John and Silke
John Mueller retasted the Sam Adams he had just finished, feeling the tension leaving his shoulders. The week was finally over! For the past seven days, the muzak in his head alternated between a jingle for a local health spa he’d heard sometime in the remote past, and the endless droning of statement against penal interest, state of mind, excited utterance, blablablabla…
“Evidence is kicking my ass, “ he groaned to Kevin Jacobs, who was yawning on the other side of the table. He’d known Kevin since high school, and somehow, after losing touch all through undergrad, they’d wound up in law school together. Kevin hadn’t changed much over the years, still going for a look someplace between Slacker and Intelligentsia – old flannel shirt with the cuffs open, as if he’d started to roll them up and become distracted, combined with a pair of jeans he’d probably been wearing since his freshman year at NYU. His hair could charitably be referred to as “scruffy,” with little bits sticking out here and there and a part that could only be traced with the aid of state-of-the-art cartographic technology.
This was their Friday ritual. After class on Friday, the two of them would kick a soccer ball around for an hour or two, followed by an evening of drinking. For John, this had grown of importance of late, as he and his girlfriend hadn’t been seeing each other. With thousands of pages of arcane and poorly written case law to read each week, he hardly associated with anyone who wasn’t at the law school. He just didn’t have the energy.
“Up for another one, Mueller?”
Kevin gestured for the waitress to come by the table. Without even stopping to ask, she came to the table with two bottles of Sam. They were regulars, and she knew what they ordered by heart.
John ended the brief lull: “Can I ask you something, Kevin?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, OK? But what kind of drugs are you on that you’re always so sane? I mean, everybody else, me included, is constantly tearing their hair out over all this shit, because there’s always so much of it, and you never seem to miss a beat.”
“Just don’t let it get to me, I guess.”
“You can be honest with me, Jacobs. I won’t tell anyone that you’re from another planet.”
“Fuck you, man,” said Kevin, and they both started laughing.
Four hours later, John stumbled through the door of his apartment. After six bottles of Sam Adams, it was closing time, and he and Kevin had officially called it a night. As he fumbled for the light switch, he noticed the light on his answering machine flashing. One message. He knew who it would be even before he pressed the button:
Hey, John. It’s Ariana. I know you’re probably out with Kevin, as usual, but I just wanted to give you a call to see how you are. I know how stressed out you are and everything, but I was really hoping we’d get a chance to talk and maybe get together…
For a minute, he stifled a groan, but guilt quickly took over. He loved Ariana, probably since the first day he’d met her four years ago. He was now, as then, utterly bewildered by her entire being. She was 5’3”, fully ten inches smaller than John, with long, wavy black hair that reached halfway down her back and enough energy to light a small city. Somehow, she was always picking up on things he was certain he’d completely hidden. Conversations with her sometimes got positively dizzying, with Ariana managing to move between subjects in ways John was sure violated the laws of physics. He didn’t pretend for a single moment to understand her, but he loved her.
He gingerly began dialling her number, certain he was going to wake her up, no idea what he was going to say.
There was a slight groan on the other end of the line.
“Hey, I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“John, it’s three in the morning. Of course you woke me up. I went to bed half an hour after I left that message.”
“When was that?”
“About four hours ago.”
“Damn, I’m sorry. I just got home and saw your message…”
“It’s OK. I’m up now. How’s Kevin?”
“Utterly sane, as usual. It’s fucking pathological.”
They both laughed at that one, followed by something that John had never experienced in a conversation with Ariana: Silence. For three minutes, the line seemed to have gone dead.
“Are you OK, sweetie? Talk to me. How was your day?”
“Believe me, you don’t want to know.”
“And what if I do want to know?”
“Can we talk later? I think I’m about to collapse here.”
“All right, John. ‘Later,’ it is. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
For a second, before the click, John was sure he’d heard some muffled sobs. He tossed his jeans and t-shirt on the floor and fell right onto the bed. Within seconds of grinding out the cigarette he’d been smoking, he was drifting toward sleep, via the territory of Night Thoughts.
Damn, I forgot to return my mom’s call. Again. We never have anything to talk about anyway. What am I going to do about Ariana? I haven’t seen her in three weeks now. Maybe sometime this weekend…It would sure do me some good. I’ve had nothing but school shit on my mind for too long; that can’t be healthy. I think I’m going to get a fucking ulcer before this year is over. An ulcer, at 25…
The sunlight made him feel like his head was about to explode. What time is it, anyway? 2:30. He rolled over and found himself landing on the floor with a thud. Coffee. Somehow, he dragged himself into the kitchen, rinsed out a halfway clean mug, and poured in some Folger’s crystals. Ariana had tried to introduce him to real coffee, but gave up long ago. He tossed the mixture of freeze-dried brown grit and tap water into the microwave, and stared at it for the minute it took to heat it up. After a few sips, he was already approaching lucidity. He grabbed the phone and called Ariana.
“You’re just waking up, aren’t you?”
“Not too long ago.”
“Sleeping it off?”
“Yeah. Hey, I’m sorry about last night.”
“Don’t worry about it. I can deal.”
“Are you busy?”
“Not at all. I was thinking of going out for a little while…”
“Mind if I tag along?”
“You mean actually see each other? In person?”
“That was the basic idea, yeah. So, your place in about a half hour?”
“I’ll be here.”
John hastily pulled on a pair of jeans he hadn’t worn in a couple of days and a grey t-shirt that was actually clean. The voice of Tupac Shakur filled his Eclipse as the engine turned over and he pulled out of the parking lot. Thanks to the coffee, his headache was finally subsiding, and he realised that he was actually looking forward to something for the first time since he started law school. Five minutes later, he was standing, hands in his pockets, in front of Ariana’s door. He was nervous, certainly, but there was something else there, too. As the door opened, John realised what it was. Horny.
Ariana was radiant. Her black hair was clipped in the back, with a few strands flowing down either side of her face. She was wearing a black camisole top and a pair of denim capris, her Saturday uniform. The outfit showcased Ariana’s curves in a way that was driving John mad.
“I do believe I know you from someplace,” she said, smiling up at him. John wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tight, lifting her an inch or so off of the ground, something he knew she loved, “Now I remember you!” She purred softly as she pressed her lips onto his face.
“So, where were you headed today?” John asked as he set her back down.
“Furniture shopping. I need some bookshelves and things. We should get going.”
Furniture shopping, John thought, was at least not clothes shopping. Somehow he always ended up coming along, slowly descending into intense boredom. He didn’t complain, but he was sure that she picked up on his complete lack of enthusiasm for the process. They descended to the driveway, where a pickup truck Ariana had borrowed from some friend or other – John could never keep track – was waiting.
John couldn’t help be somewhat bemused by the way in which Ariana seemed to be running rings around his hung-over brain. They’d hardly pulled out of the driveway of the two-family house she rented when she started regaling him in minute detail with everything that he’d missed in three weeks. She was finishing her dissertation in Post-War German Literature, and was always recounting to him in minute detail her research, the spontaneous ideas she was always getting, her dealings with her overly rigid dissertation advisor, not to mention more titbits about the life’s work of Günter Grass, Christa Wolf, and a million other people than he could ever hope to keep straight.
“…so he started getting into the same stupid discussion of what fits in what genre and how to determine it, and I ended up spending twenty minutes trying to explain, yet again, how that isn’t even relevant to what I’m trying to do. I mean, let him write it if he’s got so many ideas about what it should be about.”
“You’re certainly talkative today.”
“Are you OK?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” replied John , trying to conceal his irritation. It wasn’t even Ariana that he was irritated at in the first place. He just felt like crap and couldn’t think of anything to say because he was exhausted from weeks of less than three hours of sleep a night.
“You don’t sound fine. You sound pissed. Now what’s wrong?”
“It’s not you. I just have absolutely no energy. I don’t know how much longer I can take this schedule.”
“If you want, you can go home. You definitely don’t have to come along,” she said, braking at a red light.
“If I’d wanted to stay home, I would have. I wanted to see you. I’ve missed you too much.” To John’s surprise, Ariana brightened, rewarding this rare gesture of verbal affection with a kiss so long that the driver behind them had to honk to let them know the light was green. John didn’t say things like that every day. He put his arm around her shoulder, and they proceeded to the first stop on the itinerary.
Ugh. That was his first reaction as he stepped into the store. Most prominent amongst the features of the furniture spread throughout the store were the pricetags. There was an endtable that actually went for a thousand bucks. For a second, he almost mentioned that there was furniture for a tenth the price at Target, but if she’d wanted their furniture, they’d be there right now.
“You know, I’ve heard some guys actually hold the door open for their girlfriends,” Ariana said, wryly. John was always ambivalent about this practice. He never could figure out who it was appropriate to hold the door for, and who would take offence, and in general wondered what message he was sending by doing it. It was soon forgotten – for now – as Ariana walked up to a shelving unit that, John noticed, cost $450.
“This is perfect, don’t you think? This is exactly what I need in my living room.”
“Yeah, I guess it would look good in there.”
Ariana favoured him with a look, one that said, “thanks for pretending,” and had already moved on: “Or wait – this would look great,” she exclaimed, pointing at a shelving unit that differed from the last one in no way readily discernable to John. He smiled, sincerely. As soporific as this entire trip was to him, he did love to see her excited. If only that energy were contagious. Relationships just weren’t his thing. His relationship with Ariana was the first to last more than a couple of months. He had enough trouble keeping in touch with his parents.
After pizza and a long massage to work out the aches of two hours spent moving furniture, John and Ariana snuggled together on the couch while ignoring the DVD of Office Space that John had insisted on watching. He didn’t last long. Between the generalised exhaustion, and the bottle of merlot they’d split, John was gone. Ariana kissed him on the forehead and spread a blanket over him before retiring herself.
Copyright 2006-2007, Elise R. Hendrick, All rights reserved.