By Greg Gerke
When the friend came into his life Neil was in the middle of a big transition. He had been relying on other friends but they weren’t cutting it anymore. “To get to the other side,” he was fond of saying, “I need to find people who understand my becoming independent from my parents.” His parents had clothed, fed, and bought him countless movies and books for 35 years. He’d had enough of them. He didn’t want to bother them anymore. He wanted them to travel to Yuma, Arizona, in March, watch a bunch of spring training games and not think of him again.
Then the friend came into his life. He found Neil free parking spaces in the city, gifted him extravagant bottles of wine, treated him to fine meals, and gave him tips abut the stock market, although Neil didn’t have any money to invest. Deep down Neil thought the friend might be merely a more interesting substitute for his parents. He had his misgivings, but the relationship went on. After all it was a friend, the most blessed being to come into one’s life, and not a relative, a person who was required to listen to their kin grovel, complain and ask to borrow money without interest.
The friend had almost no needs in return. Neil’s chief duty was to laugh at his jokes, which often featured the people of Poland as the punch line. As far as Neil knew the friend didn’t work; he just continually did favors for people, like the perfect friend. Neil, wisely he thought, didn’t ask the friend about his business.
One day the friend asked Neil for a favor. It had to do with fruit. Neil was to travel to Hawaii for him and pick up some purple liliquoi, a delicacy one of his other friends loved. Neil didn’t ask any questions and took a flight a week later, obtaining thirty pounds of the forbidden fruit, lying to the agricultural inspectors and delivering the ripe goods to the friend.
A little later the friend told Neil he had to fly to Milan and break up with a woman there who thought he would come back to her, get married and live in a fancy apartment on Via Mozart. The friend was genuinely sad. He was dreading it, but it had to be done. Neil offered to go to Milan for him with a break up letter and to console Claudia any way he could. “It is done,” the friend said.
Claudia was irate. She threw her long, dark hair behind her back and insisted she and Neil go for drinks or she might take her life. He drove her around in her father’s blue Maserati 3200 GT and almost knocked over a moped finding a place to park. At a bar with waitresses clad in skimpy rose voile sheer, she told him the friend could not possibly think he would find someone to compare with her looks and “grace.” She used this English word but from where Neil sat only one of those attributes was true, and “grace,” or the synonym she had really meant, was intended to qualify and reinforce the looks.
His consoling took the form of petting her back and saying he understood. He hoped these were the right things to do. Claudia smacked his hand away. She shook her head, swearing at the friend in Italian. Neil’s stomach growled and quickly he became serious about eating. He insisted they do so and that she should pick the restaurant. She looked at him solemnly and said, “We don’t eat at times like this. We don’t stuff food at these moments.”
Neil replied, “But I’m not upset. I’m hungry.”
“You are nothing. He will leave you one day too.”
Neil laughed. “I don’t think I’ll need him as much given the platonic relationship we have.”
Claudia laughed and kept laughing. A bartender looked over at them. Abruptly she left. Neil found a relatively cheap pasta place about a mile away.
Back home the friend gave him more treats and took him to more exciting events: Concerts, performance art pieces, hip parties. It was a whirlwind. Neil couldn’t stop seeing the friend; he was involved in every facet of his life except peeing.
One night they had reservations at a fairly expensive French restaurant. The friend was late to pick Neil up at his home. Neil had time to recheck his appearance in the bathroom mirror. He pulled a stray hair from his nose.
Soon there was a knock on the door and Neil opened it to find a strange man with a letter. He introduced himself as Mike and said he could stay if Neil needed him. In the letter the friend broke up with Neil. It was nothing Neil did, the friend insisted, it was just that the friend was going through a time in his life when it would be easier not to be around him at all. He promised to send Neil a print from the Kandinsky show at the art museum.
Neil sat and snorted at a few words even he himself didn’t understand. For a while, it seemed, his heart quit pumping. He lay inert like a sack.
When Neil came to, Mike was gone and many years had passed. Neil lived in his parent’s house again. They were no longer alive and he had missed their funerals. Everything else—all matters of love, hate and the quiet rituals of life—remained the same.
Greg Gerke is lives in Brooklyn. He came after seven years in beloved Eugene, Oregon. His work has appeared in Hobartpulp, Rive Gauche and Ghoti. He currently is at work on a novel set in Mount Shasta, California and Heidelberg, Germany. Visit his website.
Photo "Allistair Loque" courtesy of
Tamas Kooning Lansbergen.
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