Indie Author Answers #36: Boring, Reactive Protagonists

For our tip of the week, I rant about the “saggy middle” and how stupid that belief is. You know I’m right.


12: Brian


Brian and Graham detoured to a side street and walked towards Walnut Brewery. Lightning struck off to the west, and the urgent, reverberating boom of thunder rolled up and down the Flatiron mountains.

“How is your older-woman girlfriend?” Brian said.

“Oh, we split up, mate. But we’re still working through our breakup-sex bit, so I’m enjoying that. It’s all going to plan.”

“What’s the plan?”

“Well, the general rule is that you have post-breakup sex once for every three months you were together. We dated for a year, and we’ve had sex twice since we split, so I’ve got two more freebies coming,” Graham said.

“I see.”

“What’s going on with your roommate? He looked in rough shape last time I was over at your apartment.”

“He looks like that a lot these days,” Brian said. “Having him for a roommate has been… an adventure, you could say. We fight a lot, like a married couple or… I don’t know what.”

“So, living with Alex hadn’t turned out to be like the utopia you read about in the advert?”

“I don’t like constantly having to ask him to do his own dishes. I’m not his mother. And he has people over to our place all the time. People I don’t know; the kind of people with a bunch of piercings and weird body art. Some guy came over the other day, he had a shaved head and a spider web tattooed in place of hair, like he’s a comic book character. I’ll come home and he’s got all these weird kids over, and they look at me like I’m an intruder. Plus, he runs with Wiles now constantly, although Wiles doesn’t ever show at our apartment. Alex slings stuff right of our living room.”

“Alex is selling what, pot?”

“No, I think he’s selling real drugs. Like coke, or meth, or worse. Some of the people who come by our house are extremely sketchy.”

“You should tell him that it bothers you.”

Brian opened his hands wide as they crossed a street, in a kind of surrender. “Well, there’s the thing. It does bother me, but I don’t want to be a dick about it. I mean, it’s his house too, he pays rent, so do I have a right to tell him who he can and can’t have over?  I sell weed too, so who am I to judge him, right?”

“Weed and meth are two very different things, mate.”

For the first time, Brian had a chance to share his frustrations with someone willing to listen. “True, and he just wants to party all the time. I don’t think he even goes to class and having to live with that is really disruptive. I’m just not all about getting high and chasing tail anymore.”

“Oh, come on,” Graham said. “Don’t play like you don’t still get high.”

“Okay, fair enough, but not like I used to. And not like he does now. I came back to school so I could get a degree, not skip class and chase girls. All those distractions at the apartment, if I flunk even one class I’m in serious trouble… you can see why I come to the library to study.”

One more street crossing and they would be at the restaurant. “Do you want him to move out?”

“No, I don’t. If he moves out, who knows what happens to him. I think that would be worse.”

“Well, this is quite the tale, my friend,” Graham said. “But no worries, because at least for the time being, you can drown your sorrow in a Walnut Brewery Asiago cheese bread appetizer. I don’t see how that can’t improve things.”

The escalating whirr sound of wheels turning suggested a rapidly approaching bicycle. Brian realized the sound came from right behind them, on the same sidewalk. The cyclist shouted something about making room, and Brian pushed Graham out of the way. The cyclist, travelling much fast for an overcrowded sidewalk, rushed past them. Graham raised a fist and yelled, “that’s what the bloody bike lanes are for, arsehole.”

The cyclist looked back at Graham, and time slowed as Brian locked on him. Something about the cyclist’s eyes struck Brian as odd. The cyclist opened his mouth to reply to Graham, but by then, his bike had slipped off the sidewalk and drifted out into an intersection. In a flash, a car slammed into him. The sounds of the car honking and metal puckering turned into a singular auditory screech. The bike went skidding one way while the cyclist scraped along the road in the other direction, his body flopping like a fish on dry land as he involuntarily crossed the street.  He was not wearing a helmet and easily might be dead, even though he only slid twenty feet or so.

Brian, Graham, and several more onlookers rushed over to the twisted figure, sprawled in the street with his face down on the pavement. A small pool of blood began to develop underneath the cyclist’s head. Brian crouched down, and carefully turned the guy over by the shoulders so that his head no longer laid in the pool of… and that’s when Brian realized that the cyclist had two different-colored eyes. When he was a child, Brian’s family had a dog with heterochromia, but he had never seen that feature in a human. That odd spectacle would burn into his brain for days afterwards.

People nearby did all of the things that people do during this type of incident… scream, cry, shout for an ambulance, scramble for cellphones, direct traffic away from the accident. The commotion was a muffled roar, like listening through the wall to the neighbor’s loud television. Brian, with his hands still gripping the young man’s shoulders, tried to snap his own paralysis but he became lost in those mismatched eyes.

You identify with this situation, but you are not this bicycle accident. There is no meaning in this accident.

The man was alive and looking right at Brian. He whispered something at Brian, but Brian could not make out the words. The lips moved and the sound blurred like waves of musical notes. He leaned closer. “What did you say?”

The cyclist whispered again and closed his eyes. The words still came out as an indiscernible mess, muffled under the chaos around them. Brian asked Graham if he heard what the cyclist said. Graham, mouth agape, only shook his head. Brian lowered the cyclist to the ground, and then looked at his own trembling, stained-red hands. He realized he might never know.