Last Seen on the Roof
Bernard came in the door, flung off his coat and said “I have two words for you.” He threw a kung-fu punch kick combo with practiced form, accompanied by an exuberant yell from the diaphragm. At the height of his kick, the sound of tearing fabric was heard over his kiai. He looked down at the crotch of his pants and crossed both his palms in front of the rip that had just formed, his mouth making an O. It took a few seconds for me to understand that the punch and the kick were the two words, and that Bernard meant that to be funny. Before we could laugh (we, as in, the other three of us who live here), he had already sprinted to the refrigerator and begun making himself an oversized sandwich. It’s the only way he knows how to enter a room. That is, to be the biggest, loudest thing in the room. This is one of the twelve reasons I will miss Bernard.
The last place I saw Bernard was on the roof. Our other two roommates have different accounts of where they saw him last (one in the washroom and one at the bus stop), and we cannot determine which of us saw Bernard the most recently, and whether any of those three locations have any relevance to his sudden disappearance.
Bernard was completely sober when he said to us, between mouthfuls of his obscenely large sandwich, “A perfect society would do the following: every year they would bake a pizza that would be a full city block in diameter.” He gestured with both hands, drawing a human-sized circle in the air, the entire weight of the sandwich supported by his jaw.
He went on, “It would be a community project employing independent contractors. It would have to be on a giant tarp floating in a lake.” I almost stopped him to ask why it would have to be on a lake, and how that would even be possible, but I didn’t.
“And for an oven, they would construct a solar magnifying glass positioned at just the right height and angle to heat the pizza’s surface to a temperature of three-hundred and eighty degrees.” I wanted to interrupt and ask if that made any sense, even in his mind, but I didn’t. With Bernard, it was better to wait and see if all of your questions answered themselves when he finished ranting, and whether you still cared to ask questions. Bernard was like abstract art.
“And during the feast, people would eat so much pizza that in the three weeks leading up to the feast and in the three weeks following the feast, everybody would be on a special diet, the same one, and we’d all run like a marathon — pizzathon — and do jumping jacks in synch.” Coming from Bernard, it sounded not only plausible, but necessary. That is reason number eleven I will miss Bernard: he makes things sound right.
Reason number ten is a controversial one: I’ll come back to that.
Like I said, the last place I saw Bernard was on the roof. It was Sunday, after dinner, but before midnight. He had a wrench in one hand and a stick of cinnamon in the other. He was putting neither to any discernible use. I wanted to ask him what the cinnamon was for, because in Bernard’s hands, the cinnamon was likely to have a more interesting purpose than the wrench. But then the phone rang and then the dog was barking and then a lot of unimportant things happened and then he wasn’t on the roof anymore. I think I heard him on the stairs, maybe in the bathroom — I didn’t pay attention — and I don’t know where he went after that, and…
Reason number nine why I miss Bernard is because he’s not fucking here. He’s been abducted by fucking aliens. Fuck. I don’t know.
One thing you should know about Bernard. He’s not normal. I used to say that endearingly. This time I mean it literally. He sleeps hanging upside down from a metal pipe on the ceiling of the basement. I walked in one time (I was resetting the switchbox after a power failure) and I saw him; his eyes were wide open and his mouth was muttering like he was talking so fast his tongue was a gun. I couldn’t hear a word, but his chest rumbled when he spoke, his t-shirt fluttering, as if he knew exactly what he was saying. I was afraid that if he looked at me — even if he was still sleeping and didn’t know that he was looking at me…if I got the impression he was looking at me…I was afraid that would change our roommate relationship. What I mean is, I was afraid if he looked at me…I don’t know, I just knew for sure that at that moment, upside-down-sleeping-Bernard-in-the-basement fixing his eyes on me was more than I could take.
So I did not give him the chance to look at me.
People like Bernard don’t disappear by accident. By the way, those were reasons eight through six I miss him — the basement thing. You don’t understand; I don’t miss him like you miss a housemate, or a lost puppy dog…I can’t explain it. I guess I can explain it; it’s a pain in my jaw. Like someone tied a string around my bottom teeth and tied the other end of it to a hook and baited all my guts on that same hook.
Reason number five: when I first met Bernard…there never was any first meeting Bernard. He was just there. I can’t actually remember where or when I first met him. It’s impossible for anybody who knows Bernard to remember meeting Bernard. He’s like that: you either know him or you don’t. He’s like a rash on your arm; you see it every time you look down at your arm, but by the time you’re aware of it, it’s already been growing for awhile, and there’s no registering when it first started, or even when you first began to notice it. You don’t think of it as taking up residence, it’s just there. The same way he vanishes, I suppose: no goodbye, no reason, one minute you’re talking to him on the roof, and then nobody can recall the last place they saw him.
The most Bernard ever pissed me off was the time we were heading back from the grocery store — we had ice cream in the bottom of the bag, and I was aware of the imperative to get home before it melted — and as we passed by Litmus Field, Bernard veered off toward a little-league baseball game that was taking place. Before I could ask him where the hell he was going, he leapt into the bleachers and starting cheering on this one kid — the shortstop, I think (I’m not too clear on baseball positions), a shorter boy with muddy brown hair and hunched over shoulders — and not just cheering, but leaping up off his feet and screaming when the kid made a successful play. Whether Bernard selected this kid arbitrarily, or whether he somehow knew this kid through a friend’s nephew’s whatever, I don’t know and I did not care to know.
I stood holding the grocery bags outside the fence and glared at him. Bernard just grinned and gave me a feminine hand motion to come join him in the bleachers. I shook my head and walked home alone.
About two hours later, in comes Bernard. I was waiting for him to go to the freezer and help himself to some ice cream — I was just waiting for it. The moment that carton left the freezer, I would have slapped his wrist and said That fudge swirl is mine, asshole. He would have just shrugged, but it still would have been a tiny victory over Bernard, in my own kind of way. He made no movement toward the ice cream, which pissed me off.
I said So?
He gave me an innocent look.
I said What was that all about? Since when are you a fan of-
He interrupted me and said the most serious thing I have ever heard Bernard say, and, I would guess, the most serious thing he has ever said to anyone. He said Dude, some things are more important than ice cream. And with that, the matter was closed. The incident was never brought up again. Suffice it to say that comprises reason number four that I miss the guy. Whether the stunt was an impromptu scheme to hook up with one of the mothers in the stands watching the game (in which case it would not surprise me if he succeeded within the timeframe between our parting and his return home) or whether it was simply, just, what it was, the thrill of the game, the thrill of the moment, the thrill of whatever, I’ll never know. One thing about Bernard; it’s impossible to determine when he’s being calculated and when he’s being…Bernard.
Reasons three through one don’t matter. It’s not like I don’t want to admit them; they’re not weird or too personal or anything, they’re just trivial. They’re not trivial to me, but they would sound stupid if I listed them, so just trust me there’s three more.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Like I was saying, reason number ten…well, shit, how can I say this discreetly? It’s convenient to have someone around who…makes this come easy, if you know what I mean.
The wrench was for readjusting the chassis on the lawnmower (it was his turn to mow the lawn this month, I’d bugged him about it a couple times). The cinnamon stick was just a cinnamon stick for the sake of a cinnamon stick.
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Portland Fiction Project
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