The Chafing Chum

“I mean, you wouldn’t actually classify yourself as a ‘good‘ friend, right? You know that’s not exactly what you’re about,” Martyn says to Uma in a way that comes across as though it should be hissing, but is, instead, uttered with an eerie calmness. The two have been at each other’s throats for the past three days, sequestered with one another in Martyn’s efficiency apartment that he has so “warmly” opened to Uma after hearing of her plight regarding the need for a complete fumigation as a result of the New York rite of passage known as bed bugs. She asks Martyn out of all her friends because 1) he lives alone and 2) he is desperate for company despite hating everyone and deriving a sick pleasure from critiquing every minute thing. And though she knows that his vexing undertones of misogyny can’t be helped because of his gayness, she would rather not impose upon anyone else–show her unmade face or let her hair down, literally, in front of them.

Naturally, they have known one another since high school. There would be no other way for such two people to be friends in ordinary circumstances. Martyn with his longstanding banality, and Uma with her longstanding over the topness–a penchant for flair that came in changing hair colors, sexualities and professions. She was a chameleon; Martyn was hopelessly “fixed”–the only thing about him that ever altered (though of course it was always there, “latently”) was his heterosexuality, which quickly became homo upon arrival in New York. What was the benefit of being there in the last days of Michael Alig’s Limelight if one wasn’t going to be gay–pan even? Uma was of this mindset, and found nothing extraordinary about Martyn’s “shocking” declaration to her one night over coffee at the Empire Diner.

He had called her up out of the clear blue, obtaining her unlisted number from her parents with the excuse that he didn’t know many people in New York and was feeling nervous about moving there. Her parents took the bait and told Martyn to come over anytime for dinner. Oh the Midwest, so fucking polite. Uma wished that it wasn’t so–then she might never have rekindled her friendship with Martyn, whom she had only graced with the blessing of being in her life in high school because, well, at least he was ostracized for his “weirdness” (a.k.a. social awkwardness), and made an adequate sidekick for someone of her larger than personality. At that time, she was a strong emulator of the bombastic and ill-fitting aesthetic of TLC, specifically Left Eye. On weekends she would go to the nightclubs in Detroit to get her dose of reality. That was where it was, as far as she was concerned. Not in the overly manicured, overly coiffed confines of suburbia.

Every day, the closer it got to graduation, the more fiendishly Uma would talk of moving to New York in her often one-sided conversations with Martyn (for fuck’s sake, it’s not like he had much to say that wasn’t utterly dry and clinical, like a goddamn pap smear. She had to fill in the silence, or worse, his stream of consciousness). Martyn nodded along in eager enthusiasm, never letting on that he, too, would follow her there one day–once he got the courage. And, of course, graduated from the only place he applied: the junior college nearby. He maintained it was all his parents could afford, but Uma knew he was too chicken shit to leave. Too “comfortable” in the fucked up nest his parents and two younger brothers provided. He hated it–but he loved hating it. As he did all things, no matter how objectively amazing and entitled to wonder. Uma found this out about him a few weeks before graduation, when she had gotten him an invite to Rob Castelleto’s party in celebration of the end being nigh. She, accustomed to being drunk most weekends, was surprised to find Martyn keeping up with her intake to the point that he, to her extreme shock, led her up to one of the rooms not currently being used for fucking to himself make a move. It was unexpected–she had always seen him as pure friend (or pure part-time diversion). So when he grabbed her tit and started sloppily kissing her, she was frozen, pausing briefly to think of how this might damage their dynamic. But then, she reasoned, she could use more practice with sex before heading off to New York, and Martyn was as good a dummy as any. So she stripped for him and gave him what she knew would be the most memorable night of his life.

For her, the next morning would be what she would remember most, when he rolled over to find her staring out the window, breasts exposed over the bedsheet. “Oh fuck. What have I done?”

She turned to glare at him, pulling the covers up instinctively, “Excuse you? What the fuck have I done?” She scrambled to put her clothes on, and as she got out of the bed, she added, “You ugly, personalityless, freckle-faced, unformed piece of dough for a brain motherfucker.”

She didn’t speak to him again until three years later, when she got that call thanks to her parents’ freedom of information act. Taking pity upon him as he pretended that there was no bad blood between them while he attempted to invite her out for coffee, she asked, “Well, how about now?”

“You know a place that’s open?”

She guffawed. This guy didn’t know shit about New York, and never would. That he was here, in fact, was proof of just how uncool it had become since Andy Warhol died.

So here they were at Empire. Historic site of where Madonna filmed the “Bad Girl” video. But Martyn wouldn’t be interested in anything like that–despite being gay. She wasn’t sure if anything interested him other than her, in truth. Which was strange, because he possessed such an overt contempt for her being.

After 1994, if people asked her if she was named in honor of Pulp Fiction somehow, she would say, “Chronologically, does that make any sense to you?” Martyn would always chime in, “That’s not her real name.” He was such a fucking cunt. And she would definitely kill him if he ever told anyone her real name–broke the facade of her carefully crafted veneer. He was tasteless and tactless, also loudly saying things like, “There’s a wig hair on your coat,” in public as he plucked it off and tittered while looking at her wig.

What was she doing all of this for? Why was she giving him any more of her precious youth? For the sake of sentimentality? “Old times”? No, she decided. It was precisely so that she could have a place to stay in 1997 while her apartment was being fumigated. Destiny worked in strange, often one-off ways. And as she sat on his bed, peppered with telltale signs of masturbation, which she found pathetic, she told herself, I just have to get through one week of this. And then I never have to talk to this person again. 

That was the deal she had made with herself. A reward for roughly ten years of being subject to this chafing chum. Each night, when he arrived in the tin can sized apartment, she braced herself for being bored and irritated by his conversation, something she must feign more than usual to be riveted by lest she end up sleeping in Central Park–and he would be the type to kick her out on a whim. It was in his nature to be mercurial. Blame it on the Pisces factor. Or being born a psychopath.

That’s what she realized he must be the morning she found his special shoebox in the closet. She was looking for a potentially empty one to store a pair of her own when she came across stacks of photos of her from both high school and the period when Martyn had allegedly not been in New York, errant strands of her hair, newspaper clippings about her “it girl” status around town, bits of old clothing and, worst of all, a collaged image he had cobbled together of what she assumed was supposed to be their wedding. She shuddered and resisted the urge to scream in disgust. No, she decided, it was worth it to be homeless. She shoved the shit back in the box and began packing. It was roughly one in the afternoon as she did this, figuring she would be safe from getting caught. But no, right as she shut the door behind her, suitcase in hand, she turned around and there he was like a specter.

“Going somewhere?”

She gasped. “Um, yeah. I’m getting the fuck out of here.” Thinking twice about her curtness, she added, “The fumigation is done early.”

“That so?”

She nodded her head.

“I don’t see how that could be. Especially considering I just added a fresh batch of bed bugs to your place.” Her eyes widened at his admission of insanity. He laughed, “Where’s all your bravado, huh? It’s what made me love you and then hate you in the first place.”

Uma wanted to shriek, but found her mouth suddenly quite dry. Devoid of the ability to make use of her vocal cords. Martyn seized on her all at once, pushing her back into the gimp cage that was his apartment.

“I’ve been waiting so long for this and, yet somehow, it feels anticlimactic. Isn’t that always the case with what we’ve been working our whole lives toward?”

“Martyn, what is this?” her voice quivered.

“This is me, making reparations for that night you took my virginity. I want to be married to you, Lauren, you saw that in the photo, didn’t you?”

She wanted to throw up at the mere mention of her real name alone. “But…you’re gay.”

“Ah, but when it comes to you, my sexuality doesn’t apply. I crave you at all hours of the day Lauren. Want to know what you think, what you feel. Haven’t I given that impression?”

She tried to look away from him, but he snapped her head back to meet his gaze. “Haven’t I been a good friend, Lauren? How could you have ever dreamed of cutting me out of your life? We’re friends and we’re lovers, don’t you see? Like Ross and Rachel. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Looking around the apartment in a panic for anything that could be wielded as a weapon, Lauren’s eyes focused on a magnifying glass on his desk. The better to study her face and body with, she thought. In one swift moment–knowing it would be her only chance–she swiped the magnifying glass and used the blunt force of the gold-plated handle to bludgeon him on the forehead. It was enough to make him see stars and let her go, giving her the opportunity to run. But at the door, she couldn’t resist the urge to say, “In case you forgot, asshole, Ross and Rachel aren’t together. Because Ross is a fucking dweeb with a disproportionate to his body dick and probably only liked missionary just like you.” Years later, Uma would be much disappointed to reach the true conclusion of Friends.

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