You think about Hayley and about how long after you moved in you knew it was a mistake. Hours? Minutes?
You remember the trip to IKEA to buy the sleeper and the lecture about the futon which, ultimately, you talked her out of in favor of the sleeper with the seventy-two spring full-size mattress. Wait, you think, did you take the mattress out before you moved it?
You call Denis because Jason is out of town and you broke up with Kendra and you need someone for the break-up ritual. Denis is a poet. He likes to drink. He does not like to drink because he’s a poet, you think, no, though he does write a lot of poetry about bars and bartenders. You remember your favorite Denis line:
the bartender exercises her tattoo / you thumb sweat from the frosty stein
He may not be a great poet but he can write a good barstool poem is what you are thinking, a great man for the pint and the pen, is what you are thinking. And he has an Oscar Wilde vibe going—purple velvet coat, glass ball cane, long dark hair—that repulsed Hayley but that attracts attention, that is, from women, and it would be great to end the break-up ritual post-Kendra with a new girlfriend.
So you call Denis.
What’s up brother?, he says.
Nothing bro, what’s up with you?, you say.
Haven’t heard from you in a while, he says.
Just checking in, you say.
Hey, remember that sleeper?, he says.
I was just thinking about that, you say.
That right? Whatever happened to—
Hayley? you say, confident that you made the right decision calling Denis.
No, er, the sleeper. You still got it?
Yes, you say, as a matter of fact it’s the only thing I got out of that whole mess.
Is that right? he says. That was a good sleeper. Heavy though.
You remember why you always call Jason first. A poet, yes, but not one for deep conversation is Denis.
Yeah, well, I don’t know if you heard, but I broke up with Kendra, you say, and there’s—
—the break-up ritual, he says. Draft list at Bukowski’s Tavern, whiskey at Whiskey’s and jerk chicken wings at Jamaica Mi Hungry—
I told you about the break-up ritual? you say, but you know you didn’t tell him about the break-up ritual. So you’re thinking, did Jason tell?, you thought Jason was cool—
No, well, I –
Was it Jason?, you say, but you don’t want to put too much weight on the question.
Well, actually, he says, it was Hayley, and you think, WTF? Hayley?
My Hayley? you ask, and you notice the rise in your voice.
Well, no, um, yeah, we uh, got—
A sleeper? and you feel the easy man-love disappearing from your voice. We?
Yeah, says Denis, the barroom poet, we got a sleeper, um, for guests and…and we also got, uh, married, he says, we got married.
Who got married?, and your heart starts to hollow out in your chest.
Me, we, me and Hayley, Denis says, and you have the urge to jam a corona test swab up into your brain.
You remember Hayley’s dandelion tattoo. And that first night on the sleeper.
Is that right? you say, and you remember that last fight and the decision that you felt so good about, what was that fight about?
Wait a second, you say, and the thoughts come quick. What else did she tell you?
Hey, now, brother, I can’t tell you that, I mean, we’re married and all and it’s private—
Like the sleeper was private? Like the break-up ritual was private? You are shouting now and you feel yourself reaching for something, anything—
You hear Denis clearing his throat and sucking in a big gulp of air.
Hayley told me you moved back home—how’s that going? says Denis, the barroom poet traitor—you get your old room back?
No, you say, your blood pressure sinking, fingers digging into your eyes, they gave my room to my little brother.
I sleep in the basement on the, ah—shit.
Mal Duffy writes and draws in his basement outside Boston, Massachusetts. Writing: malduffy.com (coming soon). Drawing: Instagram: @day_drink_ing Twitter: @malduffystories