The Best Years of our Lives
The End of an American RoadTrip
on the plane back to newcastle, i go sit in the empty seat next to duke. for most of the ride, he just watches old reruns of community and leaves his head dangling close to my shoulder. he sobs sometimes, but knocks it off. you know what he’s like. why he never really gives his heart out.
after a while he starts to snore lightly, so i get up to stretch my legs. i look over at where ants should be, but i can’t see her…
“stitch!” she yells. maybe not a yell. but it might as well have been in this environment, and honestly it’s not so bad, it’s more my overreaction to her sudden appearance, arms flailing and that. i think i wake someone up. least duke is fine.
“what you doing sneaking up on me like that?” i say, when i regain composure. yeah, i guess i scare easy when i’m withdrawing. “oh, and how did you even?” i look around at how small and confined this place is, “like sneak up on a person in here?”
“a magician never reveals her tricks.”
“give yourself some credit. you know you’re better than a common magician.”
“shut up,” she smiles and does that thing with her hands that girls in old, american teen dramas do when they’re talking to a boy they like. i laugh. she looks over at duke. “how’s he doing?” he was broken up with soon before. fragile. i can’r understand it. “how are you doing?”
“not good. you?”
“sick. but i’m using your seat for extra room and i managed to sleep for three hours.”
“impressive.” i point towards the toilets. “i’m going for a wee. wanna take over duke watch and i’ll take your seat? try get some kip.”
she salutes me and only then realises we’re on a domestic transfer across the us. she smiles all goofy and then walks over to duke. she sits down and then slides next to him, disappearing into the metal teeth. the tv’s glow pulsates around the room like some cheap blockbusters and the ache in my side is back. i shouldn’t but, i’m on a flight. and there’s two more emergency ones stuffed in my carry on, left over from when duke took them. i mean, they’re for this exact reason. they won’t notice if i sleep through most of it. i should tell them, but you know how it goes.
a tiny mouth opening. my side curves inwards.
it’s the tv glowing.
an announcement. nothing goes in and it’s all slow and heavy. i sort of hate it. the fuzz.
the pain. i reach for my side. still nothing. i take the last sip of gin. not sure how it got there. i’m scared it might be ants’. i’ll get her a new one if i remember to ask her about it.
i’m looking out the window. there’s nothing but a big blanket sky. clouds. the feel of the seat under me. it’s light, pressing delicately on my limbs and the time breaks so slowly. it tides, and the movie screen and the people. i stretch out my legs and try to get comfortable again. for the most part it’s easy. sort of a smooth terror that beds into you. ants and duke are asleep. i can’t see either of their heads when i look. sink away. feel everything fall apart. the screen. the feeling of being awake. my eyes start to close. the horror. the darkness. i press my head next to the window so bits of the light glimmer across my eye skin. one, two, three, four. one, two, three, five, six. one, one, three, four. it’s irregular. it flattens me. and all at once. the air. the orchestrated air. it does something to me. sort of cripples my limbs into place. i cry. i don’t cry. i think about love. then the world and how nothing really matters. not really. it’s all just sex and the pressing and it’s never as good as i think it’ll be. there’s something in my back. and the way it all went down and how she told everyone and… i miss everyone again. i hate it. the music in my ears. i can’t take it. i feel dead quiet. i react to nothing. it all curves inwards and i’m thinking of duke. the kiss. him. ants. the miss. tuff. everything. then the cyst. it hurts. i want to be with them forever. i need to stop this. i’ve been thinking about it all. and the floor as it travels so fast above the ground. it’s chilling. you know how it goes.
the dreaming. nothing. the dreaming. i touch a hand. i feel the happiest i’ve felt in a long time. mouth ajar, teeth on show. the dreaming. a voice. nothing. the dreaming. a face. a kiss. it’s always duke. a circus. i’m in the hunger games. or i’m at a festival. the drinking. the numbness. the dreaming. going back and forth. it’s ants. i can’t. something really gets to me when i’m like this. it makes me sick. it makes me feel alive. the plane makes me feel alive and there’s a dull in my ears and i can feel them and the look in their eyes and honestly i don’t think i can do it. then there’s duke and the kiss again and him pressing up against me and it’s too much. i still wake up smiling.
and it’s still of us sitting in the airport. all face as we talk. all low brow and sad. i think of the dream.
i never thought it would end like this. all wrapped up in sorrow and peeling my skin off to feel something. crawling softly and we’re together and the world is ending.
the world is ending. the dreaming. it’s hard to explain. nothing feels right. but i feel fine.
and the cyst bursts through my chest.
“here, duke, eat something.”
i push a krispy kreme into his face and slowly lower a coffee into his hand. the only thing that can really lift his mood. bad hangover, doughnut and a coffee. pregnancy scare, doughnut and a coffee. broke heart, krispy kreme and a coffee.
“thanks man.” he takes the doughnut and bites a massive chunk out of it. he holds it in his mouth for a second and just starts chewing like it’s the only thing he’s eaten all day. oh yeah, i forgot duke hates airplane food. so it probably is.
he takes a slow sip of coffee and inhales after like ten seconds.
“really hits the spot,” he smiles one of his iconic smile, all eyes closed and the little sides of his mouth all bent up with his beard. “how long until the next flight?”
jfk is an alright airport but there’s not much to do. like most airports really. i’m surprised we even have time to sit around. we’re usually always late and have to run. i’m really just concerned at the fact that they still let a group of sweaty young adults through security so quickly. any of us could be hiding something. guess we look like honest people, even if we put most everyone else off.
“it’s boarding in an hour.”
he sort of slumps in response.
“come on.” i grasp for his hand to pull him up. “you’ve got to get out of this fettle. it’s doing nothing for you.” it takes a lot to lift him, even have to lean backwards a bit. “you look less sexy like this.”
after that it feels easier.
ants throws her arm around duke’s shoulder, to keep him steady for the most part. honestly, the way he’s walking it’s like he’s been on a bender. he holds his hand to his stomach sometimes, like he’s gonna throw up. sometimes he touches my back all tender like and it really settles well.
we go about like this for a few minutes. we go to get some actual food. he starts to perk up. we slouch on benches for a bit. waiting. i can still see the little dark in his eyes though. all distant like. you know how it goes. none of us have really talked about it yet.
but of course, it’s ants, that says something first though. it’s just after, i come back with a drink. all three of us are in silence, waiting for our grub to digest so regularly.
“i’m pissed off.” the two of us slowly turn our heads, sipping our beers. “i really thought she was different. i think i fell in love with a different girl.”
we sort of leave it like that. we tend to like leaving things as they are.
“and to have the audacity to come on this trip.” duke takes another sip of his beer. and the way he’s going on. i guess we’re both expecting more, but there isn’t anything.
there’s a lull for me to say something, but all i come out with is:
“we should go, they’re boarding now.”
we slowly finish our pints, all quiet like. slowly mosey on over to the gate, which takes a fucking year, but we get there, and we’re on time, and i’m slowly thinking of tuff, and i’m not thinking of tuff, how she broke our hearts, and everything looks so symmetrical, and there’s no pain in my side anymore. then the nine hour flight.
it’s all just a matter of time until it all collapses.
a plane takes off.
a red hue.
we’re in a taxi outside our house. i peel my face off of duke and stumble to get the door open.
“you alright, stitch.”
i nod, wiping the saliva from the side of my mouth, even go as far as picking the dried stuff off of duke’s shoulder. he does that smile again and taps on my chest. “come on, boyo.”
he pulls me around through his open door. our bags are pilled on the side of the street and ants is hovering close to them debating whether or not to sit down. she knows it’ll be a bad idea.
duke thanks the taxi driver, and the smell of the sea bursts open my eyelids. everything is in painful focus, but my body is still too groggy. i can’t remember the flight, i barely remember the day. i’m in a weird hyper emotional state, waiting for the sky to turn back to red.
“how much did you take?”
ants wraps around me.
our door opens.
“i’m sorry. planes still slip me up.”
she hugs me tighter.
“stitch.” she feels me nod. “you can’t.”
“we can get you help.”
i nod again.
she smiles, then there’s duke from the top of the stairs:
“our ceremonial spliff is gonna go to waste.”
we always leave just enough bud before we leave so we can pack a heavy one in to sort out our jet lag. get up late tomorrow and cook a massive english. it levels us. you know how it goes.
but the walk up the stairs to our apartment is hard enough. and then it looks exactly the same, and the smell is exactly the same as it has always been. linen candles and the flowers that tuff brought. they’re all wilted now though. the dried petals and pollen dust coats the coffee table. such a metaphor. it’s disgusting. i collapse onto my sofa, feel the soft fabric kinda swallow me whole.
ants puts on a vinyl and i can hear duke rolling a spliff. i think i pass out for a second until ants sits down on my butt. everything is in clear focus. the minimal designs. the random bits of art. i’m happy we’ve made a home here.
“you coming or what?”
i slip out of my seat and onto the balcony. duke hands me the joint. it takes the edge off. i look over at the sea.
a black screen, white text hovers and reads:
“The Best Years of Our Lives”
we’re sat in the living room. it’s our day off, but it’s raining outside so we’re all just kind of gathered around the tv, watching the scenes flicker about. sometimes we go to the beach when it’s wet, we know a little cave we can get into. though we haven’t been in some time. it was tuff’s place really.
you know how it goes on these cold, rainy days. everything sort of keeps you going. watching the tiny drops of rain balance on the ocean and how all of our bodies just shiver every now and then. we would have the heating on, but we all love blankets, and we’ve all got brews to heat us up.
“i love these days.” ants picks out a tab from the table, stands, and starts towards my room. “anyone coming?” we both move a little bit, until ants comes back over and starts pushing us with her feet. even going as far as placing a tab in both of our mouths. “come on.”
i’m the next up and i have to grab duke’s arm, just to pull him up from the sofa.
he smiles like he does and we’re out on the balcony. i light my tab first. the smoke sort of pops out of me, slowly dehumidifying my lungs. the rain hammers it all down, and the sea looks broken at this distance. there’s a couple of dog walkers dotting the seafront. but that’s about it.
“i wonder what tuff is doing?” i have to ask it. we’ve all been so lost without her. duke has become a hollow man. ants is slowly becoming more pissed. and i’m. well.
“she’s going to paris in january. wants us to come along.” it’s ants.
“hmm?” i reply.
duke is just all sidelines. he looks about ready to talk about it, but mostly he wants to know what she’s doing. heartbreak can make you chase after people even if they’re not into you.
“yeah, paris.” ants coughs out some smoke and then she just kind of shoulder lifts the rest of the sentence off.
“i’m gonna ring her.” i look over at duke. he just sort of smiles a little and shrugs his shoulders. he shakes his head and finishes his tab in a couple of tokes.
“i might go to the shops.”
ants takes a couple more tokes and has those eyes where she knows it’s right, and tuff should’ve done it ages ago, but she’s been too scared. too pathetic.
“i’ll come with.” ants finishes her tab and slowly follows duke back through to the living room.
“can you bring us some snacks. gonna roll!” i call to them.
“okay.” ants smiles back at me.
“and can you…?”
a pack of tabs comes flying out my room.
“thanks. love you.”
the door goes.
it’s been weird. it’s the same, but it’s weird.
i light another tab and press dial on tuff’s number. there’s only enough time to take a quick toke before she picks up.
“stitch?” she sounds a little confused, but enthusiastic. i forgot it’s probably early morning there. “how’s it going?”
“tuff.” i reply in a similar sort of vigour. “good, how are you? how’s it been, living in ‘merica?”
“it’s been fantastic. everyone’s been super supportive,” she pauses, and she sounds so good, it hurts a little. “how’re duke? ants?”
“they’re as bad as you’d expect them to be when one of their loves just packs up and leaves.”
she sort of exhales.
“stitch. i’m not going to talk to you if you’re just going to guilt trip me.”
“okay.” i take another toke. “sorry…” the silence is too long. “they’re good.” another little pause. “i’ve heard about paris.”
“yeah. wanna come?”
“i…” i kinda want to. “i’m planning on it. send us the deets.”
it’s so unhinged. it’s so normal. it kills me.
“will the others come?”
“maybe. i don’t know though.”
“stitch, i want to see them.”
the line goes quiet for a bit, before i finally pick up again. “it’s not up to you. you know that right?”
in the silence, i hear the odd shuffle from the background.
“i’m coming for them.” the line goes quiet again. and it is nice hearing her voice. it really is.
“like an envoy?” i just need to see her in person again. see if she’s changed much. see what we couldn’t give her. it’s hard when there’s love there still.
“no, like a friend.”
the rain starts to level off. i feel like i’m in blade runner. tempting past: the rain; the distance; the sounds of all the cars. all hammering. the smoke cutting me away. the noise. the clouds. the heavy on the horizon. kinda weather where the sun still hammers through and you get those streams of solid light.
i know she’s thinking about saying something, but nothing comes out.
it goes on like this for a bit, then: “there’s still some stuff of yours here. do you want me to bring it over?”
“just some loose clothes and a couple of books.”
“yeah, if it’s not too much hassle.”
“not at all.”
told you. everything is the same but weirder.
“i’ll send you the details.”
“well, i’ll see you soon.”
she hangs up and i’m left broken.
i finish my tab and sloth back inside. i fall flat onto my bed. i read through a few articles before ants and duke come back. i tell them i’m going to paris. i feel like doing nothing much after. just one of those days. i shouldn’t go. she makes me want to take again. you know…
i’m in the house alone.
i feel kinda isolated, dull.
the tv hums against the backdrop of the lamp and everything feels so muted.
i’m bored. restless. i pour a glass of wine. drink it slowly. drop a pill in it. it turns green and i take another sip.
then i’m thinking about america and how it all went too fast. it doesn’t feel fair. and i’m thinking about how tuff left us in that state. and the views from the top of yosemite. the way the world cut away so beautifully. and duke’s hand touching my back. and tuff chatting so easily. then my side. i hear ants in the distance.
i neck my drink, pour another, then roll a joint to take my mind off of it.
i can’t keep doing this to them.
i’m at the beach. the tide is pretty far out. the sun is pretty high still. there’re people and i like the shapes they make as they pass by. their lives pressed into these soft black lines with the sun all fine. towering figures and the hands. even the weight. i feel weak. i light the joint and i can’t quite figure out which way is up. i drop the spliff after a few tokes and light a tab instead. i think i can hear children and i don’t want them sucked into whatever i’m doing and it’s real painful. the creature in my side is back and it kinda stuns me. it just keeps whirling around and i can’t cope and the sky goes this horrid colour, or is it the clouds? or is it the sand? i feel sick. i pick the spliff up and drop my tab. it’s the cave and i relight the joint ‘cause it must’ve gone out of my mind. and the tide is slow coming. there’s bits of old rubbish dotted about and someone else must’ve been here. i sit down and look through the open cracks in the roof and it’s slow going and there’s a condom wrapper and what’s the smell down here? it’s making me slip and the walls are full of shitty drawings and names like anyone really cares. i close my eyes and i forget about it the more stoned i get. there’s just a huff and the tide is getting higher and i have to leave.
it’s slow though and i don’t like this and i don’t like this and i don’t like this and i hate this and this is the end i’m sure.
i don’t understand. the walk back takes far too long. the house is still quiet when i get in. i don’t know how long they’ll be. i throw on a movie. don’t know what. it just sort of plays as i roll another joint. i leave the film rolling and when i go to the balcony, i have to stop. there’s something missing and i don’t like how i feel. a mix of everything and it all swirls in my stomach and i take another puff and i watch the dull paint across the sky that will remain and will always remain ahead of me. i think about tuff and i start crying. and i think about duke and the tears just keep coming. and love is a tricky one. it sits there like the wind.
i throw the end over the balcony and sloth back into the room. illuminated under the pale glow and the sofa and i fall asleep.
“you alright bud?” i smile at duke and kinda hope the weight will fall off me. it does somehow. all slow like, after he nudges my legs up so he can sit down. “you’re not going to bed tonight?”
sleep has been pretty evasive as of late. everything hurts. it’s like this. way i sleep on the sofa now.
“ants is gonna be here late.” duke’s sort of sat looking at his phone as he does.
“you stoned like?”
i nod. he can tell by the way i laugh.
he can always tell like i can always tell.
we sit like this for a bit. he says something. i laugh. look over at him. kinda feel happy and giddy. he’s doing the same.
and i feel like i’m starting to miss everybody before they’ve even gone.
it goes on like this until ants gets here.
it’s late at night, maybe one or two. it’s quiet and i’m just thinking it all over and over in my head. everyone has gone to bed. well, i think everyone’s gone to bed, but my door slides open all slow like. i can tell by the light steps that it’s ants.
i stir and she slows down.
“you going for a tab?”
“sorry,” she says all quiet and curt.
“it’s fine.” i turn out of bed and throw on a hoody. i’m a little weak. alcohol makes a great mediator, it drowns the thoughts, but the spliff is talking. it’s hard to move. i almost fall out of frame. “i was up anyway.”
i hold out my hand and she lifts me up.
“do you have a…?”
she raises the packet of tabs out for me. i take one and open my balcony door. it’s a grave mistake. the north sea is as foreboding as ever. i should’ve put some pants on but the distance. and it cuts through both of our legs and i think i actually hear ants squeal a little. probably not going to sleep anymore this evening anyway.
it’s as soon as we’re through the door:
“so what’s keeping you up?”
we light our tabs.