going to call a cab. I changed once more, turned off the Smiths tape and was on the verge of leaving when Raymond burst into my room. His face was white and he was panting and he told me, 'Harry tried to kill himself.'
I knew something like this was going to happen. I just had a feeling that there would be some obstacle, major or minor, that was going to prevent this evening from happening. I had a feeling all day that there would be something that would screw this night up. So I asked, 'What do you mean Harry tried to kill himself?' I stayed calm.
'You've got to come to Pels. He's there. Oh shit. Jesus, Paul. We've got to do something.' I had never seen Raymond so keyed-up. He looked like he was going to cry and he gave this event (a Freshman suicide? oh, please) a dimension of unwarranted emotion.'Call Security,' I suggested.
'Security?' he yelled. 'Security? What in the hell is Security going to do?' He reached for my arm and grabbed it.
Tell them a Freshman tried to kill himself,' I told him. 'Believe me, they'll be there within the hour.'
'What the hell are you talking about?' he shrieked, still grabbing at me.
'Stop it,' I said. 'He'll be fine. I have an appointment at seven.'
'Will you please come on!' he screamed and pulled me out of the room.
I grabbed my scarf off the coatrack and managed to close my door before I followed him down the stairs and over to Fels. We walked down Harry's hallway and I started getting scared. I was nervous enough about the date with Sean (Sean Bateman - I had whispered the name to myself all day, chanting it almost, in the shower, in my bed, the pillow above my face, between my legs) and even more nervous that I was going to be late and ruin it. That put me in more of a panic than this alleged suicide: dumb Freshman Harry trying to off himself. How did he do it, I wondered, heading toward his door, Raymond making weird breathing noises next to me. Try to O.D. on Sudafed and wine coolers? What provoked him? C.D. player conk out on him? Did they cancel 'Miami Vice'?
Harry's room was dark. Light came from a small metallic black Tensor lamp on his desk, below a poster of George Michael. Harry was laying on his bed, his eyes closed, wearing typical Freshman garb: Bermudas (in October!), Polo sweater, Hi-Tops, his head lolling back and forth. Donald sat by his side trying to make him throw up into the wastebasket next to the bed.
'I brought Paul,' Raymond said, as if that was going to save Harry's life.
He walked over to the bed and looked down.
'What did he take?' I asked, standing in the doorway. I checked my watch.
'We don't know,' they both said at the same time.
I walked over to the desk and picked up a half-empty bottle of Dewar's.
'You don't know?' I asked, irritated. I smelled the bottle as if it were a clue.
'Listen, we're taking him to Dunham hospital,' Donald said, trying to lift him up.
'That's in fucking Keene!' Raymond shouted.
'Where else is there, asshole?' Donald cried out.
'There's a hospital in town,' Raymond said, and then, You imbecile.'
'How am I supposed to know these things?' Donald cried out again.
'I have to meet someone at seven,' I told him.
'Fuck the meeting. Get your car, Raymond,' Donald shouted in one breath, lifting Harry up. Raymond rushed past me and down the hallway. I heard the backdoor of Pels slam.
I went over to the bed and helped Donald lift Harry, who was surprisingly light, from the bed. Donald raised Harry's arm and for some reason took the cashmere vest he was wearing off and tossed it in the corner.
'What are you doing?' I asked.
'That's my vest. I don't want it ruined,' Donald said.
'What are we doing?' Harry coughed.
'See, he's alive,' I said, accusingly.
'Oh Jesus,' Donald said, shooting me a look. 'It'll be okay, Harry,' he whispered.
'He seems fine to me. Maybe drunk,' I said.
'Paul,' Donald said in his maddening lecture tone, seething yet the lips barely moving, 'He called me up before dinner and said he was going to kill himself. I came over here after dinner, and look at him. He's obviously taken something.'
'What did you take, Harry?' I asked, slapping him a little
with my free hand.
'Come on, Harry. Tell Paul what you took,' Donald coaxed.
Harry said nothing, just coughed.
We dragged him, reeking of Dewar's, down the hallway. He was passed out and his head hung down limply. We got him outside just as Raymond pulled up in his Saab, next to the backdoor of Pels.
'Why did he do this?' I asked as we tried to get him into the car.
'Donald, you drive,' Raymond said, getting out of the Saab and helping us lay him down in the backseat. The motor was running. 1 was getting a headache.
'I can't drive a stick,' Donald said.
'Shit!' Raymond screamed. 'Then you sit in back.'
I got in the passenger seat and Raymond started moving the car before I could shut my door. 'Why did he do it?' I asked again, when we were past the Security gate and halfway down College Drive. I was considering asking them to drop me off in North Camden but I knew they'd never forgive me, so I didn't.
'He found out he was adopted today,' Donald said from the backseat.
Harry's head was on his lap and he started coughing again.
'Oh,' I said.
We passed the gates. It was dark out and cold. We were going in the opposite direction of North Camden. I checked my watch again. It was a quarter past seven. I pictured Sean sitting alone at the uncrowded bar at Casa Miguel, nursing a frozen Margarita (no, he would never drink that; I pictured some Mexican beer instead), disappointed, and driving back (wait, maybe he didn't have a car, maybe he walked there, oh Jesus) alone. There were very few cars out now. There was a line in front of the Cinemas I & II, townies waiting for the new Chuck Norris film. Housewives and professors' wives walking out of Price Chopper, wheeling carts. Shoppers at the Woolworth's on Main Street, huge shafts of fluorescent light pouring onto the parking lot. The Jam were on the cassette deck and, listening to the music, it struck me how small this town actually was, how little I actually knew about it. I could see the hospital that I had never been to before in the distance. We were almost there, a smallish brick structure that sat next to a vast, empty parking lot, near the end of town. Beyond that, the woods, a forest that stretched for miles. No one was saying anything. We passed a liquor store.
'Could you stop? I need cigarettes,' I said, checking my pockets.
'Can I remind you that we have someone O.D.ing in the backseat?' Donald said.
Raymond was hunched over the wheel, looking worried, like he could use a cigarette and was seriously considering it.
I ignored Donald and said, 'It'll just take a minute.'
'No,' Raymond said, though he seemed unsure.
'He's not O.D.ing,' I said, almost furious, thinking about an empty bar in North Camden. 'He's just a Freshman. Freshmen don't O.D.'
'Fuck you!' Donald said. 'Oh shit, he's throwing up. He's gonna throw up.'
We could hear the retching sounds in the darkness of the Saab and I turned around to get a better look. Harry was still coughing and looked sweaty.
'Open the window,' Raymond screamed. 'Open the fucking window!'
You two should really calm down. He's not throwing up,' I said, pissed-off but sad.
'He's gonna throw up. I just know it,' Donald was shouting.
'What do you call that sound?' Raymond inquired about the retching, shouting at me.
'Dry heaves?' I shouted back.
Harry started to mumble to himself, then he started to retch again.
'Oh no,' Donald said, trying to lift Harry's head up to the window. 'He's going to throw up again!'
'Good,' Raymond shouted back. 'It's good if he throws up. Let him throw up.'
'I can't believe you two,' I said. 'Can I change this tape?'
Raymond drove up to the Emergency entrance and stopped the car with a screech. We all got out and pulled Harry from the backseat and with his feet dragging carried him to the front desk. The place was empty. Muzak was coming from invisible speakers on the ceiling. A young fat nurse looked at us and smirked, probably thinking, oh boy, another Camden College prank. Tes?' she asked, not looking at Harry.
'This guy's O.D.ing,' Raymond said, walking over to the desk, leaving Harry in Donald's clutches. O.D.ing?' she asked, getting up.
Then the doctor on duty came out. He looked like Jack Elam, some old fat guy with thick glasses, mumbling to himself. Donald lay Harry on the floor. 'Thank God,' Raymond murmured, in a way that sounded like he was relieved this whole situation was in someone else's hands and not his. The doctor leaned over to check Harry's vital signs; I knew the guy was a quack when he didn't ask any of us anything. None of us said a word. It irritated me that Raymond and Donald not only made me miss this all-important meeting but also that they were wearing the same long wool jacket I was wearing. I had bought mine first at the Salvation Army store in town for thirty dollars. It was Loden wool. Then the next day the two of them ran down and bought the two remaining, probably donated by someone on the faculty who was going West, to teach in California or somewhere. The doctor grunted and raised Harry's eyelids. Harry laughed a little, then jerked around and lay still.
'Will you get him into the Emergency room.' Raymond's face was red. 'Hurry. Isn't there anyone else here?' He looked around, frantic in a practiced way. Like someone who's worried, but not really, about getting into Palladium or something.
The doctor ignored him. His shock of gray-white hair was unsuccessfully greased back and stiff, and he kept grunting. He checked Harry's pulse, found nothing, and then unbuttoned Harry's shirt and placed the stethoscope to his tan, bony chest. We all stood there in the empty hospital. The doctor checked the pulse again and grunted. Harry was moving around a little, a drunken smile on his young Freshman face. The doctor checked for a heartbeat,
for any sign. He used the stethoscope again. The doctor finally looked at the three of us and said, Tm not getting any pulse.'
Donald threw a hand over his mouth and backed into the wall behind him.
'He's dead?' Raymond asked, disbelieving. 'Is this a joke?'
'Oh shit, I can see him moving,' I said, pointing at the rise and fall of his chest. 'He's not dead. I can see him breathing.'
'He's dead, Paul. Shut up! I knew it. I knew it!' Donald said.
Tm sorry about this, boys,' the doctor said, shaking his head. 'How did this happen?' 'Oh God,' Donald wailed. 'Shut up before I slap you,' I told him. 'Look. He's not dead.'
'Boys, I'm not getting a heartbeat or a pulse. The pupils look dilated to me.' The doctor wheezed with the strain of getting up, and pointing at Harry, 'That boy's dead.'
None of us said anything. I looked over at Raymond, who wasn't looking too worried anymore, and he gave me a glance that said this-quack-is-a-fucking-lunatic-let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here. Donald was still upset, his back facing us. The nurse was looking over the desk, disinterested.
'I don't know what to tell you boys,' the doctor said. 'But your friend is dead. He's simply not alive.'
Harry opened his eyes and asked, Tm not dead am I?'
'Yes, you are,' Raymond said. 'Shut up.'
The doctor didn't seem too shocked by Harry's state and
grunted as he knelt down next to Harry and took his pulse again. 'I'm telling you, there's no pulse. This boy is dead' He was saying this even though Harry's eyes were open blinking. The doctor used his stethoscope once more. 'I'm not getting anything.7
'Wait a minute,' I said. 'Uh, listen. Doctor. I think we're going to take out friend home, okay?' I approached him cautiously. I knew we were in Hospital Hell or somewhere similar. 'Is that, like, okay, with you?'
'Am I dead?' Harry asked, suddenly looking better, cracking up.
'Tell him to shut up!' Donald screamed.
I'm pretty sure your friend is dead,' the doctor grunted, a little confused. 'Maybe you want me to run some tests.'
'No!' Raymond and I said at the same time. We stood there watching the supposedly dead Freshman, Harry, laugh. We said nothing. Even though Dr. Phibes kept insisting he wanted to run some tests on 'your friend's corpse,' we finally took the Freshman home, but Donald wouldn't sit in the backseat with him. It was almost eight-thirty by the time we got back to campus. I had blown it.
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