Moving from the window to the hallway, Roger swayed slightly in the blinding sun, as he ambled past the door and down the hall. He clipped his hip on the doorknob leading to the bathroom, damn!, the stockpile of cosmetics was gone, along with the bras and pantyhose hanging over the shower curtain rod, something that he always felt was a damn inconvenience until today, the loss of the garments solidified the total break. You never know true love until it’s gone. Why hadn’t I fought harder, why hadn’t I really fought at all; would it have taken that much to win her from some bodybuilding moron with straight teeth and a wide smile.
He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror: his eyes had dark circles from countless hours on the computer and little sleep, his tousled hair sticking up in spots, his hairline beginning to rise how his hair is growing thin! but not horribly, the three days of growth on his face. The same sardonic look gazed back at him, the look that women tended to see as smart assy. He could use a few hours in the gym, his neck was beginning to turkey wobble, but just slightly, his ears still sparse of errant follicles, his eyebrows, his nostril hairs well-tended. Roger noticed a brown spot on his shoulder, but, all in all, still good looking enough.
“You good lookin enough” that is how she described him when he asked her why she was with him. She was definitely out of his league from day one. Even then, he was more ready to see the negative flip of the coin first. He remembered how he had fought for her, the paper’s lawyer nervously speaking in confidence, her color was no longer in vogue in Trump’s world, could work against him. He recalled at the company picnic his boss’s boss’s wife drunkenly mentioning that her skin was light enough, but her attitude was “lacking proper humility”; recalled his laughing riposte “You don’t know the half of it.” He thought back to the trial and how she had proudly sat behind him for support, there might have been things I missed heavily made up for the cameras. And wasn’t that when she began going to the gym, to look her best for him, or for the cameras. Roger squatted on the toilet at least she left me a pot to piss in to take care of business.
His head still throbbed, as he finished, pulled open the curtain and stood under the showerhead and, with the conviction of chastisement, spun the cold on to shock his system back into reality. After a scream, he flipped on the hot and held his head under the water flow. It was then that the tears came, tears for his loss, tears for his misfortune, tears for his fears. At the time he had been untouchable, his fifteen minutes of fame like a beacon, the man who’d stopped 911 deux by himself, the circulation of the paper and website rising 30%, as everyone wanted to read his exploits, his opinions, his next big story. His next big story that proved to be his undoing, buit how could he have known?
He expected a raise and promotion; and when he went to that office high in the ivory tower, he had expected handshakes, Cuban cigars; instead he was handed a severance and told to clear out his desk. The shock of the hot water reverting to cold was not as stunning as that surreal scene in the editor’s office, but he was still young and the world was his oyster. They couldn’t keep a good man down, but, he discovered that they could. Interview after interview ended in disappointment, until he realized that the obligatory interviews were merely window dressing, a way for some of the news agencies to say we were behind you. But the reality of the situation was that he had as much a chance of landing a quality job in journalism as he did walking through the eye of a needle.
His head still throbbed, but the hangover was reducing to a dull ache by the time the shower ran back to cold. Roger lingered another few minutes, luxuriating in the sensation of icy cold across the back of his neck. He was on automatic pilot as he dried and sorted through his pile of clothes. And by the time he dressed, he felt he could stomach a cup of coffee. Joe, she had called it and he had asked her serious as hell who the hell was Joe; God how she laughed, then. But he was sure the coffee would hold down whatever horrors he had indulged in the night before, crashing her friend’s party, knowing it was going to be awkward, a white boy in Watts, having to see her. He groaned as he thought of the hostile eyes following him, a reflection of the country as a whole. Friends he thought he had, turned a blind eye; he understood why they chose Terrasea over him, but was not prepared for the hate, the gulf was growing, everyone taking sides.
Thrown out of the apartment, ok maybe he deserved it, definitely deserved it but really what kind of name is that for a black man, Wellington, and she called him Biff or Buck or whatever the fuck. And to think they were the John and Yoko sitting in court defying the administration, giving it to the man. Sticking together only for this to happen. Thrown out, thrown out with that mullet wrapper of a rag, SCAB! He recalled it was either move out of LA or take up the only job offer he was able to scrounge up. Jobs that were no longer easy to come by, a job with the only paper that seemed eager to have him work for them, and there was no way Terra was going to leave LA, so he swallowed his pride and excepted the job. During the Obama administration, SCAB! had actually scored on journalistic stories that the corporate run papers would refuse to print and, of course, that was the pitch Franklin Danforth had used to land him; he with just enough celebrity to still get a table at Mastro’s. What had begun as a promising new adventure, an expose on the death of Cassandra Diamond’s sister, soon deteriorated into the sordid gossip of what the magazine had always been built upon. Until presently, he was goaded into doing stories dealing with nonexistent illnesses of movie stars, political leanings of the George Cluney’s of the world, and aliens meeting with Putin.
Shit! The Keurig coffeemaker was gone, in fact everything was gone: the espresso machine, the blender, juicer, the spice rack, all the unnecessary social boosting accoutrements that suited the upwardly mobile and affluent. As superfluous as they were to some, they brought with them a sense of self-worth and bragging points of what we had to go through to get this or where we were when we just had to have that. He recalled his invitations to the A-list parties had been reduced to the B-list and how Terra had begun to wilt from the snubs. He knew it wasn’t her, hadn’t the drunk lady said she was light enough, it was the aura of the pariah that floated along with Roger’s every step.
They had begun to use her paycheck now to pay the bills, and the castrating effect it had on him sank him deeper into the Internet, clinging to his weekly “Horrorscope” predictions for SCAB! also the halfhearted attempt at writing his version of the great American novel, a novel that seemed to ignite just outside his periphery, but never appeared to settle solidly in his head. When he was depressed or driven there would be that twinge in the beginning was a twinge an almost otherworldly voice that filtered its way up from his unconscious.
He raided the refrigerator and uncovered a jar of Taster’s Choice coffee that Terr’s mother had insisted they buy because it tasted better. He went to the sink and found a glass bowl filled it with water and set the microwave timer for three minutes. Time began to drag on and Roger continued contemplating the relationship. Terra had won the job on the BET news program, while Roger toiled away at SCAB! She had become obsessed with being seen; he became more a recluse. And she’d developed her new obsession with working out at the gym. He hadn’t realized it was more like being worked out by the owner of that god awful chain I should do a story on those damn gyms, but even the fantasy of getting back at the guy wasn’t enough to bring Roger out of his funk.
He pulled out the bowl with an old dishtowel and concentrated on getting the majority of the water to find its way to the bottom of the cup. He searched the cupboards for a packet of creamer, a bag of sugar, but his eye lit upon a pint of Black Jack close enough to sugar and he uncapped the bottle and poured a liberal dose into the cup, been hitting the sauce too much watching the chemical reaction of the booze with the coffee.
With cup in hand, Roger staggered through the tacky saloon doors and swerved just in time to miss the glass-nouveau dining table and chair set just 5 more payments, rent to own that were no longer there. He still couldn’t believe she had cheated on him, on that very table, even when every sign pointed to the inevitable. It had taken a knock down drag out in this very room, an argument that ended the love they had shared for over five years. They had been yelling for an hour, I think of lying in bed when she suddenly got very quiet. She grabbed him by the hair and said, “How does it feel to know that I fucked him on this table.” Roger recalled how his heart pounded almost coming out of his chest, and how his knees buckled, a physical blow would have been preferable to the emotional scar that seared across his psyche. All power of movement had left him and he was reduced to a heap on the floor as she turned and strutted out of the apartment. I shouldn’t have said but there it is That was when the drinking began. Roger looked across the vacant living room, completely empty, except, he imagined, as a parting gesture, squatting on an uneven cardboard TV stand, looking very much like a very small frog in a very big pond, sat his 13 inch LXI, unhooked up rabbit ears flopping discretely, an old remembrance of his college days. I’ll sure miss that 55” 1080p 120HZ LED HDTV; I’ll sure miss that remote.
It was then the second flood of tears came. Sobs racked his body as he slid down the wall to the floor, then he clambered up and ran to the toilet, threw up, cried some more, yelled, kicked at nothing, threw up again, went to the cabinet to retrieve the almost empty bottle of Jack Daniels; then went back and slumped against the wall, where he had started. He stared at the burnt auburn still left in the bottle, then shaking his head rose and put the bottle back on the counter, the well of emotion finally spent.
He gazed up at the wall to the only shelf that remained in the room: his old punt, pass and kick trophy, an old spelling award plaque, his swimming ribbons from AAU, the one photo of his parents, his high school letters for football and soccer. His bookcase shifted against the other wall, out of the way, remained filled to the brim with a wide assortment of adventures ranging from the classics to the newest adventure/apocalyptic novel, released as the latest movie. He knew she would have no need for books, now that her new beefcake boyfriend was around.
Shit! He traipsed once again into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator–nothing there but a flat 7-up bottle lying on its side, a moldy pear, tomato mush, a carton of sprouts that had sprouted and a box of baking soda. He looked once again at the congealing coffee and bourbon concoction in his mug and felt a twinge of nausea coming. It was time to man up and take the pain, what had coach said suck it up. He needed a plan, was always good at planning, a day or five was long enough to pine over what was already lost. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do right away, but he knew that whatever he needed to do, he needed to do it with coffee. A tune wrangled into his consciousness I got to get out of this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do and he took a few deep Tai Chi squats to calm his breathing, shook his head to shake off the cobwebs, and performed the relaxation exercises he had learned in acting class at FSU. Roger walked back into the bedroom and grabbed a pair of boxers and shorts, looked around for a shirt to put on and found his Islanders. Grabbing his keys and wallet off the counter, he looked back wistfully at his empty apartment; and, as he shut the door, he made the concerted effort girl, there’s a better life for me and you to take the steps two at a time. Roger skipped into his new life.