SUMMARY: ‘Dog Days’ by Wong Eu Kenn is a short fiction about two friends and their conversation about each other’s vices.
Hayden, my roommate, was the kind of person to claim “out” on college parties I attended.
He preferred lounging in bed, toying with his Marlboro Reds, staring at his strewn-up notes, or doing whatever he did.
There was this certain eccentricity about him I couldn’t place. His ever-wandering thoughts, and the scattering words on the page.
Whenever I questioned him, he always answered in Cantonese, “My choice, not yours.”
I remembered a hot summer night when I stumbled back home with the tangy alcohol flavour on my tongue and called for him to open the door.
He didn’t answer.
“Hey, Hayden! Man, look, can you help me unlock the door?” I recalled screeching, even with my blurred senses. “Your roommate here hilang his key.
” Disgruntledly, I rapped on the door.
Hayden was probably sleeping. Or ignoring me.
Defeated, I pinned my head against the wall. Sweat was sticking to my jumper. When my throat eventually stung from moaning hoarsely for him—I was done. Fishing out my phone, I did what Hayden always claimed was a “last resort”. I called him. His ringtone echoed mutedly interrupting a muffled tune playing inside.
The door ultimately opened after minutes and Hayden peeked out with a sheepish smile, in a rugged white shirt, reeking of a familiar scent. A Fleetwood Mac song played in the background through the crackles of his record player. He quipped, “Macam you didn’t drink as much today.”
“Were you smoking inside?” I interrogated, dismissing his comment. His gleeful grin grew dim.
“Keep the cigarettes outside, please,” I said, cutting him short.
Throughout the dog days—almost a year—of rooming with Hayden, he threw out his constant pointless laments that he’d quit and go out for once.
I didn’t get Hayden’s need to put nicotine through his lungs every day. I didn’t understand how he loved spending his free time in this holed-up place with chipped paint and dust-filled floor either. Really, other than sleeping and getting my things, I never really found any love for the dreadful apartment. It was just one of the places I had to reside in for ‘good-old’ shelter.
A creak, and Hayden left the door wide open to scramble back to his spot in our apartment and stop his song. A Marlboro was wedged between his fingers.
I heard the short line “Chains keep us together” through the vinyl fizzes before everything halted abruptly with the scratch of the record.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” Hayden murmured, before coughing.
“I know I’ve said this a thousand times but it’s difficult to quit something I’ve been doing repeatedly the whole year.”
“Your addiction is none of my business,” I interjected. “I have to put up with your cigarette smoke yellowing the whole apartment.”
Hayden ran a hand through his hair, and grunted, “Yeah okay, I know. I’ll finish outside.”
This was how my nights went. Going back groggy and dizzy from the bets and the drinks and the laughs to a roommate who couldn’t listen.
Descending to sleep amidst your roommate’s pen scribbles and mutters to himself. Before I knew it, on that particular night after my shower, my sleep was interrupted by loud clatters. Squinting my sore eyes, I found Hayden fidgeting in the kitchen; making something to eat. He held a cigarette in his mouth.
I pulled my covers off. “God damn it, you just promised, Hayden!”
Hayden whipped his head back at me. His cheeks reddened. “Well-” He took a deep breath before spouting, “Susah lah.”
I hugged my pillow. “There are other ways to unwind, Hayden. This isn’t it.”
“Man, I spent my whole life back home being told what to do by others. My mah, my pure-minded friends… I never was able to dictate my own life till now. This is the life I want. Yeah, it’s bad for my health, whatever. But can’t you just let me have this one thing that makes me feel good?” Hayden murmured.
“It’s my decision to make, not yours.” He took a puff of his cigarette before going back to stirring his meal.
That same old stupid response.
“You’re making this place insufferable to live in. All your messy records and piles of pens and paper and all that smoke. You need to come out of this rut of a place for once. You’re dooming your health, Hayden. What would your family think? Would you want your parents to find out their son has died at twenty due to stupid smoking? I want to help you.”
Hayden put the stove out and shot a quick gaze at me, challenging. “Don’t act like you don’t have an alcohol problem.”
“You’re comparing alcohol to cigarettes?” I murmured.
“You can get addicted to both, no?”
I gave a soft snicker as a chill ran through my spine. “You’re going to kill yourself if you go on like this.”
Hayden craned his head at me and let out a cold, mirthless laugh. “You spend your nights in parties, drinking all your worries away. And then you come back and most times you throw up at the door and I need to carry you in. You don’t have the right to judge.”
He started scraping his food off the saucepan into a bowl and I caught a glimpse of the meal he made. “Is that Maggi?” I blurted.
Hayden rolled his eyes. “Yeah. You want some?”
I nodded, much to his dismay.
“You always steal my supper. Cook your own food for once lah.” He directed a mildly irritated look at me and inhaled more cigarette smoke before grabbing another bowl off the shelf.
Yawning, I dragged my feet through the freezing hardwood floor to our little table for two.
I snagged one of the bowls as he walked to me and set them down. I’m a sucker for Maggi Kari. Waving my chopsticks at Hayden, I exclaimed, “This is good.”
“It’s just Maggi,” Hayden said as he left the table to stub his cigarette out in an ashtray.
I replied, “Maggi forever nice eh.”
This was the life I was stuck with, late-night Maggi and second-hand smoke. But maybe I could finally grow accustomed to it after a whole year.
“Cook your own Maggi next time,” Hayden retorted as he strode back and started devouring his bowl of Maggi. I laughed, wanting to shake my head in defiance-Hayden launched into a fit of coughing. His body convulsed, his hand immediately clamped on his chest and his whole body shook.
“I’m fine,” Hayden assured when his convulsing stopped. He glanced at me then, gulping. He knew what I was going to say.
I’d plead again for him to stop if he wanted to live and tell him that his coughing would just worsen.
Reluctantly, he sighed, “Fine. I’ll really try to quit this time. I have to if I want to help myself. If I want to continue living.”
I already knew the most probable end; that this would be another of his false promises. But on that fine night, I believed him. I clung onto some small fraction of hope—and maybe that was all Hayden needed.