Symbiosis Apotheosis

“Darling, you’re at an age when you should be assessing what you want out of a friendship. For most people, that want consists of a give and take.”

Bertram looked at her in annoyance, sighing from his armchair as he flipped another page of the book he was reading–probably a tome called something like Social Justice for All. “Erica, life is hard enough already for people. We are here as fellow human beings to help make it just a little easier.” 

Erica was sick and fucking tired of this moral high ground philosophy, putting her foot down that evening to say, “Well I don’t want him here. I don’t want another strange man here, staggering through–clearly drunk already–and heading straight for our liquor cabinet to drink from the trough and stink up the joint like the pig he is.”

“For God’s sake, where is your compassion? You used to have some when I first met you. Lewis is not a pig. He’s simply a friend who is down and out on his luck and I owe it to him as a decent person and his longtime cohort to give him a leg up when and where I can.” 

Erica balked. “Oh really, he’s a friend? What the hell has he ever done for you besides call you out of the blue for favors? You haven’t even known him since the days when you went to primary school together. But now, because you want to play the part of the altruistic professor to perfection, he’s a ‘dear friend.’ Don’t delude yourself, Bertram. He’s playing you for the fool you are, capitalizing on the very weakness for giving into your guilt he knows you have. And he’ll play into it for as long as you let him.” 

Bertram looked up from his book to glare at her. “Honestly, I had no idea you became so jaded. When did this happen? When did you start to turn your back on your own kind?”

“Allistair is not ‘my own kind.’ He is the kind who leeches and leeches until he sucks you dry and turns to another fat cat to bleed out for his own gain.”

“My god, Erica, how do you really feel?” 

She stamped her foot, “I’m telling you right now: he’s not setting foot into this house, or I will walk out of it. Would you prefer it was I who slept on the street tonight instead?”

Bertram considered this prospect solemnly. “No, of course not, dear. I’ll just have to call the tavern and make arrangements for Allistair at the inn.”

Erica pulled her hair in exasperation. “What in God’s name are you talking about? You’re actually going to spend money–money we need to get through this month–just because you can’t refuse this man a place to stay?” 

“That’s right. No friend of mine is going to be sleeping on the street.” 

“What about tomorrow and the night after that–and the one after that? Are you to be expected to pay for his lodging for all his life because he claims you as a friend? I won’t hear of it. I just won’t. This is absolute madness of the highest order.” 

Bertram rose from his chair and approached her with an alarming rapidity, as though he might actually consider striking her across the face. Instead, he stopped just short of being within an inch of her face to assert, “No, dear, what’s madness is your strange sense of entitlement to anything in this house–let alone the house itself–when I am the one who pays for everything. Therefore it is my right to invite this friend over if I so wish. And that’s just what I’m going to do.” 

Erica was not moved by his argument (having squirreled enough money away to make her escape if need be), countering right back, “Then it is I who shall be leaving and not returning. And you can turn this dump into a goddamn men’s homeless shelter for all I care. I’ve had it! A house is not a home with all these derelicts popping in and out of it tout le temps like knavish sorcerers!”

She didn’t wait to see what Bertram’s reply or reaction would be to this, wasting no time in bolting up the stairs to their room to start packing her suitcase. It didn’t take long for Bertram to materialize and protest her departure with, “Oh come now, you can’t be serious with this.” 

“But I am. Just as you are about cultivating one-sided friendships that result in you only having homeless acquaintances for company. They will use you up and suck you dry Bertram, I’m warning you now. And I won’t be part of it.” 

Bertram rolled his eyes. “Why must this all be so dramatic? A friend who needs a place to stay for one night is coming over. That’s all.”

“It won’t be. Just watch,” Erica returned with the same cryptic confidence as a fortune teller. 

So it was that she was out the door, and Allistair was in. His company proved refreshing to Bertram, at first. They drank and talked of politics, women… all the things Bertram found himself unable to with Erica, so easily scandalized as she was. Yet as the nights turned into weeks, Bertram suddenly realized Erica had been right–Allistair was blatantly taking advantage of his kindness. Erica would not even speak to him, though he had learned from a mutual friend that she had taken up residence with her mother in Shoreditch. That surely meant she was actively working to start a new life without him.

He wanted to reach out to her, to tell her that she was right. But he also did not want to admit that he was wrong. Several nights in a row, he started out toward his mother-in-law’s yet could never bring himself to complete the trek, always returning back to that house that had suddenly filled with all manner of his “friends” down and out on their luck. Some had been brought in by Allistair, others had reached out to Bertram in this period of vulnerability, when saying yes felt so easy without Erica around to tell him no. Yet he was suddenly realizing that without her social temperance, he had become the very thing she said he would: a ‘round the clock men’s homeless shelter. An emotional and financial punching bag to all. 

The crashing sound of a decanter knocked off the bar cart in the early hours of the morning finally propelled him to make his way to Shoreditch and beg Erica to take him back. It was her mother who answered the door in her robe and slippers, groggily greeting him with, “Sorry luv, I’m afraid Erica’s already moved out.”

“Moved out? Where?”

“She found a place in Brighton. Said she wanted to be as remote as possible from other people after livin’ with the likes of you.” 

Bertram sighed. “Can I please have the address?” 


He had left their original home to the jackals that were his “friends.” He didn’t care about it anymore. It meant nothing without her. He blurted out as much, the second she let him into the foyer. She chortled a bit to herself as she stuck a new cigarette into her holder and lit it. Puffing nonchalantly, she asked, “Would you like to stay here then? Are you sure you aren’t gonna miss your ‘friends’?” 

He laughed, “I think they’ve gotten all they can out of me. I reckon we’re not friends anymore.”

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