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habits that smell like shoe leather

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On Valentine’s Day, Ren starts drinking at eleven AM. 

It isn’t as much anymore that he likes to drink as it is that he likes to quell the headaches from drinking the night before; sometimes he’s sophisticated- purebred -about it, and he sits with a fez on his head and a fancy blown glass chalice of cheap whiskey on the wobbly side table, and other times, it’s Valentine’s Day. 

He’s awake all of twenty minutes by the time, in tandem, he’s twisting open a second beer and Stimpy’s crawling up behind the high wingback of his chair. “Good mooorning, Ren. Did you remember what today is?”

Ren’s knees are spread in his short robe, gripping the chair arm and the liquor bottle in each a hand, moves stiffly his head to tilt back and crack his jaw in a wide, tight smile. “Yer birthday.”

“Huh?” Stimpy sniffs, snaps a finger in the air. “Oh, yeah, it is my birthday! But I was talking about something else.”

“Hm,” Ren says as he nibbles the merciless dry skin of his bottom lip, says as he sinks down lower to reach a toe to click power on the TV remote. “It’s, uh, not Yaksmas yet, is it?”

Stimpy, dumbly smirking, pushes a card in Ren’s face with both proud hands. Ren blinks at it, reaches a pair of fingers to grasp it by the top and pour his eyes all over it. A big red heart lined in paper lace. TO MY LAWFULLY WEDDED BEST FRIEND. 

“Oh. Valentine’s Day again,” mumbles Ren. “Thank you, Stimpy. You’re too lovely.”

He doesn’t mind the kitten mouth that smiles right up against his cheek in a wet kiss. He does mind, though, when he glances to the staticky television screen and gags on his own blue tongue. “Hey! Where do they get off saying who wins the Brewers game like that? They haven’t even aired that yet!”

“You watched it last night,” Stimpy says just loud enough to be heard on his way toward their trailer’s kitchen. “Blueberry pancakes, or plain?”

In his chair, the very same as ever, Ren hardly breathes, moves, thinks, finally blinks himself alive enough to click the TV right off again and sip the foam off his beer. “Bring me my pipe and some oatmeal.” 

Ren blows blood from his nose before work the next morning. 

“Are you getting a cold?” Stimpy wonders, pouncing up behind him quick enough to make Ren flinch at the sight of two prowling yellow eyes in the pre-sunrise shadows. A brown paper lunch bag is pushed into his hand. 

“What are you doing awake?” His voice hails softer than the noise of the wet, mucousy napkin shlapping into the kitchen trash. “It’s four in the morning. Get back to bed.”

“I couldn’t sleep without checking on you first,” Stimpy says in his pajamas. “I heard you coughing all that time out here. Are you sure you haven’t felt feverish?”

“Me? Sick?” Ren says, holding a fist to beat at his chest whilst on his mouth a coy little wick of a smirk turns. “Why, I’m fit as a fiddle. I’m too smart to fall prey to so flimsy an enemy as sickness.”

“Must be from all the smoking, then.”

Ren's metal fillings spark against each other. “Since when is that a polite thing to say to someone? You don’t see me getting on you for all the catnip.”

Stimpy laughs with his eyes, throws his arms round Ren and crushes him to his fluffy purring chest. “Have some water, you’ll feel better.” He pulls back to hold Ren by the face, kiss him plenty on the mouth. “Buh-bye, Ren! Have a good day at work, I can’t wait ‘til you get back.”

“Can’t wait to get back, pal,” Ren says through his teeth and squinted eyes, and he cracks his squeaky wrist in a wave goodbye and turns his rusted metal neck to clamor right out into the morning still thin with dusk’s cold.

The beer he pulls from underneath the driver’s seat at the first red light is close enough to water, he figures. And he’s smart to sit in the parking lot a few minutes, cassette paused and windows cranked up as much as they’ll go, to have two or four more, because he’s still walking on a thin strip of serotonin when he clocks out at the end of his shift. Enough to get him home and parallel parked with only a minor scuff on a neighbor’s headlight. When he walks through the front door of the trailer, the inside reeks of weed and cat dander, so he’s just finely irked that Stimpy takes his coat and has the nerve to tell him it smells like smoke. 

“Again with this? Are you trying to hint at something? Huh?” He grips his hat up in a fist just to whip it at the floor. His tie knots three extra times over in his snarling efforts to tug it off. “If you got something to say, say it! I’m not gonna be belittled in my own home, for something so harmless as smoking a few cigarettes now and then. What business is it of yours what I do with my lungs, anyway?!”

On his thrashing hands, Stimpy lays his own, makes Ren blink, pause, breathe a moment. “I meant the factory smoke,” he says. His first attempt, a gentle pull, frees the tie from Ren’s neck. “You smell like a hardworking man!” 

Ren doesn’t honestly feel like he deserves the kiss on his cheek after that, but if he didn’t get things he didn’t deserve he’d be a six-foot-one millionaire. 

Stimpy’s still bending to pick up the gray trilby from the floor as Ren says, “It looks good in here. Did you, uh…” He feels how quickly his face pinches up in frustration, ears tautly behind him. “The sweeper thing...did you?” On the spotless rug between them, he mimes the backforth motion of a vacuum cleaner.

“Oh!” Stimpy chimes. Hat coat and tie all hang on the hooks beside the door. “Yes, we vacuumed the whole place. That was yesterday, don’t you remember? You were so handsome with your Dustbuster.”

“Yesterday?” A broad palm rubs over his eyes as he tries to focus on the memory. “All I remember is them spoiling the Brewers game on TV, and then…I woke up for work today. We vacuumed? What were we celebrating?”

“Valentine’s Day, Ren,” Stimpy says, then both his hands are cupping each other, rolls out a dreamy sigh. “We spent the whole day together. We ate breakfast together, and we watched the baseball game again, we did some cleaning, you helped me with dinner. Oh, you called my mom on the phone for about three hours, too.” He’s grinning now, all exuberance and husky love right off his mouth. “She always loves hearing from you. It really made her day.”

“Oh, right,” Ren tersely nods. “Right, right. We talked about her favorite yarns to knit with.”

“They’re very different from the best yarns to play with,” Stimpy says with a finger pointed smartly high. Both hands clasp behind his back. His tongue pokes out a corner. “Oh, Ren, you’re just such a gentleman. I had the most wonderful day with you. I can always tell how much you love me.”

“Sure,” Ren says, and slowly do his brows relax and the exhilaration of a real good lie begins to tug his lips back from his gummy smile. “Anything for you, baby. Say, how’s about get me a Heineken? And some matches. I haven’t smoked all day.”