while great we are

“…that and the fact that he could hardly keep it up, I’d say.”  Edmond jabbed.  It pleased him that even Peter snickered, but he quickly returned his face to neutral.  The library was in all its splendor tonight.  The fire burned bright and cast a warm, flickering glow over the sofa and chairs arranged about the coffee table.  The elegant, deep reds and browns, sophisticated wood trim and quality builds of the upholstered furniture matched perfectly with the smells of firewood, brandy, and leather bound books -danced keenly with the crackling logs and low whoosh of the flames.
Edmond, rounding the oversized pool table to line up his victory shot, set his pipe down and added, “You know, Peter, that it’s largely your fault.”  And delivered James a crushing defeat by sinking the 9 with the 4 on a corner bank shot.  James scoffed, “Are there any games you don’t beat me at?”  But Edmond paid no mind, and instead anticipated Peter’s reply.
“Don’t be daft Edmond.”  Peter coolly countered.  “It’s performance anxiety, that’s your territory.  And Jame’s can take some credit too, for the excess of alcohol in his blood.”
I sat up in bed, confused.  There was evidence of sex crusted on my skin.  The bedroom was dark, and quiet.  I felt around on the floor near the bed for clothing that felt like mine.  Overworn jeans.  Greasy hoodie, heavy with months of poor hygiene.  When did I get so disgusting? I wondered.  I gathered up my clothes and, wrapped in a towel, stumbled down the stairs to the bathroom.  Flipped the switch.  The light was piercing bright.  I stepped in front of my pale reflection.  I looked like I did meth.  Bad teeth, complexion of a baked potato with sour cream and bacon bits; and sunken, dark eyes.  I didn’t want to look this way unless I was doing meth, and I made a brief, silent vow to curb the drinking, conveniently ignoring, in that moment of zealous inspiration, the causes of my drinking.  I thought I may like to vomit, but I felt more stupid than nauseated and resigned myself instead to drinking tea and listening to Chopin in an effort to tire nondebaucherously.
“How long do you expect he’ll stick with tea before realizing it’s too late to sober up?”  Edmond teased.
The fire was nearly half burned down and the library had taken on a somberness.  The conversations had turned from philosophy to mortality.  James, who had stopped challenging the other two to nine-ball championships, given his losing streak, was now sitting in the mammoth chair nearest the bar, a half empty bottle of brandy sat hesitantly on the edge of the bar above his right arm; the fire on his left cast a devilish shadow across his brooding face.  His black snout glimmered.
“I don’t know Edmond,” James snarked, “If you keep talking he may resort to a beer any second.”
Edmond winked at Peter but only a frown was reciprocated.  He lifted his large frame out of his chair and wobbled over to James, grabbed the brandy bottle from the bar -which disappeared in his paw but for the lip of the opening- and emptied it into his snifter.  He lingered uncomfortably long over James’ head, swaying just slightly.
“Feeling smart tonight?”  Edmond taunted.  “Because last I checked, I am the only one who is ultimately indispensable.  I am the one feeding his most intimate desires.  It is my strategy, my intuition and my will that keeps you two here.”
James cowered.  His pathetic face wilted into that of an abused baby beagle.  Peter stepped in-
“Edmond, enough.  You’re tanked and belligerent.”  Peter kept his guard and continued, “If you keep bullying James, or me for that matter, I’m going to tell him.”
I had lost track of time.  Chopin had hammered well into the latter half of my collection of Nocturnes, which I knew meant I was a miserable failure.  I felt half sober, and too awake to simply adjourn to sleep.  I drug my bare feet across the living room towards the kitchen.  The refrigerator light illuminated the towel around my waist and made the whole fridge glow lime green.  It was then I remembered why I was downstairs in the first place.  I walked to the bathroom and put on my clothing, cracked open the top of my beer can, and slugged.
I wasn’t tired.  “Fuck.” I shouted in a whisper.  Normally this would just be another night, but I had made promises.  There were goals now, and agreements to work towards them.  My prescribed sleep aid had been a total jinx, she knew that, so I was off the hook at least for another week in regards to the booze, but it was three in the morning.  Bad, bad bad. I thought.  Have fun at work tomorrow, assface. I scorned, and grabbing three unopened beers, headed to the porch.  I drank two in the course of one cigarette, and decided to forgo the third, but then consumed a bulk of it during my second cigarette.  My throat ached and my head was finally swimming.  If I couldn’t lull my mind to sleep, I had found that, I could make it sick enough to.
By the force of habit I locked the porch door, shut off the lights, and plundered up the stairs to bed.
“Well that settles it,” Edmond yawned, “I can hardly think anymore.  I think I’ll pass out right here.”
James stirred at the sound of Edmond’s voice.  Yet, he couldn’t move but to slump his arm over his snout and turn his face from the waning fire.  Peter simply stood in judgment, hiding his own drunkenness.  He would wait for the others to pass out and then clean up the mess.  He made his way in the faint glow of the fire’s embers towards the empty brandy bottles on and around the bar.  The creaking of the wood floor made Edmond stir.  His great mass shifted and Edmond mumbled-
“We are neither the seeds nor the fruit of our labor.  Farmers, tenders of garden all, we toil for greatness while great we are,” and he smacked his lips, his arm lifted his paw up nearer his eye, and he returned to slumber.
It was my alarm, or hers.  I must have still been a bit tipsy as they sounded nothing alike.  It was bad.  I would be drunk at work until lunch, then I would get sick, but not enough to leave early.  A pattern I knew all too well by now.  I got up and grabbed my phone.  It was hers.  I nudged her on the shoulder and she woke, annoyed.
“I’ll shut if off,” she scowled.
I rolled back onto my pillow and tempted myself to go back to bed.  Nuh uh! I scolded.  My attendance had been noticed, it was trouble.  I told myself to get up and on with it, and did.  She had scrambled down to the shower first, I would skip mine again.  I checked my email and facebook.  The fake floral smell of her shampoo filled the air as she passed me on her way to the closet.
“You have your bus pass?”  Her voice was hurried and irritated.
“Mhm.”  I barely push out.  I was dressed before her, but moving slow in my residual drunkenness.  Before I knew it, she had gotten ahead of me in the process.
She was headed down to the front door, her pace and volume warned me not to cross her.  I grabbed my keys, smelled under my shirt –passable, I thought- and rushed out into the overwhelm of drenching reality, towards the bus bearing down on my stop.  I fumbled with my embarrassingly simple key array.  By the time I had the deadbolt locked it was too late.  The bus’ breaks squealed to a halt, and popped with a hiss.  I had barely caught her disapproving face before the bus rolled right between us, declaring my loss.  I could just hear her, upon me bringing up getting beer tonight: “I don’t want any.”  She would say this and we would both know what she really meant: “You want to drink again tonight, after last night?”
I won’t have the courage to fight back, or a good reason to, for that matter; except that an unhinged and desperate life makes for great artistic inspiration.
“That and the fact that she is easily ‘enabled’,” Edmond interjected.  I shook him off, lit a cigarette and waited for the next bus to come.
With me at work and out of the way, Peter set about getting the mansion in order.  He had put on coffee hoping the smell would make the other two come out for breakfast.  The coffee, however, had finished brewing before he dusted the library an hour ago.  He worked diligently sorting the bills, planning meals, balancing upcoming obligations against potential free time and social needs.  He was hard at work keeping schedules in sync, always forgetting what the string tied around his finger was about.
“Oi!  Is it morning?”  James coughed and rolled off the sofa onto the floor with a-
“Fucking hell James!”  I yelled, aimed towards the stairs to the library.  Though, as I did this I was overcome with worry.  There were no stairs near me.  My cubicle was on the top floor of an office building, but the loud sound I had heard came from above me.  I’ve imagined it, I thought.  Still, my face remained scrunched in puzzlement, why had I immediately blamed James?
Edmond stirred in his chair.  He was lazily slumped on his favorite brown leather club and had most of the crossword licked.  His expanse of brown fur caused him to appear as though someone had tossed a bearskin rug over the chair, were it not for his thick-framed glasses and pipe, which he puffed back to life before turning to Peter.
“Is there coffee?”  He asked without lifting his gaze from the paper crumpled in his large paw.
“Do you normally smell coffee when there isn’t any?” Peter joked and placed the unused portion of the newspaper in the basket that had been set out for it.
“Don’t be a minger,” Edmond offered, “and grab me a spot eh?”  He scratched an L into 31 down (Could be mental: _ _ _ P _ _ _ L) and looked up to meet Peter’s unamused gaze.
I got up from my desk and headed for the coffee room.  She was already there filling up.  I stepped quietly over to the sink and rinsed my mug of the leftover sludge from yesterday.  I asked her how she slept but got a shrug in response.  She stared at me as if there was only one sentence I could say that warranted a conversation.  I could have taken a guess as to what that sentence was, but I was usually wrong, and decided instead to play awkward and headed back to my desk, leaving the ball in her court.
I sat down to my stacks of files and began notating claim details in the database.  “Customer did not sign letter / Loan company provided proof of application / Claim not covered under regulation”  My nearest coworker belched.
“Oooh!  I am so sorry.  That was not lady like!”  She squawked.  But I was distracted by the blinking message box on my computer screen.
Read my chat window.  People typed in capslock a lot around here.  Now and then I’d get an email from her chastising me for a wonderful meal, so I knew not to freak out too bad, but still, what had I done?
“Edmond, this one’s for you!”  Called Peter.
“What, hehe, did I say some shit last night in the library?”  Edmond smirked.  One of his favorite news categories was “Scandals Caused by Local English-Speaking, Oxford-Educated Brown Bear.”  Peter played difficult and, lifting his eyebrows in non-assumption, said, “Maybe this time it was something you made him say,” and returned back through the door into the hall to vacuum, shouting after himself, “Don’t forget to apologize or you’re done for!”
“Don’t be simple,” Edmond corrected, “I’m not synaptic, I’m a conceptual function: an influence.  Not a cause.”
Peter poked his head back in the door, “Then boo to him when he blames you later, eh?”  He said smiling.
I didn’t have the strength to ask what I had done now via chat, in my cubicle at work.  I responded that the topic was best saved for lunch and that I would have to be reminded of what I was sorry for.  I winced the whole time I read her next reply:
gretchen83: your drinking is reminding me of Chris, I ultimately left him over it, and I can’t have that same struggle now with you
James came out wide again on the side-pocket, bounced off and scratched the cue ball in the opposite corner.
“Son of a!” He lamented.  Edmond ignored him, engrossed in a documentary about John Adams.
“Is it my shot?”  He asked the TV screen.
“No, it’s your game.”  James spat.  Upset at his tenth straight loss to a dispassionate intellectual.  “Aren’t you even going to gloat?”  He prodded.
Edmond set down his cue and shut off the TV.  He looked at James, at his pudgy frame and mangy fur, in pity, and, taking off his glasses, standing calm and firm, spoke: “I’ll have him abandon everything.”
James reeled back at this, landed on his left haunch, stretched his neck as if he hadn’t heard quite right, and spoke in a rage, “What was all of that about not being synaptic, just a conceptual function, yadda yadda?”  James sneered and locked into Edmond’s gaze, snout to snout.
“If I recall, Edmond, you are just an influence, and are immediately absolved of all evil once he makes a decision, is that right?”  James inhaled sharply, and gulped, but kept his gaze.  Edmond raised a brow, parted his long jaw to speak, but then lowered his brow again.  He sighed.
“Peter!” he called.  Not a minute later Peter arrived holding a can of dusting spray.
“Yes, Edmond?”  he dangled half his body through the door.
“Of all three of us, Peter, who do you think could most easily take over?”
“You Edmond,” he knocked his can like a gavel in the air, “You happy?  I’ve got a really menacing workload today… if you wouldn’t mind, James?” Peter’s eyes pleaded.
Edmond looked upon James in vindication.  Edmond’s slit eyes and smug little half-moon smile grated right down to the core of him, so that James trembled, more out of frustration than fear.
“GODDAMNIT!” I screamed into my hands, as quietly as possible.  Nobody seemed to notice.  But my  coworker in the cubicle to my right often pretended not to notice my eccentricities.  Her priorities were elsewhere.  I looked around the office for my boss.  She wasn’t gossiping with Booth, scolding Ishmael, or confusing Josiah so I looked toward the copier.  She wasn’t there either.  I needed a smoke.  I grabbed my pack and lighter from my coat pocket and stuffed them into my jeans.
I snuck out to the elevator bank unnoticed and the elevator ride itself turned out to be safe.  Outside I paced furiously.  I kicked the sand from the torn-up city streets with my worn-down light brown shoes.  The grating scuffle was a sound therapeutic.  I rubbed my hands raw and drew in the sweet poison of my cigarette though it were an as-seen-on-TV cure for what ails.  What could I have said?  Done?  I recalled as my pacing caused visible tracks in the dirt and dust, my past offenses that had turned out to be laughable.  Once I had slashed my neighbor’s tires for leaving his trash in giant piles behind his garage.  Once other I had broken my knuckle on the brick wall of my mother’s house in excitement over an argument Gretchen and I had had regarding the propriety of keeping memories of past lovers.  Oh, and there was of course the bag of wine and shoe that I launched at her office door when I got offended that in the midst of our hanging out she wanted to be alone on the internet.  Of course, I was very drunk, and I’m sure she closed the door because of me and not from an initial need for privacy.
“Why do I think this way?”  I cried aloud.  A woman, at the bus shelter that shared the sidewalk with me, looked on in concern.  I leaned back on my dress clothes and quick re-composure to normalize the situation.  Then I drew hard again on my cigarette.  If this is petty, it will all be ok and we can just drink again tonight.  But, I worried, something sexual happened last night and I’m not sure… I don’t remember what as going on.
“Face it Peter,” Edmond pitched, “He’s a terrible partner and is better off alone, with us.”
“I think you’re afraid that he’s better off without us.”  Peter suggested.
Not one second after 12:03 did she come out for her pre-lunch smoke.  I was already waiting, worked up with anxiety over what I would learn of my own behaviour.  She was not wearing a scowl, or any other expression I would immediately take as combative, so I took a quick and tentative moment of repose.  Maybe I’ll get away with hijacking the conversation toward where we’ll eat, I hoped.
With her cigarette lit she approached me and stood close like a lover.  Yet, she kept her eyes distant and did not speak.  We puffed in silence, each taking turns pretending we weren’t trying to get the other to look at us.  This game went on until she had had enough and complained, “Are you not going to say anything?”
I looked back at her with disdain and reminded her that I still didn’t know what it was we were supposed to talk about.  She was annoyed by this, and I tried to sound humiliated, but I still hoped it was something silly, like duct-taping her infant niece to the dryer to stop her crying.
Peter walked over to Edmond with his head bent down to the floor, and placed his arm around him.
“Let’s take a walk, Edmond.”  He softly commanded.
They headed up the street towards the crack-stacks, a route he knew and had taken often.  He followed close behind, straining to hear over the fall breeze, which was sending leaves gliding all about, skittering and crinkling, crunching loudly under their ursine weight.
“You’ve forgotten how to love, Edmond.”  He heard Peter say, gently.
“Thanks, dad.”  Edmond snarked, and produced his pipe.  With his prominent claw he ground up the loose Virginia flake and deftly packed his Meerschaum.  Then, offered his free paw to Peter.  Petere placed his corn cob pipe in Edmond’s paw and thanked him.  They crossed the street and turned towards the railroad.
“Peter,” Edmond paused, dropping strings of dark, moist tobacco into Peter’s pipe, “I’ve never learned.”  With this he handed Peter’s freshly packed pipe back to him, and lit a match.  Peter puffed six times and then nodded.
“For me it’s just simple strategy.” Edmond stopped, and looked to see that Peter was listening.  Satisfied, “He has real potential, and if I have one purpose, it’s to make sure that he can realize it.”  Peter considered this and puffed two or three more times on his corn cob.
“Bottom line,”  Edmond insisted, “Is that you and James agree that his output is paramount to our existence.”  He brought the Meerschaum to his lips, and with full regality caused a swirl of aromatic smoke to climb around the both of them.
“Do you remember when Sara left last night?”  She asked with either doubt or shame on her face.  Regardless of expression she looked like a porcelain angel, but this made the extremes of sadness and joy even more devastating to witness.  Her beauty was below none.  I saw her lower lip threaten to quiver and quickly said-
“No, I don’t.”
“Need to hear more?”  Peter turned and faced Edmond.
“Yes, apparently I do, Peter.”  But his gaze blurred over, there was a thumping madness coming after them, and he turned his head ’round to check their path.  James was running up behind them.
“Guys!” He wheezed.  “We had sex with her best friend last night!”  James’ face spoke horror of horrors.
“What do you mean ‘had sex’ James?”  Edmond demanded. “Where was Gretchen when this happened?”
“I mean that,” he panted and lowered one hand to rest on his knee, “Gretchen was on the porch, you two were still inside. Things got out of control… she wanted to, you wanted to.” he was looking at Edmond, “of course,” he lowered his snout, “I wanted to,” and with this admission James wet his cheeks a bit.  “We’ve betrayed her.” He sniffed, looking to Peter, head down in mournful penance.
I ran up the stairs, so fast I didn’t notice the carpet transition to stone, or the sunlight turn to torchlight.  The moment of indiscretion hit me square in the stomach as I flashed back to things said not worth repeating.  I burst through the heavy door-
“Stop!”  I shouted to all three of them.  “I have to do this alone!”  I begged.
Edmond was still, silent.
James was still, silent.  The fur on his chest rose and sank, he was still panting.
Peter looked at me like a grandfather who watches as his grandson falls for a marketing scam, thinking that’s how lessons are learned.  I shot daggers at him and turned back down the stairs, then said, “Come with me, guys, support me.  Please.”
She searched my face for a sign of understanding.  I stared at her in bemusement, waiting for rain to pour down upon us, to wash us all.  I didn’t know what to say.  Suddenly the sound of a woman moaning flashed in my mind, but it wasn’t hers.  Suddenly a face appeared above my naked body, but it was not hers.  A voice told me not to worry, that she had an IUD.  It was not her voice, and it wasn’t a dream.  Then it all came back to me in a flood.
“I,” I was stammering, “I mean.  I have almost no memory of it, I was mostly blacked out.”  I knew this wasn’t an impressive apology, but it fit my m.o., and I struggled to rend a scapegoat from the tornado of excuses flailing about within me.  Peter was standing at the ready, willing to go down for all of us, but we all knew he was innocent.  Edmond, behind me on the right, whispered that we were better off fighting for our right to do it again than lying prostrate and wretched, begging to a woman.  James simply shook in nervous fear.  He loved her most.  I could feel him twitching as though he were going to push past me, but I held him back.
Cloaked in shame and confusion, fogged by misgivings and blurred flashes of devious pleasure, I struggled against the gusting winds of fate and lashing rains of purity to break the front doors off the Mansion, to loose my self all at once.  Her face grew impatient and I could tell that if I didn’t speak within the second, she was going to pound me into the ground.
“I’m sorry, I really fucked up!”  I blurted, and was surprised to find the Mansion door hanging on one hinge, the bears were nowhere in sight.  The freedom of that honesty warmed and dried me, and I promised her with my eyes locked hard on hers, that I would not be going back.  We both knew I would, but it would be less, and possibly tolerable.
“Let’s get subs today,” was here only reply.

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December 2010
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