Roommates (Part 2 - Transitioning)
Dominic and Chester’s apartment was on the third floor of a red brick building on the park blocks. The kitchen was a thin alleyway between cupboards, a counterspace, a refrigerator and it ended anticlimactically on one end with a small circular wooden table with two chairs and a window on the other. The table belonged to Chester, a sentimental replica of the table he played games on as a youth out on that infamous back porch. The chairs, trendy café-styled metal ones with blue checkered cushions, belonged to Dominic, at least they did now. Dominic had taken them from the last place he had squatted, after a dispute with the guy on the lease over a utility bill. They didn’t match, but really none of it did.
Heading past the table, down the narrow hallway past their at-this-point sparse bedrooms to the living room, we find Chester and Dominic on Day Thirteen of their cohabitation. Chester sits on the futon couch, wearing a PSU hooded sweatshirt and track pants, and watching the Blazers game while Dominic, wearing yoga pants, a black tank top and earplugs, practices some light Tai Chi near the window on the opposite side of the room.
“Oh my god, can you watch this fucking game already?!?” yelled Chester.
Dominic turned and took out his earplugs.
“Excuse me?” he said.
“Oh, no,” Chester smiled. “Not you. I’m talking to the refs.”
“You’re yelling at a television. They can’t hear you,” said Dominic. “But I can.”
“Is that Karate that you’re doing over there?” asked Chester. “I took a little Karate in gym class, my reverse punch was sick.”
“Tai Chi,” said Dominic.
“Huh?” said Chester.
“Whatever,” said Dominic putting in his earplugs. Chester rolled his eyes.
“Where the fuck do you think you are?!? China?!?” yelled Chester.
Dominic turned, taking out the plugs.
“No, not you. I was talking to Yao Ming. Keeps fouling my Blazers. They’re not calling it.”
Dominic nodded. He put in the plugs and then took them out again.
“Why do you care?” Dominic asked.
“Because it’s bullshit. Fouls need to be called, games need to be fair,” said Chester.
“Yeah, but why do you care, I mean,” Dominic said. He bowed to the East and then sat down on the couch.
Chester looked at him incredulously. “Isn’t it important to you?”
“Well, if they let him run amok out there...I mean, okay, these guys train hard and it’s all based on fairness, right? Like, it ruins the game if the refs don’t call it equally for everyone. It’s a slap in the face to all the hard work and training and effort these guys are putting into getting ready,” said Chester.
“So what? You think Yao Ming or the Blazers care if things are fair for you? He gets paid millions, right? They all do, don’t they?” said Dominic.
“Yeah. He gets millions. They get paid a lot.”
“You don’t get paid millions and your life isn’t fair,” said Chester.
“It’s fair,” said Chester, shrugging.
“Come on,” said Dominic, “You’re the one person in this world that’s had a fair go of it. I don’t buy it. None of anything anywhere is fair. Hell what would the world be if it was?”
“So what’s your point? You think the refs should just go home and these guys should just duke it out until they’re bloody. Would that be fair?” said Chester.
“I don’t care what these guys do to each other or their wives or their friends,” said Dominic. “Why would I? Just because it’s on TV?”
“That’s not why I—“
“Then why do you? Again, why do you care?”
“I don’t know man. It may sound stupid to you, given your enlightened way of being, but I care. I guess my answer is just ‘because.’”
“Yeah. How do you play a game without rules then?” said Chester.
“Well how do you? How’d you get here?” said Dominic.
“I don’t know what you mean. I did what everyone does.”
“No you didn’t. I can tell.”
“Tell what?” said Chester.
“You didn’t. You came from a place where there weren’t any rules just like this ‘everyone’ that you’re talking about. This place where we’re all at right now. Just, general life has no rules, so why should you, a person that hasn’t had that luxury, get so worked up about Yao Ming?”
“I don’t know,” Chester said, clicking off the game. “And neither do you.”
Chester rose from the couch, looked at Dominic once more, and walked down the hallway to his room.
They didn’t get off to a great start in that first real conversation of theirs. Dominic really has a tendency to go right for it, doesn’t he? I think it’s the ‘take no prisoners’ credo he’s been hung up on for so long. And while I don’t like his pomposity or condescension much more than Chester did, I’m hoping that it’s going to help Chester along a bit.
Their next conversation took place a couple of days later. They had been avoiding anything beyond polite greetings in the hallway or conversations about household logistics.
Dominic was in the kitchen sautéing vegetables and listening to his iPod. Chester sat down on one of those retro blue chairs and waited for Dominic to see him. When he did, Chester smiled at him in a way that caused Dominic to take out his headphones and ask him how he was. Chester knows how to go right for it as well, when he wants to.
“You know how I know that it matters?” said Chester.
Dominic shook his head, seeming to know neither why Chester knew that it mattered nor what Chester was talking about.
“Out of everyone I’ve known, the people that I respect have all had the opportunity to break the rules to give themselves an edge at one time or another and for whatever reason they haven’t.” Chester outstretched his index finger halting any response. “Now, you could say that I don’t know that they haven’t. You could also say that they’re afraid to break the rules. Or you might say, I’m guessing you’d say, that there aren’t any rules and the question is moot,” said Chester.
Dominic tilted his head and listened to this unexpected challenge. If he didn’t think that it would send the wrong message to Chester or possibly be a sign of weakness, Dominic would’ve smiled. Chester’s finger still outstretched, he continued.
“But before you say any of that, I put forth that it doesn’t matter that I don’t know for sure whether they’ve broken the rules. And it doesn’t matter that you contend that there aren’t any rules to begin with. Because I am aware of these rules. I am aware of them, and others are also aware of them. That’s where I learned the quote-unquote rules that you say don’t exist. Even Nature seems to be aware of them. Even animals seem to recognize certain rules. Wolves hunt in packs. When they kill a deer, they share in eating it. They don’t start killing one another after the deer is dead in the hopes of hoarding the entire deer. Fairness. My awareness, the shared awareness I have with many others that there are rules and fairness and that they matter. This is just as valid as your awareness that there sometimes seem to be no rules and that things aren’t fair. At best, they cancel each other out. So you ask me, ‘why do I care?’ And the answer is ‘because.’ Because I want fairness and I’ve observed it and it exists. Maybe not everywhere, but that’s still what I want to see. And why? Because. Even on TV. Even to people that may not care about me. Because.”
Dominic nodded at Chester in a way that could’ve easily been agreement or faux-agreement. I couldn’t even tell. He turned back to the stove and served some vegetables onto a plate next to a piece of pita bread and some couscous. He sat down in the other blue chair at the table with Chester.
“You’re a lawyer, right?” said Dominic before taking a mouthful of cauliflower. Then while chewing he said, You’ve gotta be lawyer right? Or a teacher?”
“No,” said Chester.
“That was quite a summation. Quite the lecture. Very logical. Thought out. How long’d you take thinking it up?” said Dominic, still chewing.
“Just the five minutes changing in my room before I walked in here,” said Chester.
“Oh. Well, sounded good nevertheless,” said Dominic before swallowing.
“Well, thank you. I guess.”
“You know you’re just begging the question, right?” said Dominic.
“What question?” said Chester.
Dominic scooped some couscous into his mouth and chewed.
“You’re just begging the question I asked you. You’re just forcing me to re-ask you the same question. Challenging my having asked it. ‘Why do you care?’ was the question. I’m guessing that somebody big in your life cared about this. Or maybe they didn’t and that was the problem. Something along those lines. Am I right?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Chester. “The fact remains that I believe in fairness. That I’m entitled to. Just as much as you’re entitled to not.”
“You’re not gonna tell me? You know you’re missing the point of the question. You have been. This whole time,” said Dominic, ripping pita.
Chester nodded sarcastically. “How so?”
“Well, I never actually questioned your right to believe in fairness, did I?” Dominic was scooping vegetables and couscous into his strip of pita. “I gave you the chance to talk about yourself, your passionate defense of fairness, why it matters to you. I gave you the opportunity to tell me what’s important to you.” Dominic took a final bite of pita. “And to be honest, you blew it.”
Chester just inhaled. He inhaled and blinked and stared at Dominic, who stared right back while chewing his food.
Then after about thirty seconds, Chester exhaled. Dominic swallowed.
They stared more.
Dominic smirked at Chester.
And what happened next was odd. Chester’s face seemed to pop, air hissed out and where his lips were previously pressed together, he grinned. Then, laughter flooded through the levee of gritted teeth.
We were all surprised. The three of us, me included, and Dominic most of all.
Dominic didn’t laugh. Not right away. His smirk flattened into a blank stare. He sat there, as Chester’s laughter rushed out of him, and wondered whether Chester was laughing at what he said, or what.
Chester laughed his way to the table and sat down in the other chair. He chuckled looking at Dominic.
“And to be honest, you blew it,” he mimicked in a ridiculous voice.
Dominic’s stare intensified at that. He broke it only when he realized that he was still holding his fork in mid-air six inches above his plate, and put the fork down.
“You blew it,” Chester repeated, louder and more ridiculously. Chester maintained eye contact with Dominic, as the waves of laughter flowed out of him. Dominic leaned back in his chair slowly, eyes wide, every synapse in his brain screaming Take No Prisoners.
Chester, still snickering, then reached over and grabbed Dominic’s fork, scooped up some couscous into his mouth and chewed.
“You blew it,” Chester repeated, chewing the mouthful of food and making the most ridiculous face yet.
The air in that small little kitchen was so rich for that minute. I couldn’t even tell you with what, but it was. That minute that Chester chewed and goaded and Dominic stared back at him, his brain firing on all cylinders yet his body leaned back motionless, in that minute the air or whatever it is that fills the air during minutes like that, was just palpably rich in whatever it is.
Dominic leaned forward until his face was only a few inches from Chester’s still-chewing still-ridiculous interpretation of his face. Without looking, Dominic reached for the fork in Chester’s hand and scooped up some vegetables into his mouth.
“Because!” he mimicked, tilting his head from side to side.
“You blew it!” Chester responded.
“Because!” Dominic responded louder, more ridiculously, opening his mouth wider as he chewed.
Chester grabbed some food off of the plate with his hand and shoved in his mouth.
“You blew it!” Chester bellowed, some couscous on his chin and a piece of onion hanging from his nose.
“You blew it!!”
Dominic took the plate and dumped the contents into his mouth and onto his face.
Chester grabbed the salt shaker, unscrewed the top and poured it onto his tongue.
“You blew it!” Chester yelled, trying not wince.
Dominic grabbed the pepper.
“Because!!!” Dominic yelled, likewise trying not gag.
“You blew it,” Chester managed through a pickled face. He reached for Dominic’s can of Hansen’s Natural Soda. Dominic got there first.
“Because!!” he gargled at Chester wildly.
Then Dominic gagged and coughed soda and pepper all over Chester’s lap. Chester’s face lit up. Dominic, his head hanging between his knees, still coughing, then began to laugh.
Chester got up, while Dominic slumped and coughed and laughed, and made his way to towards the doorway. Dominic looked up in time to see Chester turn to him and point his finger.
“You blew it,” Chester said calmly. Then he smiled and walked out of the kitchen.
Dominic leaned back in his chair, coughed slightly, shook his head and then shrugged his shoulders to nobody in particular.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED