The narrator drains his wineglass in a big, unseemly gulp and turns to grab the bottle from atop his desk. He frowns and shakes it. What little remains slaps the outsides of the bottle, there isn't even enough left inside to properly slosh around. He doesn't seem to notice you're there, just sitting in front of your computer, or whatever electronic device you're looking at, waiting for him to get on with his story. And yes, he realizes the logic loop of him narrating about not knowing you're there. He's just too distracted to care.
Suddenly, he gets an idea. The narrator leans down in his chair, opens the desk drawer, and pulls a bottle from inside. He sets to opening it.
"I'll be with you in just a second . . . Ah, there we are." The narrator pours himself another glass of wine, takes a long, luxurious sip, and looks back at the spot on the wall just beneath the Charlie Chaplin portrait. At you. "I hope you've been enjoying your tour of Magnolia. I imagine you're wondering when I'm going to get to the point. It'll be soon, I promise. In fact, today I'm going to introduce you to the hero of this story, Damien Matthis."
"Damien is something of a local celebrity, he's a decently good actor, a humanitarian, and an all around good guy. In fact, just last year, he was voted Magnolia's sexiest man by Magnolia Weekly Magazine. I just can't say enough good things about him. I like to think that I played a part in his success, if only just a little bit, by telling his story."
The narrator takes one last sip from his wineglass and sets it aside. He leans forward on the desk, steepling his fingertips, takes a breath, and begins his narration anew:
Damien watched his best friend's corpse burn with a smile on his face. Rendering fat leaked from charred skin and streamed downward, boiling and popping as it dripped. It reminded him a lot of frying bacon. Damien salivated, finding nothing wrong with feeling hungry in that moment.
Somewhere inside the house he knew that Chuck was just fine, probably making the most out of this opportunity to raid the homeowner's fridge for something to eat. Granola bars were one thing, but with unfettered access to a fridge and possibly leftovers . . . Damien decided it was time to say hello to his friend. With dogged, drunken determination, Damien dodged around other drunks, determined to drain his drink and make it into the house, and by God, when Damien Matthis sets his mind to something, he gets it done.
Damien struggled with the bottom stair, but the rest gave him no trouble. In fact, they helped pitch him through the open sliding glass door to the beer pong table. The beer pong table caught him and handed him off to the glossy-tiled kitchen counter where he stayed. Safety. Two points.
The tile felt nice on his forehead, so he decided to keep it there, even though the smell of pastrami whispered sweet nothings to his nose and aroused a hunger in him such that all he wanted in the world, in that moment, was a sandwich. The only problem is that Damien could only articulate his desire with a groan.
"Hey, buddy," a vaguely Chucklike voice said around what sounded like a mouthful of sandwich. "You want one of these? I still have the stuff out."
"Coming right up! Here, drink this, it'll make your head feel better." Chuck slid an open beer across the counter into Damien's hand. Damien started nursing it, pulling in little sips like an infant from his bottle. Slowly, carefully, another sandwich came into being with all of the subtle craftsmanship that God Himself used when creating all of existence. Damien opened his eyes just a little, and saw that it was good. "Alright, you can have this, but I need you to sit up. Come on, don't look at me like that. You know you need good posture to properly enjoy a sandwich like this."
Dammit, he was right. Damien sat up grudgingly, lips still sealed on the beer bottle. It made a little popping noise when he removed his mouth. The bottle set itself down, Damien felt largely left out of that process. Before him was the sandwich, sitting on its pedestal of cheap glass. Everything he has ever wanted, just sitting there waiting for him to reach out and take it. For reasons he couldn't fathom, the beautiful pastrami sandwich in front of him meant more than just a fleeting culinary experience. In front of him was life. His life.
"Is't right there, man."
"Hm?" Chuck asked around a mouthful of a new sandwich - this one a double-decker - that he'd made for himself.
Damien's eyes never left the sandwich. He focused on it with the single-minded clarity of a person that's exceeded a responsible level of drunkenness, but hadn't yet reached the blackout stage. From the tip of a sliced pickle a single drop of pickle juice dripped onto the plate, and was soaked up into the bread. "We just need to go get it."
What he actually said is closer to 'W' jus needa go gidit,' but I figured you'd have an easier time of reading it if I gave it to you in plain English, the Narrator explained.
All Chuck could do was stare at Damien for a long, silent moment. People started reappearing around them, drinking, having fun, and completely ignoring the depth of the moment the two were having over their sandwiches. Finally, Chuck figured out what to say:
"I can't just stick around Magnolia anymore if I'm going to make it. Smalltime local work is great, but we were meant for more than that, Chuck. We're doing okay now, but I don't want to just be okay. "
Again, the Narrator interjected, what he actually said could probably not be correctly interpreted by an entire team of linguists, but he and Chuck had had this conversation before. Damien always got this way when he was drunk.
“I got it, buddy. My bags are already packed. First thing in the morning, let’s get your place listed, get you packed, and move to Hollywood.” Chuck pulled a marijuana-stuffed pipe from his pocket, stared at it for a long moment, and put it on the counter, seeming to prefer the sandwich in that moment. Damien couldn’t blame him. Of course, he couldn’t do anything but stare at Chuck, tears in his eyes and a grateful smile on his face. “Oh, don’t give me that. You’ve been talking about this forever, it was just a matter of time until we went anyway.”
Damien moved with what he imagined was blinding speed to hug his friend. What really happened was something akin to what a ball goes through in a pinball machine, between inanimate objects and the natural flow of the other partygoers. Some observers might even claim that in crossing the four feet from the stool to his friend that Damien was nearly killed by a puddle of beer on the floor and the fridge.
Before the hug got awkward, Chuck stepped away and set himself to pouring shots for the both of them. With big, goofy smiles on their faces they toasted “To Hollywood!” for the first of what would be another eight shots that night. Damien passed out cuddling with the toilet, having thrown up everything he’d ever eaten.
* * *
“Good morning!” Chuck shouted, gently nudging Damien with his toe.
“Not so loud,” Damien groaned. “What time is it?”
“Two PM, time to get you packed!”
“What? Where are we going?”
“We’re going to Hollywood, man, let’s hit it! There’s no time like an hour from now o’clock to start your life!” Chuck nearly vibrated with enthusiasm.
Damien shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “No, Chuck. Leave me alone. We’ve got work coming up next month. Real, paying work. We can’t just abandon what we’ve got going for a Maybe. Maybe doesn’t feed us. Maybe doesn’t pay rent. We’re going to get out there and be homeless.”
“Yeah, but homeless in LA is a whole lot better than anything here. At least out there we’ll be doing something with a future.”
“No, man. The only future I need is some greasy food and some asprin. It feels like the world is trying to kill me. There is plenty of time for Hollywood later.”
Chuck’s enthusiasm bled out and died. All of Damien’s resolve had disappeared overnight.
“Alright, man. Let’s hit Don Pedro’s, get some breakfast burritos.” Chuck helped Damien stand.
“Now you’re talking sense.” Damien scoffed. “Going to Hollywood now. You’re funny.”
“Alright,” the Narrator says. “This might not be Damien’s proudest moment, but even though it was a pitiful false-start, you just saw the first moment that he started become the man he would eventually become. The character around whom this entire story revolves.”
If you're are sometimes baffled by the enormity of life, give us a share!