July 14 | Scott Radway

 

Mick, jovial, clinked two bottles together. A party in his honor, last night of single man’s bliss and so on. He hadn’t waited for us all to arrive before he’d started drinking—he hadn’t even waited to arrive himself.

That’s how we’d all gone at it once. But now…now it was a little bit pathetic, even if no one said so. We weren’t those kids anymore. Half of us were perfecting our early-stage dad bods, and the other half lived in denial about it.

I was the former. “The ghost has already been gotten,” I announced to the hotel room, massaging my own gut lovingly. “That is to say, given up. As in I–”

“We get it,” Tommy said, reaching again into the cooler.

We pantomimed being nineteen, intent on emptying every bottle and snorting every powder we could find. A real bang-up. It was a shame Rob couldn’t make it, but he’d sent Tommy bearing a wedding gift in his absence.

The Praying Mantis.

She arrived in the form of a re-writeable DVD, those three heart-stopping words scrawled across it in sharpie.

The Praying Mantis, so said the urban legend, had once lived in our area. No one was more excited than Mick, who had been forever seeking out this particular gem; even in college he’d always had a thing for fetish videos.

I can’t think of a better depiction of the phrase  ‘exercise in futility’ than watching porn with friends. But watch we did, hands folded like nuns. The video was grainy and, like us, slightly distorted. The handheld camcorder being passed around gave a certain sense of vertigo, especially when it came to detail—the woman, almost faceless, bending, touching, tasting; the men, three of them, cheering, guiding, slapping palms together.

After awhile I felt dizzy, so instead I watched Mick watching the video.

As I said, he’d been the most excited. But eventually I noticed a change come over him, an ashy sullenness I couldn’t explain as we arrived at the near-mythical part of the video: the woman, riding, the praying mantis tattoo on her lower back bobbing in rhythm close-up, and then, in the moment of her release, the knife slipping across the man’s throat, and the subsequent spray of blood. That’s when the other men start shouting and backing away, but the camera keeps rolling for another thirty disorienting seconds, the woman still going.

It didn’t bother me. We knew what we were in for, we knew the stories. And plus, nobody actually thought it was real—a lot of snuff films are staged, or so I’ve been told.

But Mick, he took it real hard. At one point I thought I heard him say “turn it off,” but it was a party, his party, so we kept rolling along. The fun ended with him running to puke in the trash can, not halfway to the bathroom.

“I guess that’s a wrap,” Patrick said. “Time to get this old boy home.”

Mick’s fiance Amy was waiting in the parking lot when Tommy and I carried him out, slung between us Weekend-At-Bernie’s style. She slapped his face a few times playfully. “Thanks, guys. I hope things didn’t get too crazy.”

“No, ma’am.” It was all I could think to say, so distracted was I by the sight of her bending to place Mick in the passenger seat like a child, her t-shirt riding up ever-so-slightly, and that greenish insect tattooed just above the waistband of her shorts.