Blair Krassen Headshot


The Loss of a Friend

In the cards room on the second floor of Lockwood Gardens Assisted Living with a broad window overlooking the garden, Zeke is playing a game of poker with his friends John Tate and Elmer Friedman. It’s a typical morning for the men consisting of nonsensical banter and a game of cards. They are accompanied by a nurse, a young blonde with a slim figure no older than twenty-five. Her name is Denise, but they always forget it so they just call her nurse.

“I wish I had a cigar, poker’s no fun without a cigar,” says Zeke.

Zeke has never before been so restricted as he is at Lockwood Gardens. From a young age he never let anyone tell him what to do, not even his mother. After graduating college from Duke, he started working for his father’s real estate business; he worked on his own hours and eventually took over the company. He met a wealthy girl named Lilian in college and married her shortly after. After just a year of marriage Lilian got bored and left him for another man. So naturally Zeke went to find someone new as well; her name was Laura.and they were married for nearly two months before splitting up.

That was enough to prevent him from settling down again for many years to come until he met Mary Rose, the woman he still claims to be in love with today. If anyone asks if Mary was the love of his life, the answer was and forever will be “yes.” Zeke and Mary met on a Wednesday in summer in central park; she was walking her dog as was he. He loved her laugh and her jokes; he loved her intensity for everything she did.

Zeke got married to her thinking it was only temporary and the love would fade. His love didn’t fade but hers did after he stopped trying to make her happy. Everyday, he regrets not letting her know how he truly felt before letting her walk out the door.

Zeke never had much discipline, not even in grade school. His teachers would try, but they never got far. He started with pot at twelve and coke by sixteen; people would say he went by his father’s example. Alcohol was like water since his father gave him his first shot of whiskey at eleven. He’s an addict but would never admit it to himself let alone anyone else. Addicted to being in charge, Zeke is the alpha of his friends, always has been and still is today.

“We can just pretend,” says John as he blows into a whole between his fingers.

The other men attempt to mime the same motion then scan their cards as they peek out the window in boredom.

“I’m all in. What do I have to lose?” says John.

“I gotta piss,” says Elmer. “Nurse can I go piss?”

“C’mon Elmer we just started the game,” whines John.

“My blatter’s getting weaker by the day, you want me to piss on the table? On your cigar?”

“You mean my invisible cigar?” asks John.

“I’ll piss on your thumb.”

“Gross, go take a piss,” says John.

“Yeah go take your goddamn piss Friedman,” says Zeke.

Elmer grabs onto the edge of the table, forcing his weight onto his right leg, then moves his hand from the table to grab the nurse’s hand.

“Ugh I’m falling!” says Elmer.

The nurse shakes her head assuring him that he is going to get up.

“Can I grab your tit? It’ll help me balance.”

The nurse makes a face like she is contemplating letting Elmer fall but instead just nods again.

Zeke looks up at the nurse and says, “Ignore him. His meds make him say things he knows he shouldn’t.”

The nurse reminds Zeke of his mother who was so keen on keeping her composure even when his father said the rudest things. He wishes that they had a better marriage and maybe that would have impacted how his romantic life went. Maybe if they were kinder to each other he would have been better to his wives.

But then he wonders if he should still be held accountable and could have done better. He could have.

While Elmer is being helped down the hall by the nurse, John and Zeke put the game on hold but take a peak at Elmer’s deck.

“He’s got nothing good. All bluff,” says John.

Zeke gets up out of his chair and begins to walk out of the room.

“Where are you going?” asks John.

“You know.”

Zeke walks to the elevator. Inside is a young man, skinny with a tattoo sleeve and a Nirvana t-shirt. This is the same man that has been coming to deal for him for over a year now, Zeke calls him Axe. Even knowing the fact about his age, Zeke feels like he is still young by sneaking around on the staff, just like he did with his parents growing up.

The two do not make eye contact until the door closes. The young man hands over a plastic baggy full of white powder. Zeke puts the baggy in his brown khaki pocket.

When he walks back into the cards room John screams, “You took forever, the nurse is almost back!” Zeke shrugs and sits back down. Elmer and the nurse return.

“Sweetie can you deal for us please?” asks Zeke.

She rolls her eyes as she picks up their deck of cards.

As she shuffles the deck John says, “So I heard we’re getting a new resident tomorrow morning.”

“A woman?” asks John.

“Hope so, I don’t like the men that come in here other than you guys. They’re all a bunch of boring boneheads,” says Zeke.

“I agree,” says John.

“Maybe it will be someone cool, we can add him to the game even,” says Elmer.

“I doubt it,” says Zeke. “I hope she’s hot and can still bone.”

The nurse's face turns red and appears like she’s about to gag.

“That’s repulsive,” she says softly.

“Hey sweetie would you mind getting us some waters please?” asks John.

The nurse rolls her eyes, puts on a fake smile, and walks out of the room.

The following morning, Zeke gets up, brushes his teeth, and throws on his usual wardrobe consisting of khakis and a button down. He pulls out the plastic baggy from his pocket and pours the contents onto his bathroom countertop. He pulls out a hundred dollar bill from his brown leather wallet and rolls it up to look like a joint. He puts the bill up to his nose and and leans down to the counter snorting the contents and gives a sniff to finish the job. He hears a knock at the door and
quickly goes in for another round, denying he will feel anything from just one, and then puts what’s left back into the baggy.

“Breakfast is ready Mr. Pearson,” says Denise as she peeks her head into his room.

“I’ll be right there. Thank you nurse.”

“It’s Denise.”

“Oh right, sorry sweetie,” he responds.

Zeke heads to the dining room and gets his usual breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast and sits at his usual table with Elmer and John.

“How did everybody sleep?” he asks.

“Like an old person; I got up to piss four times,” answers Elmer.

“The bacon is too dry today,” says Zeke.

“When isn’t the bacon dry?” says Elmer.

“Out in the real world,” responds John.

“My wife used to make the best bacon. Ugh how I miss that woman,” says Elmer.

“My wife never made bacon, I always made my own breakfast,” says John.

“My first wife did, she was the best cook of them all.”

Elmer and John laugh. Elmer asks Zeke if he ever regrets not starting a family.

“Isn’t it a little early for that question? Yeah, yeah I do. Sometimes I wish I had children to come and visit here. But I lived a full life, I got to have three wives and do what I wanted. I got to travel, didn’t have to pay for anyone’s shit but mine. And all my wives signed prenups.”

After breakfast, the men congregate in Zeke’s apartment.

“Hey John do you think you could hold onto this for me for a couple hours? I think the nurses will be
in soon to give me my meds and I don’t want them to find it,” Zeke says as he hands over the baggy to John.

“Sure, why not?” says John gripping onto the baggy.

Zeke feels a strong trust with John, as if no matter what he does, John will always be there to help him out in times of need. He has always wondered how someone who has lived a life guided by such faith and moral standards could accept him for his ever-lasting flaws.

“So what are we doing this morning, poker or canasta?” asks Zeke.

“Poker,” says John.

“But we already played poker like four days this week,” says Elmer.

“Oh well. Canasta is for the shiksas,” says Zeke.

Around ten o’clock they start their game with Denise dealing for them again. As they start a new round, a secretary comes in to show the room to a new resident, a fragile looking brunette. The woman is accompanied by a younger woman in her mid-forties and a gentleman a bit older than she is. Zeke assumes they are the brunette’s children.

“Hi gentlemen this is our new resident Alice, she’s moving in today,” announces the secretary.

“Well hello, nice to meet you. I’m John, and this is Elmer and Zeke.”

The woman and her children wave politely.

“Zeke Pearson, lovely to meet you,” Zeke says looking her in the eyes.

“Alice.” says the woman. “It’s nice to meet you Zeke.”

“Welcome to Lockwood Gardens,” says Elmer.

“Let’s continue our tour. Shall we?” says the secretary. The children lead the way out with Alice and
the secretary trailing behind.

“She seemed nice,” says Elmer.

“I thought she was hot. Hotter than some of my wives,” says Zeke.

The afternoon is not much different than the morning for the men, they sit around in the upstairs lounge together and play chess. At around five 'o'clock, they head back to their own rooms and are alone with their thoughts for the first time that day. John gets back to his room and shuts the door behind him. He remembers that Zeke gave him his bag of cocaine. He pulls it out and opens the bag to take some out and put it in a seperate one. Minutes later Zeke knocks on the door.

“Hey you still have it?”

“Yeah of course, Here you go,” says John as he hands over the baggy.

When Zeke arrives back at his apartment, he takes a look at the bag and wonders if he got snubbed or if John had taken some. Thinking that John would never do such a thing, he assumes Axe charged him for more than he delivered.

Several hours later, John, Elmer, and Zeke are prepping for the party John is having in his suite. Elmer had alcohol that had been stashed in his cupboard for several years and Zeke had some weed left over from when he got it from Axe last Tuesday. The men hang up luau decorations Elmer still has from his granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah and John realizes he still has a little bit left of the coke he took for himself.

“I have to take a dump,” he says.

“Good for you, I haven’t taken one since Monday.” says Zeke.

John goes to his bathroom and locks the door behind him. He takes the coke out of his pocket. As soon as he returns there is a knock at the door.

“Make sure it’s not the nurses,” says Elmer.

Zeke opens the door and a group of residents pile into the doorway.

“Welcome to my Luau,” says John.

As they are getting settled in there is another knock at John’s door.

“I’ll get it,” says Zeke.

“Hi,” says Alice.

“Welcome!” says Zeke.

Zeke wasn’t expecting to see her so soon.

Looking at Alice all made up, Zeke is reminded of Lilian and takes him back to his days at Duke. He knocks back a shot of rum and coke then goes outside to smoke. John is already out there so they share a joint together. Alice and Janis come and join him outside and Alice tells them she has never smoked pot before. Zeke wonders if it is because she believes doing such a thing is immoral or if she has never had the opportunity.

“I would like to try some,” says Alice. Now knowing that she is up for the task, Zeke demonstrates to Alice the process of inhaling the substance. He smiles as Alice’s struggles to handle the joint. John laughs and starts to dance as he takes
another sip of the drink in his hand, “Is that limbo?”

“I think so,” says Elmer.

“Well let’s go.”

John and Elmer make their way over as Alice, Janis, and Zeke finish the joint. John bends his knees and tilts his head back. He keeps on dancing and sipping until his next turn. Alice and Janis join in behind him in line. He once again goes in and gets down low as he suddenly collapses on the floor. Everyone pauses.

“John,? John?! Can you hear me!” shouts Elmer.

Zeke sees the fall and ferociously runs back inside, “John! Is he okay?”

“I don’t think so, he’s not responding,” says Elmer as he checks for a pulse and attempts to wake him with a soft touch.

“We have to call a nurse, get him to the hospital.”

“Everyone leave!” pleads Zeke.

A few minutes later, one of the night shift nurses arrives with a stretcher. Elmer and Zeke help lift John’s body up to get it on and they follow the stretcher to the driveway where they load it into an ambulance.

“Can we come?” asks Elmer.

“I’m afraid not,” says the nurse.

The men make their way back upstairs and Zeke returns to John’s apartment. He looks around at the scraps of the party. Zeke has a feeling he may never see his friend again. He wonders if it was the alcohol, or the weed that made John collapse. He peeks inside John’s bathroom and sees the plastic baggie with barely anything left. He begins to cry.

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