Short Story: ‘Stay High’

car in rain

Dear old Katriece. Stupid ol’ Katriece. Always falling for the next scheme, the next shining lure and swindle.

She knew what they said about her. Dopey ol’, no hope Katriece. She knew what they said. She’d heard them say it, not to her face, of course, but behind her back, when they didn’t know she was listening. She’d heard them at dinner parties and at family gatherings. ‘Oh, Katriece,’ they’d say. ‘When’s she gonna’ twig? When’s the other shoe gonna’ drop? When’s she gonna’ realize?’

She did realize. She wasn’t stupid. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes people don’t go as you expect.

Stupid ol’ Katriece. She was pretty, once. She could have had any boy in high school, don’t you know? She could have married up, bought a house. It didn’t have to be this way. She just made the wrong choices, fumbled down the wrong paths.

She’ll be fine. She’ll work it out. She just needs to get back on her feet. You’ll see.

She’ll work it out.

She’d heard them say it. It’s not like they were discreet about it. But what did they know anyway? Oh, your life’s so perfect, Melissa? Your husband messages me, saying ‘hey, what you up to?’ Late at night when he’s drunk. You don’t know that. You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you? You don’t even know.

Here’s what happened this time: Stupid ol’ Katriece invited all of her stupid friends over for a dumb showcase party for her dopey new business. This was selling make-up, lipstick mostly. You sign-up for a franchise and you work for yourself, and Katriece signed right on up, took it on. She promoted it to all her friends and her followers online, and they turned up, and they listened. And they smiled their fucking asses off, drinking her wine and eating biscuits and fucking cheese. They nodded and smeared lipsticks across their skin, and then when Katriece left the room, just for a second, just for a minute, that’s when it started. She could hear what they were saying. She wasn’t fucking deaf.

In the next room, Katriece leaned up against the wall and listened to them. As they tore her apart. Stupid ol’ Katriece.

She means well. At least she’s trying.

Is she still living with her Mum?

She listened, to every word of it. She’d heard it all before. She knew what those smiling faced held in, their masks slipping away to reveal the worms infesting their swollen bodies. She knew it. Katriece listened in.

At least she’s got something going on now. Remember when she had that breakdown? Remember that?

Remember?

Katriece listened to it all, every syllable vibrating through her soft bones.

So what does she do? She smiles. She stands tall. She feels the stiffened make-up covering over that pimple on her left cheek. She stands tall and walks upright and Katriece re-enters the room and looks across all of their worm-filled faces. Their synthetic smiles staring back, the colours painted over their pores.

Katriece smiles at them, then she shows them her products. Her own boss. In control of her own destiny. Reporting to no one. Bossbabe. Stupid ol’ Katriece, she swallows it all, gulps it all down into the depths, where it gathers together in her stomach, congeals into a mass, a tumor that’s going to eventually choke her to death. She swallows it, and she stands tall and she holds herself upright before them. A real life voodoo doll, pierced by their stares. She knows them. She knows what they think.

Katriece thanks them for coming, shakes their hands. Hugs, kisses. Because what else is there? What the fuck else do you do here?

She shuts the door behind the last of them – her Mum’s house, not hers – and she holds the cold metal of the handle as she leans forward and touches her head onto the painted wood. As she feels her joints coming apart beneath her skin.

Oh my God. You wouldn’t believe the shit they said.

Language, Katriece’s Mum says.

Oh my God, Katriece tells her. I’m a fucking joke to them.

Calm down.

No, you don’t get it. They tore me apart, they trashed me completely. Nothing’s ever good enough, is it?

Calm.

I can’t.

Take a Valium.

I don’t want to take a pill, Mum.

You might need it.

They think I’m a joke, Mum. I’m a joke to them.

You’re not a joke.

Katriece sits down at the table. She’s huffing, staring at the patterns in the wood surface. She shakes her head.

I’m just trying to make something of myself.

I know.

Katriece shifts her gaze to her Mum.

You think it too, don’t you?

Oh, Katriece.

No, you think it too. I can tell by your voice.

Please.

I’ve always been a disappointment, haven’t I Mum? I’ve always been a failure. You wish I’d gone to uni and become a doctor or something.

No I don’t.

Why not? Am I too stupid for that? Is that what you think?

You can be anything you want.

No I can’t, Mum.

Katriece taps at the table. Her fresh painted pink nails drumming on the wood.

I can’t, Mum.

The tears build up, catch in Katriece’s long lashes.

I’m a failure, Mum.

No.

Yes, Mum.

No. You just haven’t found your thing yet.

Katriece looks around the kitchen. The house is fairly new, still smells of paint and varnish. The sunlight heats in through the window above the sink.

I’m sorry, Mum.

What for?

I’m sorry for failing you.

No. Please don’t.

Katriece looks out to the sky, the clouds against the blue.

I’m gonna’ go.

Where?

I’m gonna’ go.

Katriece stands from the table and leaves the room. Her mother watches her, her hands and fingers wrapped round the curve of her tea cup. She hears the front door slam, then she waits.

She looks to the floor. Her daughters’ shoe prints marked across the polished wood.

There’s this bar, this dirty bar that they all used to go to when they were in high school, where everyone went. She hadn’t been there for years, but fuck it, why not?

Why not? Katriece thinks as she drives along with no destination in mind. Funny Ol’ Katriece, still hanging out in the same bars as she used to.

It was different now, the bar. It was quieter for one, and empty. It was early, of course, a lot earlier than when they used to come here. But it was dead. It was dead quiet.

Katriece sits on a bar stool alongside the bar and she looks all around, remembering things that once were. The colours of the bottles, the thump of the music. Forceful kisses with too much tongue and cigarette aftertaste. She remembers this place. Katriece runs her hand along the smooth wood surface.

What can I get for you? The bartender asks.

Oh, sorry, Katriece says. Was totally zoning out. Um, can I just get a beer?

Yep. On tap or from the selection?

Oh, just the tap, the normal.

Okay. Did you want the Lionheart or the Mountain Range?

Katriece narrows her eyes as she ponders the question.

I don’t really know. Whatever you think?

She smiles to the bartender, a young man with a thick, dark beard, wearing a dark coloured apron over a buttoned up white shirt. The bartender smiles back, then he takes a glass and fills it from the tap.

My God. My God. Katriece runs her hand over her tied back hair, stiff with hair spray. My God.

The bartender places her drink in front of her. She hands a ten dollar note across to him.

Keep the change.

My God.

Katriece rests her hand onto the bar, then she looks down at her skin. The knuckles sunken in, the tendons flexing. The little lines all across. This is me, she thinks. This is me now.

She takes a sip of her beer from the chilled glass.

It’s only later that she notices.

Two beers in, sunlight reaching through the wall of windows at the front. It’s only then that she realizes she knows him. The man across the way, sitting alone at a booth over in the corner. She knows him.

Given any other time, she’d make a mental note of it and move on, but two beers in, Katriece knows this man, and she decides to go tell him, to go talk to this person. To see how he’s been. She hasn’t seen him in years.

Derek?

The man looks up, startled by the sound. He squints up at Katriece from beneath the dim light directly above the table.

Yes?

Derek, it’s me, Katriece. Do you remember me? From school.

The man shuts his eyes tight, moves through his memory.

Katriece?

Yeah. From school. Do you remember?

Katriece stumbles back on her heels slightly.

Yes, the man says. Yes. Katriece.

Katriece slides into the opposite side of the booth, falls into the seat.

Oop- little clumsy.

The man watches her, his eyes narrowed. She straightens herself and her drink and its cardboard coaster beneath it, then she looks across the table to the man.

Derek? She asks.

Yes.

You remember me right?

No.

Stupid ol’ Katriece. She’s made a fool of herself again. The room feels as if it’s expanding all around.

Oh, she says. I’m sorry.

Katriece goes to move.

Wait, Derek says. Just wait. He closes his eyes.

Katriece, he says.

He nods, then he opens his eyes.

I remember now.

 

The first thing is, Derek smells. She can smell him in detail, the notes of alcohol and body odour, the hint of damp clothes. The years have been harsh for Derek, already wrinkled in. Scars from acne healed into craters, pores gleaming with sweat. Dark hair, grey along the roots. Cheeks weighed down with sadness. The years have been harsh for Derek.

So what have you been up to? Katriece asks.

When?

Like, since school, what have you been doing?

Mostly this.

Katriece laughs. Derek takes a sip of whatever he has in the cloudy glass in front of him.

It’s weird seeing you here, she tells him. What are the chances?

Pretty good odds, Derek says. Pretty good.

He leans back into his seat, slouches down against it.

I’d take that bet, you know? He tells her.

Katriece sips at her beer. She looks over Derek’s worn hands, the dirt clogged beneath the thick slivers along the edges of his fingernails.

Do you still see anyone from school? She asks him.

Derek smiles.

Why are you asking me about school? That was a lifetime ago.

Katriece smiles.

I know, right? It feels like so…

Then Derek sits up and leans forward onto the table.

Fucking school. Fuck those fuckers at school. They don’t know shit.

Katriece looks around, checks if anyone is looking at them. She smooths her hand over her stiffened hair.

Okay, she says to him. Hey, are you okay?

Derek smiles.

Katriece from school, he says. Thank you for stopping by.

Katriece looks around again, then she goes to slide out from the booth, grabs her drink.

Do you know? He says. That all that shit they talk about isn’t true?

Katriece pauses. The chill of the glass inside her hand.

What?

The things, the pictures they put up, where they’re all smiling and happy and they look so successful. All of that’s not true.

Who?

Katriece rests her glass onto the wood again, settles back into the seat.

The people from school, where we used to go. They’re not what they say.

Really? Katriece asks. She angles further back into the booth.

Really, Derek says.

What do you mean?

I mean, the things they say. They always show these pictures and talk about their holidays and all the money they have, their perfect fucking kids.

Derek shakes his head.

It’s not true.

What do you mean?

It’s not true is what I mean, Derek says, getting louder. They just pull those things out from the mess, they pluck them out of the shit and then they wash them all off and they send them out. Derek fans a hand up through the air.

Katriece runs through the images of friends, former classmates in her head.

Why do you say that? Katriece asks.

Because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen them for myself. I know.

Derek shakes his head again.

I know that shit.

He takes a drink.

Those bitches, Katriece thinks. Those worm-faced mask women sitting on her couch. Those liars. What makes them so special?

I can show you, Derek says.

He leans back from the table. The light from above highlights the gaps in his thinning hair.

I can prove what I’m saying.

How?

Dog drunk, driving in the wet night is not a good prospect, but fuck it. Fuck it all. Derek’s car out in the car park is scratched up and clapped out and Katriece notices two child seats strapped in behind the back windows.

Hey, Katriece says. Have you got kids?

What?

The seats. Katriece points to them.

Derek waves her off.

Don’t worry about that, let’s just get going.

They shut the doors and move to pull the seatbelts across, and for a moment, their faces are right up close to each other. She stares him in the eye.

None of that, Derek says.

What?

I don’t have any need for that.

Katriece clips in her seatbelt and sits up in her seat. She flips down the visor to check herself in the mirror as Derek starts the car.

Now, he says. Before we go into this, I need to know that you’re committed to the task.

Katriece looks to him, then the world takes a moment to re-frame itself, catch-up in her view.

First, you need to take this.

Derek opens his hand to her. There are two yellow ovals of pills stranded in the centre of his palm.

What’s this?

Don’t ask, just take it.

Well I need to know what I’m taking.

It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that we stay high. We come down and we’ll realize what the hell we’re doing and where the hell we are, then everything falls apart. We stay high, you got that?

Fucking Katriece, stupid Katriece. Of course, she takes the pills. She swills up spit to soften their journey down her throat.

Derek watches her, smiling. His glossy eyes glint in the streetlight.

Now let’s go, he says.

The car bumps too hard over the curb side, and out into traffic.

You wouldn’t believe it, you’d think they would never make it. The car stumbling along through evening traffic, switching across lanes, flashing beneath traffic lights. They should have never made it.

Their destination is a house in the suburbs, a quiet street in a new housing estate. It’s dark out, and the lights are on above the streets and inside the houses, and they drive along and pull into a driveway, behind another car already parked. Derek turns the engine off and then the headlights and Katriece lets go of her seatbelt, the pattern of it indented into her palm.

Derek leans forward. He twists his head to fit over the steering wheel, peek out.

Here we are, he says. Let’s go pay a visit.

Who’s house is this?

Come see.

Derek opens the car door.

Come on.

 

They knock on the front door, both of them wavering like reeds in the darkness. The outside light isn’t on. The house is not expecting visitors.

A light flicks on above them, squinting them away, then the door opens up. A man with red hair and a red beard looks out at them through a screen door.

Derek?

Pete. Derek raises his arms. It’s me, come to visit.

The man looks to Katriece, who’s standing just behind Derek.

Katriece?

Head churning like rocks being dragged over concrete, muscles melting away beneath the thickness of her skin. She looks at the man inside the house again. She re-focuses on his features.

Peter? She says.

Katriece, I haven’t seen you in years.

Pete looks to Derek, who’s smiling, eyes closed beneath the bug-clustered light.

What are you doing here?

Do you live here? She asks.

Yes he lives here, Derek says. Let us in, Pete, come on.

Peter opens the screen door, nostrils twitching from the tang of alcohol. He holds the door for the two of them to come through.

 

Peter’s house is polished wood floors and white everywhere, and he leads them through into the lounge. A large, cream-colored couch sits bent before a huge TV screen.

Take a seat, Pete says. Can I get you anything to drink?

No, no, Derek tells him. But something to eat. We haven’t had any dinner, you know.

Oh, Pete says. I’m not sure we…

Ah, I’m kidding, Derek laughs.

Katriece sits down onto the couch and it feels like the room is moving. It feels like a memory of the sea, the waves nudging by. The couch fabric feels kind, rolling across her palm.

A woman comes in, looks over the two of them. The woman has short, bleached white hair, tied back, so that the dark roots are showing. She has big, dark eyes and she’s wearing a tank top. Katriece notices the outline of her nipples pushing onto the fabric. The woman smiles with her mouth closed, holds up a hand.

Oh, Katriece, this is my wife Louise, Peter says. Katriece and I went to school together.

The woman looks at Peter.

Pete, you need to keep it down, I just got them to sleep.

Yes, yes, Peter nods.

We’ll be quiet, Derek whispers. Derek puts a finger to his lips. Louise throws Derek a glance, then Peter. Then she leaves the room.

Peter sits down onto the end of the couch, the opposite end to Katriece. Derek’s sitting in a beanbag now, up beside the TV.

Peter nods, then laughs.

Louise comes back into the room and hands Peter a bottle of beer, holds a glass of water for herself. She sits down beside Peter on the couch.

This is your house, Katriece says.

Yep, yeah, Peter responds. We’ve got a few things to do to finish it, but it’s coming along.

It’s lovely, Katriece says.

Thank you, Louise replies. We were very lucky to get a place in this area.

Then silence. Derek watches, reclined into the beanbag.

So, Katriece, what have you been doing with yourself? Peter asks.

Oh, she replies, and then the instinct kicks in, flicks into presentation mode.

Well, I run my own business, selling make-up. I have my own line that I promote.

Louise raises her eyebrows, nods politely.

I’m looking to hire some new people next year. Just building slowly.

Katriece can feel herself sitting up straighter, her face constricting into a smile. She knows this. This is what she does. Then she stops. Katriece drops her head. She looks at her hand, the veins and lines and tendons in the light.

Actually, Katriece says. That’s not true.

She looks up, looks across to Peter and Louise.

Actually, I don’t make any money. I might. I have a lot to sell. Some people are interested. But I don’t sell anything much yet. It’s really hard to get started, you know?

Katriece stares at the couple, sitting together on their couch. Till they blur into shapes in her view. An abstract form beneath the downlights.

Actually, I live with my Mum. I still live at home and I’m not doing anything and not going anywhere. Katriece’s stare fades, drifts across. But if I don’t do it, if I don’t try something, then what do I have, you know? Then what am I?

Katriece stares into the blur, the void of shapes. Into nothing.

You’re still pretty, Derek says, and Katriece looks to him.

But that’s not why we’re here, Derek says. Pete, he says, tell Katriece about your life.

What do you mean? Peter asks.

Louise is now holding his hand, her fingers wrapped over his.

Tell Katriece about how all this, this house, this life, tell her how its bullshit.

What?

You know what I mean. You told me.

Louise looks to Peter.

Told you what, Derek? Peter asks.

You said how… Derek takes in a deep breath, leans his head back onto the bean bag.

You said how you hate your life sometimes. Your wife, your kids. You said how you feel trapped.

Louise is staring at Peter now. Staring through his skull.

I didn’t say that.

Yes you did. When you came out with us.

Did you say that? Louise asks.

No, Peter shakes his head. No. Why would I say that?

I knew it. Louise sits up from the couch. I fucking knew it.

Then Louise slaps Peter’s face, and when she does it, you can see that she’s pushing her teeth together inside her mouth, that she’s trying all she can. The sound claps off the white walls, then Louise stands up from the couch and leaves the room, her head up, her footsteps thumping.

Peter stands up just after. He touches at his red cheek.

Fuck you, Derek, he says. Just cause your life is fucked, just cause you can’t stand to go home and face your wife and kids, you don’t need to drag everyone else down with you.

A door slams further back inside the house. A child starts crying.

Fuck, Peter yells. Get out Derek.

Derek leans forward, then falls back into the beanbag, then he leans forward again. Peter pulls him up.

Fucking get up, get out.

Katriece stands up too, steps forward. She keeps her eyes away from Peter as she moves by.

Katriece and Derek stumble out onto the front porch and the front door slams behind them. The crying inside, the yelling, muffled behind the brick walls.

Then the outside light switches off, dropping them into darkness, and the cold of the night chills through. The wind rushing along the street.

The two of them drop back into Derek’s car and Derek sits behind the wheel. Watching the house. Watching. His face is stalled in a drunken stupor.

Behind the blinds, someone, something is moving inside. The shadows flashing across. Katriece watches them, then she watches Derek. Smiling. Eyes reflecting the glimpse of moonlight.

Is that true what he said? Katriece asks. About you being afraid to go face your family?

Derek’s eyes drop and he looks away. He looks down at his legs, feels at his pocket for his keys.

Now, I don’t see what the fuck that matters, Derek says.

He starts the car. The dashboard lights shadow his features like a campfire.

I don’t see what difference that makes, Derek says.

 

Main image via Pexels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s