The Lamb and the Phoenix
- Andrew Fischer
I wake up at around half past seven so I can get a brisk walk in and perhaps even stop by Smithson Hall before lecture begins at ten sharp, how I loved the delectable Denver Omelettes and the sound of crisp bacon crunching, oozing a flood of savory juices not on my tongue and creating a diner’s heaven when I went there three days ago. I shower and then grab my comb and part my hair to the left and then the right, then the center and then right again, in this angle. + and that angle, and draw the comb’s sharp teeth through my hair one, two, three, four, five, six times before I become fed up and throw it across the room before I retrieve it moments later since I don’t like my things scattered about. I rummage through my clothes and try to find something not too dark yet not too light, not too formal yet not too casual, and at long last I find a cerulean blue hood that seems just perfect for the day. I head downstairs and open the hall doors that reveal the road, and then immediately adjacent to the road the path for walkers and joggers that encircles the entire archaic campus. I cross over and begin the first leg of my sojourn- the dreaded uphill- and luckily for me it’s still morning with a calm cool breeze and then midday Los Angeles heat hasn’t set in here at Williamsworth University. To my right lies an interminable column of pine trees the needles of which never fail to tickle my nose at least once during a walk.
I reach the top of the hill and look to my left. An emerging bed of violets lies on the other side, our gardener Frankie must have just decided to plant them and I smile and continue my walk, inhaling fervently to try and get a whiff of them. After a bit I notice a gap in the trees that I had never seen before that open to a flight of stairs leading down to the main road where the Los Angeles traffic already is in full force, its cacophony growing greater as I make my way down. I notice another student I assume sitting down at the very bottom stair, inhaling a Turkish Royal cigarette. I don’t smoke but I know their distinctive repugnant odor since my father smokes them as well. He notices me as well once the leaves rustle under my feet and turns around and nods at me and then hurls his cigarette onto the traffic with startling ferocity before taking another out of his pack and lighting it again. I make my way towards him and he nods at me again.
“You smoke”, he asks.
I shake my head. “No, I just noticed these stairs while I was walking this morning and wanted to explore.”
“That’s nice”, he says. “I just arrived on campus this morning and found it while I was walking as well.”
I nod at him. After a moment he says, “I’m Andrew Fleming”, and extends his hand.
I shake it and notice his iron handshake and I make a note to incorporate this in my future interactions.
“I’m Andrew Fischer. Where you from”, I ask.
“St. Louis, Missouri”, he says, taking a drag. “And you?”
“San Diego”, I say, turning my head in the opposite direction since the smoke was coming towards me. “You up for breakfast?”
“Just had it”, he says. “Them biscuits and gravy and Denver Omelettes are damn fine.”
“Yes, I had them three days ago”, I say. I pause and then decide to nervously ask, “You up for dinner?”
He laughs and I wonder if I’ve said something wrong or inappropriate.
“Depends on what they’re having”, he says.
“I think its steak and smoked salmon tonight”, I say.
His eyes blaze fire and he puts his cigarette by his side while it’s still smoking. “Sure, I’ll be there”, he says. “Seven o’clock sound alright for you?”
Relieved I have someone to go to dinner with I say, “Yes, sounds great.”
“Well”, says Andrew Fleming looking at me with his piercing cold dark brown cavernous corneas in which I am unable to distinguish the pupils, “I’ll see you then”, he says.
“See you at seven”, I say before heading up the stairs and making my way down to Smithson Hall.
- Andrew Fleming
I’ve been sitting here for the last couple hours before the sun even is near waking up smoking cigarette after cigarette, Turkish Royals in particular, because ever since I went on a family trip Istanbul a couple of years ago I’ve had a huge fascination for anything Turkish or anything from the Mediterranean for that matter, Turkish tobacco, Turkish tea, Turkish delights, Moroccan incense and the like, I tend to smoke lots of cigarettes one after the other when my thoughts assault my mind like a barrage of missiles laying siege to an enemy’s camp during a war, merciless and relentless, leaving no crevice of my brain untouched or spared, as if the unbiased universe cares what a simple fellow like me goes through on a daily basis, so here I am now trying to make heads and tails of my thoughts, whether there’s a beginning, middle, or end, or if they’re a collection of accumulated debris laying waste in a river of consciousness, now floating at the surface.
And now I’m here peacefully sitting down on a concrete stair making sense of myself and I’d guess it’s around half past six since through a tiny aperture in the trees above I can make out that the sun is just a collection of reds and oranges, it looks like a small nectarine from so far aw3ay. And I gaze at it for a while until it is nearly above me and perpendicularly bisects the ground, dividing it into two sections of shade and solar divinity.
I’m puffing on my fifth cigarette when I hear the rustle and crunching of leaves behind me and I turn around and see another student and I assume he must be a smoker as well since everyone I had encountered here until now has been. I nod at him and he nods back at me.
“You smoke”, I ask and he shakes his head no so I wonder what exactly he’s doing here. He just stares at me and I don’t want to be rude but as I’m also not interested in idle conversation I quickly introduce myself. “I’m Andrew Fleming”, I say.
He seems delighted by this overture and introduces himself as Andrew Fischer after pausing for an extra half moment than I deem necessary, what is a half moment I don’t know but I surmise it’s halfway between immediacy and a moment. This is when I notice his lack of spontaneity. Spontaneity is the key component to ensure a successful fluid conversation between multiple parties, since most parties fail to think before they speak and one party taking an extra half second to reply results in partial to full disengagement in the conversation by the other party unless the other party is fully engaged, which is rare indeed.
Noting this, I respond to his question of where I’m from immediately and ask the natural question of where he’s from and he says he’s from San Diego which I say is nice since I have been there and it actually is quite a nice city, and then he asks me to join him for breakfast and I decline not because I’m not hungry but because I’m not interested in being social so early in the morning but I tell him I had already eaten as not to appear rude. He then asks me to go to dinner and what time I have class today and I accept his invitation and he smiles but I can sense his faint disapproval when I say I’m not going to lecture since all the professor will do today is explain the syllabus.
He nods in mock agreement but his eyes don’t lie, eyes never do lie. We bid each other goodbye and he heads to Smithson. I wait about ten minutes and puff on a cigarette then head up the flight of stairs and look down the path to make sure he’s actually gone. Then I head back to my room and reunite with my bottle of Jack that’s patiently waiting for me on the table and I breathe a sigh of relief when I swig it and I feel the familiar light-headedness and the blood surging from my legs to my brain.
- George Brooks
I couldn’t get a winks worth of sleep last night since some damn juvenile drunk hooligans thought it’d be amusing to make noises under my window, of course it’s my window at half past midnight and even after yelling at them in an attempt for them to cease their buffoonish behaviour, and taking shots of gin, one, two, three, four, five in rapid succession and then burying my head in the pillow then throwing the covers over me did nothing to muffle the noise brewing out my window.
So today I’m in an irritable and foul mood and unable to sleep even now, even if I did it would ruin my sleep schedule so there’d be no use at all. In the morning I take another shot to keep me alive for the day and I head downstairs to the common lounge and plop myself on the sofa and a multitude of people come in and out and say things like “Hello, George”, “How are you, George”, or my least favorite, “Why aren’t you going to class, George” and though all three questions can be answered with the simple reply of “I’m feeling atrocious, I didn’t get any sleep last night” I choose to ignore them since there’s no need for me to justify myself to them and though this definitely creates a bad impression of me to the other folks in our building I give not a damnsworth since back home I tended to create many bad first impressions and later change them to good ones.
I leave the couch at around twoish to go and get a ham and cheese sandwich from Smithson and I gobble it greedily and find that it somewhat restores my mood and for now I can at least force a smile. I eat alone and head back to Redwood Hall and re-plop myself onto the couch and stare at the apathetic blank white ceiling and wonder what my purpose is at Williamsworth University, even living in general since I see no point in living except to achieve but what is the point of achievement if we’re going to die afterwards and only a small fraction of men have their achievements remembered throughout time, I suppose the goal is to be among those small fraction of men.
I ruminate over this when the acrid stench of cigarette smoke fills the air and I look and see that someone else has walked into the room and sat on the couch across mine and I catch his eye and he catches mine then I stand up to go greet him to avoid the societal concept of social awkwardness and then he stands up and I have to say that this fellow has some remarkable foresight to be able to determine what I was going to do and I’m glad, I do think we’ll get along since I haven’t yet met anyone who is intelligent in a non-bookish way.
“George Brooks”, I say and extend my hand. His return grip is of steel and I say I’m impressed with him as a man.
“Andrew Fleming”, he says. “ Nice to meet you George.”
“Nice to meet you as well, Andrew”, I say. “You go to class today?”
“Nah”, he replies. “Professor just covered the syllabus I’m sure.”
“That’s what I figured”, I say, appreciating how we think alike.
“So where you from?, he asks.
“Chicago”, I say.
“I’m from St. Louis. Not too far from you.”
Neither he nor I give a damnsworth about where either of us is from but these mundane particulars must be attended to before we are to have any fruitful or insightful conversations such as politics or the existence of a God or a higher power or whatever you may want to call it. We continue talking for about an hour over a multitude of topics, mundane to magnificent and as always with men the conversation turns to women just as with women the conversation always turns to men, since I’m studying physics at Williamsworth I like to call that statement Brooks’ First Law of Conservation.
“I can’t get over this girl back home, Fleming”, I say. “She keeps popping up in my damn head.”
“I know it’s hard, Brooks”, he says, “But in order to let go of a woman like that you have to be just as vicious as she was with you. Eradicate all memories you had with her. Eliminate any future possibility of being with her. Obliterate any positive emotion you may have or feel again the moment it creeps into your mind. Your mind is like a garden. If you allow weed like thoughts to grow they’ll take over the whole garden.”
I had just found my hero. “Where’d you learn that from, Fleming”, I ask, shocked that someone my age could have such sage like wisdom.
“Time and experience, Brooks”, he says. “Time and experience.” A minute passes. “You want to head down to dinner?”, Fleming asks me.
I look at my watch and realize it’s five till seven. “Let’s go”, I say.
- Andrew Fischer
I arrive by the entrance to Smithson at five till seven and wait patiently for Andrew and admire the intricate and ornate façade of the edifice with its plain but historical Doric columns in contrast to the iconic columns with support and surround the two towers on the side of the main hall. The sky darkens and I check my watch. It’s four minutes to seven, then three, two, on, then seven hits on the dot and I look ahead and behind, to my right and left and still see no sign of Andrew Fleming. A +minute passes, then two, then three and I start to get nervous and wonder if I should leave and that’s when I see someone waving and pacing towards to me in the distance. It’s Andrew and by his side is another stocky boy with tree trunk like legs.
Andrew approaches me and slaps me on the back and I relish this form of human contact and pat him on the back and my fingers press against Andrew’s shoulder blade a half moment or a moment too long but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“How’re you doing, Fischer”, he says and I’m glad we’re on last name terms since it indicates familiarity and closeness.
“I’m just fine, Fleming”, I say. “How ‘bout yourself?”
“I’m doing alright. I hope you don’t mind, I brought a friend”, he says, motioning to his side. “This is George. George Brooks.”
George smiles and extends his hand and we shake. “Pleasure”, he says and I nod at him.
“Almost thought you weren’t coming”, I say.
“Why’s that”, Fleming says, looking confused.
“It’s four minutes past seven”, I say.
Fleming looks at George and they both howl with laughter and I’m unable to determine what’s so funny.
“Fischer”, Fleming says. “You didn’t actually think we weren’t coming just because we were a few minutes late, did you?”
“No”, I say. “I didn’t. It was just a weak attempt at a joke.”
“Well, I thought it was pretty funny”, says George Brooks although there exists something nasty, even pugnacious in the way he grins at me.
“Shall we go in”, I ask, trying to divert attention away from myself for a while.”
“Let’s”, says Fleming and we head inside.
- Andrew Fleming
I’m annoyed with George since he sets the pace and slithers slowly like a snail and his solemn eyes seem to always be suspect like a snake. But I’m not too annoyed with him since we all have our flaws and misgivings. We trudge the downhill to Smithson Hall to meet Fischer and I can’t wait for night time since there are too many people out and about. Eventually we reach and I see Andrew Fischer pacing back and forth like a lunatic, his eyes wide, tapping his fingers to his side over and over again. I ask him what’s wrong and how his day was and he tells me nothing is wrong and his day went swimmingly, but I can clearly see that isn’t true or perhaps he’s tired since he did go to class. He then asks me if I even intended to come since we were just a few minutes past seven and I’m shocked since I don’t know if he’s serious or not but I take it as a joke and explain to him that we fully intended to come.
In my limited time with him thus far Fischer is very easy to read like a book and though the book might have a deep profound meaning on the inside, the surface is simple, the sheer anxiety of God knows what is written all over his face, his blue eyes nearly tear up whenever I speak to him, it’s almost as if he has something to fear at all times and I resolve to find out what it is and assuage it as any decent human being would do. There’s something I like about the guy and I resolve to take him under my wing, I know I can help him.
We enter Smithson and head our separate ways, I head to the smoked salmon line first since I’m partial to seafood and George and Fischer head to the steak line. The line is long that’s one of the first things I learned and loathed about this school. There are far too many students, I doubt that there can be this many intelligent people in our world that could get into Williamsworth but I shrug it off and wait impatiently in line for my turn and at last I reach the front to face the grumbling cook.
“A double portion, please”, I ask.
“No double portions. Take this and come back around”, the cook says, placing a piece of salmon in my plate and eyeing me with distaste.
“I know the day must have been hard and you feel unappreciated, sir”, I say. “I feel the same way as a student and I’ve been here only a few days.”
The cook’s expression changes into a smile. “Someone gets it”, he says under his breath and places another piece of salmon on my plate much to the people’s disgust behind me. “Have a good night now”, he says to me pleasantly.
“You as well”, I say and head off to the steak line.
I get my steak and try to find Fischer and Brooks and I see them at a table just by the line and make my way over to them and sit down and they’re already busy eating.
I cut up a piece of salmon and admire the intricate process of cooking once I take a bite of it, it’s divine. I look up at the boys.
“So, what’s the plan for tonight”, I ask.
“Going to bed early I think”, Fischer says.
Brooks shrugs his shoulders.
“I was thinking we have a round of drinks”, I say.
“I’m up for it”, says George Brooks immediately.
“I don’t drink”, says Fischer and I look at him in disbelief.
“You don’t drink? You’re drinking with us tonight then.”
“Absolutely”, adds George.
Fischer looks uneasy but I want to take a load off his mind and there’s nothing a few well-placed shots of whiskey can’t do.
“Alright, I suppose”, Fischer says.
“That’s the spirit”, I say.
We finish eating and head off to get dessert. I pull Fischer to the side.
“Are you alright?”, I ask.
“Yes, why wouldn’t I be”, he says.
“You just don’t look to be”, I say.
“I am, don’t worry. I’m just a bit nervous.”
“Nervous about what, Andrew?”
“Being in this new place. It’s a gigantic zoo and I don’t know where I am.”
“We’re in this together”, I say. “Don’t you worry about it. Everything will be alright.”
“I appreciate it, Fleming”, he says and I clap him on the back and we go get dessert.