Vasant 2024 Stories - Julian Gallo

 

Distances

By Julian Gallo

 

With his head lowered, his hair hanging over his eyes, his thin, bony fingers carefully rolling the joint, Martin still appears to be that eight year old boy Ozias first met in grade school. It seems so long ago now but in a blink of an eye they were both teenagers now. Martin looks up at him, his face flickering orange and red from the small campfire between them, and smiles that lopsided smile of his, one which is dangerously close to a sneer.


I think this is the best joint I ever rolled, he says, then wets the joint with his lips in order to perfect the seal. He holds it aloft a moment, proud of his work, then places it between his lips, pushes his hair back over his forehead and leans into the campfire to light it. He sits back and takes one long toke, holding the smoke in his lungs, then passes it to his friend. Ozias takes the joint and takes an equally long toke, trying hard not to cough as he passes it back.


Martin exhales, looks up at the canopy of autumnal leaves above them. This is some good shit, he says.


Where did you get it?


Where else?


I hate that guy.


Yeah, but he’s got the best weed in the neighborhood.


Ozias stares into the flickering flame, tosses a few extra dry twigs into it, then takes the joint back from Martin.


How much weed do you think we smoked, Ozzy?


A ton. I lost count.


Remember our first joint?


It didn’t do anything for me. I wondered what all the fuss was about. I remember that, Martin says, taking the joint back. That’s because it was shitty weed. The second time was when it first affected me.


Martin laughs. I remember, he says. You kept going on about ‘the feeling’. I just want to have that feeling, you said. Ozias laughs, remembering. They were in the same patch of woods, probably in the same spot, which over the years had become a sanctuary.


It wasn’t as good as this shit, though, Martin says, passing the joint back. I don’t know where he gets it from, but it’s the best in the neighborhood.
Too bad we have to get it from that douchebag, though.


Ah, he’s all right, Martin says, taking the joint back. He’s a bit of a dick but he’s not all that bad. I never liked him.


You never really liked anybody.


Can you blame me?


I suppose not.


Martin takes another long pull from the joint, this time suppressing a cough, something he normally didn’t do.


Shit, that was a good hit, he says, coughing a little.


He holds the joint out to his friend.


No more for me, Ozias says. It’s starting to get to me.


There’s still a half a joint left.


Enjoy it.


Martin takes another long pull from the joint, looks around the confines of their sanctuary.


We always come to this spot, don’t we?


For years now, Ozias says. I guess it’s ours. I never told anyone about it. Don’t want anyone to know.


Others have been there, though, as evidenced by the empty liquor bottles, torn condom wrappers, crushed cans of beer, and spent cigarette butts. One would never believe that just a few yards up the path one would emerge onto a busy thoroughfare, but they can hear the cars and busses rushing by in the distance. This time of the year is when their sanctuary is most beautiful, where they sit on a bed of dead leaves, while above them, some still cling to life.


The temperature has dropped considerably, and the campfire warms them. Beyond them, nothing but trails which lead deeper into the woods and the rest of the city beyond them. They feel they are not a part of things when hanging out there, as if they traveled miles from home. Martin takes one last hit from the joint and pinches the ash into the campfire, slips the unsmoked portion into the pocket of his faded blue flannel shirt, then leans forward to remove the pint of Southern Comfort from his back pocket. He unscrews the cap and takes a sip, then passes the bottle to Ozias.


A nice chaser, Martin says. It will help warm us up, too.


Ozias takes a sip, reacting to the sour taste as it glides down his throat. He passes the bottle back.


That’s it, he says. I can’t take that shit.


You could never hold your liquor, Martin says laughing.


The joint was enough. I’m feeling it now.


It’s good shit, I told you.


Martin takes one more sip from the bottle, screws on the cap, and drops it on the ground beside him. He picks up a few dried twigs and dead leaves and tosses them into the fire, watches the burning embers spiral into the air.


So you’re still going to that new school, huh?


I can’t believe they accepted me, Ozias says.


But you’re still going to go?


Of course. I’ve always wanted to go there.


High school, man, can you believe it? Why didn’t you want to go to my school?


They don’t have the writing program I want.


You’re serious about being a playwright, aren’t you?


How long have you known me? Of course, I’m serious. That’s how I got in to that school. I had to show them what I’d written.


You write some heavy shit.


I guess, Ozias says. It could be better though, which is why I want to go there.


Martin doesn’t say anything, tosses a few more dried twigs into the fire.


It’s good you have something you love to do, he says. Me, not so much. I don’t know what I want to do.


What about drawing? You’re good at that.


Yeah, but… I don’t know. I just do it.


You never wanted to be an artist?


No, I’m not good enough, Martin says, picking up the bottle of whiskey from the ground beside him. I mean, I never thought of myself as an artist. I just like to draw.


You could do a lot with it.


Martin takes a sip from the bottle, screws the cap back on.


It’s going to be strange not seeing you around, Martin says.


I’ll be around, just not in school. We can still hang out afterwards.


Yeah, I guess so. There are girls there, right?


Of course, Ozias says.


That’s good. I have friends that go to all boy schools. Catholic schools.


This is a public high school. I wonder what the girls are like.


Like anywhere else, I suppose

.
They’ll be those artsy girls. Maybe you’ll find someone.


I hope. I haven’t had much luck so far.


Nothing ever happened with Denise?


Once she found out I wanted to be a playwright, she laughed at me.


Fuck her.


I wanted to, but…


Ah, she’s nothing special. A big fish in a small pond.


I guess so.


She really laughed at you?


She did.


Wow…


She’s into those guys… like the dick who sells you his weed.


Say no more.


It’s not the end of the world.


Martin takes the joint from his pocket, then holds it over the fire to light it. Once lit, he takes another long pull from it, then exhales a plume of smoke into the autumn air.


Are you sure you don’t want anymore?


No, go ahead, Ozias says. I’m done. Feeling kind of high right now.


Martin takes one last hit from the joint, clips the ember, and drops the roach into his pocket.


It’s good you have a definite idea of what you want to do, he says. I never found that. I never knew what I wanted to do with my life.
There’s plenty of time.


Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, though. I mean, it seems like yesterday we were just kids. Now we’re going to high school. I’m a little nervous about it.
The school isn’t as bad as it used to be.


It’s not that, Martin says, then takes another sip of whiskey. I don’t know, it’s just…


Ozias waits for him to complete his thought but he leaves it hanging in the air.


Do you have any cigarettes?


A few, Ozias says.


Can I have one?


Ozias tosses him the soft pack of Marlboros. Martin examines it for a moment, then removes one from the pack, then tosses the pack back to Ozias. There are only two cigarettes left. Ozias takes one from the pack, lights it off the flame of the campfire.


Your mom know you smoke?


She’d kill me, Ozias says.


My mom knows but she doesn’t seem to care. She smokes too, so…


What about your dad?


He couldn’t care less.


Mine, neither.


I don’t want to talk about my father.


Understood.


Martin takes another sip from the whiskey bottle, stares into the campfire.


What are you thinking about?


Nothing, really, Martin says. Just zoning out. I think the weed is starting to get to me — and the whiskey. Are you sure you don’t want any? There’s only a little left.


Ozias takes the bottle from him, gulps down what remains. He feels a bit warmer now. He tosses the bottle into the brush, listens to the dull thud the bottle makes on the hard dirt beneath the overgrown weeds.


I was thinking about that play you wrote, Martin says. The one about names.


I never finished it.


You should. It’s heavy.


I don’t know how I feel about it. Not one of my personal favorites.


Ever wonder that, though?


Always, Ozias says. I mean, we’re not asked to be brought into the world, are we. Then someone else slaps a name on us, gives us an identity. I’m Ozias Bakirtzis. You’re Martin Lane, and somehow that’s who we become. Kind of funny, isn’t it? I always thought about that. I always wondered if a name makes the person. What if I were called Daniel.

Would I be a different person? Would I see myself differently? Would anyone else? Ever think about that?


Not until I read your play, Martin says. Sometimes I don’t know who I am.


I think we all do at some point. I guess that’s why I write.


At least you have that, Martin says, then takes a drag from his Marlboro. I wake up some mornings and wonder why I even exist. I didn’t ask to, you know. My mother and father decided that, and my father, well…


Yeah, mine too, I know. It’s like when one buys a new tie or something, wears it once, then forgets about it.


Were you named after anyone in your family?


No, that’s the funny thing, Ozias says. And my parents always called me Ozzy, anyway. It’s a funny thing, names. It’s a funny thing who we become.


At least you have an idea what you want to be. I have no idea. I never did. I just am.


You have to have some kind of idea.


That’s just it, Ozzy. I have none. Zero. I just am.


I think the weed is starting to get to us, Ozias says, laughing.


It’s the only time I feel relaxed, though, Martin says. It helps me think. Sometimes a little too much, though.


Who the fuck knows anything.


True that.


Martin tosses bits of dried twigs into the fire, watches the embers float towards the evening sky.


You hope to be successful one day?


Sure, Ozias says. That’s why I wanted to go to this school.


You’ll be hanging around a lot of those drama students.


I suppose so.


Nerds, Martin says. And if not nerds, faggots.


There are some pretty girls, too, you know.


It would be nice to meet one who shares your interests.


That’s what I’m hoping for.


Someone you can talk to about these things — what we talk about. I can’t talk about these things with my other friends.


Neither can I.


Thank God we have one another. Why do you think we turned out so different from everyone else?


I don’t know — but I always felt apart from things.


Me too.


I don’t want to be a part of the crowd. I can’t relate.


Imagine if we didn’t know one another.


It would be very lonely.


Still, I feel alone in the world, sometimes. I wish I had an outlet like you do.


You have your drawing, Ozias says. Seriously, you should consider pursuing that.


Martin doesn’t say anything and tosses a few more dried twigs into the fire.


They sit quietly for awhile, listening to the crackling of the fire, watching the evening breeze push the tops of the trees to and fro. It’s a clear night, the sky awash with stars.


Who knows, Martin says, breaking the silence. Maybe one day you’ll turn this into a play.


Turn what?


This, Martin says, gesturing between them. What we’re doing right now. What we’re talking about.


Maybe.


It wouldn’t be such a bad thing.


If I can somehow pull it off. It’s not easy.


You can do it.


You can do it, too, you know.


I don’t know…


Martin takes one last drag off his cigarette and squashes it into the dirt.


You finished the whiskey, right, Martin says.


There was only one sip left.


We should get some more.


I don’t feel like moving right now, Ozias says. I’m too tired. Too high.


Martin laughs.


They stare out into the woods, towards the swaying trees, listen to the crackle of the fire.

 

Julian Gallo from U.S. is the author of 'Existential Labyrinths', 'Last Tondero in Paris', 'The Penguin and The Bird' and other novels. His short fiction has appeared in The Sultan's Seal (Cairo), Exit Strata, Budget Press Review, Indie Ink, Short Fiction UK, P.S. I Love You, The Dope Fiend Daily, The Rye Whiskey Review, Angles, Verdad, Modern Literature (India), Mediterranean Poetry (St. Pierre and Miquelon), Borderless Journal (Singapore), Woven Tales, Wilderness House, Egophobia (Romania), Plato’s Caves, Avalon Literary Review, VIA: Voices in Italian America, and The Argyle.

 

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