Absent Without Leave by Bradley Mason Hamlin
“You look drunk.”
“You look sober. What’s wrong with you?”
Sam shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe, I’m not afraid.”
Wayne took a drink from a fifth of Old Crow wedged inside a brown paper sack. “Afraid of what?”
Sam had a habit of not blinking, sitting, staring. “You know, the way it is.”
“You wanna be one of those candy-ass philosophers that sit around coming up with vague ideas about God dying or life being a dream or the pleasure of suffering … go to the goddamn coffeehouse and leave me the hell alone.”
“I don’t like coffee, makes me nervous.”
Wayne took another drink from the sack. “But you’re not afraid?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shit,” said Wayne, “you’re sucking me into your cold trip. Do we both a favor and just bump yourself off.”
Sam didn’t blink. “I don’t like pain.”
Wayne smiled. “Serves you right to suffer.”
“Who said that, poet?”
“John Lee Hooker, asshole.”
“Dead,” said Sam.
“And it doesn’t matter how creative or beautiful you are … sooner or later … you’re dead meat.”
“Not deep,” said Wayne, “saying the obvious things and not brave to think about them. Have a drink,” he said. “Think of it as a vacation from being dead.”
“Drinking’s too much trouble.”
“Then go get fucked. Fuck some lady and tell her how you’re going to die. There’s always fucking before dying.”
“I don’t know,” said Sam.
“What’s a matter? Don’t like cunt? Go find yourself a cock.”
“Not that, just trouble, the talking, the bullshit, the lying, the pretending, the touching, then the not wanting to touch. I think I’m tired of flesh. With softness comes emotion. Emotion makes me tired. I’d rather fuck a cloud or a piece of cotton candy.”
Wayne frowned. “I thought you weren’t afraid. You can hack it and I can’t? Wasn’t that what you said?”
“I’m not afraid,” said Sam. “I’m bored. I’m drained. I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to find ways not to feel anymore. Tired of drinking and thinking and then not thinking and not feeling and then feeling too much, the pain and wandering and wondering and what the hell already?”
Wayne sighed. “I really think you should have a drink and go walk into the midday traffic. At least something exciting would come. Maybe you’d get to stay in a hospital. You could get a sponge bath from a nun or demand cotton candy for lunch, anything, but just shut the fuck.”
“You see?” said Sam. “You feel it too. You’re tired of the words, the wondering, the bullshit of even talking.”
“Just your bullshit.”
“Then why are you sitting on a park bench, drinking rotgut on a Monday morning? Obviously, you can’t cut it. I don’t think you can handle life. You’re afraid.”
“So?” said Wayne. “So what?”
“And you smell like asparagus.”
“I don’t smell you at all,” said Wayne.
Sam stared straight ahead. “And you’re crazy,” he said. “You look crazy, in the eyes, and I hear you have split personalities.”
“Sounds interesting,” said Wayne. “However, you’re the one that’s whining. I’m just minding my own business, having an eye-opener on a beautiful Monday morning, but you’re the one that’s blabbering on and on about people and tired of the world – and do you know why? Because you’re the one that’s afraid, but you’re afraid to admit you’re afraid. You’re afraid to drink because you think that’ll be an admission that you’re afraid and you know what that means? You care about what those freaks out there think of you. You’re worried that you don’t fit. In fact, you’re worried about everything. And why? You’re scared. You’re a frightened little bunny rabbit – too scared to end its own fragile existence. You make me sick. The coffeehouse poets are more interesting than you and they’re the worst expression of all humanity. But at least they’ve got each other, right? What have you got? Me, a park bench on a Monday morning, and not enough courage to drink away your blues.”
“You’re wrong,” said Sam. “I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not afraid of them out there. I just don’t want them, and you can’t drink away the blues, because you just get bluer, but I’m not afraid of the blues, either. Being sad is just another part of being alive, being human. It’s the being human part that’s bothering me.”
Wayne sighed. “I’ll tell you what’s the worst.”
“If this were a one-act play people would ask for their money back. Nothing’s happening, all dialog, and you look like shit and there’s no female to distract the male audience.”
“You’re deflecting,” said Sam.
“Deflecting?” Wayne took a drink, and then, as if on cue a beautiful woman, a blonde in a white sailor suit, walked casually up the path and would soon pass the park bench. Of course, real woman don’t normally wear sailor suits and they sure don’t look that sexy in the Navy, but there she strolled, despite the misfortune of Sam and Wayne’s discourse.
“Wow,” said Sam.
“I know,” said Wayne. “She’s going to walk right by us. What do we do, act like we don’t see her?”
“Maybe you should say hello,” said Sam.
“You do it.”
“You see,” said Sam, “you’re afraid. Fear is what you need.”
The almost impossible beauty of the blonde walked by with a summer smile gleaming way out of season.
The men sat like cardboard cutouts until the female walked all the way off stage and out of their collective movie.
Wayne stood, taking the Old Crow out of the bag, having a last drink, then suddenly swinging the bottle – hitting Sam on the side of the head.
The bottle didn’t break, but Sam screamed as if he were a slug being stuck by a hot fork.
Wayne grabbed the front of Sam’s shirt and pulled him in close. “Going to kill you. I’ve always wanted to kill you and I’m going to kill you right now. Understand?”
Sam just stared; he didn’t blink.
“Yes, yes, I think you do. Do you feel? Do you feel the fear, worthless fuck?”
Sam didn’t answer.
Wayne struck the bottle against the bench.
This time it broke.
He put the broken bottle to Sam’s throat and said, “Any last words for the poets of the universe?”
Sam stared into the broken edges of the glass. “Stop wasting your time,” he said.