That Was That by Chad Rohrbacher

In matters of life and death, one could not forever rely on the judgment of his fellow man.

He might have to rely on a woman, or a higher power, or a rescue dog, or even the simplicity of a tune that he could not get out of his head. It was an old song, one he had (thankfully) thought he had forgotten, but had (unfortunately) risen up from his gray matter to torture him. He licked his dry lips, the dust caked in the deep and bleeding cracks, and tried to spit. He couldn’t conjure up any saliva. He couldn’t conjure up any other tune either.

“Don’t Bring Me Down”, was a huge cosmic kick to the hoolies as far as he was concerned. He hummed everything from Creedance Clearwater’s “Rollin’ Down the River” to “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, he sang Kit Kat jingles and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, but his mind kept coming back to that damned ELO song.

He guessed this was because of the woman. Wasn’t it always? He had first made love to her after going to McDonald’s. She put salt on her fries and had a mouth on her that was so lacerating she could make a Marine Corps Sgt. grab his ears and fall into a fetal position before she was through.

The couch springs, broken and in desperate need of WD40, made the humping irrevocably comical. Squeak, squeak, squeak, with every thrust and moan, and he had gone on and on with the springs in time with the music playing loudly in the background. It wasn’t until the ELO song came on and he was shaking with exhaustion that he finally shuddered and fell on top of her.

“Did you?” she asked.

“Of course,” he lied, wondering why it was so important to recognize each other’s ejaculations.

But at this particular moment, there he was, cheek pressed against the wood, eyes closed, the tune running circles in his frontal lobe and he couldn’t move a muscle.

He had spent the last five years accumulating evidence that he existed. Bills, pictures, emails, pages upon pages printed out and stacked up in piles. He had googled himself. It took 13 pages before his name came up and it was a simple address of an apartment he had three years earlier. Stupid life.

Don’t bring me down…

And from his vantage point he saw his high school’s yearbook. His face did not appear in the mosaics of football games or chess tournaments. He knew there was only one picture of him in there. The small rectangular picture of him somberly stared out from the glossy page. Even she told him to lighten up. In fact, she scribbled it on the back page then drew a big, fat joint and a heart for him.

Since graduation they had worked at about every fast food place in town. They had been to a few concerts. And they had been getting progressively more aggressive in their search for the next, perfect high.

He started selling to support their habits, but soon realized he couldn’t sell enough. They would end up at some bar picking up a few people then partying and having sex till exhaustion set in. He often thought about what he was going to do with his life, that it was escaping him, minute by minute, year by year, but he dismissed those intrusions fairly quickly. There was still more to experience.

When she brought him “black”, he was psyched, but very nervous. He had never shot anything before. He didn’t ask her how she got it; he was past caring really and he was sure that made her sad, in a deep hollow kind of way.

While she prepared it, he turned on a classic rock station and went through the list of things he was going to do to make his mark in life: college; real job; do pigeon rescue; then his thoughts dissolved into more general promises of finding a real girlfriend, calling his mom, giving up beer.

He grabbed a PBR and watched his girlfriend. Holly was amazing. She did it up just like she was an actor in the movies about addicts who knew what the hell what they were doing when they cooked this shit up. Very impressive.

She set them both up so they could share the moment. She tied him off first, then he did her. She showed him how to find the vein, and they pierced skin at the exact moment. The last thing he remembers was her voice mouthing the words: “classic”.

Then he was here, on the floor, humming ELO.

When his breath came back to him, he was able to shift his body around and find her. She was on her side, facing him. Her mouth was open and her splotchy tongue looked like a finely marbled piece of meat.

Then he saw her lips, her full blue lips, and his heart started to race. He tried to get up to his knees but fell back to the wood floor, and as he fell he glimpsed her outstretched hand reaching for him, palm up, a feeble attempt to take his hand in hers as if lead him into some space he did not want see.

He felt exhilaration and fear all at once. He survived. He made it. She tried to kill him. But, he loved her, and he was alive, and she was tuning a color of blue he’d only seen in fish tanks, and she loved him, and they were failing, together, and falling together, but he would change, make his move, create a life to be proud of and he would dedicate it to her even though she tried to take it from him.

Once he got his feet under him, he went to the fridge, grabbed another PBR, and started humming: Don’t bring me down.

Chad Rohrbacher has published in places like Needle Magazine and Crime Factory among others.

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