I took a sip of lemonade as I lounged in a rickety picnic chair on my back porch. Needs more vodka, I thought, but it was alright for now.
“Nice day,” I said, even though it wasn’t. It was humid, and hot. The sun was low and right in my eyes. I squinted at the horizon through my aviators.
“Yep,” Rudy puffed in reply. The smell of cloves chased away the smell of honeysuckle and crabapple. Maybe to him it was. He always seemed to wear long sleeves these days, even in the heat.
“Don’t remember you smokin’ before.”
“Just started.” Another puff. Sweet whisps of smoke hung around him like a veil. “Want one?” he asked.
“Naw, not today,” I replied. It hadn’t been that long since I decided to quit. I took another sip of my vodka lemonade instead. It was still cold. I held the glass against my temple, rolled it across my forehead a few times. Beads of sweat dripped down the glass, mixing with the sweat on my brow. Through the wet blanket of the afternoon’s heat, a thought occurred to me. It was something I’d wondered before, but I couldn’t remember when. Maybe…
“You ever—wonder why you’re here?” I asked slowly. Out of the corner of my eye, through the haze of smoke, I thought I saw Rudy smile. That was new. Or rather, it was old. It was the old Rudy, that smile, but recently it was new.
“You always were an existential drunk,” he said. His voice was laden with nostalgia. Mostly happy, but with an underlying tone of sadness.
“That’s not what I meant,” I continued. “I mean…”
“I know what you meant.”
I paused for a moment, waiting for him to say something more. Rudy just puffed his cigarette in silence. I took another sip of my drink.
“So…” I prodded.
“Do I what?” I got the sense that Rudy was teasing me. It just didn’t sound much like it.
“Do you ever wonder why you’re here?” I asked, then clarrified “You. Specifically.” Rudy chuckled. Or was it a sigh?
“Not really,” he said.
“Not really? How’s that?”
“I think I got a pretty good idea.” The ghost of his smile had faded behind the smoke. It seemed thinner now. I could almost make out his features. Curly hair, long nose, thin lips. Just like I remembered. He took another drag and the saccharine veil thickened once more.
We sat in silence for a while. I refilled my glass from the pitcher at my feet, but not before tipping the last of the vodka in it first. The sun dipped even lower in the sky. Blue was slowly obliterated by a bloom of gold and pink.
“Would it help if I said I was sorry?” I asked after long time had passed.
“I’m not here for that,” he told me. His voice was quiet, distant. Rudy had always been quiet, but never so distant.
“I know, I just…” I began
“Wasn’t your fault.” He said flatly.
“Could’ve happened to anyone.”
“But if I hadn’t…”
“Wouldn’t have mattered. You know that. You saw the tape. Read the report. Nothin’ you could do to stop it.”
I took another drink, a bigger one than before.
“I could have saved you,” I said after the pause. My voice quaked.
“Yeah, I could’ve.”
“Not both of us.”
“But I could have saved you,” I croaked. “If I’d swerved right instead of left it would’ve been me…”
“Don’t think that,” Rudy said. “Don’t ever think that.” How could he be so matter-of-fact about everything?
I downed half of my glass in one go. My hands were shaking and I managed to spill a bit.
“I was drunk,” I whispered. Maybe I hoped he wouldn’t hear me. He did.
“I know,” he said, not unkindly.
“You don’t mind?”
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t know what else to say.
“My choice to be there. I knew the risk. You were my ride. My fault.” After that he was silent for a moment. Then, he said, “Besides, it’s not so bad.” .
“And it was quick.”
There was another long pause filled with cloying smoke and cool booze. I didn’t bother filling the glass this time, just tipped the contents of the pitcher straight into my mouth. I still felt empty.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said. “Not really.”
“You were being evasive.”
“Why are you here?” There was silence. “If you don’t blame me, why are you here? Shouldn’t you be gone? To….somewhere?”
Rudy puffed once more. Somehow he was still on his first cigarette.
“You know why,” he said finally.
“No,” I said. “I really don’t.” He chuckled another half chuckle. Or was it a half sigh?
“I just told you.” he said.
“Tell me again.”
“You’re my ride. Always have been, always will be.” I looked at him long and hard.
“So…” I began, unable to comprehend the next step in the conversation.
“So I’ll wait,” Rudy supplied.
“Until you’re ready.”
“Yep. I’m in no rush.”
The sky was almost dark now. The deep reds had gone leaving only indigo and deep, deep blue behind. Cicadas droned in the trees. The heat of the day started to leach away, leaving the humidity to stand watch over the night.
“Rudy,” I said as the last natural light faded.
“I think I’ll take that smoke now.”
(Wanted to write a quick story to practice dialogue, maybe one that was a bit minimalist.
Let me know what you think, like always