IN THIS TWILIGHT
The Mask Collector
Sunday October 5th 2003
Darren hadn't gotten himself back in shape because even though the pins and braces were gone the aches and pains remained. It was too uncomfortable for him to do even a single sit up. His doctor had started telling him it was all in his head, that he needed counseling and physical therapy. The bastard had even threatened to cut off his hydrocodone. Darren changed doctors as soon as he got wind of that, starting the whole procedure over again. A second opinion, a fresh prescription.
“I would have gone to the funeral but my damn leg hurts too much and I don't have any suits that fit anymore,” Darren shifted in his seat, wishing that he hadn't answered the door and that Marnie hadn't been so damned persistent in her knocking.
“Everyone's worried about you.”
“I dion’t want anyone to see me like this...” he narrowed his eyes, “...anyone important.”
She winced a little at that, it made Darren glad and guilty all at once. The sight of her made him renew his vow to start taking walks. The only problem with that was that his feet had gotten so swollen that they couldn't fit in his sneakers anymore, that and the fact he got winded making his way to the toilet sometimes.
Marnie took a moment to collect herself and then spoke again, “Look we all care about you.”
“Do you? Or is it just that you want to make sure I don't keel over until after you've had your wedding day?”
“Oh come on, you come over here flashing that engagement ring and think I don't know what's going on?”
She pulled her hand away, “I'm sorry. I didn't think...”
“Sure,” Darren leaned forward but his belly pushed him back, “have you and Reece set a date yet?”
“Why are you acting this way? Are you so stupid that you can’t see that I’m the only person that hasn’t written you off yet?” She looked pleadingly into his eyes, “I know this isn’t really you talking… If it weren’t for all your medical problems I know you wouldn’t be…”
“For Christ’s sake Marnie. This is me talking you just won’t listen,” Darren got to his feet and poked her in the chest to punctuate each word, “I. Don’t. Love. You.”
She started sobbing.
Darren had to bite back a crazed giggle before he could speak again, “You were just persistent and then convenient. But I don't want convenient. Life’s too goddamn short. I want passion. You’re just a rut I got stuck in.”
“You loser!” Marnie slapped him as hard as she could, “You think you’re such a goddamn prize? You think you’re so goddamn special? Well you know what? I was the only person who ever agreed with you. Ask around.”
Good riddance. Darren thought as he watched the door slam, I think I’ll have a few beers to celebrate.
He drank his first beer standing in front of the open refrigerator door, his head tipped back, his head full of his own gurgling and grunting. The second beer he brought back out into the parlor with him.
May as well enjoy the cable TV now. They’ll be disconnecting it next week if my disability check doesn’t get here.
Darren frowned at the realization that before much longer he was going to have to choose between paying off his utility bills and buying food.
I should have hit Marnie up for a few bucks before I let her have it. Heck maybe I can still catch her in the …
Then he realized there were voices talking in the hall, garbled voices punctuated by snatches of uneasy laughter. Both voices sounded familiar and close. For a few minutes Darren stood there, one hand cupped behind his ear trying to make sense of what he was hearing.
“…Not the same… I thought…”
“How… can you ever… know anyone?”
His injured leg screaming in protest Darren shambled for the door, when he opened it he found Marnie and Chad talking on the landing. For a moment he almost didn’t recognize his neighbor, the man was clean shaven and at least fifty pounds lighter.
“Oh!” Chad smiled, “Hi neighbor.”
Darren’s bad knee tried to pitch him forward. He gripped the doorframe, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?
“I heard this lovely young lady crying out in the hall. I wanted to make sure she was all right.”
“I don’t think she is any of your business Chad.”
“From what I hear you just made it very clear you shouldn’t give a damn who she talks to.”
“I need to go anyways,” Marnie gave the other man’s hand an affectionate squeeze. “Thank you Chad, you are a gentleman.”
“My pleasure. Stop by anytime.”
Darren watched her retreat down the stairs. “No. She won’t be stopping by anytime,” He said when she was out of earshot, “Not to see me and not to see my morbidly obese whacky neighbor.”
“That’s a little harsh,” Chad stepped up to him, “and a little mean.”
What the Hell is this? Darren felt his heart drop into his stomach; Is he looking for a fight?
“Well? You got something to say?” Chad smiled.
Darren said, “… I call them how I see them.”
“Really? ‘Morbidly obese whacky neighbor’? Sounds more like you these days…”
“I- you- ” Darren turned back to his apartment and slammed the door. He half-stumbled, half-crawled to the kitchen and found the cabinet where he kept his dwindling supply of hard liquor.
He drank until he blacked out, then when he woke up he drank so more. His head hurt so much it ached, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t make sense of the voices whirring in his head.
And Darren was grateful for that.
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