Fiction

Merge

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 FICTION





Merge by Neil Labute             
“Turn here.”
     “All right so, there were, what, two of them?”
     “Yes.”
     “You’re sure, just two.”
     “I think two, maybe three. No, it was two. Definitely two.”
     “Definitely?”
     “Pretty definitely.”
     “Pretty or completely?”
     “Pretty completely definitely. Yes. Two.”
     “Two?”
     “Two. Watch the road, please.”
     “Two guys?”
     “What?”
     “I’m saying, it was two guys, or like a ?”
     “Yes, men. They were all men ”
     “All?”
     “Yes. Of course.”
     “No, not ‘of course.’ It didn’t have to be just men. It could’ve been a mix, a combo of some kind. A boy and a man. Or two women, for that matter. Hell, I don’t know. I wasn’t there”
     “I know, I know. But it wasn’t. They were men, I’m sure. Mostly.”
     “‘Mostly?’ See, no, that sounds like a mix of some sort.”
     “No, it doesn’t. I meant ‘mostly’ sure. I’m mostly sure they were men.”
     “Oh, okay ”
     “All of them. Grown men.”
     “Wait a minute, you just said ‘all’ again. Before, it was ‘two.’ Why’s it suddenly ‘all’ now? What’s that supposed to mean? Is it two or not?”
     “Yes, it’s two. Two men. I think.”
     “Come on!”
     “Well, it’s hard to remember I’m a little tired.”
     “‘Two’ is what you said, distinctly. A second ago. You said that, and now suddenly it’s a group, it’s this ‘all,’ which could be like forty or whatever. You don’t usually use that word, not ‘all,’ if it’s only two. Like in ‘two’ of something.”
     “You don’t?”
     “No, I wouldn’t.”
     “Oh. Are you taking the freeway?”
     “Nah, it’s jammed.”
     “All right.”
     “I mean take two hamburgers. Say you went to a place, Burger King or wherever, you buy two Whopper Juniors, that type of thing, you’d say what?”
     “I don’t follow ”
     “I’m saying, you’ve got two sandwiches in front of you, you polish them off, and a person comes by, he asks you ”
     “Who comes by?”
     “I dunno. He works there! An employee ”
     “I think they call them ‘team members.'”
     “Whatever! So this guy, this ‘team member’ breezes past, he’s cleaning tables and whatnot, and just casually, out of courtesy, he asks, ‘Hey, how was your lunch?’ And you’d say ?”
     “‘Good.’ I mean, depending I like Burger King, usually.”
     “Right, okay, yes, and then he asks where your food went. What then?”
     “Oh. Well, I ate it.”
     “Ate what?”
     “My food. All my burgers ”
     “Why ‘all?’ It was just two why not just say, ‘I ate both of them.'”
     “I could.”
     “You would, right?”
     “Maybe. Or all. I might say ‘all’ of them.”
     “That is truly bizarre ”
     “No.”
     “It is. Absolutely. I’ve never seen a person in my life use ‘all’ where you could just use ‘two’ or ‘both.’ Never.”
     “I do. I mean, sometimes ”
     “Yeah, well, I’ve never heard you.”
     “Anyway, I’m sure it was just the two of them.”
     “These men?”
     “Yes, the two men.”
     “Not more, like a bunch of guys?”
     “No, two.”
     “Okay. Two’s fine. Two I can handle ”
     “I mean, I guess they were men boys, men. What’s the age cutoff on that? Eighteen, nineteen, or what?”
     “Yeah. Same as getting drafted, or voting. Right around there.”
     “Okay, so I’d say ‘men,’ then.”
     “You’re not sure?”
     “It was dark.”
     “Dark.”
     “Yes darkish.”
     “It was dark when they came in the room?”
     “Uh-huh. I think 23rd would be faster fewer lights.”
     “But you’d seen them earlier, correct? You told me that in the airport.”
     “I did, right. Downstairs in the lobby. I saw all of them near the lounge ”
     “Again with the ‘all’ thing! How many were there? Huh?! You make it sound like a platoon or something, for chrissakes!”
     “Don’t yell at me ”
     “I’m not yelling ”
     “Yes, you are. You are and you know it.”
     “All right, sorry ”
     “You said you wouldn’t do that, if I just told you about it. That’s what you said.”
     “I know, I know ”
     “So, I’m telling you. I didn’t want to, we’ve been through this kinda thing before where something happens and you get all excitable and I knew how you’d be so I was just gonna but you’re, like ‘No, no, come on, no, I can tell something’s up, please, please, please, you have to tell me, I won’t say a word, I just have to know.’ And now you’re yelling ”
     “Okay, fine. Tell me. I’m silent.”
     “It was dark, in the room, and then they came in. The ‘two’ of them. They ‘both’ came in. There, is that better?”
     “Yes, thank you.”
     “They came in and I don’t honestly remember much else. I sort of blacked out not long after that ”
     “You blacked out?”
     “I did, yeah.”
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     “‘Blacked out,’ like passed out or like someone hit you, something like that? Don’t tell me somebody smacked you”
     “No, I don’t think so, no.”
     “You just ‘blacked out?'”
     “Yes.”
     “In a darkened room, with all these guys in there?”
     “That’s right oops, see, you did it now.”
     “What?”
     “You said it, too ‘all these guys in there.’ You said ‘all’ when you meant two.
     ” no, I didn’t.”
     “Yes, uh-huh, you did. I heard you.”
     “No, I wasn’t meaning ‘two,’ I said ‘all’ because ”
     “Why?”
     ” because I was trying to trick you, probably.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “To see if you stumbled, if you weren’t telling the truth and you’d trip up by telling me there was more than two. More guys than just the two.”
     “Why?”
     “I dunno. Maybe I don’t totally believe this”
     “Why would I do that? Lie to you?”
     “Maybe because you don’t want me to be scared or angry or because you’re scared, or whatever. Hell, I don’t know!”
     “Don’t yell!”
     “I’m not!! I mean, I am, but I’m not trying to you’re frustrating me.”
     “I’m just trying to tell you what happened. You don’t have to fool me ”

        

  

 FICTION


     “I just okay, so you blacked out. You blacked out, fine, I can buy that.”
     “Thank you. I did.”
     “All right ”
     “And I don’t really recall much else. Turn up there; it’s one-way.”
     “You blacked out but the room was already dark. Right? Didn’t you say that?”
     “Yes ”
     “So, how do you know you fainted, then, if the place is already pitch black?”
     “I didn’t say ‘pitch.’
     “Dark, then you said ‘dark.'”
     “It was. Darkish.”
     “But how can you tell?”
     “you you’re just trying to confuse me now.”
     “No, I’m not, I promise I’m not. I just wanna understand. That’s all.”
     “Well, it felt like blacking out. Okay? The room was dark, like I said; it was quite dim, anyway, no lamps on or anything — I’d only been back in it myself for a few moments — and the door swings open and they’re in the entryway. Silhouetted in the light from the hallway and their features in deep shadow. Murk. I turn and see them, both or the two or all of them whatever and then I feel like I passed out. Like it all just went black.”
     “I see.”
     “You wanted to hear it, and so there it is. How it happened.”
     “So, you fainted, then?”
     “Probably. Most likely.”
     “You fainted. Fine. You were scared and so that makes sense. And then ”
     “What?”
     “That’s what I’m saying, ‘What?’ You woke up ”
     “Yes, obviously I woke up. I flew home, didn’t I? I’m here in the car with you, of course I woke up.”
     “No, I’m retracing the events, the steps. Just after.”
     “Oh.”
     “I’m saying you saw them, these ”
     “Men.”
     “Right, these ‘men,’ and you saw them, the image of them there, and then you dropped off. I got that. But after, what happened after? What were the steps after you woke up?”
     “Ummm ”
     “They were gone.”
     “Yes, they were all gone ”
     “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
     “Fine both. They were ‘both’ gone.”
     “Thank you.”
     “And I’m on the floor, but ”
     “But what? What?”
     ” I’m undressed now.”
     “Jesus.”
     “Yes, I’m naked when I wake up, I’m sure of that. Nude. And I sort of wake slowly, in stages. Almost ”
     “What?”
     ” I don’t know. Leisurely.”
     “You woke ‘leisurely?’ After two guys break into your ?”
     “I didn’t say ‘break.’ I never said that.”
     “Well, of course they ”
     “No, I didn’t say that. Not ‘break.'”
     “Yeah, but they had to break in. Right? didn’t they?”
     “I’m not sure. Maybe they did. I dunno.”
     “Wai, wai, wait. You’re not sure or you know? Did they or didn’t they?”
     “Ahhhh ”
     “Tell me they broke in. You weren’t stupid enough to open the door for them, were you? Dammit, honey, how many times have I ?
     “No, I didn’t, but I might’ve you know ”
     “What?”
     “Left the door unlocked. Or something. Careful, it’s a yellow ”
     “Oh God how does this thing end?! For Heaven’s sake, you’re in a Howard Johnson’s, not some Taj Mahal! You gotta lock the door!!”
     “You said NO shouting! Stop!!”
     “Fine, hell, fine I’m not shouting. See, I’m calm. I-am-completely-calm.”
     “Better.”
     “Good ”
     “That’s better.”
     “So, whatever, you forget the chain thingie, it doesn’t catch, you leave the damn latch wide open like you’re Old MacDonald, fine. The guys arrive, you drop to the carpet. Hours pass. Hours?”
     “It was light out.”
     “When you woke?”
     “Yes.”
     “So, morning, then”
     “Close. Maybe closer to noon ”
     “You woke up at noon?”
     “Something like that. Maybe eleven-thirty. I was exhausted ”
     “Okay, right, I understand but what’s the ‘leisurely’ bit? I don’t get that.”
     “What’s not to get?”
     “How ‘leisurely’ are you?”
     “I woke up, stood there a minute, stretched, wandered around a bit like that.”
     “I see.”
     “Almost like it never happened. Like some dream”
     “But you’re naked, correct? Without clothes. On the carpet when you wake. Is this not odd to you?”
     “Yes, it is different, anyway.”
     “Then I’m asking, what’s next? The steps you follow. Do you throw something on, a house robe and call the concierge, the police, what?”
     “Ummm”
     “It was dark, so you’ve got no description of the two guys, but”
     “I think I ordered up some coffee.”
     “No, I mean before that. Right when you regained consciousness.”
     “Oh. I, ahh lemme see, I Yeah, I ordered the coffee.”
     “Coffee.”
     “Sanka.”
     “Oh. Okay. Sanka.”
     “Then I called you ”
    
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“Got it.”
     “You can just pass the Cadillac they’re looking at houses.”
     “Fine. I gotta tell ya, I’m totally lost here ”
     “We’re running parallel with Broadhurst.”
     “I don’t mean driving! Sorry, I’m not yelling, I just you’re at this convention, right, you get jumped by two guys in your own room, you black out for, like, twelve hours and you come back to life in the morning, order up some room service and then give me a jingle? Is that about right?
     “Something like that ”
     “I see.”
     “I maybe had a bran muffin sent up, too.”
     “Got it. Right. One muffin.”
     “You’re angry, aren’t you?”
     “Me? No ”
     “You said I should just tell you, so I’m saying it ”
     “No, I wanna hear it, but it just doesn’t even ”
     “It’s the events as I best remember them.”
     “Then good.”
     “This is Williams, at the next stop.”
     “I know, I know so, did they take anything, rob you, or were you injured in any way, can you at least tell me that? Did you find any marks, or feel any sort of you know ”
     “I’m a little sore.”
     “Sore. You’re sore?”
     “Yeah. That was Williams, right there.”
     “We’ll go to Miller, then double back.”
     “Whatever you want. Williams is quicker.”
     “So you mean, like, ‘sore’ back, or legs they bruised you in some way? What does that mean, ‘sore?'”
     “No sore down there.”
     “‘There?'”
     “You know ”
     “Not ‘there.'”
     “Yes.”
     “Oh God ”
     “Yes.”
     “Which means ”
     “I dunno. I don’t know. I’m sore, that’s all.”
     “Like you’ve been ”
     “Yeah. Like I’ve been doing that ”

  

        

  

 FICTION


“And? And have you been doing that? I mean, did they ?”
     “What, force me?”
     “Jesus yes, I guess.”
     “No.”
     “Thank you, God. You’re sure?”
     “Not one hundred percent, but yeah I think so, no.”
     “Wai, wait they didn’t touch you or not?
     “Touch, maybe.”
     “They ”
     “I said, ‘maybe.’ I was blacked out, remember? They might’ve touched me a little when I was down or something — my clothes were definitely off — but I’m almost fully certain they didn’t do the other.”
     “‘Almost’ isn’t, like, the most reassuring word right now ”
     “Well, they didn’t. I don’t think.”
     “You think.”
     “No, I don’t think it might just be sore from walking around exposition hall, everything’s so far there, you know or when I fell, maybe. Something. But not that ”
     “All right.”
     “We can scoot up Barker, if you want. Do we have milk?”
     “Yes, I this is unbelievable!”
     “You don’t believe me now?”
     “No, I’m saying ‘it,’ the episode itself, that’s unbelievable. Not you.”
     “Oh, I thought you meant me
     “No. You want me to stop at the 7-Eleven?”
     “Not if we have milk.”
     “We do.”
     “All right then. Fine.”
     “I had to tell you I did.”
     “No, it’s ”
     “I mean, once we started I just wanted to get it all out. The whole thing. Purge myself of it, you know?”
     “Right.”
     “Put it behind us.”
     “Okay.”
     “So there it’s out, and we can move on.”
     “Yep. At least until they call us ”
     “Who?”
     “The authorities. If they find out anything, you know, leads or whatever ”
     “Oh, them. I see. I thought you meant ”
     “What?”
     “Nothing. The men I thought you were saying if they called us.”
     “You mean the two ?”
     “Yes, I misunderstood. I thought you were implying that all of them might call or something.”
     “There’s that ‘all’ thing again”
     “Forgive me. I mean ‘two.’ If the ‘two’ of them were to call.”
     “Why would they do that?”
     “No, they wouldn’t, I just ”
     “Who in hell would be stupid enough to ”
     “No one. This is a four-way stop. They’re waiting for you ”
     “Sorry. I’m not did they take your purse or something, your I.D.? How would they contact us?”
     “They wouldn’t. I don’t imagine ”
     “You didn’t did you give them a card downstairs? In the lobby, I’m saying. One of your ”
     “I may have. Yes.”
     “Oh, God ”
     “It’s possible I should never drink.”
     “‘Drink? What do you mean, ‘drink?’ You didn’t no ”
     “And it may not technically have been the lobby I mean, per se.
     “No?”
     “I guess it might be seen as more of a lobby-slash-lounge ”
     “Oh. ‘Lounge,’ huh? You went into the ”
     “I suppose ‘bar’ would be more correct than ‘lounge.’ It was their bar.”
     “The bar. A hotel bar.”
     “I just shouldn’t drink. That’s the thing ”
     “I know that. I’ve told you that ”
     “Really, I shouldn’t. Wine cooler, anything, just makes me ”
     “But you did. After everything we’ve been through, you did didn’t you?”
     “What, drink? Umm yeah, yes, I did. Have one. Drink.”
     “You drank”
     ” yes. You know, it’s not easy with those long seminars, you don’t know anyone”
     “Honey”
     ” you’re tired, you try to blow off a little steam, just have one beer, and then ”
     “Just tell me ”
     ” you say ‘hi there’ to someone, it’s only ‘hi,’ a face you’ve seen in a brainstorming session, no big deal, you think, they’re from Kentucky or someplace, a ‘Jim’ or ‘Tim’ written in below ‘Hello!’ You get to feeling familiar and out comes the old business card. You know? It’s a reflex, that’s all ”
     “Sweetheart ”
     “It’s not a come-on, it’s not. You don’t even find them interesting, not really. Because they all have the same story in the end. Wife, three kids, want a divorce — they’re almost separated, really, living in town during the week but waiting it out until the children are old enough to — you just listen to see if you can pick out the little flourishes they’ve added to the story, like a joke they heard somewhere and embellished a bit”
     “So the police aren’t really looking for anybody, then? Is that what you’re trying to tell me here? Honey?”
     “Ummm I don’t think so, no. ”
     “Since you’d have to call them first, right? And you didn’t do that, did you?”
     “Not specifically no. ”
     “I see. And that would be because ”
     “Their faces, in the hallway there, with the light behind them it was dark.”
     ” that would be because you invited them upstairs. Maybe. You got drunk and you were talking to some guys — both or two or all — and you asked them up to your room. Up there to be with you ”
     “I did black out ”
     “Oh.”
     “I mean, at some point during ”
     “When they first came in, like you said, or ?”
     “I don’t know. Just at some point along the way.”
     “Huh.”
     “You know I shouldn’t have liquor ”
     “Yes. I do know, yes.”
     “Right?”
     “Since college I’ve known that, yeah ”
     “We can jump on the freeway right up here. We’re probably past the clog, now.”
     “All right ”
     “If not, we can get back off at Meyer and cut across town ”
     “Fine. And soI’m sorry, and so the soreness is from from you ”
     “Yes. From that.”
     “I see.”
     “It’s quite sore, actually ”
     “Hmm.”
     “Sorry. I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t. But when you looked at me ”
     “I was just picking up your bag and I saw something. Sorry.”
     “I felt like I couldn’t hide it ”
     “Something in your eyes there, even with the tinted lenses on, I caught a thing in your eyes as I scooped up the Samsonite. So I asked you.”
     “You did.”
     “I was scared, the way you looked at me I said I wouldn’t yell if you’d just tell me. Tell me about it.”
     “And I have.”
     “And now you have yes. You have.”
     “Well I’m glad we had this little talk, actually.”
     “Yeah?”
     “I am, yes. You can never hide a thing like that away, I mean, not really.”
     “No.”
    
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“Better to just I thought the story of them breaking in or whatever might be easier, ease you into it or something, but in the end, it’s better to just you know.”
     “Right. Sure.”
     “So now it’s out there. We can deal with it, right?”
     “Absolutely.”
     “Good.”
     “And we can start fresh ”
     “Uh-huh.”
     “I mean, start again, from here. Clean the slate and this lane ends in, like, a block or so.”
     “Honey?”
     “Careful.”
     “Honey I know you probably don’t want to you might not like to ”
     “I’m a little tired, actually.”
     ” but I just need to know this ‘all’ thing, the way you kept flirting with that word and then jumping back to ‘both’ or ‘two’ ”
     ” yes.”
     “Was it two? Or, like, more?”
     “I’m really pooped. Can we ?”
     “I just need to it was just two guys, right? You got blitzed and these two guys followed you up to your it wasn’t like, you know, some kind of, I mean, not like that Navy thing or whatever, Tailhook. Right? It wasn’t that, right?”
     ” it was really dark.”
     “Right, but I’m saying, you didn’t ”
     “Darkish, anyway.”
     ” I can deal with this, I can. I just need some you don’t really mean ‘all’ like in the actual ‘all,’ do you? Like more than two?”
     ” I ‘m just gonna lay my head down for a minute, okay?”
     “Sweetie, just stick with me for a I understand it was hard to tell me and all, and I kept pushing you, I know that, but it was just those two, correct? Both of them, these Kentucky guys, right? You didn’t invite up no. You weren’t up there with a bunch of, not like a whole group of just tell me that. That’s all I wanna hear. That you didn’t have some line running out your door there, that’s what I need to honey? Tell me. Tell me that and we can be sweetheart, please, I need to you didn’t, did you? No, you didn’t. I know you wouldn’t do that again. Right? You would not honey? Angel?
     ” this lane ends. You’ll need to merge.”
     “Angel? Tell me. Just tell me that. Please.”
     ” you gotta merge ”
     “Please. I need to please ”
     ” merge ”

  

        

©2002 Neil Labute and Nerve.com