It was on the 21st May 2011, that Sam and I spoke for the first time in three years. Our relationship had been hampered by a death, a divorce, copious infidelity, drug abuse, homelessness and mental illness. Neither of us experienced all these things personally, but they had all, in one way or another, affected our friendship. It was on the day the world could have ended that I decided to contact Sam. I knew where to find him.
It was 7pm and knowable Sam was reading on the Swan St footbridge. Andrew was nowhere in sight.
“Sam - ”, I was only 90% sure it was him.
“How are you?”
“Cold. It’s freezing out.”
“Usually that’s something someone says when they’re inside, after being outside.”
“We’re not inside.”
I knew we weren’t inside. It was comforting to hear he was aware of where we were, though.
“Do you want to come over for dinner?” I offer.
“No. But I will come over for a snack and maybe a wash. Would that be ok?”
It took less than 15 minutes to drive back to North Melbourne.
“Andrew and I used to enjoy this walk home. Lots of things to look at.”
Sam spoke from the side of his mouth like a businessman smoking a cigar. He always had. To my knowledge Sam had never smoked a cigar, though his father certainly would have.
I nodded. Not at anything in particular. But as if his very presence in my ’84 Honda Civic needed some sort of positive affirmation.
“Did you see that program about the girl who is addicted to eating chalk?”
Sam had never owned a TV in his life, of course he hadn’t seen chalk girl.
“Andrew passed away last month.”
“She couldn’t stop eating chalk. I just kept asking myself what her dentist might say. You know? It wasn’t just white chalk either. It was blue, green, even pink chalk. This girl, she worked as an understudy on Broadway. Of course. I mean, of course she was an understudy on Broadway. Fucked if I ever reckon she’ll get on stage with a chalk fetish and teeth like that, though.”
I pull the car up to the curb and shot Sam a smile. He knew I’d heard him, heard him say that Andrew had passed away. He also knew I wasn’t much good at talking and driving, particularly sober. So we went inside and I poured us a drink each.
Time passed, mainly with Sam staring into his whiskey. I bet he hadn’t drunk from a glass like that in months, maybe since he moved out from here.
“We had some good times. Me. You. Andrew. Right here in this house, J. We had some good times.” He said, looking around the room as if searching for those good times.
No one had called me J since Sam had moved out. It was out of respect, I guess. Just like how I’d never call any other girl ‘Chook’. Coming out of my mouth, Sarah was the only girl that name belonged to. Sarah was ‘Chook’ to me, just like I was ‘J’ to Sam.
“Do you remember when the three of us would borrow shapes from things?”
“What do you mean ‘borrow shapes’? How can you borrow a shape?”
“You know… We’d see a clock, so the three of us would lie on the ground and curl up into a ball. And then we’d take photos in our mind from above. And we’d look like three clocks on the ground, or that polkadot shirt I used to borrow from you for dates. Do you remember?”
“Or the time you had to fix the light globe in that ceiling?”
Sam pointed to the sunroom’s ceiling. It was high, really high. Beams ran off it. We once strung a piñata up there. Sam had made it. When it finally cracked 7 parcels fell out, each containing a different colour of jelly. He just laughed when they fell to the ground. He laughed and handed me a spoon and that’s when I knew he was starting to lose it.
“No, Sammy, I don’t remember… Are you feeling ok? Like, you know, with the whole…” I probed, pointing to my head, alluding to his.
“You called me Sammy. No one’s called me that in years.”
“And no one’s called me J.”
“Why’d you kick me out?”
“Because I no longer felt safe.”
“Sarah as well.”
“Let’s talk about it in the morning. I am tired. Haven’t been in a house in a while. Might be nice to get some shut-eye.”
I hated him using the expression ‘shut-eye’, but I let it go. He took the couch and I watched Good Will Hunting in my bedroom. Branches were swiping at my window, confused by the wind. I closed the blinds to stop the shadows and locked the door and lay on the left-hand side of our old bed. Sarah and my old bed. A small kitchen knife on the other pillow, where her head should have been.