Bon Voyage!

arts@sfbg.com

WRITERS Mired and I were off to a Bon Voyage! party for our friend, Shawna, who was moving to Cleveland. It might not be totally true to say that Shawna was our friend. Shawna was my friend. We’d worked together, years ago, at an auto parts store and had dated for a few months. Mired was a jealous person in the first place, and she was of the opinion that Shawna still had a crush on me, though I kept trying to tell her that there was nothing going on between us.

Once we arrived, Mired started drinking vodka tonics. Really drinking. Rock star drinking. She was mad because Sh Sawna pronounced Mired’s name wrong, calling her Meer-red.

"It’s pronounced like the verb," Mired said to her. "You know: mired in depression, mired in immense mental anguish."

"Got it," Shawna said.

"That’s what you said last time," Mired said, batting her eyes like a sly homecoming queen.

While the other twenty guests and I were in the living room, talking about Shawna, and Cleveland, and all the opportunities that awaited her there, Mired sat alone in the kitchen. Every once in a while she’d yell, "I’m sure going to miss you, Shawna," and she’d laugh and I’d deflect by droning on about Cleveland being the best city splattered on our continent.

You see, these other guests weren’t just learning that Mired drank too much and had a sailor’s mouth and didn’t like Shawna. No, they soaked up the fact that there was barely trust between Mired and me, and the trust we did have was heavy and rundown, a burden we lugged behind us like concrete shadows.

After an hour or so, and probably seven drinks, Mired blurted, "Derek, maybe as a going away gift, you should have sex with Shawna."

Forty humungous eyes and twenty tongue-tied guests. Shawna looked at me. I was supposed to do something, this was clearly supposed to be handled by me, but I didn’t know what to say, so I tried to change the subject, asking, "Does anyone know the average rainfall in Cleveland?"

Guests reluctantly nibbled on chips and slurped the bottoms of their empty cocktails, chewing ice cubes, everyone too uneasy to replenish supplies.

Then Mired slurred, "Shawna, are you sure you wouldn’t like to give Derek a blowjob for old time’s sake?"

All astonished, riveted eyes fixed on her.

"We’ll all watch," Mired said.

Twenty other guests and forty scathing eyes, their naked disgust, all staring at Mired as she embarrassed herself, embarrassed us, me. Their awed eyes ricocheted from Mired to Shawna to me and back around, a vicious carousel, all these gazes grazing each of us.

Mired aimed another homecoming smile toward Shawna, who said, "Out of my house!" and she hopped up and ran toward the kitchen, but some of the guests got in her way. Shawna turned to me and said, "Get her out of here," and I said, "Fine, fine," and didn’t even get a chance to say Bon Voyage! Instead, I helped Mired stagger to the door and stagger down the stairs, almost falling twice, and I put her in the passenger seat and drove us home.

The whole ride she kept saying, "Drop me off and go give it to her."

"Shut up!"

Our conversation vanished, though, as Mired passed out right in the middle of our latest screaming match. I pulled up to our lousy apartment building, and she was out cold. I shook her, said, "Get up," but she didn’t move or say anything. The key was still in the ignition so I turned the car on and found a radio station playing Lynyrd Skynyrd because Mired hated that hillbilly shit. I made the music blare and gave her a few shakes, but she didn’t move so I shut the car off and went to her side, opened her door and said, "Can you walk on your own?" but since her eyes had shut again and her head swiveled every direction like a broken compass, I knew she couldn’t.

I threw her arm around my shoulder and guided her. We only took two steps before her legs went boneless, flaccid, falling, but I was able to catch her, swooping her up in my arms, the way a groom carries a bride on their wedding night.

We lived on the second story, and I started struggling up the stairs, and she said, "Admit you want to have sex with her," and I didn’t say anything, concentrating on climbing those steps, tried pretending that my ears were locked like safes and her words didn’t know the combinations, but it didn’t work. I had no guard from anything that came out of her mouth. Mired said, "Go back and screw her," and I tried to cinch my ears closed. I said, "Shut up," and she said, "I deserve more than you," and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, couldn’t fathom how she figured she deserved more. It didn’t make any sense, since I was the one trying to do the right thing.

I was halfway there, only six steps left. My arms shaking. I looked at Mired’s face as she kept telling me how much better she deserved, which got me thinking about how much better I deserved, which led me to the very notion of love, and I remembered that old cliché: If you love something set it free.

I arched my back because she seemed to be getting heavier with every step—she’d been getting heavier for months now, every time she said mechanics don’t make enough money, every time we had our maintenance sex, something we did these days to avoid a breakdown, like getting an oil change.

I craned our combined weight up to the next stair, my biceps burning, arms unable to hold her as high, which put increased pressure on the small of my back. Mired said, "You should love me more, Derek," and I felt a puncturing, like a nail jammed into a tire, except there was no tire, just me. Like something had ripped into my skin and there I was, leaking affection and patience and resilience. Spilling love.

My feet worked their way around, doing a one-eighty on that thin step, and I faced the bottom, and I let my arms go limp and dropped her and she hit right at my feet and flipped backward and then bounced all the way to the bottom of the stairs and landed in a contorted heap, tangled like human laundry.

She didn’t make any noise, didn’t move.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching. There didn’t seem to be so I rushed down the stairs and crouched next to her mangled face.

I said, "Are you all right?"

I said, "Jesus, baby, you fell down the stairs!"

Excerpt from Joshua Mohr’s Termite Parade.