“You have a collect call from Ted. Will you accept the charges?”
“You have a collect call from Ted. Will you accept the charges?”
“No way! What? Wait! Yeah, yes, I’ll accept the charges.”
“Go ahead,” the operator said.
“Dave? I mean, who’s this?”
“You call me and you want to know who this is?”
“Yeah, well, is Dave there?”
“Dave is dead.”
“What do you mean Dave is dead?”
“I mean dead, like he’s not breathing.”
“No, he isn’t, he was just…”
“OD’d? You mean like smack?”
“Yeah, exactly like smack.”
“Dave didn’t do smack.”
“Oh, well, I guess they must have spelled it wrong on his toe tag. Anyway, he’s dead and you’re Ted, right?”
“Yeah, how’d… oh.”
“So, what’s your story?”
“What? No! Look, what’s going on?”
“You want me to tell you what’s going on.”
“Yeah. Oh man, I’m freaking, I’m really freaking.”
“Ted, you on drugs like your friend Dave?”
“What? No. I don’t think so. This is real. Wait, what do you mean like Ted? Something happened to Ted? I mean, I know he’s dead, or you said he’s dead, but I mean, something like this?”
Ted pulled the received away from his ear and looked around the diner. A man on the far side of the counter was staring at him. Everyone else was busy with breakfast. He looked away from the man and put the phone back to his ear.
“Look, a minute ago I was in the apartment with Dave and a couple of other dudes. Now I’m here and they’re gone and I don’t know what’s going on.”
“So, you went through that loop.”
“You go in one door and out another one and when you get there It’s later than you think it’s supposed to be.”
“I don’t know what happened. I just...”
“What do you mean okay? It’s totally freaking me out!”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know, man. All I have is this note with a number on it and I called. I thought I’d get Dave and now you’re answering. This is really freaky!”
“And you want me to…”
“Crap, I don’t know!” Ted slammed the phone down and looked around. This time everyone was staring at him. He checked the coin return. Nothing there. He pushed the door open and stepped out into Brigham Circle. He wondered if he should go across to the hospital. Was he crazy? What could they do? He stepped off the curb, waited for a cab to go by and then changed his mind and stepped back. Heads turned as he walked back into the diner.
This time Megan said yes right away when the operator asked, she’d accept the charges.
“Look,” she said, “I was a little harsh. Dave told me about that loop thing and said you would call someday. I thought it was total bullshit, but he was sure you’d call. To tell the truth, that’s one of the reasons I kept this apartment. I didn’t believe it, but, still…”
Ted tried to keep his voice down, tried to control his panic. “Dave’s really dead?”
“Yeah, sorry, he died. I think it was because of you.”
“How could it be because of me?”
“I don’t mean you killed him or anything. He just had this thing; he felt like it was his fault.”
“That you did this whole thing. I mean, I didn’t believe it, but he did. That you did this thing and you never came back and you were lost somewhere. He thought you’d come back. For a long time, he did, but then I think he gave up. I almost gave up too.”
“So, you believed him.”
“No, I didn’t believe him, but when he left, that was about it for me. Before he started using, getting strung out, he was such a good guy. I loved him.” She took a breath and let it out slow. “So, you want to come out and talk about it?”
“Come out? You mean like to California?”
“Got any bread?”
“Okay, this is part of Dave’s story. He said to ask if you remember where Bill kept his old beer cans.”
“Yeah, of course. He was weird about that.”
“Yeah, well, Dave said he didn’t put it in the note because he thought somebody else might find it.”
“The note. He said to look where Bill kept the old beer cans, he left something to help you out.”
“So, there should be enough to get you here.”
“You have something to write with?”
“Um, no. Wait.” He put the phone down on the little wooden seat in the booth and pushed the doors open. The short order cook was staring at him.
“Hey, man, you got a pencil I can use?”
Silently, the cook pulled a pencil from behind his ear and handed it across the counter.
The cook looked back down at the grill and flipped a couple of eggs.
“Okay, I got it,” Ted said into the phone.
“Okay, I’m in San Diego, here’s the address.”
Ted found a page in the phone book with enough empty space to write on and said, “Okay.” She told him, and he penciled it in, and tore the corner of the page out.
“You know when you’ll get here?”
“No, um, I guess a week or so. Depends if I’m lucky with rides.”
“The bread under the cans will pay for a bus.”
“Oh, yeah. Okay.”
“Get the money, get on a bus, and come out here. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Yeah, okay. Thanks.”
“This is not some kind of bullshit, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“This loop thing is not something Dave just made up.”
“I don’t know, man.”
“I mean you really just walked through these doors and now you don’t know what happened?”
“Yeah, like that.”
“Get on the bus.”
“One more thing.”
“How old are you?”
“What? Nineteen, why?”
“Nineteen.” After a pause, she said, “See you in a few.”
Ted pushed out of the booth. The cook stuck his hand out, palm-up.
“Oh, yeah,” Ted said, and handed him the pencil. The cook stuck it back behind his ear and pulled a couple of order slips from over the grill. Ted stepped outside and started walking back towards Marcella Road, hoping like hell there really was enough bread under Bill’s stash of flattened beer cans for a ticket to San Diego. He guessed he could always hitch if he had to, but he didn’t have any bread at all.
He found Megan’s street easily enough, but when he got to her building, he realized he didn’t know her last name. He never even knew Dave’s last name, and there was no Megan on the tags next to the buzzers. He stared at the names a minute, walked back out and looked at the side of the building. The number was right. Inside, he scanned the list of names again. Not there. He went back down the street and found a Jack-in-the-Box that had a payphone on a pole next to the building. He dug some change from the bus ticket and found a quarter for the phone. Megan answered on the third ring.
He was relieved to hear her voice.
“Yeah, Ted, right?” She half-laughed as she said it.
“Um, I couldn’t find your name on the bells.”
“You’re here? In San Diego?”
“Yeah, I found your street and your building all right, but your name’s not on the bell. Actually, I don’t know your last name.”
“Same as Dave’s”
“I don’t know Dave’s. I don’t know any of the dude’s last names. He didn’t know mine.”
“Oh, right, cool dudes. I’m 202, second floor. Where you calling from?”
“There’s a Jack in the Box down the street.”
“Oh, okay, good. Come on up.”
“Beer?” Megan said as they sat at her kitchen table.
“Naw, I don’t do hard drugs.” They laughed.
“Yeah, man, wine would be cool.”
“Got it,” Megan said. “Wine, no beer.”
“Beer’s for alkies, man.”
She stood and nodded at him. “Yeah, boy have you got a lot to get used to.”
Megan put a bottle of Chardonnay on the table and turned to get glasses. Ted grabbed the bottle.
“Oh, cool, man, twist-off.”
“Something else you’ll get used to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Corks have kind of gone the way of dudes with ponytails and work shoes held together with tape around the toes.”
Ted looked down at his shoes. “Oh, yeah, man. It’s weird. All the way out here, on the whole bus there wasn’t one freak. What the hell happened?”
Megan smiled at him. He was so young. She couldn’t imagine Dave hanging out with this kid. Of course, he was a kid then too.
Ted took a hit from the bottle.
“We could pour some in the glasses if you’d like.”
“Oh, no, this is cool man. Hey, you don’t have a doobie, do you?”
She thought how she should answer. Sighing, she said, “Since Dave, you know….”
Ted put the bottle down. “Oh, yeah… but, you said he OD’d on smack.”
She nodded and reached for the bottle, poured herself a glass, and then filled his.
“Hey, the bottle’s cool, man.”
“Yeah, it’s cool, man,” she mimicked him. Glasses are cool too, man.”
“Oh, yeah, cool.”
She shook her head, smiling. “What in the world happened to you?”
“Yeah, man. No—what happened to everyone? Everything? Man, everyone is, like, so square.”
“Squaresville, man,” she said, laughing, not believing this kid was actually here, popping up out of the past. Literally, just like that, out of the past.
“It’s far out man, but not in a good way.”
“It’s far out all right. But I’ll tell you what’s really far out.”
“You being here. Sitting there, nineteen-years-old just like Dave was when. He knew you.”
“He is nineteen.” Ted looked around the room. “Well, he was, a couple of days ago. What happened? Did everyone drop like anti-acid and the whole world went straight?”
“No, I don’t think so. Just time went by and I guess the acid wore off.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know.”
He shook his head, “Not really.” They were silent for a moment, then he said, “Oh, you mean like the scag.”
“I don’t get it. Dave didn’t do scag. No one did. What happened?”
“Like I said, you happened.”
“He couldn’t get over it. He knew something bad was going to happen, not like this, but he just felt it. He shouldn’t have let you do it, but he did and then you just never came back. That freaked him out.”
“Freaked him out, man. I’m still freaking out.”
“I know, it must be really weird for you.”
“The weirdest, man.”
“But for him, it was the guilt. Not knowing what happened to you, not knowing where you were, and feeling like it was his fault. It ate at him. And then he started using.”
“Bummer, man.” Ted reached for the bottle, and then remembered he had a glass. “Bummer.”
“Yes, very bummer.” She lifted her glass and they both took a drink.
“So, um,” Ted said, “That’s why you don’t…”
“Right, don’t do drugs.”
“But grass is an herb, man.”
“It’s, ah, okay, well… That’s cool man. Wine’s cool.”
She nodded and couldn’t help smiling. “But not beer, that’ for alkies.”
“Yeah, man.” He lifted his glass. They toasted the air and drank.
“Dave didn’t talk about you much, only about how he let you go through that loop and how it was his fault.”
“We hung out, man. We were brothers.”
“But you didn’t know each other’s last names.”
“Those are family names, man. Those are for squares.”
She lifted her glass. “Yeah, tell that to them down at Motor Vehicles.”
“Yeah, the Man,” he said.
“Yeah, the Man.”
They sat without talking until the wine was gone.
“Tell me about the loop,” she said
“Man, I don’t know anything about the loop.”
“But it’s real right? Dave didn’t make it up?”
“I guess it’s real, because something happened. All I know is, Bill, you know Bill, right? Well, I guess you don’t know him.”
“I’ve heard the name.”
“Yeah, well, he was not really cool. Not really mellow, you dig?”
“Not your prototypical hippie.”
“What? Yeah, I guess. Anyway, he was going on about the doors, how cool it was to go in the door from the living room and out the door into the hall. He was saying Michael did it. You know…”
“Dave talked about Michael—the drug tester.”
“Yeah, that was Michael. Michael was very cool, very laid back. Anyway, Bill was saying Michael did it. Went through the doors and was gone fifteen minutes. Michael was saying he wasn’t gone any minutes. He just walked through the kitchen, and that was it. Bill went on and on saying what a trip it was and I should take a trip.”
“What was Dave doing?”
“Nothing really. He was just spacing out, you know. He didn’t say a lot. He just said he didn’t know if it was cool, but he didn’t say I should it.”
“But he didn’t say you shouldn’t.”
“No. I mean, I didn’t know what Bill was talking about. I still don’t, except I walked through those doors and, now look.”
“I mean it’s so weird. Everyone is so weird, so straight. I can’t even tell if I’m really here. Maybe it doesn’t look like it, but this is really freaking me. I don’t even know if this is real.”
Megan stood up. “Come here.”
She walked over to Ted’s chair. Stand up.”
“Come here.” She wrapped him in her arms. “Is this real?”
“Yeah, this is real.”
“That’s all I know. That’s all there is.”