It Gets Better
“When the hell is Aabis gonna get here?” Spot asks. She’s pacing around the parking lot, kicking at the wet cigarette butts strewn across the asphalt.
“Learn some patience, Spot, shit. If you were a doctor trying to help in the whole birthing process I bet you’d just rip the baby out,” I tell her, jumping on the little yellow parking curbs and doing my best to balance.
Spot laughs, picking up one of the cigarette butts and throwing it at me. The yellow sponge bounces off my nose. “You’re goddamned right I’d just pull the baby out. I don’t have the time for your birthing bullshit, not my fault you didn’t wrap it before you. . . uhhh. . . did the deed.”
I laugh at the hypocrisy and shake my head. “You’re an idiot. . . Well, at least try and be a little more patient on your own birthday.”
“Nah man,” she says, jumping on the yellow parking curb in front of mine. “It’s ‘cause it is my birthday that I shouldn’t have to be patient. Everything revolves around me today, and so it is by my decree that Aabis is too goddamned late, and should be hanged for his crimes against uh. . . Queen Spot.”
She picks up a PVC pipe that’s cracked and has a little bit of moss growing out one end. “Look, it’s my throne stick.”
“That’s called a sceptre, Spot.”
“By my decree, it shall now be known as a throne stick.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely an idiot.”
We can hear footsteps echoing in the parking lot, and soon enough Aabis appears around the end of a black SUV.
Spot points her “throne stick” at Aabis and says, “Ah, look, ‘tis the court bitch.”
Aabis just rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what I just walked in on, and I really don’t wanna know.” He’s got two plastic bags and a black bag on his shoulders. The straps are worn out, and there are mustard stains on his shirt.
I clear my throat, and in a deep voice I boom, “This is no way to speak to your Queen Spot, Queen of AssVille, squire!”
Aabis quickly puts on his best, ‘oh shit, I’m in trouble’ face: his eyebrows shoot up, and his mouth turns into a big O. “I’m so sorry, Queen Spot, Queen of AssVille! I did not mean to insult you in any way. Please, do not throw me into the Pit of Endless Assholes!”
Spot sighs, “I will forgive this transgression this time, squir-pffft.” She can’t hold a straight face anymore, and all of us burst out laughing.
I’m laughing so hard that my stomach’s hurting, and holy shit, I think I’m gonna pass out.
Aabis’ face is a bright red colour, and Spot is holding onto a red Beetle, doing her best not to fall over from the laughter.
“Th-this is real mature humour, guys,” I say, still giggling, and wiping tears from my eyes.
Alright, let’s pause for a second. I think introductions are in order.
I’ll start with where we are. We’re in a parking lot in Malaysia. That’s a country in Southeast Asia. We’re a little peninsula just below Thailand, and above Singapore. I’ll just stick to the language of English for the purpose of clarity.
Now, I’m gonna describe Spot. Well, she’s got long black hair that goes past her shoulders. Currently she’s wearing a Metallica shirt, a pair of jeans, and black boots. Very metal of her. She’s Chinese, but she doesn’t know a word of Mandarin, and I guess you could say her Malay’s pretty good. She’s tall too, taller than I am, and I’m like five foot ten, or eleven or nine or something…
She dropped out of college, and is now kinda unemployed.
Spot’s not her real name. It’s a nickname we gave her waaaaay back. We can’t even remember why we went with Spot anymore, and at this point, we can’t remember her real name either.
Onto Aabis. He’s pretty big sized, he likes saying that ‘if he were thrown off a building his extra plush would just bounce him right back up.’ He’s got black curly hair, and he’s got dark skin as a result of being Indian. He’s wearing a large red hoodie with white stripes, and cargo pants.
He never went into college, and he’s the guy behind the McDonald’s counter.
Me? I don’t know. My name’s Daryl… I don’t really know how to describe myself, or if I’m really that interesting to describe. You know that TV show, Danny Phantom? Picture that guy I guess. Or if you’ve never watched that show… I dunno, like picture one of those really hot guys from a porno or something. Not exactly accurate but that should work. Just imagine him fully clothed.
Or I guess you could imagine me as this Asian kid that’s kinda insecure about a bunch of things. I’ve got short black hair, and I’m pretty average sized. Average everything, really, except intelligence of course, that’s above average. But I’m pretty sure even that’s a lie I’m just telling myself to feel a little more special. All in all, a pretty uninteresting person compared to my other two friends. I like telling jokes, and I like laughing.
The three of us, we’ve been friends since we were ten. We haven’t really changed a bit.
Spot wipes tears from her eyes. “Oh shit, I nearly pissed myself.”
Aabis brings the two plastic bags towards us and shrugs his backpack off, he’s still got a smile on “Alright guys, come on. Let’s actually begin the celebrations of Spot’s birthday.”
Spot and I, we walk over to see what’s in the plastic bags, and in them are a bunch of bottles.
Honestly, I’m not very good with alcohol. There are a bunch of brown liquids, and clear liquids, and I’m pretty sure the green bottles with the words Heineken are bottles of beer. The gentleman walking across the bottle with the words Johnnie Walker below him I believe is whiskey.
Spot smiles, “Hell yeaaah! The queen approves!”
“Just wait, I got something else.” Aabis says, reaching into his bag and pulling out a ziplock bag full of orange pills.
“Whoa, what the fuck are you doing?” I ask, staring at the pills.
“Don’t worry dude, it’s just Adderall.”
“Damn, alright. How’d you get so much?” Spot asks, taking the bag from Aabis.
Aabis pulls out a bottle of the Johnnie Walker stuff. “Oh, I went to this doctor who was just like, yeah, it costs this much. No questions asked type stuff. My friend recommended him.” He takes a swig of the whiskey. Some of the liquid spills out over onto his chin and his hoodie as the bottle leaves his lips. “I paid a lot for all of this, Spot. This was like, all my goddamn money.”
She smiles, walking over to him and giving him a kiss on his cheek. “Danke.”
She pulls out a bottle of the clear alcohol, and sits on one of the parking curbs, and begins taking swigs.
I watch the two of them and walk over to the plastic bag. I pull out one of the Johnnie Walker bottles, uncap it and take a drink.
The liquid fills up my mouth, and it’s like someone juiced cockroaches for a protein shake.
It burns down my throat as if someone used it to strike a match.
Oh, it’s fucking terrible.
But I swallow the whiskey.
I take another drink.
“You look like you’re drinking cough medicine, dude.” Spot laughs.
I grimace, taking another sip. “Nah, I… I like it, just haven’t drunk whiskey in awhile, you know.”
Spot nods her head slowly. “Uh huh…” She looks to Aabis now, holding up the bag of Adderall. “How many of these should I take?”
Aabis shrugs, walking over and taking a couple of the pills out of the bag. “I don’t know, apparently it’s impossible to die or overdose from these, so, like, take ten or something. But I think you’ll like how they’ll feel.” He pops the pills in his mouth and tilts his head back, taking another swig from his bottle.
Spot counts ten out and does the same.
She waves the bag at me, “Want a couple?”
I shake my head. “Nah man, I think I’ll pass.”
I really don’t know how we got to this point.
Us, drinking in a parking lot, the two of them taking Adderall just for the kick of it.
I think Spot wanted to be a writer or something. She wrote a bunch of short stories, and I think she started a bunch of novels, but never finished them. She wrote a ton of screenplays too, but always said, ‘I just don’t have the equipment or the actors to do what I really wanna do.’
She always talked about how she was gonna be a famous author. Or a famous director.
She imagined herself walking down the red carpet, smiling at the cameramen. She said she’d wear her Slayer shirt and her jeans that were marked up with splashed paint to the important award ceremonies, just to piss off the formal attire snobs.
One night, while she was in college, she called me up.
I was awoken by the sound of my ringtone and as my eyes adjusted to the burning light of the phone screen, I saw that it was three twenty-two in the morning. “The fuck do you want?” I asked.
“Daryl…” She said. I heard her sobbing.
“Hey, Spot… You alright?”
“No… I’m not Daryl, I’m really not.”
“What’s happening Spot?”
I can hear her breathing. “I just wanna go home, Daryl. It’s too much for me here.”
“Ah, I’m sorry Spot. Are you gonna be alright?” I rubbed my eyes and yawned. Honestly, I just really wanted to go back to bed.
“I’m not gonna be alright. I wanna go home, Daryl. I hate it here. I can’t stand it here. I miss home, I miss you, I miss Aabis.”
“I miss you too, Spot, but isn’t your break coming up soon? I’m sure you’ll be fine, just like tough it out for a couple more wee-”
I heard her inhale. “I’m pregnant, Daryl.”
I didn’t feel so sleepy anymore.
I sat up in bed. “What?”
“I got a fucking parasite growing in me. I got this thing that’s taking my blood, my food, and it’s gonna end my goddamned life. It’s like a leech.”
I shook my head, and rubbed my temple. “When did you find out?”
“Yeah. I don’t know… I guess two hours ago.” I didn’t say anything, my mouth was open, and I wanted to say something, but I just couldn’t find the right words. So she continued, “I just wanna go home, Daryl. This is so fucked! I don’t even know how to deal with my nephew, how am I supposed to deal with my own kid?”
“Spot… I’m so sorry, what—what are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know… I don’t know who the dad is either, so that’s… that’s fantastic isn’t it?”
“Come home, Spot.”
“Yeah, I’m planning on it.”
“Does Aabis know?”
I could hear her sigh. “Not yet, but he will tomorrow.”
“Look, I’ll… I’ll talk to you tomorrow Daryl, but I know I’m not gonna keep the baby. I’m getting it out of me.”
“How?” I asked. Keep in mind that abortions are illegal in Malaysia.
“I don’t know. I’ll find a way.” I heard her laugh a little and she said, “Hey, worst comes to worse, I can always try a plunger right?”
I laughed a little, but there wasn’t a lot of heart in it. “Never change, Spot.”
“Yeah, maybe that’s my problem.”
“Not changing?” I asked.
There was a pause and the crackle of the phone call was all I could hear before she said, “I’ll be home in a week, I’ll talk to you then. I’m exhausted. Look, thanks for talking with me. It really means a lot.”
“Yeah, Spot. Of course. Just tell me what happens with you alright?”
“Yeah.” And she hung up.
I put the phone back on my desk, and I lay back in bed.
It took awhile to fall back asleep, but I managed it.
A weeks later and I met up with her in the mall near my house.
“What did you do with… with… your pregnancy?” I asked.
“It’s gone, and all’s good.”
“Who did you go to? Are you feeling alright?”
She smiled and started walking, and she said, “Ice cream sounds pretty good to me right now, let’s grab ice cream. I’m thinking about getting one of those Oreo ones, what about you?”
I shook my head, and frowned a little. “I’ll just get a vanilla ice cream.”
Alright, back to the parking lot.
“We should head over to the park!” Aabis exclaims, slinging his backpack on again. “I’ve got a bunch of fireworks we should play with!”
“Sounds great!” Spot nods, sipping from her bottle again. I catch her grimacing a little bit.
I don’t think she likes drinking very much either.
“Yeah, sure, why not.” I say. I’ve stopped drinking so much at this point, and I’m only taking small sips.
Spot picks up a plastic bag, and I pick up a bag. The bottles clink together, reminding me of chimes, only a lot more dysfunctional.
And we begin walking to the park. The street lamps shine their orange lights on the sidewalk we’re walking on, and we can see the bugs fluttering about beneath the glow. The air is sticky, and I can feel my feet getting sweaty. My socks absorb the sweat, and they take on the consistency of soggy bread.
I watch as Aabis keeps drinking. He’s taking gulps of the stuff as if it’s water. It’s really just kind of sad to watch. Especially since, like I said, I’ve known him since we were ten.
Well, since I’ve given you Spot’s backstory, I might as well give you Aabis’s.
I’ll just start this off by saying that he’s got a real tragic life. He’s got the kind of tragic life that you’d expect a real messed up writer to write about.
His dad had walked out on his family which consisted of him, his mom and his brother. He walked out on them when Aabis was still the age of three.
His brother committed suicide when he was eleven, and at the age of sixteen, his mom was run over by an ambulance.
The thing skidded over in the rain, and overturned, turning Aabis’ mom into the consistency of a strawberry slushie when it smashed into her while she was simply walking across the road. It also managed to kill its occupant, the driver, and the two EMTs trying to save the occupant’s life.
I hope you’re not laughing at that last bit, because it really wasn’t funny.
The two of us sat on the chairs he had out in his garden.
Now this wasn’t any ordinary garden. This was a garden that him and his mom worked on.
His mom taught him everything about working with the flowers, and there were orchids with bright violets you’d only expect in paintings, hibiscus flowers that were so red you’d think someone bled on them to colour them in, and he had marigolds that put the glow of the sun to shame.
It was raining then, and although it was morning, the giant grey clouds were stopping any light from breaking through, and so it felt a lot more like we were late into the evening.
Our clothes were drenched in rain water, but this was fine.
The both of us were dressed in all black, and the wake had just ended.
Aabis looks at me, his curly hair is wet, and is draped over the front of his face like a curtain. “This really is the shit on the butt salad isn’t it?”
“You’re cracking jokes now?” I said.
“I’m trying really hard to smile here, Daryl. I really am. I’m trying to just nod my head and smile through all of this, but it’s getting real hard.” Despite the rain you could tell he was crying because his eyes were red, and his whole body was shaking.
“You don’t have to keep smiling.” I told him. I watched the rain falling on the flowers, trying to force them downwards.
“No, I—I really have to man.” He puts his large hands over his eyes, rubbing them. “If I don’t, I’m really done. If I stop smiling, I’ll end up just like my brother.”
I could feel my eyes getting wet too.
“No, I gotta keep smiling. I gotta keep smiling for you, and for Spot.”
I could feel my tears really start to build up. “Not yourself?” I asked.
“Nah… I feel like I’ve got nothing for myself. If I’m doing things for myself, I’ll be hanging from my ceiling fan in a week or so. I’ve gotta be doing things for you guys. To at least be doing something worthwhile you know?”
This was really too much for me, and I started crying. I hugged him, and he hugged back and the two of us were just crying there, in the rain, our black clothes getting soaked.
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” he sobbed.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” I told him.
“You know, we…we all think that when we’re praying, there’s someone up there that’s listening to all our problems, and he’s…he’s really trying to help, he’s doing his best. He’s really doing his best to watch over us. But what kind of god would do this to anybody?” His whole body is heaving with every time he inhales. “Either he’s one sadistic piece of shit, or he’s dead. Up there, up wherever the hell he is, he’s dead, and all his angels never gave enough of a shit to clean up the mess.”
“I-I-I don’t know how to make things better,” I told him.
“You don’t have to… I never asked you to,” he replied. “Just please, don’t leave me.”
Then we heard the sound of feet, splashing in the water soaked ground.
The both of us looked up to see Spot as she walked into the garden. She had a black dress on, and she was holding a black umbrella. She walked over to the both of us, and hugged us.
Her umbrella stopped the rain from hitting us, and the drops sounded like little pebbles pelting us. “I’m sorry I’m late,” she said.
We both hugged back.
I saw Aabis smile, and he said, “Don’t worry about it. So long as you’re here.”
It doesn’t take long for us to get to the park. There are bright white lights scattered around here, but not in any concentrated area, so there are pockets of darkness all over the place.
There’s a small lake here, and we can see the outlines of trash bags floating on the water. The white lights are reflected in the lake, and they look like dozens of mini moons. Mosquitos buzz around us, and I can already feel my arms getting itchy.
Aabis pulls his bag off and starts rummaging through it, pulling out a bunch of fireworks the sizes of golfballs. The top half is coloured red, and the bottom half is green. There’s a fuse coming out the top. “Let’s have some fun, huh?” he says.
He lights one up, and throws it far.
Sparks fly out of the fuse until going into the ball itself, and for a few seconds there’s nothing but smoke coming out of it.
There’s a bright flash in the wet grass, and my ears are left ringing.
“Shit!” Spot gasps.
“Here give me a few,” I say, walking over, and grabbing a few from his bag.
He hands me a lighter. “Go crazy, dude.”
I nod, lighting one up and throwing it into the lake. It bubbles for a second before blowing up, showering us all in lake water.
Spot makes a fake puking sound, “Augh, disgusting.”
She takes a firework from me, lights it up, and throws it far out.
Aabis lights one up and throws one.
I do the same.
It sounds like a gunfight has broken out, and we can smell that black powder smell, or whatever the hell it is they packed into those fireworks.
These aren’t the pretty kind of fireworks. These are the kind that just blow up, making a bunch of noise. They’re pretty fun in their own right, but what we’re doing isn’t beautiful.
“This is the greatest birthday of all time.” Spot says. She takes another drink.
I’ve put my bottle down on the ground at this point.
Aabis nods his head. “Shit man, I don’t think I’ve been this happy in awhile.”
I find that statement kind of sad…
BANG. One of them must have thrown another firework.
I light another one up and throw.
Aabis laughs, “Guys, imagine telling this to our kids.”
I smile. “What, that we got drunk one night, took Adderall and started throwing fireworks around in a park? Doesn’t really sound like a good story to me.”
In the corner of my vision I see Spot tense up. “Yeah…” she says.
Aabis lights another firework. “Haha, can you actually imagine us as parents though? To actual kids?”
“We’d be real shit parents,” I say.
“I don’t know man, in a couple of years, I can see myself being a pretty good dad. I’d like, read to my kids every night. I’d read The Graveyard Book to them when they’re old enough. I’d introduce them to some great music too. I’d start off with The Beatles, onto The Pixies, Nirvana, FIDLAR when they’re in their teens or something.”
I laugh, “Would you be fine with something puking on you, and having to change out its shit?”
“It’s all a part of a package right? I don’t know, I think I’d love to have a kid.”
Spot throws another firework out. “Can we switch the subject please?”
Aabis shakes his head, “Come on, you can’t be that against kids right? Wouldn’t you want a kid someday too? I mean I’d make sure my kid got a better life than I did.”
“No, we’re switching subjects.”
“Oh come on, just ‘cause what? You had an abortion?”
My eyes go wide. “Aabis, come on, let’s drop this.”
Spot just stares at him.
Aabis doesn’t seem to notice me, or her glare. He just keeps lighting up his fireworks and throwing them out. “No, seriously though, so what, you had one abortion, doesn’t mean you won’t want a kid in the future right?”
I watch Spot grip her bottle.
She grips so tight that her knuckles turn white. “What, you want another kid born into a place where his mom’ll get run over by an ambulance and have his brother commit suicide?”
Aabis still keeps just throwing his fireworks. “I don’t know Spot, I think I’ll be a lot more careful with my kids than you were with whoever you fucked to get you pregnant.”
That black powder smell is coating the air like too much cologne.
Spot begins walking over to Aabis, her hand still gripped tightly to her bottle. Aabis doesn’t notice her, as he’s still throwing his fireworks.
“Spot?” I ask, getting worried.
She raises her bottle up high, and the realisation of what’s happening hits me too late. “Spot! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!” I scream.
But she’s already bringing the bottle down on the back of Aabis’ head.
The bottle was half-full, and so the glass shatters. Liquid spills all over her, into Aabis’ hair, and down the back of his shirt.
Aabis falls to the ground.
But this isn’t like how it is in the movies.
In the action films, someone gets hit in the back of the head by a bottle and they’re knocked unconscious until a couple of hours later when they’re woken up to see that they’re in a different location.
No, this is different.
Aabis falls to the ground and he starts screaming.
He starts screaming and holding the back of his head.
This is an animalistic scream, his vocal cords smashing against each other so hard I’m expecting him to begin coughing up blood.
He’s screaming and holding the back of his head, and he’s curling himself into a ball. I can see shards of glass stuck to the back of his scalp.
I stare at Spot, and she’s put a hand on her mouth, and she drops the broken end of her bottle. “Oh god…” she says, barely audible over the sound of Aabis’ scream.
“What the fuck Spot?!” I yell.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god. No, no, no, no, no,” she says. Her eyes are open wide.
Aabis screams, “I CAN’T SEE. I CAN’T SEE. I CAN’T SEE. I CAN’T SEE” over and over again he screams this.
I feel like vomiting. “Spot, we-we-we gotta help him! Spot, we gotta do something.”
But she’s just standing there, staring at Aabis.
“I CAN’T SEE. I CAN’T SEE. I CA—” Aabis curls up even more and I watch his body shake as he begins vomiting. It’s the consistency of porridge and smells of alcohol. He makes a strange gagging sound before going back to screaming.
I grab Aabis, but he’s heavy, and I can’t quite move him. “Help me! Spot, fucking help me move him! We gotta get him to a hospital!”
It’s with this that she moves, grabbing his hoodie and pulling. He’s got vomit all over the front of his hoodie. He’s still screaming, “I CAN’T SEE. I CAN’T SEE.”
“You need to stand up, Aabis,” I tell him.
“I CAN’T SEE, IT-IT-IT-IT’S JUST BLACK.” He’s scratching at his eyes now.
I grab his arms. “You need to calm down! Aabis, stop scratching at your eyes, you need to calm down, and you need to stand up!”
He nods his head. He keeps nodding, like a wind up toy. He’s hyperventilating, but he manages to move his legs so he’s standing.
Spot holds on to him as well, and she says, “Oh god, I’m so sorry Aabis. I don’t know what I was thinking, I don’t know—I’m so sorry.”
“We gotta get him to the hospital,” I say.
“R-right, we’ll use my car,” she replies.
We walk back to the parking lot, we put Aabis in the back seat of the car, and we start driving to the hospital. Spot is driving way over the speed limit, and considering how much she’s drunk she probably shouldn’t be driving, but this isn’t something any of us are really registering.
She keeps saying, “I’m so sorry Aabis, I’m so, so sorry.”
Aabis is sitting in the back of the car, strapped in.
He’s not saying anything.
His nose is bleeding, and the blood is dripping into the vomit stains on his hoodie.
His eyes are open but he’s not looking at anything, and he’s not really blinking either. He’s just staring.
“God really is dead,” he says.
I really don’t know how we got to this point.
Us, sitting in Spot’s car, Aabis apparently blind, and because Spot hit him in the back of his head.
We finally get to the hospital, we go into the emergency room, and check him in. As he’s going in, he says, “I’m… I’m sorry, Spot. I didn’t know it was such a touchy subject.”
Spot just shakes her head, and her eyes are red, and I can see her tears flowing. “What the hell are you even apologizing for?”
Aabis frowns. “I shouldn’t have said those things… We can still be friends right?”
I see Spot bite her bottom lip. She bites so hard that her lip starts bleeding.
I decide to speak for her, “Of course we can still be friends. Look, the doctor’s gotta see what’s happening with you alright? We’ll see you soon.”
He nods his head.
We wait an hour, and the doctor comes out and tells us that he’s sustained some serious head trauma to the optical centre of his brain. He tells us they’ll have to keep him in the hospital for a while, and tells us to go home.
We nod, and we drive to Spot’s house.
We spend most of the car ride in silence until we reach her house.
We enter through her door. Her marble tiled floor is cold, and chills my feet. She presses a button and turns the air conditioner on. She flips a switch on, and her ceiling fan begins spinning slowly.
“Why did you do it?” I ask her.
“I don’t know…” she says. She rubs her forehead, “I just got so angry. What he said just made me so angry…”
I shake my head. “I can’t believe what just happened. It’s all jus—”
“I can’t have children anymore,” she says.
I look up at her, not saying anything.
She continues, “It’s why I got so mad at him. When… when I had my abortion the people I went to, they didn’t do things right, and well one thing led to another and I had to have surgery. I can’t… I can’t have kids anymore, Daryl. It’s why what Aabis said made me so mad. I know it’s not an excuse.”
I stand there for a second before hugging her.
And she hugs back.
“I can’t believe what happened either,” she said.
I nod my head.
“You can sleep on the couch here if you want.”
“That sounds good.”
She forces a smile, before going to her room and closing the door behind her.
I lie down on the couch, and for a moment all I can hear is the sound of the air conditioner, and the rusty metal of her ceiling fan.
SHAUN PHUAH is a creative writer at Interlochen Arts Academy. He has been featured in the Red Wheelbarrow as well as being in the previous issue of the Interlochen Review. Shaun enjoys writing after he's downed about two swimming pools worth of coffee, and tends to write humorous prose either in realism or the surreal.