Get Born

Each thought the other was maybe kind of drunk. Like had shown up a little drunk. And they were both correct.

He’d met some friends for bowling at three, not at a real-deal bowling alley like the one off Western with all the neon and that great big parking lot. More like a bar in Logan Square that had bowling lanes. He did poorly the first round, but won the second and third. The first was the only scorecard Charlotte posted to Instagram, which was funny, except he wanted Margot in Los Angeles to see him win.
    After bowling they stood outside and smoked cigarettes. After smoking cigarettes, they went to an art gallery where another friend had designed all sorts of interesting chairs, and even though the chairs were art the guests were allowed to sit in them. And there’d been free wine.

She’d been doing a preliminary rehearsal for a show a friend was directing at a black box theater in Uptown. First read through. Everyone was hugging one another—acting, for obvious reasons, had been mostly virtual that past year, and this was the first show they’d put on in some time. It was nice to see everybody. And there was drinking, beers and such, and two shots of tequila at the end: one to celebrate the return to normal life, and another to celebrate Rachel’s script.
    The summer sun disoriented the cast upon leaving the theater. She’d assumed they’d all go to a bar, but everybody had other plans, dinners with parents and partners, friends in town, et cetera. She’d been the only one who lost track of time. James said he was down to get a drink. She knew he would be. She didn’t want to get a drink with James. She opened up the app.

He’d been having a great time, sitting on all the chairs.

Their chat had been silent for two days. They’d been messaging back and forth, but she hadn’t responded since he asked to get a drink. She looked at his photographs again. Holding a cat. Playing rugby. Out with friends. She wrote to him.

When the gallery was over, he invited his friends for drinks at his apartment. But one of his friends had honor plans made with her boyfriend, and his other two friends were a couple who had to honor plans made with another couple.
    He looked at his phone before leaving the gallery. Margot’s Instagram and Twitter had both become private. He knew if he went home, he’d call her. He can’t help calling her sometimes. If she picks up, he’ll know she’s not getting fucked by somebody. And now with everything private and hidden from him, well.
    He opened the dating app and saw the new message:
    —Hey sorry I fell off but actually would you be down to get that drink like, tonight?

They met at a bar of his choosing, themed after Catholic monks who brewed beer. There was faux-iconography on the walls. Madonna and Child, both sipping frothy mugs. It was a whisper bar. The bartender would shush patrons who got too loud.
    He described to her, briefly, the whole gist and gimmick of the place, and he seemed, to her, a little too animated for a normal person. When she said she’d been there before, she kind of tried to match his energy for a second. They were shushed, and she laughed, and he smelled tequila on her breath.
    She talked to him about acting, what the experience had been like in the past year. He told her about the rugby club he played for, and how this had improved his life, socially and in terms of exercise. They hoped to impress one another, she with her professional acting and he with his amateur rugby, and each may have succeeded. But they were both drunk, and only there because they didn’t want to spend the early evening home alone; once that evening turned to black and legitimate night, their time together had, in its way, succeeded. So when the flash flood warning went off on their phones and thunderstorm began afterward, she called it—she had to Uber home, and her phone was about to die.
    He would have gone with her had she asked, but she didn’t.

Her phone died in the Uber, and when she got to her apartment James was standing outside. He was hiding from the rain in the little vestibule. He said he’d called her. She said her phone was dead. He said he was locked out of his apartment. She let him up.

While he was in his Uber, Margot called.

James didn’t want to ring his superintendent because he was illegally subletting. He paced around her apartment, saying he was embarrassed. He was dripping everywhere. She got him a towel so he could sit on the couch. He said the worst part was he thought he left his stove on. She said if that’s the case he should really just start buzzing his neighbor’s doors. Then he said he was just being anxious, that he was always convincing himself he left the stove on. He said he definitely didn’t leave the stove on.

Margot was whispering over the phone, and she said she couldn’t talk long. She said he needed to go check on Rebecca. She said she was sorry, that she didn’t really know anybody else in Chicago other than Rebecca herself, and that he needed to go there right now—she said Rebecca had suddenly stopped responding on a telephone call. She didn’t want to call 911. But he should go check on her.

James was rocking back and forth and scratching his head, and she asked if he was really locked out. She asked if he just needed someone to talk to. She asked gently. But he said he was offended by the question, and proclaimed that he was really locked out. He stood up and started slapping all his pockets to demonstrate keys wouldn’t jingle, but there was jingling, so he took two quarters out and stuck them on his forehead and turned his pocket inside out so she could see it was the quarters jingling.

Rebecca buzzed him up and told him her door was open over the intercom. She was sitting on the sofa when he got upstairs, facing the TV but nothing was on. She was kind of smiling, like a genial, impersonal smile, like she’d been expecting him. She said she was sorry. He asked what was going on. She said she was sorry. She was slurring her words and it smelled like vomit. He saw vomit in the kitchen, all over the sink and counter. He asked what was going on. She said she was just having a hard time. He sat next to her on the sofa. He asked what was going on. She asked how things were going with Margot. She said she knew they still talked. He said it was fucked up. She said she’d just talked to Margot. He asked what was going on.

James started calling himself an idiot and started punching himself in the head. His nose started to bleed, just cascading, like a faucet had opened up in his face. She rushed to get paper towels, then a second bath towel.

Rebecca seemed alright. Very drunk but alright. He kept asking what was going on. She just said it was one of those nights. They talked about whatever. She laid down and pressed her feet against his legs, then put her feet up on his legs. She propped herself up on her elbows but left her feet on his legs and asked if she could tell him something fucked.

James was sobbing now. She took his bloody shirt off so she could get it in the wash before it stained. This would only set the stain, but she wouldn’t know until later. She went to get him a new shirt, and realized, turning her back to him, that her phone was still dead. She put it on the charger in the kitchen.

“You’re going to think this is so random and fucked up,” Rebecca said. She wasn’t slurring now, but was doing the other thing drunk people do, when they become aware of their slurring and try to annunciate each syllable. “And I mean, it is. I don’t blame her for it. I’m sorry to drop this all on your head, it’s like about to be midnight. I know she was going through so much at the time and I don’t blame her for it. When I was a kid. Like when I was a kid, my mom would do this thing in which I would get completely naked and she would get completely naked. And she didn’t molest me or anything. I’m sorry for unloading this on you. I can see you going phew, she didn’t molest me, right? What she did was she would take the blankets off the bed and put this sheet over her, and I’d have to crawl in the sheet, and she’d be on her back with her legs like, propped up, and she’d make me crawl under her knee, and we’d pretend I was being, like, born? And she’d be screaming bloody murder like I was killing her, and I’d be crying like I was being born. Okay. We did this all the time, like once a month. We stopped when I was like nine years old. She called me in to the bedroom one day, but like, for something else, to help with something. But I just started taking off my clothes, because I thought we were doing the being born game, and she was just like, stop that, you’re too old for that. And that’s how it ended, I guess, and for the longest time, I thought that I was the one who liked to play the game. I had never like judged it before, because it’s just something we’d always done, I had no context for it, and then when it stopped that way, with her saying that, and me having to like put my clothes on in front of her like that, I thought that I was the one who always wanted to play. But I didn’t care that it had ended. I thought it was this big misunderstanding, wait, let me finish, I thought it was this big misunderstanding, like maybe she thought I was upset it had ended, but I wasn’t upset and I wasn’t even glad, I was just embarrassed she thought that I was upset about it ending. And later on, much later on, I learned it used to be like a common thing, it used to be some fucked up therapy routine from back before science. So it couldn’t have been my idea.”

James’s nose was obviously broken, but he refused to go to the hospital, so she plugged it up and stayed awake with him until he fell asleep on her couch. She put his clothes in the dryer; she was relieved this did not wake him. She checked her phone, and saw the missed calls from James. She took the phone to her bedroom and locked the door behind her and tried to sleep but couldn’t sleep and instead laid awake listening for James.

Much later, in the early hours of the morning, she got a text message from the rugby player. He thanked her for coming out. He hoped she got home safe in the downpour. He wanted to know if she’d want to grab dinner.

Jake McCabe is a writer from Chicago who currently lives and works in New York City
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