A Tunnel in My Head

Mikey and Nicky (1976)

Elaine May's MIKEY AND NICKY (1976) | original poster by Tony Stella
poster by Tony Stella


It begins and ends the same way—with a locked door, and two stunted men on either side. 

In these mirrored sequences, one man hides behind the door, the other stands outside, pounding and thrusting against it impotently with his entire body, the two of them each blood-poisoned with the toxic dry rot of their basest terrors, each having clung to the garbled codes of manhood that took them this far but will carry them no further, codes once used to protect them from their fears and insecurities that in the end only submerged those miseries, fed and nurtured them, roiling and subterranean, until this final hardluck night in which they could no longer be contained.

This corrosion-crusted portrait of terrified, putrefactive masculinity is writer-director Elaine May’s third film, her battered and blackened masterpiece. This is Mikey and Nicky. And this is Mikey and Nicky.

~ ~ ~

“And that doesn’t scare you? To think that one day you’ll die? You’ll be over. Won’t be anything. You won’t know anything. You’ll be nothin.”

~ ~ ~

In the film’s beginning, Nicky (John Cassavetes) is locked inside a garish motel room. Sounds of a city’s nightworld—living, rumbling, nocturnal—skronk and wail outside the cheap thin-glassed windows. Corpse-white walls, sweatgreased and moist as if tree-ringed with perspirative layers of the sad lunch-hour fucks and suicidal midnights that have accumulated throughout the years, do little to muffle the Philadelphia night. Drifts of eviscerated newspapers, junk food cellophane. The kind of place where the ground moves in the dark, a beetle-backed shifting carpet of insectoid anxiety that can’t be restrained once the night comes. Amidst this ruin Nicky paces, all darting glances and nervous, sleep-starved energy. A flaccid smoke hangs from his mouth, dangling limp and crooked; a stubby snub-nose revolver lays ineffectual across his clammy palm. He’s been waiting for his best friend of 30 years, Mikey (Peter Falk), to come save him, to make him feel safe, to help him escape the mob contract he’s sure is on his head. Yet when Mikey arrives, Nicky’s flooded with infantile panic and won’t open the door—as Mikey tries to beat it down to save him, Nicky screams for his friend in desperation before trying to turn him away to assuage his own eggshell ego: “I don’t want you to see me like this!”

In the film’s ending, roles reverse and Mikey is locked inside his suburban living room. The muted grey-yellow murklight of dawn oozes through the room’s wispy drapes, framed by the inoffensive hideousness of powder blue floral-print curtains, which match the equally repugnant couch-and-two-chairs furniture set of the same ghoulish design. As his wife (Rose Arrick) cries helplessly in her nightgown, Mikey scrambles to shove those two chairs against the door, the last spasms of energy at the end of the longest night of his life. He wedges the chairs against the door and then stares at it in bruised, lipsplit horror—on the other side, Nicky screams from Mikey’s front porch, pounding and punching and kicking the door, frantic to be let in and escape the long dark Impala slowly inching around the street corner towards Mikey’s house, its sleek surface throbbing in new sunlight. A gun barrel, long and thick, protrudes from the open passenger window, and Nicky’s wailing, semi-crazed pleas to Mikey about his ulcer (“I’m perforating!”) are now moments away from becoming tragically ironic, or blackly funny, or—adherent to the film’s (and May’s) withering tone—interchangeably both.

~ ~ ~

“Aren’t you gonna die someday? Aren’t you gonna die someday? Aren’t you gonna die someday?”

~ ~ ~

Mikey and Nicky (1976) | Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Prismed studies of betrayal as a means to understand deliriously flawed and frightened men, or scathing portraiture of weak, vituperatively stupid men as a means to interrogate the nature of betrayal as a survival mechanism, or (again) both, the first three films of Elaine May’s painfully short filmography are increasingly vicious deep-dives into the fractious psyches of manchildren scrambling over those closest to them in order to survive. Her first two films, 1971’s A New Leaf and 1972’s The Heartbreak Kid, were startlingly bleak romantic comedies based upon the works of others (Leaf was adapted by May from a Jack Ritchie short story; Heartbreak was a Neil Simon-penned adaptation of a Bruce Jay Friedman tale) but both shaded with her penetrating vision, in which the men she presents coldly dally with everything from honeymoon adultery to outright matricide in order to leapfrog to a more desirous social station. And though not the capstone of May’s brief directorial hot streak—that would be 1987’s bizarrely maligned high-concept comedy IshtarMikey and Nicky is the writer-director’s unequalable uber-text in her too-brief cinematic study of broken men and their slugtrail of betrayals, betrayers, and betrayed. Revealing itself slowly, in layer after caustic, brutal layer, it is a scab-torn and pus-flooded journey to the end of the night for its titular best friends, as well as to the furthest reaches of the fungal ugliness eating them both to their hypersensitive cores. 

~ ~ ~

“Aren’t you gonna die someday?” 

Nicky keeps calling to Mikey, needling him from the tar-black dark of the cemetery they’re both lost within, the oppressive lightlessness so impenetrable as to form walls with its sullen dimness like a tunnel, both men trying to stay on their feet and not lose their heads, both trying to navigate the deathland void without tripping and tumbling into unending pits of shadow. 

~ ~ ~

Like its title, Mikey and Nicky is a film split into halves. The halves are bound together by an unruly, devastating centerpiece that unfolds in eight minutes of real time within a cemetery, in which the themes and plot of the film cohere in a microcosmic knot, a shocking short-film encapsulation of all of Mikey and Nicky’s lacerating observations, reversals, and mysteries, a code key that unlocks the nightmare film that contains it.

~ ~ ~

Despite all that is happening tonight—Nicky’s ulcerative stomach agony, Mikey’s growing exhaustion at both the late hour and his friend’s lifelong waywardness, not to mention the dog-legged diversions Nicky erratically insists upon taking while evading the hitman he’s convinced is trailing him—the two men stop to interrogate one another’s stance on metaphysics, and inadvertently begin to reveal layers of themselves and their approach to/need for manhood.

“Nick,” Mikey sighs with the weariness of some 30 years of being The Responsible One, “you wanna visit your mother’s grave, let’s do that, then get out. …A grave is a grave. There’s not a religion in the world that says a person’s soul is buried with them in their grave. It’s not your mother in there.” 

Nicky, preoccupied all night with the end of his own existence, is suddenly suspicious to Mikey’s newfound mortal insouciance and, deadly serious, asks, “You don’t believe there’s anything after you die?”

“Me personally, no. I believe you die, and that’s it…I’m not gonna stand here ‘til 1 o’clock in the morning and discuss what’s gonna happen to me when I die. I mean, that mishegoss I leave to the Catholics,” he spits, stomping off into the inky graveyard, edgy and nervous as the dynamic between them continually shifts, a constant push-and-pull between love and suspicion, brotherhood and rage.

“Gimme your lighter, huh?” Nicky asks, 30 years of being The Troublesome One, always needing Mikey’s help to light his way. “I wanna see the names on those headstones over there…”

~ ~ ~

Mikey and Nicky’s first half poses a single question, repeatedly: Which of these men do we trust?

It’s a question presented as a dizzyingly slippery Philly travelogue, beginning with Nicky disintegrating in his hotel room and climaxing with the extraordinary cemetery scene. Between those two points—amidst the curlicued smoke tendrils that climb the puke-green tiles of local dive bars, the damp dead-end streets, the shabby all-night theaters, the wetfogged night air so thick that streetlights a block over look like distant stars dying within ancient nebulae—is a queasy tug-of-war between Mikey and Nicky, as well as between the viewer and the film. May’s vision—far too complex to be genre-tagged as simply a drama or comedy or gangster movie or buddy flick (though it contains all of those things, and more)—creates a film that consistently skirts and confounds the very same expectations it creates, at times featuring heart-cracking revelations during comedic bits, other times slipping wry jokes into the most horrifying and harrowing of moments. And that tonal shapeshifting extends most especially—most crucially—to Mikey and Nicky, repeatedly jarring the viewer’s sense of with whom we should align, as both men Rubik’s Cube their personalities to nearly every possible iteration of masculinity within their grasps in an attempt to survive the night. 

~ ~ ~

Mikey and Nicky (1976) | Paramount Pictures

Nicky gambols his way around the headstones while Mikey mutters, “excuse me…excuse me…excuse me…” to each of the graves he just described as meaningless.  

“HEY, MA!” Nicky screams playfully, lost in the darkness. 

Startled, Mikey nearly punches him. 

“You afraid I’m gonna wake somebody up?” Nicky teases.

“Do you know the difference between not believing in something, and having a little respect for it?” Mikey seethes through bared teeth. 

This isn’t just a flare-up over graveyard etiquette. Lost in the dark amongst the dead, unsure of where to go next, quixotically searching for the ur-woman who will give them some measure of talismanic peace from their own haunted hearts, Mikey is laying out in a single, angry sentence his approach to duty, and to manhood—the need to commit to a choice and path even if it is terrible, even if it’s untrue, because that’s what a man does. He is the counterpoint to Nicky, whose virility stems from a mocking, reckless need to showboat and debase that which surrounds him, to elevate his masculinity by demolishing the dignity of everything around him. Mikey reveals this all in a single outburst—before hinting at something even deeper.

~ ~ ~ 

When first witnessing Nicky, a low-level mob bookie pacing his moldering, stained-carpet motel hell with squirrelly despondence, we worry for him, we care. When he calls his friend/fellow bottom-rung mobster Mikey, and Mikey arrives and convinces him to open the door, we watch a shocking, unexpected vulnerability between the two in which Mikey rubs the muscles of Nicky’s tense neck before Nicky collapses into his arms, crying and holding his best friend for comfort, muttering that he’s going to be killed. It’s a darkly beautiful moment of tenderness between two men suffused with such intimacy that they could be friends, brothers, father and son, or lovers. In this moment, we even love Nicky a little for his emotional openness. 

But then.

As the scene progresses, Nicky loses us—his pain becomes overwrought and infantile as he hints at having stolen money from a mob bank and gotten another friend killed in the process, and what seemed a pitiable man mere moments before becomes more like an off-putting and endlessly clingy fuck-up, especially once his stress-ulcer flares. As Nicky writhes on the bed, screaming, needing more and more to be babied and tended to, Mikey comes more into focus. Their pseudo-brotherly relationship shifts, and Nicky regresses into sullen, cranky sonhood as Mikey takes on a fatherly, empowered tone, struggling to work Gelusil antacid tablets (“Nick, I know you for 30 years. You call me up on the phone, you say ‘come right away’ in that voice, I bring Gelusil”) into Nick’s mouth with a singsong lullaby (“O-pen the door, l-et the train coooome in…”). And here we think we know who these men are, and what film we’re watching—a Mean Streets-styled mob movie about a charming yet sociopathic fuckwit and the eternally-devoted, long-suffering best friend who will risk everything to smuggle Nicky out of town and away from the murderous fury of their Mafioso boss, Dave Resnick (Sanford Meisner).

But then.

As Nicky later sits in a bar, nursing a milk for his stomach, Mikey works the nearby public phone, ostensibly to book his friend an out-of-state flight. Except he isn’t—he’s giving Kinney (Ned Beatty) directions to the bar. Kinney has been contracted by Resnick to murder Nicky, and Mikey has been drafted to organize the hit on his best friend.

~ ~ ~

“Hey, ma? Ma,” Nicky smirks, testing his lifelong friend, “if anything happens to me…Mikey did it!”

From the dark, Mikey screams, rawnerved and naked with a kind of pain that only festers from guilt, “TAKE THAT BACK!…YOU SON OF A BITCH, TAKE IT BACK!”

~ ~ ~

It’s a vertiginous reorganization of our expectations, both of Mikey and the film, as he eases into his seat across from Nicky, mumbling about unavailable late-night flights and rental cars to buy time for Kinney the hitman, and we are struck by the revelation that, nearly a half-hour into the film and like the characters themselves, we have no idea who these men truly are. As Mikey’s dialogue begins to sweat with his own masculine inadequacies while making small talk about his son (“Kid’s as big as a truck. Beats up all the other kids in the nursery school…He’s enormous”), and Nicky confesses that his wife has taken their infant daughter and left him, once again our sympathies pendulum back to Nicky as his portrayal shifts from cockroach to broken little boy, a putz so blinded by immaturity that he cannot recognize that his best friend is also his betrayer.

But then.

Mikey insists that Nicky continue to drink his milk and eat his crackers, ingrained and genuinely compassionate habits from a lifetime of cleaning Nicky’s messes. Nothing in Mikey’s behavior indicates malice or evil, but rather the tired guilt of a man without an alternative. Nicky’s extraordinarily stupid mistake has put them both in a position to be killed by Resnick, and Mikey is doing the only thing he can to keep himself and his family alive, even if that requires betraying his closest friend. There is no joy or profit in this, no social climbing, simply a man who feels that, to be a man, he must have respect for the rules and consequences of his organization, even if he doesn’t believe in them. And as Nicky’s behavior becomes more and more unpredictable—repeatedly giving Mikey long, inquisitive stares, as if sensing the outermost edges of the larger plot to ensnare him—he insists on moving from location to location, dragging Mikey from the bar to the streets to another bar (where he tries to pick up a woman and hurls racial insults at her Black boyfriend) to a bus in which he insists on smoking, insulting the woman who asks him to stop, and then assaults the bus driver, Mikey somehow manages to regain even more of our sympathy, as we see there is simply, obviously no way to control Nicky’s sociopathy. This is a man who has gotten people killed, and if he continues, more will die.

After all the permutations and interchanges between the two men—at one point, to confuse anyone who may be following them, Nicky even insists on changing clothes and coats with Mikey, going so far as to take Mikey’s father’s beloved watch in an effort to assume Mikey’s position and persona—we now understand the dynamic of these two men. It is a film about a bad man with a good heart who must be taken down before sowing more discord and death, and it is a film about his friend, a good man with a bad duty he must perform in order to remain a man. A kind of grimy, gutterbirthed Of Mice and Men.

But then.

Nicky, genuinely believing this to be his last night on earth, begs Mikey to join him at his mother’s grave.

~ ~ ~

Nicky offers a knowing smirk. “Okay, Ma—I take it back. You’ll find out for yourself anyway.”

Before Mikey can explain his outburst, Nicky discovers his mother’s grave. The two men stand over it, Mikey unsure of how to proceed, and Nicky giggles uncontrollably. “Mike, you know what? Now that I’m here I don’t know what to do!” 

As Nicky continues to desecrate the moment with maniacal laughter, Mikey attempts to regain control by reciting the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer of mourning, a prayer he has no belief in and can barely remember the words to.

“This is tough, this is hard,” Nicky jokes as Mikey struggles to discharge what he sees as his adult duty. “It’s very hard to talk to a dead person. I have nothing in common” he continues, as if goading Mikey to take on his calming father-figure role. Mikey rubs his face, at a breaking point—

“Don’t you wish your mother was alive?” Nicky asks abruptly, as if switching tactics. “I think that’s the reason we’re such good friends. Because we remember each other from when we were kids. Things that happened when we were kids that no one else knows about but us. It’s in our heads. That’s how we know they really happened.”

Something in Mikey’s head shudders, then breaks—

~ ~ ~

Mikey and Nicky’s despondent, disturbing second half answers the question posed by the first—Which of these men do we trust?—with a cruel simplicity: Neither

Having reenergized their friendship/brotherhood in the cemetery by bonding over the past, Mikey warmly, honestly assures Nicky that he’s going to personally travel with him out of Philadelphia, even going so far as to call his wife and instructing her to pull $4,000 in go-money from their safety deposit box. Excited, Nicky rewards him by escorting Mikey to the apartment of a woman named Nellie (Carol Grace), his part-time girlfriend. There, Nicky callously assures Mikey that Nellie will fuck them both (separately), as “she likes everybody. I heard that from 20 guys.”

Mikey and Nicky (1976) | Paramount Pictures

What follows is a psychosexual nightmare of cruel misogyny as, for the first time in the film, Mikey and Nicky interact directly, intimately with a woman and not just one another. In an agonizing sequence, Nicky begins to seduce Nellie on her couch, aggressively pushing himself upon her despite her clear discomfort at Mikey’s presence. Mikey awkwardly paces, shunted out of the sexual proceedings, and wanders into the adjacent, womb-red kitchen, where he sits on a trashcan and twists in an embarrassed, humiliated agony as he listens to Nicky promise Nellie repeatedly that he loves her until she relents and gives herself to him. Later, as Nicky stumbles into the kitchen after him, Mikey seethes: “She likes you.”

Nicky brushes Mikey off with a grotesque dismissal: “Don’t take any bullshit. Put her down on the couch and tell her what to do. Go ahead.”

Mikey coldly fumes. The married man that we have come to at least semi-trust and rely upon as the film’s shaky, shaken moral center walks to the living room and sits next to the rumpled, clearly distraught Nellie, and offers a fumbling “seduction” of sorts: “You know that, most pretty girls, they don’t have a brain in their head. Most pretty girls, they don’t care about anything that’s happening around them, except that they want to have a good time…It makes it nice when they’re smart and pretty.” When she asks him not to get fresh, he forces himself onto her for a kiss, and she bites his lip open with a bloodied gush.

~ ~ ~

“I wish my mother was alive,” Nicky continues. “I wish your mother was alive. And I wish your father was alive. And I wish my father was alive. And I wish your brother, Izzy, was alive.”

The mention of his long-dead baby brother shakes Mikey and seems to disrupt his ability to clearly remember. He looks at Nicky with warm, searching eyes. “Did you know my brother, Izzy?”

“Sure,” Nicky smiles with the same warmth. “God, don’t you remember? I mean, he lost all his hair, and then we called him ‘baldy.’ And the next day he died. Then we went down to the grave and…we apologized.”

Mikey looks at the grave they now kneel beside as men, thinking of a similar grave 30 years prior, where the two friends did the same thing. “He was 10 years old, God rest his soul. My poor brother…”

~ ~ ~

We first meet Nicky in a squalid Philadelphia motel room, pacing amongst an oblivion of his own making. Though we see Mikey several times throughout the film, we don’t truly meet him until he storms out into the street outside of Nellie’s apartment, stomping into the grey night as Nicky chases after. Small, petty, full of rage at what he suspects he lacks, he redirects his considerable insecurities at Nicky: “Did you have to do that to me in front of some dumb bitch? To prove you got all the women?” 

This is not the put-upon father figure armed with Gelusil and lullabies, nor the harried mobster forced to close his best friend’s contract. This is someone poisoned and weak and angry, and once he asks for his father’s watch back from Nicky, and Nicky shatters it in anger (Mikey: “I had the watch 20 years…Can’t you understand that my father gave me this watch? It’s the only thing I have from my father…”) we see the real Mikey for the first time as he admits—if not directly to Nicky, than to us—his miserably petty justification for helping orchestrate the murder of his closest friend:

I just don’t want to do it anymore…be your friend…I spoke to you maybe five times since you met Dave Resnick. I introduced you. I got you the job, and now I can’t get you on the phone…I walk into that restaurant, you’re sitting there with Dave Resnick and Sid Fine, and I gotta say hello to you three times because I’m too embarrassed to walk away without an answer and when I walk away, I hear you say “Jesus Christ! Call that guy back, I forgot to give him the order.”…You call me “The Echo.” And you tell everybody that I have to say everything twice because I got a tunnel in my head. The second time is the echo…You make me out a joke to Resnick, just like you made me out a joke to that girl.

Mikey and Nicky is not the story of two men attempting to escape the mob, nor two men reckoning with themselves. It is the story of two boys wholly unequipped to mediate the complex emotions and responsibilities of male adulthood. It comes as no surprise that they are Mikey and Nicky rather than Mike and Nick—the childlike sing-song of their names reflects their lack of maturity, two children playing dress-up in their fathers’ clothes (and watch). And when they finally begin to fight in the street, both men betrayers and both men betrayed, the bifurcation of their contrasting forms of toxic masculinity melts away, and these two manchildren—in their gray suits and greying hair wrestling on the gray concrete beneath a gray city—form an indistinguishable bleeding knot at the darkest end of the street.

~ ~ ~

“Oh, this is terrible,” Mikey whispers, smiling for the first time in the cemetery, unable to hide his amusement at how awful they sometimes are, standing here at Nicky’s mother’s grave while reminiscing about the time they mocked his dying brother. Something passes through them in this moment, a mutual acknowledgement of their damaged, damaging natures, a recognition of the essential role they play in each other’s closed-circuit loop, the eternal fluctuating of roles between them a necessary dance that keeps either man from spinning into oblivion. The two men reach for each other. They hug tightly.

~ ~ ~

Both are monsters, slowly cannibalizing one another, feeding into one another’s most noxious impulses, each regenerating and degenerating the other in a slowdeath echo chamber of masculine decomposition that developed over 30 years between two devastatingly—but not uniquely—toxic men, each lost in the tunnel that connects them, each the echo of the other.

And when they splinter off on their separate ways for the film’s final act, May presents two men now permanently stuck in their worst selves, totally alone without the other, totally unable to recalibrate based on the other’s mood. Without Nicky’s neediness, Mikey is unable to return to a grounded father figure; without Mikey’s sullen weariness, Nicky is unable to become the charmer who can make anyone smile. Locked within their worst versions of masculinity, they also find themselves locked within the purgatories their virulent machismos have created.

Nicky spins like a satellite knocked from orbit, visiting first his estranged wife Jan (Joyce Van Patten) and his infant daughter, and then Nellie once again. He repeats a pattern with both women, barging into their homes and threatening to beat them, before turning soft and apologizing, as if shocked by the monstrousness he can no longer turn off without Mikey, and then making a confession to each that seems to surprise them as much as it does himself. To his wife he admits that, in regards to  Mikey, “I did too much to him.” To Nellie he confesses, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess I just like to show off.” 

Elsewhere, Mikey, eaten alive with rage and guilt, connects with Kinney, the thick-fingered and sweaty hitman who’s clumsily been lost on the backstreets of Philly all night. Unable to find Nicky and seeking the only comfort he can by acquiescing to his boss, Resnick, the sole male authority figure in his life, Mikey agrees to let Kinney surveil his house at dawn in case Nicky returns.

While waiting to see if Nicky will show (and quietly hoping he’s already skipped town), Mikey sits in his living room with his wife, Annie, and tries to recreate his bond with Nicky by sharing his past with her as he and Nicky had done in the cemetery, as if doing so will give her Nicky’s ability to shake him from his worst self. Instead, he unconsciously recreates something else—his habit of revealing hidden truths thinking aloud.

He tells her about Izzy, whom she’d never heard about, and about how haunted he was at seeing his father cry at Izzy’s death. “My father cried like a baby. And when Izzy got sick, he gave him his watch. The one I have…but that was just because he was sick that he gave it to him. He meant it for me. I was the oldest. And when Izzy died, he took it back and gave it to me,” Mikey mumbles, nervously attempting to convince his wife of this as much as himself, and inadvertently revealing how little his father must have cared for him compared to the beloved Izzy. “He only gave it to Izzy because Izzy was always asking to wear it,” he reiterates urgently, “so I guess when he knew that Izzy was going to die, he felt that it was alright, safe to give it to him.” He then recalls bitterly that his father liked Nicky and Izzy both very much. Before he can continue, Nicky begins to pound on his door, begging to be let in.

~ ~ ~

“Come on, let’s go,” Mikey says to Nicky with a smile.

~ ~ ~

Peter Falk | Paramount Pictures

It begins and ends the same way—with two brothers, one dead and one still alive.

In the beginning, a boy named Mikey was on the cusp of young manhood, his mind a storm of inadequacy, rage, and jealousy, all testosterone-stupid and feverishly hungry for approval, validation, and love. His younger brother, Izzy, had just died of scarlet fever. His younger brother, who stole from Mikey his father’s love in the form of a watch never meant for Mikey. And now that watch, that symbol of his father’s love and male-ness, is cuffed around his wrist like a meaningless afterthought, as cold and unfeeling as Izzy’s lifeless skin. How often young Mikey must have stared at the watch, how his emotional development must have been stunned and stunted by the knowledge that his dream came true—he is now his father’s only son, the only inheritor of his father’s virility, the boy who will carry his father’s name to adulthood—and all it cost was for his deepest, darkest dream-secret to come true in a way he could have never imagined it would: watching his baby brother wither and die before his eyes, permanently breaking something deep within the nucleus of his own masculinity. 

And in the end, a man named Mikey was on the cusp of overcoming the twisted rage and inadequacy that oozed from that shattered sense of manhood, his need to be seen as the put-upon responsible father figure—and he failed. Aggrieved and pathetically small, his inflated sense of self assailed by his smothering sexual and professional humiliations, he failed. His best friend and brother, Nicky, has just died of multiple gunshot wounds. His best friend and brother, who stole from Mikey his boss’s respect in the form of work and admiration never meant for Mikey. And now that work, that symbol of his boss’s respect and male-ness, has shattered his life, as cold and unfeeling as Nicky’s lifeless skin. How often will Mikey think of this moment, when his manhood finally collapsed beneath the weight of his own toxic weaknesses, all so that he could, for a moment, feel just a little less small in the universe? And all it cost was for his deepest, darkest dream-secret to come true in a way he likely always knew it would—watching his best friend and brother’s body broken by bullets before his eyes, permanently negating something for Mikey, permanently preventing any redemption for this, his worst and truest self.

This is Mikey and Nicky. And this is Mikey and Nicky.

~ ~ ~

Nicky throws his arm around Mikey’s shoulders. “I think it’s this way…watch the grave. Watch the headstones…”

“…excuse me…excuse me…excuse me…” Mikey giggles, leaning into Nicky’s arm.

The two men walk towards the edge of the cemetery and into the night beyond it, into the yawning dark, the eternal dimness that renders them indistinguishable from one another, the neverending tunnel that swallows them both.