Author : Alex Meggitt
I shift around on the couch, flipping through the channels and trying to make myself comfortable. Tim is sitting on the other end, watching the television cycle through sounds and images. The complacent look in his eye clears for a second as he sits upright and slaps me on the shoulder.
â€œGo back a couple,â€ he says, and I tap the down arrow on the remote until he gives the signal and the screen settles on a familiar sitcom.
â€œYouâ€™ve seen this like a dozen times,â€ I say.
â€œYeah, but I like it,â€ he says. I sigh and try to balance the remote lengthways on the couchâ€™s arm. It wavers for a few seconds then falls. When blindly groping the floor proves worthless, I turn on the only lamp within armâ€™s reach.
â€œThat lamp kind of sucks,â€ Tim says without looking away from the TV. â€œWal-Martâ€™s having a sale this week. Theyâ€™ve got some good ones. Saw it in the paper.â€
Still bending forward in my seat, now looking under the table next to me, I turn my head to look at him. He’s still transfixed by the screen. After a second, I give up and say Iâ€™m hungry.
â€œThen letâ€™s go to McDonaldâ€™s when the showâ€™s over.â€
â€œWhat? Cause I like it. Itâ€™s good. You like it, too.â€
I lean back into a normal sitting position. â€œWe go there all the time.â€
â€œCause itâ€™s good.â€ He doesnâ€™t close his mouth completely at the end of the sentence, and I stare at the bottoms of his front teeth. Theyâ€™re very white despite the number of cigarettes he smokes per day. Mine arenâ€™t comparable. Heâ€™s been telling me to buy his brand of toothpaste for a while.
When the commercials begin, Tim slouches a little and looks at the ceiling. Heâ€™s thinking, and the moment he opens his mouth, I cut him off.
â€œTell me something,â€ I say, pulling a folded piece of paper out of my pocket. Iâ€™ve practiced in my head for a while now. Slowly and purposefully, I unfold the paper at an angle that lets him read. His eyes get a little wider as he recognizes the words printed on the gray watermark pattern. Itâ€™s his pay stub, a weekly check from a job heâ€™s never mentioned. I have a question to ask, but it comes out a mashup of every topic in my head. â€œThe catalogs, the checks. Honestly. Just tell me how long.â€
â€œWhyâ€™d you go through my stuff?â€ he says.
â€œI went to borrow your toothpaste because mine ran out. I found it in there.â€
â€œItâ€™s good stuff, isnâ€™t it? Whitens,â€ he says, smiling a little.
â€œCome on. How long have you been doing this? Tell me how long youâ€™ve been selling me things.â€
He looks at me, makes a sound, and hesitates. I glare.
â€œRemember when we were sixteen? And I told you to get a few more controllers for your Nintendo?â€
â€œI mean, it was just meant to be a summer job at that point. But they liked me. And itâ€™s good money.â€
I stand up, looking at the floor as I rise, and walk out of the room. When I return a minute later with my coat on, heâ€™s still looking at the point where I turned the corner and went out of sight.
â€œAre you going to tell the rest of the guys about this?â€ he asks. â€œIf they all know, Iâ€™ll find another group of people. Iâ€™ll have to move. I like you guys.â€
â€œI thought we were going to McDonaldâ€™s. Come on.â€