“What—what is it?”
“I’ve travestied myself.”
“I said, ‘I’ve travestied myself’,” Nick repeated, more loudly.
Ryan, who had heard Nick the first time, didn’t understand. “I don’t understand,” said Ryan. “Is that, like, a bathroom problem?”
“What?” now Nick was confused. “Bro, we’re on the patio—the bathroom’s nowhere near us.”
“I mean, like, did you shit yourself, or something?”
“Shit myself!” Nick was blown away. “Jesus, dude! Why on Earth would I shit myself?”
Ryan was embarrassed, “I dunno, man. I just didn’t understand what you said, I guess.”
The two frat brothers sat in silence for a while. According to the screen on Ryan’s cellphone, the time was four-sixteen in the afternoon. Their heads were groggy, and the grogginess was making the afternoon daylight seem like something from another time, like something human beings weren’t built to survive. Beer cans were scattered in the backyard grass, which needed to be mowed. A lot of little bugs buzzed about.
Nick was sitting in the grass. One of his eyelids kind of seeped open at the world. His arm was on his forehead—a sweaty, meaty visor—when his barely open eye detected something on the fence.
Somebody had spray-painted an illegible message on the fence. Nick got the vaguest feeling that he understood the message, that he knew something about the orange spray paint with which the message had been scrawled. He was pretty sure that the message was hilarious, in some way. Nick sat there in the grass, peering through the sunlight, trying to decode the orange squiggles on the fence.
Hoping to put a stop to their pounding, toxic hangovers, Nick and Ryan nursed cans of cheap, light beer. The beers were not enjoyable, but it did seem to help, a bit.
“So, umm…” Ryan mumbled. He’d almost fallen asleep. His back was flat on the splintery wooden slats of the patio. “Like, what did you mean before?”
“What—the graffiti on the fence?” Nick perked up a bit. “Dude, I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. Maybe more beer will help. Maybe your eyes have to be all blurry, or whatever, in order to read it. That would be kind of friggin’ awesome, right?”
Ryan sipped his beer. He also kind of nodded. Nick had spoken too fast, and the speaking had made Ryan’s head go swirly. He tried to steady himself by doing something mentally, kind of groping for stability while laid out on the patio. Booze tossed violently in his brain. His brain felt squishy and vulnerable. When Ryan found a little balance, he tried to figure out what Nick had just told him. He was sure that Nick had told him something about the fence. Ryan sat up on his elbows, just enough to see the fence at the bottom of his eyes. The sky was really up there, at the top, but Ryan did his best to ignore it. He tried to focus on the fence. Eventually, he saw the twirling orange doodle on the pickets of the fence. He couldn’t understand the doodle. He sipped his beer, stared the doodle down. In the grass, Nick did the same. The two frat brothers were convinced that, with every sip of beer, they got a little closer to understanding the image on the fence.
“Umm…” Ryan felt a kind of feeling in him, somewhere—a feeling that a question he’d proposed never did get fully answered. He sipped his beer again. He nearly vomited. He shot forward and made a dry hacking sound at his shoes. He waited. His eyes had two different pulses. His eyes were sweating. He hovered, bent over his shoes. He felt the muscles in his neck contract, urging him to make some changes to his life. The moment passed. Just in case, Ryan held his position. After sipping his beer again, he remembered how to ask a question. “Oh, right—so, like, what did you mean before?”
“I mean, like, earlier. Over earlier. You said you tragedied yourself, or something.”
“Travestied,” Nick corrected, holding up a blade of grass. “I travestied myself, bro.”
“Umm…right. Okay. So, like, what did you mean? Like, by that, I mean.”
Nick pointed with the blade of grass to his pink and brown checkered shorts. “Peed myself, bro,” he rubbed the slightly damp spot that had formed near the zipper. “Fucking travesty, right? Embarrassing.”
“Oh,” said Ryan. “Umm…bummer.”
Something about the whole exchange wasn’t quite right. Ryan knew that something between his questions, and Nick’s answers, was off. But his head felt like a mop being perpetually rung, so he didn’t try to figure out what was wrong about the chat. He sipped his beer again—the can was very empty. He held the can above his head, tilted the can down at his eyes to peer into the hole. According to his eyes, the can was definitely empty. Ryan cradled the can against his chest, as if to nurse it, before rolling it up to his neck. Eventually, the can found its way to his forehead. The can was not cool to the touch—in fact, it was a little warm—but Ryan kept it on his forehead. He didn’t want to think about what else could be done with it.
Nick started snoring. As if prompted by the snores, other brothers from the frat house started to wake up. The frat brothers emerged, crawling into the backyard with weak knees, and dehydrated throats. The brothers moved slowly, cautiously, like victims from a newly bombed town.
One of the brothers pointed at the graffiti on the fence. “Heh,” he said, pointing. “Check out the dick.” Once somebody had pointed it out, the fact that it was a dick seemed really obvious to everyone who lived there.
Michael J. Coene lives with a blind dog above a duckpin bowling alley in Baltimore. His short stories have appeared in Bridge Eight, The Canary Press, 3Elements Review, and more. Currently, he is seeking representation for five unpublished novel manuscripts. He doesn't sleep. His dog does, though.
Image credit: "Beer Pong," by Jeff Wright on Flickr