Small Talk

Brian Martin

“Hello?” Brendan says as if waking from a nap. He did this in college when girls would call him late at night. I am standing on the curb, hanging by my toes, back straight and eyes closed, like a diver on top of the platform.

“What’s up?” I say in a voice lower than my own.

“Not much, dude. Saw that you called about ten times today. You gotta stop calling me like this, bud,” he says as if teaching his little brother an important lesson. I have no excuse so I just wait for him to continue. “It’s cool tonight though ‘cause Betsy is skiing in Vermont with her family.”

I remain silent, not saying that I saw Betsy in a bar downtown last week and she told me that she was going skiing—which is why I called thirteen times, to be exact. “I’m a little wasted,” I say. This is always the envelope to our invitations. 

He says, “We haven’t watched a movie in a while, and I wanted to see if you wanted to.”

“Yeah, I could watch a movie.”

“Cool. Can you make the train?”

I rest against the frozen building and try to convince myself not to say yes; to go home and pass out and wake up and erase this phone call like a drunken memory that gets cloudy on the details. To tell myself in the morning that I was wasted and to keep telling myself that until it becomes a joke that I had ever even spoken to him. How random? So weird to hear from him.

 These are the things I will say to myself at my desk tomorrow until the whole thing seems so ridiculous that it just could not have possibly happened the way I remember it.

“I don’t know, bud. Can’t you come into the city?” I trace the bricks of the building with my fingers and start to feel cold.

“I told you, I’m only really coming into the city for Betsy now. You can still make the 1:53,” he says in a voice that my body recognizes.

There is something about the way he says things. He has this tone that I’ve always envied; this tone that he used when he wanted to sleep with the girls at school, which always worked. It’s deliberate but soft.  I guess smooth isn’t the way to describe it because it isn’t only smooth, it's powerful. It is a quiet power that he used on girls to get them to do whatever he wanted. I always wanted that kind of power.

“Nah, man I think I’m just gonna go home and rub one out. Talk to you later.”

I hang up before he responds and step off the curb and onto 6th Avenue hoping to get home quickly, and neatly. I feel strong.

A cab pulls up, reaffirming my decision. Now I can go home and wake up feeling clean. I tuck my white dress shirt back into my navy blue sweater, re-button my coat, and then my phone vibrates again—pulsing against my thigh with a pressure that feels stronger than the wind and the traffic and all of 6th Avenue. I know not to look at the message until I'm tucked in my bed, after two Advil and two glasses of water. But I just can’t. I pull it out of my pocket.

I’m serious. I want your shit.

“Grand Central,” I say to the cab driver, hunching my shoulders forward as if I can get us there quicker.

New York had made everything more complicated. It was easier when we were in college. Sophomore year, when this all started, when we shared a room, and even junior year, when we lived in the same house and we could crash into each other – drunk with one eye open, then we could forget it ever happened by the time the sun broke through the shades. Now though, especially since he has gotten serious with Betsy, I have to wait my turn.    

I know the drill.

I get off at East Norwalk, the stop right before Westport, to make sure that no one he knows will see him.  When the train doors open I can’t find him on the platform. Headlights flash from the back of the abandoned parking lot, and I know it is Brendan even before I can make out the egg shape of his mother’s silver Volvo.  I tell myself to walk slowly.

When I get into the car, he doesn’t say hello. It’s up to me to start the rhythm of our conversation before either one of us can back out. Awkward silences have stopped our momentum before.

“I’m fucking wasted.” I say, tugging at a straw wrapper I find on the car floor. I pick it up because I need something to do with my shaking hands.

“Me, too,” Brendan says and adjusts himself. “I probably shouldn’t even be driving right now.”

He is wearing a black cashmere topcoat that I’ve never seen before, a white undershirt, lacrosse shorts that have his faded number on them and flip-flops.  His legs are tan, even in December, with the perfect amount of hair, and they still have that shape – defined even when relaxed, looking as if he still has practice every morning.

 We drive slowly out of the parking lot, and I feel more nervous than usual.

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