On Thursdays you play racquetball with Jim at the university’s recreation center, taking advantage of staff rates because you both do the cleaning, pushing brooms and mops across acres of hard tile floors well after classes end, emptying trash bins and snatching stray pencils and lost notebooks and misplaced earphones, anything the students leave behind, and Jim once said you two are like bottom-feeders, the way you slink from classroom to classroom, office to office, scraping up what’s left behind, and even though it was late, the moon high and bright outside the Mass Communication building, Jim lit a cigarette and said, At least we don’t hump the bottom of the tank though–at least we’re not trying to get busy with a little scuba man, which you didn’t find funny, even though he threw his head back and cackled as if it was the funniest goddamn thing he’d ever heard. You never really liked this bottom-feeder comparison. You never understood it. You never really thought it was apt.
On Thursdays you play racquetball in the afternoons because it’s your day off and most of the time you beat Jim handily, because while he’s fairly agile with his husky build and deep round gut, his feet are heavy and sluggish on the court, hard steps that result in weakened ankles and blisters on his heels, and because of this he wears down quickly and it’s easy to out-pace him, although you like to think it’s because you’ve got more in the tank than he does–more substance, more soul, more grace.
On Thursdays after you take two of three games, you go to a cantina called The Palm for Mexican beers with lime slivers wedged in the tops, and you have more than you should and Jim doesn’t leave a tip, saying, as if hopeful the waitress can hear, Here’s a tip for ya, honey, titling to one side, aiming his sphincter, and letting a fart gurgle through the outdoor patio, an old man in a Hawaiian shirt at the nearest table hefting a laugh and a, Hell yeah, a merciful breeze taking the stink out to the street.
On Thursdays after the fart, you leave the first bar and amble down the street, still clad in mesh athletic shorts and sweaty shoes, to a second bar below ground called The Basement, passing groups of stumbling, laughing undergrads, and at the second bar you drink more than you did at the first, mixed drinks now, no limes, no fruit, everything slowly going fuzzy, the world moving out of focus.
On Thursdays at the second bar, you hit on girls, young girls who flirted with the bouncer to get in, girls who hold their drinks carefully with both hands like they’re playing make-believe, as if they’re worried about dropping mother’s fine china.
On Thursdays while you hit on girls at the second bar, Jim is married and so are you, and he says he loves his wife, a cherry-haired women called Barb, and of course you love yours, a kind girl called Carol, and when Jim hits on young girls he actually tells them this, that he’s devoted to his wife, which he says for some reason is like fishing with dynamite: that as soon as he flashes his silver wedding band in the dusky bar light and tells tales of devotion, the fish just float to the surface ready for plucking, fish-women, his metaphor.
On Thursdays when Jim tells the girls he’s married, you can’t believe that he actually does this and that it actually works, and after a few more drinks you wonder, like you always do at this point in the night, why you’re friends with him, if it’s just because you work together and your wives are friendly, or if there’s a deeper connection there, but you can’t help but smile as Jim and a fresh young girl conga-line past you, the jukebox booming, the smallest conga ever, just the two of them, and Jim high-fives you and in the bar-glow some babe you’re chatting with says, Your hands are so dirty, and you hold them up in the sticky air so you can’t tell dirt from shadow and reply with, I try to keep ‘em clean, but I just can’t.
On Thursdays after surveying the local talent as Jim calls it, you both hone in on a pair of girls in the corner playing the Bass Pro arcade game, and Jim always goes home with the prettier one, trusting blondes with wide hips–fucking handles, Jim calls ‘em– and you stay and drink with her plainer, soft-faced friend and dance a little bit and then drive her home, leaving her drunk and flimsy on her front stoop like a pile of old scrub rags while she moans, I’m sooo wasted, or I think I’m going to barf, which she then does in the bushes, in the grass, before staggering to her feet and saying, You should really come inside, the moon like a giant white eye hovering over you.
On Thursdays after you go inside just to help the girl into bed, Jim calls you to pick him up from the blonde’s apartment, and together you hit the Jack-In-the-Box drive-thru, two Jumbo Jacks, your car teeming with the smell of frying oil and cold milkshakes and rubbed-off perfume and cigarettes as you wonder what Jim tells his wife Barb on nights like these
On Thursdays after the drive-thru, Jim gives you the story as if he’s doing a dramatic monologue as opposed to confessing a secret: She called it her butterfly, Jim says, munching on his Jumbo Jack, small bits of burger catching in his short, fuzzed beard. She kept screaming for me to fuck her butterfly, he says. Yeah, it was weird.
On Thursdays after the butterfly fucking, Jim demands you tell him everything, and you tell him there’s nothing to tell, that you love your wife Carol and couldn’t bring yourself to do anything, and Jim just shakes his head, squirting hot sauce from a packet into his sweaty mouth and says, You’re a much better person than I am, Brody, each word coming slowly with a shake of his head, in a way that makes you feel like a total asshole.
On Thursdays after you feel like a total asshole, you drive Jim home to a cute bungalow with a neatly trimmed front lawn and rose bushes lining the walkway, and Jim says, Catch ya later, boner, and quickly trots up to the front porch where a single light glows faintly like a cloudy half-moon, and after he gives you the wave-off and goes inside and switches off the porch light, you begin to feel the weight of the darkness: how it blooms all around you, opening up like a mouth, and you high-tail it home as if your eagerness and speed will exonerate you, and you slide into bed beside Carol and press yourself against her, drinking in her warmth, her presence, and nom on her earlobe until she wakes and scrunches her face and, in a mock South Boston accent, an inside joke worn thin between you two, she says, You smell like a bar, and you make love to her not like it’s a partnership but like it’s a competition.
On Fridays after you’ve proved something in bed with your wife, you pretend Thursdays never happened, and on Saturdays and Sundays you’re dutiful and doting, all about done dishes and gathered grass clippings and in-law phone calls, and then comes Mondays and Tuesdays and you work hard because hard work is close to Godliness and at night after Carol gets home from work she prepares squash soup and potato gnocchi and homemade ice-cream for dessert, and you thank her profusely until she says, I get it, Brody, I get it, you’re grateful, which just pisses you off because you’d kill for a honey or a darling or a sweetie, not Brody, not that, and on Wednesdays you’re scared and anxious and spend the entire day with a lump in your throat, as if someone is trying to pull your heart straight up through your mouth.
Because on Thursdays, after the night has peaked, sometimes Jim lingers in your car when you drop him off, and he seems short and fragile and tells you sometimes it feels as if his head is detaching from his body–severing is the word he uses–like it’s suddenly floating high above and looking down, and you ask Jim if it likes what it sees and he says, Don’t know ‘bout that, but I’m sure yours would, and you just dial up a classic rock station that’s playing The Who and bang your hand on the steering wheel in time with Baba O’Riley and say, You don’t know that, you just don’t know, and Jim cracks a smile and starts fist-pumping along while the synth flutters through the song’s opening, and you bow your head and hold it there, breathing in the notes, and Jim asks what the hell you’re doing, if you’re praying or something, and then even though you try and fight it you flash back to all the girls you’ve driven home, girls as flat and empty as a freshly pulled field, and how their smokey eyes catch moonlight and resemble prayers, and how they’re not your wife Carol but young, so young, and new, so new, and how on Thursdays you bend down and scoop them up from their front stoops and take them inside and answer what you imagine those prayers to be, on top and from behind, on the kitchen table or bent over a stool, all kinds of salvation, and in the glow of the radio dial you can see the grime smudged into your hands and try to rub it away, and when Jim, who’s been air-guitaring the entire time asks if you’re alright, you say, No, I’m not, and when the rashes of dirt won’t come off you start licking your hands like a manic alley cat, your mouth filling with a rotten, tin-can taste, and Jim just stares at you and you face him and say, You’re the bottom feeder, Jim, not me, not me, not me, you, and his face screws up in confusion and suddenly it’s like you’re both in high school again and Jim punches you in the arm and says, You’re a dick, and then quickly storms up the walkway to his porch without a wave, leaving you there as Keith Moon’s drum fill thunders through the car, the BA-DUM-BA-BA-DUM-DUM-BA-BA-DUM ringing hard in your head, and when Jim snaps off the porch light the darkness opens up and you have the urge to drive somewhere, anywhere and fast, to escape, except you have no idea where you would go, and then it hits you that you’re caught in some weird space between coming and going, between home and away, and now it’s you, just you, on a Thursday, alone.