10-04-09 – Sense and Sensibility

The meeting went as I expected.

No one in particular was jumping at the idea of leaving the apartments quite yet; Phil brought up the possibility of finding lost family members among those assembled in the university gymnasium. Janette found his idea promising and exciting. Matt pointed out that a single mother carrying a child and traveling ten miles through dangerous country was an anomaly, not something to be expected. This, of course, was his way of saying that it was highly unlikely that Phil’s chubby, well-meaning wife (or their two kids) had made it the more than ten miles from their tan rambler to the university. Phil threw a bit of a tantrum, but something tells me he felt Matt was right.

And so the meeting was unexceptional. What happened after, however, was notable. Ted, who had spent most of the meeting glowering at me from the corner of the living room with his glasses still skewed slightly to the right, cornered me after the others had left to start on dinner.

We stood alone in the living room, the low, glass surface of the coffee table between us. I could see he was gunning for a fight but that he was hesitating to start in with too much heat.

“It’s okay,” I told him, “You can just say it. Go ahead. I know what you’re thinking.”

Ted refused to speak, his lips pursed so tightly they looked like a star fish all folded up and suffocating. I can see the thoughts flickering in his eyes, the decisions, the careful weighing of the options. He pushes his glassed up the bridge of his nose and tosses his hair around like an impatient stallion.

“I don’t want to fight,” he says.

“Yes you do, and that’s okay. Just start now before I get too hungry.”

“Fine,” he snorts. “Why didn’t you tell me? I thought we had… I thought there was an understanding, you know? We hash things out and then take it to the group. What happened to that?”

I knew this was coming, but knowing doesn’t make it any less obnoxious.

“It’s not a decision I can make, or we can make, get it? It’s a group decision, everyone is involved.”

“Everyone?” he says. He’s lowered his voice to his serious register. When he starts to get angry his accent becomes thicker and his shoulders hunch over as if he’s readying for a fist fight. I don’t think it will come to blows, but he still looks like a warthog kicking at the dirt, coiled up, tensed, a ball of fire seething right in front of the gold-framed Thomas Kinkade print. “Right. Everyone. Everyone meaning you and Zack, right?”

I didn’t know this would happen, but I thought it might. I cross my arms, puffing out my chest to mimic his ridiculous, dominant posturing. I keep silently insisting there’s no drama here. I keep telling himself this is about a power dynamic, not about Ted being a jealous, whiny little prick.

“Does Zack know?” he asks, much more to the point.

“Yeah, I guess so, yeah. But, come on, in my defense he wheedled it out of me.”

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

“You know that saying, how does it go – I hurt you because I love you? Well that saying doesn’t apply here.”

“Is that one of your kinky sex games?”

“Look asshole,” I mutter, taking a big step toward him, “I’ll slap you again if I have to. Don’t make it seem so appealing.”

I can feel it surging, that clash of the titans, hot, angry, boiling temper that’s just dying to rip right out of my throat and through the palm of my hand. I still don’t know where this is coming from. Best guess? Ted’s god damn fucking attitude.

“Fuck it,” I say, deflating. “This is a waste of time.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think we should leave? I mean, really?”

It takes Ted a moment to answer. In the mean time, we both take a seat on the big, calico couch. It’s covered in handmade afghans that take up so much space that the couch itself is barely visible beneath all the crafts. Everything in this place smells like cinnamon, cinnamon tinged with sweat and shit, the smell we seem to carry with us everywhere. We can’t get rid of it, no matter how careful we are about cleaning the bathroom we always seem to reek just a little.

Ted rests his right ankle on his knee and shoves his hands deep in his pockets. I’m tempted to interrupt the silence with a bit of a heart to heart about Holly but I keep my mouth shut. I like Holly’s new allegiance, the way she grins at me like we’re twins separated at birth. I can’t read her mind but I can take a pretty accurate guess.

“My gut says yes,” Ted replies at last. “But that’s a big change… Who knows if it will be that much better. Still… To see people, new people, Hell, lots of people…”

“I know. That’s how I feel too.”

“It makes me think of sci-fi movies,” Ted says, smiling crookedly. His foot bounces rhythmically in the air. “You know, they get to the base, the space station, and everyone is packed into this little gray corridors and they’re all screaming and pushing. Then someone will give them an order, or a command or whatever, and then they go still and calm. Controlled chaos… Everyone pitching in but only because they care about themselves… That’s what I imagine.”

“Me? I think we should stay,” I tell him. The tension has melted away, leaving behind the same old easy friendship that existed before. It’s as if the radio, Zack, our disagreements never even existed.

“Really?”

“Really. What’s the point? Searching, searching, never happy with anything… When does it end? It exhausts me just thinking about it. Buddha taught that desire never learns, it never wakes up to its own foolishness, it drives us on endlessly and for what?”

“Hmm, well, Confucious say: White girls who sit on tack get point.”

“Right, never quote Buddha to a Chinaman, I forgot.”

“Cracker.”

“Infidel.”

“Honkey.”

Oriental.”

“Forsooth, that stings.”

“If you think we should go then I’ll think about, if not then I think the case is closed,” I say, brushing the jokes aside for the moment. Ted looks at me. He really needs a haircut.

“I just can’t help but think about Phil and his kids, and Janette… And, you know – don’t hit me – maybe even your mom.”

“I’m trying to get over that. I don’t want to cling to hope for too long,” I tell him. “After all: Woman who fart in church sits in her own pew.”

“That doesn’t even make sense. What is wrong with you?”

I reach across and punch him in the shoulder. It’s better than a slap; it makes him fall over, groaning theatrically and clutching his arm. Outside, through the curtains, through the glass, I can hear the undead making their slow, determined march down the street. I know what direction they’re going. West. West toward the campus. I wonder if they can sense the bodies there, the feast to come… Or maybe they’re mustering outside our door, coming for us instead.

We stay. For now we stay in here, safe, uncertain, huddled for warmth.

Tomorrow is Phil’s birthday. Holly and I are going to try and make a cake somehow. Zack has asked if we can listen to the radio together again. I can’t for the life of me think of a good reason to turn him down.

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