My elbow tilts a hot cup of coffee over, sending a wave of boiling hot bean water off the edge of the kitchen island onto the crown of the child standing just below. It screams, I feign distress and my hand goes to my mouth as I gasp an apology. Bailey, the child’s mother and my life long friend, turns and glares at me.
She glares at me like a protective mother who assumes the world is out to get her child but thinks she is smart enough to know better. She doesn’t say anything. She is fighting a deep and powerful maternal instinct that is telling her that I DID do it on purpose. That I intentionally inflicted harm on her child. But? We’ve been socialized to operate contrary to our instincts so she squirrels away the truth we both know. She tends to her child and dismisses my ‘concern’ with a demure ‘Oh gosh don’t worry about it babe!’
‘Is she ok?’ I ask, my hand sinking back into my lap from my gasping act.
‘I mean he just got boiling hot water all over his head, Jeff.’ Bailey is pissed. She has given up on playing it cool quite quickly.
‘Would you be fucking OK?’
I shrug. This is our friendship.
‘I’m not sure. I don’t remember what it was like to have skin that was only eighteen months old.’ I take a sip of my coffee and wince at the temperature.
She’s off in the other room now squeezing healing goo out of a branch from her aloe vera tree.
Alone, I take in my surroundings. The house is new. Her husband, Rick, inherited a company from his folks and has made short work of getting into his Rich Rick role. The house is ultra modern. You’ve seen them: squares on top of squares with dark wooden slats and copper plating mismatched throughout the exterior and long rectangular windows at odd angles. They’re a dime a dozen in Toronto’s up and coming creative neighbourhoods like this one. We’re in the west end.
Bailey has finished applying aloe and now she is repeating affirmations to the child and forcing it to hold a rose quartz crystal.
I light a cigarette and pull out my phone to kill time on instagram. By my second drag Bailey is back in the kitchen, sage smouldering in one hand and a broad feather in the other.
‘Jesus christ Bails, are you exorcising the kid? It was just fucking cof-‘
‘Are you joking right now Jefferey?’ she stares gobsmacked at the cigarette smoking in my hand.
‘Oh like that shit is any better?’ I point my cigarette at the bundle of sage smoking in hers.
‘Get the fuck outside!’ She yells. The child starts to cry again and Bailey dashes back into the other room.
I take a deep drag and blow it all in the direction my friend just vanished before I step outside. The patio door opens and closes for me automatically. I scoff. What a waste of automation.
The second story patio looks out onto Trinity Bellewoods park, one of the city’s largest and most frequented outdoor spaces. It’s replete with a dog park, tennis courts and ample opportunity for boozy picnics that photograph well on social media. I take a seat in a hanging bean bag chair and continue to enjoy the rest of my cigarette while I watch people in the park manufacture their lives through the lenses of their phones.
The door opens automatically and out comes Bailey.
‘I didn’t even know people still did that.’ she snipes at me and my delicious cigarette that she is jealous of.
If any third party were to see us together they would think us sworn enemies. That’s not untrue, but we’re mostly the best of friends. Kindred spirits who loathe each other but immerse themselves in the sense of belonging that comes with shared time none the less. This is our friendship.
I hadn’t planned on smoking another cigarette, but now that she has mentioned it - I will.
‘Seriously?’ Bailey is stunned.
‘Another cigarette? It’s eleven AM!’
‘I’m still drunk, it’s helping me come down.’
I’m not still drunk. I didn’t even go out last night. I was in bed by nine. I don’t know why I’m like this. I mean, I do, but…
‘Wow, Jeff.’ she sighs, pulling out a vaporizer and taking a long sip, ’You’re fucked up.’ her voice is muffled by the vapours she exhales.
‘And you hate your husband and your child.’
Her head snaps towards me and our eyes lock for a few beats until she nods her head and relaxes; her body language says ‘touché.’.
We share a few silent moments, each enjoying our fumes of choice.
‘Did you seriously just spill hot coffee on my child?’
I take a moment to think. The honest answer is Yes, Absolutely - but is that the right thing to say? Even being asked this question makes me wonder if Bailey knows me at all. Or perhaps, to my own delight, does this question mean that the closest person to me in my entire life - doesn’t know that I’m a psychopath? With that thought in mind, is it better to remain unknown, to tread the line, or to go full psycho and come out of the closet?
‘Of course not and that’s honestly a pretty fucked up thing to accuse someone of.’ Me, indignant.
‘Ah fuck.’ She’s embarrassed, ‘I know. I know you didn’t. I’m sorry. This whole motherhood thing has got me feeling so fucked in the head.’
I look down my cigarette at her, disappointed in my dear friend. I thought she was smarter. I thought she would have been able to see me. Really see me. But she doesn’t. She thinks I feel and hurt and want and yearn the same way that she does, that the lifetime of dry and sardonic comments were just products of my dark sense of humour.
‘Don’t worry about it.’ I smile and reach over to slap her on the shoulder, ’Only a mildly horrific accusation.’
We laugh. She’s tense still. The kid had been pretty shook up, which I presume means she as a mother was also pretty shook up.
‘Sophie, Jeff? Seriously?’
‘Is it not Sophie?’
‘… It’s Craig.’
I take a drag of my smoke, ‘So - how’s Craig?’
Bailey shakes her head, she’s almost at a loss for words.
‘That coffee was pretty fresh.’ I say, raising my eyebrows at her.
‘Yes, Jeff. It was. Can we fucking change the subject?’
I go back to staring out at the park. We sit in silence for the next twenty minutes. I’m not sure what she’s thinking about, if she’s thinking at all. Maybe she’s grateful for calm waters whenever she can get them on her journey across the infinite expanse that is the ocean of motherhood. There’s no land in sight for Bailey, and what she doesn’t realize is she’s not alone. The White Whale is circling. Has always been circling.
‘So,’ I start, ‘At what point do you think Rich Rick will realize he has been Rick Rolled?’
‘I don’t think that’s how that term works, Dude. Stick to your own age group’s lingo.’
‘Fine. When do you think your husband will realize you went behind his back and got artificially inseminated with your best friend’s jizz?’
Bailey covers her eyes with her hand and curls into herself on her beanbag chair.
‘Jizz, Dude? Seriously? Fucking Jizz is the word you use? My God.’ she continues to writhe in her chair until she manages to shudder it off.
She takes a sip of her vaporizer and shakes her head. I raise my eyebrows to prompt an answer.
‘He’s not going to realize anything because that didn’t happen.’
It did happen. It was my idea. She was worried about his family’s history of heart disease and an aunt with down syndrome. I convinced her it was the best course of action; my family had absolutely no history of abnormalities except for my abnormally high intelligence and perfect bone structure. Bailey is a better person than me, but only by a bit and only because she wasn’t born a psychopath like I was. And frankly, I would argue that’s her weakness, not mine.
‘So that’s what we’re going with?’ I ask, dry as ever.
‘No, we’re not going with anything because that didn’t happen. It never happened. The kid is Rick’s. And mine. Mine and Rick’s.’ She’s fidgeting as she talks. Fucking around with her vaporizer as though it suddenly transformed into a rubiks cube.
I leave it. She thinks I accept that answer and so, she sails onward. Meanwhile, I(the White Whale), have successfully nudged the bow of her ship and once again gone unnoticed. One day we’ll make eye contact when I take her leg and she’ll see me, but amongst the turmoil and flotsam she won’t see me in my truth. She won’t see her best friend working away beneath the waves to disrupt her life, as he always has. For 26 harrowing years she has danced with a shadowy partner while she thought she was giving the solo performance of her life.
The first time was when we were four. We had just met. One rainy day I told her that sand was softer when it was wet. She confidently jumped off the playground and snapped her forearm into a ninety degree angle on the hardened wet sandpit.
The second time was when we were eight and I dropped a brick from the roof of her parent’s back shed onto her head. Her parents treated me to a Playstation for the heroic act of finding her unconscious and remaining calm enough to alert them. ‘And not a single tear! Such a brave boy.’ they remarked. I feigned humility and relief. They didn’t know that in truth I had never cried in my life, but at that point I didn’t have enough confidence in my fake tears to employ them just yet.
However, when I was twelve and I reversed her parent’s car over the family cat, I ‘cried’. With an understanding of the enormity of the situation, more dramatic feelings had to be imitated. I knew this and acted accordingly.
At sixteen I managed to give her boyfriend a hand job on camera and blackmailed him into cheating on her… On camera. I filmed it, I edited it, I met her for coffee and solemnly handed her the footage like a good friend. It wasn’t easy, I told her, but she had to find out somehow and she was already the last one to know, after all. I was being cruel to be kind, she thought. In truth I was just being cruel.
She was abroad for years at a time in her twenties, but I managed to compromise her credit card at opportune times to force her into asking me to borrow money. She did so in order to avoid having her parents revoke her card privileges. Why wouldn’t they if they knew she was so prone to fraud? Her world travels were eventually cut short when I anonymously informed them of these incidents along with photos of her on LSD in Israel.
At twenty six I introduced her to Rich Rick. What she doesn’t know is he used to, and still does, buy coke from me. In fact, while I was spilling hot coffee on ‘his’ child, he was picking up a rather large bag of blow from a hollowed out tree trunk by my front door. I don’t sell drugs to anyone else anymore, but this arrangement keeps Rich Rick in my hand as a playable card. Bailey doesn’t know that he is a former junkie who spent the vast majority of his life soaking up the privilege of his parent’s money and fucking off on life completely. It used to be heroine. A lot of heroine. Now it’s nice, clean-ish, safe-ish cocaine.
Neither of them know the coup-de-grâce is coming. Bailey is unaware that the White Whale will be taking much more than her leg. Rich Rick is unaware that he’ll soon be dead.
‘So, how’s the child?’ I ask.
Bailey stares at me.
‘You need to get your head checked.’ She’s sincere, but still says it with the severeness that is our friendship’s resting conversation tone.
‘You literally just asked me that.’
‘Asked you what?’
‘My god, you actually don’t remember?’
I do, it’s just better if she thinks me aloof and forgetful.
‘Bailey - is the kid ok or no?’
‘He’s fine…’ she says, a bit spooked, ‘You gotta cut back on everything Jeff. I think your brain is deteriorating.’
‘Haa-Haa. Jeff parties too much.’ I mock.
She reaches over and grabs my forearm, ‘No Jeff. I’m serious. I’m worried about you.’
I look back at her.
‘Stop being weird.’ I quip. She gets the memo and slumps back into her chair.
We share a few more moments of quiet and then I start out of my chair.
‘Anyways, I’m off.’
‘Ugh don’t leave me alone!’ Bailey groans.
‘I need to. I have wine to drink.’
‘Drink it here! I’ll cheer you on!’ she pleads, leaning forward and clinging to my arm as I stand up.
‘No. I’m bored here and soon that child will be up.’
‘Do you say Child because you forget his name?’
‘No, I say Child because his name is Craig and not something more beautiful like Sophie.’ I pull my arm free and head inside.
‘Fine. Leave me. Boring Rick will be home soon.’
‘And thus you will get what you deserve. A boring husband in a boring house with a boring child named Boring Craig.’ I grab my keys off the counter and stand with my hands in my jacket pockets, looking at Bailey across the kitchen island.
‘Don’t worry, Bails. It will be over soon enough if you want it to be.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ She asks, genuinely uneasy about what I’ve just said.
‘Nothing. I was just trying to be poetic. Bye.’
I turn and leave the kitchen with Bailey in it and as I close the front door I hear crying. It’s not the child who isn’t named Sophie that I hear. It’s my friend. I have no feelings about leaving my friend alone to cry. I have no feelings at all in general. I start to whistle ‘Here you come again’ by Dolly Parton. She doesn’t know it, but it’s our song.
With the door closed behind me I pull out a folded envelope from my breast pocket addressed to Rich Rick and place it in the mailbox. Inside the envelope is a paternity test that clearly states Boring Craig belongs to the White Whale(Me). When Rich Rick opens the envelope and discovers the truth, he won’t even make it into the house. He will turn right back around and make his way to the fancy strip club downtown. He’ll huff his way through the large bag of cocaine that he picked up from my apartment, which is not entirely cocaine. He’ll huff and he’ll puff all the way to the bottom of the bag where an enormous and fatal amount of fentanyl lays in wait. He will overdose and die under a pair of strippers straddling both of his legs while he ugly cries.
Bailey will find out the next day and call me in tears. I will arrive, as always, promptly thirty minutes later than I say I can be there. When I arrive I will hand her a crumpled up paternity test, a double of the original I had requested and delivered to Rich Rick. I’ll say I discovered it on the front step. I’ll say someone must have known and tipped him off anonymously. When I see the expression of dread, pain, fear, anguish and shame that blooms across her face as she begins to see/think/feel that her husband’s death was her own doing… I will come as close to feeling as I ever have before. A brief shudder will skim across my shoulders and up my neck.
Twenty six years in the making, and my friendship with Bailey will finally bear the fruits of my labour. Twenty six years of broken Bailey bones and broken Bailey hearts will culminate in my finest work: a broken Bailey mind.
She’ll never recover. Not really. I’ll be there when she comes close, ever supportive. Ever the White Whale, nudging her little lonely boat until she tips over into madness for good.
This is our friendship.