The walls of Calder’s apartment were empty. He sat on the edge of his queen-sized bed, his bed sheet folded over like a dog-eared page of a book, creased only on the one side he ever slept. A blue pilled towel covered his waist and his chest heaved as wet hair hung in front of his eyes, dripping shower water onto the floor. There was a gun in his hands. It lay across the palm of his hands like a paper weight, holding them in place.
A mangy cat appeared at his side and weaved figure-eight’s between his legs, stopping to lick at the puddle of water forming on the ground. The rest of Calder’s apartment matched the matted disheveled fur of the cat. There was a small kitchen table with a single blue paint-chipped chair. It faced onto the adjacent living room that housed a half-empty bookshelf of half-finished novels, and a faded brown couch whose dust danced above it when the sun shone through the barren room’s window in the afternoon.
The cat meowed up at Calder who remained unfazed by the distraction; the gun still resting in his hands. His thirty-year-old body was sculpted in a way only hard labour can do—giving him thick forearms, strong quadriceps, a sun kissed forehead, and a bad knee. His shins were covered into tiny scratches and bruises from catching the corners of two-by-fours and scraping against cinder blocks. His eyes drifted for a moment to a note that lay next to him on the bed. In chicken-scratch there was an address written in his handwriting. It read, Room 217. He gripped the gun’s handle and pushed the cat out of the way. In even strides he crossed the length of his bedroom to face his open closet. There was a few t-shirts and button-ups hung inside. He took his free hand and leafed through the clothes methodically—trying to choose what to wear to kill another man.
He settled for a grey crew cut shirt, a light jacket, and a pair of jeans with the gun synched into the back of the waistband. It protruded under the cotton tee in a small bulge, like a pinecone-sized tumour, imprinting into his flesh. He waited outside of the apartment building for the taxi he called to show up. There was a park across the street cluttered with kids running in clumsy circles over the bark-mulched playground. They weaved under the plastic arches of slides and over the planks of brightly painted teeter-totters with ease. Despite the crisp fall air, sweaters and scarves flanked the backside of the park benches, discarded at the first signs of flushed cheeks. Calder watched them with a fading smile. He cracked his knuckles and looked away. Grabbing for the pack of cigarettes lodged in his front pocket, he pulled one out and sucked back the smoke in greedy gulps; it was good to feel full.
The taxi stopped as he stubbed out the butt of his cigarette and climbed in.
“The Motel Inn on Fourth Street,” Calder told the driver, who nodded and began to pull away.
Calder reclined into the back seat and closed his eyes. He always liked being driven places and the hum of the engine quickly lulled him to sleep. It came to him most nights in broken fragments, always beginning in his childhood home. He is watching morning cartoons and finishing a bowl of cereal, the room around him is covered in family photos and small knickknacks on shelves. There is a heaping pile of throw blankets mounted on a green recliner chair that sits next to the TV. Calder’s mom used to sit there every day when she was sick. She couldn’t watch the TV directly because the bright light hurt her eyes, so instead, she sat beside it nestled under a plethora of crocheted blankets always complaining it was cold. A year ago she had passed away, and the leftover blankets took her place.
Calder slurped the last of his cereal and got up to toss the empty bowl and spoon into the sink. The house was quiet. Calder’s dad worked the night shift and was sleeping in his bedroom. His dad did that a lot since his mom died. Always coming home at the beginning of the day and retreating to his bed, without more than a head nod to his son. It paid good overtime, he would say to Calder, in justification. Calder looked out the window above the kitchen sink just as Darren pulled into the narrow driveway of his front yard. Darren was in the throngs of a growth spurt, his lanky arms and pointy elbows stuck out in all direction while he gripped the handlebars of his bike. He slouched when he walked and played baseball and basketball mostly from the sidelines of their fifth grade teams, waiting for his coordination to catch up to his height. When Calder’s mom had died Darren started biking to Calder’s house every morning before school — it was summer now, and Darren kept coming.
“You’re always late,” Calder yelled down the lawn at Darren as he left the house.
“Since when can you tell time?” Darren joked, “I mean, I knew you were getting smart, but time?”
“Whatever,” Calder said smiling and grabbed his own bike that was leaning against the front of the house. “Let’s go to the Co-op store.”
“Wow, he knows direction too” Darren laughed.
The two peddled out of the driveway and turned left at the stop sign at the end of the road. They rode past one-level rancher homes with brown lawns and dust-covered trucks parked outside. They biked past the only gas station in town and cut through the only main street. They speeded past the mini-golf course that closed last year when the owner couldn’t afford to keep it open. Weeds sprouted through the shingles of miniature windmills and fake rivers. Spare change jangled in their pockets with the promise of ice cream.
Darren could ride with no hands. He dangled them idly at his waist and then raised them above his head and yelled. His shirt rose up as he waved at the sky and Calder watched the base of his best friend’s back swerve left and ride down the town’s gravel roads. Distracted, Calder hit a pothole in the road, his front tire popped on impact and he slide forward off his seat and into the ground. The tire hissed escaping air as Calder stood up slowly and surveyed the damage.
“You okay?” Darren circled back and asked.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” Calder picked at the loose skin on the palms of his hands, “My bike doesn’t look good. My dad’s gonna be pissed.”
“We’ll get it fixed,” Darren replied, setting his bike down beside Calder’s.
The bikes lay on top of each other, the spokes and pedals crisscrossed over one another seemingly joining together, becoming one. The sun pulsed down and caught the lit against the bicycle’s metal bars. It shone into Calder and Darren’s eyes as they surveyed the popped tire and looked up at each other.
“He doesn’t have to know,” Darren added. “Come on.”
Darren took off over the lip of the road and into the adjacent ditch. He ran down the gradual slope and weaved through the adjoining field. Calder followed after, running to catch up. The boys sprinted with high knees over the tall grass, they circled the field in long ovals, like running an imaginary track. Calder finally caught up and tackled Darren, pinning him to the ground. They crashed into the grassy dirt below them and panted with arms outstretched in a ‘T’ like martyrs.
“I don’t think I’m gonna play basketball this year,” Darren said.
Calder rolled onto his side to face Darren, “Why not?” he asked.
Darren shrugged and pulled at the tufts of grass between his fingers.
Calder looked up at the sky, “I don’t think my dad likes me anymore.”
“Because my mom’s not here to tell him that he’s supposed to.”
Darren rolled over onto his side to face Calder. He ripped some more grass out by the roots and sighed. “Well,” he hesitated, “I still like you,” and reached for Calder’s hand.
They could hear a car’s rumbling engine approaching from the distance. The gravel cracked under the weight of the black Buick Riviera as it approached the boys’ discarded bikes and lulled to a stop. A car door opened and slammed shut. The boys broke apart and rolled quickly onto their stomachs like soldiers, watching the car through the crisscross mesh of grass. A pair of dark brown leather boots emerged and walked slowly from the driver’s side to the rear of the car. The boys tracked each step through the crack between the undercarriage of the car and the ground until the silhouette of a tall man appeared in full.
“Can he see us?” Calder whispered. The man took a step toward them and revealed a worn-out face. There were sunspots on his chin and neck and his eyes were tired from seeing too much. He took a long sip from the beer bottle in his hand before setting it down on the trunk.
“You boys need help?” the man yelled, “I see your bike has a flat tire.”
Calder looked at Darren who remained quiet and motionless.
“Can you hear alright?” the man asked.
Calder looked at Darren again. Unsure of what to do next, he stood up in hastily while Darren pulled at his pant leg to come back down.
“Yeah,” Calder replied quietly.
“Well, that’s a good thing, now isn’t it?” the man bent down over the bikes and pushed up the sleeves on his jean shirt. There was a black and white tattoo stretching the length of the inside of his right arm of a pin-up woman. Calder stood a few feet away and stared at the tattooed woman who pulsed in unison with the man’s muscles as he lifted the bike over and balanced it on its handlebars, tires up in the air. With each movement the woman seemed to jilt forth like she was trying to escape.
“Looks like you need a tire patch,” the man said.
“Is this your friend’s bike?” the man asked, nodding towards Darren who still lay in the field.
Calder shook his head, “No.”
“Oh, so you’re the one who ruined all the fun then?” the man laughed under his breath. “Well, that’s alright. I can get you all fixed up.”
Calder stared at Darren in the field, willing him to come to his side. Darren stood meekly and walked over.
“Are you a baseball fan?” the man asked, pointing at Darren’s Chicago Cubs t-shirt.
“Me too,” the man said, turning the bike back on its tires. “I think I’m gonna need my patching kit to fix this and it’s somewhere in my car. How ‘bout one of you stays by the bikes while I go grab it? And the other one can help me look for the kit? The car is such a mess I can barely find the steering wheel sometimes,” the man snorted. The boys shifted their weight back and forth and stared at the ground.
“I’ll tell ya what,” the man continued, “I’ve also got some baseball cards in there somewhere and if you find any while you’re poking around you can go right ahead and keep them. Sound good to you?” he asked Darren, who paused momentarily and then eagerly nodded. The man rounded the front of the car and began looking under the driver’s seat while Darren moved to the back of the car. Calder stood by the bikes and watched his best friend peer into the back seat. He rolled the bike back and forth over the road and meticulously studied the tire tracks in the gravel as they imprinted the ground like fingerprints. Suddenly, he stopped. The car’s engine roared to life and the headlights illuminated the empty road ahead. Calder ran to the car’s side and saw Darren in the back seat banging frantically at the window. Calder yanked at the door but it was firmly locked. He watched the it speed away, kicking up dust. The news would report a few months later that Darren’s body had been found in the basement of an abandoned house.Calder was left alone in the vacant road. The man had been right; he had ruined all the fun.
The back seat of the cab jerked Calder forward as it stopped in front of the motel. He was drenched in sweat and his hands were shaking.
“You all right?” the driver asked.
Calder nodded. He shook his head to clear the memories away and paid the taxi fare. The Motel Inn was painted a light teal, with white doorframes and awnings that had been scraped away like a weathered fresco. Calder took a deep breath and patted the gun that still sat in his waistband. He wandered past the empty check-in office and up a set of metal stairs to the second floor. Walking the length of the outdoor balcony pathway he passed the corridor of vacant rooms until stopping outside the third to last door.
The brass coloured numbers hanging on the door read 217. The door had been left ajar and Calder wedged his foot into the open space, slowly pushing it open. The inside of the room smelled musky and a haze of dim lighting covered the disheveled bed where a man lay sleeping. His back was turned towards Calder and his face was covered by his arm like a shield. Calder stepped behind the man and stared at his body, he watched the man breathe in and out, his chest rising and falling. His legs were thin underneath a pair of baggy trousers and a belt was synched around his hallowing waist. His sweater hung loosely from his neck and avoided falling off his skeletal frame by protruding collarbones that caught the loose fabric like a clothes hanger. The underbelly of his right forearm peaked out from half-rolled sleeves. There she was, the pinup girl, still trapped in her ink outline. She was stretched with age and folded over in parts from wrinkles. Above her, in the bend of his elbow, there was a small collection of dark dots from needle points. The man coughed in his sleep, a guttural thick lurch from his lungs that made him roll over and caused his arm to roll away from his face.
Calder stared at the man’s closed eyes. He thought of how strong the man had been—how he had lifted his bike with one hand and turned his world upside down. How weak he looked now. Calder exhaled and took out his gun. He held it at his hip and grasped the handle tightly in his palm, he wanted to make the man hurt. Raising the barrel so it pointed into the man’s head, he took a step closer.
The man stirred and opened his eyes. They were bloodshot and swollen; the deep brown irises had faded away and were replaced with a filmy beige drug-induced haze. He quickly stumbled to sit up and pushed himself backwards across the bed, his hands came up in surrender.
“Listen,” he said, “Please.”
Calder took another step forward and the man scrambled back further to the edge of the bed, his toes hanging over the side
“Please,” he repeated.
Calder could see the whole frame of his body now, its bent frame folding over into himself like a crumpled tissue, and just as thin. He brought down his hands and pleaded with Calder in a prayer. Calder listened and he saw himself, his empty apartment, his lonely cat, and his sore muscles. He saw the man, his blue veiny arms, his vacant eyes, and his secluded motel room. He saw them standing side by side, big and small, looking into Darren’s warm smile. Except, he couldn’t see Darren’s smile, he could only see a dirty Cubs t-shirt, grass-stained and worn-out. He could only see the memory of the thing. The man sighed and stared at Calder, a flash of relief crossed his face — until Calder raised the gun and pulled the trigger.
The man fell backwards absorbing the brunt of the bullet and fell off the bed. He landed crumbled in the alcove of space between the wall and the bed, blood draining from his already pale complexion and seeping into the old carpet. Tears formed in Calder’s eyes. He let them fall for a moment, as they seldom ever came, and then wiped his nose. He tucked the gun back into his waistband and headed downstairs. He walked the five miles back to his apartment, getting lost along the way. He tried to forget what it was like to remember.