Nobody invited Randy, but that was never going to stop him from showing up. And honestly? I was relieved because just having him around takes some of the pressure off me, what with him being such a talkative liar.
It was Thursday, the night we aim for a total blow-out—before the weekend hits us full force and we find ourselves trapped in the pizza shop, sweating over the makeline and all those pepperonis while the orders stack up on us and we get more and more agitated with each other and how we are all slow in our own ways.
So on Thursdays we get ripped on cheap beer, and sometimes someone orders wings.
When I showed up at Suds, Randy was already there, just him and poor Beth, his mouth moving while she stared cross-eyed into her foamy beer, her face plunged into the sweating glass, and I thought I was reading a sort of horror in her eyes, her lifted eyebrows. She was taking a long drink.
I grabbed a seat at their table and caught the end of whatever Randy was telling her: “…buckets of it, like if you took a party balloon, filled it up with blood, and dropped that fucker off a bridge. Ka-sploosh…”
Beth looked relieved to see me. “Randy was just telling me about this deer he hit.” “Oh, wow. Randy.”
Randy looked at me and smiled.
Over his shoulder, Beth was blinking aggressively at me, but I didn’t say anything quick enough, and then Randy was back in: “But that was nothing compared to my cousin’s accident…”
I saw Mark and Kara weaving toward us through the crowd—connected to each other via one of their hands in the other’s pocket, like always—while Randy told us about the time his cousin stapled his hand to his own thigh.
“…his dumb fault. Well, Andy had the staple-gun propped up on his leg while we were taking a break to chug something, and then, outa nowhere, Princess was freaking out, barkin’ her fuckin’ head off at a squirrel across the fence, and then she hopped up on Andy’s lap. Well, we both thought the gun was unplugged, but then that tiny-ass little Shih Tzu bumped the trigger and next thing, Andy was stuck to himself and staring down at his little dog in her little sweater, just wagging her tail, and Andy was like ‘shit shit shit.’”
Mark, having just arrived, backed away from the table, put his mouth by Kara’s ear, and was off. For beers, I guessed.
Randy seemed extra jittery tonight.
“And I said, ‘At least you didn’t staple your dog to your leg!’ Which he did not think was funny. Neither did the ambulance guys—they kind of shook their heads at us and loaded ‘em up.”
We had heard this sort of shit before, and I was just hoping someone would buy a pitcher soon, which usually helps Randy grow on you a bit. And also I didn’t want to have to ask for any favors until there was at least some beer in us all. I wasn’t quite sure yet the best way to tell the few people I know that I’m technically homeless. I mean, the idea was still pretty new to me.
Randy stood up and slapped my back.
“Time to drain the main vein.” He chuckled and sauntered off toward a dark corner. Mark came back with one beer. “OK. Who invited him?”
Everybody likes to bitch about Randy, but I don’t believe any one of us genuinely dislikes him. After a while you sort of tune him out—but even still, he did get to me one time when we were alone in the back of the pizza shop and he started talking about his daughter, telling me how she got kidnapped from his house. How he heard it happen. By the time he came up from the basement, the front door was open and swinging, and outside there was just leaves blowing around.
But then another time he told Kara his daughter was in Alberta working with sea lions and living in some commune. So.
I shrugged. Mark said something to Kara, and she pulled a little plastic cigarette roller out of her purse and laughed.
“Randy just has an overactive imagination.” That was Kara, being nice.
I asked Mark how the remodeling was going.
Kara laughed. “Remodeling. Good one.”
Last time I was over there, me and Mark shotgunned a couple beers and then eventually decided to tear down his garage after he bet me I couldn’t punch a hole through the plywood, which it turned out I could.
I asked him if he figured out what he was going to replace the garage with, and he said, “Another garage.”
I wanted to spill the beans, but something stopped me. I knew Mark and Kara had a spare bedroom at their place, having crashed there more than once, but I didn’t know where to start, and felt generally humiliated by my crumbling marriage, which they only knew about vaguely—mostly that it was something I didn’t want to talk about. . .
Then Mark bent his head down toward Kara’s giggling, and I took that as my cue. I stumbled off to the bathroom, music thumping in my back teeth, and stepped up to a grimy urinal.
I heard a stall door whip open, and then I was jolted by a sudden hand on my shoulder, which turned my pissing into an entirely conscious act.
“Ah, hey Randy.”
“How’s it hanging?”
He was standing so close. I guess we were about to have a regular conversation. “You know, my brother took off on us in ’69. Didn’t even say goodbye. I guess he stole some canoe in Detroit, paddled his ass over. Next thing, we got a postcard from Canada—cartoon beaver smiling and waving on top of a pile of sticks—and just ‘From: Johnny’ with a smiley face in the ‘O’. Fuckin’ hippy.”
I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this. Then I heard this loud unzip, and Randy stepped up to the urinal next to me. So I guess I have no idea what he’s been doing in here this whole time.
He whistled for a second and then asked me: “So you buggin’ out?”
“You heading North? You know something I don’t?”
I shook my head. I wasn’t prepared to tell him how my wife had sort of put her foot down all of a sudden by packing up her car and tearing off to St. Louis on some weeklong getaway with this guy she used to date in high school. Those fuckers even used my card, which I found out right around the same time my landlord started sending me these All-Caps texts about the rent check and something about how it bounced. But I wasn’t ready to have this conversation with Randy. Or at least not with my dick out.
Randy made that gross horking sound, and I felt my own throat swallow thickly. “You know,” he said, “when I lost Maggie? I wanted to burn my whole fucking house down.” And he spat a thick loogie into the urinal.
Maybe he could feel me bristling, because he said, “Look. I got a trailer, ok? You ever need to stay there, just tell me.” Like he knew.
I guess he must’ve seen my car in the lot, and all my clothes crammed in the back with all my other shit I didn’t want to be in the apartment when my landlord inevitably showed up to take his house back. I looked over at Randy, everything quiet except for the twin streams thing we had going at these two urinals, and he turned his head and gave me a shiny smile.
I should’ve said thank you. But he zipped his pants up and left.
When I got back to the table, there was a beautiful full beer at my seat waiting for me, and Randy reached over and flicked it, glancing up at me, but didn’t stop talking. I spent the next four hours rippling along with everyone else, while Mark whispered into Kara’s ears, and Kara dragged her fingers through all the water circles on the table, and Beth and I kept tipping glasses. We all took turns slug-walking back and forth to the bathrooms, smiling, a fuzzy distance between us and the air we were breathing. I could feel Randy’s heat the whole night. He told the deer story two more times, I think accidentally. More blood each time. I smiled at Beth. Then Randy tipped his chair back and steadied himself on the table. I gathered he was leaving, so I stood up too.
“Randy, hold up.”
He nodded like we’d already decided it.
Sometimes Randy is just great.
He said to follow him and then got in his car, which was covered with this coagulated brown stuff. I guess he really obliterated that poor deer after all. He lit a cigarette, reached out to wipe the blood off his cracked side-mirror, smearing it instead, then gave me a big sloppy smile and a thumb’s up, his cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. He swerved out of the lot, then remembered to turn his lights on, giving me something to follow even if it was just two winking brake lights and the smooth crunch of gravel beneath a dirty moon.
TRAVIS LANDHUIS adjuncts in writing departments at colleges in Iowa and keeps himself alive by writing freelance websites about back surgery and limo rentals and different types of garage doors. Actually, no. That’s not true. He keeps himself alive by writing and reading fiction. The rest just helps him eat.