Thursday, June 11, 2009

Indolence of Disposition - a short story by William Dewey

The following short story first appeared in My Tender Jaw, published 2009 by Lawrence & Gibson in Wellington, New Zealand.



Good-nature, or what is often considered as such, is the most selfish of all the virtues: it is nine times out of ten mere indolence of disposition.”


-- William Hazlitt


It’s a clear sunny day in late January when Brady goes to see the place where Luke and his brother have been staying. Luke is planning to leave that day, tour the South Island for the rest of the summer. His brother Tim is sticking around. He’s bedridden when Brady comes in. His left foot is pink and swollen, glistening with a sheen of antibiotic ointment. There’s a small crimson spot just above the inside of his ankle and around the spot are the bristly ends of two stitches. A pen-mark outlines the extent of his infection, starting below the ankle and stretching up almost the entire length of his calf.
His bed is a foam mattress on the hardwood floor. The curtains above him are closed, letting in only a narrow shaft of sunlight with wisps of smoke drifting through it. The room is smaller than some closets,maybe two meters wide and four meters long. But the ceiling is gloriously high.
“Shit,” Brady says, looking at Tim’s foot. “How’s it feel?”
Tim taps the ash out of his little wooden pipe and packs it with a fresh pinch of marijuana. “Hurts,” he says.
Luke is sitting in the opposite corner and when Brady comes in he starts putting on his shoes. Tim hands Brady the pipe. Brady closes the door behind him and sits down on the floor. He takes a hit, passes the pipe back, and asks, “Are you walking at all?”
“From here to the bathroom. That’s it.” They gave him codeine and penicillin at the hospital, he tells Brady. And he has plenty of weed. He’ll manage.
While they sit smoking, someone knocks on the door, one of the flatmates. Brady leans forward to let him past. The guy hands Tim two little bags of weed.
“What’s this?” Tim asks.
“I owed you for the other night.” The guy is looking at his phone as he talks, working on a text. Luke introduces him to Brady, but the flatmate doesn’t seem interested, and Brady doesn’t even process his name. Tim shrugs and leans over to drop the bags in a pile of things near the head of his bed. Brady takes another hit and then Luke is ready to go.
He stands up and shoulders his backpack. Brady says “See you” to Tim and leaves the house with Luke. “How did that happen again?” he asks.
“He was trying to climb a fence and his leg got caught on something. He fell, and a spike on the top of the fence went into his foot.” Luke shrugs as best he can under the weight of his pack. “It’s what he gets for trying to look cool. All those kids he’s been hanging out with.”

Luke and Tim have been in the country for a few months now, in Wellington for the last several weeks. Years ago Luke worked with Brady back in the States. He hasn’t changed much from how Brady remembers him, skinny and loose, fast-talking, with a mane of hair like spun gold. His younger brother, whom Brady met for the first time the night they came in on the train, is big and aloof, tattooed and full of frowns.
Brady was there to greet them at the train station a couple of weeks before Christmas. He had got an e-mail from Luke out of the blue in October, saying he was coming to New Zealand. Brady wrote back and said Luke was welcome to stay with him if he came through Wellington. He didn’t really know what Luke’s plans were.
“Originally I thought we’d settle down in Christchurch,” Luke said that night, “make that our base. Nice and central, you know? But the more I hear about Wellington, the better it seems. So maybe we’ll stick around here for a while.”
“I liked Auckland,” Tim said. They had been in Auckland for most of November.
“We’re not going back to Auckland,” Luke said. “You can go. But I’m not going.”
Tim took a drink.
“What made you decide on New Zealand?” Brady asked.
“It was our moms’ idea,” Tim said. “I was gettin in trouble in Denver. She figured the change’d be good for me. She had this idea for us all to come out here, her and Luke and me. She’s gone now. Luke’ll stick around for a while longer I guess.” Brady didn’t press him on the question of trouble.
He let it go that night. Tim kept mentioning Auckland and Luke kept reiterating that he was done with that city. Brady couldn’t figure it out. He waited until later to ask Luke, when they were walking home and Tim was up ahead out of earshot. “So why didn’t Tim stay in Auckland? Doesn’t seem like he wanted to come here.”
“Auckland’s too expensive,” Luke said. “And I didn’t much care for Auckland. Thing is, Tim doesn’t have any money of his own. Our moms gave us some money and it’s up to me to decide how much he gets. Until we find some work, he’s pretty much dependent on me.”
Brady had offered them the couches in his lounge when he heard they were coming through. It was never clear how long they expected to stay, and after a four or five days he started to grow leery, but Christmas was coming. They were all far from home.
One night weeks later, a few days before Christmas, Brady and a few of his friends took Luke out to the beach for a summer barbecue. None of his friends had a barbecue, so they went with fish and chips. Mostly it was co-workers of Brady’s from the bookshop, and Luke. When one of Brady’s friends asked Luke what he had been up to that day, Luke said, “Yeah. That’s a funny story. It kind of concerns you, too.”
They had the paper unfolded on the hood of a car out on the beach overlooking the Cook Strait, the paper host to fried fish and chips and pineapple rings, weighed down with a box of cask wine to keep it from fluttering away. Luke took a drink of wine. “I was hanging out with these kids Tim met at the skate park,” he told them.
“Before that, I called Tim and asked what he was doing. He told me he was out racking—you know, shoplifting. He got an iPhone from somewhere. I guess he probably didn’t tell you guys, but he was in prison back in Denver. Used to smoke crack. Stole a refrigerator—”
“Wait, how do you steal a refrigerator?”
“Just put it on a dolly and walked away with it down the street. I guess that’s why my moms wanted him to come down here, get away from that whole scene. Thought it might do him some good. But he’s falling into the same shit. It’s all he knows. I can only do so much. I can be his brother, tell him not to do this, but I can’t make him stop. I told him, ‘The police catch you doing this stuff, you’re going to get fucking deported.’ He doesn’t care.
“These kids he was hanging out with today think he’s awesome cause he’s stealing shit. They gave us some weed—we can smoke later if you guys want. I brought it with me. We went over to their place today and I looked through their stuff. They had this awesome collection of street art and graffiti books. I asked where they got them and they told me, ‘We racked em.’ I said, ‘Where’d you rack them from?’ ”
Any of Brady’s friends could have told Luke the answer to that question. They probably could have told Luke exactly what books he had seen. But they let him finish his story, let him have his big reveal. When he told them it was the shop where they all worked, they chuckled vacantly. Luke acted like he was disappointed with Tim’s friends but he also seemed to find it amusing. Brady guessed it was amusing. Some sort of symbiosis. They all appreciated the same things. He and his friends were as proud of the books they stocked in their shop as these skate kids were to have stolen them. Brady had given Tim a place to sleep, a roof over his head, and Tim had made friends with kids who would happily destroy his livelihood. “So let’s smoke their drugs,” Brady said.
And when Christmas came, Brady celebrated at his flat in Mt. Victoria with friends who had no place else to go. Orphans’ Christmas, he called it. He didn’t reckon it would appeal to Tim, but Tim was tacitly invited. Brady couldn’t help that. Tim was sleeping in his lounge still, and Brady knew Luke would appreciate the gesture, so there was no use making an issue out of it.
They ate a big breakfast of scrambled eggs like his mom used to make when Brady was a kid. They drank champagne and orange juice. Brady never talked to Tim about what Luke had told him. When Tim asked if he could use Brady’s computer to format his iPhone, Brady said, “Go ahead,” and when Luke commented on the pile of change on the table next to the couch where Tim had been sleeping, Brady didn’t listen to Tim’s explanation. It was all gold coins, a big pile, maybe two hundred dollars. Brady just pretended it had nothing to do with him.
Later in the day they went out wandering in the sun. Brady wanted a swim. Tim didn’t stick around with the rest of them. Before they headed to the beach he broke away, said he’d catch up with them later. Probably going to meet up with the kids from the skate park. Brady had been trying to fight the impression that Tim thought he was too cool for them. At first he had been willing to attribute Tim’s brooding silences to the age difference between them or to general shyness. But in the end, no matter how highly Brady might have regarded his circle of friends, they were not of a breed that was generally regarded as cool.
One year around the time of the Sevens rugby tournament, a group of men costumed as “nerds” came into Brady’s bookshop in a fit of childish giggles. They wore white shirts buttoned up to the collar tucked into shorts that were pulled up too high. They had bow-ties and glasses and pens in their pockets. The stop into the shop didn’t appear to have been planned. They were on their way to the match and happened to pass by. Acting like real nerds, they picked up books and pretended to enjoy them, but hurriedly, only long enough for their friends to get a few photos. You could tell they felt embarrassed about being in there. Brady watched with his co-workers and his nerdy customers. He listened to their transgressive laughter and pitied the tedious passionless lives they led.
Maybe Tim didn’t have much in common with those braying Sevens fans on the surface, but Brady was certain Tim must look down on his people with the same unthinking prejudice. They wore glasses and shirts with buttons. They made jokes about obscure philosophers. Their bodies were misshapen awkward vessels, weak shells, skinny arms and hands unaccustomed to forming fists. If Tim shared any trait with the typical drunken rugby fan, it might have been their contempt for effete booksellers. Or maybe Brady was too self-conscious. Tim probably didn’t think about him much at all.

Luke and Tim moved out just before the new year, and Brady didn’t see Tim for weeks. Now that Luke is on his way out of town, Brady reckons Tim will be gone from his life completely. In a few months Luke will come back through Wellington, but until then Brady
can’t imagine any reason why he might cross paths with Tim.
Brady and Luke stop for a beer on the way to the ferry terminal, and then Brady wishes Luke happy travels and gets back to his old routines. Later that evening he ends up at a party where he doesn’t know most of the guests. There’s a small circle of Latin Americans talking in the back and Brady falls in with them, content to have an excuse not to say much. They’re all speaking Spanish and it’s fine for Brady just to nod and on occasion offer a broken aside in what little he remembers of the language. One of the guys in the group, he gathers, has only recently moved to the country. He’s from Uruguay or Paraguay. Brady can’t be sure. It’s noisy, he’s drinking too much rum, and the accents are too thick. His ears might perk up when he hears the word marijuana but only because the word is a cognate. He’s just happy to have recognized some bit of vocabulary.
The recent immigrant is asking where he might buy marijuana. Brady understands that much. Since nobody asks him, he’s not offering any advice. Anyway he hasn’t bought drugs in months, which is something he feels bad about. When you stop calling a guy who sells you pot, it’s not like when you stop going to a favorite café or a record shop. There’s more of a personal slight to it. It can be closer in a way to your relationship with a lover, with hurt feelings and remorse. Or maybe Brady’s the only one who feels that way. If the conversation comes his way, he’ll probably play stupid. The guy can assume he didn’t follow or that he doesn’t know where to get drugs. Either is fine. He doesn’t want to buy for the guy and he doesn’t want to give his old dealer’s number to a stranger.
In the end the conversation doesn’t come his way. Nobody seems to be able to help the new guy. They start talking about university. Everyone’s going to university, getting Master’s degrees abroad before returning to South America. Even the guy who asked about marijuana is getting a Master’s. That shouldn’t seem strange to Brady, but he supposes the guy reminds him of Tim. He wears aviator glasses and a linen shirt open to the middle of his chest, so as far as style goes, he and Tim would never be mistaken for one another. But the demeanor is the same. That’s what strikes Brady.
When the group dissolves Brady wanders off to the kitchen for another drink. It’s not until later in the evening that he notices the guy again. He’s talking to a girl Brady sort of knows and things don’t seem to be going well. Brady goes up and introduces himself, more to give the girl an excuse to break away than anything. The guy tells him his name, Rafa, and Brady talks to him part in Spanish, part in English, back and forth. He asks what Rafa thinks of Wellington, how long he plans to stay, little things like that. Eventually the talk comes to drugs. Brady might have been to one to bring it up. He’s not really paying attention.
“I know somebody who will have marijuana,” he tells Rafa.
Rafa’s eyebrows go up behind his sunglasses. “Yes? I do not want to pay too much.” He smiles and offers a shrug. “I am poor.”
“No, no. The guy I know...” He pauses and looks Rafa over. He takes a sip of rum. “You won’t have to buy anything. I know where you can get some without buying.”
Rafa says nothing. He’s still smiling but he seems uncertain whether he has understood Brady.
“There’s a guy who deals, up in Aro Valley. Do you know where Aro Valley is?”
He shakes his head.
“Never mind. I can show you. This guy, anyway, he’s not a big dealer. He’s in the country illegally, so he can’t work. He just does this to get some kind of income. You’ll find enough there for a while.” Rafa isn’t responding now but he isn’t protesting either. Brady’s already got started so he reckons he’d better go all the way. “The thing is, he can’t move right now. He hurt his leg. He was breaking into a house or something and he hurt it. He can’t even walk. He just lies around on his back, drugged out. If you went there and wanted to take his shit, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.”
“Why are you saying me this?”
It’s a valid question, valid enough. Brady finishes his drink and sets the glass down. “Because this guy... He did a horrible thing. A friend of mine, una amiga, she was raped by him. He deserves whatever happens to him.”
“He raped a woman?” Brady nods.
“Why don’t you go to the police?”
Brady might take too long in answering. After a moment he begins to say, “She didn’t want to,” but Rafa interrupts with, “And why should I be troubled with this? I just want marijuana. I am happy to pay for it. No. I don’t want.” He shakes his head.
“I understand,” Brady says.
“And you, why don’t you do something? If this happened to a friend of mine, my friends, we would hurt the man who did it, if we knew the man. You know this man?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Brady says. “I’m not a man of violence. I’m sad for my friend, but I can only be sad. She does not want to talk to the police, so I will do nothing. And anyway, I have no use for all that marijuana.”
“How much marijuana?”
“I don’t know. No importa. I shouldn’t have said anything to you.”
“Yes. This is not what I wish to say when I ask about marijuana. I do not want any trouble.”
“Okay.” “I am sorry for your friend. I hope this man gets what he deserves.” “Yes,” Brady says. “Thank you. Look, I’m sorry I said anything. Come, let’s have another drink together. Forget about all this.”
Rafa nods. He apologizes again and Brady dismisses his apology.
Three or four hours later, they’re standing outside on the street across from Tim’s place, both of them quite drunk. Brady explains to Rafa why he won’t be going in, stressing again that he is not a violent man and that he wouldn’t want Tim to recognize him. Tim doesn’t know Rafa. There won’t be any way to connect him to this. Tim will assume it was somebody he met at the skate park or even some rival drug dealer. Who knows? He might try to go on some sort of revenge rampage, but probably he’ll just want to leave. He doesn’t like Wellington anyway.
“There should be plenty of cash in there,” Brady tells Rafa. “Look for piles of coins, too.”
They’ve borrowed a pillow case from the party. Brady doesn’t know how much Rafa can expect to find as far as drugs go, but he remembers the casual way Tim treated those two fifty bags and figures he must be dealing in substantial enough amounts. Rafa keeps saying he wants to share the spoils with Brady, but Brady doesn’t want him thinking of this as burglary. In the end he tells Rafa he can keep whatever drugs and money he takes, but if he finds an iPhone, Brady’d like to have it.
He leaves Rafa there in the dark, biding his time, watching the place. The night is warm and the full moon is out. Brady can’t walk straight. He almost falls asleep walking. Luke will be back in Wellington in a couple of months. By that time Tim will probably have run away to Auckland. Maybe he’ll tell Luke what happened. Most likely he will. When Luke tells Brady, Brady’ll act surprised maybe, but not too surprised. He practices his reaction as he stumbles through the streets, talking out loud. It will be easy. He can base it on his reaction to the news of the spike through the foot: “Fuck, that sucks.” Really basic. “But, you know, you reap what you sow. Something like this was bound to happen, the circles he’s running in.”
He doesn’t owe anything to Tim. He let Tim stay on his couch for two weeks. On Christmas night he fed him again. It was a grand feast. So much food. They made a wasteland of Brady’s kitchen and after eating they went into the lounge to drink and smoke and watch crime movies. Brady was in a fog when he stumbled into the kitchen for another drink and found Tim. The stove was clean and all the plates had been cleared from the table. Tim stood over the sink washing their dishes. It was the last time Brady saw him standing.