Playing Stories — Chapter 14: Bohemian Rhapsody

Chapter 14: Bohemian Rhapsody
from the 1975 album “A Night at the Opera” by Queen
posted 19:48, 23 Feruary 2019

Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters to me

I watched Laurie stalk off into the distance, and prayed that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her again.

Okay, maybe there was very little chance of that happening. She was merely going off to buy from the counter, where I could still see her every move; she looked happy as well, not like a person who has death on her lips. But still. One could never be too careful.

“So, what you wanna get?” she asked, coming back after what seemed like ages. “The truffle pasta is off and the things that they have don’t seem to be interesting enough for you.” She beamed at me, her smile unnervingly bright. Or was it all an act?

I stared at her for a few seconds. What was she talking ab… oh. Okay. “Oh, I’ll… I’ll have a look for myself,” I said, scrambling up onto my feet. “I’ll be back in a sec… where IS my wallet…” I dug around for a second before lifting my eyes. There it was, sitting on the table. I cursed inwardly and swiped it from the tabletop.

Laurie was looking at me intently. “You okay, Alex?” she said, her brow slightly upturned.

“Never mind me, what about you?” I wanted to say, but I bit my tongue and simply nodded. I hurried over to the counter before she could ask more. I wondered how I would approach the subject. Touch on our friendship over the past year? No, that would make her think I was in love with her or something. Or maybe I should have asked her about Joanne? How she was doing these days? Too obvious. Not a good idea to raise the alarm too early.

The menu was a haze of completely stupid things that I didn’t even glance at. What I wanted would definitely be there anyway, and I had much more pressing things on my mind. People were always talking about the signs you missed. They said that the people who felt like ending things always pretended that everything was okay, and that they always tried to convince you that they were okay too. They’d hide in themselves and never wanted to talk about things, until somebody or something tipped them off and it was too late. But as I looked across the restaurant to where Laurie was sitting, I wondered if I’d read the wrong webpage.

She sat there sprawling on the bench, reading her phone. Occasionally she’d smile at something she read, but otherwise her face was inscrutable. She definitely didn’t look like the sort of person who would write alarming messages about life and death.

“Good afternoon, what would you like today?” chirped the attendant on the other side of the counter. Probably her first day at work.

“Oh… um…” I scanned the boards behind her to check the price. Damn, the item I wanted seemed to have disappeared… where the hell had it gone? I could feel the eyes on my back, and the air around me seemed to be getting warm. It took me ages before I found it. I can’t remember exactly what her words were after that, but I don’t think I looked at the assistant again before heading back to the table and Laurie.

“God, Nigel’s is getting slow these days, and their pasta really is getting more and more unbearable. I mean, 10.99 for a seafood linguine? How idiotic is that?” She tossed her long hair backwards as she rolled her eyes. I nodded without looking at her. “Everything’s getting more stupid these days. That complete racist on the street the other day, having the gall to challenge me…”

She launched into a long spiel about menists and people who didn’t understand how toxic it was in society without waiting for me to chime in. I listened, but couldn’t help flashing back to that one message she sent me last week:

“I just hope that one day somebody will turn me off when I’m dying.”

Then, after a few minutes had passed, the clincher.

“Can you imagine how painful the whole thing will be? I’d prefer to skip all of that agony. Maybe even now, for Christ’s sake.”

I had almost dropped the phone upon reading that message. She had always seemed like a mystery: although she could go on for hours about her beliefs, when it came to her personal stuff she was always reticent. On a couple of occasions I’d even heard her giving out a couple of contradictory stories. Now, at last, here was the reason behind all of it. A hidden death wish. A desire to be erased. Could she have been joking about the whole thing? Unlikely. She always joked around, but with me… her words seemed to be more truthful. I could believe what she was saying, I knew she was misanthropic. She was mysterious, but I must have been part of her inner circles by now, as she always looked for me. She’d phoned me the moment Joanne had broken up with her. If that wasn’t proof, what was?

“Alex?” I heard her voice calling out to me. I looked up. She was looking at me. Waiting for me to start talking, probably.

“What?”

She glanced sideways, and only then did I notice the waiter standing beside us with our lunches.

“Oh… thank you, put them down, that’s fine…”

“No,” said the waiter in what was surely a fake accent, “Wood you like to ordair the dreenks now?”

“I have a rose tea… you?” she said, her eyes slightly narrowed.

“Oh, er… whatever tea you’ve got is fine, thanks.”

“This is UNACCEPTABLE,” she squealed, sending half the restaurant looking our way. “Lavender or orange? Let’s go for lavender.” She waited a second, but I said nothing, and the waiter walked away. “What’s happened to you? You used to have a lot of opinions on tea… I thought you’d have screamed when you heard that there was lavender tea on offer.”

“Laurie…” My voice was weak, fragile. “About what we said last week… you didn’t mean it, did you?”

“What’s that?” she laughed. “You’ll have to remind me which one we’re talking about. I don’t mean a lot of things, you know.”

What? There was only one thing worth mentioning, surely. How could she be so candid about everything? And she’d just made it harder for me to start…. I didn’t want to mention death when she was all smiles and flowers. Could tip her over without warning.

“Well… that message you sent me. About… you know, euthanasia. Do you really want to… you know…”

The smile vanished like lightning. I knew I shouldn’t have breached the subject. “Oh no… it’s just nothing, Alex… I’m fine! I was just saying things… I mean, I do want to avoid dying painfully, but… not now, you know! Just. A hypothetical scenario in the future.” She laughed, but it sounded so forced. “I’ve still got a lot to live for. Just. Saying stuff, you know me.”

“But… you know, I’m worried about you and everything…”

“Oh, don’t be. I’m fine, mostly.”

“Mostly?”

“Oh for God’s… you know what, let’s change the subject.”

“You sure? I mean…”

“Pasta’s getting cold.”

Indeed. The sauce in mine was coagulating into this unsightly lump. But still, pasta could wait… couldn’t it?

I looked at her. She was searching me with those eyes, and I looked away, the warm icky feeling spreading over me again. “Yeah, you’re right… let’s just. Eat.” I said, picking up my fork.

Laurie was still looking at me. After a moment’s hesitation, she grinned nervously and picked up her phone. “This looks lovely… posting this on the gram,” she said.

We finished lunch without exchanging much else. After we finished, we headed over to the State Library opposite the shopping mall, and sat on the lawn to watch the trams go by.

“Alex,” I heard her say at long last.

“Yeah?”

“Actually, I’m getting worried. Are YOU okay?” she said, her brow furrowed.

I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything anymore. Was she telling the truth? Did she really not feel anything — ANYTHING — after sending out such a momentous message? Or did nobody care about how serious these things were anymore — was everything I’d learnt in the past twelve months, since coming into uni, a complete lie? People didn’t joke around with these things. Maybe I was the one taking things too seriously. Maybe that was why everyone seemed to hold me at arm’s length: because I didn’t know when to joke around or when to talk normally because of my awkwardness. Perhaps I was the one being stupid, careless, foolish here. And perhaps nothing really was — real in this world, when it came to human interactions.

A couple of loud voices downstairs. Down by the tram station a couple was arguing, shoving each other. They seemed like they would come to blows at any instant. Nobody gave them anything more than a second glance. A policeman stood across the street, intently watching them in case they escalated even further. But otherwise: nobody cared.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” I said at last.

Laurie nodded, but didn’t say anything. She sat that tiny bit closer to me and put an arm round my shoulder. I only continued to stare at the arguing couple. Both of us must have thought of a million things that we could say in that moment, but neither of us ever made the effort to start. And so we sat there, silent, while the weak autumn sun broke through the clouds.


I’m sorry, I know that I freak you out lots of times. Yeah, let’s not mention it ever again, shall we?

The repairs are going fine here. Thanks for popping over last week — you were right, that loose panel could have been a security issue…

Em

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