The Boyfriend Edit
Sid looked out of the window, to watch Jenny as she walked down the street. But - what was this? Why was she walking up to that Merc? And who was this guy getting out ... opening the front passenger door for her ... kissing her on the cheek and helping her in ... Sid had to turn away. Did he have any chance at all? Was there any point in his trying to change, in becoming a new person?
No. There was no reason. But then, he kind of had to. Because he had just promised himself that he would.
"Well, since Jenny went through all the trouble of scheduling me some counselling, I'll probably have to keep going to see Jensen," he told himself. "And maybe when it's all done, heck, who knows, maybe that Merc guy would have abandoned her by then? So I'll still have a chance."
Moments later, he realized that he really didn't stand any chance. But desperation made him go after her. He ran the last few steps to the car.
"So... what now?" asked Jenny, a bit irritated.
"Erm... Uh..." Sid didn't know what he was doing. He was trying to indicate to her that this third person didn't fit the equation. However, he had no idea how to communicate that.
"What's the matter, Sid?"
Sid felt his face go red again. Was he sweating? He felt out of place.
Oh, come on! What was he supposed to say now? He blurted out, even though he regretted it instantly, "Is that your boyfriend?"
Jenny's face morphed into a weird expression. If there was a way of mixing a snicker with a expression of shock and disappointment, that would be it. "What!?" she asked him.
"You heard me!" Sid felt an unexpected surge of bravery...it made him feel dizzy.
She pointed to the driver, "He's my father! We were going to visit my aunt Charla!" Sid then noticed the driver was considerably older than Jenny was. "I'll pretend I didn't hear what you said," she said, and turned her back.
She sat down in the passenger seat, and glanced one last time at Sid. To make his humiliation more complete, Sid heard her father asking her if he was "the therapy guy". Twice. Because she apparently was too distracted by hating Sid to hear her father the first time. She answered with a quick yes and told him to go already.
Mum's Request Edit
Sid stood there, motionless, for what seemed to be a long time. He only came back to his senses when he heard his cellphone ringing. It had probably been ringing for some time. He took it from his pocket and opened, with the intention of turning it off. But according to the identifier it was his mum, so he had no choice.
"Hello, Mum," he said, in a depressed voice.
"Sidney? Is that you? Could you call in here this afternoon? The light globe in the hallway needs to be replaced ... I can't really climb a ladder at the moment. And it would be nice to spend some time with you, Sonny." His mother's voice sounded a little weaker than it had last time he had spoken to her, several weeks ago.
He was not in mood to do anything, especially not to visit his mum, so he invented some lousy excuse and told her he might call in the next day. Then he went into the bar again. It was never too early to be drunk.
The Telephone Call Edit
When Sid arrived home the answering machine was flashing. "Hi Mum," he said to no-one in particular, ignoring the message in favour of scouring the fridge. He settled down in front of some late-night TV with a grilled concoction of bread, cheese and tomato salsa. Most of it was on his shirt when woke with sore neck and shoulders at around 5am. Shakily, he stood up, allowing the food to fall onto the carpet, and he staggered into his bedroom.
Two hours later, he woke to the sound of the telephone. "Hmph...," he said. He tried again. "Hello." His voice was deep and cracked.
"Sid! Where have you been? Why don't you answer your messages?" Oh God, it was Tammy. She was the last thing he needed right now.
"Hey Sis," he croaked. "What's going on?"
"It's Mum, you prick. She's in hospital."
"She fell, trying to change a lightbulb or something. She was on the floor for hours, apparently. A neighbour called by and spotted her through the glass on the front door."
"Oh my God, is she alright?"
"If she hadn't got the light on she'd probably still be lying there, Sid. Honestly, you are such a waste of space. Why didn't you go over and change it for her?"
He put his head in his hands. "I don't know," he thought.
“Sid! Sid! Are you there?”
“Yeah. Are you at the hospital?”
“I’m on my way over. Soon as I’ve dropped Ruth off at school. Just get your butt over there. Okay?”
There was a pause. Sid smacked the receiver against his forehead twice before speaking slowly into it. “I can’t,” he said. “I have to go to work.”
“What! You little… call in sick.”
“Tammy, I can’t.” There was a pleading quality to his voice. “I’ve used up my sick days.”
“I don’t believe this. I don’t have time for your pathetic excuses,” she said and hung up. Sid put the phone down. A few seconds later, he took it back off the hook. He sat on the couch for half an hour, not moving. Finally, he picked up the phone, called in sick, changed his clothes and left the flat.
Instead of the hospital, he went to a bar. Not the bar near Jenny’s house, but a different bar in a different part of town where he was sure no-one would recognise him. He wanted to disappear, to become invisible. Most of all, he wanted to be nowhere near that hospital where his mother and sister were waiting to judge him.
Tammy had seemed mad as hell. She would yell and scream at him, call him every name under the sun. That was nothing. Nothing compared to his mum, who would be understanding, forgiving and perhaps even pity him. He cried as he thought about how stupid and selfish he had been. He had always been the only person his mum could rely on. Tammy, for all her talk of responsibility, was useless. She had no time for anyone but her little family.
Not so much a Stranger Edit
An hour and 3 beers later, Sid was roused from his dark reverie by a voice he had heard once before. “Troubles?” it asked.
Sid looked up at the stranger in amazement. “Yes,” he said. He grabbed the man’s shoulders. “You’ve got to help me. I’m ruining everything.”
The man ignored Sid while he ordered a beer. When it arrived, he took a big drink, set it down on the bar and turned to speak. “I take it things didn’t go well with your lady friend.”
“Huh,” asked Sid. “Oh, no it didn’t. In fact, I’ve made an enormous fool of myself. But that’s not what’s bothering me right now.”
The stranger said nothing and looked straight ahead. After a pause, Sid filled the silence with an explanation of how his negligence had led to his mother being in hospital. “So, what are you doing here?” the stranger asked.
Sid didn't answer. He was seemingly frozen, his gaze transfixed by his glass.
"It appears to me" said the stranger, "that if you spent less time worrying about your problems and more time considering other people's, you wouldn't have so many of these problems."
Sid thought for a minute. "Did you really end up naked at the water cooler, with everyone taking photos of you?"
"If I had," said the stranger, "I wouldn't have let it be a problem for me. It would have been just one of those moments, mortifying at the time, but funny to look back on. Besides ... I keep myself in good shape - just in case." He laughed.
After fifteen or so seconds, Sid paid for the beer and left. The stranger smiled.
At the Hospital Edit
"Hello Mum," Sid said. "How're you feeling?"
"Sid," she replied. "I'm sorry, son. I shouldn't have tried to do it myself. Next time I'll wait for you to do it, I promise. It wasn't so urgent, really."
Sid knew that his mum was trying to make him feel better. But she only succeeded in making him feeling worse. Then he stopped ... he asked himself who it was who mattered most in this situation. His mum, of course. So, if she wanted to try to make him feel better, he should let her. It was up to him to absorb any guilt. "I suppose," he said. "Just as long as you remember."
His mother looked at him. "It wasn't your fault, darling. I was a bit overconfident, that's all. I could have asked one of the neighbours," she said.
Sid smiled - that did make him feel a little better - but he knew he was partly responsible, no question 'bout it.
On the Couch Edit
"So, I got my head stuck in the stair railings," Sid said. "So what! I'll look back on it as pretty funny one day."
"You'll look back on it as funny, will you?" said Jensen, biting the end off a cigar.
"You don't think it's funny?" Sid was starting to feel less positive about himself. He'd come here on a bit of a high, after facing his mum.
Jensen shrugged. "It's not for me to say."
"Well, I think it's really funny. You should have heard all the laughing ..." This wasn't going according to plan.
"So how did that make you feel ..."
Sid was out the door. "I'm not paying,' he called over his shoulder to the receptionist.
"Join the queue," the guy said, reading on. "So to speak ..."
A Visit from Jenny Edit
"He told me you didn't stay," said Jenny. "And ... er ... didn't pay." She put her hand on Sid's arm. "You can't really behave like that. He's a professional. Clients are his bread and butter."
"Does he have any paying clients? I doubt it. And the reason is ..."
"Sid, you have to calm down. Take a deep breath. That's better. Maybe I can help you with the relaxation."
A Suggestion from a Friend Edit
"Why don't you do the water cooler trick?" said Cousins. He'd just made strong coffee in Sid's messy kitchen, and was pouring the hot liquid into two cups.
"What are you talking about?" Sid's head was fuzzy enough after all the beer he'd needed after his session with Jenny. "What water cooler trick?"
"You know ... being drunk and naked next to the water cooler at work."
"You mean - on purpose?"
Sid took several sips of coffee. Was he imagining this conversation? "And that would achieve ...?"
"Two things," said Cousins. "One, you'd establish your reputation as a larrikin, and people would be so used to laughing at you, they'd imagine you were clowning around for their benefit. Then eventually, they'd be laughing with you, not at you. And two, you'd be able to start laughing at yourself. Instead of taking yourself so seriously all the time."
"I used to think you were a friend," said Sid. "You're asking me to humiliate myself again, in a humungous way, so as to stop myself feeling humiliated in a pretty big way!"
"Yeah, that's about it."
"Have you though of charging for your advice? Or setting up in business? Maybe you could get hired by a magazine problem page?" Sid poured the rest of his coffee down the sink. "I'm going out," he said. "I need a drink."
The Comfort of Strangers Edit
Sid was drinking in the same bar when The Stranger came in, with two other guys, who were laughing uncontrollably. They looked like twins. The Stranger sat on a stool next to Sid. "Shut up," he said to the two guys, who immediately stopped. "How's your mum?" he said to Sid.
"Much better - thanks. She's being philosophical about it. And not blaming me at all."
"What about you? Are you blaming yourself?"
"Trying not to. Not everything's my fault."
"That's the way. How's the girlfriend?"
"Teaching me to relax. Somehow I'm finding that very stressful."
"It's like driving," said The Stranger.
"Having someone you're intimate with teaching you to drive. Teaching you anything."
"Unfortunately, I'm not intimate with her yet."
"Ah, that's probably worse then."
"By the way, let me introduce you to my two brothers, Bill and Ben." Bill and Ben started laughing again. "Bill and Ben, this is ...?"
"Sid. Actually, I don't know your name, either."
"Oh. You can call me Steve, if you want."
"Is that your name?" somehow, Sid thought the name was too bland to fit the stranger.
"Nah," Bill and Ben giggled
"Heh. Sorry, but I'll settle for Stranger. Any objections, Stranger?"
"Hey, you choose your own reality. That's my belief. It's like consensus reality, but it takes only one person for it."
"It's a good one. Maybe I'll choose my own reality. And it won't include creating opportunities for people to laugh at me. No more sticking my head through stair railings. Definitely no ending up drunk and naked at the water cooler with everyone taking photos."
"Was that you?" said Bill, laughing loudly.
"We've heard about that!" said Ben, hysterically.
Their laughter was so infectious that the whole crowd in the bar joined in, even though they had no idea what they were laughing about.
"Despite your new resolution, it seems like you have a talent for comedy," said The Stranger to Sid. "I'd go with it." He smiled. "And as you can see, we all have our own crosses to bear." He whispered, "You can stop feeling sorry for yourself now, and start feeling sorry for me ..."