- Somewhere Else
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[End Page 16]
Midmorning, too early for a beer, but Matt still nodded, because there it was, Tom’s right hand was broken, Kelly’s information had been accurate. Tom’s own house added further [End Page 17] testimony against the best friend that Matt had ever known. The hardwood floors were shiny but not swept, with dust bunnies in the corners. A lawn chair rested where the couch had once stood, a cardboard box had been pressed into service as a coffee table, and a medium-sized flatscreen TV was sitting on the floor under the dark spot on the wall where Tom’s much larger TV had once been mounted. The evidence was clear: his friend’s wife had seized all the furniture and left Tom to nurse his broken hand all by himself.
With great gentleness, to keep from upsetting its contents, Tom tossed Matt a beer across the empty dining room. With the same degree of gentleness, Matt caught it.
“I appreciate that you at least came over here to break up with me to my face. Everybody else? Silence. You know how my job fired me? By text. I guess that’s a thing people do now.”
“I’m not here to break up with you,” Matt said. “I wasn’t even aware that we were dating.”
Tom sipped at his beer, squinting against the morning light. “In a deal like this, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that I’m finding out who my friends are. The bad news is I’m finding out I don’t have any friends.”
The Bud Light in Matt’s hand was fogging over with condensation, its red-and-blue logo becoming blurred with drops of moisture. Between his feet, Tom’s varnished floors shone brightly enough for Matt to see, in however distorted a manner, the reflection of his own pug-nosed, lantern-jawed face.
“How did you find out?” Tom asked. “Did Kelly run into Melissa somewhere?”
“Kroger,” Matt said.
Still squinting against the morning, Tom nodded.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Matt asked.
“What difference would it make?”
“It might make a difference,” Matt said.
“Like—if she was coming at you with a gun? Or a knife?”
“Good deal,” Tom said.
“It’s true. If Melissa was coming at you with a knife, and to keep her from stabbing you, you punched her, that would change things.”
For a heartbeat or two, Tom leveled his eyes at Matt. They were the same blue eyes he’d had when the two of them had spent summers back [End Page 18] home clomping around in the muddy, mercury-laced waters of Dodd Creek, building forts and skimming stones and jumping their bikes off ramps and performing the sorts of rural boyish retro activities that Matt seldom spoke of even in Little Rock, a far from cosmopolitan place, his childhood having come to seem so antique and wholesome it sounded like something he had stolen off the Hallmark Channel. Tom was still Tom, Matt felt; neither his eyes nor anything else about him were essentially changed, despite what he had done and despite what everyone he’d ever known would say about him now.
It was a mere moment, that stare: lub-dub, lub-dub, two fleeting throbs of existence now stricken from the finite store of such throbs allotted by fate to both of them. Then Tom laughed, shrugged, put his beer on the kitchen counter, and tried to snap the fingers of his left hand. But Tom was right-handed, and he wasn’t able to snap with his left, so after making three attempts, he smiled and said, “Click.”
“‘Click’ what?” Matt said.
“That’s how fast it can happen.”
“That’s how fast what can happen?” Matt asked.
For an answer, Tom only smiled a strange smile, a wan smile, an almost wise smile. The smile of someone who, Matt thought, had pole-vaulted to a zone of such solitude that he now viewed—or at...