Dirk stares at me hard, then stops, losing interest. “You never grasp anything, Tim. You look okay, but nothing works.”
I leave the table and go to the men’s room. The door is locked and above the sound of the toilet being flushed repeatedly I can hear Raymond’s sobs. I knock. “Raymond—let me in.”
The toilet stops flushing. I can hear him sniffling, then blowing his nose.
“I’ll be okay,” he calls back.
“Let me in.” I’m twisting the knob. “Come on. Open the door.”
The door opens. It’s a small bathroom and Raymond is sitting on the toilet, the lid closed, beginning to cry again, his face and eyes red and wet. I am so surprised by Raymond’s emotion that I lean against the door and just stare, watching him bunch his hands into fists.
“He was my friend,” he says between intakes of breath, not looking up at me.
I’m looking at a yellowed tile on the wall for a long time, wondering how the waiter, who I am positive I had asked not to put garbanzo beans in my salad, actually had. Where was the waiter born, why had he come to Mario’s, hadn’t he looked at the salad, didn’t he understand?
“He liked you … too,” I say finally.
“He was my best friend.” Raymond tries to stop crying by hitting the wall.
I try to lean down, pay attention and say “Uh-huh.”
“Really, he was.” Raymond keeps sobbing.
“Come on, get up,” I say. “It’ll be all right. We’re going to the movies.”
Raymond looks up and asks, “Will it?”
“Jamie really liked you too.” I take Raymond by the arm. “He wouldn’t want you to act like this.”
“He really liked me,” he says to himself or asks.
“Yeah, he really did.” I can’t help but smile when I say this.
Raymond coughs and takes some toilet paper and blows his nose, then he washes his face and says that he needs some pot.
We both go back to the table and try to eat a little but everything’s cold, my salad already gone. Raymond orders a good bottle of wine and the waiter brings it, along with four glasses, and Raymond proposes a toast. And after the g asses are filled he urges us to lift them and Dirk looks at us like we’re insane and refuses to, draining his glass before Raymond says something like “Here’s to you, buddy, miss you a lot.” I lift my glass, feeling stupid, and Raymond looks over at me, his face swollen, puffy, smiling, looking stoned, and at this still point, when Raymond raises his glass and Graham gets up to make a phone call, I remember Jamie so suddenly and with such clarity that it doesn’t seem as if the car had flown off the highway in the desert that night. It almost seems as if the ass**le is right here, with us, and that if I turn around he will be sitting there, his glass raised also, smirking, shaking his head and mouthing the word “fools.”
I take a sip, cautiously at first, afraid the sip is sealing something.
“I’m sorry,” Dirk says. “I just … can’t.”
THE UP ESCALATOR
I’m standing on the balcony of Martin’s apartment in Westwood, holding a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and Martin comes toward me, rushes at me, and with both hands pushes me off the balcony. Martin’s apartment in Westwood is only two stories high and so the fall is not that long. As I’m failing I hope I will wake up before hitting the ground. I hit the asphalt, hard, and lying there, on my stomach, my neck twisted completely around, I look up and focus on Martin’s handsome face staring down at me with a benign smile. It’s the serenity in that smile—not the fall really or the imagined image of my cracked, bleeding body—that wakes me up.
I stare at the ceiling, then over at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand next to the bed, which tells me it is almost noon, and I uselessly hope that I have misread the time, shutting my eyes tightly, but when I open them again the clock still reads that it is almost noon. I raise my head slightly and look over at the small, flickering red numbers glowing from the Betamax and they tell me the same thing the hands on the melon-colored alarm clock do: almost noon. I try to fall back asleep but the Librium I took at dawn has worn off and my mouth feels thick and dry and I am thirsty. I get up, slowly, and walk into the bathroom and as I turn on the faucet I look into the mirror for a long time until I am forced to notice the new lines beginning around the eyes. I avert my gaze and concentrate on the cold water rushing out of the faucet and filling the cup my hands have made.
I open a mirrored cabinet and take out a bottle. I take its top off and count only four Libriums left. I pour one green-and-black capsule into my hand, staring at it, then place it carefully next to the sink and close the bottle and put it back into the medicine cabinet and take out another bottle and place two Valiums from it on the counter next to the green-and-black capsule. I put the bottle back and take out another. I open it, looking in cautiously. I notice there is not too much Thorazine left and I make a mental note to refill the prescription of Librium and Valium and I take a Librium and one of the two Valiums and turn the shower on.