Chapter Twenty-Six: “They’ll use my lifeless corpse as a trail marker for those fitter than I am”

Ramsay and Oscar commuted to work on the subway every day together. Then they spent the entirety of the workday together, sitting side by side, selling juice over the phone. Sometimes Miles broke up the tedium to complain about his love life, or rather his lack of love life. Although, there appeared to have been some sort of development on that front with Iggy, however minimal, and now he only ever spoke up to assure them that he did not in fact look as much like Scott Baio as Robin made it seem. And then, at the end of the workday, Oscar and Ramsay rode the subway back to their shared apartment where they usually spent the evening together before going to bed only to wake up and do it all over again. Ramsay liked Oscar as much as he was capable of liking anyone. He may have even liked him slightly more than most of the other people he knew and liked. That did not mean, however, that he wanted to spend every waking moment with him forever and ever until they died, a possibility with an ever-growing potential to become a reality.

Part of the issue was that their apartment was still aggressively warm and the only truly bearable place to be was on the kitchen floor, pressed up against the tile. Ramsay had taken to lying completely stark naked in his bed because clothing was his prison. It meant that he sweat through his sheets instead of his pyjama bottoms and that he would be really, really embarrassed if their apartment ever caught fire and he had to flee for his life butt-naked. He spent all the time he was awake inside his apartment on the kitchen floor with Oscar. They had effectively run out of things to say to each other. Ramsay wasn’t very chatty to begin with. It was hellish. He had invited Miles over on two separate occasions just so that they would have a buffer, but Miles had been convinced that they were going to mock him relentlessly the entire time because Ramsay never invited anybody to his home if he could avoid it in any way.

Ramsay had begun to lose hope, fully prepared to resign himself to a lifetime of simply silently existing next to or near Oscar until one of them died, when Oscar led them to a couple of seats on the subway near people he knew. Ramsay recognized one of them as Priscilla, someone Oscar and Miles knew from high school. Normally Ramsay would’ve hated this. Mingling and small talk were two of his least favourite things, topped only by his hatred of extreme heat. That particular morning, however, he had spent sitting on the kitchen floor in complete silence while he and Oscar ate cereal beside each other. It was the fourth time in four days.

“Can we sit with you guys?” Oscar asked, talking to his friend. “Please God, let us sit with you. I will literally pay you money.”

“What a weird level of desperation you’ve just shown,” Priscilla returned flatly, but waved a hand at the empty seats beside her and her friend nonetheless. “You remember my roommate Bernie?”

She nodded to the woman beside her.

“I do now,” was Oscar’s perhaps too honest response. “And this is my roommate Ramsay.”

There was an awkward lull. Ramsay came to the realization that Priscilla and Bernie were just another two people he’d have to endure uncomfortably drawn-out silences with unless someone thought of something to say and soon. He didn’t think he’d be able to handle more silence. Prior to this exact moment in his life, that had never seemed like a possibility. He loved silence and being left alone and generally not having to interact with other humans. It appeared he’d reached his breaking point. Maybe he was growing as a person. Maybe he was tired of looking at only Oscar’s face all day, every day.

“That guy in the green jacket isn’t using his neck,” he blurted out after another minute. The other three turned to him in surprised confusion for a long while. He’d been aiming to start a conversation, but he’d somehow made it much, much worse.

“Another bizarre statement,” Priscilla noted. Ramsay pointed to the guy he’d been talking about as subtly as possible.

“Why doesn’t he use his neck more?” Ramsay continued, persevering despite all of his better judgement telling him to drop it and move to another seat. “He has to turn his whole body to talk to someone, like an owl.”

Priscilla and Bernie followed his gaze. Oscar, meanwhile, turned to look at him like he was insane.

“That’s the exact opposite of an owl,” Priscilla pointed out, righting herself in her seat to address Ramsay again. “If anything, he’s like a whale.”

“What the fuck is happening right now?” Oscar interjected.

“How is he like a whale?” Bernie demanded, rounding on Priscilla.

“Whales don’t have necks,” Priscilla shrugged.

“Whales don’t have necks?” Bernie repeated incredulously.

“Have you ever seen a whale neck?” Priscilla asked.

“No?” Bernie answered, clearly uncertain.

“Right, because whales don’t have necks,” Priscilla said smugly, as if she’d just proven her point. Ramsay couldn’t even argue with her because he hadn’t seen a whale neck either.

He spent the rest of the day with Oscar in crushing silence until he went to bed naked and prayed for there not to be a fire.

The following morning, he and Oscar sat with Priscilla and Bernie on the subway again. Apparently they had the same commute. Priscilla and Bernie lived together and worked together like Ramsay and Oscar lived together and worked together, the only difference being that they somehow managed to do so while continually finding things to talk about. Ramsay was amazed.

“That dude at the end of the car has the exact same sunglasses that my father used to wear with his navy blue windbreaker when he coached my T-ball team in 1994,” Priscilla randomly informed the rest of the group.

“The woman next to him is wearing a turtleneck sweater underneath a cowelneck sweater,” Bernie added.

“That’s a special look,” Oscar interjected dryly.

The four of them rode the subway together every morning. Every time Ramsay and Oscar joined Bernie and Priscilla, someone started up a conversation that was already half-formed. Ramsay seemed to have started an accidental trend when he mentioned the original neckless man. Sometimes the conversations didn’t make any sense to Ramsay, kind of like Priscilla and Bernie had already had the first three-quarters of it several hours beforehand and were only just returning to deliver the closing remarks.

“We could hike Mount Kilimanjaro together,” Bernie said one morning. Ramsay couldn’t tell if she was only talking to Priscilla, or if he and Oscar were also invited on this mountain trek.

“No we could not,” was Priscilla’s immediate response. “I can’t hike Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ll literally die. They’ll use my lifeless corpse as a trail marker for those fitter than I am.”

“I think that’s Mount Everest,” Ramsay corrected. Priscilla focussed her indignant shock on him instead. It was mildly frightening.

“It does’t matter,” she told him. “It literally could not matter less. I’ll still die on either mountain.”

The next morning, they had moved on to the shared bulletin board in Ramsay and Oscar’s office where people posted sale ads or pleas for math tutors for their children.

“Some dude posted on the board about needing a babysitter for his pet snake,” Oscar told the others.

“Is that a euphemism?” Bernie asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“Oh God, it was bad enough when I thought it was a literal snake,” Oscar returned, pulling a face and gagging a little. Ramsay knew exactly who had posted the ad and there was an equal chance that it was for either a literal snake or a more horrifying euphemistic snake.

The morning after that, Priscilla was lamenting the lies she’d been told by mainstream media because apparently her mid-twenties were not as magical as she’d been promised. Ramsay considered telling her that he’d had to peel his naked body off his fitted sheet earlier that morning and that he’d left his bedroom to find Oscar sprawled face-down on their kitchen floor, sobbing slightly about having accidentally inhaled a fruit fly. He ultimately decided against it.

Friends promised me charming and gently humorous misadventures for my twenties,” Priscilla muttered bitterly. “But my life isn’t like Friends, it’s like Seinfeld and the only men I’m managing to attract are the George Castanzas of the insurance industry.”

Bernie pulled a face.

“Oh God, that’s even worse than the regular George Castanzas,” she said.

“Maybe they’re not all that bad and you should give some of them a chance,” Oscar sniffed. It was his new outlook on life, bourn from his crushing heartbreak. Ramsay had half a mind to ban him from spending time with Miles, convinced it was making his sappy.

“Have you ever been hit on by someone while they were talking to you about auto insurance rate decreases?” Priscilla rounded on him. Oscar had not.

“Then shut the hell up,” Bernie added.

The morning after that, Ramsay was the one to start the conversation, complaining about the receptionist at their office, Annie, who always insisted on chatting to Ramsay whenever he walked past, which was once in the morning, once at lunch, once at the end of the day, and no other times if he could at all avoid it in any possible way. One time, the bathroom on their floor had been out of order and he had avoided peeing for five hours simply because he didn’t want to have to talk to her.

“She shares a lot,” he explained.

“What, like snacks?” Bernie asked.

“No, like emotions,” Ramsay clarified.

“Oh, that’s not great for you,” she returned. It had only been a week and a half, but already they had gotten to know each other quite well. At least well enough to know that Ramsay didn’t like talking about emotions; not about his own and certainly never about someone else’s.

“No,” he agreed. “I mostly hate it.”

“I mean, it could be worse,” Oscar stepped in. “But I can tell you for free that I don’t give a shit about anything she ever says. Most of it is her complaining that her boyfriend doesn’t listen to her and I can tell you exactly why that is. It’s because she’s long-winded as hell. That man has the patience of a saint. He deserves a fucking medal.”

“The pair of you feel very strongly about this,” Priscilla noted.

“This is one of the few things either of us feel strongly about,” Oscar nodded. Priscilla raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing else.

Later that same night, while Oscar was lying on the kitchen floor and Ramsay was attempting to find something to make for dinner that wouldn’t involve him using the oven, stovetop, or toaster oven, someone knocked on their apartment door. Ramsay answered it because Oscar didn’t look like he would be moving from the floor anytime soon. It was Priscilla and Bernie.

“Did we catch you at a bad time?” Priscilla asked after a moment when Ramsay failed to say anything upon opening the door.

“No, now’s fine,” Ramsay returned. Bernie and Priscilla stared at him for another moment.

“You’re mostly naked,” Bernie pointed out after a while, like that knowledge somehow may have managed to escape his notice. He was wearing a pair of shorts, but nothing else because the apartment was still eight trillion degrees, Oscar’s estimation, and clothes were his hell.

“My apartment’s too hot for clothes,” Ramsay began to explain. “I’ve already sweat my way through three shirts. Frankly, I do not have the time to do that kind of laundry.”

“Huh,” Priscilla said. “Well, we came to drop off your scarf because you left it on the subway this morning, but it seems a little now like that would just be adding insult to injury.”

She handed him the scarf.

“Why is Oscar lying on the floor?” Bernie asked, peering past Ramsay into the apartment.

“He ate a fruit fly,” was Ramsay’s answer. Unfortunately, it was mostly the truth.

“You dudes are so weird,” Priscilla remarked. Regardless, the four of them still sat together on the subway the following morning.

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