A Broken Circuit

A Broken Circuit

A Story by Joel McCarthy

       The car pulled into the almost empty parking lot just as the sun had set.  Ken shut of the engine but left the radio playing.

            “These guys are amazing,” he said to no one in particular. “This song's in seven. That's why it sounds so choppy.” 

            “Seven is a choppy time,” I said from the back seat. “What are they called?” I asked, though not really caring.

            “Big Forest,” Ken said. “I've been listening to these guys and the Beach Boys and that's it.”

            James fiddled with his phone in the passengers seat a moment before taking out a small baggy. “This is gonna look small,” He said, “but don't worry cuz’ this stuff knocks me on my a*s. You got any papers? I’ll only need one.” 

            Ken pointed to the glove box and James dug around in there a moment before pulling out a small pack of zigzags.

            “I have to piss,” I said, getting out of the car. Ken got out as well, checking his tires for something.

            I moved over a mound of freshly cut grass, kicking through patches of feathery dandelions. The seeds danced around my steps like mosquitoes. I positioned myself toward the overgrown bushes that bordered the park. Street lights began turning themselves on in a staggered sequence along the path. Sounds of a basketball game were coming from behind the parking lot, and after pissing I met back up with Ken and James and we walked toward the game.

            The pathway led us right beside the court, and I glanced over to see seven or eight youngsters shooting blindly at the badly lit net. Sweat gleamed off of the kids who didn't wear shirts, and when the ball hit the pavement, it bounced back feebly, in need of air. James walked slightly behind us, fixated on his phone.

            “You got fat,” James said. I looked back at him.

            “Yeah, I know.”

            “I got a belly too,” He said, puffing out his stomach as he walked. “My body is a wreck. I probably caught like four or five STD’s over the past two years.”

            “Yeah?” Asked Ken.

            “No. But maybe. Who knows what I got floating around in me. It’s like I feel stoned all the time. I don’t even know what’s happening.”

            We arrived at a point in the path in which it split into two opposing directions. They formed a sprawling border around the manmade lake. There was a long two level dock built along the shore that I remembered vividly from my childhood. We moved toward it, aiming for the lower level as a spot to light up, but when we noticed a couple sitting down there together with a stereo, we settled on the upper deck.

            I leaned against the railing, away from the still water, facing James who closed his lips tightly around the thin joint. Ken stood beside me facing the water, gripping the railing to stretch his lower back.

            “Trust me this stuff is boom,” James said, lighting and inhaling. “Let’s speed this. One each.”

            He passed to Ken, who took a toke and then passed to me. I pinched the joint between my fingers and put the flakey end to my lips. I let the smoke into my lungs and it was smooth, probably laced with some tobacco. This sequenced lasted three or four rounds before James held the last bit of it in his dirty fingers.

            “You guys good? Yeah? Cuz’ I’m just gonna slam this.” He said, puffing at the last of it.

            “Slam what, paper?” Ken said.

            I chuckled at this. “It’s all about the res’, man,” I said, doing my best hippy impersonation.

            It was much darker now, and my back began to chill against a cool breeze coming from the water. There was a silence between the three of us, not awkward, just stoned and unsure of one another. The weed told me it was I who was causing it.

            “How old is this lake?” I asked, trying to break the silence.

             “It’s manmade,” said Ken.

            “Yeah, absolutely. But when did they put it here?”

            “No way this is manmade,” said James, flicking the roach and lighting a cigarette from his pocket.

            “Definitely is,” said Ken. “My guess is they built this when they built the area. Probably like thirty years ago.”

            “They probably built it in like, the eighties or something,” said James.

            “Yeah, that’s what I just said,” said Ken.

            I heard a fish jump behind me, and I turned to see the small ripple rings drift out into nothing. The water looked black. “Did you guys ever fish here as kids?” I asked.

            “No,” said Ken.

            “I used to a lot,” I said. “It was fun.”

            “What was fun? Catching tiny little perch the size of peanuts?” Said Ken.

            “There were some catfish. I saw this Chinese family catch one once. They took it home with them. It must have been like four pounds.” I said.

            “Any fish in this pond were just put here,” James started. “It’s not like they’re born here, they probably like ship them in from some f****n’ farm. It isn’t fun when you know all that stuff. It takes away the uh... the um...”

            “Mystery,” Ken finished. “Nobody should fish in here anyways. It isn’t even a real lake.”

            Anyway, not anyways,” said James.

            “Shut the f**k up,” said Ken.

            “I guess it used to be sort of fun,” I said quietly, kicking at a plastic coffee lid on the ground. My tongue felt like a dried out piece of rubber in my mouth.

            “Why are you so depressed Mark?” James asked me completely out of nowhere.

            “I’m not depressed, where did you get that?”

            James looked at Ken who caught his glance and sort of shook his head disappointingly.

            “I don’t know,” He said, flicking his cigarette over my shoulder into the water. It hissed before dying.

            “You seem sentimental,” Ken said to me. “Just talking about what it was like here before and back then. It’s just the same s****y place it always was.”

            James got a phone call and he answered it with a grunt. He babbled to someone on the other line as I tried to talk over him to Ken.

            “I’m not depressed or anything,” I said. “I just kind of feel like, I don’t know, closer to the end than the beginning. It doesn’t make me upset or anything�"I just sort of feel it in the air these days.”

            “Yo, you’ll never believe who I’m chilling with,” I heard James say to the caller. “I said you won’t guess who I’m with... yeah, at the lake... Mark.”

            “Who is that?” I asked James.

            “Alright later babe,” he said, hanging up the phone.

            “Who was that?”

            “Oh, it was Emma.”

            “Oh.” I said.

            “You need to just cheer the f**k up,” James said. “Is Clair dumping you or something?” He asked this, though he immediately lost focus on me, looking toward the couple on the lower deck.  

            “No... It’s just, I don’t know,” I started. “There was this girl I worked with two summers ago. Her name was Lucy and she sort of had a crush on me I think.”

            “Wait, who is this?” Asked James, tuning me back in.

            “A girl I worked with. She died last weekend,” I said.

            “How?” Asked Ken.

            “I don’t really know the details. I got a call from one of the workers who told me she was in the hospital. So he asked me if I wanted him to sign my name on the get well card. He told me her organs were shutting down, which is crazy because she was only like twenty, but he also said he thought she would pull through. He called again on Saturday and she was gone. The funeral was earlier in the week but I didn’t go.”

            “Did you ever hook up with her?” Asked James.

            “No, I didn’t. We were just sort of acquainted when I worked there two years ago.”

            “And this is why you’re bummed out?” Asked Ken.

            “Yeah, I mean, I think that’s how I feel about it. It’s a hard thing to process.”

            “So some girl that you were mildly acquainted with two years ago dies, and that has you thinking about what? Your own mortality?”

            “Well s**t man, she was only twenty. I’ve never known someone that young who died.”

            “But you don’t really even know her and you didn’t go to the funeral.” Said James.

            “But that’s the point. If I really knew her well I could deal with the loss better I think. I could give her some sort of memorial in my own mind based on whatever memories we shared. But this Lucy girl worked in shipping and receiving, and all I can remember is that she was sort of flirty and dyed her hair according to the seasons. That and I think she was messed up with drugs a lot.” I said.

            Ken barked out laughter. “So she was a junky?! You’re all sentimental over a chick who basically dug her own grave with drugs? People die all the time.”

            “Yeah, people die all the time,” said James. “You know in Africa, like every six seconds�" ”

            “Yeah I know,” I tried cutting him off.

            “Every six seconds a child gets raped.” He said. “So like, what about that?”

            “Well,” I started, “that’s obviously horrible, but it isn’t the same. I have no connection with Africa anyway, Christ, I’ve never even left the f*****g country. As far as I know Africa and the rest of the world is all just some news station front. I can’t physically prove they exist because I haven’t even been there. This is completely different. It happened in my world.”

            “People die all the time,” James said again, shrugging arrogantly.

            “Yeah,” agreed Ken.

            “So if you knew a person�"someone young,” I started asking both of them

            “I’ve known people who died,” Ken said cutting me off. “They die and they’re dead and that’s it.”

            “And you didn’t feel anything? You didn’t consider your time with that person when they were living and breathing with you?”

            “Nope,” They said, simultaneously.

            They gave me blank, cool stares. They were expressions that the two of them had forged and perfected over time. It was a mask trying to advertise control. It was an indifferent expression that sneered at the arbitrary happenings of their day to day world. They both seemed to wear it with such pride, as though they had seen this film read this book a million times before, and nothing was going to leave a mark on them. I knew it was a lie and an ignorant one. I resented their inability to put themselves into a situation that called for more than simple apathy, but I knew I couldn’t blame them. I would have been giving the same look if I hadn’t known Lucy, who was gone.

            “Look at all these lights,” said James, after another silence. “You know, I read that every live electrical wire lets off chemicals and s**t into the air and causes cancer and stuff. Like large amounts of it.”

            “What do you mean large amounts?” Asked Ken. “Where did you read such a thing?”

            “Uh, in a book Kenneth, in my advanced electronics class,” James said conceitedly.

            “So you’re saying,” said Ken, “that me just standing here, by a regular lamp, I’m going to contract some form of brain tumour or skin cancer? What sort of cancer are you even talking about?”

            “Brain probably. It can happen because of broken circuits and stuff,” James said.

            “You aren’t making any logical sense,” said Ken.

            I knew what I was witnessing and I had to turn toward the water to distract myself from it. Ken had always felt it necessary to dispute James when the three of us were young, and it seemed they hadn’t grown out of it. Ken would ask James to elaborate on whatever weak theory he put forth, usually regurgitated from a parent or teacher, and Ken would dutifully point out contradictions and facts to the contrary. It was the intellectual equivalent of two baseball fans drunkenly swatting at one another in the parking lot after a game. I was tired. I wanted them to stop talking�"stop babbling about wires and transistors and which nineteenth century inventor discovered whatever deadly chemical property in his research. Though Ken was obviously smarter, or at least smart enough to consider the facts required for a well formed theory, he was equally as pathetic as James. The both of them were a pair of clueless men. They were young enough to have not experienced an iota of anything, but old enough to wear their trim intellect atop their heads like some garish crown.

            I watched the sky and caught the sound of some soft R&B coming from the small stereo on the lower deck. I then heard a click and the music stopped. Through the Ken and James debate, I heard the couple’s clunky steps against the weathered deck wood. The two of them came up to our trio, and I saw that it was a young looking black guy with an Asian girlfriend. She cradled the stereo in her left arm and hugged him around the back with her right.

            “Excuse me gentlemen,” He said, interrupting the debate which I was happy about. “By chance do any of you have a cigarette?” He asked.

            Ken and I both shook our heads.

            “Sorry, I don’t smoke,” said James, and as he said this realized the guy had probably been watching him smoke for half an hour.

            “Okay, thank you.” He said, eyeing the cigarette butts by our feet. The two of them made their way away from the shore.

            “We should go,” I said checking the time. “I should go. I have to get up early tomorrow.”

            “Yeah, let’s bounce,” James said.

            We moved back toward Ken’s car. James told us that his girlfriend was going to pick him up, and just as he mentioned this, a small silver Honda pulled toward him. Muted bass drum was coming from inside.

            “That’s her,” he said, holding out a hand for me to shake. “Really cool seeing you Mark, let’s do it again sometime.”

            “Yeah,” I said, gripping his palm.

            The Honda pulled away and Ken and I got in his car and started to make our way out of the parking lot.

            “It was a pleasure seeing you man. We missed you,” Ken said, scanning the tracks on his car stereo.

            I didn’t say anything. I just watched the lake shrinking behind us through the cracked side mirror. As the car moved away I thought that this was the last time I’d ever see it. It was the last time I’d see any of them.     

© 2010 Joel McCarthy

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Excellent. Your writing is outstanding in every way. The dialogue is perfect and natural-sounding. On the surface, a seemingly mundane few moments of dope-smoking at the lake, but so much more.

Posted 12 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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Added on May 20, 2010
Last Updated on May 20, 2010


Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada

My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..