thethemeis: The Grass is Greener
theauthoris: Aaron Twentythree
Third meeting of the writing club. Once again, conversation had swung so far from the topic of anything akin to putting pen to paper that Horatio had fallen into an uninterested trance that was broken suddenly and shockingly by the muffled clink of glass on wood. Frederick, placing three more double whiskeys on the table. With this being the third double whiskey that each of them had had since they arrived, it was little wonder that the topic of discussion had wandered so far off course that not one of the men gathered could define it with any degree of certainty any longer. From what Horatio had picked up through the haze of his disinterest, it seemed that Frederick was once again boasting about his successes in the bedroom, which so far consisted of four separate nights with drug-addled prostitutes (one of whom had kindly passed on to Frederick a painful case of crabs) and one night of drunken fumbling with McCarthy’s cousin (which McCarthy found so disturbing that he would physically wince at its mention); and McCarthy was attempting to complain about his job, managing to get a word in edgeways only occasionally over Frederick’s constant prattle.
The walls in this place, Horatio noticed, were a sad collage of patterned wallpaper from all across the ages, torn edges peeling from the surfaces to reveal paper below each layer that seemed slightly more faded and stained than that which was pasted over it.
‘Her skin was as soft as the smoothest silk kimono you ever touched,’ Frederick daydreamed, eyes closed and hands running over an imaginary lady’s torso in front of him, ‘and the way she ran those tiny fingers of hers down my cheek, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.’
‘Is this the one who left you with parasites in your underpants or the one who smelt of fish and charged double what she was worth?’ came McCarthy’s retort, through a grin that stretched smugly from ear to ear.
‘No no no, sir, the woman to which I refer right now,’ Frederick said, opening his eyes and knocking his pointed finger on the table between them, ‘is your mother’s niece.’
Rustling his small collection of short story ideas on the wooden table around which the men sat, Horatio turned to face off to the side, away from the bickering pair. After a short while surveying the surroundings, his eyes fell upon a striking man sitting across the room.
Much like Horatio, this man was sitting with two friends, uninterested in their conversations and staring into middle distance. He wore tattered boots like Horatio’s, scuffed and paint-stained trousers like Horatio’s, and a tired old plaid shirt like Horatio’s; but where Horatio knew that there was something missing in his own life (or rather, something gone awry never to be set straight), he saw only fullness in this man’s. This stranger was a handsome man; he had a square jaw sprinkled evenly with a thin layer of dark stubble, sky blue eyes that sparkled so brightly that even from across the room Horatio caught their glare, and scruffy blonde hair that would have looked untidy had it not suited his face and clothing so well. His rugged good looks implied only success to Horatio, and though he knew that one can only know so much about a person by just looking at them, what he saw by just looking at this person was a life that could never go wrong.
‘Don’t you hate your job too?’ McCarthy loudly enquired, tapping Horatio on the elbow.
Horatio ignored him.
‘The reason you hate your job, McCarthy,’ Frederick slurred, ‘is that you’ve never felt the touch of a woman! You long to come home to the things that I come home to; the kissing, the holding, the warmth, the… the love that I make!’
‘The touch of a woman?!’ McCarthy sputtered, outraged, ‘You’ve only felt the touch of whores and the accidental brush of my cousin’s misguided hand! You know nothing of what love is.’
Horatio continued to watch the man across the room. On the surface, they were so much the same; but underneath the surface, Horatio was an exhausted man way older than his years. Embittered. But none of this showed on the man whose face he watched closely. The man he watched had crow’s feet from years of laughing, horizontal wrinkles on his forehead from decades of raising his eyebrows in wonderment. He wanted to live this man’s surface life, and have nothing within him eating him from the inside. He wanted to be this man who was so free of a back story, so liberated from a past that had left him jaded and tired of the world. He wanted to live in that hollow skin and live that hollow life just to escape the dark thoughts that haunted him every day.
But he knew that this was just a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. He knew that that man had issues just like everybody else. He knew that you can only spend so much time on the surface before the current drags you back under, wailing and clawing for the perfection that shallowness spends so little time prohibiting. Were he to become that man, the image he saw in front of him, Horatio would soon be eaten alive by the weathering world once again. And though people might look upon Horatio and see the worry-free man he saw, they would only be seeing a superficial façade hiding another sky-high pile of anguish and failure, just like those that fill every disillusioned man.
And this fact frustrated Horatio more than the scratchy backing track provided by his two intoxicated friends.
‘Why don’t you go and get us each another whiskey, McCarthy,’ Frederick mumbled, pointing his empty glass at McCarthy and breathing his hot whiskey breath in his direction, ‘make yourself useful, instead of sitting there with a face like a kangaroo in concrete shoes.’
McCarthy grumbled under his breath like a chain smoking bride as he stood to renew the men’s drinks. Horatio covered his glass with his hand to let McCarthy know that he didn’t want another, and McCarthy shrugged so that what remained of his whiskey sloshed in the glass and spilled onto the hand-written first pages of his novel. He stumbled off as if he hadn’t even noticed destroying his own work.
As Frederick carried on speaking in Horatio’s ear despite Horatio’s obvious lack of interest, Horatio continued to stare intently at the man across the room. Horatio had noticed as McCarthy wandered away, not for the first time but definitely in a way that rendered it a new discovery, that this man was staring back at him with the same intense glare. Caught in an eternal staring match with the man across the room from him, Horatio began to hate his very being here. What had started as a strong case of the grass being greener on the other side had swiftly become a case of the grass dying equally everywhere. The soil underfoot was rotten no matter where one trod, and Horatio could see that now. This man was staring at Horatio staring at him with identical bitterness behind his eyes and exactly the same ugliness in his soul, and Horatio only wanted to hurt him for not being the healthy pasture he had imagined in next door’s field. Horatio had to get revenge on this man for destroying the surface with so much baggage below it.
So Horatio removed his boot. With its heavy sole and leather body, he was sure that it would fly through the air nicely, hitting exactly where he aimed it.
With the same intentions, the man staring at Horatio removed his boot too. The men raised their shoes above their shoulders simultaneously.
Just as McCarthy stepped back into the room, he was stopped in his tracks by the flying footwear. It almost skimmed McCarthy’s face as it glided gracelessly across the air, its laces dangling lazily like a sullen teenager’s caveman arms even as it gained speed. Straight toward that man’s face it flew, and the three men watched it as it made its way in slower motion than seemed possible across Frederick’s dining room toward the full-length mirror he had propped against the opposite wall.
On impact, the mirror smashed, and the man was gone forever.