Rustin Cohle doesn’t sleep.
That’s what he tells folks. It’s a lie, of course. He’s human, programmed with the same fucking biorhythm they’ve all got: sleep, wake, sleep, wake, save your energy, expend it, over and over until you’ve spent half your life unaware of your surroundings. Dead to the world, as they say. Dead to this world. Privy to other worlds, fucked-up and dark and always intangible. Fucking Shakespearean nightmares.
Anyway, point is that he does sleep, he just doesn’t do it very well. That’s why the camp bed’s in the kitchen, right next to the door that leads to the porch. There’s no smoking indoors, apparently, in the year of our Lord 2012. Rust’s not one to make concessions, but he’ll give Marty that one. His old partner likes to feel like a man in his own house, and Rust prefers the outdoors, anyway.
The view’s over swampland, sort of a given down here in the bayous. He’s facing southeast, watches the sun climb up over the horizon and wash the lands in gold and crimson. She’s turning the trees into sorrowful silhouettes, tall and black as they stretch their limbs to the sky. Rust wonders what it is they’re reaching for. Then he wonders if he’ll ever learn to stop anthropomorphizing organisms blessed with ignorance of self.
By the time the creak of the door announces Marty, the Louisiana heat is making itself known. Marty smells like coffee and night sweat, and Rust grunts a thank-you as he takes the offered mug.
“It’s early as shit, Rust. You really oughta make sleeping a habit, like normal fucking folks.”
“I ain’t normal folks.”
“Well, anyhow. This shit can’t be good for you.” Marty pulls up a chair, and Rust inclines his head.
“Concern duly noted.”
A heron takes off in the distance, the splash of water under his wings inaudible as he rises into the sky. The only other living things out here are bugs, mosquitoes, and dragonflies, and the fish that so far have managed to escape the sportfishers’ baits. And the two of them, of course.
“Why’d you get this place?”
“I dunno.” Marty squints at the endless stretch of marshland. “Guess I was sick of staring at the fucking TV every night. Gets lonely, living alone. This is a change of scenery.”
Rust doesn’t point out that the average number of people in the vicinity of Marty’s town apartment far exceeds the average number of people out here, and that all Marty accomplished by purchasing this house—more of a cabin, really—was make himself even lonelier. Instead, he waves a hand. “It’ll be gone with the next big storm.”
“That’s all right. I got insurance. Don’t keep anything here worth keeping.”
It cuts like a knife, sharper than it has any right to. Two months he’s been out of the hospital, but he hasn’t been right since. Everything feels. It makes him want to start on the booze again.
“That why you brought me here?” He shakes a Camel out of the box, slides his eyes over to Marty. “Something else not worth keeping?”
“What? Jesus, Rust—no. For fuck’s sake, you always gotta—no.” Marty eyes the cigarette like he wants one, shakes his head. “You know it ain’t like that.”
The nicotine floods his synapses, and the smoke in his throat makes his laugh sharp and raspy. “Don’t assume what I know, Marty. I’ve been drunk for the past ten years. I know very fucking little.”
“Christ.” The porch planks creak as Marty gets up, starts pacing. Rust watches him, can’t help contemplate the energy Marty habitually wastes—pacing, yelling, fighting, committing adultery. A sympathetic nervous system in a constant state of distress, too many fight-or-flight impulses from things that Marty refuses to fit into his world: the decrepitude of manmade order, the transience of things and thoughts. What happened last night.
“What happened last night—” Marty raises his hands, palms spread in an age-old gesture of truce. “I’ve never done that. Not with anyone.”
Rust takes a drag of his Camel. “That’s not true.”
“Fuck you. Anyone else, then.” He wipes a hand over his mouth, points in the direction of the house. “And it was never like that, back—you know. Back then. This was different.”
Rust watches the smoke curl in the air in front of him. The shape reminds him of the Carcosa spiral, something else he can’t figure out if it was real or not. Just like this thing with Marty. “Different how?”
“Well, for one thing, we weren’t holed up in a car or—or a fucking public restroom.”
“We never fucked in a restroom.”
Marty looks off to the side, like it’s shameful to call the act by its name. Maybe it is. Years of labored reflection and living on society’s underbelly have muddied Rust’s waters. Though he can’t help thinking that Marty should be used to that by now.
He leans back in the porch chair—probably a WalMart purchase, but the Louisiana dirt ingrained in the plastic makes it seem like it grew right here where it stands—and rests his ankle on one knee, sucking sweet nicotine into his lungs to buy a few seconds’ time.
“The way I see it, the difference is not the location.” There’s a crow perched on one of the trees, swaying softly and providing a perfect reason not to look at Marty. “The difference, or rather the differences, are threefold: one, unlike back then, neither of us is in wedlock or otherwise romantically engaged.” He holds up a finger, points it at the sky like one of the trees in the bayou. “Two, we are both considerably older and societally programmed to be hyperaware of point one, hence more likely to seek a genuine human connection. And three—” and now he does look at Marty, who’s watching him with that look he gets when he’s about to tell him to shut the fuck up— “maybe all the shit we’ve been through has allowed something raw and ambiguous to define itself into a matrix of desires more specific than what each of us felt back then.” He holds Marty’s eyes, takes a drag, and exhales. “Just a thought.”
Marty’s staring, irritated, arms crossed over his pot belly. It’s a damn familiar sight.
“I swear, that is exactly what I just said.”
That’s a deviance from their usual script. “It is?”
“Yeah, it fucking is. Back then, it wasn’t—it wasn’t gonna happen. The time wasn’t right. Now it is.” Marty realizes what he’s saying, sniffs, and wipes his nose. “Or it could be.”
Rust stays silent, smokes and contemplates the vastness of the land around them. The vastness of space that encapsulates their lives, which are tiny and fleeting and so insignificant. Why does it matter so much to define the specific way they intersect? Programming, he supposes, but this isn’t the correct sort of programming. This is the sort of programming that gets you beaten and roadhauled, the sort of programming he’s avoided thinking about since a decade ago when he made the choice to pack his bags and head up north.
“You have children,” he says eventually, tilts his hand in Marty’s direction. “You’ve completed your natural purpose, raised two children into adulthood. As for myself—” He takes another deep drag, makes the stub fizzle between his thumb and forefinger. “Maybe Mother Nature’s finally given up on me, hey?” He gives Marty a wink; the thought makes him feel almost giddy. “At long last, after all these years, she’s gotten the message: I’m not fucking interested anymore.”
“Fuck’s sake.” Marty grabs his mug, stares at it like he could will it to not be empty if he tried hard enough. “You fall out of bed and hit your head? Yain't making a lick of sense.”
“Programming, Marty.” Rust stubs out his cigarette against the porch railing. “This is against natural programming. Which should make it an impossible thing, and yet, here we are.”
“That is such bullshit.” Another deviance, and Marty sounds positively fed up. Rust eyes him. For all his faults and shortcomings, Marty’s always been surprisingly good about enduring Rust’s conversational ventures into academic self-reflection. If that’s over, Rust’s not sure what they’re going to talk about.
Marty pulls up his chair, plants his feet slightly apart so he can rest his elbows on his knees. “A few years ago. Audrey’s, what, seventeen; she’s just about to be off to do her art thing that she did in New Orleans. One day, she brings home this friend. Not the sort I like hanging around my daughter, dyed hair and piercings and whatnot, but at least she was a girl, right? Been years since Audrey brought home a girlfriend.”
Rust fingers the pack of Camels, convinces it to give up another one. He doesn’t take his eyes off Marty.
“So they’re studying in Audrey’s room, or whatever, and dinner’s ready, and I go up to get them. And I forget to knock. I know, shouldn’t forget, teenagers need privacy and shit, but I was in a hurry, so I just bust in.”
Marty’s staring at him like he’s supposed to guess what happened next, but this one is so obvious, it seems like a trick question.
“They’re kissing.” Turns out Marty was just going for a dramatic pause. “Right there on the bed, right in front of me, tongues down each other’s throat. Two teenage girls, neither of them yet drinking age.”
Rust lights his cigarette. “Imagine that.”
“I lose my shit, of course. Audrey’s friend gets the hell out of dodge, Audrey does her teenage rebellion thing, doors slamming in my face, you can imagine.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Marty’s family life is the last thing Rust wants to hear about, especially out of Marty’s own mouth. That’s a man’s own business, and he shouldn’t make it another man’s business, especially not if the other man might feel compelled to take opposing sides.
“Because of Macie.” Marty sits up, grabs his mug again and scowls as he finds it still empty. “Next day, Macie comes to me. She’s got this stack of books from the library, print-outs from some online internet encyclopedia. And it’s all about—gay fish and shit.”
“Fucking salmon, Rust. Boy salmon fish get it on all the fucking time. Penguins, fucking bison. Cats, dogs, elephants. They’re all getting down and dirty with each other, and they don’t give a shit about matching genders. Talk about natural programming, being fucking queer’s definitely part of the program.”
Rust smokes, watches Marty’s account of his foray into broadened horizons. He wonders if it’s a coincidence that it happened on this particular subject. Probably not. “Sex drive running wild,” he says. “Self-awareness grants humanity the disputable privilege to be able to differentiate between viable copulation and rampant fucking. Just because animals lack this awareness don’t mean it’s not a pointless waste of time to fuck someone your own sex.”
“Jeez, Rust. I thought you weren’t Christian.”
“Then who the fuck says that fucking’s got to be something you do to procreate? Maybe there’s other reasons to do it. Maybe it’s just a good time.”
The cigarette between his fingers smolders as he watches Marty’s expression: squinted eyes, lips pulled down in defiance. Shoulders hunched like he’s ready for a fight. Rust takes the last drag and squashes the cigarette butt on the porch railing next to its cousin. “You’re an anarchist now?”
“I’m not an anarchist.” Marty loses some of his fighting stance. “I just think all that horseshit about natural programming is just that. There’s no natural fucking programming says you gotta do this but not that. You gotta live, you gotta make babies. There’s hormones, but it’s none so specific like you always say. It’s just random-ass crap that you gotta make your own sense of.”
“Fuck you, Marty.” He’s got to give it to him, Marty’s always good for a surprise. “So what sense you make of this random-ass crap?” He waves a hand between the two of them.
As if on command, Marty goes back to looking uncomfortable. He shrugs his shoulders, stays silent for a while.
“I wager we’re both better off with each other than without,” he says eventually. Now he’s the one staring off into the distance, watching the trees stand unnaturally still in the absent breeze. “Your brain’s like that place where we found Childress, Rust. Endless fucking maze full of dead things. I got you out this time. Might be you might need that on occasion.”
The cigarette’s gone, and while there’s still some coffee left in his mug, his fingers itch for a can of Lone Star. Or a gun. A gun would do, too. Shit.
“What about you?” He doesn’t light a smoke, just curls his fingers around the dirty plastic of the chair’s armrests. “I get a fucking prince to rescue me from my tower of thought. What do you get?”
“You.” Marty says it like it’s nothing. Rust snaps his eyes over to him, and the fucker’s looking at him like it’s nothing. Reaches across the distance between them to grab Rust’s pack of Camels. “You keep me honest, Rust. I need that.”
He fumbles his way through lighting a smoke like the fucking greenhorn that he is, coughs a lung out as the poison hits his airways. Rust snatches the pack back. “Those’ll kill you.”
“Like I don’t know it.”
Marty’s looking at him like he sees everything. Rust kinda wants to punch him, kinda wants to take him back to bed and fuck him long and slow the way he did last night. Maybe this time he’d even stay, not cut and run to his camp bed in the kitchen like the scaredy-cat fucker that he is.
He does neither, shakes another Camel from the pack and lights it. “I take it you’ve got a plan.”
Marty shrugs. “Nothing keeping me here,” he says, waves a hand. “We got our man, we’ve done our duty. Could do anything. Go anywhere. Alaska, say.”
Rust snorts, shifts in the chair and feels the sweat that’s gathering between the backrest and his shirt. “The only reason to go to Alaska is to die, Marty. This a suicide pact?”
Marty’s quiet for long enough that Rust glances over. Marty’s watching him, brow crinkled. It gives him a look of concern. “Does it have to be?”
Rust lets his eyes drift off to the side, avoids an answer as he contemplates the landscape around them. It’s teeming with life, but not vitality—the heat kills any movement, stills any breeze, dampens each breath. Like a reanimated corpse.
He purses his lips. “I like this place,” he says. “We got things in common. I’d like to stay here.”
“In the house?”
Rust nods. “Call me in if you’ve got something you need another pair of eyes on. Otherwise… like you said. Change of scenery, out here. Less lonely.”
Marty laughs, a low sound way in the back of his throat. “That could work.” He stubs out his barely-smoked Camel, squints at the horizon. “What about the next big storm?”
Rust slouches down, starts to work on becoming a part of the scenery as much as the chair. The clouds on the horizon bleed into a clear blue sky, the leaves on the trees as still as they've ever been.
“We’ll deal with it when it happens.”