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Short story: My friend Rod, by Eamonn Marra

"I see what people like about Rod. He’s fun. He’s handsome in an over-the-top way. He knows how to have a good time. These are good qualities, but they’re not qualities I value": a story by Wellington writer Eamonn Marra.

My friend Rod is convinced I don’t like him. He thinks that because he’s loud and I’m quiet, and he’s touchy and I’m not, that I have something against him. I don’t. Everyone likes Rod; he’s fun and he knows how to have a good time. When we’re out drinking, and Holly says, “Let’s invite Rod,” everyone screams, “Yaaaas, I love Rod.” I say, “Yes,  we all love Rod,” but  I don’t scream it, but that isn’t because I don’t like Rod; it’s because I’m not the type of person who screams.

If you text Rod, he’ll come. He’ll rock up with his finger guns and his V-neck T-shirt, and everyone except me will go crazy. Again, it’s not because I don’t like Rod; it’s because it takes more than someone arriving to make me go crazy. Tyler is my best friend and I never go crazy when he arrives. I just look up and say, “Hey Tyler,” and that’s enough.

No one is quite sure where Rod came from. He went to school with Stephen, but when asked, Stephen says, “Yeah, technically he was there, but he never showed up and I didn’t really become friends with him until Sasha started inviting him round.” Sasha said that he was friends with Tyler first, and Tyler said he was friends with Jeremy. Jeremy said that he only became good friends with Rod through Sasha. Holly is usually the one to text him these days, but she was probably the last person to get to know him because she only came back from London a couple of months ago.

But I can’t ask “Where did you come from Rod?” because “Where did you come from?” really means “Why are you here?” which really means “Why don’t you go back to where you’re from?” And it’s not that I want Rod to go back to where he came from; I am just curious about where that actually is. I want to know why someone so universally loved is never too busy to party. Where are all his other friends?

Rod walks in like he’s dancing, with little steps this way and that, and an unnecessary amount of hip movement. The table erupts with arms and bodies and drinks slosh around, spilling out of their glasses. I raise my glass sensibly towards him and nod.

“What have you been up to tonight?” Sasha asks Rod.

"Was just at a party, but it was kind of dying."

I don’t believe it. No party with Rod in attendance could possibly be dying. Rod is the party. He’s fun and he knows how to have a good time. But there’s no time to question him because now that he has arrived, the party can begin. He orders a round of shots and soon everyone’s on the dance floor. I stay at our seats and guard the bags.

Occasionally between songs Tyler or Holly will come and sit down and we’ll have a good nice chat, and other times I’m happy to just sit by myself and watch. I’m not having a bad time; I’m just not a dancer. After a while Rod comes up to  me and says, “I know you don’t like me much,” and I have to reassure him that I do, in fact, like him.

“Of course I like you Rod,” I say to Rod. “Everyone likes you. You’re fun and you know how to have a good time.”

But to be honest, he’s right; I don’t like Rod and I do want him to go back where he came from. He’s loud and always touching me. He yells and is always drunk. He’s always sneaking up behind me and zapping my waist and laughing. We get it, Rod, you’re fun, you know how to have a good time! But there’s no point in him knowing I don’t like him. All my friends like him, so I put up with him. That’s just part of being a good friend.

I offer to buy Rod a pint, but he wants a Corona, even though it’s not as nice and is worse value for money. But he insists because he just wants something “refreshing”. I order a pale ale for myself and a Corona for Rod, and before I’ve even finished paying for it he’s taken it and returned to the dance floor. He pushes his slice of lemon into his disgusting beer and is back at the centre of attention. He’s got his arms in the air and his feet going, and he spins around and yells and everyone else yells too.

I see what people like about Rod. He’s fun. He’s handsome in an over-the-top way. He knows how to have a good time. These are good qualities, but they’re not qualities I value. It’s not that I dislike people who know how to have a good time; I just don’t care if someone knows how to have a good time. Put it this way: if you disliked someone because they didn’t know how to have a good time, that would be cruel.

We move from bar to bar, dancing our way from one side of town to the other. Rod picks up a group of people with a conga line, who follow us to the next bar. I do a bit of dancing here and there, and I chat to whoever is tired of dancing. I guess this is what clubbing is. It’s not my thing, but I play along.

After another three or four bars, people start dropping off, going home either in pairs or alone. We spill out of the final club – a concrete bunker with a disco ball and flashing lights –and onto the street. Tyler and Sasha disappear into a crowded burger joint, and Rod, Holly and I walk together back down the main drag. Just as I’m about to pack it in and go home, Rod stops outside the karaoke club.

“Just one song,” he says.

Holly shrugs and we follow him inside.

The club is dark with red velvet everywhere. Bright lights shine in blue and white onto the stage, where a man is singing “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers and marching on the spot. Rod immediately signs up and says to us, “Okay, which one of you is ready to have the time of your life?” Holly refuses, and Rod turns to me.

“Come on. I’ll even be the girl,” he says.

I agree because I am also fun and I also know how to have a good time. Holly smiles. Rod buys us a round of Coronas that come in a bucket filled with ice, and we find a table near the stage to wait our turn. Each of the other tables seem to have their own Rod, singing along with their entire body and eagerly awaiting their turn for karaoke.

Our turn comes, and Rod and I abandon our drinks and get on stage. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” is queued. The first frame of the music video is frozen on a small screen at the front and centre of the stage, with the song title in a cartoonish font plastered on top. The same image is projected behind us. After nodding to the DJ that we’re ready, the song starts. The lyrics come in sooner than I expect, and I stumble with the first line and focus on catching up rather than getting the melody right. Rod nails his first line; he sings in falsetto and doesn’t have to look at the screen, instead looking out at the audience with his arms opened wide. The funky bass comes in and Rod starts swinging his hips towards me. I take a step back, out of the main lights and into the shadow at the side of the stage. I manage to catch the next round of lyrics in time, and by the time ‘This could be love’ comes in, I’ve  got  the croon down.  I can hear people in the crowd  singing along to the chorus.   

I take a step forward, back into the light. I look out into the crowd, but between the lights in my eyes and the dark room, they’re invisible. Rod bangs his finger guns at me and I jut  my shoulder back like I’ve been shot. We smile at each other. During the saxophone solo, I take another step forward and look out into the blackness and hold my arm up into the light. Blue light catches my fingers and I curl them into a fist. My eyes get used to the darkness and I look in Holly’s direction and make out her face beaming up at us. I bend my elbow and bring my fist down in victory. Meanwhile, Rod is thrusting his hips back and forth sexually. We turn to each other for the final chorus; he points at me, sings the final “owe it all to you”, drops his microphone, takes a couple of steps back. I shake my head but there’s no stopping him. He runs towards me and leaps, and I catch him. I try lifting him into the air but we fall to the floor. Rod gets up instantly and pulls me to my feet. We leave the stage to applause and I start to see Rod’s appeal.

Holly greets us with a hug at the bottom of the stairs.

“You were amazing,” she says to both of us, then turns to me specifically, and says, “I had no idea you had it in you.”

She leans into me and bunches the back of my T-shirt in her fist. We return to the table and I finish off the last of my Corona. It’s tasteless but cold and refreshing. I say to Holly, because she lives just down the road from me, “Hey, do you want to split a taxi home?”

Holly looks at me, then Holly looks at Rod, and Rod raises his eyebrows, and Holly says, “No, you go ahead, I think I’m going to stick around a while longer.” And I get it. Rod is fun, and Rod knows how to have a good time. I get it.

From the brilliant book of connected stories 2000ft Above Worry Level by Eamonn Marra (Victoria University Press, $30), available as an e-book from MeBooks and also in all good bookstores when all good bookstores reopen.

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