Doug Penhall sat with his chair tilted back dangerously, a can of beer in one hand, and a dart in the other. He took a long pull on the beer, then he sighted down the shaft of the dart and hurled it at the poster of Bruce Lee that hung on the wall behind Ioki's desk. The dart struck Bruce in the middle of the forehead, bounced off the brick wall, and fell to the floor. Penhall swore colorfully, then downed another swallow of beer.
As he picked up a second dart, he heard the sound of boot heels on the wooden stairs. He opted to ignore the new arrival and concentrate on his marksmanship. The dart flew, straight and true, at its target, and a shout of protest came from the stairwell.
"Hey! Cut it out!"
Penhall shot a bleary glance at the man who stood fuming at the top of the stairs, and smiled. "Iok, old buddy, old pal, old roommate... Whatcha doin' here so late on a Sunday?"
Ioki leaned across the desk to assess the damage to his favorite poster, then turned a hostile glare on Penhall. "I came to pick up some files. Good thing, too."
"Why? You wanna turn? Betcha ten bucks I can take out his eye in four tries."
Ioki frowned at him in sudden concern. "What's wrong?"
"Nothin'. Not a thing. Not a single, damned thing."
"Doug, you're totally hammered."
"Yes, I am." He emptied the beer can and tossed it into the trashcan. It rolled noisily against the others that had preceded it. "And I'm just gettin' started."
Ioki left the desk and approached his inebriated friend. His irritation over Doug's treatment of poor Bruce had given way to concern, but he did take the precaution of firmly removing the next dart from the other man's fingers. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
"Hell, I'm celebrating!" Penhall threw his arms up in the air, in an excess of drunken enthusiasm, and almost overbalanced his chair. Ioki caught it at the crucial moment, earning him a lopsided, decidedly maudlin smile. "Thanks, roomie."
"What are you celebrating?"
"Mother's Day, of course!"
"Oh." Ioki sat down heavily on the corner of the nearest desk. "I forgot."
"Lucky you." Penhall shot him a strangely sober look and asked, "How d'you do it?"
Ioki shrugged. "It's just a day."
"Not to me, it isn't. I keep waiting for it to get easier, for the memories to go dim... Never happens, no matter how many six-packs I put away." He reached for the remaining can of beer under his chair, but Ioki snagged it first, popped it open, and took a swig. Then he carefully set it out of Penhall's reach. Penhall gaze mournfully at him. "I wish I could handle it the way you do."
"There's nothing to handle. I never heard of Mother's Day, till I came here, and by then...my mother was gone. So, I just didn't pay any attention to it."
"Do you remember her?" Penhall asked, abruptly.
"Me, too. I was only six when she died, but I remember her...perfectly..."
Ioki silently handed him the beer and waited while he downed half of it without coming up for air. His eyes were full of tears and his voice thick with more than just alcoholic fumes, when he spoke again.
"The hardest thing is that it's the bad stuff I remember best. I know there were good times, but they don't stick in my head. But you know what? I still love her, Iok. I love her and I miss her. All the time. And I feel guilty, because I don't remember her smiling or laughing, only shouting and crying and falling down drunk. How's that for stupid, huh? Feeling guilty for your memories..."
Penhall groped on the desk for a kleenex box. His hand found one of Blowfish's cleaning trays, and he snatched the old feather duster out of the top of it. Ioki watched in amazed disgust, as Penhall blew his nose violently into the ragged, filthy feathers. Doug just mopped his face, first with the duster, then with his sleeve, and tossed the repulsive object back in the tray.
"I tell ya, man," Penhall continued in a congested voice, "losing people is a bitch. There's no clean way to do it. I mean, look at you."
"No thanks." Ioki stood up and headed for the refrigerator, hoping that he could deflect Penhall from a painful discussion.
"What'd you do to deserve losing your family, that way? Not a damned thing! But you still gotta live, knowing that they died tryin' to get you to a safe place."
"You're drunk, Doug. You need some food." He opened the fridge and stared thoughtfully at its contents. "There's gotta be something in here that can soak up some of that alcohol."
"What do they call that? Survivor's Guilt?" Penhall shook his head, dolefully. "Parents give their lives, tryin' to help their kids, and the kids're stuck with the guilt."
Ioki held up a soggy paper plate, with half a stale deli sandwich on it, and a brown plastic bottle full of chocolate sauce. "Hmm. What's worse for a hangover? Ptomaine poisoning or sugar shock? Where'd this stuff come from, anyway?"
Penhall ignored his question. He was now holding his handgun, staring tearfully at it and rubbing his thumb up and down the gleaming barrel. "It doesn't seem fair. We lose the people we love, and what we remember about 'em only makes it worse. Where's the justice in that, huh? How come we can't just point a gun at it, pull the trigger, and make it die? Make it go away?"
Ioki spun around just in time to see Penhall lift his weapon and point it at the Lucite head that stood on the corner of his desk. His relief that the gun was not pointed at Penhall, himself, was short-lived, when he realized that Doug intended to pull the trigger. "Doug!"
"She had the right idea. One shot, and it's all gone."
Ioki took a step toward him, but staggered back as the report of the pistol firing echoed deafeningly through the Chapel. The bullet struck with deadly accuracy, hitting the sculpture in the center of its forehead, and reducing it to transparent rubble. Ioki gave a shout of fury and ran across the room to stand beside the smoking remains, while Penhall gaped at him stupidly.
"What the hell's the matter with you, Doug?! Look at this mess!"
"I'm sorry, man. I'm...I don't know..."
Ioki sighed and felt his anger drain away. Poor Doug probably wouldn't remember any of this, in the morning, and it had only been a silly, plastic head, after all. Then he picked up the string of tiny Christmas lights that used to glow inside its cranium, and he couldn't quite repress a mournful sniff. Doug weaved his way over to Ioki and dropped to his knees beside the shards of the Head. He put a companionable hand on his friend's shoulder, heaved a beer-scented sigh, and said,
"I'm really sorry, Iok. I don't know what came over me."
Penhall fingered one of the lights, his face thoughtful. "You aren't really mad that I shot it, are you?"
"I'll get over it."
"But it was so ugly..."
"Yeah." Ioki wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "I know."
Doug reached up to muss his hair, then gave his head a rough shake. "Tell ya what, pal. Soon as I get sobered up enough to drive, I'll go buy you a new one."
"It won't be the same."
"There's gotta be another ugly head-thing somewhere in the city."
"This was Jenko's."
"Oh." Doug sat down heavily on the floor and buried his face in his hands. "I'm just a screw-up, Iok. I was a screw-up when I was six years old, and I'm still a screw-up. I can't believe I shot Jenko's head!"
"Don't worry about it Doug, really. Come on. We'll go home and get something to eat. Watch a movie. Forget what day it is, for a while. What do you say, roomie?"
"Okay." Penhall allowed Ioki to drag his arm across his shoulders and heave him to his feet. "We'll go home."
Ioki staggered under Penhall's dead-weight. "Watch a movie."
"Forget what day it is."
"That's the idea." Ioki began guiding him toward the stairwell, though their progress was erratic, at best.
"You're a great guy."
"A g...*hic*...good friend."
"You take such good care of me."
"Well, somebody's gotta do it."
"If you were a woman, I'd marry you."
"No, you wouldn't."
"'Cause I'd make you put the toilet seat down and pick up your moldy socks."
Penhall favored him with a woozy smile and patted his cheek with his free hand. "See? You even stopped me from making a bad marriage. What a pal!"
"Shut up, now, Doug. And watch where you put your feet."
...and so they went home to watch a movie.