I have had a horrible time getting on here the past couple of days. My productivity took a noise dive and, combined with a bad trip to a Mexican restaurant, I just couldn’t get anything done.
But not today.
I’ve spent the majority of my sick day by this screen and penning the latest two chapters of the project I am working on for one of my classes at school. Take a read through:
Letters to Serah
By Nick Christian
The bar was unusually packed for a Saturday night. There was new music, new people, new smells – why was there new smells? I was just here yesterday and everything smelled normal. It all smells so different now.
Paul and George were in the corner booth watching Kami do a lap around the room. Paul, a 38-year old surfer with a penchant for high-quality weed, works in the English department with me at state. George, a travel writer whose age I have never really been sure about, has been in town for a couple months after doing a 12 month stint following a Sherpa around central Asia. When they saw me they were loud.
“Taren!” the two screamed in drunken unison. I made my way through the insufferable menagerie of men and women in form fitting clothes, doused in a selection of various fragrances, rationalizing their intentions with every sip of overpriced booze and pharmaceutical grade drugs. After losing all faith in humanity, I got to the booth.
“What’s Kami doing?” I asked, sitting down.
“He’s pulling a Hitch” said George.
“Remember that scene in Hitch when Will Smith talks to Eva Mendes for the first time by posing as her husband so she doesn’t have to talk to the dude that’s trying to hit on her?” began Paul.
“Well, that girl in the booth next to us has been knocking pucks out of her crease all night like she was a good goalie on a bad hockey team. He’s gonna try and make his move soon.” Paul finished and we all looked over at Kami who suddenly was walking towards the woman. Kami, a first-year math teacher at state, was just out of grad school and had horrible luck with women despite a natural rapport with everyone.
Kami walked next to the booth and watched the red-haired woman subtly disregard the latest random guy to sit opposite her. After a beat, he made his move.
“Hey baby, sorry I’m late. How was the meeting?” Kami handed her a new drink and stood beside the table.
“It went great, thank you for asking” the woman looked over and smiled but winked at the other man. The man across from her rolled his eyes, got up and began to walk away. Before Kami could get a word in the man came back to the table.
“I’m going to go call the kids and order the pizza” the man said and proceeded to walk away once more.
“He’s your husband” Kami stated blithely.
“Yep” smiled the woman.
Kami, dejected, finally made his way back to our table and sat down, drawing a ceremoniously well-spirited slow golf clap.
“I thought you had her buddy,” George said reassuringly.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kami, taking a sip from his beer, “What’s going on here?” After a moment of nothings, I relented.
“I got her first letter today.” A deft silence overtook the three for a brief moment as if the energy of our friendship crashed and had to be restarted by some sort of backup generator from within each of us.
“What the fuck did it say?” demanded Paul.
“I haven’t opened it yet.”
“Why not?” chirped George.
“I honestly don’t know. I’ve been moving all day and wanted to wait until I was in a place where I can have some privacy to read it – just to respect and contemplate the whole process.”
“Your agreement was fucking stupid, man” Kami blurted and waived the waitress over for another shot and a round.
“Maybe it is stupid. When Serah got offered the teaching gig in London we talked, at length, about what it would mean for our relationship. Neither of us wanted to be waiting by a phone or a computer for the mere chance that the other might call and the waiting for each letter would only build the passion and yearning towards each other.” I took a sip out of my beer. “It would have been so easy to call her, so easy to message her on one of infinite devices that are exceedingly readily available, but would each communication be meaningful if it was so easy? The fact that we agreed to write these letters makes every damn syllable special.”
“Ok, we’re convinced. Read it already” Kami said. I pulled the envelope from my pocket and took the letter out. It smelled like her. It smelled like normal. Like lilacs.
“You’re going to read it aloud right?” Paul asked as I was opening the fold.
“Why would I do that?”
“We’re her friends too.”
He had a point. When I landed the fellowship at state a couple of years back Paul was the one to introduce me to Serah. George edited her earlier papers and Kami, well Kami was just a Lothario we lovingly laughed at – like Barney, Stinson, not the dinosaur.
“What if it’s personal?”
“Then summarize” added George.
I looked at the paper and looked up at the eagerly awaiting faces and Kami, who was already planning his next failed conquest. Screw it.
“Taren,” I started, “All I wanted to do for the first three days I got to London was post pictures to Instagram. You should see some of the cool things I’ve taken pictures of. The sunset from my apartment is insane. I have this patio outside my apartment and my favorite thing about London is sitting outside and watching the sunset. You would love it. You’d sit out there and write your shitty poetry in that old brown notebook. It sucks you aren’t here. I miss you.”
“Why aren’t you there again?” interrupted George.
“I had just gotten tenure. I’m 29 and a tenured professor at a university. I couldn’t give up all of that and she didn’t want me to do that. Serah’s guest lecturer series will only last a year and then she will be back here, back to me. I guess I wanted to keep a home for her.”
“How Norman Rockwell like,” quipped Paul.
With that I started reading again. “The campus is so beautiful. There is this tree that has these lovely pink petals that seem to fall down to create a blanket around me every afternoon. I like to sit there, sip coffee between classes and watch the freshman flirt with each other. It’s rather funny. They suck at it.
“Bullet points, please, bullet points,” pleaded Kami. George and Paul let out a muffled laugh and I scanned the letter for things they might be interested in.
“She likes the faculty, hates the food, and mentions a pub and how she can’t wait to actually have cold beer again.”
“Oh that would suck” overlapped Paul.
“Then she goes on to list some people that she has met and talks about missing me.”
“Any dudes?” asked Kami.
“One or two.”
“How much detail does she go into them?” Paul added.
“Not much, just a list of people she hangs out with really. It isn’t much more than that.” I turned my beer over nervously and scratched at the back of the label.
“Don’t worry about it. If she doesn’t go into detail about any particular guy then there is nothing to worry about” Kami said, backtracking. We all paused for a moment afterward, internally convincing ourselves of the probabilities. It wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. She and I are stronger than that.
“Get more wine!” Amy yelled to me from the patio. How have we already gone through five bottles in three hours? These Brits can drink. I grabbed the last bottle from the table and made my way outside, to the crescent moon hovering over London and a select group of female members from the English department at university. There was Paula, the 39-year old frantic single mother whose husband just died and spent the majority of her time teaching freshmen how to dot and cross their letters; Joan, my office mate and the elder stateswoman of the group who knew everything about everyone except her kids –who just moved to the states to go to college; and Amy, another travelling lecturer who also left someone back home. She was quieter than usual tonight.
“Here we go ladies, it’s the last bottle of red so savor it.” I poured everyone a glass and leaned back to enjoy the setting and conversation.
“We have to do something, I have a sitter all night and I need action. Or stories. You two,” Paula said pointing to Amy and me and guzzling her wine, “You are young and unburdened and must have stories. How do your significant others feel about you being here?”
“Have you gotten a letter yet Serah?” asked Joan.
I had. Taren’s first letter came in three days ago. There wasn’t anything substantial in it but it was the first letter and I had it in my room. I liked to reread it.
“Yeah, I got one on Wednesday. He misses me. Nothing really crazy is going on. Just work stuff, funny friend antics and quirky neighbors.”
“Did you live in a sit-com?” Paula managed between sips, drawing a laugh from the four of us.
“We always had something going on, something to laugh at. I guess if that qualifies a sit-com, then yeah. I never thought of it that way.” I laugh.
“And you, miss mysterious? You’ve been quiet over there” Joan motioned to Amy. She was quiet. Amy was the first person I met when I moved into the city and she has been the closest friend I’ve had since I got here. I know she was dating a guy back in the states but she never really went into it more than that.
Amy sipped her glass and looked as if she was trying to search for the right words. She wanted to say something but wasn’t ready to admit it to herself.
She paused and finally spoke.
“I haven’t talked to Damon in three days. Finally I logged on to his Facebook this morning and saw pictures of him at a party last night – pictures he hid from me so I couldn’t see them on my feed. He was with a woman from his office and they weren’t working on anything.”
“What a fucking wanker,” exclaimed Paula. “Bastard.”
“I’m sorry Amy,” Joan added.
“Me too,” I added and placed my hand on her knee. “Maybe we should go out tonight, go get you some cheap and meaningless fling and a leg up on that asshole.”
It was at that moment that Paula’s phone rang, the babysitter was freaking out about something the kids had done. Paula shakily rose and bid her farewells. Joan went with her. She said it was because she promised her husband she would be home by a certain hour but it was fairly obvious that she was going to get Paula home safe – especially since she whispered it over her shoulder as I helped Paula with her coat. When I turned around Amy was three inches from my face.
Amy pushed me against the wall and overtook my lips with the fervor of someone who hadn’t seen a lover in ages unknown to any other. I was so shocked I had no response but to give in. To engage. To strike her autumn hair and savor the shine of sweat highlighted from the moonlight. We made way back to the patio through a series of awkward gropes that served as a prelude of everything to come when we hit the hammock. Her saliva tasted of every glass of wine and the feel of her soft skin grew with weight the longer she was on top of me. She reminded me of Taren: the way she grabbed my breast, the pressure from her thighs and the force in which she entered. The longer I moaned, the harder the stars shined and I understood place and time and pleasure.
Amy rose while I was writhing and picked up her clothes. She watched me for a moment, overcome in the instant and unaware of my life outside that rooftop. She smiled, in an almost devious delight, and walked over to me.
“Write that” She whispered in my ear, causing my ecstasy and euphoria to crash back down to the common place. She put on her clothes, slowly, as if to make me watch every fiber of cloth be put back in its proper place. Then, as quick as she came, she was gone. Fuck.
“Uncle Taren!” My brother Hank’s kids Jake and Sally bull rushed me as I opened the door and they ran off into the living room, diving on the floor and staring up at the Lions game on the flat screen.
“Happy Turkey Day, Taren” Hank and his wife Daisy follow behind and I hug each of them as they enter.
“It’s so nice to see you guys,” I started, “Everyone is in the living room watching football.”
“Are we still going to read Serah’s letter later?” asked Daisy. Serah and Daisy were undergrads together. Sorority sisters, actually. Phi-Beta-I have no damn clue. It was actually a bit surprising to find out. I never pictured either of them for the type. We had no clue they knew each other for the longest time.
“Yes, of course,” I took their coats, “It’s our evening’s entertainment. After football, obviously.” Everyone wanted to know how Serah was doing. And who she was doing it with.
This Thanksgiving was a little more packed than usual. My mom worked with Serah’s step mom in the kitchen and our dad’s sat with pants unzipped in front of the television, exchanging mild pleasantries with eyes focused on the action. Serah’s sister’s kids sat with Hank’s and took turns playing some game on a either a Wii or a PSP – I never got too close to notice. Kami was entertaining some of Serah’s single friends on one of the couches and Paul and George were in the backyard making my porch smell like a Snoop Dogg B-Side. For a moment I stood there watching everyone and the little world Serah and I created.
About 30 minutes later I finished constructing the additional tables and the moms started putting the food in the proper pre-discussed setting arrangement. Serah would have yelled at them just to put it down. I added two more TVs so no one would miss the respective games they cared about and then started herding everyone to their spots while throwing a can of febreeze to Willie Nelson’s tour bus that was gathering on my back porch. And, after a couple more moments, everything stopped and all of them were looking at me, electric knife in hand, about to carve the bird.
“All night I’ve been having these little asides in my head – just vignettes of what Serah would be doing if she was here. For instance I pictured her yelling at the moms to stop arguing and just put the food on the table,” the moms looked at each other from across the table and smiled, “telling her friends that if Kami was bugging them to come get her – by the way we keep a spray bottle on the book shelf, if he is ever bugging one of you just spray a little bit of water on him” I pointed the bottle out which drew the laughter of the room, even Kami, “and I also saw her on the couch, yelling at the game while playing with the kids” I paused. “She would have loved this because she loves all of you.” The room grew silent. Everyone looked at each other for a moment and smiled, somberly. I joined them for an instant, but shook out of that. “We shouldn’t fret. She is going to be here next year. And we can even send her a video of us reading her letter so she can see everyone and we all can say hello. Enough talking. Let’s eat this bird!”
Dinner passed quickly. Before we knew it we were all crammed in the living room watching the last five minutes of the last game and anxiously awaiting the words Serah scribed on the piece of paper I held in my hands.
“This is such a blowout” George commented, referencing the score of the game.
“Yeah, let’s break out the letter!” Daisy enthusiastically chimed in, drawing approval from the rest of the group. I muted the television and stood up in front of everyone, letter in hand, as if it was an eighth grade book report.
“You can’t read it” objected Kami.
“Why?” I looked at him perplexed.
“Because if she says anything you don’t want us to know you are going to skip over it. You have to pick someone else.”
I sighed, “Fine, George, get up here.” I handed George the letter and sat on the couch, taking the video camera from Paul and turning it on. After a moment I gave George a countdown and he began.
“Taren, I feel as if it is always raining here. It’s gotten too cold to sit out on the patio like we used to at the start of the semester. I miss that. Everything was new and fresh in August and September. Things feel damp now. There’s a heaviness to everything. Maybe I’m a bit homesick.
George stopped, took a sip of his beer and then began again.
“Work’s still good. I don’t sit by the tree as much as I did when classes started but I still find a bit of solace in my lecture hall. I should really send you a picture in my next letter. You would love it. I have this big oak podium where I can lay two to three books out unbounded. The acoustics are so excellent – you can hear a whisper from opposite ends of the room. It’s excellent for catching people who cannot be bothered to listen to my lecture – the little bastards,” George paused and looked up. “She wrote in parenthesis ha ha.” The room laughed.
George began again: “As for me and the small group of friends I’ve made since I got here, it’s odd. We are very much together but isolated in our own little ways. Joan’s kids have moved away and her husband works so much they rarely get time to be together constantly. Ever since Paula’s husband died it has been her and her kids facing the world. Even though they have each other, she is the one parent left in their life. And Amy, she is doing better but I still see her dealing with the loneliness in her own ways – she’s always on her phone, trying to talk to anyone and everyone who will listen. As if spending the night alone would be the worst thing ever. Maybe that’s why retailers are able to pump out the various tablets and phones in such an excess that they do. I think they have a hold on an aspect of ourselves that is tied into the most innate portions of our humanity – our need to feel close to other people. Maybe that is why I take so much stock in writing to you like this. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have these letters. They remind me of everything I feel for you. I love you. Serah.” The room looked around at each other, as if we were awash in the same feeling that overtook us at dinner. We were so happy just to hear her words.
“There’s something else,” said George. “A post script.”
“Well, read it” I said, with a combination of curiosity and anxiety that I could not properly name..
George looked back down at the letter and started: “One more thing, Taren. If I know you, you’re going to want to talk about this more, too. So I saved it for the end. I …” George stopped. He looked at all of us, dumbfounded. “Umm.”
“What is it?” asked Kami.
“I, uh, Paul.” George motioned for Paul to come up and finish where he left off. Paul rose off the couch and took the letter from George.
“I…” Paul’s eyes grew large as he read the words on the page and he looked to George. “That’s real, right? I’m not that high?”
Kami, not letting George answer, got up and took the letter from Paul. “Do I have to do everything around here?” Kami exulted, shaking his head. Without thinking of the words he was reading, Kami boldly stated, “I fucked Amy.”
The room and quite possibly time stopped while one or more glasses shattered on the living room floor. My mouth dropped and I grew oblivious to everything that was happening around me in the moment. My brother made Kami give the kids a dollar for cussing and slowly, one by one, the guests left with awkward handshakes and little to no eye contact. After about an hour passed it was just me, alone, sitting in the living room with the still-running video camera.
I deleted the clip.
“I’m shocked, Amy.” I boldly stated while playing with the stirrer in my glass. Amy looked up from her papers, put down her pen and took a sip from her beer.
“What’s wrong Serah?”
“It’s just so surprising” I paused, looked at my glass and the empty glasses that surrounded my current glass.
“Every time I go up to the bar, and ask the bartender for a Long Island, he makes it. Ha ha ha. Like, every time. Such a small world.” I sigh and notice the pen atop the blank letter in front of me. It’s so daunting. “You would think they would have a name for it here. Such a small, small world.”
“I’m not holding your hair.” Amy looked back down at her paper and started grading.
“I doubt that.” Amy’s eyes rose back up to meet my gaze but retreated back to her paper.
For a moment I am able to focus on my paper. I pick up the pen and write Taren’s name like I typically do. A moment was all I had in me.
“I want cheese fries!” I declared to Amy.
“They don’t serve that here, Serah.” Amy said without looking up from what she was doing.
“How can they not serve that?” I bemoaned. “They have things with fries, they have things with cheese, and how hard is it to just put them together?”
Amy didn’t respond. I looked around at the empty dark bar. No one was here. If it was earlier in the semester there would be kids packed in here to carouse into various types of debauchery. It was too late now. The semester was over and they were waiting. Resting. Curious what grade we were going to give them. Suddenly the song changed and I jumped up.
“Barkeep!” I get the attention of the bartender by standing on my seat in the booth. “One more!”
The bartender looks to Amy. “She’s going home with you, right?”
“Yep!” Amy still didn’t look up but took responsibility for me.
The waitress brought over my drink and cleared off the remnants of my past enterprises. I kept the stirrer though. It was the link to all those endeavors.
“One paper left!” Amy triumphantly sighed. I didn’t respond. I just kept staring at my drink. Eventually I looked up and Amy managed to catch my eyes. “You should just do it, Serah.”
“Do what?” My body was heavy from the alcohol and I rested my head on the table. All I could do was look at Taren’s name on the paper. I knew what she wanted me to say but I wasn’t going to let her dictate the timing of the question.
“It’s holding you back from writing the letter.”
“He wants answers.”
“He deserves answers.”
“Stop it!” I must have been too loud because the quiet bar suddenly became overcome by deafening silence. “Stop it.” I repeated, defeated. Amy sat there, smiling, rimming her finger around the top of her beer bottle. With each rotation the energy built within me. With each stroke of her finger I found myself growing enraged with a singular spite that I never knew I could feel.
“Why did you fuck me?” I whispered. She didn’t respond. She took a sip of her beer and brought it back down with her pinky in its dry mouth. I’d had enough.
“You were jealous,” A sobering shot of adrenaline ran through me as I uttered the words. “You felt alone. You feel alone – otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to do all of that again. I love Taren. I’m going to marry him. I’m not gay!”
The room grew silent once more and Amy and I just looked at each other. Her eyes were furious and before she could say anything I felt as if I had to respond.
“What do I tell him? What do I say? How can I make this right?” I hiccupped in the middle of the word right and both of us broke down laughing. It was as if the air couldn’t hold the tension we created anymore. It wasn’t until five minutes later that Amy and I finally stopped making fun of each other. Amy assessed the table and started to pack up.
“I can do this last one at home.” She said, rising.
I got up and put on my coat. Amy went and paid the tab and we walked out to the street. I started to stumble but regained my balance by help of a street lamp. Regaining my composure I looked at Amy.
“I’m not holding your hair.” Amy said, smiling.
I took two steps further. She ended up holding my hair. Called it.