When you’re standing on the edge of a twenty story rooftop, the world below is beautiful.
Downtown traffic slogged on the streets like blood through clogged arteries. People walked in the misty rain attached to phone screens. A subtle heartbeat thumped in the living city.
A stiff breeze brew across the rooftop. Every glance downward fluttered my stomach and caused an instinctual jump back.
I wasn’t crying. No sobs, no punches to the head, no anguished screams. No announcement to the world I wanted to end it all. Just a leaden cloud that pressed down on my shoulders, forcing my head to sag. The meds weren’t working. My psychiatrist was on vacation.
When I closed my eyes, I could feel the pull of gravity inviting me to step. A subtle burst of anticipation gave my heart a flutter. According to my calculations, it would take about four seconds to hit the pavement. Eight if I could make it to the top of the Empire State. Earlier that week, I wanted to try. The doorman took one look at me and refused to let me up.
In my mind, I started a countdown from ten with the intention of jumping at two. Much like when a child gets a shot from their pediatrician. My breathing slowed and my body relaxed.
And that’s when I heard his raspy voice. It came from everywhere and surrounded me. Like ambient noise from a good home theater. Just like it always did.
“Enough with this nonsense, Harold. Stop being a jackass.”
My voice felt thin, as if the wind could breathe it away before it caught anyone’s ear.
“Leave me alone, Rupert. I’ve had enough of this.”
Rupert jumped on the ledge next to me and stood on one leg. Normally he towered a foot over me but today he felt larger. More authoritative. He was wearing a tux with tails and an Abe Lincoln hat. His voice sharpened.
“Still hung up on Mary? It’s been thirteen months. Time to move on, buddy.”
As he spoke, my will shrunk like dried up raisins. I knew I wasn’t going to jump.
“Besides”, he continued, “this is incredibly selfish. See all those people down there? They didn’t ask to have their day ruined. What did they ever do you? They don’t deserve the mental scars you’re going to give them.”
Rupert gracefully leapt over me and landed on his opposite foot. He spun in a tight circle, the toe of his wingtip licking the edge.
“If you’re going to off yourself, blow your brains out. Swallow a bucket of pills. Do it quietly and alone. Don’t involve innocent people.”
He sat down next to me with a thud that shook the roof. I instinctually grabbed the ledge for balance. Rupert laughed long and hard. He threw his arm around me and pulled me close. He smelled like dad’s aftershave.
“Listen, Harold. We’ve been buddies since the third grade. We walked home together. We went on dates together. Remember the first time you got laid? Who was there telling you how to thrust your hips?”
My throat felt dry and rusty. If I had saliva to spit, it would have come out brown.
“If you jump, you lose me. I’m gone. I’ve been your best friend for as long as you can remember. And all these memories are gone too. Mrs. Clark’s fourth grade class. Sneaking whiskey into the band room during lunch. Marrying Mary under a peach tree in the middle of summer. Your armpits were sweaty and your breath stank, but she said yes. God only knows why.”
The last bit was said with growing venom. I knew what was coming next and that’s what caused the tears to fall.
“So, stand up, stupid, and let’s get out of here. Let’s see what the rest of the day has in store. Maybe we’ll blow off work and head down to O’Callahan’s. We’ll drink fine scotch and think about nothing. Maybe there’ll be a rugby match on and we’ll stay longer than expected. And maybe, around five, the after work crowd will come in and the energy will lift and we’ll be the sour forty year olds people gravitate to, drowning our sorrows in a glass of Lagauvulin.”
He moved behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. His fingernails dug deep into my skin. His voice became raspier. Angrier.
“We’ll be Hemingways and they’ll think we have stories and when they ask, we’ll make shit up and they’ll buy us more drinks. And the girls in their blouses and conservative slacks will see us drunk and stupid and distant from the nine to five grind. And they’ll want to come up and feel something other than their fake corporate relationships. Yes ma’am, no ma’am, when all we’re designed to do is fuck and be fucked. And we’ll bring one home and forget about the world and we’ll screw all night and she’ll leave in the morning with her legs aching and a bad taste in her mouth.”
Rupert reared back and smacked me across the back of my head. My eyes rattled in their sockets and I let out a yelp. It was my first sound in ten minutes.
“And we’ll do it all over again tomorrow. Or we’ll do something else. But you have to wake up. Stop this nonsense, Harold. Stop being a jackass.”
And then he was gone. Retreated to back of my brain like a half forgotten dream. My shirt was soaked, my skin ran cold. My head still stung from the smack.
When I left the roof, I wanted to go home. But I had to stop by O’Callahan’s first.
Three days later, I found myself at Gerry’s, a dank watering hole for the Upper East Side college crowd. A throng of boys wearing backwards caps played beer pong in the corner. A Pitbull song blared over the bar’s PA.
Rupert and I had been there since six and had a prime spot at the bar. Girls pretending to be women slunk up, crammed themselves to the bar top and ordered vodka sodas. Rupert and I were the oldest people there by at least ten years.
My words felt blurry as I yelled to Rupert over the pop song.
“You know what, Rup? I’m shitty canned. Why don’t we call it a night? Besides, you look ridiculous.”
Rupert was barefoot in a bright pink blazer, no shirt and Bermuda shorts. He looked like a mix between Miami Vice and a fish fry. He howled to the ceiling, jumped up on the bar stool and began to Riverdance. Nobody glanced in his direction.
Halfway through Rupert’s routine, a monster in an Affliction t-shirt stomped up to the bar. He looked like a caveman who recently discovered the power of speech. He sat down in Rupert’s stool without a word. Rupert jumped on my back, his arms and legs wrapped around my torso. Suddenly, he was three feet tall.
“Excuse me”, I said with the grace of Barney from The Simpsons. “My friend was sitting there.”
The kid slammed his Miller Lite to the bar top and said, “Dude. I’ve been here since eight. Nobody’s here.”
Rupert beat his fists into my back and yelled in my ear.
“Kick him in the balls! Throw your glass in his face! Nobody calls me nobody!”
My eyes narrowed at the college kid. Anger bubbled up inside of me. Normally unfocused rage now with a target. My fists tightened. The bartender, sensing a scene, rushed up to the two of us.
“C’mon buddy. Leave it alone. Give him the empty seat or leave. You’ve had enough as it is.”
I was about to yell at the bartender when Rupert jumped up and sat on my shoulders.
“Cool it, cool it, cool it! That chick is making eyes at you. Target acquired!”
My legs pushed up and out of the stool, my eyes still glaring at the kid. He turned back to his beer indifferently. The girl Rupert found was wearing a light blue tank top, giant black glasses and two lip rings. Her jet black hair was cropped short. Her tank top had Pacman chasing down three cartoon ghosts. A glass of whiskey neat sat in front of her. Her hands kept fiddling with her nose.
The second I stepped, the floor began to wobble. It felt like I was walking on a waterbed. Rupert grabbed my sides and led me through the crowd. People glanced back but I couldn’t see their disgust. The world was melting wax. Faces blurred and unfocused.
Rupert was yelling but it all sounded like madness. Voices, Lady Gaga and beer bottles churned up in a giant blender. Before my brain knew what had happened, I was leaning against the wall behind her. She turned and said her name was Julie.
More words came out but I couldn’t process them. The bar began to spin but I could feel Rupert hands gripping my teeth, working my mouth up and down. Forcing words from my face.
It seemed to work. Julie giggled and signaled the barkeep for another round. The world moved faster. Upchuck sat at the base of my throat but Rupert pushed it down with his free hand. Every time the world turned black, Rupert punched me in the kidney.
Blackness, SMACK and I found myself outside signaling a cab. Julie was draped over me like a superhero’s cape. Rupert held me upright. Cool night air awakened my senses. Words formed from my face.
“Hey, Julie. Where we goin’?”
Her eyes were bright, wide and full of manic energy. She held her nose, sniffed and released. My eyes started to close but Rupert smacked me again, hard.
“My place, Harry. Samson’s going too. Gonna get us hooked up.”
Blackness fell like an iron curtain. Just the sounds of the rushing city whooshing through open cab windows. Rupert yelled nonsense to the outside world. Julie bit my neck like a ravenous beast.
I fought to stay awake but nothing could save me. My senses switched off one by one until all I could feel was the warm city wind, the rumbling engine and Julie undoing my belt.
And all the while, Rupert was cackling and screaming and running mad.
Sunlight pressed against the lids of my eyeballs. My head was cloudy and underwater. A dull pain swam to the surface of my brain and intensified as my eyes opened. My face made a peeling sound as I lifted it from the hardwood floor.
The room was familiar yet not. I was in a cramped studio apartment. A tiny TV sat atop a hand me down dresser. My Bloody Valentine posters hung on the wall. The coffee table was coated with a fine, white powder.
Hazy images popped into my mind like flickering fluorescent lights. Samson and Julie. Smashing glass and long mirrors. The movie Stepbrothers played on a worn out laptop. Hands and heat and breath and breasts. Blood. Lots of blood.
The final image shook me awake and pulled my eyes to a corner bed. Julie was lying face down, half under a sheet, half not. Redness had pooled between her legs. Traces of it were smeared over the hospital white sheets.
My breath caught in my throat as my mind panicked. I rushed to my pants and found my phone. My heart hammered in time with my pounding head.
Rupert, perched on a dresser, shouted, “Relax, Harold. She’s not dead. She may not walk comfortably for a couple of days, but she’ll live.”
I looked up and saw him wearing cotton pajamas with spaceships on them and Tasmanian devil slippers. Rupert lunged from the dresser and landed next to me.
“C’mon, stud. Let’s get a shot and a waffle and head home. It’s nearly three in the afternoon.”
My eyes couldn’t stop darting to Julie. She looked tiny, frail and vulnerable. Her breath was shallow but there. A backpack was open at the foot of her bed. Books covered in brown paper bags were sticking out. The words “Algebra II” were scribbled on them in ink.
My legs gave out and I landed on my ass. Butt on the floor, I scurried backward against the wall. My mind was reeling, spinning, contorting. It felt like my eyes were sprung from their sockets.
Rupert slid towards me and said, “Dude, I’m fairly certain she’s legal. 16 at the youngest. Probably just a dumb 19 year old who should be in college. Besides, you met her at a bar.”
My throat was sandpaper and the words came out raspy. Much like Rupert’s three days earlier.
“Ever hear of a fake ID? What the fuck did you make me do?”
Rupert’s grin flipped into a scowl.
“What did I make you do? You did this yourself. I just wanted to shake you from your, ‘Poor me, my wife’s dead’ funk. I didn’t force the coke up your nose. I didn’t make you bang a teenager. That’s on you, pal.”
White hot rage filled my lungs. My muscles tensed and breathing quickened. Rupert continued.
“C’mon. Let’s get out of here before she wakes up. What’s she going to do? Call the cops? Have them come in and investigate her cocaine soaked apartment? Think of this as a lesson for her. Getting busy with geriatric predators has a way of changing a gal. You probably saved her life.”
My voice rattled off the bare walls and bounced around the room. Julie stirred under the covers.
“I’ve had enough of you and your shit! I didn’t want this! This isn’t me!”
Hot sobs trickled through my eyes. My chest heaved and sank and heaved again.
“I just want Mary back. That’s all I want.”
Rupert leaned over and stared into my eyes. His pupils were red hot coals. Heat burned from his body.
“She’s dead, asshole. Dried up and rotting. You still have life and I’m the only person on this sad, little planet that’s going to help you live it. So, stop sniveling!”
Rupert reared back, grabbed a nearby lamp and smashed it into my face. Hot glass splintered my skin. Two smacks followed. Rupert was enraged. Julie stirred again, raised her head and looked at me.
I turned to her and shouted, “Help me! This isn’t me!”
Julie’s eyes grew wide with fear as she stood up and ran to the bathroom. I could hear the lock click as Rupert continued to hammer me.
“Ungrateful, son of an asshole! Fucking baby! Sack up! Sack up! She’s DEAD! She’s DEAD!”
As my body curled into the fetal position, I felt my heart give way. I covered my head and everything slowed. My eyes felt fuzzy like the night before. Rupert had resorted to grabbing random objects from the back of my psyche. Rocks and sticks. Heavy gravestones and large coffins. Cracking and splintering against my back.
Suddenly, a figure materialized in a dark corner of my mind. A female, broad shouldered and muscular strode into view. She was clad in a shining suit of golden armor, a ferocious battle axe strapped to her back. Dark brown hair flowed from beneath a gleaming helmet. She was light and purity and rage and beauty and I spoke to her from the back of my brain.
“Please help me, Mary. Please help me.”
A thundering crash sounded from the back of the room as Mary burst through the wall. Rupert turned and screamed as she swung her axe. Rupert ducked, grabbed the coffee table and flung it at Mary. She batted it aside and threw herself at him. The two tussled and rolled around the floor, knocking over everything in sight. Nightstands and full length mirrors.
Rupert escaped her grip and hid under the bed. Mary grabbed it and flipped it upward. Rupert screamed as she stepped on his arm, raised her mighty axe and brought it down. The blade cleaved Rupert’s head in two. Black muck sprayed from both sides. Throaty gulps escaped his gurgling throat. His arms flapped, twitched and fell at odd angles. His right eye turned to me and popped like a pimple. And then he disappeared.
From the bathroom, I could head Julie frantically talking on the phone. The room was in shambles. Police sirens wailed from somewhere downtown. Someone was pounding on the apartment door, screaming if she was OK.
My warrior woman stood above me and extended her hand. I grabbed it and she pulled me up in one swift motion. The moment I saw her face, I knew it wasn’t right. Something was wrong. This couldn’t be her.
Hearing my thoughts, the woman answered, “You’re right. I’m not Mary. She’s dead, Harold. She can’t be your friend.”
Feet trampled up the stairwell as a key hurriedly clicked in the door lock. Julie’s screams were now low sobs. Outside, it was a sunny day. A dog barked off in the distance. Somewhere, somebody was doing something that made more sense than this.
The warrior looked at me, brandished her axe and smiled. Her teeth were filed down to razor sharp triangles. Her gums were purple and ugly. And she glared at me with black eyes full of maddening fury.
“But I can be your friend. Your best friend. Just give me a name and we’ll have some fun.”
Writer, gamer and beer geek, Bill Tucker writes words for a number of sites and publications. He currently blogs for The Austinot, talks TV for the Entertainment Weekly Community and pens film reviews for www.overmental.com. He’s also a published author of creepy short fiction and uncomfortable essays. He currently hangs his hat in Austin, Texas. All of his literary naughty bits can be found on www.thesurrealityproject.com
3 thoughts on “Best Buddies, Worst Friends by Bill Tucker”
“Within each of us, ofttimes, there dwells a mighty and raging fury.”
— Title card during a TV episode of the “The Incredible Hulk,” 1977
Bill, thanks for the fantastic read! Dark and beautiful.