I KNOW: a short story by Howard Casner


 

And check out my other stories:

EAT S**T AND DIE http://ow.ly/gwEi30jKUyQ A comic horror fantasy

THE STARVING ARTISTS http://ow.ly/iJc430jCrcW  sci-fi

A REFUGE FROM THE STORM http://ow.ly/koKs30jF7yo – horror

     James was someone who knew. He didn’t try to know. He didn’t major in college in knowing. He didn’t learn how to know from books or movies or television shows or podcasts (though he knew what books to read, what movies and television shows to watch and what podcasts to listen to).
    He knew how to dress. He knew how to style his hair, how close or long to clip his beard. He knew what body wash to buy, deodorant to use and cologne to apply (and he knew the exact amount to do so).
     He knew the best career for him to have, the latest car for him to drive, the most elite gentrified neighborhood to rent his apartment in, and the hippest gym to have a membership with.

And as one would then expect, he knew how to entice women into bed, what line to use, what piece of flattery would fit the fine female he was plying his charms on at the time, and what bar, dating site or meet up app to use. And he also knew the perfect way to disentangle himself once he knew it was best to never see said female again.

No matter what else one might say about him (and James knew he wasn’t perfect, though he knew the perfect imperfection to have), the one characteristic that James had that everyone could agree on was that he knew.

He just did.

 

At this moment he knew the precise second to arrive at the party he was soon to attend, and he knew he was a bit early. So he decided to spend a little time having a glass of wine at a coffee bar that he knew had recently obtained its liquor license, and take the opportunity go through his social media accounts in preparation for what lay ahead.

He took a sip of the chilled white Zinfandel before him. He knew it wasn’t the best wine, but he also knew it wasn’t a bad one, and he also knew it was a coffee bar so what could one expect?

James hadn’t been there long before he felt a person sit across from him. He looked up to see that it was someone he knew. His name was Terry and he was the complete antithesis of James. Where James was handsome and suave and charismatic, Terry was average, quite average, extremely average, in every way.

But perhaps the one aspect of his existence that was most in opposition to James was that he never really knew anything, and was very dependent on James for that reason.

Terry stared at James, not saying a thing, just staring, until James had little choice in the matter. “Terry,” James said. “This is a surprise. Are you going to the party tonight?”

“No,” Terry calmly said. “I was out for a walk and saw you sitting here.”

“Well…I’m glad you came in. How are you holding up? I know what you must be going through.”

Terry thought a moment, then said, “I’m actually doing much better, thank you.”

With that, Terry went silent again. Too quiet, it seemed to James. He knew there was something…

“Do you know what I was thinking about today, James?”

There was a pause as James didn’t reply. Then Terry looked away from James, his eyes landing on various people in the coffee bar. He seemed particularly attentive to a couple who seemed quite happy and content, but, thought James, that’s only because they don’t know any better.

“I was thinking,” continued Terry, “I was thinking of when we first met in grammar school. Remember? I was being bullied and you intervened and made sure I was never bothered again.”

“I remember,” John said carefully.

“After that we were best friends. Well, no, sorry. That’s not right, is it? You became my best friend, but the more I think of it, I never became yours, did I? Not really.”

Again Terry paused, gathering his thoughts, planning what to say next.

“I often wondered why you kept me around, kept me so close. It took a long time, but I finally realized it was because I was no threat to you. I would never be a threat to you. I made you look good in comparison. And fuck me, even after I figured it out, I didn’t care. As long as I stood in your limelight, I was happy, or what passes for happiness in life.”

James was growing uncomfortable. He couldn’t seem to find the right way to sit. Nothing felt appropriate. So he gave up and said, “Where are you going with this, Terry?”

Then Terry turned to James and looked into his eyes with a purpose and depth and control James had never seen in his friend before.

Terry stared at James a moment and then said with a laser like focus, “I know.”

This was James’ biggest error of the evening. He paused. Not for long. It was so short there was probably no machine that could measure its length. But still, it was a pause.

And Terry knew it.

“What are you talking about?” James quickly said trying to cover his mistake, but with a bit too much of an infinitesimal panic to his voice.

“Just that. I know. And I wanted you to know that. I wanted you to know that I knew.”

Again, James couldn’t find the right way to sit or where to put his hands or even where to look. But Terry remained still. Very still.

“I’m sorry,” James shot back. “But you’re going to have to enlighten…”

“She kept a journal.”

And with that James said nothing because there was nothing he could say.

“You know, when she died, when she had the miscarriage, when she lost so much blood and was in and out of consciousness, I was angry at her. I was actually angry at her, because I didn’t think she was fighting to stay with me. I felt she had given up and was letting go. I saw the hopelessness in her eyes as her life left her.”

James took a drink of wine because he couldn’t think of anything else to do. “I’m so sorry, Terry. That must have been awful. I…”

But Terry went on, “Today I was going through her things. I had been putting it off. I guess I didn’t want to let go of her. And I found her journal and I knew I shouldn’t have, that it was private, but I did. Fuck me, I read it.”

“And in it,” Terry forced himself to go on, “She said…she said the baby was yours and that she went to you, and you wouldn’t say it, you wouldn’t say it was yours, but you offered to pay for an abortion, and that the two of you were through. It was over.”

James was silent. Suddenly nothing else seemed to exist around him except Terry across the table.

“God, James, I loved her so much. Even now, after all that, I still love her.”

It took James a moment to gather his thoughts, but he did. “I suppose you’re going to tell everyone. Is that what this is about?”

Terry laughed and looked down at his hands on the table. “No. In fact, I’m not going to tell anyone.”

At that James felt relief. And then he somehow knew that wasn’t the wise thing to feel right then.

Terry kept on. “I just wanted you to know I knew. And that this knowledge, that I knew, is something you will have to live with for the rest of your life.”

At that Terry rose and left the coffee bar, almost as if he had never been there.

James found he couldn’t move. He was paralyzed. His mind, his body wouldn’t respond. And then his phone rang and broke his inability to focus.

The ID said Lana, so James answered. “Hey, Lana, sorry I’m running late. I was just heading over.”

But Lana was crying. “Oh, my God, James. You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“It’s so awful. It’s Terry. He…he killed himself.”

James stood up, stood up against his will, not realizing he was standing. He looked around and around him until he looked out the front window of the café. And there he saw Terry staring back at him. And then Terry smiled and waved at James and then walked off.

James rushed for the front door.

“James,” Lana called out from the phone. “Are you there?”

Now outside, James looked in the direction Terry had headed, but he wasn’t there. James looked everywhere for him, but Terry was nowhere to be seen. James then registered Lana’s voice and brought his phone to his ear.

“Yes…yes, I’m here.”

“Nobody knows why he did it. We keep talking about it and talking about it and we can’t figure it out. Do you have any idea, James?”

“I…Maybe…He…”

James gave up looking for Terry and leaned back against the wall of the building. He looked up and the stars were already out and the moon was prominent in its crescent. James looked around and around again and then stopped and spoke to Lana.

“I…I don’t know. I just don’t know.“

 

 

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