Fried egg on Dave

Huddlestone Phillips

Don’t answer. Don’t even open your eyes. Just let the hot water trickle over you and leave it

to ring. You reach around in the suds, trying to find the lost soap. The phone echoes up the stairs

and you shout Dave’s name, hoping you’ll be heard above the din on the TV.

 

‘Get the phone Dave,’ you shout. You call his name twice, but there’s no reply.

 

Dave. You forget how you first met him. One moment you’re moving boxes into student

digs, the next he’s a permanent attachment to your life. He is always there. In the bar. In the

kitchen. In the class. In your face. Well, almost. Dave stands at half your height, puts on wedged

shoes for the extra inch and wears a faux leather biker’s jacket. He keeps a plastic Woolworths

bag permanently around his wrist; he says it’s so he won’t forget. Leaflets, comics, chess pieces

and sandwiches - he keeps all manner of personal goodies within.

 

Your hangover is relentless. After letting down an unwanted date, your evening included six

bottles of special brew at the pub, a kebab, and a blackout in a public loo. You managed to make

it home, and according to your jeans, pissed yourself in the process.

 

Dave is socially awkward. Yet he’s a brilliant academic. His ideas are non-conformist and

he’s a recognised talent. When he talks, his sentences come together like questions from a

crossword. To some it might appear like nonsense. But if you take the time to listen, Dave’s words

can play on your mind for weeks. Dave sits at number 13 in the UK chess championships.

 

‘Dave,’ you shout, ‘get the sodding phone will you.’ - Nothing.

 

Dave keeps comics scattered in piles around the floor of his bedroom; mountainous islands

rising up from his lino floor. Each collection is separated into the various superheroes, which start

by the door with Aquaman and end with Wolverine next to his bed - no room for a TV of his own.

You recall a Christie’s brochure filled with Batman first editions in the kitchen. Dave helps pays

his rent one magazine sale at a time.

 

Outside your window a pigeon struts back and forth along the sill. She follows a narrow path

between steel spikes and bird shit splattered on the glass, then tucks her head into her wing. You

find the soap in the water and work it up to a lather and rub it vigorously against your skin.

 

You take an N50 marker pen to Dave’sface sometimes when he falls asleep in your presence.

He has this thing of walking into your bedroom, turning on the TV and sitting at the end of your

bed. He doesn’t say anything, he just sits down with the plastic bag by his side, eats whatever he’s

managed to pull together, and stares with intent at the screen, like you’re not really there. Last

night you wrote ‘keep out’ spelt backwards on his forehead and collapsed into bed.

 

The phone stops. You turn the hot tap with your foot and let it run. Free hot water, free

heating, free lost property for your wardrobe. The perks of renting above a laundrette. You close

your eyes again. Don’t go to the college today. Ask for an extension. Play sick.

 

Dave has no respect for food. Or more to the point, he has no time for it. When pushed by

hunger he will call for a takeaway, but mostly he is too engrossed in your TV to make the effort.

One time, he fished out the remnants of your meal from the pan while it was soaking in the sink.

‘What’s going on Dave?’ you say, but he’s too engrossed to notice.

‘You can’t eat that shit,’ you tell him, but he just finishes it up, avoiding the confrontation,

polishing it all off with the same fork - you feel violated. It’s not unknown to find the remains of

your breakfast in Dave’s beard.

 

The day Dave’s parents turn up to visit the flat above the laundrette, you realise he’s the

tallest one in the family. Both his mum and dad wear matching beige coats and hats. His father

keeps a pipe in his pocket and on introduction, tells you he’s something big in British Gas. Once

inside, his mother pulls plastic gloves from her bag and makes for the sink. The whole family are

life members of Mensa.

 

When you take a road trip south to see your mum you don’t know why you take Dave, you

just do. You’re tired. Or maybe just too hungover to drive. And when you get there you collapse 

into your bed, leaving Dave with your mother watching the television together. You wonder what

kind of things they speak of. Him with his curious words and sentences. Her with the photo albums.

A shared preference between them for cold black coffee and late-night snooker on the TV. One

year later and your mum still asks of him.

 

You allow your tongue to run over the cold sore on your bottom lip. You try to convince

yourself it’s drying out, no longer the fungus it once was. Cracked and raw, like a tiny radish stuck

on display for all to see. It feels much larger now. Dave says it’s a transmittable infection, and

pities you less for it than he should. Just as Dave is a rising chess champion and a published author

in various journals, you are quite simply, infectious.

 

One time, you find yourself making your way to a party just north of the city in your Beetle.

Dave is sitting beside you with a bottle of vodka in one hand, a chicken tender in the other, and

there’s this massive hair sticking out of his nostril. For the entire journey all you can think about

is pulling the thing out.

‘This party,’ Dave says, ‘will there be other girls?’

‘Duh,’ you say.

‘Does Ben know I’m coming?’ he says.

‘Sure,’ you say, but you forget now whether you asked.

You do your best to keep your mind on your driving. All you can hear is Dave working his way

through the entire contents of a fried chicken bucket - the sound of his chewing turning your

stomach. With your eyes on the road, a tail of lights disappears into the distance while you count

down the exit numbers one after the other. And as Dave falls asleep, you reach over and give his

wanton nostril hair a tug.

 

You dip your head down under the surface of the water. The warm sensation soaks up the

last dregs of pain from your hangover. Your arms and legs tingle like sunburn, and as you hold

your breath ...10...15...20...the phone starts up again and you lift your head out from the water.

You know Dave can’t or won’t hear it, and on the sixth ring, you pull yourself out of the bath and

make your way down the stairs, two steps at a time. But then you slip, and while reaching for the

handset you land on your arse at the bottom of the stairs. You take a moment to gather yourself,

and the ringing stops. All you can hear is the TV, as Dave watches a quiz show in your room. You

listen to him muttering the correct answers before each contestant.

 

You leave the phone off the hook, take another paracetamol from the kitchen cabinet and

return to the bathroom. You lower yourself gently back into the water, turn on the hot tap, and wait

for the pain to disappear.

 

The light goes out, leaving the whole house in darkness. That jar of coins you keep above

the electric meter, the one you top up whenever the electric fails, Dave’s never placed a single

penny in the meter himself. When funds run low, you march him to the cashpoint and take

what’s due. Before going out last night you recall dropping your last remaining coin into the

meter with a dissatisfying clunk.

 

You hear Dave entering the bathroom and the sound of him lifting the loo seat to relieve

himself. He pisses like a horse that needed to go yesterday.

‘Oh,’ he says as he shakes himself off, ‘you’re in the bath.’

‘Power’s gone again,’ you say.

‘I’ll get my wallet,’ he says.

He leaves the Bathroom. You hear comics being tossed around his room. ‘Dave,’ you shout. But

there’s no response. Just the creak of the stairs, the chafing of a PVC jacket, and a plastic bag

knocking against his legs as he feels his way down the stairs.

Huddlestone is an emerging writer with the International Writers Collective in Amsterdam. As a native English copywriter by profession, he is now achieving recognition for his fiction with ‘Everything is perfect’ and ‘Together we are beautiful’ in the Bookends review.