Cleaning out my closet the other day I came across the gingham shirt, the one soiled with dried blood, the one from the summer night when I was impatiently holding the cab door open, like a coach, urging you to slide in while you stood swaying curbside, before it lurched and dragged me for a split second down 8th Avenue, wrenching my shoulder and mincing my left side.
I kept it, I guess, as forensic evidence. An oxidized memento – I’m sure there’s an obvious metaphor. Not blood brothers, though, you already have two brothers, and besides we swore no oath, solemnized no pact. We were brothers in something, perhaps, but not that.
You could read it as an emblem of how careless I allowed myself to be when I thought we were in each other’s care for the night.
A souvenir from those times: of Proust Book Club; happy hours at the Centaur bar and rooftop late nights at the Eagle. Of cheap wine at gallery openings. Of inside jokes and shorthand. (Though did I ever make you laugh? I can’t remember.) Of beach days.
I was never sure of my role, the script kept changing, and I was a bad improviser even though I said “yes, and.” Should I be the enabler the drunk whisperer the watcher the nursemaid? The amiable companion? Were we trading the part of sidekick in each other’s story?
Sitting across a table or side by side at the bar, I stitched my lips shut with red thread rather than disagree with you. You’d slur “whatdya think?” but it was never really a question. I let you take the lead. Where did it lead?
I watched you wander away so many times down darkened city streets that I never thought I’d finally lose sight of you in the sunlight as summertime waned.
You made me want to sleep with all your doppelgängers.
I guess I want to know, rediscovering the ruined shirt, the one I woke up still wearing: is the corresponding blood stain on your mattress still, that had soaked through the sheets into the ticking? The one we discovered the following morning, shrugged off, still drunk, before we crawled down the block for coffee and egg sandwiches, my arm too sore to raise above my head? Did you flip it at some point, the mattress, or buy a new one? Are you even still sleeping in that bed anymore?
Mike Dressel is a writer and educator. His stories have appeared in Litbreak, The James Franco Review, Chelsea Station, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among others, as well as in the anthology Best Gay Stories 2016. He co-produces the nonfiction reading series No, YOU Tell It! and is a frequent guest judge at The Prose Bowl, a flash fiction reading series. Website: mikedressel.com Twitter: @mikedressel