The large living room smelled of pizza, beer and cigarettes. The light was dim, setting a mood that was calm and comforting for half the group and stale and dirty for the other. The mix of men and women seemed comfortable with each other – the result of doing a mixer like this every few weeks for the past eight years.
“We should go dancing again. Last time was fun,” purred a blonde woman as she climbed off the sofa and moved to the window. She opened it and drew in a deep, long breath. “God, that’s better.” She turned and faced the small group again and pursed her lips.
“Didn’t know you could smell that from way over there, Tracy,” a thin man said as he leaned to the side and waved his hand over his buttocks.
“Nice, Matt.” Tracy roller her eyes and leaned against the window frame. “Always the gentleman.” She folded her arms over her chest and addressed the group. “ANYWAY…we should go dancing. Maybe salsa this time?” She brushed her blonde shag away from her face and waited for someone else to chime in.
Carl eyed Marta’s chest like a starving man would eye a steak after being rescued from an island after three months of green bananas and salty crabs. Marta loved the attention.
“That is, if Carl can pop his eyes back into his head.” Tracy grinned.
Carl shot her a glance, then smiled a wicked smile over to Marta. “I think Marta and I might be dancing a little later.”
“Slam dancing,” Marta said with a giggle.
“Gawd.” Tracy laughed.
Steven took another swig from his beer bottle and eyed the group quietly from the corner of the small room. He stayed quiet most of the time.
Tracy glanced over to him, then around at the other six. “I heard there was a place down on Fraser and Pine that gave lessons and was half price on Thursdays. I heard that Tyler and Em went there and got free drinks as well.”
“Really? You still see them?” Bert took another drag off his cigarette.
“Do you have to smoke, Bert?” Connie rubbed her eyes.
“My house, my rules.” He smirked and patted her leg. “Once one of you gets a place big enough to meet in, we’ll change this set up around. Until then,” he shrugged and puffed. His voice wasn’t challenging, it just stated the facts as he saw them. Plain as day.
Connie sighed and blurted out, “Second hand smoke kills, you know. I heard you could even get eye cancers that cause blindness and pussy oozing.” She pouted.
Bert shifted and looked back over to Tracy. “When do you even have time to see Ty and Em? I mean, you’re still working with Thomson the amazing overworking man, aren’t you? And, I thought they were moving.”
Tracy nodded. “In September. Tyler is starting a biking resort of some kind, I think. Clothing optional. From that money he made from that lawsuit. Em is going to help him run it.”
“Those are really big in Europe and Las Vegas – clothing optional bike resorts. I’d try one if I wasn’t such a chicken. I think they’re good for the soul. I once read that it actually breeds stronger people. More confident and agile.” Marta leaned back against Carl and took his hand absently. “Did anyone else read about the guy in Europe that cloned that mutant dog? Something changed in the vocal cords – swapped with parrot or something – and now the thing can talk.”
Steven frowned. “What?” He smirked, not believing what he heard. It was just silly.
“I heard about that. Yeah…Europe…somewhere. Damn thing talks. Yeah.” Carl nodded and stroked Marta’s hair. “They’re going to mass produce it and sell it, but it might not be available here in the States due to some sort of 1973 court ruling about dogs and speaking. Something that was overshadowed by the whole Roe vs. Wade thing. Sucks, too, ‘cause I’d totally buy one. I mean, that’s something I’d actually save money up for.”
Before Steven could ask where they heard this insane story, Connie stood and adjusted her skirt.
“Like that monkey thing. This monkey running around downtown Kansas somewhere sign languaging all this stuff about where it was kept and where this…I dunno…zoo Director or something buried this body of some young intern he killed after doing all this horrid stuff to her and stuff.” She grimaced and limped to the fridge, her leg asleep after being curled under her for an hour. Leaning against the fridge, she twirled her foot in the air and winced.
She sighed out, “This monkey signs that the dude killed this chick after doing all sorts of nasty stuff. Like, sick crap. Said the monkey was in tears and might have to undergo therapy. Something.” She yanked the fridge door open and pulled out a beer, popping it open and pouring it into a red plastic cup. She moved back to Bert with the cup in hand and sat among the curls of smoke and sipped at her beverage.
“Poor monkey,” Tracy whispered.
Connie rubbed her nose and muttered, “Monkey’s really deserve better treatment in general. This sort of thing is happening all over the place. I mean, pretty soon we’ll be dealing with crap like that guy down in Texas with the "snakecicles" or that woman with the "pupapult®". That was just plain cruel.”
Steven blinked and stared around the room with disbelief.
Matt glanced down and noticed his fly was down. He zipped it proudly and tossed the nerf football he held to Bert.
“They might let a crowd beat that other guy to death with chicken, you know?” Matt caught the ball as it sailed back at him in a perfect spiral. “Nice, Bert.” He squeezed it and tossed it back. It warbled through the air in a clumsy arc back to Bert. “Yeah, the dog killer guy. They plan to assemble a small crowd and let them beat on dude with chickens.”
“Frozen chicken? And, really to death?” Connie batted her eyes and waved her hand before her face. She glared at Bert.
“No, raw. Or…you know, defrosted.” Matt missed the perfect pass as it sailed back to him and through his hands. “Fucker.”
Steven stood and went to claim the ball.
“They said it seemed right seeing as the guy did that to the dogs when they frucked things up. Eye for an eye justice.” Matt punched the air. “I mean, you can’t do that to animals and expect that it won’t eventually be done to you. Right? It’s Karma.”
“I totally agree with that course of action. The guy beat dogs to death with chicken. He deserves it.” Tracy pushed off the window sill, walked to Bert, removed his cigarette, then rubbed it out in the ash tray. She then bent and crushed his pack of cigarettes with a blank expression.
Connie smiled and watched Tracy moved back to the window.
Bert pulled another pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, removed one of the nails and lit it without thinking. “They should do that across the board. Ya kill someone with a gun, you get killed with a gun. Peal them with a apple peeler and tie them to an ant mound in the desert and YOU get peeled and tied up to one yourself. Take a bite outta crime, man.” He blew a plume of smoke into Connie’s face absently.
Marta and Carl nibbled each others fingers.
“Well, I’m getting one of those talking dogs, man.” Bert sighed. “Gonna find one.”
Steven gripped the recovered Nerf ball and listened for a moment before shaking his head. “That would lead to madness. I mean, they did that in the Middle East. That whole steal and get you hand cut off thing.”
Matt chuckled. “Right.” He laughed. “Cut off their hand.”
“They did.” Steven moved closer.
“Cut it off? Come on – they’d never.” Connie coughed.
“Little wild, don’t you think, Steve? I mean why cut off a hand for stealing?” Tracy frowned.
“They…they did. I think they still do.” He thought. “Like the scarlet letter thing. A big letter A sewed to the clothing to show adultery. Or locking people in stocks in the town square if they did something wrong, you know?” He dropped the ball into Matt’s hands. Matt bobbled it and it and it dropped to the floor.
Marta and Carl broke their embrace and stared over to Steven. Carl sneered, “A letter A?”
Steven looked around the room.
“Just cause you don’t have anything to say doesn’t mean you have to start making stuff up, man. We’ll still hang out with you.” Marta smiled sweetly. “Really.”
“I’m not making this up.” Steven chuckled dryly. “Nothing was made up there – it’s true.”
Silence filled the room.
Steven stared around and waited for the punch line. “Come on! This is friggin SILLY! I mean…you’re talking about monkey’s signing and chicken beatings and talking DOGS and my stuff sounds made up?!”
“Hey, that poor monkey had to witness some pretty nasty shite. Sexual perversion and murder? And who knows if he’ll ever be back to his old monkey self. He’ll most likely be damaged for life.”
“And those poor dogs. Killed by chicken beatings.” Connie snuffled and wiped a tear away with a pizza stained napkin.
“They aren’t going to beat a man to death with chicken ‘cause he killed some dog.”
“Several dogs.” Bert snubbed out his cigarette.
“Marta, we should probably bail, huh?” Carl stood and slipped his coat on with Marta following suit right behind him. “Bert – thanks again for the meeting place and pizza and all.” He mustered a smile and nodded around to everyone but Steven.
Steven tossed his hands into the air. “OH, COME ON!”
“I should go to. Tracy, can I get a ride with you?” Connie stood and hugged Bert as he stood to show his guests out.
“What? I bet you fucking people believe everything you see on TV, too. Bert, fire up the internet. I’ll show you all this stuff is true.” Steve pointed to the computer.
“Let it go, man.” Tracy sighed and ran a hand over her head. “Maybe you should cab it home?” She motioned to Connie and the two of them started for the door with Carl and Marta.
Matt picked up the Nerf and dropped it onto the table. “Guess that’s it.” He moved to the door as well.
Bert shook hands and bid everyone a goodnight as they left. “Thanks again for coming.”
Connie stopped and looked back to Steven. “We’re your friends. You don’t need to lie to us and make up stories. We still love you. Goodnight, Steven.” She pulled her coat from the rack by the door and followed Tracy out into the night air.
Steve stared after the group then turned to face Bert.
Bert stared blankly. “A letter stuck on clothing, Steven?” He sighed and shook his head.
Steven slowly moved to the door, took his coat, and stared at Bert for a moment before stepping out into the cold, dark world.