It had been three years since either of them had spoken.
‘Been up to much lately?’
‘What the hell does it look like?’
‘You asked me first, sunshine.’
‘Don’t you dare mention sunshine again. Not in here.’
They both felt things had got off on the wrong foot.
‘How’s the self-betterment coming along?’
‘More like self-worsenment at this point, self-the-same-enment at best.’
‘Well done, that’s funny.’
‘There’s nothing worse than someone who says something’s funny but doesn’t actually laugh.’
‘Reckon extortion, embezzlement and enhanced interrogation are all worse.’
‘That’s funny. And surprisingly alliterative.’
They sat in an uncomfortable silence that bordered on agonising. Their pain was as much physical as emotional, as neither of them had bothered stretching their legs in weeks and their resulting condition made it painful to so much as flex a toe.
One of them decided to extend an olive branch, an action that would forever remain in the realm of metaphor as no olive tree could ever flourish in this cold, sunless place.
‘You know, we won’t get anywhere by arguing.’
‘We won’t get anywhere if we don’t argue either.’
‘Right. But it cannot be gainsaid that our current condition would be rendered somewhat more tolerable by the cessation of the ceaseless feuding that exacerbates our ongoing plight and transmutes our natural vitality into something altogether less conducive to optimal cognitive functioning.’
‘This is what happens when I let you hog the Merriam-Webster every night.’
‘I let you have the collection of comic librettos, didn’t I? So lose the attitude.’
‘Whatever floats your H.M.S. Pinafore.’
The ensuing silence was broken only by the pair’s efforts to jointly improvise dirges in the key of A minor. Technically, it would be wrong to call it silence.
‘You’re a little flat in the bridge.’
‘No, you’re a little sharp.’
‘You’re rushing the tempo.’
‘No, you’re slowing it down.’
‘You’re singing too badly.’
‘No, you’re singing too well.’
The second one paused, realising the deviousness of the trap they had just fallen into. They proceeded to lapse into a sulk that lasted for the better part of two years. When they finally spoke again it was to ask their companion to pass the ketchup.
‘There’s no ketchup here and never has been.’
‘I thought I saw you licking a little ketchup off your thumb seven months ago.’
‘That was blood. Cut my thumb on the floor.’
‘How is that even possible? And how do you instantly remember such a trivial incident?’
‘It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to me all year.’
The two of them took a moment to digest the full horror of that sentence.
‘I think it’s best if we don’t talk to each other for another few years.’
They made good on their resolution and then some. When one of them finally broke the silence seven years later it was to ask their companion to pass the cranberry sauce. You can imagine how that went.