Taxis were pulling up. Mopeds and weird little 2-seater rental convertibles that looked like bumper cars gone runaway went by, lending the night an ever more surreal air. No longer feeling the need to keep up the chatter, they walked as if not even together, like they just happen to be moving in the same direction, at the same pace.
Calisto was in one of her stoned zoning-out moments where her thoughts and impressions were so loud and vivid they threatened to drown out the actual world. She was thinking, I need to get out of that apartment but I don't know how.
A bike flew by, barely able to maintain its trajectory along the sidewalk with the two of them walking abreast. Calisto jumped, instinctively, toward Monte, as the bike swerved around a lamppost.
"Hey!" Monte shouted after it. "Fucking crackhead," he muttered as the cyclist disappeared down the way. "Go smoke a dealer's dick. You ok?"
"Yeah," she said. Then Monte laughed like a jackass. "What?"
"We had this crazy dude we were treating for his hypertension, the other week. One of those guys you see walking down the street jabbering at himself the whole time. But highly articulate, at that. He was talking about how he hates this town and all the rude people in it, then somehow he got on the subject of people on bikes. He said, 'The Bible says the Apocalypse will come on a horse, but here in Town it will come on a bike.'"
"Super serious about it too. Looked at me dead in the eye. Don't know how I didn't just shit myself, whether from fear or mirth."
"So what are you gonna do now that you're giving up your ritual?"
"I thinking I'll try your way. Just not let myself have anything I want. Sounds fun."
"Well, you can see how much good it's done for me."
Her phone buzzed, and she snatched it from her bag like she was swatting at a fly. "'Sorry babe, we were an hour early," she read verbatim. "'Be home later, don't wait up.'"
"You called it. Why did you say you needed to get out of her hair earlier?"
"Cause I do. Too much sitting around, nothing going on. You'll see how it is, if you try it my way." She had neglected to mention the parts of her routine that involved smoking every last cigarette she had left and spinning Adele's 21 over and over again -- glaring exceptions to her rule of deprivation.
They walked out of left the Seven-Eleven, Monte packing the flip-top box against his palm and Calisto chugging her Dasani. "Lead the way," he said, making a gentlemanly gesture with his wrist, once he'd lit the first cigarette, its orange ember tracing circular patterns in the night air. Ambulance sirens screamed in the distance as they headed back in the direction that they came. It seemed that sirens were always going off in Town, no matter what time of the day or night. "That's that guy on the bike," Monte insisted. "Got hit by a car. There were no survivors. The driver died too."
Calisto smiled politely, his banter feeling suddenly too morbid for her. "What about you, who do you stay with during a divorce?"
"Staying at my mom's place right now. My pops kicked it a couple years back, and ever since then she's been saying I can crash there."
"I'm sorry. I lost my mom back in April." Somehow it came back around to death no matter where they started from.
"Ouch. OK, so your roommate has no right to be fed up with you at this point, right? Not while you're still grieving."
"She's not fed up with me. She's engaged and in love and probably stressing out over everything, and I'm moping around when it's time for me to be happy for her."
"My dad, when he was passing, he said to me, 'Take care of her,' and I didn't. And she was leveled, mind you, I just wasn't equipped for any of it. And then one day my wife leaves me and she takes me in, not even looking for an apology, as if I never turned my back on her."
"Right, so in that same way, I don't hold anything against Naomi if she is getting a little impatient with me right now."
"It's your time of need! When she loses someone she loves, then she'll understand."
"I don't know if I even understand."
They left it at that. The rest of the way home, they mostly didn't talk about loss or death or the role of the comforting survivor. They didnt talk about much of anything, really. Just lapsed into a pot-induced stupor with their individual thoughts circling. Anyway, there came a certain point with a new acquaintance where no matter how well you were getting on together, the effort of remaining pleasant company no longer seemed worth it. Calisto thought to herself: I got out, I met someone new, I did my part. The night can be over now, and her mind it already was.
At one point she asked him what his father had done for a living, and he responded that he owned a restaurant she had never heard of which no longer existed. "Did he ever want you to do the same thing?" she asked, but this line of questioning didn't lead anywhere. Monte didn't seem keen on discussing what kind of impact the loss of his old man had had on him. Unfortunately, she felt the need to keep pressing, and followed up with this question next: "How did he go?"
"Painfully. Slowly. Long enough to still give me nightmares. He cried and kept saying he wish he had the strength to end it himself, and we kept telling him we'd help if it were legal. Finally one day he just checked out. Stopped acknowledging us, or maybe it just got to his brain. A few days later he was gone."
This came out in a barrage, with no opportunity for interruption, yet replying to such a morbid disclosure immediately felt like a bad idea. After a long silence, she responded, "I meant, what did he die of."
"Oh. Liver failure."
That exchange had somehow seemed to cast the night into relief, exposing everything that had gone on before as a series of misbegotten attempts at salvaging a lousy setup. A simple misunderstanding maybe, but one that read at the time as a serious incompatibility between them. How could Naomi have left her alone with this creep? Or, why did she think the thing she needed to lift her spirits was a stoned walkabout with a stranger who she could never possibly relate to on any level?
They'd had a pleasant enough parting at the door of her building (Calisto had simply turned and said "This is me," and he said to her "We had a good time, didn't we?" and she nodded and he had turned around and said "See you on Monday"), but by the time she got up to their studio she was only too relieved to be by herself again. Moving through the door of 16B slowly and soundlessly -- she had walked in on Naomi and Eric fucking on more than one occasion, and her strategy was to lock herself in the bathroom until it was over, which she was prepared to do tonight -- she flicked on the lights and headed for the fridge. The pit of her stomach yawned with hunger, and it was a hell of a time to not have anything to eat. She didnt feel like cooking eggs or microwaving frozen breakfast sandwiches. Finally she settled on making two bags of saimin, roast beef flavor.
She stared at the water on the hot plate, waiting for it to boil. She never made saimin. The older single ladies at her work made it in a microwave. She found it depressing, for no particular reason. This had been a food she would often make for herself as a kid, when her mother wasn't around because she was attending to some aspect of her business. It was the only thing she knew how to make besides PBJs. At the time, it had been fun. Self-reliance has about it an air of power, as low-scale as it is, and every young child craves the rush of sneaking sweets when she's not supposed to know where they're hidden, or staying up past bedtime during whispery, flashlight-waving sleepovers. Feeling grown-up, however, soon gives way to feeling grown-out, and even the power trip of determining one's own fate soon becomes burdensome, as any post-collegiate job-seeker will tell you.