Fuck. The door is unlocked. I push it open. He lies motionless on a twin mattress sitting dead in the center of the studio apartment. I call his name before stepping in, afraid to wake the drunken beast. “That’s it,” I yell. The door slams shut. “This shit has to stop,” I grab his foot, give it a shake, and continue the lecture. “I love you, but you’re out of control. Mom and Dad are waiting at the restaurant, and I had to come all the way here to drag your hung-over ass out of bed. It’s noon for Christsake.” I go to the kitchen, pour a glass of water, and take it over to the bedside. “It’s Dad’s birthday. Can’t you stop being so damned selfish for once?” I take a drink from the glass.
The apartment is uncharacteristically clean. No empty beer bottles. No makeshift ashtrays sitting beside his laptop. Turning back to the kitchen, there are no dishes in the sink. No half-eaten pizza on the counter top. And the bed is in the middle of the room. A suit and tie hang on a chair beside it.
“Karl?” I shake my brother. He is cold. Crusted vomit flakes from his grey-blue cheek.
Next to a chalky pint glass on the parquet floor lays a note card folded in half. It simply says, Goodbye Blue Monday.
. . . .
“You know, your brother was a real prick,” Corrine says, breathing smoke from the last drag of her cigarette. She throws the butt to the ground and smashes it onto the sidewalk in front of the funeral home. “But that’s not why I broke up with him.” She lights another smoke, not offering one to me. “That little asshole probably did this just as payback. The ultimate mind-fuck. I screwed up his life, so now he wants to make me pay. He was so selfish. He probably didn’t even leave a note.” She pauses momentarily as my cousin walks by. “What an arrogant prick. In his mind, it must have been the ultimate irony. A writer that can’t even pen a suicide note.”
I pull the note card from my pocket and hand it to Corrine. She brushes her bangs from her forehead and adjusts her red framed non-prescription glasses. “He wasn’t even a good writer.”
“What does it mean?”
“Who knows? I don’t really care. Knowing him, it’s probably a line from some obscure song, by an even more obscure band.”
“No, he stopped listening to music months ago. He said he lost all of his favorite songs in the breakup.”
“God. So dramatic.” Corrine rolls her eyes. “So poetic. I’m surprised the self-important bastard didn’t off himself by bleeding out in a bathtub.” She pulls a flask from the breast pocket of her flannel shirt and takes a nip. She lights another Parliament. “The guy was a cliché. I mean, killing yourself at the age of 27, did he think he was Kurt Cobain?” Corrine calls my dead brother a prick once more and walks away.
. . . .
Toxicology would confirm what I already knew – he had ground up every prescription medication in his possession and downed it in a vodka slurry. Paxil, Xanax, Remeron, Trazadone, Ambien, Seroquel, and Valium. He choked and died on his own vomit. This is what I tell Ray. He stands next to me next to the open casket. “Shit,” he says. “I had no idea he was like – so depressed.” The handshake turns into a hug. “Sorry man, real sorry. I loved your brother. Like a brother.” An awkward silence falls through the empty room. I show him the note.
“I don’t know man. Maybe Blue Monday is some sort of new drug. Shit, you never know with Karl.” He hands the card back and stands in front of me like a dope as I study the lettering until finally, he speaks again. “I know this is bad timing and all, but…ah… well…Karl owed me some money.” Ray glares toward green carpet. I stare at the flying, flaming skull tattoo creeping up his neck. His black t-shirt is a wrinkled mess.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I swung him money all the time and, well, you know, he didn’t exactly like paying his debts.” He looks me in the eye, tears welling in his. “Rent is due.”
“Christ.” I empty the contents of my wallet into his hand.
“Thanks man.” Ray hugs me again. “Thanks man.” And as he walks away, “Your brother, a real top notch dude.” Someone in the back of the room laughs and coughs, “Good one.” I shake my head and close the casket.
. . . .
“I don’t understand why he couldn’t hold a real job,” my cousin Sylvia says. “I mean, he was such a smart kid, but so dumb at life. Like, all he needed was some sort of full-time job and he could have totally afforded a decent apartment in Lincoln Park or Old Town or even River North. That’s what everyone else does.” She reads the note again. “Blue Monday? Blue Monday. I think that’s a drink, isn’t it?”
The silence runs thick through the air.
“Remember that time,” she continues. “Remember when he called my Dad a philistine middle-management bastard because my Dad said one of his short stories, the one that was in the New Yorker, was like way too vulgar.” Awkward laughter ensues. “Did he ever publish again after that?”
“No. Actually, his agent dropped him.”
“Oh. Well, I hate to bring it up, but about a year ago –”
“Will you take a check?”
. . . .
The priest cuts the burial service short at my mother’s request. We place my brother in the ground. I take a cab to the bar Karl lived above, Chinaski’s. Of course my brother would frequent a bar named after a Bukowski character. He always called himself a factotum. A fine line between that and being a bum. Corrine was right. Only a cliché of a writer or whatever the hell my brother called himself would live in Wicker Park or Bucktown or wherever the hell I am.
I sit on a stool, order a whiskey, and pull the note card from my suit pocket. A sign on the wall advertises all you can eat bacon on Mondays. “Goodbye Blue Monday,” I say and down the drink. I order another. And the more whiskey I drink, the more cryptic the message becomes. I scan the jukebox for a song with that title. It’s no use. I throw the note down onto the bar. The bartender already has another whiskey that he’s setting in front of me. “Goodbye Blue Monday,” he says and walks away.
The girls with asymmetric haircuts and boys in skinny jeans raise their PBR tallboys.
“Excuse me,” I say. “Excuse me. You know what that means?”
“Yeah, it’s a line from Breakfast of Champions. That was our old buddy Karl’s favorite book. He used to sit in here and draw little Vonnegut sketches all over his cocktail napkins. Goodbye Blue Monday. As a matter of fact, I think it was the title of his novel. Good old Karl. What a great guy. Hell of a writer.”
The boys and girls at the bar again raise cans with their tattooed arms. They bow pierced faces and mats of unwashed hair.
“Karl was a good guy,” the bartender reiterates. He picks up the note card. “Did you know him?”
“No,” I say. “I guess not.”