Dave’s speakers kick on. Cal wakes up in motion.
It always happen in the heat, sticky bonds of salt & sheets rising from the couch. He opens his eyes already standing. His dark skin bleeds through the white sheet wrapped around his sweaty ankles and thighs. It doesn’t feel like he slept at all, went from night to day in an instant and not in the pleasant way that signals a great night’s sleep. Cal feels like he hasn’t slept a wink.
It was one of those songs with a smooth, jazzy instrumental that woke you up slowly enough but didn’t let you go back to sleep. The kind of thing that might rouse Dave out of bed. Cal remembers Dave once saying that he only listened to rap vocals like intricate percussion tracks. It helped him get over the lyrics. Cal retorted that he was just listening to the wrong hip-hop.
A literal pall hangs over the air — faint wisps of stale smoke condensed in the corner between the walls and the ceiling. The TV is set to Sportscenter, and Comedy Central was only one channel away. Cal knows that this is no accident — that some marketing asshole somewhere got promoted for capturing the stoner dollar so easily. But he also knows that it’s a fine way to spend a day.
Cal hovers his hand over the ceramic heat of a vaporizer, testing it like a cook might test a griddle. He stuffs the hose with marijuana, packing it down with a pen that never wrote anything and whose only purpose was for this very moment. Cal appreciates the ritual, however thirsty he is, of mason jars and grinders, sativas and whip vapes. The stability of his routine, his morning, his meditation. He exhales.
“All rise for the cult of cannabis,” Maggie says, entering from the staircase behind him. Her head is buried in her phone.
“Dave still asleep?” Cal ignores the implied condescension, he hopes.
“Thought he was with you.”
Cal is confused and it isn’t just the weed. His heart flickers with the hope that maybe Dave and Maggie are going through a rough patch. He only feels a little bad. Maggie grabs the Arts section of yesterdays Clairsville Herald and turns to the crossword. Her and Cal have already shared about as many words as they usually expend in a day, and that’s just fine with him.
There are streaks of mold on the ceiling that he somehow never noticed until this very morning.
In a happy burst of inspiration, Cal stands to change the bong water in the kitchen.
The first thing Cal notices is Dave. He sleeps facedown on the kitchen table, a mug of Ramen noodles tipped over beside him.
Cal carries the bong towards the sink while dirty water sloshes around gunked up percs, flecks of tar drifting through the water like a muddy snow globe. Like all things elevated to an art form, Dave’s bong is deceptively beautiful, madly overpriced, and intentionally intimidating — all angles and chambers. Dave keeps it clean even if the house isn’t. Which it isn’t.
Dave doesn’t budge.
“Wake up, ya bum.”
Cal dumps the dirty water into the sink, filled with way more dirty dishes than a single cup of Ramen should warrant. To the side of the sin is a mangled knob of ginger and the white ends of several green onions, an unopened tin of grey spinach further down the counter. He turns the disposal on. Dave doesn’t wake to that either.
He knows Dave’ll wake up once the bong is clean — is probably faking sleep until Cal finishes. Dave always wakes up for the bong, and Cal isn’t worried. Even last night, returning too late and too drunk, Dave’d looked Cal clear in the eyes and asked if he “wannnnaaa smoke a bowl?”
Cal finds the isopropyl and salt are already off their designated shelf. There is a blemish soaked into the glass itself, a stain Dave and Cal have been fighting for months, that could use cleaning. Bits of dirty fluid drip onto Cal’s hands as he shakes the bong like a hyperactive kid searching Christmas presents, letting the salt scrub away the imperfections. A clean bong is the only way to wake up, in their eyes. Cal and Dave aren’t animals, they’re just stoners. Well not just stoners, they hate that word, but… Whatever. Cal finishes cleaning.
Still, Dave doesn’t wake.
“Wake up and bake up, brother man!”
He turns towards to the kitchen table, coming close enough to his best friend that he should see him breathing — the stop-start heaving of Dave’s sleep apnea. Except there is no heaving. There’s no movement at all. Dave’s massive body is still, the dribbles of Ramen dripping onto his shins.
With a look like million bee stings, Cal looks up to see Maggie standing silently in the door frame, eyes puffy. Comprehension creeping in. On her look, the bong slips through his fingers and shatters, a million bright and glittering shards and one still-stained piece arcing away from the impact. None of them move in response, and the glass touches no one. It just lays there on the floor, much like Dave just lays on the table.
Down the hall, the speakers kick on.
Cal: Guess he wasn’t kidding after all.