The Pretentious Works of an Aspiring Wanna-be
Three Kings or Better
A short story by Michael Sapieja
“I had a dream last night, which strikes me as odd since I can’t remember the last time I had a dream that I was able to remember with perfect clarity the following morning.
“I’m not entirely sure what this has to do with – rather, what sort of importance it has or if it’s even relevant to our recent discussions, but I woke up this morning with a sort of clarity; like, with an empty head that didn’t require filling because packing peanuts had nestled into the vacant spaces between all of the winding wrinkles in my brain. I don’t know if it was a good feeling, mainly because it felt like nothing. I know I was conscious…or I think I was conscious at the time, because I felt aware of my surroundings, but I don’t think a single thought passed through my head in those first few minutes of the day. It was either the foggiest sensation I had ever felt, or quite possibly the most perfect moment of purity I will ever experience.
“Now that I think about it, I hated that feeling. Had a bullet gone through my head during those passing seconds, I don’t think I would have realized it, and I doubt I would have noticed a difference in my own physical form. But when I came to – that is, when I finally snapped out of my trance, I don’t think I had ever felt my chest heave so hard with fear, or heard the sound of my own pulse so clearly, and I have never tapped a reservoir of tears so quickly that-
“The point is that that was what followed my dream from last night, but I doubt either experience is relevant to the other. I’ve had out of body experiences before and I’ll have them again. But the dream… – are you recording this? That’s part of the point. I want this to be remembered and dreams are such fragile and finicky things and I may forget before I even stop raving like a total lunatic – are you paying attention?
“I was sitting in the dark and I was lonely and I hadn’t played a good game of cards in a while. I don’t play cards in actuality, but I really wanted to play pretty fucking badly in this dream, for whatever convoluted reason – I don’t know.
“But I’m sitting at a poker table now, and I felt really comfortable and really relaxed, and then my dead dog ran by me, barking in the darkness. I liked seeing him again. And then I looked up from where my dog had just been and there were four men sitting at the table with me. Their faces were blurred like a watercolor painting, but I could recognize them each without much difficulty.
“It was four of my old friends who I had not seen in a long, long time. The kind of friends that you knew as a kid and used to play with and talk to, but you already had a best friend and the friends in question weren’t always around like your best friend was…and then you grow up and go to high school with these friends and they say they are your friends, but you feel like you’re always the one who has to initiate a conversation and they kind of ignore you so you drift apart but stay in touch and occasionally have a beer and a conversation with them as you grow older? That’s the kind of old friends these four were. I knew some of them better than the others, and I kept in touch with some more than others, but the five of us had known one another for a long time and I think I liked seeing them again in this dream. I think we all knew it was good to be sitting like this.
“First, on my left, was Josh – who I had known the longest and whose family was famous and who was famous for his pleasant disposition and he told me when we were younger that he’d be there for me but then I got sick and he wasn’t. On his left was Sid who most everyone called Buddy. I didn’t know much about Buddy, but I knew that the government or maybe his ex-wife had taken his house and almost all of his shit some time ago, and that he was okay with this. I liked his outlook on things and still knew I could never live the way he does. But he was always mellow and he was cool and never really put his nose in other people’s business, especially mine, and I think I liked him most for that.
“Sitting next to Buddy was Mike. I think Mike was an adopted cousin of Josh’s. He was brown and he talked funny, but he and Josh had a lot in common. I knew next to nothing about Mike until high school and he got a bad rap during those days, but I think that maybe it was undeserved. He’d never wronged me personally so I saw no reason to treat him badly.
“Last, and sitting right across from me, was Louis. I knew him as long as I knew Josh, and they knew each other before either one knew me – I think they were step brothers. I didn’t know what I thought of Louis, and I still don’t. I know that he talked to me the most and he was the most fun out of all of them, but he also smoked and drank and laughed at mean jokes too much. I think maybe I felt bad for him, though –‘cause his dad kicked him out of the house when he was younger and because now he was a janitor at a law firm who lived in the boiler room of his building and slept on a cot and was disliked by most people…but he brought a lot of that on himself. Still…I think I identified with Louis because of how broken he seemed. He stood up to his dad and got punished for that and I think that that was why I sympathize with him sometimes.
“So five of us sat in the dark room at the poker table under a spotlight and no one said anything for quite some time. We just sat and they stared at me and I blinked a few times and stared at their blurred faces.
“I was annoyed.
“We hadn’t seen each other in a long time and they all looked mad at me, except for Louis, who I think was grinning, and Sid, who most people called Buddy. He just looked at me and gave me a passive smile. But I guess they were more disappointed in me for not calling them more often, and I thought that was bullshit. They never called me! I always had to be the one to see what was new with them, with their families. We’d grown up and got older and had kids and still I was the one expected to initiate contact – and please find the irony in the fact that I had to put them in my dream.
“Minutes passed, days passed, years passed. A dream can last a thousand lifetimes if you never wake up. I don’t know how long we sat in silence, but tension built up every second at that table and after a million years of seconds, bones start to shatter from an awkward of that brand and magnitude. Then Louis laughed and I exhaled.
“‘God damn, it’s been too long!’ Louis laughed. His voice crackled like burnt leaves but was smoother than the finest whisky.
“The others didn’t care for Louis, but he broke the tension and we all laughed. We started playing cards and we started talking and some of us drank beer, some wine, others had hard liquor, but we all drank water and we all smiled and were happy to be there.
“I don’t recall what it is that we talked about exactly, but I know we talked politics for a moment, and Josh and Mike got sore about this because their oldest children disagreed and fought about this subject. The same went for religion.
“Louis cracked the occasional joke that most were ashamed to laugh at, and he was also the cause of a few uncomfortable silences, but either Buddy or Josh would say something to recover the conversation and everything would be okay.
“It was the first time I could ever recall watching them talk – hearing them talk. I was always the one who talked to them…at them…and this made me smile. But then Louis made another joke, this one about Josh climbing a tree or something, and everyone got quiet, and I was afraid to even breathe.
“It was fascinating to see my friends this way and it made me want to die, but then out of nowhere, Josh smiled, chuckled…laughed, even; and Louis started laughing harder than he had before. I didn’t want to laugh. Neither did Sid or Mike.
“I had won several hands, Josh had won many – come to think of it, I think we were all tied, and Louis was such a poor sport and he hated that no one was winning or losing so Buddy lost a hand on purpose to shut him up.
“We were having such a good time, but I may be confusing the word “good” with “indifferent”…maybe. I was still annoyed with all of them for those years of silence and ignorance, so after a few drinks I said something. I asked them where the fuck they had been when I was sick. I said that I understood that “friends” can’t always be there, but in a time of need and fear, that was when they had to be there; that even if you had a “friend” that you didn’t like, that you were still supposed to be there for them when they were scared. I excused Louis because everyone knew he was an asshole and I knew he just didn’t want to be there for me, but the others just sat in silence and didn’t say anything. They didn’t know what to say or they didn’t want to say it or they took it for granted that I would know what they were thinking like I was some sort of fucking psychic. They pissed me off and suddenly I hated them all. I wanted their stupid, blurred faces to be gone. I wanted to slander them and I wanted the rest of the world to hate them and I wanted to expose them and-
“I excused myself from the table and apologized to Sid because he never actually promised to do anything for me and I felt bad for yelling at him as a member of the collective party. As I walked away, Louis called out to me and asked if I wanted to go maybe bird hunting or to a concert or murder a drifter. He offered to participate in various activities with no correlation to anything. I told him to fuck off.
“When I walked away, I didn’t know when I’d see any of them again, and I didn’t know if I ever wanted to. Everything was a blur and I felt sick and my heart was racing, but then it wasn’t. I stopped caring and I think at that point I decided to just be-
“And then I woke up and I wasn’t there.”
“That’s too obvious.”
“You think so?”
The Imagery of Turmoil
a poem by Michael Sapieja
He sails through a tempest
On the Sea of Tranquility
Need not sing her song
He knew his fate
Doom’d before she saw him
So he sails through the storm