Chapter Four: “I took a break to check you hadn’t drowned in the shower or choked to death on your Lucky Charms

Oscar hated fruit flies. His apartment was infested. He was swarmed almost all the time; when he was making dinner, while he was eating dinner, while he was laying on his couch contemplating the awfulness of his life, while he was showering. It was horrible. His older sister had told him that he could trap them with jars full of syrup so he had jars of syrup everywhere. It really impacted his already limited counter space in a negative way. Plus he was still eating fruit flies while he showered.

The fruit flies were by far the least of Oscar’s worries, yet he pretended they were his number one issue because it was a hell of a lot easier than addressing any of his real problems, of which there were many. For starters, he’d just been dumped by his girlfriend of four years, Katy. She had sat him down and told him very kindly and gently that she didn’t think they were well-suited for each other anymore. According to Katy, they’d grown apart. She was also certain that he’d seen it coming as well, but it had just taken one of them a long time to work up the courage to do something about it. The solution, apparently, was to break-up, despite the fact that Oscar had not in fact seen it coming and had been planning on proposing to her the very next day with a ring he’d bought a month previously.

Oscar struggled with the break-up for a lot of reasons. He’d just lost the love of his life. Incidentally, he’d also lost almost all of his friends because they were also her friends and, when the dust had settled, they’d chosen her. Oscar was certain it had a lot to do with the drunken outburst he’d regrettably helmed two days after the break-up in front of them all. It likely also didn’t help that it was during their friends Sarah and Mike’s daughter’s first birthday party. Oscar was the only one drinking, most likely because it was two in the afternoon and also an infant’s birthday party. There was a bouncy castle in the backyard that Sarah and Mike had rented for the older kids and Oscar threw up in it. He wasn’t entirely sure how that had happened because he couldn’t really remember anything after eating four pieces of cake, but he was later informed by Mike that the vomit had been fluorescent blue from the dyed icing and that he was no longer welcome in their home. All things considered, Oscar felt it was kind of a harsh reaction. He’d been the one who’d gotten dumped by the love of his life. A little compassion wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Fortunately, according to some people, Oscar wasn’t completely bereft of friends. As his sister pointed out numerous times, he still had his friend Trent from middle school. Unfortunately, according to others, he still had his friend Trent from middle school. To put it bluntly, Trent was an idiot. He was a part-time shitty bartender, part-time shitty musician. Trent had a band called Skankhole because he was an idiot. The band consisted of Trent on lead vocals and guitar, his dumb cousin Joe on bass, and his less dumb cousin Brad on drums. Brad quit the band just a week after Katy stomped on Oscar’s heart to join the navy. Oscar considered it a very positive career move for Brad. Of course, it then meant that Skankhole was without a drummer and Trent asked Oscar to fill the position. Oscar, who no longer felt he had anything left to live for, agreed in a moment of extreme weakness. In his defense, Trent called to ask on a day in which Oscar was slumped on his couch, glaring at fruit flies, and trying to drink from his beer without moving his arms, which involved eight elbow straws that he’d taped together. It was roughly three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.

Every time Oscar played a gig with Skankhole, a little piece of him died inside. They played primarily at a shitty Irish pub that was so stereotypical it physically hurt Oscar to enter. Everything was green and the bartenders were dicks. On a good night, there were about eight people in the audience. On one spectacularly bad night, they played to an empty bar, except for the staff. Someone even opened the door, listened for about thirty seconds, and then continued on their way. It was depressing as hell and Oscar probably would’ve minded more if he hadn’t already had nothing left to live for but an apartment full of fruit flies. After that had become his reality, everything else hadn’t seemed nearly as bad.

He had other friends as well, namely his roommate Ramsay, Miles, and his friend Bear Raleigh from university. So, in total, he had four friends and one of them was Trent. Other things Oscar had included an increasingly bitter outlook on life, an engagement ring he couldn’t give to anyone, and an excess of syrup and mason jars alike. He also had a burgeoning music career with the world’s worst band in the history of bands and also the world. It was a bold statement to make, but Oscar was prepared to make it nonetheless.

Oscar took a fair bit of time off following the break-up. As he was a juice salesman, he could afford to do this. Mostly he claimed to be working from home and then spent his days laying facedown on his living room floor, trying to pretend the clump of fruit flies buzzing their way into his ear canal didn’t annoy him as much as it very obviously did. His friends handled his blatant despair in varying ways. Ramsay, for instance, ignored it entirely, despite the fact that he lived with Oscar. Every time Oscar complained about the fruit flies, Ramsay merely grunted in response. They didn’t bother him as much, both in the sense that Ramsay let most things simply roll off his back, but also in that the fruit flies literally didn’t bother him, keeping their distance. Instead, they reserved all their irritating buzzing for Oscar, who was fairly certain they simply didn’t dare bother Ramsay. He was a terrifying man, even to bugs that lived for a mere twenty-four hours.

Oscar’s friends from high school were slightly more concerned. David called him every single day. He was the most worried. He was also, Oscar was fairly certain, even more upset about the break-up than Oscar himself, which was actually rather astounding considering how poorly Oscar was taking it. But David wanted everybody to be happy and, according to David, the only way for anybody to be happy was for them to be in a long-term, deeply committed relationship with someone who enjoyed playing charades. That was what David had with his wife Melly. That was what Oscar hoped never to have with anyone, specifically the bit about the charades. After the eighteenth straight day that David had called to offer to bring him some chilli, ask how he was feeling, and offer his deepest condolences, Oscar stopped answering his calls. Apparently David was miffed by this, or so said Miles. Oscar wasn’t sure he had it in him to care.

Miles was another story entirely. He was more inclined to ignore that anything was wrong, like Ramsay, but generally too awkward and uncomfortable to actually ignore that anything was wrong. He spent his time around Oscar pretending everything was okay while constantly asking him if he wanted to get drunk. Sometimes he offered to set Oscar up with one of Marly’s small and dim friends. Oscar didn’t want that, so he ignored Miles in return. It was working really well for them so far.

Oscar’s friend Bear from university was significantly more useful. He was also less awkward than Miles in nearly every way, which no doubt helped considerably. He stopped by Oscar’s apartment one Thursday at noon to check that he was alright. Oscar was laying on the living room floor, hands folded over his chest, trying to burn a fruit fly to death with his fiery glare. It wasn’t working, but he was willing to give it a few more minutes.

“How’s it going?” Bear asked, coming over to stand at Oscar’s feet. He towered over Oscar when they were both standing so looking up at Bear from his prone position on the floor made him look like a legitimate giant.

“Oh great,” Oscar answered. “I’m going to die alone.”

“No, no,” Bear said immediately. “You’ll have Miles.”

“Oh God, that’s even more depressing,” Oscar replied, lifting a hand to swat at a group of fruit flies that were getting a little too close to his eyeball for comfort. Bear ignored his comment and wandered off into the kitchen. Oscar could still see his socked feet by the mostly broken bar stools at the kitchen counter. Even his feet were enormous. They were like skis for toddlers.

“What’s with the jars of…what even is this?” Bear asked after a moment. He hadn’t moved from the counter so Oscar addressed his feet when he answered.

“Syrup,” he explained. “It’s syrup. To catch the fruit flies.”

Bear said nothing for a moment. Even though Oscar couldn’t see the top half of him, he assumed Bear was looking very pointedly at the many, many fruit flies flying around the apartment, very much not drowning in jars of syrup.

“Uh huh,” he said after a while. He came over to stand by Oscar, taking up his place at his feet again. He looked even more mountainous than he had minutes before.

“I can’t believe she dumped me,” Oscar admittedly sadly after a minute. It came out far less bitterly than he’d intended. He’d been hiding his true feelings behind cynicism for weeks. He was pretty sure everybody but Ramsay was buying it. Trent certainly was. He’d told Oscar to channel his bitterness into a song for Skankhole to perform. Oscar hadn’t, though mostly because he didn’t want to contribute any more to Skankhole than he already was.

“Dude, there’s a coffee mug on your counter with the words ‘girl power’ on it that I suspect you’ve just eaten ramen out of. It’s noon on a Thursday and you’re laying on your living room floor in your underwear,” Bear said mildly. He said everything mildly. Oscar was convinced that going through life with the name Bear had helped him develop a gentle, extremely easygoing demeanour.

“Yeah?” Oscar returned, pretending not to get the point.

“I can see your dick,” Bear added.

“You’re not at work either though,” Oscar pointed out, trying to maintain at least a modicum of his dignity, a feat which was becoming more and more challenging with each passing moment.

“I took a break to check you hadn’t drowned in the shower or choked to death on your Lucky Charms,” Bear explained. He still sounded mild. Oscar stared at his shins for a while.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to get over this,” he admitted in a quiet voice eventually. It was the first time he’d said it out loud since Katy had left his apartment for the last time, taking all his hope and happiness with him. It was melodramatic, but Oscar felt he was owed some melodrama.

Bear made a soft sound in the back of his throat. He was a gentle giant. Oscar was instantly really glad to have him as a friend. He was so different from the rest of his friends. He was approximately eight hundred times smarter than Trent for starters, but he also hadn’t ever pitied Oscar during any point of his catastrophic breakdown.

“You’re going to be okay, man,” Bear said. “Maybe not right now, but eventually. You need to get rid of that ring, though. You’re killing yourself.”

Oscar sighed and closed his eyes like this was a huge burden to him, but he knew Bear was right anyway.

So the next evening, he went back to the jewelry store where he’d bought Katy’s engagement ring in the first place. He’d had to spend roughly thirty minutes bracing himself to leave his apartment to do so, but he finally made it to the store and returned it to the saddest saleswoman in the history of the world. She wasn’t sad before she’d started talking to Oscar, but the look of crushing disappointment when he’d explained that he’d no longer be needing the engagement ring was almost too much for him to bear. Her name tag said Brenda with a smiley face drawn in the corner. It was possible that Brenda was even more upset about Oscar’s break-up than both Oscar and Dave combined. Oscar hated her. On the other hand, she took the ring back from him and, even though it didn’t feel particularly different or better, it seemed like maybe it could.

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