Mark sat curled up quietly in the laz-y boy they'd snagged from the dumpster a few weeks ago, basking in the sunshine he imagined would pour into the room in any normal apartment, mug of coffee sitting beside him on the milk crate end table which Mark imagined would be mahogany had they any money to be spending on end tables. A worn copy of the Village Voice was sprawled over his lap, the middle piece missing as he’d swiped it from a deserted table at a small café this morning when he’d gone out for a bike ride. He couldn’t finish the article he’d been reading about the art show a few blocks from here because the rest of the story was printed on said missing page. He might be able to figure out which piece won the award if the paper was delivered to their doorstep like other places. Lifting the paper, he glanced down at his ragged sweatpants through a big hole torn in the back page. The Christmas colored plaid pajamas dragged on the floor whenever Mark scuffed across the loft and were now worn and holey around the heel, not to mention were wearing thin across certain areas. He’d have to steal another pair from Collins soon as he didn’t even have the money for a new pair of pajama pants. Collins had gone back to MIT a few weeks ago, back for the fall semester, and wouldn’t be back until Christmas. He’d never notice a pair of missing pj’s.
Reaching up, the filmmaker adjusted the thick rimmed glasses on his nose, cleared his throat, and flipped the page, but other than the small noises coming from Mark, the loft was silent. It had been that way quite a bit lately – quiet and often empty, two things that had often been such a rare occurrence in the flat. But with Collins gone back to school, Maureen attempting to gather up the rest of her belongings and bring them over to her… whatever she was… girlfriend, Mark supposed, though he’d rather not think about his ex-girlfriend fucking another woman… and Benny spending nights at Alison’s (though Mark was the only one who knew about that), it had been mostly Mark and Roger around the loft. But he supposed he couldn’t really complain. There were less mouths to feed, more hot water for showers, a little more coffee to go around in the morning, and with Benny’s new job working for Alison’s father, he practically took care of rent by himself. And though it was eerie at first, Mark was beginning to enjoy the silence.
As he took another sip of his coffee, an awful screeching sound startled him. Carefully setting his mug down on the milk crate, Mark pushed the tattered newspaper from his lap and unfolded his legs. Another sound came, something oddly familiar and Mark groaned loudly.
“Alone again… naturally… ba da da da da da da… ba da da da da da da…. Alone again… naturally.”
He cringed as the scratchy record spun around, whining the familiar tune. The song was bad enough but it was the voice on top of the record that made Mark flinch. Roger’s raspy voice hollering drunkenly along was enough to give Mark goosebumps. He’d played the record for hours last night and Mark had forcibly moved to the roof in order to preserve what sanity he had left. Mark had dealt with the sobbing and the whining, the yelling and screaming, he’d dealt with the verbal and even physical abuse (and had bruises to prove it), but this was just torture.
Standing, Mark stormed over to Roger’s room and pounded on the door loudly.
When no answer came, he banged again. This time the music was turned up and Roger belted louder. Mark wasted no time in opening the door and stomping inside. He pulled the plug from the wall, nearly ripping the chord from the record player, causing the record to halt rather harshly.
“Hey,” Roger whined in protest. “I was listening to that.”
“I know,” Mark growled. “It’s all you’ve been listening to. I know you’re upset, Roger, but come on. You’re gonna wear out the record.”
Roger pushed himself up off of the bed and stared at Mark, unblinking. His tongue ran over his dry cracked lips as he swung his legs over the edge.
“Upset? You think I’m upset? Now what the fuck would make you think that?”
Mark noticed how much harsher the word fuck left his lips than any of the others. He didn’t wince, though, but clenched his fists and sighed.
“Don’t Roger,” Mark pleaded. “You know I know.”
“Oh, do you? Your girlfriend infested herself with AIDS and gave it to you, too? She went and slit her wrists in the bathroom? The bathroom that you have to go in every day to take a piss? She killed herself, did she, Mark?”
“Fuck you!” Mark shouted back, dropping the chord from his hands. “I’ve been here for you every day since then, listening to you bitch and complain, take it out on me! Maureen left! Did you know that? Bet you didn’t. You never leave the room. You just sit and drown in self-pity. You’re lonely and it’s your own damn fault. You won’t let anyone near you! No, my girlfriend didn’t kill herself, she left me for someone else. It’s killing me. So fuck you. And you know what else? THAT SONG SUCKS!”
Roger sat quietly, a bit taken aback by Mark’s sudden outburst. Mark had shouted back at Roger before, but never like this. Usually Roger had to try a lot harder to get him to scream like that. And it was true, Roger didn’t know Maureen had left. She hadn’t been around much after April so the on the few occasions Roger left his room, it wasn’t uncommon for her not to be around. He stared back at Mark, whose face was red and angry and Roger could see the hurt in his eyes and he crumbled under Mark’s glare, burying his face into his palms.
Mark sighed slowly, head tipping back, eyes focusing on the crack in the ceiling as Roger broke down. “Fuck me…” he groaned softly. “I’m an ass…” Mark rubbed at his forehead before standing up straight, looking back at Roger. His heart melted quickly and he climbed up onto the bed beside the rocker, tugging him into his arms. Roger curled up onto Mark’s chest, his head pounding, eyes burning. Mark’s fingers brushed back through Roger’s hair and down onto his back, rubbing soothingly. Roger quietly promptly, but still clung to the filmmaker. Mark lay in silence, holding Roger, rubbing his back, and sighed.
“Shh... ” Mark whispered, hands still moving over his back.
This time, Roger sat up a little, staring Mark in the face, his green eyes wide, but not as wide as Mark’s.
“Yeah?” he asked, slightly hesitantly.
Mark sighed. “You’re welcome,” he murmured, kissing the top of his head.