Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery






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Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Health Care, Chapter Three

It was fucking pathetic. Claire stopped halfway between the bathroom and the bedroom to stare at the lump sitting in front of the television. It was sad to see. It was also sad to smell. For some reason, the scent of stale bong-water always depressed Claire. That was now the prominent smell in their living room, hovering in a cloud around their wretched guest.

Joan was getting fed up, Claire knew. When they’d arrived, after Joan had told Ben the news, she and Claire had talked. They agreed that Ben could stay with them as long as he needed to. They hadn’t changed their minds about it in the interim, although the wisdom of the offer was now somewhat questionable.

Two months.

He’d barely moved. He would run to the Seven-Eleven next door for smokes. He would go for groceries when Joan threatened to stick the vacuum cleaner hose up his ass if he didn’t. He would shower every other day. (Usually; although there were weeks when he went longer.) Other than that, he was right where he was now.

He’d smoked all the weed they’d brought with them within the first week. He’d blown a couple of hundred dollars worth of what was supposed to be his apartment-finding nest egg since then to keep the bong-hits coming. Claire would be a hypocrite—and so would Joan, truth be told—if she condemned someone for being stoned too frequently, but come on! It was one thing to enhance one’s daily activities with a nice buzz. It was another thing entirely to make the buzz the sum total of one’s activities.

And Ben was just not a good conversationalist when he was stoned. He had a hard time summoning up the necessary coherence to order a large pizza with no toppings. Putting something on the pizza was beyond him. Last week, Claire had had to intervene when he’d attempted to order a medium with extra mayonnaise.

They’d done everything they could to get him to leave the apartment (in the Let’s Go Out kind of way, not the Get Out and We’re Changing the Locks type way). They’d gotten tickets to see Mudhoney at the Crocodile. He said he didn’t feel like being in a crowd. They’d made reservations at Wild Ginger (for a meal that would cost approximately what Joan made in one week) but he said there was a Dragnet marathon on Nick at Nite. They tried to set him up with girls, but he was having none of it. He was beginning to wear ass-ruts in the floor.

Looking at him in the glow of the television, wrapped up in his blanket like an ice fisherman, she suddenly shared in Joan’s urge to shake him. To shake this stupid self-pity right out of him. She had to remind herself that she was the one who kept saying “give him time.”

She wasn’t feeling that tonight. They’d invited him to come to the movies. He didn’t actually say “no”, but the grunt that came out of his mouth definitely sounded negative. Claire had tried to be persuasive.

“It’s the new Richard Linklater film!” she told him, receiving in trade a blank stare.

Joan stepped up. “He’s the guy that did Slacker? This one’s about a bunch of stoners, so…you’re their demographic.”

Ben pulled his shirt up a little and scratched at his belly, which, Claire noticed, was looking a lot rounder than it used to.

“I’m beat,” he said. “I think I’m just going to watch some TV and conk out.”

“Why, what a novel idea.” Joan seemed to Claire to be a couple seconds shy of loss of patience.

“We’re gonna swing by the Comet for beers afterwards,” Claire offered hopefully. “That girl from Dick’s? Ginger? She’s going to be there. You want to maybe meet us there?”

This got Ben to lean forward and turn around to face them, which Claire thought for a moment might be a good sign. Then his eyes squinted in that way that preceded a shake of the head.

“Yeah,” he said, “y’know, I’m just gonna stay here. You guys enjoy the Linkman thing.”

Claire heard a strong intake of air from Joan, which she figured was about to turn into something in the shouting vein, so she quickly grabbed her hand, gave a sharp squeeze and pulled her out of the room, leaving as bright an “Okay! See ya!” as she could manage. Only when they were a block away did she let Joan’s hand go, which in turn let loose the verbiage.

“God fucking dammit!” Joan bellowed. “Claire, Claire, I love you and I know how attached you are to him and I love him, too, but if he doesn’t get his fucking ass off of our living room floor, I am gonna shove that bong up his ass!”

Claire reached over and tried to smooth down a vein that was throbbing dangerously on Joan's forehead. "Yeah," was all she could manage. They walked to the bus stop.