a short story
Gary Baker, June 2014
Eleven o’clock and I pop the cap on my first bottle as Charlie plays on the flat screen, cigar still smoldering in the livingroom ashtray. He’s up to no good again, always off on some caper or other doing god knows what or why. I watch as the ginger rebel dons a dress and masquerades as a vegas dancer for the Prime Minister.
I wonder why they call him that; was there some other series of ministers before him? Suddenly it dawns on me that Optimus must have been the same way, otherwise he would just be Optimus, which doesn’t nearly sound as all-powerful. I mean, who in their right mind would allow some mega robot intelligence seven stories tall to roam the earth with the name of “Optimus One” or “Optimus Prototype”? No one, that’s who. The prime must mean by any indication that he is the best, by default. So the Prime Minister must be some sort of dictator for the Europeans. A man who came after a bunch of phonies who couldn’t handle cold, hard leadership.
I smile and start to refer to him as “Optimus Minister” while Charlie pretends to give him a lap dance. But it isn’t a real lap dance; no, Charlie is too good for that. He actually pockets the phone of Mr Optimus and passes it off to a rebel crony of his acting as a bouncer, then scampers off to rejoin the stage. I actually enjoy his little routine, grinning as the hairy dancer fools everyone else. Stupid sexy rebel man.
A knock at the door, frantic and bothersome. My head pounds just as hard, indicative of the hangover in full force. I free up another soot-black sea of greatness and drop it back. Another knock and I grumble without moving. The couch and I have become best friends, there’s no way I’m going to give that up, not now that the cushions have started to form around me. I feel like a rope tied to a tree for decades, the trunk slowly overtaking me until I am simply a piece of the whole.
“Trumer?” A female voice, somewhat sexy, but incredibly irritating once it dawns on me who it is. Rachel knocks again. “Trumer I know you’re in there. Open up.” In hasty annoyance to end her spiel I connect my headphones to the wireless VidBase on my coffee table, ending the audibility of the show. “Are you serious?” She berates. “I just heard you…” she sighs with an angry overtone and I knock another back trying to pry into my own mind for details.
Again with the knocking! Insatiable grumbling as I flip open the laptop and hit the power key. It comes out of sleep and straight to ComeOnMe, my latest tab. I forgo the memory-prying of the night before, now entirely sure that it was a bust after all. So much for the glory of delayed adventures remembered in glimpses over the next few days….
“Dammit, Trumer, that’s it!” I hear a jingling of keys and panic. I almost smash the computer screen when I close it so hard, just in time too as the front door opens with wicked speed and slams against the wall just inside. My first thought is that the neighbors must be vying to kill me right now, or at least those who aren’t at work. My second thought is how the hell she got a key to my apartment. Who did she play to get a key to my place without me knowing?!
Rachel glares at me with wet cheeks, eyes red and makeup dribbling down across her chin. Her hands are on her hips and her painted fingernails dig into her jeans like rounded cactus spines. Then it seems to finally hit her and her eyes go wide in shock. “Seriously?!” She rebukes -- or maybe she refutes, the throbbing pain is too much for me to think clearly and the light of day that enters in behind her from the courtyard attacks me like a million illuminated wasps, seeking the sweet spots of my retinas. She gives me a thrice-over, “where the hell are your clothes?!”
I look down over my furry flab that hoists a plate of dried-out lunchmeat like a butler, and discover that I am half-laying with nothing but boxers on. “In the wash,” I lie. “I’m waiting for them to finish so I can shower and put them on.” I purposely ignore the fact that they are still lying haphazardly across the white carpet throughout the room, and similarly I avoid all eye-contact with them as though doing so makes them not even exist.
Her cheeks soften and she perks her lips to one side, relaxing with sympathy. “Look, Trumer, I came by…” she shoots a glance at the window and tosses me a blanket from the cubby system beneath it, then sits down on an ottoman. “I came by to apologize. For last night.” Eyes wide I move the plate to the table and lean forward, covering my sorry self with a thin layer of dyed wool. “Let me guess,” she winces, noting the bottles with an overall eye wander, “you don’t remember?”
“Sorry,” I mumble.
“Ha!” Rachel throws herself back against the cushioned chair next to her, “you’re sorry! Dammit, Trumer, I’m the one who’s sorry!” Her eyes bead up and she feigns a smile. “I shouldn’t have rejected you like that. I was scared. I was pissed. I was-....” She brings her keys into her hands and watches them with what looks like reverence. “When you gave me a key to your place I thought you were asking me to marry you, and there’s no way I was ready for that!” She sighs loudly and wipes away tears with the back of her hand. “And -- wait, is that a stripper with a Hitler mustache?!”
It catches me completely three-sixty and for several moments I just stare in bewilderment. “What?” Then I see where she’s looking and realize she’s referring to Charlie. “Oh. No it’s a Charlie Chaplin mustache.”
She scowls disbelievingly. “On a stripper?”
“No,” I correct, “on an Irish rebel spy acting like a vegas feather-dancer to take down the Optimus Minister.”
“What kind of show is this?”
With a finger held high in lecture, I set down my latest bottle. “It’s the perfect mix of Charlie Chaplin, James Bond and the I - R - A. Though if you think about it, there’s quite a bit of the Stooges laced in as well.”
She shakes her head. “Whatever. Anyways I’ve been thinking about your offer and wanted to tell you that I accept...” her eyes once again take in the whole room, “although only on the condition that this never happens again.”
I sit straighter suddenly. “Are you serious?” Is she serious? What if this turns out to be a joke? A prank set up by my neighbors, or colleagues? I mean, it’s not as if I didn’t want her to say this, but I don’t even remember asking her in the first place.
Rachel’s smile is soft, caring, and totally obviously intentionally ignoring the mess nested around me. “Yes, Trumer, I am one-hundred percent serious.” She shrugs, “truth is I kinda, sorta wanted it all along anyways. I just wasn’t prepared to be asked like that, in front of all of our friends, at the exact same sitting as when Karl proposed to Jenna.” Another nervous shrug. “It sorta felt like you were only doing it because you felt the need to, that you were only asking because we’d been dating for so long.”
Maybe it’s the booze, but I scowl, “we’ve only been dating for six months….”
“Exactly!” Rachel runs her hands through her hair wildly. “And to think I almost told Jenna I hated you for asking me like that!” Then I notice the green and blue smears across her elbows. She’s been painting again. Standing, she pockets her keys and makes her way to the fridge where she concocts some sort of mixture with the rice milk, coconut water, and... was that a lime? Then she turns to me with her solution in hand, a milk mustache set upon her upper lip. “You told me something last night, while pleading your case. You said I needed to…” she glances off to the side, trying to remember, “I needed to ‘einfach leben’. I think I said that right.” She connects with my gaze again with a look of hope as I muse on how she pronounced it wrong. “Was that German?”
“It means to live simply, more or less,” I sit back and rest my hands on my lap. “That or to simply live, whichever, though to be honest I’m not entirely sure I have the grammar correct.”
“Well either way, I choose to ‘leben’ in the moment.” She comes to the couch and sweeps aside the empty bottles and detritus, then hoists her insane white, sweet-smelling mixture. “Starting with a cure for the hangover you gave yourself due to me rejecting you.” As I reach for it she lifts it to her own lips and chugs the damned glass. Grinning, she sets the empty thing down and laughs devilishly while unplugging the headphones from the jack and hits play. Instantly the sound of the rebel ginger slams into my ears as he sneakily chicken-walks off stage to the not-so-mellow jazz music.
I suddenly hate the show, but Rachel sits back and turns up the volume grinning like the Cheshire the whole damned time. Maybe it was a bad idea to give her a key after all.