FICTION July 7, 2023


Well, it was Friday, and me, Mike, Kei, Ross, and Rod were going out to drink like we had been doing since undergrad. And ‘cause Rod was getting evicted soon—said he couldn’t pay rent being a street vendor anymore—he wanted to take us all to one of the cheaper places in his neighborhood, you know, before it wasn’t his neighborhood anymore. And I guess we were all thinking, Why not, so we hopped on the train and met him across town over by the university. 

Was a nice-looking area. That’s what people typically said. I mean, the roads didn’t have potholes and there were shops and old brick everywhere, students in nice clothes, but. It’d only been a few years since I’d graduated, and the place was so damn smooth now, sharp like they sanded it down with protractors—not a blade of grass splitting their sidewalks, and there were benches. Benches you couldn’t sleep on and cops to make sure you didn’t sleep under them, so I was thinking at the least it would be quiet around there, but hell. When we got there, the first thing we heard were sirens. And we saw them bouncing up and down the street by the campus, so we were thinking something crazy had to have happened, and we hurried over. 

Well, we found Rod, found him watching some nude protestor getting arrested by like a dozen cops. She didn’t have a sign—guess her body spoke for itself—and they were trying to get a towel over her, but she was fighting, and her legs were kicking and all dirty. It looked like she had run through some of the university’s landscaping and uprooted a bunch of flowers. And Rod, his eyes were locked on her, and we were all thinking, Oh, man, he can’t help himself, but when we went up to him to catch him red-handed, it’s like there wasn’t a drop of lust in this guy. I mean, he was smirking—like ear to ear—but he saw us and said nothing at first and just kept watching. Almost like he was impressed, ‘cause then he started clapping, and it sure as hell wasn’t for the cops, and even after they took that girl away, Rod still had that look. Like it was cut into him. And when everything was quiet again, he just turned to us and said there was a change of plans. 

I mean, we were still drinking, only at a different venue. He’d said he had an idea, but it was bookstores and cafes all the way down, and hell, we were like drops on a canvas in that storefront glass, checking our balances and cards, just to be sure we could keep following. And Rod was telling us not to worry, but when we got there, you know, we were starting to worry ‘cause the place’s next to an old church that’d been made into a fancy-fucking-clothing place, and the bar itself was built into a vintage townhome. 

Through the windows, I could see them putting dry ice in the drinks, lighting things on fire, getting all theatric even though that shit had like one shot in it. And for some reason, there was a bookshelf in the corner, and I was like, Are we even allowed in? But Rod, he stayed calm, said we were all good and ushered us forward, and the bouncer looked pissed at us, but hell. Let us in anyway and did it with a smile after Rod put twenty in his shirt pocket, but when we got inside, all their shit was also like twenty dollars—like motherfuckers had dresses on, button-up shirts, this wasn’t a tavern or anything, so us in our hoodies and baggie jeans just decided to buy one drink each and take it slow, but Rod, he didn’t buy shit. We were looking around, trying to figure out what his plan was, and then we saw him snatch a whole glass from a table, chug some, and then he came over and handed us the rest like he was Robin Hood or something. And he just looked at us and said,


And that was all. We were standing there for a few moments, kinda confused, so he went and stole another drink and did the same thing and yeah. After that, we got the idea, and it was going well, you know, like we were getting drunk, and everyone else was too drunk to notice what we were fucking doing, and we were making jokes and nobody was laughing, but we were having a good time anyway, and we were all getting bolder. Especially Rod. A few hours in, and he was acting like a show-off, taking a drink from one table, another from a different table, drinking them both while they spilled down his chin, then swapping them out for fresh ones, but oh, man: One of those times, he got real cocky, and this dude in like a white suit went to piss and had a whole drink just sitting there in front of the girl he was with. So, Rod went over and started chugging it, and the girl, she wasn’t doing anything. She had a hand over her mouth, she was laughing, and we were, too, but, like, it was a big fucking drink, so before Rod could finish, the dude came back and saw Rod and went up and slapped him. But, Rod was so drunk, he just paused for a second then kept drinking, and the dude in the suit, he like stood back ‘cause he didn’t know what was happening, and Rod: He just looked at the guy and smirked. Then he took the rest of the drink and splashed it all over him, and this drink was red. Like blood red. And you could see it soaking right into the suit, so, yeah, the guy was pissed. He wasn’t yelling or throwing a fit, but his mouth was clenched, and the drink was dripping off his face, which I thought was red 'cause of the drink, but I realized the dude was embarrassed ‘cause the girl he was with was laughing even harder now, like crying. And the guy, he looked like he wanted to say something, looked disgusted—at all of us—but he just walked away, grabbed the girl by the arm like she was a damn purse or something, and they got out of that place without a word. So, we just kept on drinking. 

And eventually, closing time came around, and we were the only ones left, and the bartender was mopping, and there was basically just ice left in all of the cups, so we were getting ready to go. But, as we were leaving, the guy in the white suit was there. Right outside of the glass. And he was looking in. And he had a brand-new white suit on; no one could believe it. And he came through the door, real gentle. And his head was down like he didn’t even wanna look at us, but he did—for a moment, he did—and he looked up and was ecstatic. Really grinning. And we were all frozen and nobody knew what do to, but he knew what to do, and he pulled out some fancy-looking pistol with an ivory handle and just shot Rod in the head. 

And then he was off. 

And we were just there. 

Nobody was saying much. Nobody was saying anything at first, and the bartender, he was just mopping still, but you could tell he’d slowed down a bit. So then, we were all just looking at each other, and the bartender was looking at us every now and then, and his eyes were like openopen, but his face was like a rock, lips straight. Expressionless—except those eyes, you know? ‘Cause I don’t think anyone there had ever seen that much blood before, and the only thing that got done, besides that mopping, was one of the guys throwing their hoodie over Rod’s head, eyes closed the whole time like all the others. But not me. 

Not me. 

I saw it, I saw Rod’s head, I saw the hole or whatever you wanna call it. And I didn’t know if I should be grateful that his head wasn’t blown off, because, hell, that may have been better, would’ve made it like a cartoon, and in a cartoon, his head would’ve just grown back from the stump of his neck, and we would’ve laughed about it. Instead, there was a crater. The shot didn’t go out the other end, but it shattered the center of his forehead in an X, and from all the cracks, blood ran over his face in oily streams and chunks of flesh were bubbling to the surface, but you could still tell it was him, you know? Just changed. Broken. Not beyond recognition, but just above the threshold, and I felt like it was a mistake—a crime—like I shouldn’t have seen it.

But, I did. And I wanted to see it again, and I don’t know why, but I went on over and took the hoodie off, and all the other guys turned away, shouting for me to cover his head back up, but I wouldn’t. I just kept looking at it, the wound, you know? And I’d never seen a brain before, but I was pretty sure I was looking at one then, and I kept looking, got closer and closer. And the others, they started asking the bartender what they should do, and he just looked at them and blinked, wrote his number on a receipt, and said the cops could reach him there if they needed him, and then he was out the door. So, everyone just took out their phones and started dialing 911, but I was still looking at Rod, and I saw then, saw it real clear all of a sudden that he was smirking under all that red. Ear to ear. And I just said, Stop. Like it was a sneeze, like vomit coming out of me.

And the others were all looking down at me—best they could—and they were looking at me like, What? But I was smiling then, and I looked at them and told them to put their phones down, and I said, We gotta do something, do something nice for Rod.

And Ross was like, Yeah, dude, a fucking funeral, and Mike and Kei started going on about how we’d pour beers on his grave—or if was cremated, drink his ashes, like we talked about in high school—but I just shook my head. 

I’m saying let's do something now.

And their eyes got really wide, and they were looking at me like, Right now right now? And I just kept smiling and went, What better time?

What better time?

Well, after that, I don’t know. The guys stood there, thinking, and eventually, Kei came a little closer and started looking at Rod’s head, too. His eyes widened, his breath got quick, but he stood there and couldn’t stop looking, and he was shaking, but shit, he started smiling, too. And it looked like a nervous smile at first, but it just kept getting wider and wider, and then Ross and Mike joined, as well. They were covering their eyes, but you could tell they were peeking, ‘cause all of a sudden, they bounced back, had to catch themselves. But, the longer they looked, the more fingers came down, and soon they were taking it all in, taking it in with me, and I think we all stood there over Rod’s body for an hour, and nobody said anything. Was like we were all listening, you know? 

To what, though? I couldn’t tell you, but everyone was taking something in—like there was a voice coming from that wound—and after a while, I was thinking, Maybe we can call the cops now, maybe we’ve had our time, but I was looking at the other guys, and they were all nodding and looking at me, saying they wanted to do something now, too. 

But, I didn’t know what the fuck to do. And I didn’t even know if being that close to a body was legal, but I was thinking for a good few minutes, thinking that we loved Rod, and we’d been to some funerals by then, funerals of real good friends, but I don’t know. Even when the coffins were open, it never felt like you were saying goodbye. And I think the other guys were feeling it, too, ‘cause next thing you know, we were wrapping Rod’s head up with our hoodies and carrying him out the door, but I didn’t have a plan or anything, so at first, we were just sneaking around with him on our shoulders, dodging cops down alleys on our way to the subway. But, then we crossed by the university again.

They hadn’t cleaned up that protestor’s mess, and the flowers were still scattered on the sidewalk, so I got everyone to put Rod on a bench, and I told them we needed decorations. So, we went over and started grabbing all the flowers, but we didn’t stop with the ones that’d already been kicked up; we started snatching fistfuls of them right out of the mulch, and people were driving by, they were slowing and stopping and honking, calling us jackasses, but oh, man. We just kept grinning and picking the flowers, and eventually, we got like ten-bouquets worth all shoved into our pockets, pants, and hoods, then we made our escape down the street, and we were loud as dogs, so we had lights flickering on in all the lofts and curtains opening and silhouettes pointing, but nobody was sweating it, 'cause I think everyone was starting to feel something in those moments, something thawing. And maybe it was our pulses bubbling with adrenaline, but I’ll tell you what: My heart had never felt that way before, 'cause really it wasn’t a pulse; it was like nothing was beating at all, and hell, I think we forgot Rod was there, dead on our shoulders. 

But oh, man, we sure remembered when we heard sirens dopplering our way, and we were off with Rod, running like nobody’s ever run before, ‘cause I don’t know if any of us had really run—like seriously run—-before that, but we were running then. And you should’ve seen our shadows playing in the sodium light all the way to the station. Down the stairs, over the platforms, without a spark in our heads, and it was like nobody thought we were holding a corpse, you know? ‘Cause everyone was rolling their eyes when we ran by, steering clear, and they were probably thinking Rod was just drunk or this was a joke or something for TV, ‘cause, like, who would do this? And I guess we were doing it, but shit, it doesn’t mean it didn’t feel real to us either, and in a flash, we were on the train without a problem. People all around us, people sitting feet from Rod, but they didn’t see his blood, didn’t see his head, and we were quiet then. So, they were, too.

Since I lived closest to the stop, we carried Rod’s body up to my apartment, and I let everyone in, went straight to the bathroom, and started running some water. Next thing you know, we got Rod in the tub. Naked. And I don’t think I’d seen him like that since our mommas used to bathe us together, but it felt right. Felt natural. And nobody was wincing anymore when we washed the blood off his face—all of us just in there, running our hands over his skin, soap on his chest and thighs and all over until we’d groomed every last part of him. 

Then, I went out into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of that cheap wine he loved and had everyone take a swig, and when it’d gone around, I gave the rest to Rod and poured it all over his face before we took him out of the bath and set him on my bed. And blood was getting all over my pillows and blankets, but I could just buy more, I could just buy more, and we tucked the covers around him and wrapped some flowers in his palms, scattered the rest over the sheets and carpet, and when we finished, we walked out of the room, and I shut the door behind me, but before I did, before I did, I swear I saw the petals glowing in his hands, sprouting from their wilted shapes, singing through their lethargy. Even for just a little longer. Then, the door closed quietly, and after that, I only remember waking up the next morning. Sober.

 The wine bottle was still on the table, so we all knew it wasn’t a dream. And one by one, we started clustering around my bedroom, looking at the door, not really knowing what to do even when everyone was there. I got sweat all over my hands, Mike and Ross were on their knees and praying, and I remember Kei was just standing there. His head on his feet. And he said nothing, and I said nothing, and for an hour, we just idled and bounced between the narrow hall, until eventually, I went up and opened the door. Eyes closed. And I walked in and counted to three and opened my eyes, and there was Rod. His skin was all pale, mouth was hanging open just a crack, but his eyes were closed, and he looked nice. Looked comfortable. And Mike and Ross were praying again, and me and Kei were on our knees, too, and we were crawling all over, climbing up the sheets, and looking over the body, looking for an answer, looking into the hole in his head, looking for light in his eyes, looking, looking for something, for color, for anything. 

But, Rod was silent, and I said that maybe he was just sleeping this one off, and we all started howling, we started rolling on the ground and pounding the carpet with our fists, and we were coughing, trying to catch our breaths, and tears were streaming down our faces, and for the first time, I was wondering if you could die from laughing so hard. 

But you know what? When the chuckles faded out, and we could only hear the cars outside, all of us started crying. Started sobbing. And nobody cared about the snot in their noses or how they sounded, and we touched Rod’s hair and touched his skin and talked with him for hours, talked and talked and talked and told stories and didn’t stop even when we got thirsty, even when we had to piss, even when the cops came in and put us in cuffs, ‘cause it felt good. 

It felt damn good.

Sam Fouts grew up in the Cleveland area and is currently studying creative writing at Miami University. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appears in Sky Island Journal, The Drabble, and elsewhere. He has a story forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine.