Laughter Over Breakfast (short story)

The Greyhound was late. Isn’t it always late? It was after a fifteen hour journey that I arrived into Rapid City and I was exhausted. All I wanted was to be in a place that I could call home and instead I was going to spend a week with Tom. At the time I hadn’t seen Tom in over five years and I remember getting off the bus with this feeling of trepidation. Nothing too intense, mind you, this isn’t the start of a Stephen King novel. It’s just I was about to spend a week with someone who I’d long called one of my best friends even though I wasn’t really sure if we really knew each other anymore.

I was the first one off the bus because I hate being late. Even though the bus was out of my control, I was ashamed to be starting off by being a nuisance for Tom. Had he checked the bus schedule to see if it was going to be on time? I wouldn’t have. He was there though, in this ancient Volvo station wagon that looked like a relic from a decades old commercial and he was smiling. This big radiant smile. This sincere happiness to see me writ all over his face and it made me happy, so I cracked a big fat smile right back at him. Squeeking out of the back of the Volvo was this little pug, monstrous creature in the wrong light, yet here his manic freneticism was just a nice accent on a lovingly vivid scene. My smile grew even bigger.

“Good to see you Tom.” I said.

“Good to see you Bob.” He said.

We just stared at each other for a second, maybe both wondering if after five years it was still OK to hug, but that only lasted a second. A hug still means something, maybe a hug is one of those few things that have meaning and this hug had meaning. Makes me miss Tom just thinking about it, though I don’t think I could hug him today with that same ease. It’s amazing how time passes and it doesn’t pass. We broke the hug, he grabbed my bag and put it in the trunk while I got into the car.

“Whose this big bruiser?” I asked, tickling that perfect spot between the pugs ears.

“We call him T-Rex, because he’s so fearsome.” Tom replied, keeping a straight face while he watched the road. The little pug was at this moment belly up on my lap, with a great amount of dignity yelping for his belly to be rubbed.”

“T-Rex,” I said, “I like that. Must be quite the guard dog, no criminals could mess with this chap”

“Oh, no. He’s a terrible guard dog,” Tom said, “Being so good looking means he gets all the babes and by the time night rolls around he’s about as tired as a creature can be. If anything, I’d have to warn Rex that there was a burglar.” I grinned into myself, we don’t need to talk about who we are because we know each other. Friendship does mean something, I guess.

The drive through Rapid City to Tom’s house had me looking out the window. I’m not really a small town person, I don’t have anything against them, they’re just not really where I ever ended up. I like them though, I like the feeling that this isn’t some place where you need to be somebody you aren’t. You can just be you and people will respect that, even if your name is never lit up in lights or your mug never shows up on the television. People just living their lives, maybe I could get used to that.

We drove and drove, longer than I had been expecting. My god, he lives in a suburb, I thought. I didn’t even know towns this size could have suburbs but there we were, turning into his cul de sac. Nice little house he had, maybe it didn’t have a picket fence but it was close enough. He took my bag for me and let me walk in first. Maybe the house was little but in my long life I’ve never had so much space to myself, not before I went to Rapid City and not since. After being in apartment after apartment, people always living on the other side of the wall from me, walking into Tom’s house made me want to yell at the top of my lungs. Yell just to see how loud my voice could go, to revel in the fact that no one would care.

Out from the kitchen walks Brandy. I hadn’t forgotten that Tom was married, but I suppose it had slipped my mind a bit. He’d gotten married just a few months before, there hadn’t been a wedding. Brandy was looking lovely, this glow in her cheeks. Maybe it was the first time I’d seen her looking happy. Tom goes and gives her a hug and then I’m next in line. Even though I’m not really the hugging type I give her a bear hug.

“Congratulations, Congratulations and Congratulations.” I said.  She blushed and said, “Thanks Bob. Let me show you to your room.”

“This house is really great Brandie.” I said to her and I meant it. It was obviously a first home but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A home is different than an apartment or a house where you are living month to month, a home is a place where you put your heart into it and here there was heart . She led me into my room which was bright and airy with a perfectly made bed dominating the center. Tom came into the room as I was putting my bag on the bed, saying with no small amount of satisfaction, “This will be your wing of the house. Brandie and I sleep on the other side of the house. Everything here is just for you.”

“Well thanks a lot Tom,” I said. After all this time it seemed my friend had become a pretty decent fellow.

Of course we were going to be drinking deep into the night. I think Tom had quieted down in the years since we’d seen each other and was looking to let loose the same way we did when we were kids. I had calmed down too, though in a different way than Tom, but I could do him this favor. Make for a night an illusion that things, just for a moment were the way they had been. I wanted that too, for a night.  He had the biggest bottle of vodka I’ve seen in my life and was rambling about how cheap it was. I nodded and made all the right noises but vodka is vodka. I guess I was judging him a bit, I don’t think vodka is a good choice. This night was going to be about Tom though.

The entire night was just a hoot. While looking back at my memories they pass like a montage, yet  I’m pretty sure at the time the night felt like a drunken montage as well. I remember pedaling some bike up a hill and being so drunk that I couldn’t understand how to switch the gears. I would just keep toppling over and then Tom would laugh so hard at me that he would topple over. We were smoking cigarettes or cigars or something, though I don’t remember it, just their taste on my mouth. Brandie said we stayed up till four in the morning, which I find hard to believe, but why would she lie. It wasn’t one of the best nights of my life, but then it was a very beautiful night. It was fun. It reminded me of why I was friends with this fellow in the first place.

The next morning I woke up groggy as a hibernating bear. I remember my brain flashing on for a second: where am I where am I where am I, then the first sight that I knew was the real world and not the fantasy of a dream was Tom’s mischievous smile conquering the room. Now what, I wondered, was he so happy about? And why, I also wondered, is he not feeling this same brain dead hangover as me?

“Mornin Bob. So, do you remember what you said last night?” He said with an airy seriousness. I heard Brandie guffaw in the hall. What did I get myself into last night, I wondered.

“Of course, I remember every word. I remember telling you my undying love for Brandie and how I should never have let you steal her.” I countered back at him. Brandie gave another laugh but Tom just seemed to brush my parry aside. Whatever it was that he was in such a damned good mood for, he wasn’t going to let me spoil it.

“Well Bob, remember when I dared you to paint your toe nails, and you said I could paint them if I could get to them? Do you remember saying that?” He said, I nodded slowly. There was some fuzzy recollection of this, why on earth had he cared so much about my toe nails? I guess everybody has their own strangeness.

He just rolled right on, “Well I bet you thought that I would have to fight you to paint them. But you know me, I like to think outside the box. Plus, beating you up is no fun anymore, I’d hate to break something on you. Bob, check your toe nails.” What the hell, I thought. Brandie came into the room laughing her head off. I pulled my sheets up and I’ll be if he hadn’t come into my room in the night and painted each one of my toes a different color. Brandie and Tom are in hysterics with each other, looking a merry picture except at my expense! He’d come into my room. He’d violated my personal space. The more disgusted I looked though, the more Brandie and Tom laughed and they broke me down. OK, I thought, this is a little funny. I cracked a grin that evolves into my own barrel laugh. As they say, when in Rome. This maybe isn’t the fun I wanted to have, but hell, let’s call it fun regardless.

After stepping out of the shower I heard Brandie yelling, “Breakfast is ready.” Now normally I would never eat breakfast, yes, I know a bad habit. That day though, after all that liquor, well some pancakes or whatever deliciousness it was I smelled from Brandies kitchen, well that was exactly what I was in the mood for. I threw on just a pair of good old blue jeans and a shirt and as quick as you could say bacon hashbrowns I was sitting down at the table with Brandie and Tom.

I remember thinking: wow, what a spread. Really, I was figuring this whole marriage thing might have something to it. Tom was yapping at me about the toe nails, even taking a picture to send to friends, but by this time I was thinking it was pretty funny too. It’s good to let loose in life, to just laugh a good barrel laugh and let it be honest. There was a smile glued to my face and it wasn’t leaving. I was just swimming through the food. French toast slathered with butter and soaked in good proper maple syrup. Bacon that you could sink teeth into. Eggs just runny enough that your could soak up the yolk with a piece of bread. My god, just thinking about it and I can feel my stomach rumble.

“You know, Bob, for somebody so small you can really pack the food away.” Brandie said to me, with a gentle smile.

“Well,” I said to Brandie, adding some more butter to my French toast, “Where I come from, it’s not good manners to make fun of a fellows bulimia.”

She looked me straight in the eyes to see if I was joking but I’d kept a straight face and the smile wilted right from her face. She stammered, “Oh Bob, I’m sorry….” Christ, I thought, what had Tom been telling her about me that she would even entertain this. I said to her, “Oh please I’m just joking.” but it felt like the mood was spoiled a bit. The food was starting to feel like a heavy weight in my stomach and it became a bit tasteless.

In the corner was Tom just giving Brandie a 10/10 glower. This sour face could teach lemons a lesson. How quickly, I thought, the clouds can come in front of the sun. We all kept eating in silence, I think all of us realizing that somehow the record of our morning had come off kilter. All of us wanting it to get back to smooth sunny tunes but afraid that maybe this static was the new norm. Actually, no, I think already at this point there was something in Tom that just wanted to strike, to be vicious. Every person has a demon in them, has something outside of their control, I think Tom’s was always closer to the surface.

After breakfast Brandie took the dishes away. Tom and went for a bit of a stroll just around the block and it was a nice time. We just chatted to chat and I forgot about the awkward breakfast. Tom’s mind is quite a lively one, he was keeping me on my toes.

“Well, if the government debt is 90% of GDP,” he was saying to me, “And an economy starts to be damaged at anything in excess of 90%, then isn’t the time to change our financial motivations right now? We are crossing a threshold.

“Yes, it’s true.” I replied, “But the fact is that we aren’t doing small scale experiments trying to gauge the right way forward. We have an all or nothing shot. We decided to follow this route of taking on debt to spur growth and everyone would agree it hasn’t met even the lowest benchmarks. But to count it as a failure is the difference between building a house where the roof is unfinished while it’s raining, and starting fresh again in the rain. We might have built this wrong, or at the wrong time, but this work has started something, and an incomplete start is still better than starting at zero.”

He nodded and we kept walking on. Talking and talking, isn’t that the foundation of every conversation. Yet, it felt to me like his heart wasn’t fully into it. His mind was elsewhere.  We got back to the house, this part I remember very clearly. He walked in and looked Brandie up and looked Brandie down. He noticed she was eating peanut butter and this is what he focused on, but I’m sure she could have been doing anything and it would have been the exact same result.

“Who, the fuck, said you could eat my peanut butter?” he said to her. Voice calm but the restrained anger making the words bubble. They hit Brandie hard, like fists, like she knew where this conversation was going to go. That she knew this was going to hurt.

“I asked you a question? Why don’t you say anything back? Why are you eating my peanut butter?” He said, his voice even more seething.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal….” She said until Tom cut her off, now shouting in that broken voice of a little boy, “Didn’t think it was a big deal? You take my shit, you think everything is yours? Who gave you your fucking life? This house? Those clothes? That car? And that isn’t a fucking enough? You have to take my peanut butter too. You know what you are, Brandie, you’re a bitch. An ungrateful bitch.”

I was just sitting there shell shocked. How can anyone who just a few hours before be brimming with love for a person let it invert so quickly? I opened my mouth to say something but I suppose I was a coward because no words came out. Brandie, her eyes filled with tears dissipates into the master bedroom. A moment of silence befalls where Tom seems to be waiting, anticipating Brandie to make the next step. Suddenly there was a crash and Tom seems almost happy, like there is a game being played and Brandie has just played into his hand. He had this reptilian grin for just a second, then he stood up and knocked on the door of the room. There was crashing and booms.

“Let me in,” Tom said calmly. “Let me in Brandie, don’t do this.”

“You’re making me do this, Tom, you’re fucking making me. Fuck you.” She screeched back, punctuating syllables with crashes of items hitting walls.

“Now, Brandie, you’re being irrational. Please, just calm down. I want to talk to you like you’re an adult but you’re not let letting me do that are you? Are you going to calm down.”

“No. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare talk to me like that, like I’m a child. You started this.”

Tom’s face had become reprehensibly reptilian by this point, I can’t even stare at him. I wanted to leave but I guess I really was a chicken, am a chicken. I just sat right there. “Now Brandie,” Tom cooed, if you don’t open this door I’m going to have to break it down. Now we don’t want that do we? So are we going to open it or no?” There was silence on the other end of the, then the click of the door being unlocked. Then there was silence. My god, I thought, Tom is enjoying this. He was loving this.

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