A Night In
Brian took a long, long drag on the joint as he contemplated the question that Max knew was coming next.
“So,” he said finally, dragging the moment out even further, “did you fuck her?”
Max finished her beer and reached over to take the joint, but Brian had managed to suck all the life out of it, so she slouched back on the sofa. “No.”
“Because we were thirteen when she moved up north? And because I had no idea if she even swung that way. I thought they were pretty good reasons.”
“Not really. I lost my virginity when I was twelve,” said Brian smugly.
“Bulltrue. It was with my babysitter Noreen. She was 16, but had the biggest breasts.”
“Well, you don’t seem to have grown mentally much since then, so maybe you’re right.”
Brian pulled out another can of beer from the bag at his feet and cracked it open. “So did you fuck her?”
“I told you. We were thirteen! Are you even listening to me?”
“Not then. When you ran into Sandra-”
“Whatever. When you ran into her the other night at the restaurant. Did you slip her one in the bathroom?”
“Jesus Christ, Brian.”
“Well? Did ya?”
“It was only for a few minutes. We barely talked.”
“Well? Did ya?”
“Fuck you,” said Max. She reached inside her shirt pocket and pulled out Sonya's business card, running it around in her fingers. “I got her number though.”
“All right, so you’re halfway there!”
“She’s married, Brian.”
“And even if she wasn’t….”
Brian just stared at her with an absurdly cocked eyebrow.
“Even if she wasn’t married, I don’t know.”
“I thought you said she was hot?”
“She was. She is. But she’s got the same eyes she had when we were kids. It wouldn’t be right.”
“You.” Brian poked Max in the arm. “Are not right in so many ways.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
Brian tried to think of something Max wouldn’t know, but was distracted by the latest carnage of the television in front of them. “Oh my god! Did you see that chick’s face come right off?”
Max felt grateful for the zombie film. It had been just another weekday night, full of no promise and no action, but Brian had shown up unannounced at her apartment, loaded down with beer, pot and a USB stick crammed with extremely gory Italian horror films.
As another member of the undead dragged its decaying body up to another woman with huge, fake breasts and tore into her throat, Max wondered if she really did think that way about Sonya. They had been best friends for so many years and when she was a kid she had been so sure they would settle down together and marry and have children and get old and…
She certainly never thought she would be 33, sitting on a sofa that was fraying around the edges with a man with dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos, getting wasted as they watched unknown actors scream in badly dubbed English as they were ripped apart.
Then again, she had never really considered too much about how her future would turn out, so she couldn’t complain.
The thing was, she really did think of Sonya as nothing more than an old friend, she had dreamt about her over the years, but she really had moved on. She had new fantasies, new obsessions.
Max stared dreamily off into space, only snapping out of it when Brian punched her in the arm.
“Ow!” whined Max, rubbing the spot she had been hit in. “What the fuck did ya do that for?”
“I was talking to you and you were staring off into nothing, like a freakin’ idiot!”
“Yeah, well…” Max tried to think of a witty comeback and failed miserably. “So?”
“You were thinking about that fucking Cynthia again, weren’t you?”
“Whatever. You were off in dreamland again, weren’t you?”
“No. Well, yeah. But I was thinking about somebody else.”
“Oh yeah? What’s her name?”
Max briefly considered telling Brian to go to hell, but decided there was no harm in knowing.
“Claire. She’s this girl I see at work sometimes.”
“So what is she like?”
“Good looking, not skinny, but nicely proportioned. Longish nose, but it works with her cheekbones. Short blonde hair, smile like a-“
“No, not what she looks like. What is she really like?”
“I dunno. I don’t really talk to her.”
“Yeah,” said Brian, going back to his beer. “Right.”
Max tried to come up with another witty comeback, but gave up with very little effort. She shifted in her seat and tried to concentrate on the movie.
But it had been another long day at work, it was getting late and her eyes felt heavy. She stifled a yawn and leaned back even further on the sofa. The brief burst of action in the movie had given way to plot developments that Max couldn’t give less of a shit about and it just could not hold her attention.
She decided it wouldn’t matter if she just rested one eye, just for a second. Brian wouldn’t notice, she thought.
So she closed her left eye, but it refused to open again and felt so good anyway, so Max decided to give the right eye its turn. She felt her head lean back and she choked back a snore, giving in to unconsciousness.
Then she heard a banging sound and her head shot back up. The TV was now showing a Vietnam film and as her eyes got into focus she saw a group of soldiers in a boat massacre a group of innocent fisherman.
Max turned away from the television and looked for Brian, but he was gone. There was no sign of him at all. Even the empty beer cans had been cleared away, the USB stick was gone. Max had to give Brian credit for one thing, he always cleaned up his own mess when he visited others. He was good like that.
Max tried to stand up, but her legs had turned to jelly, so she stayed put for just a little longer. She sat there for a moment with the film on television playing lightly in the background and she almost messed herself when her phone next to the sofa went off in her ear.
Max glanced at the cheap clock up on the wall. It was late, but that was beside the point. She hardly ever got phone calls at the best of times, let alone late at night. Nobody got phone calls anymore, everyone just sent texts.
She felt like she was moving through porridge as she leaned over and picked up the phone. The shrill noise cut out suddenly and Max’s ears rang in the silence.
“Hello?” she croaked into the receiver.
“Hello?” said a strangely familiar deep voice that Max could not quite place.
“Hello?” she repeated.
“Hello?” the voice repeated back at her.
“Oh for fucks sake,” moaned Max, going to put the receiver back in the cradle when the voice spoke again.
She put it to her ear again. “Who is this?”
“He’s coming, Max.”
“Who? Who’s coming?”
“He’ll be here soon, Max.”
“Who will be here? Who is this?”
“Soon enough, Max.” The voice cut out, replaced by the dull throb of the dial tone. Max put the receiver back and leaned back into the sofa.
“Well that was pretty fucked up,” said Max, although by the standard of recent events, a dodgy phone call in the middle of the night rated pretty low on the weird scale.
The war movie on the television was getting just a little too much for Max, so she fumbled around on the sofa for the remote. Finding it, she found something else. Although Brian had cleaned up his mess, he had left one thing behind, a big, fat joint which sat on top of the remote.
Max sparked it up as she flicked through the TV stations. Everyone gave her shit for not signing up for a streaming service, but she liked the randomness of TV broadcasts and had kept her aerial. She skipped past an old black and white Tarzan film and an episode of Star Trek that she could have sworn she had seen a dozen times before.
She watched a few minutes of episodes of the Prisoner and Twin Peaks, but both shows were well underway and the plot lost her in minutes. She moved on. She tried watching a James Bond film, but it was one of the more recent ones and not as much fun as the earlier ones.
She switched to the last show, right at the end of the spectrum. On it, a man stood with his back to the camera in the middle of a dingy room lit by a single light bulb. Nothing else happened and Max tried to change the channel again, but it was locked onto the last one.
Max took another long toke on the joint and tossed the remote. She would be heading off to bed soon, it didn’t really matter if the television was rubbish.
But then the man on the television talked to her without turning around. It was the same voice she had heard on the telephone.
“He’s breaking through the last barriers now, Max. You should be ready.”
Freaking out, Max jumped up from the couch and hit the off switch on the television, but it refused to turn off.
The man on the screen began to turn around. “Open your heart, Max.”
“Fuck you!” cried Max, ripping the power cord connected to the television out of the wall.
It still would not turn off. The man had nearly turned around. “He’s here, Max. He’s here.”
“Fuck you!” screamed Max, kicking the screen of the television in with her boot. It shattered, sparks flying out around his leg as the image on the screen finally faded.
“Shit,” mumbled Max, looking at the mess. “I had just about paid that off.”
But then something in the air shifted, like a heavy weight was bearing down on Max. She fell to a knee as a buzzing sound began to come from the broken television.
It all felt wrong for Max and she pushed herself up to her feet. She suddenly knew she had to get out of the house, she had to get outside. She bolted for the door and unlocked it, but it still would not open.
“Fuck!” she swore, kicking at the door, but it refused to budge. The noise from the broken television increased in intensity, the loud buzz beginning to creep inside her skull.
“Fuck!” she swore again, her breathing getting faster as she began to panic. She decided to go for the window near the front door and unlatched it, but no matter how hard she tried, it would not open.
Everything felt wrong to Max, almost as if the very laws of physics were beginning to conspire against her. The heavy weight on her shoulders got stronger, only to drop off again.
“The whole fucking universe is against me!” she moaned. She felt as if she was standing on the ledge at the top of the world’s tallest building during a massive earthquake, the concrete beneath her feet collapsing from under her.
Max forgot how to breathe and stumbled around the room, knocking over piles of books and unwashed plates. Her lungs unlocked, but that doesn’t slow the panic as the temperature in the room suddenly shot up. Instantly breaking out in sweat, Max felt as if her eyeballs were drying out.
The buzzing sound from the television got louder and the broken screen suddenly flared into life, showing the same image in each of the broken pieces. The man in the room had turned around now and Max saw through her aching eyeballs his face. It looked like one of the zombies from the movie she had been watching earlier, a decaying face, destroyed features that smiled at her.
“He’s here, Max,” said the dead man through broken teeth and lips that were sliding off its face. “He’s here, he’s here, he’s here.”
The buzzing sound drowned out the dead man’s voice as it kept repeating the same sentence over and over again.
Max felt as if her eardrums were about to burst and she fell to her knees, her hands held over her ears, trying in vain to block out the pain.
Screaming in agony, Max felt blood begin to flow out of her ears, oozing through her fingers.