(c) Michael Ampersant, 2016
We arrive at his place, two minutes from the Memorial. The neighborhood hasn’t changed much since Thursday night, it’s still on the wrong side of the hospital, semi-detached structures from the 80’s mostly, semi-run down, and a dog that never sleeps.
Alex’s place is a standalone Dutch revival, small. “This is where I live?” he asks.
“Right. And the car?”
I point at the white Toyota Prius on the driveway. “Cool,” he says, “Saving energy. Good to know.” He taps on the dashboard of my truck for emphasis, then pats his shorts and produces a key ring without car keys. “I got this from Alice,” he adds. “The house keys, I guess. The car key will be inside, somewhere.”
So we climb the stairs. It’s sizzling outside already but inside under the roof the heat gets worse. Alex fumbles with the keys, the door gives way and we’re hit by a wall of dense, putrid air.
“Smell it?” he asks and steps into his apartment. “Q-E-D, this is heaven. My body still lying—where did you find me?”
“In the bathroom.”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
Yes, I really do this, I walk us the fifteen feet to the bathroom. There’s the body of a mouse decomposing in the spot where I found Alex in mid-suicide on Thursday night.
“A case of reincarnation, John.” he says. “Moving up the Hindu ladder. I’ve been a good mouse.” He plants a kiss on my cheek that will be—spoiler alert—his last kiss for some time.
“If it’s reincarnation, it’s not heaven,” I say.
“Oh-no, you have seven layers of heaven included in the reincarnation cycle.”
It’s a tiny mouse, but the stench is overwhelming. Alex picks it up at the tail, caringly, dangles it at nose level, or eye level, then dumps it into the john and flushes the water. “So,” he says, “this is where I live.” He looks around until he spots the air conditioning under the window and ambles over to switch it on.
“You knew you didn’t have the car keys,” I say, following him into the den.
“I apologize,” he says.
The chaos of the Thursday rescue panic is still in place, Ray and me dragging Alex’s OD’d body through the lack of space of this pad, low knee walls below the sloped ceilings, all chairs (two) fallen over, a coffee table (yard sale) fallen over, a small couch (yard sale) at an odd angle, a couch table (displaced), a helpless mini-rug (dog-eared), shards of a broken coffee mug spread across the rough-hewn floor. I collect a few pieces and arrange them side by side on the kitchen counter. It’s merchandize spinoff from the Urban Dictionary, saying “sucking streak.” There’s also a definition of the term, presumably, still spread across the floor, and perhaps not really needed.
He picks up one large shard with half the UD-logo showing, holds it up, hands it to me. “Let’s see how I disposed of myself,” he says. He looks around. A lone medication bottle sits on the kitchen counter. “Oxycodone,” he says. “Excellent choice. Going out on a high.” He shakes—rattles—the bottle, some pills are left inside. “Good thinking,” he says, “saving energy. Plus, you swallow too much, you don’t die, you puke.” He rolls his head. “Must be terrible to wake up from a failed suicide.” He collects the remaining mug-shards from the ground, ponders what to do with the pieces, tosses them into the garbage can. He looks mortal. He rattles the bottle again. “Stupid,” he says, “stupid.”
He walks back into the bedroom. I’m waiting for him to re-emerge until I hear the noise of a squeaky bedstead. I enter the bedroom, he’s lying there on the single twin bed, supine, arms half-spread. “Lying in your own bed. Home sweet home.”
“My bed is larger,” I say.
“Size is relative.”
“I need a time-out,” he says.
“How do you mean?”
“Our bed is too small,” he says.
‘Parse that sentence,’ I think.
“Parse that sentence,” I say.
“Parse that sentence? Our bed is too small? Noun takes dative alternation and returns noun phase. Verb takes modifier takes modifier and returns verb phase. Noun phrase takes verb phrase, and voila.” He gets up, rights the coffee table, the chairs, fusses about the mini-rug, and disappears in the kitchen corner.
“You want a cup of coffee?” I hear him saying.
“We have an espresso machine.”
“We should talk, briefly.”
“No-no-no,” I say.
It takes him an eternity to prepare the espresso. He reappears, deposits the cups on the table. “Have a seat,” he says and nudges me onto the couch. “Listen,” he says, sitting down next to me. His next word will be ‘Ben.’
“Ben,” he says. “This situation with Ben.”
“This is heaven, you said.”
“It gets busy on a cloud bank, you move to the next cloud bank.”
“Ben will be gone in a few days.”
There is a silence.
“Did we talk now?” I ask.
“This sounds like the end of the conversation.”
“Can I ask you a question?” (I say).
“You said you love me.” (Cringe.)
“This is heaven,” he answers, and takes a sip of his espresso.
“You want to get rid of me?”
“No-no,” he says, “believe me. It’s just, we should see a bit less of each other.”
*** *** ***
In his former life, Michael Ampersant founded the Applied Logic Laboratory at the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands). He now lives on the French Cote d’Azur where he writes erotic-laconic prose. His first novel, GREEN EYES, has been shortlisted for this year’s Lambda Literary Award. His short stories appeared in Temptation Magazine, Ether Books, The Bear Magazine, Gay Flash Fiction, LustSpiel, and the (German) yearbook Mein schwules Auge.