“Try him again,” Maya says.
I nod my head and take the phone out of my pocket. It rings five times before the voicemail picks up. “This phone call may be recorded for the purposes of my own personal enjoyment.” Beep.
I take a breath.
“Hey Daniel, it’s Miller again. Where are you? You were supposed to help me bring the couch to Tasha’s, remember? Maya and I somehow got it out of the apartment and down the stairs, but that’s as far as we could go. We’re outside the building. Hurry up.”
I’m sitting on the back of the couch, my feet on the cushions; Maya’s sitting on the couch to my right. The street is crowded, but everyone maneuvers around the couch like ants around a rock. Maya lights a cigarette.
“Daniel’s going to think I’m such a pussy,” she says.
“No, don’t worry about it. It’s a heavy couch.” It is a heavy couch. It’s dark green with tiny yellow diamonds, a pullout, the insides all wood and steel, the mattress a fat creaky tongue. I’ve had it for five years, but it’s still in impeccable shape. It really is a great couch. And that green, like spring, summer, fall and the good parts of winter condensed into three-person bliss.
“I need a beer,” Maya says.
I look down at her. Her arms are wet with perspiration. Maya sucks hard on the cigarette as a couple carrying a bookcase sidestep around us. The guy, pulling up the rear, nods at me, and I flick my head.
“Beautiful day to move,” I say, to him, to her, to Maya.
I hear the door to my building click open and without turning around I know it’s Juan, the super.
“Meeller,” he says, coming around. He looks at the couch for a moment. “You are getting rid of her? Why? She is so beautiful, man!” He winks at Maya.
“I’m trading it with a friend for a guitar, actually,” I say.
Juan sits down on the armrest opposite Maya. His wide back is pressed against my left leg.
“I was just on my way to the bathhouse,” he says.
I watch from above as he takes a small plastic bag out of his shirt pocket and pops it open with his thumb and middle finger. With his other hand he takes a key from his crowded key ring and dips it into the bag, like a pen into ink. He pulls it out, a little mound of coke on the tip. He holds it up to me.
“No, thanks,” I say.
He brings his arm over to Maya. She leans in, closes her right nostril with her thumb, and snorts the bump. She squints her eyes, drags the smoke. I watch as Juan takes two keyloads for himself. He jumps up, sniffs loudly.
“Well, Mister Meeller, don’t part with her too easily,” he says, laughing as he walks away.
Maya shifts over so she’s sitting in between my legs. “Try him again,” she says.
“This phone call may be recorded for the purposes of my own personal enjoyment.” Beep.
“Dude, this isn’t funny. We’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t think he’s coming,” I say to Maya.
“You have no idea how hard it is to be a girl,” she says.
“Likewise,” I counter.
“The amount of pressure from every different angle.”
“Be like us, no be like us, do this, do that, don’t be a sex object but wear this, don’t be butch but lift this three hundred pound couch.”
“It’s probably more like two hundred pounds,” I say.
A woman walking a dozen dogs gets stuck at the couch as the labs go one way, and the poodles go another. I smile at the woman as she yells at the overexcited dogs: “Fredric! Barthes! Derrida, don’t eat that!”
“Interesting names,” I say.
“Oh, those aren’t their real names.”
After much grumbling and tugging, the woman gets all of the dogs onto one side of the couch.
“Let’s go boys,” she says.
Maya’s started another cigarette. “Do you have any idea what an ordeal it is to take a shit when you’re on your period?” she asks demurely.
“No, I don’t,” I say, leapfrogging over her and walking onto the road, “but have you ever been pissing into a public urinal when the automatic flush comes on and you get splashed with toilet water, spit, and the stale mingled piss of the masses?”
The traffic lights behind me must be red because there are no cars on the road. About a block down, soldiers in full fatigue load computer monitors into a canvas truck. The monitors are old and clunky, from the mid-nineties at the latest. Above and behind them some undergrads are attempting to hoist a hutch into their third-story apartment. There’s two of them at the window, presumably pulling on the rope; three down on the sidewalk with their arms out as the furniture swings above their heads; and the owners of the store are beside them, yelling about the hazard to potential costumers. I have no idea how they think the hutch is going to fit through the window. The passersby ignore it.
I come back to the couch and lie down on it, my head in Maya’s lap. Maya’s head is back and she’s looking at the sky.
“We’re the oppressed,” she says.
“We’re the guilty,” I say.
“Try him again.”
“There’s no need, Phil will be here any second.” I had seen him from the road, just past the soldiers, skateboarding down the middle of the one-way street. “Besides,” I add, “he’s your boyfriend.”
“I ain’t nobody’s boyfriend.”
I open my eyes. Phil’s standing in front of us, his skateboard in hand. He pushes my legs out of the way and sits down.
“You should drag this thing into the middle of the road. That would create some havoc.”
My legs off the couch already, I sit up. The three of us are on the couch now, inches from the cars, trucks and busses that are going by startlingly fast. Phil flips his skateboard onto his lap and starts rolling a joint on the scuffed backside. He takes a massive bud out of his leather jacket and rips it into the extra large paper. He licks it, rolls it closed and puts it in his mouth. It looks like it’s filled with rocks.
“There‟s a protest up at the park,” Phil says, sparking the joint with a silver zippo.
“What for?” Maya asks.
“The Anarchist uprising.” Phil’s face is lost in smoke. Because the spliff is made of barely-cut weed, there’s a lot of air in there. The paper is blackening faster than the weed’s burning, and the smell is rich, toasty and pungent. Phil passes the joint to Maya.
“Once the arbitrary hierarchical system is overthrown, everyone will be able to live for themselves,” he says.
Maya’s hacking, the joint still in her mouth.
“Neat,” she coughs.
“It’ll never work,” I say.
Maya offers me the joint and I shake my head.
“You have too much trust in the common man.”
Phil sucks on the joint in long powerful drags. “Don’t listen to him Maya, he’s a conformist.”
My pants start vibrating and, thinking it’s Daniel, I pull my phone out of my pocket.
“Down with weapons, down with technology, down with nations,” Phil chants.
Maya’s nodding her head.
The text message isn’t from Daniel, it’s from Tasha.
“I can’t wait to have my tongue in your asshole,” it reads.
Phil throws the ravaged joint end onto the road and rolls himself onto his feet.
“Hey Phil, dude, help us with the couch? Just over to Tasha’s.”
“No problem, mate.”
Maya and I stand up. Maya takes two cigarettes out of her pack and gives one to Phil. Phil lights the zippo on his jacket, lights Maya, lights himself, tucks his skateboard under an arm and with his left hand lifts the couch clean off the ground.
I come around to my end, get into position, take a deep breath and lift. I need both arms and they’re already killing me. My armpits are whirlpools. The couch is an elephant that does not feel like moving. We start walking down the sidewalk, Maya strolling beside us. Phil’s end is feet higher than mine; it’s no more trouble than if he was carrying a grocery bag. We go east a few blocks, then north. I need to break every thirty steps. Phil’s power-puffed his way through three cigarettes.
As we pass the university I ease the couch down. Phil drops his end and lights another smoke. I plop onto the couch. “About halfway there,” I say.
“Sweet potatoes,” Phil says. His phone rings – The Clash – and he takes it out, reads the message. “Shit, Mill, gotta run! They’ve flipped over a cop car and the riot squad’s been called in!”
Before either Maya or I can respond, Phil bangs onto his skateboard and is heading into on-coming traffic.
“This is it, this is it!” he hollers.
Maya sits down beside me.
“He needs to get laid,” she says.
I put my arm around her.
“I’m calling Daniel.” I take out my phone. This time it doesn’t even ring.
“This phone call may be recorded for the purposes of my own personal enjoyment.” Beep.
“Hi Daniel, this is Miller Bergavitch calling. Where the fuck are you? This is not funny. Our friendship is officially up for review. Turd burglar,” I throw in at the last instant before hanging up.
Maya’s laughing. I feel her voicebox through her back.
“Turd burglar? What the fuck is that?”
I take my arm off her, cross my legs.
“Hey,” she goes on, laughing harder, “hey, you’re that asshole that’s been burgling my turds!”
When the laughter subsides we sit for a while in silence. The main building of the university, all concrete and glass, is directly across the street from us. We watch as people – summer students, teachers, vagrants – walk in one set of doors and a different batch walk out another. The rhythm of it makes me sleepy. Maya’s staring into her empty cigarette pack.
“Hey May, isn’t that your old roommate, Spatula?”
Sure enough, it’s Spatula. She’s just left the school, a plastic La Senza bag in each arm. She spots us and runs through the traffic.
“Hey girlfriends,” she says, sitting down next to Maya. A big four-axle truck slams past, and I worry momentarily about the dirt that’s getting piled onto the couch.
“What’s with the shopping bags?” Maya asks.
Spatula opens them for us. They’re both overflowing with underwear.
“Back in the panties?” I say.
“Nope,” she says cheerfully. “I started a website business.”
Spatula opens her eyes huge, heightening the suspense.
“Selling dirty underwear to horny lonely guys.”
Maya laughs. “What?”
“I borrowed some pictures from a couple of porno sites, wrote a bunch of dirty stories, and the longer I wear each pair before masturbating in them and mailing them off, the more they pay.”
“But you don’t actually…”
She shrugs. “Nope. Some vinegar, a splash of laundry detergent, a smear of peanut butter if I’ve been a really bad girl.”
“How’s it going?”
“It’s the best money I’ve ever made.”
“Do you have an extra smoke?” Maya asks.
“Here come the asshole bluegrass boys,” Spatula says, rising. “I’m out of here. For you, love,” she says to Maya. She takes a folding mirror out of her purse, opens it, takes a little piece of paper out of it and holds it up. Maya opens her mouth and Spatula places it on her tongue.
“And for you, Miller,” she says, already walking away. She takes a pair of panties out of her bag and tosses them at me. They land on my face, covering my eyes. They’re black with a frilly lace.
Maya and I sit with our gifts, waiting for something to come our way.
“Hey Mill Pill, I knew you were a perv, but come on!” I shake off the underwear.
Jeremy, Kyle, and Porky are standing in front of me. Porky has his standing bass bungeecorded to his back.
“Maya, when did you get back from the coast?” Jeremy asks, lifting his fedora in greeting.
“Three years ago,” she says. “Any of you guys have a smoke?”
“Where are you headed?” I ask.
“We were going to go set up at the Metro station, make enough to go see the new Paul Thomas Anderson at the Paramount.”
“Can Maya and I get in on that?”
“For sure, for sure. Take my guitar.” Jeremy hands me his softcase. On his other shoulder he has the mandolin. Porky unhooks his bass and sets up beside the couch. Kyle takes out his banjo and sits down beside Maya. Jeremy positions himself on the couch end, pushes his hat back. We all tune to the mandolin.
“Before the movie, will you guys help me bring this couch over to Tasha’s?” I ask.
“What couch?” asks Porky.
“For sure, for sure. Man, this thing really did tie the room together didn’t it. Wasn’t Daniel supposed to help with the transportation and such?”
“He never showed.”
“We saw him half an hour ago at Steve’s, fucking around with the used amps.”
“That turd burglar,” says Maya. Her eyes are closed and she looks intensely at peace.
There’s a rising screech and I turn to see the army truck finishing a hard turn and plowing away. A monitor falls out the back of the truck and smashes onto the road. The crowds flow on, oblivious.
“What do you want to start with?” Kyle asks.
“How about ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’?” I offer.
“For sure, for sure. One, two, one-two-three-four.”
Porky does a bar alone, and then the rest of us jump right in.
Aaron Kreuter is a writer currently living in Toronto, Canada. He has had his short fiction and poetry published in InkTank Magazine, Existere, The Toronto Quarterly, Carte Blanche, and The Antigonish Review’s Poet Grow-Op, among other places. He is also the author of the chapbooks Waiting by The Sea and Other Poems and Suburbs I & II. For more on Aaron, visit him at his website: www.aaronkreuter.com.