Literary Fiction

Time Will Forgive

By Jeff Somers
Jun 24, 2018 · 2,801 words · 11 minutes

Time Will Forgive

by Jeff Somers

tea and sympathy

I told myself to shut up, and sipped scalding tea.

Mrs. Andrews’ living room carpet was so plush and so deep I was afraid to step on it. I figured there were probably salesmen and other visitors still down there, wading through the stalk-like fibers, sweating, coughing on dust and hair. I walked gingerly along the edges and sat on the Visitor’s Couch, the only place I’d ever sat in this house, at least when Mrs. Andrews was there. I crossed my legs nervously and noticed for the first time that my socks were subtly different shades of blue.

“Tea?” Mrs. Andrews snapped like a brittle line.

I didn’t dare refuse.

The Andrews’ house was like a museum. All the objects held within were under invisible energy fields which alerted Mrs. Andrews if anyone attempted to touch, admire, or utilize anything. This included the useful appliances -I had never, in fifteen years, witnessed or heard rumor of a television, blender, stereo, or telephone being switched on or operated. I suspected even the toilets were encased in psychic gloopstick, untouchable little porcelain pools of chlorinated water, unrippled and possibly jellied by now. I also suspected that Mr. Andrews, long missing in a scandalous family drama, might actually be in some sub-basement, encased in his own force-field, an exhibit.

Or possibly in the living room carpet.

I imagined Mrs. Andrews walking into the still-life kitchen and taking her tidy hairdo out the back door, walking two blocks to Pirelli’s Diner, and bringing back two styrofoam cups of tea.

Derek Manley, the ruin of womankind

Perfect jeans. Boundless good humor. The ability to wear after-shave correctly. A handsome five o’clock shadow. Endless lustful energy. An ability with colognes. The right level of nonchalance. Knowledgeable of when to stop speaking to maintain mystery. A self-assured and masculine way of smoking cigarettes. Holds his beer bottle with his whole hand, with confidence.

Laughs too loud. Irritates other men. And charms the pants off the women he meets.

tea and sympathy

My tea was brought by a shaky hand in a delicate cup and a bright white saucer. Mrs. Andrews had put sugar and lemon and milk in my tea without asking. I held the cup awkwardly.

Mrs. Andrews sat on the home’s couch. She was a stern old woman now. I’d known her for fifteen years, now. In all that time her hairdo had not changed. This had always fascinated me. As we spoke, I found myself drifting, studying her hair, waiting for it to do something.

“It was good of you to come.”

An intricate puzzle of grey and shadows, slightly curled, and held in place with cruel-looking pins and wires. It had the property of looking completely foreign on her head, disconnected. I wondered heretically if she maybe wore a wig. I wondered what might be found under it -a smooth white sphere? A pockmarked moonscape? A throbbing brain? I wondered if it might rise up and flap around the room.

“None of Henry’s other friends,” she said ponderously with the odd pause, “saw fit to drop by.” she sniffed.

I pictured her bald, and spooked myself.

There was a second level to the house, I had deduced from the windows outside and a grim, shadowed set of stairs off the foyer. Stairs leading up into an aged darkness that I felt friendly with, having known it for so long. Every visit to the Andrews house, the second-floor darkness had been there, forbidden but waving to me cheerfully.

I glanced quickly at Mrs. Andrews’ hair to make sure it had not moved.

“Not that I cared much for most of Henry’s friends, of course. But you were always different. You were the only one who said hello when you came over here.”

I nodded and sipped tea, resisting the urge to spit it out rudely.

wet leaves in fall, a smell like

She got drunk too easily, too quickly, Cheryl did, a flushed stocky girl with a painfully gorgeous face, and there was a long list of regrettable evenings to prove it. Miserable in the morning over coffee and puke she would relive the awful evenings, torrid tales of small talk, whispers, sex and betrayal. Who was betraying who was a matter of opinion.

Hangovers and a rose perfume, scrambled eggs and tears, coffee and self-loathing. And still with a smile for Monday morning.

tea and sympathy

Once, when Henry and I had been nineteen and home from school we’d opened up his mother’s liquor cabinet and mixed up a batch of martini’s for ourselves, feeling continental. Henry had been in a phase wherein he insisted that everyone call him Hank, trying for a level of manliness, but that afternoon we’d referred to each other by our full names in stuffy faux-English accents that deteriorated as the pitcher of martinis shrank.

Mrs. Andrews’ liquor was kept in crystal decanters which mystified me. They were unmarked -how did you tell them apart without sampling them, which seemed rude in front of guests, and did you buy the decanters full? I could not imagine the tidy Mrs. Andrews pouring whiskeys and vodkas from their garish store-bought bottles into these blank and uneasy containers.

Henry and I had dozed on the Visitor’s Couch for a while and had, upon wakening, engaged in a frantic watering-down experiment to avoid detection. Being inexperienced, we had no idea if such tactics actually worked, and spent the better part of two weeks analyzing Henry’s mother, waiting for retribution once the labs returned the report: 100% positive for tapwater.

Almost six years later, I found I still had lingering suspicions. She knew. She was still waiting for the right moment to spring it on me. Henry had cheated her, escaping to the grave before she could spring. I was trapped, sitting on the Visitor’s Couch in mis-matched socks, holding a fragile cup of scalding tea, afraid if I leaped up to make a run for it I’d spill tea in my lap and unman myself.

“How are your parents?” Mrs. Andrews asked, sipping her own Earl Grey as if heat had no affect on her.

Duffy’s and the slim side of honor

And there we were: The Charmer, The Charmed, and yours truly The Portrait of the Artist as An Absolute Moron. For years I’d known that she was vexing to the fickle bastard: a passably good looking girl who dropped her knickers at the drop of a hat and slept with anyone who was mostly nice to her and who had resisted the bastard’s own charm effortlessly so far. She had, in his opinion, fallen for many a man less charming than he, and yet had consistently regarded his own well-practiced charm and invitation as humorous and impossible.

That they were both sluts was obvious: He considered himself a predator and she couldn’t tell the difference between flirting and fucking.

So far the Absolute Moron had taken comfort in her resistance of this one, lone asshole: she had probably given in to every other guy who skulked around Duffy’s happy hour debacle, but she at least continued to resist Derek Manley.

That night, Henry had come out to celebrate and after getting everyone as inebriated as they’d ever been he’d crawled off to the bathroom to throw up and pass out and wake up to repeat it all again.

The Moron had been content to let Henry convulse in private, more interested in and alarmed by the way she laughed at jokes she’d heard from Dexter Manley before, the way she kept touching Dexter’s arm. The way she kept ignoring the Moron.

When it was suggested that the Moron ought to check on his best friend, he wasn’t too dumb to resist the idea, but found the effort too much for him. She he went. He nudged Henry, pushed his hair out of his face, ran the cold water. And found the Charmer and the Charmed gone, faded into the night, as they had separately so many less exciting times before.

tea and sympathy

Mrs. Andrews was speaking to me about Henry while I let my eyes roam around the living room. I was getting the feeling she was accusing me of something, that her words hid some terrible belief about me. It made me nervous, and I looked around to vent.

My tea was getting cold.

The light in the room was sunlight, only different.

There were no tables of any kind, no place to put the cup down even if I wanted to.

The walls were papered with a textured, satiny paper that gave me goosebumps just to look at it. The rug was a deep burgundy color.

Around and in-between Mrs. Andrews’ words, like insulation, a roaring silence crept and slithered, bulged and puffed. It was the same angry silence I heard in the dark, alcoholic spaces at parties. An aggressive, hungry, quiet that muted conversation and irritated moods. It encouraged loud, desperate talk in vain attempts to beat it back. I started to talk louder than was perhaps appropriate, and the more I tried to regulate my volume, the louder I became. I inched upwards into hysteria and Mrs. Andrews just regarded me calmly, sipping cooled tea and acting as if I were not screaming at her.

“It was good of you to come. You were a good friend to Henry.” she said.

“The hell I was!” I shouted.

Duffy’s and the slim side of honor

So the Moron sat at the bar and simmered, thinking that if his two companions had forgotten about him then he would just have a few more drinks and spend time feeling sorry for himself while his Best Friend drowned quietly, his face in the toilet.

a wooden bed of satin

Everybody’s hands were clammy as they pressed together, everybody breathed carefully so as not to upset the mood, which was a delicate balance of depression and ennui. A cocktail party without drinks, music, or conversation, we sat on dumb wooden folding chairs and avoided looking at the coffin, inside of which lay Henry, who drowned in his own vomit, his head lodged in a scabby toilet.

Eyes discreetly averted, we endured.

Ostensibly, I sat with Henry’s friends, a shining bunch of promising young people, united in fashionable grief. I was wearing Hugo Boss, dark and serious. We all sat with practiced expressions, as if we thought someone might be filming us.

In the final analysis, it’s all about funerals and weddings -death and procreation. The universe regulates itself. I sat and I stared at my shiny, little-used wingtips and I wondered if the universe had taken control of me and forced me to become so self-absorbed and pathetic that evening, just so Henry could die. A minor case of cosmic venting, perhaps, an adjustment, a necessary downturn. I didn’t question whether I was important enough for the universe to take control of. I did question if Henry had been important enough to be killed.

I wore the same suit to weddings, when they came up.

Derek and Cheryl sat together but were not currently on speaking terms, which secretly (I thought) cheered me.

wet leaves in fall, a smell like

In time, her face will fade, and time will forgive me the mistakes I’ve made -and who can say, after it’s all done, what was sad and what was fun?

I used to ravish her in my dreams, her lush, hidden outlines and inviting mouth, her breathless carriage. A cliche, I guess, the one man she wouldn’t touch, in a fever about her.

An endless procession of morons mocked me, but I never hated them. They took home snapshots of her, parts of the whole, a look in her eyes to one. The scent of her hair to another. The feel of her breasts in another’s hands. They took parts of her home but I doubt they treasured them. I couldn’t hate them, it wasn’t their fault.

I hated her, but didn’t realize it until much later.

Derek Manley, the ruin of womankind

“Oh man, I was freaking out! I didn’t expect that at all. I mean, I’ve always sensed something between us, something buried -unspoken, you know. But I was freaking! She kept telling me how drunk she was and I don’t know what that means to you, but to me that’s like saying “I want to fuck you”, you know? She’s letting you know her normal rules don’t apply. So as a joke I made a big deal about buying her more drinks. She just laughed. It was like she was daring me to fuck her, you know? So I did.

“Huh? Oh -yeah, it’s weird to think that he was, you know, all the time, but I think we’d left by then, you know. And Petey had gone in to check -I mean, he wasn’t, like, abandoned or anything, you know?

“And anyway...Petey had gone in to check on him...”

tea and sympathy

Once I’d started shouting, I couldn’t stop.

Mrs. Andrews offered me cookies she had baked to keep busy, finding herself unsure how to fill her time in the wake of the wake. I screamed that I had no appetite, and she nodded in understanding, wincing with polite care against my sudden volume.

My hands were trembling, and spilled tea onto the impossibly thick carpet, where it sank without a trace before she could notice it.

She made small talk, asking me about my job, my relatives, the usual sundry ingredients of pleasant conversation, and I responded with increasingly loud and uncontrolled spasms. She seemed to be observing my responses carefully, and it unnerved me -I wondered if her bland questions were probing me for guilt issues. It made me shake more and more as my volume control went south, until I was jigging in my seat, twitching and spilling tea, sending the lukewarm liquid everywhere.

When I’d managed to calm myself down to a persistent tremor, she would ask me another harmless questions, and it would all begin again.

Duffy’s amidst the porcelain

There was a persistent drip from the sink. The sink was cracked and stained and filled with brownish water. Little brown drops of water made it over the edge of the sink and dripped onto the floor. The floor was yellowed white tile covered in soaked toilet paper like whipped cream. The walls were yellow and covered with framed posters. The posters were all old beer advertisements in garish colors. The one hanging over the toilet depicted a cheerful rotund man desperate to not spill his pint as he fled a police officer. Every patron who used the facilities had studied this poster numerous times. The toilet was greyed and lacked a lid on the tank and a seat. The bolts which held it to the floor were wet and gleaming with rust. The water around the toilet on the floor was mixed liberally with urine. The toilet supported the slumped form of Henry. Henry was a pale, thin young man in grey slacks and a white cotton Oxford shirt. Both pants and shirt were soaked. His head was face down in the bowl of the toilet. His face was obscured by the murky liquid in the toilet. The liquid was water and vomit. His arms were around the toilet, as if in an embrace. His hands were slack. His legs were splayed. His shoes were untied.

I closed my eyes. I breathed deeply. There was no place to throw up.

tea and sympathy

“Tea?” Mrs. Andrews snapped like a brittle line.

I glanced up and blinked at Mrs. Andrews, who didn’t look any different than any other time in her life, as far as I could tell. She always seemed ready to cry and hit you at the same time.

I looked down at my shoes and rubbed my hands together. “No, thank you.” I said quietly. My shoes were brown and cracked.

I looked up and found her staring at me with her steely eyes.

“Mrs. Andrews,”

I should tell you your liquor must be brown water, by now, thanks to your son and I.

I once stole a lingerie catalog from your kitchen table.

I’ve been afraid of you my whole life.

I often advised Henry to disobey or disrespect you. I once referred to you as a cunt, privately.

I still don’t regret that.

I hate everyone and regret nothing.

I pretend to be nice and interested in everyone I meet, but I never am, really.

I work hard to be known as a nice guy.

I hate everyone

and I regret nothing.

“I killed your son, and I’m not sorry enough about it.”


This story originally appeared in The Portland Review.