Maggie wakes in the middle of a song. She feels like shit.
There is no name for it; she can’t find the edges of unease. Maggie knows the day hasn’t even begun. That her life isn’t that hard, not really, that it’s just that morning feeling, the semi-conscience regret for things that haven’t happened yet. It doesn’t help that she’s covered in sweat, bottom sheet dark beneath her and throat raw. Dave’s AC is broken. His half of the bed is as cold as this awful state allows, but she’s so hot that it feels like an oasis. Their bedroom floods in light. The blinds were taken down during finals in a last-ditch effort against oversleeping, but Maggie somehow slept through the sunrise. Maggie is normally a morning person. Her hand slaps at the snooze button, but it doesn’t do anything. Dave’s alarm plays on.
She doesn’t want to get up. She can’t. She wakes up already defeated, like there is a little gremlin on the bed, knees pressed to her chest and preventing any breath. The whole day flashes in front of her eyes and not in the good way. The sheets are like quicksand, like too much heroin.
The music helps, but she’s not sure what it’s helping. She still can’t turn it off. She is pretty sure she never set an alarm at all.
Dave used to say that there was a reason the blues always start with “woke up this morning.” The blues, he said, liked to hit you when you were least awares. The blues, he said, are sentient. They are not the weight of the day, nor the cracks in your cardiovascular system. The blues creep up on you – they dip a pinky in your coffee to stir some cream, they ask how your weekend went. They refinance your mortgage. They pour the second to last shot before you boot it all back up.
That’s why the blues come in the morning, he’d say to Maggie, as he rolled over to go back to sleep. She heard the speech at least once a month, usually on Thursday mornings (his African American Music class met on Wednesday nights). She just barely tolerated it. The blues are sentient; he’d say that his professor would say. The best you could do is bury them. Bury them, then run like hell. At least, that’s what he said his professor said. Maggie stopped listening at some point.
But this morning, flooded in light, there is nothing but sunshine by her side. So she gets up, puts one of his oversized shirts on, and flips through her social media profiles as she heads downstairs to start her day, Dave’s faux-blues be damned. Hell – they weren’t even dating anymore, she thinks, flipping to her “About” section for the 10th time without doing anything to change it.
“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.