moon colony bloodbath
John sits at the small alley table waiting for his mentor to arrive. Mehmet had arranged a small speaking tour upon his return from Turkey, mostly amongst previous employing colleges and universities. Today he had stopped into John’s alma mater, where they had met and researched together for the better of three years. After the talk they agreed to meet where they had last met, a bar in the tourist section of this historic college town.
John didn’t need to arrive early, but he had to secure the same table and same seat. He asked if the lunch menu was still being served. It was. They still served the pressed mozzarella and sun-dried tomato sandwich and pints of Troegs’ Hopback. All was coming together. John orders a Hopback as he waits, too young at their last farewell despite Mehmet’s urging that no one would ask for ID. No one did this time.
A moleskin notebook lay on the table in front of him. It was open to to pages of interconnected bubbles and lines. The bubbles all had topics of the earlier discussion written in them and the lines connective tissue. Arrows suggested pathways of information flow and dependence. Beer stained the corners and the book morphed in his back pocket into some bisected broken sphere. An extra fine point pen of reasonable heft held the book open as John stares into the street in front of him, only a block from where he once lived.
Murmuring from the waitress and a familiar voice brought Mehmet across from John. The younger man stands and shakes his friend’s hand, while Mehmet could only feign the movement of his lips but let his eyes shine in the sun for moment. He was a bigger man, dressed only in blacks and browns, balding with square glasses akin to the early 90s alternative scene. His skin left him an outlier here, the brown and olive complexion a far cry from the farmer’s tanned or pale Pennsylvanians in the hub of one of the few predominantly red counties. He sits at an almost 110 degree angle in the chair and props up his chin with his thumb and forefinger.
“I never adjusted to the workaday life,” Mehmet says, “I don’t think it was built for people who fail to sleep and who don’t mind those waking hours consumed in the minutiae of their day. Days, day into nights, cycling. You don’t look well John.”
John finishes his first beer and Mehmet signals to the waitress, the only waitress for the only customers and the only customers to prefer eating in the alley, for two more. The door creaks and closes.
“I’ve been, you know, I couldn’t do your academic life either. Grades or decisions back then.”
“You could now. Kill the spiral.” He holds the notebook aloft, facing John, “Whole days just thinking like this. For you, not even thinking. Just understanding.” The pen rolls to the ground.
“Not now. Maybe later, but it’s too hard to think of all that now. I was just promoted. Management now, one of the youngest.”
The beer comes and both say their thank yous. Mehmet tastes and realizes the homage.
“If that is good, that is good then. I just want to see you live the fullest. You broke many hearts when you refused the honors degree here. I remember your pitch. You remember this beer. Do you remember the pitch?”
John comes up with some faint recollection. He says, “Something about game theory and experimental economics in relationship to music, tying in our research on production systems in Neo-Marxian thought. Because it’s musician labor production being subsumed.”
“No, no, but close. It doesn’t matter though; you delighted the English department or so Sarah tells me with your postmodernist work.
John scoffs, “I was booed.”
Laughing, Mehmet asks, “When else in life will you be booed? Enjoy the surreality in a life off the stage.”
There’s a moment of silence as they glance over their menus. John rethinks ordering the sandwich; the nostalgia seems too whimsical for the conversation. The effort then, of securing this table and this menu, the phone calls made weeks ago to ensure it would all occur despite a change in ownership, they all fade away.
At their last meal together, the men had been six years younger. Mehmet’s father was ill and Mehmet was planning a return to Turkey to teach and be close to family. John and his girlfriend, who he had known for the same three years as Mehmet, were discussing engagement as her graduation neared. That afternoon, just before their lunch, the state-run university declared Mehmet could return as an assistant professor without any loopholes to find, while John looked at Baltimore apartments that would allow cats and dogs close to the hospital he interned for.
Time slipped by at his old house, until finally John could no longer walk to the meeting place but instead had to drive his old Subaru. It rolled down toward the college and John adjusted his jacket and belt on the way, never having a formal relationship with Mehmet but wanting to be remembered as someone of substance. John entered the Economics department and, after saying hello to the administrator, proceeded to Mehmet’s office. A stack of radical leftist journals, two cartons of American Spirits, and krautrock mixtapes lined the desk.
“I found you gifts!,” Mehmet said, urging John to stuff these affectations into his messenger bag. Mehmet left the underlying meanings unsaid, but John recognized them: the journals they submitted their work together to, the cigarettes shared after their first meeting as advisor and advisee and chain smoked during any research or department planning session, the music that would play in the wee small hours debating Hotelling theorem and peak oil. They were mementos and as heartfelt as the two men had ever been, and John held back tears at the realization that his friend was leaving. Friend now, not mentor, not advisor, just friend. That thought deepened the feeling.
It was the transition of spring to summer and Mehmet walked through the idyllic campus in a black turtleneck and leather jacket. “How do you stand the heat?,” John asked, and Mehmet replied, “It lets me do this,” slinging the jacket over his shoulder in a parody of bog standard Liberal Arts professors. John laughed as they walked back uphill, the car being too much of an embarassment to use for a half mile hike without time constrained against them.
They entered the Blue Parrot and, asked if they’d like a table inside or out, chose outside to enjoy a cigarette with the meal. Mehmet gestured to follow his lead in ordering a drink, but John sipped a Coke instead. The Coke and Hopback came, and John led off with the only news he thought could counter Mehmet. They put their meals in as well, both regulars from all the after-class functions held here.
“Madeline and I decided we’re going to get engaged.”
Mehmet smiled, put his drink on the table, and laughed heartedly for a few moments while John felt the life drain out into one of the gutters, flowing back to the safety of the school downstream.
“And you stayed in Baltimore then?”
Mehmet finishes his second beer as John works down a third. The discussion has turned to where each calls home now rather than the shared space of the college town.
“I did,” says John, “Same apartment even. I’ve had a few roommates crash for a while but mostly just me. And you’re going to New York?”
“Yes, walking distance of the university. There are galleries; it’s artistic. Stefanie loves the climate and being back in the US.” A third beer is brought in front of Mehmet. He sips it, slower now. “We were in the marches back home and we protested, and you can believe in many things very deeply but they can still cause you harm.”
John sees the conversation circling, just like the diagrams he drew, all lines tracing back to where this meal began last time. He wouldn’t let it.
“I did not see you in the city barking orders John,” Mehmet says, “At least in the time we spent together.”
“I wouldn’t say barking. I don’t have anyone directly report to me. I form teams for certain instances, we fix the instance, the team dissolves. I’m more of a rapid teacher. Ideally my students go and they like the ideas and they teach their own teams.”
The waitress brings out their meals, indicated by the slow creak of the doorway. She sets three club gyros with duck fat fries and tzatziki sauce in front of Mehmet, and to John a turkey, bacon, and cheddar panini with guacamole and the same duck fat fries. John’s abandonment of his much-preferred past lunch came solely to move the conversation into the present. Any idealism of reliving his youth had sank from him as he realized, as he did then, that they were simply friends now. This was not the mentor who couched his statements as wisdom. John detects an almost cruelty to the lunch, as if Mehmet agreed only to find out if his predictions back then had been true.
John lit a cigarette after his announcement. He offered the pack to Mehmet who declined. It was rare for him to dismiss an opportunity, but perhaps he was waiting to drink some or finish a breadstick. Either way, he declined, and John smiled with the cigarette near hanging off his lower lip already.
Mehmet says, “You’re 20 now, right?”
John nods his head.
“And Madeline, she is…?”
“Just turned 22.”
“And you are to be engaged, now? In the future?”
“Well we were going to pretty much say it now with each other and tell everyone else when we could afford a ring, but then we got thinking a ring is basically the deposit on an apartment, and yeah. We thought about just going to the courthouse down in Maryland.”
Mehmet sips his drinks, smiling, nibbling on a breadstick as if it to conserve it. John smiled back, though he knew that smile meant questions. It was a favorite expression, one to light up Mehmet’s face at any possibility of Socratic teaching. For a moment John flashed back to his cramped office, theory scattered against the chalkboard, and Mehmet’s smile flashing as he repeated over and over, “Why growth?,” to John’s increasingly strained explanations and hoarse voice.
“I’ve been engaged for 7 years now John,” Mehmet says,”We never set a date. She has been taking care of my father with my mother and working on her art back in Istanbul these last few years. We could have spent an evening out together, me and her, or me and her and you and yours, had the times we’ve known each other overlapped. It is a hard to talk about my Stefanie; it is deservedly hard without someone so integral close.”
John was taken aback. He said, “I never knew. You never even hinted.”
“We live separate lives apart. We know we will be apart and we love the same, but we know they are separate things. We do not tie to each other because there is a distance to traverse. We tie to each other because when we are together there is no distance, literal or imagined. The time escapes us. So I am to marry too, is what I want to say to you.”
“I’m happy for you Professor. That sounds, you know, what anyone would want.”
“Are you, and I mean no offense to Madeline, are you two engaged to stay together or because you know you would be together anyway?”
Mehmet sipped his beer. John grimaced and felt his nails clench to his palm.
John replies, “I think it can be both.”
“You believe a 22 year old woman ought to be tied down yet at the same time you believe she wouldn’t wander anywhere from you regardless?”
“You’re misconstruing me. She wants the same. We both still live within an hour of each other and we would see each other anyway. We always have made it work. She was in Denmark for six months!”
“And you don’t think for you, for her, there is nothing else to explore?”
“Of course there is. But together.”
“And nothing apart?”
John sipped his coke. He stubbed his cigarette into the ground. His pressed mozzarella and tomato was plated in front of him shortly after, breaking the silence in the clattering of plates against patio table metal.
“How is your Madeline?,” Mehmet asks, eating slowly so as to be able to talk but without the inherent rudeness of spitting lamb across the table.
John holds his drink tighter and rubs his right palm against his thigh. “It ended. Not mutual, but we talk, we still say hello. She worked where I worked for a while and then disappeared somewhere with new boyfriend. She still says hello over cards, birthdays, all that you know?”
“I am sorry John. It has been a; it has been regretful to me how I spoke when we were last together. It is the old saying: no Marxist wishes to have to be a Marxist.”
John bites into his sandwich. The turkey is dry but decaying teeth from lack of dental care have honed into carnivorous spikes. It tastes like nothing. “You taught me that and you said Professor Wolff taught you, and I think one of my big fears being an adult now is that all those ideals and ideas and loves I had, they aren’t meant to survive. You’re a Marxist until it’s perfect but it’ll never be perfect, and so you’re in this semiotic trap of upholding a righteous philosophy knowing full well you should never need to if people gave a damn. Is that my life, Mehmet? Is that what we spent our time here finding out?”
Mehmet thinks for a moment. He sips his drink, he takes another small bite. He looks at the dessert offerings.
“I wanted you to pursue academia,” he says, “I wanted you cloistered with me, with others, with Fikret and Jack and Lara and Stefanie. I offered you Turkey and to continue our work; I offered to bring you into my life. But you had a life here, you said, and you still do. It is missing pieces you had hoped for but it is still a life separate from my envisioning. And no, you cannot go back in just a second to find answers to questions that torture you and are laughter to us. I wanted you to laugh John.
“I wanted you to cry and I wanted you to be tormented when it fell apart, because that is how any man ought to feel. Then I wanted to see where you could go next. And you made your choices, did you not? Are you so unhappy with losing one woman to her own happiness that you would fault the world and your own mind for it.
John replies, “Yes. I think yes.”
The waitress brought a dessert menu. The men decline. They pay and shake hands and say their goodbyes. They do not set a time in the future. Mehmet calls Stefanie from the taxi to the airport to say how it went. John listens to a relic: a CD labeled “Advanced Motorik” given to him some years ago by an old friend he might never see again.