Exchange Student VIII
“He said I should ruminate on Tom’s desire to escape from his mother and yet not abandon his sister. Who uses the word ruminate?” Arthur Murphy asks, emptying his bag of cheese and onion crisps on a napkin. “Isn’t that something a cow does?”
I’m wedged between Arthur and Stella, a girl I’ve never seen before but who the boys call “Artois.”
I thought there would be something more stimulating by being here, sitting with them, but close up, I feel things I couldn’t feel across the room. The smell of beer on their breath reminds me of sour milk. The girls are catty about all of the girls in the pub and their eyes flit to me before they whisper words too soft for me to hear. Other than that, they ignore me. In Charley’s bag, I catch a glimpse of the end of a syringe jutting out from a case. I feel like I am too close and uncomfortably aware of all of the imperfections distance hid.
Eddie is the spotlight. Everyone at this table, with perhaps the exception of Stella, are actors, but it’s Eddie who possesses the charisma. As the evening progresses, the combination of alcohol and drugs take their toll.
“Another stout, Posh?” Eddie asks. His words come out thick.
I shake my head. I continue to limit myself to one as I can’t afford more. “No. I’m good.”
“I’m sure you are. And I will find out just how good,” he says, smiling at me as if he sees only me. I make no attempt to hide my smile from him although, from his squint, I am not certain his current condition allows him to focus. He will, no doubt, remember none of this tomorrow.
“She’s a prat,” Charley says. “No fun. Don’t know why you had her sit with us. She was fine in her dark little corner like some skanky stalking troll.”
She lifts her pint glass to her lips then notices that it’s empty and bangs it down so that it falls to its side.
“Be good, Charley,” Eddie says.
He stands, somewhat jerkily, staggers toward the bar but then redirects himself towards the restrooms. Arthur’s yearning gaze follows Eddie and then he stares down at his crisps with such intensity that I know he’s not thinking about the potato chips at all. He nods and then stands up, going in the same direction as Eddie.
I try to make conversation with Stella, but with Eddie gone, she seems to have deflated, even her shoulders sag and I wonder if she is, like me, another new sphere in Eddie’s orbit. I need to use the restroom, remember the last time, but see that all the girls are accounted for and figure it safe.
The hallway is dark and cool from an exit door that is slightly ajar. Dampness saturates. It must be raining again. Noises emanate from a back room, a storage room, I presume.
Without seeing, I think I recognize the gasps, the moans, and stand spellbound, wishing, wanting, closing my eyes, pretending.
I duck into the ladies, look into the mirror at my wide dark eyes in my very pale face before I splash my cheeks with cold water, feeling as if I am sinking into the depths of the ocean, far enough down that I no longer know which way leads to the surface and wondering if I can learn to breathe under water or if I am destined to drown.