Up and Coming Down: A Story in Two Parts
JOE MADSEN

Read Part 1 of this story, “Because Roddy Got High,” here.

Marble

The grand old marble steps of St. Frank’s came into view, just one block away. A car screeched to a halt as he emerged into the street, but Roddy ignored the horn and curse that followed him up the stone, gothic archway, throwing himself through the doors, across the foyer, and onto the mercy of the security guard’s desk.

Panting, he gasped, “visitor pass.” And then another few breaths. “I need.” Sweat rained onto the guard’s desk.

The bespectacled, coiffed, toad-looking man in the crimson blazer eyed Roddy with great suspicion, though Roddy had known him for years. He’d even once ‘borrowed’ that crimson jacket when he’d forgotten to bring his own to school one day. Returned it, of course; never got caught. Shame he couldn’t remember the guard’s name now.

“I need to see some ID,” the toad croaked, but Roddy hadn’t packed that item into his pockets this morning. Panting away, he used the space to mentally prepare a schmooze when a loud voice boomed across the cavernous foyer.

“CLONGOWE!” it shouted. Roddy jumped, turned, almost fell to the floor. A compact hobbit bounded toward him in a jacket and tie. Puffing his little barrel chest. Beaming.

“How the heck are ya, my good sir?” The hobbit’s voice maintained volume even at arm’s distance. It thrust its hand in Roddy’s space as Roddy stared, slackjawed into its jubilant eyes, bereft of the pest’s name. The marble tiles on the floor began to glow and the stone pillars stretched into infinity.

“Jim Strowski.” Roddy spoke the name and realized it all at once. His indifference unmistakable. Jim, meanwhile, snatched Roddy’s hand and finished the gesture for them both with a glaring grin and giggle.

“Did I say something funny?” Roddy asked, sincerely.

“Holy moley,” Jim chuckled, looking now at the security guard. “This guy, am I right, Glen?”

Glen. Fucking Glen Werth. The only day Roddy was cool in high school was the day he stole Glen Werth’s crimson jacket, and he couldn’t even recall the name.

“I’m giving a talk in my nephew’s film class, Jim.” Roddy nearly sobered himself with that sentence. Good God, he was really about to do this, in the state he was in.

“I still need to see some ID,” Glen repeated, as unamused as he was at the start of this interaction.

“Don’t sweat it, Glen,” piped Strowski. “Clongowe’s an old Prepper, I’ll vouch for him.”

Strowski winked heavily at that, and Roddy suddenly remembered how much he’d despised the boy in school. What was he doing here, anyway? Admissions? Teaching? He didn’t dare ask.

“Strowski, where can I get a jacket right now?” Roddy’s words flowed ahead of his thoughts. Yes, yes, a jacket would do. And some pants.

“Well,” Strowski giggled, “You can always steal ol’ Glen’s again!”

Another cringy wink and Roddy’s world blushed red again. He turned a glance to Mr. Werth behind the desk and found a scowl staring back. Did the man realize? Didn’t matter.

“Good talking to you, Strowski,” Roddy closed, walking suddenly away. “I’ll look in lost and found.”

“Oh snap!” called Strowski. “Clongowe’s back, ladies and gentlemen! Everybody look out!”

Wooden Hallway

Down familiar halls lined with great chestnut doors and marble flooring, Roddy soon found himself in a closet he knew well, sifting through dress pants, ratty button downs that had never seen an iron, ketchup-stained ties, and musty jackets. Some mismatched shoes littered the ensemble, too. How single shoes ever got and remained lost in this school always mystified him, along with the fact that the stench in this closet hadn’t changed in a decade. High on PCP, rifling rejected raiment in a custodial closet, preparing to lie to a classroom full of teenage boys about his career in film. He wasn’t sure how he’d gotten here, but he was damn sure of where he was. I’m a fuck up, he cursed himself, mumbling aloud, sweating steadily. I’m a complete fucking asshole. His eyes caught a glimmer of gray pants underneath a wreckage of belts in the corner. Snatching them out from underneath the pile, he flicked them out to eye their size. They earned a strong ‘maybe,’ which was much higher than any other garment in the room, and with little option left, he removed his rolled-up khaki shorts and stepped into the slate slacks. A fit. Mostly. His spirits lifted every so slightly, and when his eyes scoured the cluster of clothes again, he located a jacket that could work, a neglected black velvet piece that, yes, just might work. Gray pants, black velvet jacket, pure white tank top underneath. As far as these kids knew, he was some some aspiring douchey director who got work on indie films, not some jerkoff who worked freelance editing feature-length porn trash into trailers. This outfit could work. Roddy could do this. In fact, he could do more than this. If anything was to be learned from this disastrous morning, it was that he could turn around crappy situations, right? And he could start doing this now. All of it. Today. He could turn it the fuck around. Damn, maybe it was the PCP talking, but he suddenly got the urge to do some right things, send some morally sound texts. He was here. He had a few more minutes to spare. Do away with the bullshit and clear his mind a little more before this talk. Mitigate a bit of stress. So he slipped his phone out of his pocket, still somehow hanging on at 5%, and drafted a message to a man named Will he hadn’t answered in two weeks. Some might call it ghosting. The message told Will in stiff formalities that he’d tested positive for chlamydia and that he, Will, should get himself tested, too. Send. Easy. No overthinking. Just honesty. Roddy pushed his feet back into his sandals and opened the door. He looked as ready to play the part as he ever would.

Don’t forget the college kid, a voice sang loftily in his brain. Roddy paused, recalling the cute undergrad he’d left in his bed earlier in the morning, fleeing hastily to the free clinic to treat his STD. Cute boy. Harry his name was. Lean, blond, hairy Harry. Roddy would’ve roused him awake for more fun had the clinic not called with its urgent news. Harry deserved a text, too. Phone still in hand, still alive, Roddy reopened the message he’d just written, copied it, pasted it into a new one, and sent it to the number that was Harry’s. God, just turned 20, the boy said? Woof. Boy indeed. Oh, Roddy. And why the druggy rush of guilt? Why the sudden morality? Focus, Roddy.

He cleared his mind as best he could and resumed a stride as a familiar chime echoed through the corridors. Boys in jackets and ties erupted from classrooms and spilled into the hall, filling it with with raucous chatter, shuffling feet, and the sound of lockers clattering open and shut. He’d have a couple of minutes to navigate this noxious sea of testosterone before the next bell rang, signaling the start of class, but suddenly he realized he wasn’t sure where he was going.

Hallway Lockers

“Excuse me!” Roddy grabbed the shoulder of an older looking boy who flinched and stared. “I’m looking for the Intro Film class, do you know where it is?”

The boy assessed Roddy in his outfit with one quick glance. “You CJ’s uncle?”

“Yes!” said Roddy, relieved for some help at last. He wasn’t even bothered at the boy’s staring at his sandals. “Are you in my nephew’s class?”

“Yeah,” the boy mumbled. “I’m going there right now.”

“Well, obviously,” Roddy snarked.

But without a reply, the boy turned awkwardly and lumbered slowly away. Roddy looked at the kid and decided he must be a dumbass before following his new guide. The sea of blazered boys began to ebb, sorting itself into new classrooms again like the tide. Prep school musical chairs, Roddy quipped to himself.

“So I take it you know my nephew?” Roddy asked his guide as he caught up to him.

“Yeah,” The boy mumbled without looking. “He’s a junior.”

Another obvious, dumbass observation. They trundled along in silence, but as they did, with no apparent rush or high stakes involved anymore, a red hue began to seep into Roddy’s sights again. PCP was lifting him off the ground again.

“So is everyone else in the class a senior, then?” Roddy tried again. He needed chatter, however inane it was, to keep his feet on the ground.

“Yeah,” the boy grunted, still not looking at Roddy.

“And what’s your teacher’s name again?” Roddy asked without pause.

“Mr. Angevin,” the boy grunted. “We’re here.” And without stopping, he clumsily pushed the door open and let it close without any gesture to hold it.

Rows of Seats

Roddy bristled and took a deep breath. Mr. Angevin, he practiced to himself. Almost felt like he’d said it once before. He looked down at this outfit and brushed off some dust lingering on his new velvet jacket. It, too, looked a shade familiar. And taking another deep breath, he put a hand to the door and walked through as the bell rang once more and he was greeted by the sight and sound of boys still settling into seats. Conversations quietened with snickering. The rows of desks were graduated, like a small lecture hall, and Roddy spied a projector at the top of the old classroom, aiming its scope toward a brilliant white screen suspended over the blackboard just feet away from him. He didn’t move from his stance just inside the door. At the other end of the blackboard stood another door, open halfway into an unseen office, whence he knew this teacher, Mr. Angevin, would emerge. The cluster of boys in the class hadn’t grown totally silent yet, and Roddy wouldn’t look at them until they did or the instructor appeared. He wouldn’t even try to find his nephew, CJ. He needed a cue before he could begin. And as soon as he prayed for one, in his stiff stance, he got it, in the sight of a handsome man with a full head of light brown hair, tall, lean, and maybe seven years older, walking through the teacher’s door, eyes locked on a little phone held in his hand. Mr. Angevin. Will Angevin. Roddy recognized the face as the one he’d brought to bed two weeks before. The one he’d ghosted. The one he’d just moments ago informed of their shared venereal issues. He was probably reading that text right now as Roddy waited in horror-struck silence for Will to look up and behold his guest speaker standing opposite. He did. And he nearly dropped his phone when he looked into Roddy’s face. It was only now that Roddy realized that the room had, in fact, been silent for quite a few moments. So he took his cue, as painful as it was.

“You must be Mr. Angevin,” said Roddy, striding across the floor with a stern face and extended hand. He didn’t even blink as he stared straight into the teacher’s eyes, his nephew’s teacher’s eyes, warning him not to say or do a fucking thing that was out of the ordinary.

Will paused, his face aghast for half a second longer, before he broke into an ebullient grin and took Roddy’s hand in his, squeezing it with an extra force that Roddy defiantly matched. The two men smiled and held the shake a second too long. No words were said.

“Thank you for having me,” Roddy grinned back, breaking their hands and their silence.

“Our pleasure,” Will smiled forcefully. Shame Roddy severed this tie so disastrously. The man was handsome in the extreme. “CJ tells us you’ve done some brilliant work in film,” Will continued, motioning to Roddy’s nephew just 12 feet away.

Roddy turned to spot his kin sitting blankly in the front row. Jet black hair. Glowing green eyes. Wearing an expression trying desperately to look nonchalant. CJ. The 4th. CJ4. He looked just like his father at that age. Everyone called Roddy’s brother CJ3. His mind broke its wistful wandering and turned back to Will — or Mr. Angevin for today — who’d taken a seat behind the teacher’s desk in the corner, now reclining pompously with a grin.

“Where shall I…?” Roddy began to ask.

“The podium is fine,” said Mr. Angevin, glancing at Roddy’s sandals beneath his slacks. He gleaned apparent joy from the circumstances of Roddy’s plight, and he didn’t even know the half of them. Roddy ignored the smug smiling man and strode toward the podium in front of the projector screen. It was all still too quiet, and he realized he’d get no further introduction from the teacher, or CJ for that matter. No one would help him through this awkward start. So he coughed, cracked his neck, and eyed the rows of dull, awaiting eyes staring back at him, making his face as stern and hard as he could in reply. Everything was still bathed in a wash of light red.

Seats High on Red Hue

“What’s up, gentlemen?” he began. Mr. Angevin snorted, but Roddy didn’t flinch. Only held fast to the weird note he’d begun. Isn’t that how you address all-boys classrooms, he wondered. End everything with ‘gentlemen’, right? Whatever. None of them stirred. He thought he noticed CJ tense up, though, and he thought very briefly and wickedly of telling everyone in detail the story of how he’d gotten from his bed to this podium this morning. How it perfectly captured his personal style of living. His brand. That’d be a talk these kids would never forget, he mused. And then he thought better of it.

“As my nephew CJ might have told you,” he resumed, motioning the front row. “I’m going to be talking to you about some of the work I’ve done producing film and other creative projects since college.”

Not a muscle in the room moved. Most were either slouched back or leaning heavily into hands. Roddy slipped his phone from his pocket, laid it on the table, and quietly opened a screen with typed ramblings he’d taken down yesterday. God, 2% left. He’d have to work quickly.

“I actually have some notes prepared, if you don’t mind—”

“Where did you go to college, Mr. Clongowe?” Mr. Angevin now chimed in, tone as smug as his smile. It was a cheap move. When they met in the bar weeks prior, Roddy told Will he hadn’t gone to college. Making his way as a part-time bartender and freelance editor with a porn studio, he didn’t like sharing that his degree hailed from a top-20 school. People looked at him funny when he said that.

“Georgetown University,” Roddy spake with distinction.

“Ahh,” said Mr. Angevin, without pause. Roddy didn’t look back. “Another Jesuit institution. And do they have a film department there?”

“Yes,” said Roddy, staring ahead, now annoyed. “They offer a minor which I took. That’s actually where I’d like to begin, if you don’t mind—”

Roddy’s phone buzzed on the podium in front of him. He flicked his eyes downward to see a text flash across the screen over his notes, and he thought for a second it might be snide text from Mr. Angevin in the corner. The sender’s name however, drew his entire focus. Cute Harry, it said. The boy from last night. The one Roddy left in his bed.

“You’re wearing my jacket,” the message read. “And my pants.”

Roddy glanced up in horror and scanned the room, which now glowed hot red as sweat began to gather again in his pits. He was here. Had to be. Pretty, hairy Harry, in this room. A high-school classroom. And when denial of that fact nearly swelled in Roddy’s mind, it was obliterated as his eyes found Harry’s pretty face. A blond, shaggy, lean young man with angelic looks and a devilish grin in the upper right corner of the lecture room. Roddy’s knees began to shake as they locked eyes. Undergrad. He said he was an undergrad. He fucking said he just turned 20, didn’t he? The phone buzzed again and Roddy looked down.

“Don’t worry,” the second message read. “I’m 18, promise.” And then his phone, at last, died.

Dead Phone

 


 




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