Walk by the sea (67)

Shutting his ears to the younger man’s drunken protests, Andrew carefully but firmly pushed the former onto the seat next to him, making sure to secure the seatbelt across the squirmy chest. He told Sara to go back and take care of Mary; he didn’t need to face her any more that evening. Frankly, he didn’t really feel inclined to, either. The finality of her decision, as well as the sudden, but not so surprising realization that Joshua Morgan was the golden boy, the ghost who kept popping up during conversations and nights filled with her sighs took their toll on his otherwise stoic character, and at the first red light of the many that night, he found himself edgily drumming on the wheel with his fingers.

Joshua was snoring and mumbling under his nose alternately; curled up on the front seat in his shabby shirt, with his ruffled hair and sleepy countencance he looked like a little boy, despite his age. Andrew drove toward the address he managed to exert from Joshua earlier, a thick-fogged night ascending on his heart. With every minute passing, he understood the situation more and more clearly.

Beside him sat Joshua Morgan, the one whose existence was the reason why Mary could never look at him with passion and genuine loyalty. He recalled the few moments of intimacy they had shared; she had always been devoted, but strangely distant, almost as if she had been trying to hinder his endeavours at making her happy. She had held onto her sorrow, probably because through the tears she found the only path leading back to her true love.

Love… does he know what love means? He seems rather immature… throwing a jealous fit like that, in front of everyone gathered. Andrew passed a hand over his tired face, dialling Antoine to try and apologize for the uncouth disruption of the event. He knew it was not his fault, but he felt responsible nevertheless. Devigny’s cellphone was not responding, he would need to deal with him the next day. Adding an explanation as to why he disappeared without a trace.

-Please stop the car… -Joshua muttered, seemingly lucid.

-I’m taking you home -Andrew replied patiently.

-I’m sorry, I…

With that, Joshua turned away and vomited over the seat, the door, and himself, filling the car with a revolting stench. Andrew jerked the car to a halt and hurried over to open the door for Joshua, but there was nothing left to salvage. Under the weak night-lights he saw that only a major clean-up would help get rid of the stains and the smells.

-Are you alright? -he asked out of politeness, holding Joshua’s right shoulder to keep him from falling forward.

-Yes… I’m very sorry -the other moaned and stepped out of the vehicle. He took a glance over his shoulder, then seeing the mess he had made, wobbled a few steps away from the car, opening his arms wide at the first drops of rain that fell from a thick cloud-layer above the city.

Andrew watched him as he pushed his hair back under the intensifying drizzle. The shirt was beginning to soak through, and a nearby streetlamp showed the outlies of his alarmingly thin body. The shirt allowed the light to seep through, giving Joshua a look of someone from afterlife. The man slowly hung his head and with his hands tried to sweep off the remnants of his own vomit from his shirt.

-Get back in the car, you’ll catch a cold -Andrew stepped to him, gently ushering him on the back seat of the vehicle. -Don’t worry about this, I’ve been meaning to give my car a proper wash, inside and out.

Getting behind the wheel again, he started the BMW, looking in the rear-view mirror to avoid anyone approaching through the illusory rain, then cast a quick glance at Joshua who sat with his hands in his lap, looking out through the window. From the catatonic quality of his gaze, Andrew reckoned he was probably more aware of himself by now, and back in what seemed to be his own private hell.

He remembered the dejected face the young singer gave him upon hearing his offer. As if he had been handed clemency right after his own execution. Such a talented artist… most of them, when the pressure became unbearable, found solace in a substitute for love, usually drugs or alcohol. He had seen many go down that road which inevitably led to a cataclysm. Eyeing Joshua freely now (the latter was so deep in thought he never noticed he was being watched) Andrew experienced a jolt of fear. Death was so very close to this young man and he didn’t even know it.

-Thank you for doing this -he heard a quiet voice behind him.

He lifted his gaze and met Joshua’s in the tiny mirror. The dark eyes conveyed a kind of resigned humility that sent a shiver through him. He took a deep breath and because he knew anything he said would have intensified the unease of his passenger, he focused back on the road.

The rest of the drive was quiet and uneventful. The rain pattered down on the wind-shield in undulating layers of water made fluorescent by the lights of the city. The silence veiled the thoughts of both men, one bitter and forlorn, the other forcing himself to be strong and generous. The quietude was heavily uncomfortable but neither was ready to talk to the other one just yet.

It was still raining when the car stopped by the side-walk. Joshua got out on his side just when another car sped by, the horizontal trace of sparkling raindrops painted by light coldly grazing his frame. He stopped short, as if contemplating the missed opportunity of ending it all, then walked around the vehicle. Noticing Andrew stand beside the car, then close the door and take a step closer to him, he said:

-I am fine, really. Thank you for driving me.

-Would you mind if I used your washroom? -Andrew asked, grateful that the urge to relieve himself was strong enough to provide an acceptable pretext.

Joshua opened the entrance door without a word and started walking up the stairs. He didn’t seem to mind anything, not the three floors, or the fact that an older man was panting behind him.

There was a penetrating odour of stale alcohol and dead air in the relatively large, empty-looking apartment. Andrew brought his hand to his nose automatically, then, because Joshua seemed to be familiar and almost comfortable with the smells, it was he who had to step to the window to open it. Freshly fallen rain won over the oppressing stench, and Andrew breathed in eagerly. From the corner of his eye he saw Joshua walk into another room and throw himself in his wet, soiled clothes on his bed. After quickly using the rest room, he stepped out and tossed his own soaked jacket on a chair.

The air in the flat was gradually losing its stifling effect. The pattering of raindrops on the windowsill and on the chair forgotten under the window calmed his senses incredibly; he stood in one place, breathing deep, then looking around the room, despite his nature, usually unperturbed by the desire to prey on someone else’s privacy.

A TV, a couch, compact discs and a stereo scattered on the floor nonchalantly, a shirt on the arm of the couch, a plant in the corner, apparently using its last drops of carbon-dioxide. No pictures on the walls. A carpet of undefinable shade. So this was the place of the once world famous Joshua Morgan. The one whose name sent thousands of people into screaming bouts, lived in a sleazy flat. Befitting his present persona. The realization may have quenched his curiosity, but he wasn’t sure whether he felt a perverse joy or undeniable sympathy for the man.

With the intention of letting Joshua know he was leaving, Andrew walked closer to the bedroom and peeked in. Joshua was already unconscious, his left arm across his chest, his shoes still on his feet. The room smelled, so Andrew decided to open another set of windows. Relief came quickly: his lungs filled with the fresh scent of rain, and his heart, with newly awakened pity for the man who was only half his age, yet seemed stuck in a place he was unable to get out of. He stooped and slowly took the shoes off, one by one, placing them neatly next to the bed. As he leaned over his helpless rival, his stomach turned at the crass reek of vomit on the half unbuttoned shirt. His instincts told him to peel the wet shirt off and folding it into a bundle, he took it into the bathroom. Clean towels were hard to find, but at least they were dry. After returning to the bedroom, he applied a towel to the chest and arms that, despite his straining imagination, did not remind him of the all too precious sketches of Mary, but rather, of a penniless bum. Then, with a last effort, he pulled the unconscious Joshua higher on the bed and covered his body with a wrinkled blanket.

Doing his best to abolish memories that surged in his chest, he turned away from the disturbingly familiar human figure, softened into a half-veiled mould on the bed by the night’s twilight. Still uncertain as to why he had offered to drive Joshua home in the first place, he made to leave the flat, deep in thoughts he was long supposed to be free of.

Before closing the door, he remembered to go back into the living-room, find an orphaned sheet of paper and scribble a few lines on it. Leaving it on the bed next to the sleeping man, he was finally ready to go home with a clear conscience.