B. L. Pride: KING OF FOOLS
It is going to change you completely
and tear you from the life you’ve known and lived by now.
“What is it, man? Don’t tell me it’s fucker’s remorse,” Steak grinned when Luke handed him the beers across the bar.
“I don’t have time to entertain you with everything that’s happened today, right now,” said Luke, gave him the check, and took his money.
“Just tell me you’re okay, man. You look like shit.”
Luke tried to laugh. “And I feel like it, too,” he mumbled so silently he wasn’t even sure Steak could hear him. “I’m fine,” he added quickly. “Got to work.”
Steak started working his way through the crowd, his hands overladen with bottles, and Luke had to smile after him. If the afternoon phone conversation with the guy from the studios was as serious as it seemed, his life just might change considerably, and the only person he would miss in this case would be his best friend Steak.
From the moment Luke had come to work a couple of hours earlier, the thought of his friend was making him uneasy. So much had happened that day, so many things had fallen so heavily on his heart, it actually felt hard to breathe. The excitement over a pretty high possibility of getting a job was breathtaking itself, but the possibility of having to travel for longer periods of time was even more stirring.
“Do you think you could define the term ‘longer periods of time’?” asked Luke.
Tom, who was obviously the nephew that mom had been talking about, took a second to think about the answer. “Two, three months, I guess. It all depends on the way things go,” he didn’t give an exact answer.
And another problem was these ‘things’ that this Tom guy was talking about.
“I’m still not sure what the show is going to be about,” Luke tried for the hundredth time, and Tom’s answer was no more revealing than any of the previous explanations on the uncertain topic.
“Oh, I suggest that we talk about the particulars tomorrow, if you agree. Is two o’clock okay with you?”
How could he not have agreed?
The meeting was set for two o’clock the next day and before Luke had the chance (or better yet, the will) to call his mother and tell her the good news, she called him. Upset and talking nonsense. Demanding that he not go to the job interview in case they actually invite him.
“Too late for that now, Mom. I’m meeting this guy tomorrow. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you the one who called me today all excited and thrilled over the achievement of finally persuading someone decent to give your no-good son a chance?”
“Don’t be sarcastic with me, Luke. I never said you were no good. Besides, that was before.”
He heard the stalling in her voice and rolled his eyes. It was hilarious how well he knew her and how much she tried to trick him into believing he didn’t know her at all.
“You know Mel, the woman I see now and then?”
“Your psychic?” Luke grinned.
“She’s not my psychic,” she replied patiently. “She’s my consultant.”
Luke had to laugh out loud.
“Yeah, your psychic consultant,” he teased.
“Well, some of us believe in something more than beer and whiskey, you know?”
Oh, this wasn’t the day for reproaches on the subject.
“You’re not talking to Dad now, so please, spare me, okay? I’m not my father.”
He regretted it the moment he said it, but his mom took the punch in the face and continued as if he hadn’t said something only the biggest asshole would.
“She warned me about you, Luke.”
“Oh, Mom, come on,” he started objecting immediately, but she wouldn’t give in.
“She told me that you were going to get an offer you won’t be able to refuse. Was she right?”
“You probably told her you were expecting it as soon as you laid eyes on her, so – as usual – she was just twisting your own words and playing games with your head.”
“I hadn’t even mentioned your name until she had.”
“Even if you hadn’t, Mom. She knows how obsessed you are with getting me a job and everything, so she probably made a successful deduction on the grounds of your exceptionally high spirits. She is very intelligent, you know. I never said she wasn’t.”
“Anyway,” his mother wouldn’t allow him the benefit of a doubt, “she warned me about this offer. She said that it was going to change you completely and tear you from the life you’ve known and lived by now.”
“I thought this was precisely what you’ve been hoping for,” he laughed, but she was completely serious.
“Mel said she could sense something dark and periculous coming your way. Something, she said, she had never sensed before.”
Maybe it was the hangover she was sensing, he grinned to himself.
“Periculous?” he checked, honestly wondering about the psychic’s word choice. “Like being shipwrecked on a remote island full of dreadful, biblical monsters?”
“Were there any monsters in the Bible?”
“How should I know?” he laughed and made her laugh as well.
“So, will you simply say you can’t take the job, and forget about it?” she tried again, so obviously counting on his affection it was almost funny.
“No, Mom, you know I won’t.”
“Oh, why do you have to be so stubborn? I believe Mel, I trust her with all my heart, and I always consult her about every important decision I have to make, so, please, please, just say you won’t take the job and let’s all forget about it.”
She sounded really freaked out, but Luke couldn’t take her seriously.
“Mom, this job seems to be by far the very best opportunity I’ve had in a long time,” he sounded annoyingly patronizing, but relievingly firm. “Maybe it’s even the best opportunity I’ve ever had and I’ll be eternally thankful to you if it actually works out. There is no way I’d give it up on account of some psychic saying crazy stuff just because they sound cool and mysterious.”
“Luke, think about it, I’m begging you. You can’t wave it off just like that, you can’t, it’s too serious.”
She really pushed hard – she tried begging, demanding, trickery, guilt, and all the rest of the usual mother’s means of getting her children to do what she wants, but he was impossible to move and she had to give up eventually.
“Okay, honey, I know it seems strange and I don’t want to pressure you, just promise me you’ll be extra careful. And if you feel anything strange, anything at all, just turn around and walk away. Can you promise me you’ll do that?”
“Sure,” he mumbled, completely unsure of what was going on, and completely stunned because of the fear in his mother’s voice.
“I’m serious, Luke,” she repeated. “If there’s anything, I mean anything that seems off, don’t do it.”
There was nothing left for him to do but to agree with what she was saying, and try to finish the conversation as quickly and with as little troublesome consequences as possible. However, he kept thinking about his mother’s strange behavior and her ‘consultant’s’ erratic predictions well into the afternoon, and it almost made him a bit anxious as well. It seemed so weird that he just couldn’t let it go. His mom begging him not to accept a job was far beyond his wildest imagination and he couldn’t help thinking about it all the time.
But his mom’s erratic behavior wasn’t the only thing that had managed to make him uneasy and thoughtful despite the – generally speaking – exceptionally good news. It was also the conversation with Tom and a couple of things he had said that had aroused Luke’s uncertainty.
“I had a look at your work before I phoned you, and by what I’ve seen you are the perfect candidate,” Tom said during their phone conversation, and Luke just couldn’t figure out what he had meant. Why did he say that? Did he really find his videos so good or was there something else? Was there something hidden in his words?
Luke sat down in front of the computer and sought the videos he’d published under his real name. Some of them were just beginner’s luck, some of them were embarrassingly dilettantish, some of them were pretty good, and a couple of them even managed to make him a bit proud of himself, but they all had one thing in common, Luke had to admit that. They all seemed slightly … crazy. The work of a risk-taker. Could that have made him the perfect candidate? No, Luke shook his head indignantly and forced himself to smile at the silhouette on the computer screen. You’re imagination’s just trying to run wild, and if you let it, God knows where it’ll take you.
Maybe he had managed to fool his mom earlier in the afternoon, and maybe, just for a while, he had tricked himself into believing everything was as it should be, but as he struggled to keep the flow of the customers going and satisfied, he simply wasn’t able to lie to himself convincingly enough, and the lies scattered inside him, leaving his mind open to strange, unpleasant impulses which made him edgy and atypically querulous when he wasn’t paying the necessary attention to his own reactions. And, of course, every single co-worker, even the ones he’d never been particularly close to, had to comment on his strange, unprecedented mood.
“What’s wrong with you, man?” one of the guys he was working with behind the bar snapped when Luke didn’t react to what he was saying to him for too long to remain patient. Luke shrugged his shoulders both apologetically and carelessly at the same time, and forced himself to start functioning again. Steak came, took his beers, and went away a couple of times, eyeing him so serenely it almost seemed funny, but that was about all that made Luke want to step out of his frame of thought and into the real world.
The hours behind the bar flew by like miniature decades in which Luke had more than enough time to brood over all of the events of the slowly but surely expiring day. There was nothing he could do now, no decisions he could make, and the only thing left for him to do was to wait and see what tomorrow, which was basically already today because the night had moved beyond midnight quite some time ago, had to offer or to demand.
As soon as his shift was over, he grabbed a beer and worked his way to the place where Steak and a couple of friends were standing. But the dreads of the day wouldn’t be perfect if he hadn’t seen Sonia standing there with them. He was too tired and too messed up to even try being polite or at least decent, so he simply turned around and started going back to the bar. He knew there were no seats free there, but he would rather stand on his head than where he’d first intended to, with Sonia giving him her accusing and offended looks.
As soon as he reached the bar and managed to squeeze into a potentially existing spot, making it bearably comfortable with his presence, he felt a hand on his shoulder and saw a half-empty beer bottle land next to his on the bar.
“She‘s one scarily persistent woman,” said Steak, making room next to Luke, who just sighed and shook his head.
“She’s one annoyingly persistent woman and I can’t handle her right now,” he grumbled.
“What happened? Did you two have a fight again or something?”
Luke nodded and shrugged his shoulders, feeling terribly lost.
“We did. But fighting with her is the least of my problems.”
“What’s up?” Steak struggled to sound as cool and relaxed as possible, but Luke could recognize the worried frown.
“Nothing,” he hurried. “Actually, I’ve got some really good news, but I don’t want to get my hopes up, so …”
“You know you can tell me anything, Luke.”
“Yeah, I do, but … this thing I’m thinking about … it’s still far from being a sure thing and … I don’t see the point in talking about something that’s so … far-fetched as this …”
Steak laughed out loud and lifted his bottle.
“I know you, man,” he grinned and looked him straight in the eye. “You’re my brother. You don’t really think I’ll buy this, do you? What’s going on?”
“I’m having a job interview tomorrow.”
“Wow, that’s great!” Steak sounded so enthusiastic Luke had to smile into the void in front of him.
“Yeah, I know,” he nodded.
“So? Why are you so …” Steak paused to find the right words, but obviously settled for the wrong ones, “So upset? What kind of a job are we talking about here? Has your mom arranged it for you? Is it another piece of shit she finds such a blessing?”
“It’s something my mom arranged,” Luke nodded again.
“And? What is it? Another one of her obnoxious ideas?”
“Believe it or not, Steak, it seems to be the perfect job for me.”
Steak’s face gleamed. “You’re kidding! What is it? What kind of a job is it? Where?”
“A local production house is looking for cameramen.”
“Have you talked to them yet?” Steak’s enthusiasm was incredible.
“Yeah, I talked to them today. I’m meeting them tomorrow.”
“This is great, man! Why aren’t you excited about it?”
Luke didn’t know what to say. His friend’s observation on his lack of excitement was correct, but he had troubles admitting the potential cause of this even to himself, so telling Steak that his overactive imagination is applying his mom’s psychic’s predictions to reduce his excitement was not going to happen.
“I am, I just don’t want to get my hopes up,” he grumbled, making the fact that he didn’t want to talk about it so obvious his friend backed off immediately and changed the subject. There was, however, something else bugging Luke, and he had to get things straight even though he felt it might not really do him all that well to find out what he’d been up to the night before. So he made a decent gulp of the ice-cold beer and just went for it.
“I totally lost track of everything last night. What the hell was going on? What was I doing?” Steak thought about his question for a while and then shrugged.
“You seemed okay to me,” he said, mentally skimming the memories of the night before. “Drunk, but okay.”
”I definitely wasn’t okay. I can’t remember most of the night, I woke up with Sonia, and I’ve had a call from a girl I don’t even remember talking to.”
“You’re kidding! Are you going to see her?”
Luke shook his head, suddenly sick of his friend’s eagerness. “No way,” he disappointed Steak profoundly. “I don’t even remember her. And the last thing I need right now is more chick problems, believe me. Waking up next to Sonia and not knowing how she got there is more than enough.”
“I thought you two must have had a rough morning. By the way she was looking at you the whole evening, she was definitely expecting you to apologize or something.”
“Yeah, she always expects me to do things I never do, and then hopes I’ll feel bad because of it. I’m sick of it.”
“You’re always saying that to me, man. Have you ever thought of trying to say that to her?”
“I’ve done that like a million times,” Luke nodded. “I guess it’s just a little hard for her to adjust to the new situation.”
“Yeah,” Steak shrugged, “I guess it is. It’s only been … What? Two months?”
Luke nodded. Two months. A lifetime.
“I’ll talk to her again. Tomorrow. And now,” he finished the beer and put the empty bottle on the bar, “I’m out of here.”
Steak tried to get him to stay a bit longer and have another drink but Luke didn’t give in. The crowd was starting to suffocate him, squeezing the dense, smelly air into his lungs as if it was planning on exploding inside of him. The only thing he wanted was to leave the messy, loud crowd, and get back home. The comforting solitude of his place was an oasis of peace in his crazy, restless life, which was sometimes even more suffocating than the air in the club.