Tub didn’t make it clear at first. He didn’t want to make it clear. He wanted to make someone else notice, which in turn would help take some of the blame off him. “Oh no,” he said to himself, sitting on the couch, the gashes rested directly on his forehead. “Oh no,” he repeated again, over and over, while the music played.
Ten minutes ago Brigitte had been on and the three of them were dancing. Ken knew French and sang the words in French. His eyes stayed on her while he sang. He wished she was French and her name was Brigitte. Her bangs jerked up and down while she made little leaps in the air in sync with the music, her eyes closed and a thin almost smug smile while her head shook “no” back and forth. The empty bottle of whiskey on the glass table. The comforter over the television. Wine glasses with stained purple bottoms. Another five o’clock morning.
At the same time Tub watched them and danced, too. He danced and believed he loved the song more than they loved each other. The alcohol. The cocaine was by his lonesome in the bathroom. He danced with his eyes closed and sang made up French words and detached himself from them. They were there and he was alone with the song. That’s how he saw it. Then he remembered that the song would have to end. He dreaded losing it. He dreaded having to come back to them. Like a boy who tried running away from home. Tail between legs. Unbearable. He went to the kitchen. He knew it wouldn’t hurt as much as the dread. His head jerked back. A rush of euphoria. The beast conquered. Dish towels wrapped round his arms, he went back to where they were and danced for five more minutes before he felt dizzy and sat down.
“Oh no,” he said. He laughed lightly, too, to himself. “Oh no,” and then a leak of laughter. A new song playing. Ken had his arms on her waist and his chin on top of her head, and his eyes were closed. Tub looked over at them from the couch. He was scared. He laughed again. One more try.
The song was slow and sweet. He waited again and stared hard at them and hoped they would feel it. They didn’t. He cleared his throat. He tried to sound in control.
Ken opened his eyes and saw him on the couch and he saw Tub smiling with the towels on his arms. He smiled.
“What’d you do?”
Tub blushed and smiled. Ken laughed the same way Tub had just before.
“What did you do, man?”
She peeled her head off Ken’s chest and looked back and saw Tub but didn’t smile. “Oh, my God.”
“Are those towels on your arm?”
“Tub, what happened?”
“I made a mistake.”
“A mistake?” asked Ken.
“Tub, what happened.”
He gave a big sad smile and lifted his arms off his foreheads and presented the wounds. Her arms left Ken’s waist. Her hands covered her mouth and her eyes crinkled. Ken stood next to her with his arms over his head and laughed. Tub tried hard not to cry.
“Tub, oh my God.”
“Dude! What’d you do!”
Tub shrugged his shoulders. Smiled again.
“Why’d you do that!” asked Ken, smiling.
Tub shrugged. His smile wouldn’t leave.
“When did this happen?” she asked.
“How’re you feeling?” asked Ken.
“Oh, my god,” she said, for Ken.
“Relax. I bet it’s not that deep.” He walked over to Tub and took a closer look. Tub was afraid to move. He let Ken examine him. “Shit, Tub! You cut deep!” Ken walked back to her and grinned. “He cut deep.”
“What should we do?”
“We should get him to the hospital, I guess.”
“Can you drive?”
“Well we gotta get him there.”
“I can drive.” She looked over at Tub, who looked so far away on the couch.
“Hey, Tub? We’re gonna drive you over to the hospital, ok? You’re gonna get fixed up, ok?”
Tub nodded. It was all he could do.
Ken was already in the kitchen getting more towels to tie around Tub’s arms. He got out dish towels and duct tape. He wrapped the towels tightly around Tub’s wrists and then wrapped one, two, three layers of duct tape around the towels. He made sure the tape didn’t grab any arm hair. Tub didn’t watch him do this. He said nothing. He looked at the couch’s armrest and kept smiling.
It was five thirty. It was cold and wet. They draped a blanket over Tub and brought him to the backseat of the car. They seated him and put his seatbelt on for him. She got into the driver’s seat and Ken into the passenger’s seat. Now back alone again Tub closed his eyes, took deep breaths, and tears began sliding down his cheeks. He listened to hear whether they were paying any attention to him.
“Alright, look up the nearest hospital…”
“You got it?”
“Yeah. Make a left out the driveway.”
They drove about a minute without saying anything. Ken stared hard at the phone in front of him, watched the arrowhead icon en route to the hospital. He glanced up at the palm trees passing by in the grey air. He looked down at the phone one more time before putting on the radio. She gave him a hard look and turned it off.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?”
“What? I just want to listen to some music. Hey Tub,” said Ken, turning in his seat, ignoring Tub’s tears, “don’t you want to listen to some music?”
With his eyes still closed, Tub tried to stretch his smile even wider.
“See? Tub wants to hear some music.”
“I can’t believe you.”
Her hands came up off the steering wheel in search of something, and when they didn’t find anything they came back down.
“You know what? Forget it.”
“No. What’s the big deal?”
“Your fucking friend’s back there!”
“He’s gonna be fine.”
“Jesus, this is serious!”
“Will you take it easy?”
“Why should I take it easy right now? Why would I take it easy right now?”
He lowered his voice, hoped Tub wouldn’t hear.
“You want to make him feel worse than he already does?”
“I don’t fucking care how he feels. I just want to get him to the hospital.”
They were on the freeway now. Empty on a Sunday morning. Ken sulked a while before speaking up.
“You’re really not helping anything.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry.”
“You’re acting like a bitch. You know that, right?”
Tub lay on his side across the seats in the back.
“Well, excuse me for being pissed off that your fucking friend attempted fucking suicide in my fucking apartment.”
“He didn’t attempt suicide.”
“What the fuck do you call that?”
“He just felt down.”
“Yeah. He fucking felt down and he tried to fucking kill himself. That’s attempting fucking suicide.”
Ken started getting angry.
“Fuck you. You don’t get why he did.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t, you fucking bitch. You’ve never been alone your entire life. Just hop from boyfriend to boyfriend. You don’t fucking know what it’s like.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“No. You’re no better than a whore.”
“Ok. You know what? You wanna talk this shit? You know what it’s like to date a guy who still gets drunk every fucking night? Or still jacks off three times a day? Or is still in love with his ex?”
“You know what it’s like to know someone is just fucking pretending to care about you?”
“That’s fucking bullshit.”
“Don’t fucking lie to me, faggot. She’s got your fucking dick in a jar. A fucking mantelpiece. Over the fucking fire.”
“You don’t understand anything.”
“You’re so fucking weak and misguided and you hang out with retards who still think killing themselves is cool. You’re a fucking child. You’re no better than a fucking child.”
Tub pretended not to hear anything. He focused on shutting down. The problem was he had no neck support. It ached if he left it in one place for more than a minute. He pressed his head up against the side of the door, like a prop. Then Ken did something. He reached down with his left arm and grasped the emergency brake and pressed down the release and pulled up. The wheel dragged her arms to the left, hard. The screeching was muffled. It didn’t sound like it was related to the car suddenly spinning. Tub rolled off the seats, into the interior space. After the wheel had pulled her arms to the left she lifted them off and covered her face with them and tried to maintain a center of gravity. Ken went limp and let the seat belt constrain him. The car spun on the freeway five, six times, and then stopped, still on the road, but the front and back facing the shoulders.
At first no one spoke. She kept her face covered. Then she started crying. Ken kept his arms crossed lest he show his shaking hands. Tub stayed in the space beneath the seats. His side ached. Ken finally unlocked his arms. He struggled to unbuckle himself. He struggled to control his fingers. It hurt to turn. He struggled to unlock the door and open it, his side of the vehicle pointing the same direction cars were intended to travel. He vomited. The breathing air of the empty freeway. He stayed that way with his hands on his knees for some time.
The car was in the center of the freeway. They took up the two center lanes. There was enough straight road for oncoming traffic to see them. Ken turned back inside and left the door open. He looked over the seat, still shaking. Tub wasn’t smiling anymore. His face was pained. His arms still over his face.
He was clearly crying now. His body shuddered. His eyes covered. Short jerky breathing. The same as hers.
He wasn’t expecting a response.
“It’s gonna be alright, Tub. Someone will drive by. They’ll see us. They’ll call 911.” His voice shook if he spoke too long. He took a breath. He let out a long shudder. “You ok?”
Out of Tub came a long whining moan. He lifted his arms and slammed them back down on his head as hard as possible, which wasn’t very hard at all. He did it a few times. His arms were a mottle of brown and red. Ken kept looking at him.
“I’d call myself if I could. But we’ll be ok.”
He turned back around and sat and stared at the dashboard. He listened to she and Tub. He took long labored breaths. He waited for the shakes to subside. It had been five minutes. He looked over past her and through her window. No sign of any cars. He exhaled. “Ok,” he said to himself. He opened the door again and slowly brought his legs out of the car and put them on the road. He slowly eased himself up off the car seat. The sun was rising and it was warmer. He stretched carefully and gauged his injuries. He closed the door behind him.
He took small limp steps across the road. While he did he looked down the road. He reached the end of the highway. A ditch, sure enough. He stepped into it. Like a cat he circled before lying down.
Still no cars. It took some time for her to recuperate. She lifted her arms off her face and took inventory. She looked out her window and down the road. Still no cars. She rubbed the crying out of her eyes and dragged her arm across her nose. Sniffled. She did not yet want to look at or talk to anyone.
There was the smell of burnt rubber. The car kept running. She went to make her first motion. Her hands shook as much as Ken’s. With the seatbelt off she felt around her body for tender points and was relieved to find none. She became aware of Tub’s crying, but when she looked into the rearview mirror she didn’t see him. She suddenly felt herself gathered and aware of the situation. She sniffed one more time, pulled the emergency brake back down, and carefully drove the car over to the shoulder with the passenger seat door still open. On the shoulder she turned on the hazards and turned the car off. She got out and walked over to the ditch. She saw Ken ten feet away, still lying down, and she ran over to him, and when she reached him she started kicking him, first in the side and then in the face, and she wasted no energy with words. He let this happen. He took his punishment but he covered his face.
When she realized that her kicks weren’t changing anything she stopped and started shouting at him. Shrieking at him. Her voice spread out over the fields. Ken tried to stand up and she shoved his face in with her hand, and he fell back down. A car drove by. Then another. The sun rose. The day began, and Tub stopped bleeding.
Thomas Simmons currently lives in Chicago but is sometimes spotted in New York City and Boston. His debut short story collection, Ways I Could Be Living, is forthcoming from Pen and Anvil Press in 2012. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.