Potluck

 

T H I S    W E E K

The Theorist by Bo Fisher

 

FIVE: Wild Dogs

You’re going to a new place, by car. It’s your car but Brady is driving because his is in the shop, as usual, and you like being able to sit in the passenger seat and watch his face travel through its full range of ‘concentrating’ expressions. You are on your way to the party of a mutual friend that neither of you know very well. She brags a lot about her house, which is in a tiny desert town. You both are curious and bored enough to travel an hour to see it. There are two balconies, is something she loves to tell people. The redundant luxury of this has become a thing between you and Brady, who both live in dingy apartments with many roommates. Sometimes you will be hanging out quietly, in his apartment or yours, and he will say Two Balconies! in an old rich lady voice. This sets you off laughing for minutes. Tonight at the party, your plan is to stand on the top balcony and toss a small object down for him to catch; although the mutual friend is roughly your age, you feel very strongly that her bathroom will be full of decorative soaps shaped like shells and animals, perfect ammunition for throwing.

At the last gas station before the turn-off, you are sitting in your own passenger seat. The shift in perspective makes your body seem alien to itself. You’re eating cherry Pop Rocks and watching the sun sink behind a 7-11 across the street. It is the same nasty pink as the candy moving on your tongue. You wonder what kind of chemicals go into making a sky look like that. If you made a joke about Red Dye #40 chemtrails, Brady might laugh, but in the lesser way where sound comes from the front of his mouth only. You consider making it anyway, when he gets back from the bathroom. He is taking a long time, as usual. Things you can do while waiting are: pick at the persistent scab on your knee, start filling up the tank even though it is not your turn to pay for gas, lick the inside of the paper Pop Rocks pouch clean. Warm stillness is settling over everything and making you sleepy, so you get out of the car and crack all of your joints. You dislike the soft, self-righteous voice nagging about money in the back of your head. As you walk, the pavement under your feet is slightly spongy. Orange light pours in like sap between the cars and buildings. You think about tar pits and amber globes, feeling like a large prehistoric bug or tiny prehistoric mammal. When you slide your debit card into the slot at the pump, the graphic for ‘waiting’ is the face of an analog watch. Fossils of the future, today, you whisper. This joke is just for yourself and you don’t even smile about it.

The day is scaling back around the edges of the small lot. In a minute, the stuporous heat will fall out of the air. This close to the desert, there is no real evening: just the yellow afternoon and then night rolling down like a garage door, swift and final. You almost get your sweater out of the backseat, but you’re sort of paralyzed every time you fill up your tank. Once your mother said something about women being statistically more likely to start fires at the gas pump because they keep getting in and out of their cars, building up static electricity. According to her, this is because they, we, don’t want to smell like gasoline. This seems like the provenance of bad chain emails, but it has leeched onto you at some base superstitious level, which, if you’re being honest, is the only level you live on. Something about the suggestion that your own implied frivolity could kill you makes it extra terrible, beyond the dying in a fire part. You resist the urge to shudder and kick a rock across the pavement instead. It skids off in the direction of the 7-11 and the sky full of freaky pink smears. In the parking lot over there—this whole part of the world seems to be one large parking lot, punctuated by road—there is something hunched and four-legged circling around a cement planter. You have a hard time telling exactly what it is from so far away, but assume it is a dog; no feral things would come so close to people, you think, or at least you hope. Briefly you imagine that it’s lost. Maybe it’s one of those archetypal mutts, with the best traits of all its ancestors and one ear cocked at an angle that makes it look fully carefree. You could call it something like Rowdy or Meatloaf or Macho Man Randy Savage, a chill name for a chill dog that would somehow transfer its laidback and slobbery attitude to you by osmosis. Nevermind that your lease explicitly forbids pets and you couldn’t afford to take care of a whole other living thing, really, anyway. Plus who would walk it during the day. Plus what if it didn’t love you, like it would tolerate you but deep down you’d both know it would rather be living with anyone else. You are beginning to consider walking closer anyway, just to get a better look, when Brady appears at your side and startles you. You scream, embarrassingly enough, a little.

‘Whoa, sorry!’ He takes a step back, nearly tripping over concrete but righting himself quickly. Despite his snaky limbs, he has a great sense of balance. He is grinning and wearing a straw safari hat slung around his neck. ‘It was on sale!’ he tells you gleefully. He is carrying a two-gallon jug of water because he does not trust the desert. Earlier he tried to convince you to put a knife in your glove compartment, just in case.

You say, ‘You look like Crocodile Dundee,’ and he laughs, the real way

that comes bubbling up from somewhere deep.

‘How far is the house from here?’ he asks.

‘Not very. Maybe an hour.’

‘That’s far!’

‘Yeah, but not in the grand scheme of things. We can speed, we’ll be in the middle of nowhere.’

The gas pump shuts off; you hang the nozzle back on its hook and wipe your hands on your shirt. You squint across the street, trying to find the outline of dog in the purple dark, but you can’t see anything. You climb back into the car and Brady pulls out of the lot, away to where the bruisy sky is rapidly dimming. Because you are not driving, you can afford to be distracted. You open up the browser on your phone. Lately you have been into reading online how-to guides with dumb names. How to Be Goth: it is helpful to choose a theme and to cultivate an ‘attitude.’ How to Be Okay with Having a Communist Friend: don’t talk about capitalism, don’t take it personally. Before you went to Brady’s place, you were reading How to Become a Ghost. It’s funny to you that the only step isn’t ‘die.’ There is a lot of pre-planning involved, like throwing a dinner party or booking a vacation. The amount of thought experiments required seems daunting. Astral projection is discussed at length. You try to project the idea of offering gas money into Brady’s head but he is busy fiddling with the sound system. You concentrate very hard on touching his arm with your phantom hands but he doesn’t even flinch.

*

Brady can sing with his lips almost closed. If it was anyone else, this would creep you out, like people who never smile all the way or who breathe wetly on public transit; since it is part of him, you feel the same surge of protective affection as you do for all the other parts. You’re listening to Patsy Cline through a tape deck adapter plugged into your phone. Every time the car hits a bump, which is often, some electronic hiccup makes Patsy slur verses together. The landscape jumps and starts like this too; there are streets of low, identical houses studded with shopping plazas and trails of neon, and then you make a sharp right into a gulf of nothing. The road dips below the horizon of visible lights and you start smelling horse pee through the open windows. This is when Brady starts singing along to all the words he knows. Half silence, half have you ever been lonely. You grow attuned to his fear by degrees. Does he have context for this kind of darkness? You think he’s mostly lived in cities but there are large gaps between things that he tells you. You want to ask him something but have no idea how to phrase it, which is how most of your car rides together end up. Neither do you know how to tell him something, unsolicited. For the first couple miles, there is a lot of silence and Patsy. What you want to say is that where you grew up, there were almost no streetlights; you remember an anxiety setting in around seven or eight, on long drives, that something could reach out from the black space under the car seat and grab your ankles. You had no image of the hands or claws, but a very real idea of what they could feel like. This makes you itchy even in the present and you have to fight the urge to pull your knees up to your chest.

There are a surprising number of passing cars. Each one seems to flick its high beams at you as it passes. ‘Are they doing that on purpose?’ you ask.

He says, ‘I think it’s just them hitting the bumps. It sets the lights off.’

‘You know what my worst thing about driving alone at night is? It’s really dumb—’

‘How dumb? Like werewolf dumb?’

‘No, that’s my mom’s! She says she won’t drive cloth top cars cause she’s afraid of something ripping the fabric open. Mine is that story where the girl is driving alone and there’s a truck flashing its lights at her, and she’s afraid that the driver is one of those serial killer truckers, do you know this one?’

‘Yeah, but tell me anyway.’

‘She pulls over into a gas station or something so she can get help, and the trucker pulls in behind her and climbs out of the cab, and she’s freaking out and he tells her to step out of the car and it turns out that there’s been a guy in her backseat with a knife this whole time.’

‘I feel like the way I heard it, there was a midget in the backseat. An escaped mental patient midget, actually. I don’t know why that makes it worse but it does.’

‘That’s fucked up. Like in an essentialist way.’

‘But it’s terrifying.’

‘I know.’ You think about telling him that you have to check the backseat and the trunk with the tiny flashlight on your key ring, every time you get in the car. You also, when driving alone at night, make sure to sing extra loudly, with extra feeling; you hope that this would make you human and relatable to a captive audience of potential backseat murderers. This is more sad than charming and you don’t say anything more. The road keeps bending on around abutments of rock that carry white tubes through the mountains, draped at rubbery angles.

‘That’s where the water comes from,’ he says.

‘Or through, I guess. It comes from Colorado, right?’

‘I think so.’

‘Imagine pipes stretching all the way back there. You could ride them here like slides.’

He nods, but his eyes are on the yellow lines spooling out ahead of you. When he hits the brakes to ease around the curves, the taillights bathe the bushes and blacktop in soft reds. You are privately waiting to see the glow reflected back from animal eyes; this is your other thing about night driving, what you refuse to name aloud in case it is true. The thing you always imagine is like a person-sized dog, with shaggy fur and almost fingers where there should be stubby paws. It would start running alongside the car on all fours and then give up all pretense and just run, two-legged, impossibly tall. You never know what happens after it stands up because your imagination won’t go there. You have made fun of your mother for her werewolf fears because they come strictly from movies; your personal night monster is close to hers, but different enough to matter. Famous werewolves are generally sad about their condition, or at least minimally conflicted. This thing is all intentional: dog enough to love the act of biting, human enough to know better and just not care. In your scenario, it can see all the inadequacies of your heart and that’s why it chooses you to chase; it knows that you would rather be a dog in an open field than anything else.

I go out walking, after midnight, out in the moonlight, Brady sings through his teeth. You can’t see them but you know what they look like, small and straight like baby fenceposts. He says he’s never had braces; you have no reason to think he would lie, but it is hard for you to believe teeth could work themselves out so effortlessly.

*

You ask, ‘You know what the actual worst legend is, though?’

‘The dangling boyfriend?’

‘No! That one is the worst worst, like the least scary.’

‘Dude, sewer alligators are the least scary.’

‘Yeah, but that kind of thing isn’t supposed to be unless you’re five, right? The worst one is this one my neighbor told me in middle school and it legitimately kept me up for like a week.’

‘Babysitter clown statue?’

‘NO. Ok. There’s this girl, and she’s, what, twelve, and she doesn’t have a lot of friends, but she has this dog—imagine it’s a golden retriever or something, like standard movie dog—and it’s her favorite thing in the entire world. And she also has a lot of trouble sleeping—’

‘Wow, they really laid this backstory on thick.’

‘No it’s better this way, trust me. She has a lot of trouble sleeping, so the dog stays in her room with her. And she’ll wake up in the middle of the night from bad dreams, and she has this ritual where she sticks her hand down where the dog is, under the bed, and he licks her hand until she falls back asleep. This is how it goes for practically their whole lives, ok?’

‘Okay—‘

‘So there’s this one particular night where it’s storming outside—‘

‘Wait, what’s the dog’s name?’

‘Shut up, I don’t know.’

‘I mean I just figured, with all the rest of the detail—’

‘Okay, it’s…Pepper.’

‘Huh.’

Anyway, it’s really noisy and scary outside, and it takes the girl forever to get to bed. She’s just lying there for a while, and the dog—‘

‘Pepper—‘

Pepper is licking her hand, and she finally relaxes enough to fall asleep. Then she wakes up like, two hours later, maybe a branch is scratching at the window or something. She hears the faucet in the bathroom down the hall dripping and it’s kind of irritating but she’s comfortable and she’s like, I’ll deal with it. So she reaches down and lets Pepper lick her hand, and eventually she falls back asleep. And this whole deal happens one more time, and now it’s really late, and the dripping is just getting louder. She tries to go back to sleep and she can’t, so she decides to get up and turn the sink off, and she lets Pepper lick her hand again before she goes, for comfort. And she’s walking to the bathroom, and she pushes open the door, and there’s the dog, with its throat slit, hanging from the shower curtain rod. And in the dog’s blood, on the mirror, it says HUMANS CAN LICK TOO.’

Brady makes a puke face as he pulls the car around a tight corner. ‘Thaaat’s disgusting!’

‘I told you it was the worst one.’ You lean back in your seat, feeling smug. You are generally a bad storyteller, one of those people who is always going back halfway through to clarify things. This is the only story you can tell in proper order, with maximum effectiveness, to the point where you genuinely freak yourself out like you are ten all over again. You rub your sweaty palms on your jeans. 

Brady’s nose is still wrinkled up in disgust. ‘Why would anyone make that up?’

‘Because people are profoundly gross.’

‘Ahhh, but the guy would’ve had to be watching her for so long to know—‘

‘I told you!’

The mile markers jump up in white flashes as you pass. You are climbing far up in the mountains now; the air coming through the windows turns sound into a tunnel that you have to half-shout over if you want to be heard. Your ears pop, one at a time, and you watch Brady crack his jaw, so you know his are popping too. It feels good to be held together in a shape, moving fast and feeling roughly the same sensations. How to Be in a Car with Someone you Maybe Love: pay attention to their small movements, tell them stories. You wait for him to trade you one of his personal fears, but he is just alternating between making gross-out grimaces and squinting beyond the pools of your headlights. His safari guy hat is hanging off the back of the seat and his hair is messed, swept crazily up at a right angle towards the front.

By now you have made it through two and a half Patsy Cline albums, more than you thought the drive would last for. You wish you knew about anything as much as Patsy knows about loneliness. Her whole voice sounds like an empty bed. ‘How much further is it?’ Brady asks. You check the GPS but there’s no reception; on the display, your car is a small blue pin stuck in a wide swath of green.

‘We can’t have missed any turns, this is the only road.’

‘It feels like we’ve been on it for an hour already.’ According to the clock it’s been half an hour, but he’s not wrong either. In the desert, time is draggy and elastic. There is no one else on the road now and it’s easy to pretend that your car is calling the world around it into focus, like in video games where you can wander freely. Each hill looks like every other hill, scrubby and covered with half-burnt trees. Your faces and hands are greenish in the dashboard light. Anytime you’re thinkin’ bout me, Brady sings. This song might have happened already. The beat is an easy two-step, plodding like horse hooves, but you feel sped up and crawly in your skin. Up ahead, there’s a spot where one of the water pipes hangs low over the road, creating a kind of gate between the steep cliffs. You think about the weight of all that liquid coursing overhead, how you can’t hear it echoing through the thick white plastic. You lean against the window and the speed rattles the bones in your head.

‘Did she say anything about landmarks?’

‘Not really. She said there would be an, um, shooting range? And then a gas station right by her street.’

‘I don’t think we’ve passed any buildings yet, though.’

‘No, nothing. Ugh. I hope there’s still food when we get there.’

‘Maybe there’s different courses. On the different balconies.’

‘Appetizers at the top—‘

‘Wait, do you see that?’

There is something moving up on the pipe, but you are still too far away for it to be more than a slightly darker smudge on the landscape.

‘What?’

You point up and to the right. ‘Over there.’

‘Oh!! I think so?’

You are both craning your necks to see and Brady hits a deep groove in the pavement; as the car lurches forward, the brights switch on and catch a pair ofneon pupils suspended in the hurtling dark. A coyote or dog, using the pipe as a bridge. Brady flings his arm across your chest reflexively. You’re skidding across the bumps in the median and into the rocks on the other side of the road; he elbows you hard in the chin, trying to get both hands on the wheel in time to steer away. You spit a mist of warm, sour blood, ridiculously pink. 

You have anticipated moments like this a lot, nearly every time you are driving or trying to cross the street: what happens to the body when it is thrown free from its own command. It is almost nothing like you expected. Your thoughts go something like: wanting to call your mother, wanting to be outside yourself watching the moment of impact, remembering you did not eat dinner, remembering that you did not take off your chipped nail polish before you left, like you had planned. Then they go flat and condense into a quiet oh!, which you may or may not say aloud. You are surprised that the speed at which things are happening feels exactly accurate, and that you can still hear music, and that it is your least favorite song, the one about foolin’ around.

father_ripper

 

1
 

My town’s just a sour armpit stuffed with chicken shit and nasty people, and I am the Donut Connection. I mean, I’m a donut. I mean, I’m Amara. I mean, I’m a bored reflection working the Donut Connection night shift in a glass box on the highway. Car lights streak through my reflection in the windows. I type in my phone:

“I’m as still as a donut.”

On my phone I read about a woman they found in the dirt who died 3,000,000 years ago. Her fossil’s in a museum now. I want that. Fossilization requires stillness and millions of years for your body to crystallize. When I stand still long enough, I get the spins. It feels like I’m falling in every direction. Maybe I don’t want to be a fossil. I type in my phone:

“Something’s going to happen to everybody’s bodies after we’re gone.”

At my rate, I think my body will sleep for 3,000,000 years beneath a tombstone that says:

“Amara was only 17.”

I want to move to Los Angeles, but it’s almost graduation and I still don’t have enough money. I want to live by the beach. My sister says that’s childish but I think it makes sense because I’ve never seen the ocean.

Eventually someone’s got to come along and show me how wrong I am about this life. When I shut my eyes it’s 12am and I get the feeling that a giant is coming to meet me. Life usually changes right before you accept what you already have is all you’ll ever get. I think. But if a giant comes I’ll see new possibilities in the way its impossible body breaks my understanding of myself, my friends, my family, my work, my town, America, etc. But the giant’s jaws will outsize my jaws so maybe I’ll just get eaten and digested into shit.

It’s so dark and dead tonight that I feel like any minute now the giant might walk in off the highway. I feel like I’m crawling backwards down the second tallest building in Los Angeles. I’m falling in every direction until I open my eyes and a truck drives in off the highway. My heart is at the roof of my mouth. The driver kills the engine and a kid steps out in a t-shirt that says:

INFEST

It’s only Cliff, one of the hardcore punk boys from school. Like the rest of them, he’s too cute and stupid to function. I think he’s in love with me because he comes to bug me at like every other night shift. Thankfully, to my sad relief, he’s always too stoned to admit it. I smile when he walks through the door though, because I guess I’m glad he’s not a giant.
 

2
 

I went to the Donut Connection last night and according to the radio I was one of the last people to see Amara alive. Kids circle around the grief counseling table but I’m sitting at the computers at the other side of the library. A serial killer has been spiraling toward our town for the past month and Amara’s the 7th victim. A video was posted:

FEET FIRST, uploaded by father_ripper

I click play but the second I see Amara's eyes bulging flesh colored I black out and faceplant into the monitor. I don't know how much time passes before I wake up to the librarian asking me:

"How do you feel, Cliff?"

I used to feel 17 and bored and like this life owed me more. But watching someone I know get killed has left me in a way I can't explain in words, so instead I scream and the nurse lets me go home early.

father_ripper has been an obsession for me and my friend Travis ever since the 1st teenager got killed in a small town just like ours 2 hours away. Amara’s the 1st victim I actually knew, but Travis knew the 4th from camp or something. Travis said he threw up after watching the 4th video. He told me:

"Seeing his insides felt like walking in on him in the bathroom but like if the bathroom was an execution chamber or something."

I'm not saying I'm better when I say I would never talk about Amara's video like that. I just mean I can’t. People take the world in different ways, and Travis’s mind runs on a different level. Like for example, a week after his brother committed suicide we took acid and walked down to the creek behind my house. Travis kept seeing dead bodies. I saw dead branches wrapped in old trash. We were on a drug, but Travis is funny like that sober. It’s like he’s on a drug when he’s not. That afternoon he told me he was gay and I said:

“I don't care but you probably shouldn't tell anyone else.”

When my brain can’t work something out I shut down. I get stoned in my room and perform for myself a range of emotions. By 9pm, I’m laughing because wow I’m so dumb and scared right now. Everything scares me so I don’t do anything. Tell me the secret. How do I unfuck myself up? I’m 17. I’m stuck on horror movie logic. I keep running up the stairs when I should be running out the door. I want someone to tell me:

“The calls are coming from inside the house.”

Or:

“Your house is the devil get out.”

But I love my house. I still believe in myself, or at least I’m learning to feel comfortable in myself. But I’m not safe. I lie down on my bedroom floor and become hyper aware that Travis is alone in one room and I am alone in another, and father_ripper stalks the area in between. I need to see Travis so bad that I will myself into believing that I’m brave and I get in my truck and drive to his house.

Travis opens his front door slowly. His parents are gone for the week. He’s quieter than usual and he knows less what to do with his hands than usual. He’s picking his nails when he says:

“We should watch EVIL DEAD TRAP.”

The blood on the screen is this bad shade of candy apple that takes my breath away and makes me sweat. I don’t want to watch horror movies anymore. It used to feel good to feel scared and then watch the credits roll as I returned to reality, but now I’ve seen too much. I want to watch a comedy or a movie about what to do when you realize real life’s not as safe as you thought.

Travis’s thigh is against my thigh. I put my hand on his hand. Japanese teenagers are going through the meat grinder on the TV. Nothing’s what I thought it would be. Life is so long and I’m so small. I’m waiting on this couch for when I can start living the life I want. And as I let Travis pull my face closer I hear a knock at the front door.
 

3
 

I used to call Cliff “afraidling.” He was always worrying even though nothing bad had ever happened to him. He didn’t know what was worth getting worried about until the end. When I came upstairs the front door was open and Cliff was on the floor. With blood leaking through his shirt and out of his mouth he said:

“It feels like we asked for it.”

But it’s only my fault. There’s something inside me so big it has a gravitational pull on disaster. At every impact I become a new me. I want to dig up all my dead versions and amputate the parts that don’t seem so ugly. I’d like to conduct experiments on my past selves’ remains. I could be better. I could stitch the best parts into a Frankenstein’s monster. I’d swap brains with him, or I’d let him tear me apart.

I’m in my parents’ room staring at the doorknob but I don’t know why I’m hiding. I used to never care about when the end might come. It was enough to know that I’d get there eventually. But now I want someone to take me to the end because I’m ready to start over.

When the doorknob jerks I get butterflies in my stomach. I’m nervous but I guess I’m ready. I hope it’s my Frankenstein and that he’s here to lovingly consume me. I sit on the edge of my parents’ bed and smooth the sheets. And I open my arms as a rubber-gloved hand followed by a camera moves a knife through the door.

 

 

 

Jim Walls lives in Philadelphia, PA. His work has previously appeared in Shabby Doll House and he can be found on Twitter @heyitsjim.

 

FOUR: Drowners

 

1.

 

in a dirty lake downtown

they’re holding auditions for the 

best dead girl of the century

and I am the forty first one in line,

not wearing the right blue dress,

my hair is working itself up into intestinal knots

when it should be trailing behind me 

like airplane banners at the beach

 

I am concerned about parts of me

floating incorrectly when tested against

the milky water

 

is the thing with witches that they float,

or what?

what I lack in precision of recall

I make up for in my love

of other specificities—

undoing certain knots,

wetting thread with my tongue,

pressing hot keys into one eye,

then the other

 

this places me high in the ‘aspirations’ round

but the questions start getting more difficult

and some bodies around me are 

casting hazy white light as the dark comes up,

which mine will not do

no matter how hard I hit

in any different spot

to find the switch that turns me on

 

2.

 

what do you know

about female violence

when it goes from the inside out

and not the other way around?

 

--a glove made of teeth will cut any hand to fit.

 

3.

 

the line between clean and dirty

looks a lot like the shore of a lake in

the northwestern pines,

and me riding it, 

some cool blue body you think you recognize

from a portrait in my parent’s living room

 

the line between dead and alive is not a line at all;

it is a series of holes, concentric circles,

a motel shower drain at the edge of the universe

that my light is slipping through like syrup

 

the line between you and me is 

the thin skin of my still open eye

and my drain hole pupil

on my side I am looking back

hello

 

4.

 

at the dead girl contest the judges ask,

how much can you hold in your breath

how serene can your face go without any muscles

and could flower petals adhere to your skin

without glue, a lot of them,

a whole wreath really

 

some girls are being rolled in skeins of plastic and

others are being dropped from medium heights

to see how they drape when they land

 

some are good, bonelessly elegant

some bend at furious angles and those 

get only a handshake and a clean sheet

to cover themselves in

 

I am being pushed closer to the edge of the lake

really it’s just a big pond and

there are chip bags stuck in the grate of the fountain 

I am thirty eighth in line,

hoping to win the gift certificate at least

it doesn’t matter where it’s for

 

5.

 

what do you know about the dead girl’s agency?

 

--Lord, we know what we are,

but know not what 

we may be.

 

6.

 

the moss at the lake bottom is so soft

like deer or boys must feel in human hands

 

I watch them from behind the knots of trees;

they drink and dip their feet in by the bank,

the sharp dark hooves and the dirty toenails,

the pink tongues darting in and out of mouths

which make sounds that are lush and harsh and warm

 

the flowers in my hair are barely flowers;

just filaments of something that was flesh

my eyes work so much better underwater

to have seen what I have seen, see what I see

 

I pull up curds of wet earth and I dream

of riding all the deer into the woods,

of twisting all the boys’ hair into antlers,

which parts of each would be the best to eat

 

 

 

 

Round Baby Eats Apples Laced with Razor Blades


Mother doesn’t know it’s mostly a hoax. Cyanide
candies, LSD dosing, needles like peanuts
in chocolate bars. This is the world we
live in, and she’s heard enough horror
stories to believe that evil sleeps inside us
all. She’ll expect you to dump it out on the bed
before gorging yourself. She’s only protecting
your throat, Baby, your clumped and choking soul.

It’s time to get ready. You’ll go out at dusk, 
leafless trees after late rain, dark shapes ghosting
down the street as a pack, pumpkin glow, cold
but no coat to cover your gypsy scarves, gold
hoop earrings, long skirt sodden and soaked. 
You’ll climb each staircase and prepare
your pillowcase. Ring each doorbell and pretend
your goldfish didn’t leap to its near-death

this morning, out of the glass bowl
and onto the heating grate—like a city
sewer vent spewing from your family room
floor. You’ll forget how you padded downstairs
for breakfast and stood barefoot on that burning
metal, skin blistering, the basement’s foul breath
suggesting through your flannel nightdress. When
it got too hot you stepped off, back into your shivering 

costume of skin. But there still lay your small dumb
pet. Forget how you saw its fin twitch and reached
to bring it back to breathing, but reached too far
and instead felt your finger flare with its own grim
thought, how you gritted your milk teeth and flicked it
through the waiting space between the beastly

grates. It’s getting late, Baby. The porch lights on
your block blink off and your bag’s full
of fruit, sour-juiced and seeping, sliced
through to the rotten core.

 

 

 

Sheila Squillante is the author of the poetry collection BEAUTIFUL NERVE (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2015) and three chapbooks of poetry. She teaches in the MFA program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Find her online at www.sheilasquillante.com.

THREE: Late Nite


coughing in pink sheets and watching
daytime tv clips at 4 am:
Tyra Banks interviews a vampire named Don, 
who is psychic, also celibate, 
who says he has transcended
those urges

we could all learn a lot from Don, 
who has a human body, yes
but doesn’t let it stop him 

I am learning a lot like, 
I’ll never be a sanguinarian— 
repeat that, red tongued, several times— 
like a lost zodiac category, 
like the bonus vocab word of
an eighth grade goth girl, 
sanguinarian, imagine, 
I can’t even locate with my thumb
where the big vein blinks
against that spot
in my ungraceful neck

and those urges

those urges

oh about that

Don wants people to take him
seriously, he wants Tyra to stop
doing the sign of the cross on camera
each time he speaks

I want to focus hard on growing, 
through my forehead, 
two perfect and formidable
astral fangs

to be seen, greedily
like, fistfuls of halloween candy stuffed
in the mouth and gagged on

do I mean seen or devoured and
is there a difference, when you do it right

In Defense of Fear

 

Six years ago, I tried and failed to watch the midnight premiere of Paranormal Activity. I say watch because I made it to the theater, just not through the movie.

I knew nothing about the movie before going. I’d somehow managed to miss any trailers on TV, any rumblings about it on the internet. A couple of coworkers had asked me to go with them after work that night. The theater in Times Square was just a short walk from the bakeshop where we worked, and I’ve always been an easy sell when it comes to movies.

“What’s it about?” I asked them.

“It’s supposed to be the scariest movie in a long time,” one of my coworkers blurted. Her toothy grin betrayed my other coworker, who countered, “It’s more like a psychological thriller. You’d like it.” Those words—You’d like it—are sometimes a friendly dare.

I pulled out my phone to look up the plot, even just the tagline — maybe find hints, words like “bloodbath” or “serial ax murderer” — but my coworkers insisted I trust them. “You know. These movies are never really scary,” one of them said.

It was almost Halloween, a time of year when I used to will myself into trying to be one of those people who like scary movies. Or can watch them, at least.

Thing is, I am not, nor am I ever going to be, one of those people. But at the time, I decided to suspend my fears for the slim chance of dispelling them.

The theater was a zoo: multiple floors filled with bodies. The escalators were a disaster of their own. There was no room to get off and no one regulating them, so people walked in place on the steps, trudging up to the deck of a popcorn kernel-covered Titanic without being able to get off. I imagined what might happen if those on the escalators stopped moving — whose shoes would get caught, who would fall and cut their hands, as if this had the potential to become a Black Friday tragedy, the kind that happen at Best Buys and Targets. I think this way in close quarters.

We took the elevator.

My first mistake was going. My second mistake was sitting in between my coworkers in a middle row of a sold-out theater, clicking through reviews on my phone. So this was a scary movie. The most terrified I’ve ever been in a film, one review said. You won’t sleep for weeks, another said. My hands and face began to sweat.

The lights went out. Giving myself a pitiful kind of hope, I lasted through one preview, my hands shaking, too afraid to be embarrassed. I apologized to my coworkers, even as they tried to talk me into staying — even as I barreled over them, my hands shielding my eyes from the flashing screen.

Back by the concession stand, I realized that the building looked empty. Everyone was watching a movie or had left. I thought about buying popcorn and sitting by the bathrooms to wait for my coworkers, but that seemed more pathetic than leaving. So I asked for a refund at the ticket counter and took a fifteen-dollar cab ride home because I was too jumpy to take the subway.

I don’t like horror. I like hope. I like suspense. I like funny. I like watching Liam Neeson electrocute sex traffickers. I like listening to Ethan Hawke talk about destiny for two hours. I don’t want to watch a masked intruder skulk around a family’s home with a shaved-off shotgun. I don’t want to see a group of sorority girls picked off one by one at their formal by a dead (or undead) sister.

Why? I see myself in that family’s home, usually as the father who dies trying to save the kids, bloody baseball bat in hand. I’m the kind of moviegoer who makes connections — whether I want to or not. Watching a movie, for me, is an exercise in empathy. To that end, I don’t want to feel like a body thrown down an elevator shaft into a pit of fire. I don’t want to feel the weight of every innocent life lost, every body counted. I respect fear. I don’t want it used as a motivator, a carrot dangled with amusement as the prize.

Horror fans, if you like that, you like that. But some of us don’t. It’s not that we haven’t seen your favorite horror movie or that we just haven’t seen any “good” ones. It’s that we don’t get the rewards you do. If you’re not a fan of them, horror movies just take and take.

Me, I still get nervous during Jumanji. I get goosebumps during that last roll of the dice, when Robin Williams lifts his head to his father-hunter and whispers that fateful word. I’m afraid when he is afraid, and I like that. That kind of fear, to me, is telling and cathartic. It leads us places; it doesn’t trap us there.

So I didn’t see Paranormal Activity. My coworkers said it was stupid. I read the Wikipedia synopsis instead. And you know what? It still scared the shit out of me.

 

 

 

 

Jiordan Castle is a full-time writer, part-time pizza eater and dog petter. Her work has appeared elsewhere in print and online. She gets personal at nomoreundead.tumblr.com.

TWO: Scary House

 

The house is at the end of your street. The house is on the side of a road you came upon by accident. The house is nestled like a tumor between the crags of two mountains. The house belongs to the old man that eats kids, that’s what Skyler told you, so you can’t go get your softball from the yard or else. The house belonged to a beautiful young couple, but then they died in a car crash and the next people to move in... well, you heard what happened with the knives. The house has belonged to no one for years, so why does a light turn on in the attic every night? The house belonged to someone else but now it belongs to you; it was so affordable, and you are not superstitious; you inherited it from a twice-removed aunt; you are a –sitter or a –watcher, assigned to take care.

If you are a teenager in the house, you look 35. If you are a child in this house, it will manifest a friend for you to play with. If you are an adult male, your lack of faith in the house and chance of death are positively correlated; doubled if you have an improbably good job and an attachment to gadgets; tripled if you have complex facial hair. If you are a dog, you will be assigned an empty corner to stare at. If you are a baby in the house, you are probably already a ghost, sorry. 

The house comes in two models, IKEA and Rococo.

The house mostly wants to tease you. Sometimes, it really wants to fuck you and that’s terrifying, but doesn’t it also make you feel a little special—to be chosen, wanted? The whole house loves you! Every room’s in accord, every brick and windowpane. For you, pipes burst and walls seep red sap. The house is willing to dismantle itself in part or in whole, for you. Tell me you haven’t always wanted to ask that of a lover. Humans have clumsy hands and a tendency to wander. The house has roots. You can come back tomorrow, and it will be standing, still, in the spot where you left it. The house waits for you. Always patient. The house is tender. It will learn how to speak your name, in the voices of all your most favorite people.

You can destroy the house and it still won’t give up on you. When the wormy ground opens up to suck it back in, it will try as hard as it can to bring you along. The house is generous. In its place, it leaves an empty lot: a wound you can visit again and again. You can come as a pilgrim, with a small and honest tribute, or as a tourist, with a camera whose pictures will kindly warn you ahead of time about future disasters. If you bring it stones or wood, the house will spawn itself back and it swears it’ll be better this time, baby. The house just wants to tell you some stuff, what it knows about stains that never come clean. You act like you don’t want to learn, but only because that’s part of your job. The house is not offended. Your job is to turn the house on. It needs a person to set it in motion and you need a place to live. Perfect reciprocity! The house is at the end of your street. You are already knocking on the door.

ONE: Extended Stay Motel

Seth has been living in the motel for almost three months now. He refers to it as “his apartment” and insists that people take off their shoes before coming inside, even though the carpet is rough and pre-stained. The stains are blackish crud puddles, oozing out from under the bed, the dresser, the TV stand. The carpet is maroon and blue. Colors that are supposed to make you think about conference rooms or airport terminals, places where important things happen. Sometimes Seth imagines buying a black light at the Spencers under the back stairs in the mall, to examine the extent of the stains—for every one he can see, there must be fifty that he can’t—but he doesn’t really mean it. He’s only been in there once and hated it, the super-crude slogans on everything, all the weed leaves and dildos. There was even a dildo shaped like a weed leaf, looking like a punishment instead of a sex toy. Who would buy that? Even as a gag gift? He picked it up, baffled. In a second a teen employee was at his side, asking can I help you, Sir. The Sir came out snide, indicating Seth’s out-of-place-ness: his neat button-down, his relative adulthood. The kid had those metal tunnels punched through his earlobes. Seth could see the rainbow lights from the novelty lamp display glowing through the holes. The kid looked at Seth, bored and waiting. His nametag read Gary and he was wearing a t-shirt that said Just Do Me, with the Nike swish. In public places Seth was supposed to be really friendly and give a two-minute spiel about his group, the One Best Way, accompanied by a brochure printed on grainy cardstock. On the cover are two healthy-looking white people, a girl and a boy, holding hands and poised to jump off the top of a waterfall. The brochure outlines Eight Steps and Benefits of the Way; it’s like church and self-improvement all rolled into one, it’s the best. The speech is supposed to start, Are you feeling like you might need a greater direction in your life? but Seth’s brain hitched up, it always does when he’s nervous. He tried to say something like Gary are you feeling but blurted out, Garfield direction? So he just pressed the folded paper into Gary’s left hand and speed-walked away as fast as possible without the added shame of actually running. Past the Coffee Bean, past the desert plant kiosk, past, past, past. When he got to the parking garage he could not remember what level he’d left the Chevy on. Great. He’d already failed his friends as an Ambassador, and now he’d lost their car, too. He stood just inside the entrance, pacing back and forth, totally empty. It was August and the air smelled like warm trash. There was a dull alarm tone that sounded whenever cars pulled out, to warn pedestrians. He knew this but he still cringed every time it went off. 

 

Once and only once, when Seth was in middle school, he had convinced his dad to let him go to the Sears shopping plaza with Kevin Ulman and Dave Krause. They were older kids who got off the bus three stops before him; they loved Papa Roach and that game ‘Look at my Butthole,’ where you make the ‘OK’ sign with your hand and hold it down by your side, then punch people in the arm when they look at it. Seth’s dad was not into ‘hanging out,’ as ‘hanging out’ does not ‘build character,’ but he was also not into his son being a ‘loser,’ which means no friends, no prospects, and worst of all, no chances to prove your character. You were either a ‘loser’ or you ‘had character,’ a simple dividing line which very few individuals got to cross. Good examples of ‘character’ included Seth’s dad himself, Gerald Ford, occasionally Paul Newman and once Jimmy Stewart. Kevin Ulman and Dave Krause were most definitely ‘losers,’ a fact which Seth’s dad took particular glee in detailing on the brutal half-hour ride home after Kevin and Dave had abandoned Seth in the bathroom next to FYE. Actually it was less abandoned than locked in a stall. They wanted him to pocket a bracelet in his baggy cargo shorts, which Seth remembers with perfect clarity: a chain with a butterfly charm, an Eiffel tower, a tiny silver comb. Kevin said it was his girlfriend’s birthday but he couldn’t like, afford to buy her anything so could he help him out, man, just this one time? Seth tortured out some rough calculations: stealing = bad, but helping = good. Sitting on the bus alone, behind the driver in the “bitch seat,” or next to Henry who stuck his head in his shirt to smell his armpit = all bad. Sitting with Kevin and Dave, sharing their headphones and having them explain various erotic terminology so people wouldn’t make fun of him when he didn’t know what a chode was = good. But trumping all equations was the idea, just the spectral outline of the idea, of his dad having to pick him up at the police station, which in his head was an amalgam of several TV show sets and the mildewy locker room at the Y. And then, what would come after the picking up? No way, Jose. Seth panicked and threw the cheap red un-velvet box under a table of folded polo shirts. A big mistake. In the car, he’d taken comfort in the fact that enough time had passed, between the initial dunking in the toilet and his eventual release by a janitor, for his hair to dry so his dad couldn’t tell said dunking had taken place. They were right to leave you there, you should have called the cops on them, fought them, you were a wuss back there, not a stitch of character at all, not a stitch.

 

Little Seth would barely recognize Older Seth who, with eighteen additional years and two additional feet of height, is acne-free and blandly handsome. He is transformed by rightness, by his new purpose, which is most definitely character building. He occupies some middle range of attractiveness between movie star and one of those guys in infomercials who are always knocking things over, before the product comes in to transform their worlds from black-and-white mishaps into full-color successes. This attractiveness is obscured in part by his wire glasses and itchy white shirts but mostly by his anxiety, so thick he worries it’s almost a physical characteristic itself. Like he reeks of it, like it serves the same instructive purpose that bright colors do on certain frogs and caterpillars: an advertisement for poison inside.

 

Looking for the Chevy, he was so sweaty he might as well have just been drowning in the toilet all over again, choking on water that tastes like sweaty balls and industrial soap. Are you a loser, Seth? Are you a loser? Are you, loser, you are, are you, until the right combination of lot number manifested in his mind—D6—and he actually cried from relief. It came in a voice different than his own, or his dad’s. In the Way they talk a lot about the moment that you know: that you click on, like a light switch, and you finally Believe. Seth is proud that he can pinpoint his exactly. He’d been scared that it would never happen, that he would be the only one left behind, singing along at Service in a mealymouthed way where everyone could tell he wasn’t really Feeling it. He bets Kevin Ulman and Dave Krause have never clicked on in their whole crappy—cruddy—lives. Too bad for them. Sometimes God is too busy to hear small requests but occasionally, Seth is learning, He pulls through, and that makes all the other times worth it.

 

The point about the carpet, though? Seth doesn’t want to give it more attention than is due. When he stares at it for too long without blinking, Seth can see patterns working themselves out of the maroon bumps. Mouths and towers and once, a snake with seven heads. Then he shuts his eyes and rubs them hard, to dislodge the afterimages. This happens more often than Seth would like, because the TV doesn’t get very good reception and he only brought one book that his Friends gave him right before he moved in. He tries to avoid reading it whenever possible. The book is about the One Best Way, but not watered down like it is in the brochures. It’s only for Ambassadors, upper-level members of the Way. Which Seth is: upper level. VIP. It’s bound in some kind of leather, real luxury, that feels spongy and hot in Seth’s hands. It is full of obscure language, its pages cramped with spindly text. Seth is grateful that his friends think he’s so smart, smart enough to appreciate a gift like that. Seth’s ok. Seth is fine! Seth is already so much better than he used to be. He’s about ninety miles from the town where he met his friends, closer to the state’s northern border. He doesn’t miss his home. Out here the pine trees are a lot more densely packed. The ratio of woods to people is much higher, and so is the ratio of snakes to people. Features of this town include the aforementioned mall, medium-sized, a length of frigid and rocky beach, this small motel, and a large, dormant volcano.

 

Seth knows his room is not really an apartment, but the combination of temporary lodging and semi-permanent language feels right to him. When he was little someone read him a story about how, long ago, in a country that was maybe China, people used to call their dying family members by the wrong names. This way Death would get confused as to who it was supposed to be collecting, and leave. He realizes that this story presupposes a lot; mostly that Death is either very stupid or very easily discouraged. He believes, however, in a way that has progressed from fully joking to only slightly, that motel logic works on a similar plane. So Seth’s dad passed right before he moved in. Seth’s dad didn’t take his blood pressure medication, because he believed dependence on anything other than one’s own willpower was the hallmark of losers everywhere. So what? Seth is not stupid, he’s young, and he’s in relatively good shape. He just likes to be prepared. If he thinks about this for too long, some part of his guts dislodges a quarter of an inch. Seth pictures his insides like the vending machine that stands sentry at the end of the motel’s long row of peeling green doors. Every feeling is poised behind a big metal coil, ready to be shaken loose. To keep a proper balance maintained, Seth makes a big point to laugh about the temporariness of his living arrangements when his friends come over. Welcome to my apartment, everybody! His friends all laugh with him, shaking their heads like, Oh, Seth. Seth privately thinks of himself as the funniest one in the group. Also the most thoughtful one. He knows he’s not supposed to rank people like that, that everyone is valuable in their own Way, but old habits are hard to break. On account of his thoughtfulness, he provides his friends with fresh socks, when they come, even if they’re already wearing their own. He buys the socks at the Walmart down the road from his motel every Tuesday. His friends don’t come see him nearly often enough to necessitate this but he wants to make sure that he is seen buying socks every week. He tries to go at the same time every Tuesday, if possible, so roughly the same people will be working there. He does not bring his brochures to Walmart, because he is a regular customer. On the first day Seth arrived in Mount Alma, his friend Paul explained this no-repeats tactic to him as don’t shit where you eat. They were going over the Rules in the Wendy’s parking lot by the motel. It was raining like always, so they sat in the Chevy while they talked and ate French fries out of their laps. Seth was startled by the sudden profanity, but Paul just laughed. It’s okay, amongst friends. Which we are! Friends! Paul has a contagious laugh, bubbly and warm, and Seth caught on after a minute. Okay, I won’t SHIT where I EAT, he said back, with extra emphasis. Paul clapped him on the back, still laughing. It was a great moment, safe in the car, a couple of buddies having lunch. Then Paul’s voice dropped and he said, But don’t let Uncle Jory catch you talking like that, right?

 

At first Seth just needed to set a dependable schedule for himself but now he thinks of these shopping trips as a sort of contingency plan, for what, for just in case. The plan is that, if he doesn’t show up on Tuesday at 9:30 pm to buy socks, the cashier in Aisle 11 (yellow bangs and a tattoo under her collarbones that says no regrets) might turn to the cashier in Aisle 12 and say, ‘Hey, the sock guy didn’t come in today’. The cashier in Aisle 12 (mossy-looking sideburns) will say, ‘I hope he’s okay.’ If he doesn’t show up the week after that, maybe they will tell someone who has the ability to look for him, or look into him, re: his personal safety and well-being. It’s the neighborly thing to do. Seth is not positive about the actual mechanics of this search, although he has tried, on a couple painfully slow nights, to make a flowchart of how decisions might be made re: people inquiring after him. He used the pad of yellowed paper that the motel has provided. Seth is not good at art and he’s extremely embarrassed by these attempts, one time going so far as to try burning one in the metal wastebasket of the bathroom that is nominally his. It left a rolling scorch mark on the wall of the shower, where he had thrown the wastebasket to put it out, and that’s an important reason for staying. He will stay until he figures out some way to fix it. The hard white plastic is brown and bubbled; is that something you can sand down, or what? He doesn’t know and that’s bad. What’s worse is that while the shower was slightly on fire, the smoke alarm in his room didn’t even go off. Afterwards when he had calmed down enough, he stood on the back of the desk chair and pulled the plastic circle off the ceiling, to check the batteries. There were none.

 

 

 

 

Lauren Artiles mostly writes and usually exists, currently in Boston. Her work has appeared in New Fraktur Journal and Esque Mag. She prefers Frankensteins to Draculas and worries too frequently about breaking her glasses post-apocalypse like that episode of The Twilight Zone.

The Things That Watch

That boy and that girl are dead. I expect you’ll want to know who did it, and why. But all that will depend on who you ask. You’ll probably want to get started, and I can imagine how it will go. 

Gerald McCoy's boy, Jerry Jr., will tell you it was an animal. Had to be, he'll say, ‘cause of how the bodies were carved up and chewed on.

Jerry Jr. will tell you he was the first one to come up on 'em. He was down there scattering corn on the ground, trying to pick himself a tree to climb up in once bow season started. Must've been that an animal got hold of 'em, he’ll say, tore 'em up pretty good, and left the pieces on the ground. The leaves were thick and fresh-fallen, he'll tell you, and so he didn't see the bodies until his foot bumped into what was left of that girl's arm. When he looked down, and saw what there was to see, he spun around and scurried on out of them woods.

You’ll ask if he knew that boy and that girl, and then he’ll grow quiet. Maybe he knew them a little, he’ll say eventually-- that boy, more than that girl.

Had to be an animal, he'll tell you. Come to think of it, he may even remember seeing tracks around the bodies.

And if you were to ask Jerry Jr. why he didn't say anything to the Sheriff for another two days after he found them, he'll tell you it's because he was afraid of getting into some kind of trouble for scattering corn in a National Forest-- which is, of course, against the law.

Whether you believe Jerry is that dense, well, that'll be up to you.

If you ask that girl's mother, she'll tell you she knew that boy was no good. She'll tell you she don't know what happened, but it sure as shit had something to do with that boy. He came and picked her daughter up from the house in that truck with the obnoxious exhaust system. She could hear the muffler from a quarter mile down the road. She told her daughter she ought not go off with that boy. He was trash. Everyone said so.

She'll show you pictures of her daughter at the Homecoming game, all dressed up, with a crown in her hair. She'll point to her picture in a newspaper clipping under some words about academic achievement. She may even show you a home video of her daughter singing in the church choir-- not any of that new-age secular-sounding worship music, she’ll tell you, but good old-fashioned gospel hymns. Victory in Jesus. The Old Rugged Cross. She'll start to tear up and break down. Why would God let this happen to her baby?

She'll ask you. And what will you say? You know things she could never comprehend.

No, she won't be able to tell you what happened, but she'll tell you she knew that boy was no good. If you were to ask her about Jerry Jr., she'd tell you he was just as bad. Trash, both of ‘em, she'll say, sinners of the worst kind.

She’ll tell you she had a dream the night it happened. She saw a great ogre, with horns on its head like the devil or a demon, and long claws on its hands. It came to her from the forest, covered in fallen leaves and pine needles. It shoved its razor-like fingers into her chest, and took her heart. She’ll tell you it was an omen, or a vision. She’ll say the creature represented that boy, stealing her baby girl.

If you're a little shaken after talking to her, no one will blame you. Just like no one will think any differently of you if the next place you go is the Sheriff's office. It’s a curious case. Plenty of people have questions.

If you ask the lead investigator-- I believe his name is Thompson, or maybe Thomas-- he'll tell you Jerry Jr. had every reason to want them dead, especially that boy. He'll tell you they used to be good friends. He picked 'em up a few times for public intoxication, bar fights, and low-grade things of that sort. They weren’t exactly smooth around the edges but, for a place like this, he’ll say, they weren’t all that bad.

He’ll tell you they had a falling out, around the time Big Gerald was sent down to Huntsville for splitting a black man’s skull. If you hadn’t heard about it, he’ll tell you Big Gerald was part of the Aryan Brotherhood, and pretty high up so far as their office could tell. He didn’t have just a whole lot to do with Jerry Jr., but they saw each other now and again. That is, until a dead black man turned up behind Bald Hill Baptist Church.

The investigator will tell you Big Gerald got picked up for the killing. He was pulled over that same night, covered in blood, and it was said an anonymous witness had tipped off law enforcement. Word got around town it was a high school girl, practicing her hymnals, who had seen him trying to dump the body. But no one knew for sure. He’ll say it was about that time that Jerry Jr. started to get real caught up in the Brotherhood. If you ask the investigator why, he’ll tell you Jerry was trying to compensate for the loss of a father-figure he never had to begin with. For family, for money, for fun—doesn’t much matter why, he’ll say, point is, he got real caught up.

He shaved his head, and tattooed his body with swastikas and other symbols of sadness. If you ask the investigator, he’ll tell you Jerry believed that girl had been the one to turn in his daddy. To make matters worse, that boy-- the one who was supposed to be Jerry’s friend-- well he starting hanging ‘round with that girl. The investigator will tell you he figures Jerry felt flat-out betrayed. He’ll say Jerry lost a father and a friend. And he imagines Jerry probably had every reason to want them two dead. But if you ask him if he believes Jerry killed that boy and that girl, he’ll say no.

You’ll bring up the fact that Jerry didn’t come forward until two days after he found the bodies, but that investigator will tell you Jerry had a marijuana crop planted in a little clearing down there, and he had to go dig it up before he brought in the law.

He’ll tell you Jerry is sure enough dumb. He’ll say that if he ever had a smart thought it would’ve died of loneliness. But he’s no killer. And even if he did somehow manage to muster up the nerve it would take to do a thing like that, there’s no way he could’ve kept working on them bodies the way they had been worked on.

He’ll tell you, if you’re really wanting to know, that there were dozens, maybe even hundreds of puncture wounds. He’ll tell you he’s never seen anything like this. It looked like the bodies had been run through a paper shredder. And there’s one more thing, he’ll say, lowering his voice. The bodies, found all twisted and torn, were missing most of the muscle… most of the meat. He’ll look off and shudder, but he’ll tell you not to worry. He’ll say an animal got to them after they were killed-- coyote, or a hog, maybe. If you notice his eyes when he says it, you’ll think he’s a bad liar.

On your way out of the Sheriff’s office, I imagine you’ll see Old Man Wiley. His hands will likely be behind his back, as a deputy leads him to one of the two cells in the back hallway. He’ll look at you with wide eyes and scream. He’ll say he knows what killed those people. He’ll say everyone thinks he’s crazy.

You’ll ask the Sheriff who that was. He’ll tell you how Old Man Wiley is, in fact, crazy. Game Wardens pick him up for squatting in the forest, scaring families who are trying to camp. He’s a delusional drunk. Don’t pay him no attention.

But you will pay attention. You’ll wait until no one’s looking and slip into the back hallway. You’ll approach Wiley’s cell and ask the old man who killed those people. And he’ll tell you, not who, what. Okay, then what, you’ll ask. He’ll start to mumble. You’ll probably step forward, straining to hear. Then, as soon as you’re close enough to smell the stink on his breath and the forest in his hair, he’ll reach through the bars and grab you.

The horns! He’ll scream, pulling you against the cell. The Caddaja! His eyes will be wide and so will yours. The demon, he’ll say, in the pines. The deputies will wrestle you away from his grip, and you’ll retreat down the hallway before anyone can try to stop you. As if they could actually stop you.

That night, I imagine you’ll have a dream. You’ve had them before, I’d guess. From the shadows of the pines, a horned creature will come to you in the woods. Its silhouette, minus the horns, will not be so different from a man’s. As it reaches out of the darkness, you’ll see sharp, protracted claws that look like twisted fingers. It will motion, and you will follow.

When you awake, you’ll notice the moon is almost full.

Now folks will look at you differently, strangely, when you go back to the Sheriff’s office. If you ask that investigator, or any of the deputies, what Caddaja means, they’ll say it’s some Indian folklore passed down by the Caddo tribes of East Texas. They’ll say it’s the name of a monster that, in some stories, would eat humans. They’ll say it’s just nonsense. Old Man Wiley probably heard about it when he was a boy. Old legends die out hard around these parts, that’s all.

Folks will call you crazy now. You’ve been here too long. And you’ve asked too many people about too many things. But you can’t leave yet.

That boy and that girl are dead. And I expect you know who did it, which means you also know there never was a ‘why.’ You’ve asked those there are to ask. You’ve heard their answers. But in your gut, you’ve known the truth since the beginning. You figured it out before all of them, but that’s to be expected. They don’t know about the shadows. They don’t know about the things that wait-- the things that watch.

So into the forest you’ll come, in search of the great horned demon of Caddo myth.

The full moon’s spotlight will be shielded by the pines, and only scattered pieces of the ground will be illuminated. You’ll see something in the darkness. You’ll hear the low, graveled breathing. A sliver of moonlight will catch on something sharp, a claw, and you’ll see the reflection.

You’ll take a step forward, and so will I.

And here, under the cover of night, in the obscurity of this forgotten place, we will finally meet-- the demon and the Hunter.

 

 

 


James Wade lives in Austin, Texas, where he writes fiction for his wife and two dogs. His wife is encouraging, but the dogs remain unimpressed. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, The J.J. Outré Review, After the Pauseand Yellow Chair Review.

Two Poems

 

teach me how to love what doesn't look the
other way


to be honest i find anonymous sex
as depressing as anybody

so let's take a moment to contemplate w/o flinching
the vast indigo of my heartbreak
instead

near the end of college i remember us being higher than the
moon & dancing in half-forgotten drag costumes in a circle in
the grass like clones just glimpsing the fact that they'd spent the
whole of their lives being harvested & that they’d probably
never know to what end &

i have never felt so fucked

years later
in the south of france
i’d remember that in some places
people have names for things like the wind

well, fuck that thing where u thought u were praying
but it turns all u were doing was complaining

yes & hello good morning stranger
i'm in love w/ the way that u've rolled up yr jeans

 

 

 

 

roll up to the club like whaddup my life is
vapid & i have crippling social anxiety

 

growing up abroad kids gave me a lotta flack for
the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
i would bring in my lunchbox to school

later i picked up smoking

today i am drinking yesterday’s coffee
i was microwaving it before but now i have stopped bothering

it is midwinter & i am staring out the window
because of course i am

i will probably continue to experience occasional
spasms of unrequited emotion yr way
for a while

no matter how many invitations
to play candy crush
yr mom sends

 

 


Editor's Note: These poems are taken from Oscar d'Artois's Teen Surf Goth, forthcoming from Metatron, which you can purchase here. There will be a book launch for Teen Surf Goth this Saturday in Brooklyn, NY.

 

Oscar d'Artois was born in 1989 in Paris, France. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany. You can find him online at oscardartois.wtf.

 

Selling a Radio Spot in The Delph

Agnew needs to pay rent. Unfortunately, he's a radio journalist. Unemployed and almost entirely inexperienced, Agnew tries to make up for his shortcomings by being as unprincipled and shamelessly click-baiting as possible. Over 8 “radio bulletins” Agnew reports the most off-beat stories he can find and offers misguided self-help to other aspiring journalists.

***

 

Everyone's trying to get into radio, but to sell a spot in The Delph, you've got to know what you're doing. I used to intern for the biggest public access station in the city, and I'm going to help you sell your story. All you need to remember is K.A.L.O.L.A.C.W.E.A.V.A.F.N.S.  

Know your Assets and Liabilities

I've outlined mine below:

Assets

  • I know the director of the biggest public access station in The Delph.

  • My name is well known in the field.

  • My pitch is a follow-up on the most talked about radio bit in years.

 

Depending on how things play out, these things should help me sell my story. I also have a copy of the keys to my old station’s van, so I borrowed that.

  • Van

 

Liabilities

 

  • Gill Reeber’s tight schedule — he’s out the door of the station at 5:00 every day.

  • It’s 4:30.

  • My overdue rent, which means I won’t be able to sit on this one.

  • Everything listed under Assets, depending on how things play out.

  • All of these fucking red lights. I mean, seriously.

  •  

I've got some unique forces working for and against me. But to be a successful radio journalist, you've got to:

Overcome Your Liabilities With Your Assets

I'm on a tight schedule and am getting clowned by a bunch of traffic lights (liability). However, I'm also in a car which is under someone else's name (asset).

I check for cops and floor it through the intersection. A camera flashes behind me and some jerks honk at me, but it’s 4:37 and I can see Gill packing up his backpack that he got free at a conference 15 years ago. The station secretary is, undoubtedly, reaching into the candy bowl on her desk in order to, as she says, “End this day on a sweet note!”

Another red light, another liability overcome, another camera flash behind me. “Press,” I tell the jerks I pass. “Press, press, press,” all the way down E Street to the station.

I get to DelphaRay-Dio at 4:51 and am surprised that Gill isn’t hunched over the reception area politely laughing at the secretary's jokes. “Well Gill, do you think one sweet ever hurt anyone?” she asked him, every day I was an intern here.

“Well, uh, um, well no I guess it hasn't,” he'd say.

“Then why don't you have one, you skinny-minny?” Then she'd pick out a good one from her bowl and unwrap it for him and he'd smile as he ate it. There was a lot of sexual tension in everything they did.

Be Confident

I walk in and the secretary pulls her hand out of the candy bowl. She grabs the pendant of some saint around her neck and goes red in the face. She opens her mouth and a piece of chocolate falls out. She is speechless (asset). I walk into Gill’s office unannounced.

Gill Reeber has really let himself go since my departure. His desk, never tidy, is now stacked with papers so high that I can only see the top of his balding head, which is bent down and pressed into an old telephone receiver. His voice is nasally and, as always, it sounds like he’s complaining; totally unfit for radio. It is a liability of his.

“Yes,” he says, “stolen… The DelphaRay-Dio van, that’s right… Well no, I don’t have the information with me right now, but you’ve definitely seen it… Yes, the dorsal fin on top and the Roman historian painted on the side… Well in fact I think I know the young man that stole it… Yes, his name is — ” (liability!)

I pull the cord out of the wall.

“Agnew,” he says it like he’s calling me into his office, “Hello? Are you still there?”

“Hey, Gill.” I sit down. He looks up. I can just see his eyes over all the papers.

“You cannot be here Agnew.”

“I’m actually — ”

“Do you have the van, young man?”

“Yes, of course. I was just borrowing it.” I put the keys on a stack of papers and he snatches them. A few sheets fly off the top with them. “I’m not a thief, Gill.”

“Is all the equipment still in it?”

“There was no equipment in it.”

He thinks about this, and then says, “You need to go now, Agnew. Right now.”

“Look,” I say, “Just hang on, alright? I’ve got something else for you. A story.”

“You are wasting my time, young man”

“Hang on, hang on. Wait. What’s the biggest story in The Delph right now, Gill?” His eyes squint. “Probably mine, right? For better or worse, probably the Drexler story.” His eyes widen. “So,” I say, “I revisited Dr. Drexler’s.”

He bolts up out of his chair. Now I can see his little shoulders peaking up over the papers. “Are you serious?” His voice cracks, and then he starts shouting. “Are you out of your mind? Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused me already?”

“Come on, Gill.” I hold my field recorder up and give it a little shake. “Two hundred bucks.” I smile.

Work With Your Editor

His face comes launching through the stacks of papers. His little body follows and then he falls onto me and I fall backwards in my chair. He’s slapping my face like a cat. He’s scratching my belly. He’s crying and yelling. I am too.

“I need money man. I did so much work for you and you didn't pay me for any of it.” I pinch his nose.

“You didn't do a lick of work, you bum,” he says and starts scratching my belly.

“Your station is a joke.” I pull his hair.

“You're a loser.” He picks up a piece of paper and shoves it into my mouth. I push his hands away and pull it out. It's a court order. All of the papers around the room are a some kind of court order featuring Gill's name, the station’s, Dr. Drexler's, and mine.

The secretary comes in the room and wails. Her doughy fist is white around Saint Someone. “No Gilly,” she says “you’re going to kill him!”

Gill gives me one last slap on the face and shoves my stomach and stumbles backwards belly-up on his hands and feet. “You can go to hell,” he says, crawling like a crab with his chin on his chest, “dick.” He collapses and the secretary runs to him and falls to her knees. She shoves his head into her breasts and rubs his bald spot.

“Oh Gilly, oh Gilly.” She looks at me like I’m a villain. “Go,” she says.

“Alright, shit. I’m out.” I get up and try to flatten my blazer where he crumpled it. “You're lucky I'm not suing you for that,” I say.

On my way I take a piece of candy from the bowl at reception. There’s a police car in the parking lot (liability) so I go out the side door and hail a cab.

Avoid Legal Action

Unfortunately my assets did not pan out as expected— except for the van. Also, my confidence didn't do much in the end and the differences with my editor were a bit too big to work out. I also realize now that given the gag-orders, cease and desists, and other various pieces of ongoing litigation surrounding me and my story, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to sell it.

It's also unlikely that I'll be able to go home without running into my landlord, who I for sure cannot pay, so I tell the cabbie to take me to the library where I think I can spend the night. Also, I ask him what his deal is, because to sell a radio spot in The Delph, you have to:

Find a New Story

Unfortunately, he takes this as an excuse to bore the shit out of me. I guess he thinks I don't know what a refugee is—and that there's a booming market for sob stories. The upshot is that I get the address of the trafficker that got him here, who I am definitely going to get in touch with. Also, when he stops at a red light there's a crowd of people I can jump into and get away from him without paying the fare.

 

***

Nicholas Santalucia is at nicsanta.com

Two Poems


Tissue Cultures in Auckland
 

In another scene
I was a gardener
my practice the
piecemeal work
of rose grafting

Under microvision
it’s nothing new
a few tissues
left hands
groping shadows
in a Watsonville
motel built
for prophets
gone rogue

In Auckland
tissue cultures of
cloned plants
lie in
wait for
new forms
of eulogy
to emerge—

I come from a town
of record nuclear
fallout A focal
scattering of
radioisotopes
and yellowed
photographs
in catalogued
accumulation

of Manson Caves
and Rocketdyne
of a neighboring
porno boom
and Santa Ana
hot air puffs
shaking rows of
manicured trees
each year on cue

It’s not history
it’s science:
a boy I kissed
in the back row
of a yellow bus
contracted
late-stage
Hodgkin’s
and I felt
remorseful
as a god

A teacher whose
dourness I prized
swapped
lives and
lives by hearsay
in the cliffs of
Zihuatanejo
by the sea

Under the
microscope
these plants
are bits of
string

in grafting you
snap the thorns
off with a ready
thumb 

prune the
pieces to make
way for a
hybrid with
a penchant for
dirty jokes &
erasure 

but
first

what you really need

is a sturdy shrub 

A parent understock
on which the new
can feed like a virus

On which the new
will disperse
into hot gusts
of traveling air
towards bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

Epileptic Release Hounds
 

It’s past tense
and rich text
format that
drives
this impulse
into the next
shipwrecked
divers’ bay.

Sure, you have it
out for us next
year, but my—
how we’ve grown
with new, 
night-sight
vision in
tow.

Tomorrow’s
headline
casts heads
in flight, a
far-struck
contrast
from
recent
missteps
—move it.

Stillness is one,
fat,
loading
screen
(white on noise)
waiting
without
pulse
towards
old planets
made new.

To be seen
and fragile:
a site
at which
at last
we might gladly
gnash a set of
new brand teeth.

 

 

 

 

Jessica Q. Stark lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. She is a doctoral student at Duke University, studying the intersections of contemporary poetry and comic books.

A Matter of Courage

     It was a cool summer afternoon with a gentle breeze blowing in through the window, and Sam, never missing an opportunity to rest, lay curled on a sofa. He had just finished his weekly column for Happy Times, a suburban paper, which had employed him as a columnist. He was supposed to write a column for the youth every week and for that he was paid handsomely. He liked his work, for it afforded him a lot of time to rest and relax which it seemed was the purpose of his life. The column which he had just written and emailed to the paper dealt with the importance of relaxation. It was captioned How to Relax and Win the World.

 

     Sam closed his eyes and was peacefully meditating when he heard a loud bang on the front door. He got up, opened it and saw Julie, breathing sonorously. She seemed highly disturbed as she rushed in and collapsed on an easy chair. Sam smiled and looked affectionately at her, for she, apart from being dashingly beautiful, was one of his best friends. “Hi, pretty, how on earth are you? It’s always a pleasure to behold you.”

 

     Julie heaved an audible sigh.  Unable to read the significance of such a sigh and seeing wrinkles on her forehead and tears in her eyes, Sam put in, “God is in His Heaven and, from your expression I understand, all is not well with the world at this moment. What ails you, young beauty?”

 

     “I don’t find this world a proper place to live in any more,” said Julie, her voice quivering with the presence of woe within.

 

     Sam blinked his eyes and his heart sank, seeing her in distress. He took out a bottle of orange juice from the fridge, poured some in a glass and gave it to her. “Here, have some and tell me what exactly has happened to wreck the peace of your delicate mind.”

 

    “Do you know that Max and I love one another madly?” she asked.

 

     Sam gave a visible start, for this came as a terrific surprise. “Do you mean to say that you love that Halloween creature? Why! Even the wildest of all creatures, take King Kong for instance, wouldn’t hesitate to accept its defeat at the hands of Max as far as looks are concerned? ”

 

    “Beneath the rough exterior lies a loving and caring heart,” said Julie.

 

    “Is this love mutual?”

 

    “He loves me with all his heart and spends his leisure hours at the gate of my house; at times peeping in through the cracks in the wall, and at times moaning audibly,” she said with dreamy eyes.

 

    “Disastrous as it seems, but advisable for you two to get married soon.”

 

    “A big obstacle has come up in the way,” she said, spilling some orange juice on the carpet. “This morning Max saw my daddy and asked for my hand in marriage.”

 

    “What was the outcome?”

 

    “Dad told Max that instead of seeking my hand, he should go to a zoo and seek asylum in a cage.”

 

     Sam laughed out loudly.

 

    “What’s so funny about it?” she asked.

 

    Sorry, Julie, but I must say that your old man does have a sense of humor.”

 

    “Never mind about his sense of humor. The reason I came to you is that I need your help. I have a plan which would definitely make dad accept Max’s proposal.”

 

    “What if he doesn’t give his consent? Can’t you go ahead and marry that anthropoid ape, defying your dad?”

 

    “I can, but I don’t want to, because in that case dad would disinherit me. I don’t want to lose dad’s millions!”

 

    “You are right; money does matter. Tell me about your plan,” said Sam, anxious to know what was going on in the frail mind.

 

     Julie exploded, “Sam, do you know that my dad considers you to be a lunatic?”

 

     Taken aback with this information, Sam yelled, “He considers me what?”

 

    “Loony!  In other words, plain senile. He is quite positive about that.”

 

     This time Sam spilled the orange juice, not on the carpet but on Julie’s shirt, for the shock on learning this had made his hands vibrate.

 

     Julie observed his discomfiture and added, “On occasions, dad has referred you as a congenital idiot; at other times he says that you are afflicted with the severest type of feeble-mindedness.”

 

    “That’s enough,” protested Sam, raising his hand. “And what makes him think that I am a nut?”

 

    “Once when you came to see me, you had put on a bright yellow tie, and then last week he saw you in orange shoes. Reading your columns in Happy Times confirmed his belief.”

 

    “Old Mr. Fred Cornfield seems to be a despicable character. What’s wrong if I wear a yellow tie or orange shoes?” Sam put in.

 

    “Don’t call my dad a despicable character. Now, listen, the reason I came here was to ask you to help me.  If you come to see my father seeking his permission to marry me, he will do some deep thinking. Of course, he would reject the proposal outright, but he may then reconsider Max’s proposal. How do you like the scheme?”

 

     The glass fell down from his hand and something like a grunt escaped his mouth. “Sorry to disappoint you Julie,” he said, wiping off sweat from his forehead and taking a deep breath. “My nerves are not that strong that I could involve myself in this sinister scheme…” he couldn’t finish for he saw tears in Julie’s eyes. The spectacle touched his heart, for he always had a soft spot in his heart for damsels in distress, and this particular damsel was one of his best friends.

 

     Julie got up, turned her face away and remarked, “Sam, this day you have failed to help a true pal. Let it be written in the annals of your history that from today you are no longer that angel who always used to flit hither and thither to relieve young innocent girls in their predicaments.”

 

    “Wait!” shouted Sam, for he was moved to the core. “Come back. Declare to the world that no friend ever goes disappointed from here. Let’s discuss how your scheme could be put to use.”

 

     She rushed to him, a flush on her cheeks and a twinkle in her eyes. She would have readily taken him in her arms, had he not started pacing with frowned concentration like Napoleon Bonaparte, but there was a difference. His nerves were performing somersault at the prospect of meeting the old guy, whereas Napoleon Bonaparte in similar circumstances would have put his chest out and gritted his teeth bravely.

 

     The pros and cons were weighed carefully and it was decided that they should go to her home and confront Frederick Cornfield immediately.

 

    “Sam, I suggest that you put on your funniest dress. Why don’t you make yourself look like Curious George’s guardian ‘The Man with the Yellow Hat’? Surely you must still be having a yellow hat, shirt and trousers? You were looking so stunning in that dress last Halloween night that a pet monkey in the neighborhood rushed to sit on your back!”

 

     Sam donned the costume and accompanied her to her place. Mr. Frederick Cornfield was a short, thick individual with a dome-shaped head on which were a few remnants of hair. He was resting on a pool chair beside the small family pond in the compound of his house, munching nuts- almonds, cashews and walnuts. He believed that nuts are the only nutrients that instantly boost your physical and mental vigor. Seeing Sam, he uttered a groan. Sam came nearer, but not before knocking down a flower pot by the pond. He picked it up and put it back on its place, “Sorry, sir. It was very clumsy of me to do that.”

 

    “In your life, I am sure, you must have done clumsier things than knocking down flower pots, and you will continue to do so. It is because you are mentally unbalanced. Your every act, your every word confirms my belief that you ought to be certified. Why! Look at the yellow dress you are wearing,” said Cornfield, putting a nut into his mouth and cracking it hard.

 

     It was time for bravery, thought Sam. “Oh, Frederick the Great, stop munching nuts. There are other things more important in life than nuts. I have come here only to tell you that I wish to marry Julie.”

 

     Cornfield goggled. He got up from the chair and moved around, possibly looking for some heavy object to throw at Sam. “Believe me, my would-be father-in-law, Julie and I love one another madly,” said Sam, keeping himself at a safe distance from the old man.

 

    “Am I to understand that Julie too wants to marry you?” asked Cornfield, picking up a walnut from the plate.

 

    “That’s what I have been trying to make you understand,” said Sam, adjusting his yellow hat.

 

     Frederick Cornfield moved around faster, breathing deeply. At last he said, “Young man. I am positive that from your very infancy you are mentally deficient, and as such only a girl with a very low mental capacity should marry you. You must be aware of the fact that my daughter Julie is one such girl. Loony young man, I have no objection to this match. I shall see that both of you are married at the earliest.”

 

     Sam felt as if a bombshell has exploded near him, then his ears got fogged and a thin mist covered his eyes. His nerves jumped like a hooked fish. The most unexpected had happened. He turned right, then left and dashed out to meet Julie.

 

    “Julie, a disastrous thing has happened,” said Sam, breathlessly.

 

    “He didn’t throw that heavy metallic vase at you, as is his habit; did he?”

 

    “He did nothing of the sort. He accepted my proposal!”

 

    “What!” she yelled, and the effect of the yell was such that Max, Julie’s heartthrob, who was lurking outside the gate, looking in through a crack in the compound wall, jumped inches high in the air.

 

    “You and your sinister scheme!” said Sam. “Now what are we going to do? Get married?”

 

     Julie got thoughtful. “A new idea has just flashed in my mind,” said Julie, always full of queer ideas.

 

    “Keep me out of its execution,”said Sam, raising his shaking hands.

 

    “Listen, there is only one thing we can do. You go back to see my dad immediately and utter some harsh words. You may also insult him. Enraged, he would turn you out of the house, and naturally, would never agree to make you his son-in-law.”

 

     That seemed to Sam a pretty good idea, but to speak harshly to an old nut-munching person whose favorite hobby was to throw heavy metallic vases at his guests needed steady nerves. He gathered courage, took a deep breath and went to see Cornfield again.

 

     The old man was now reading Tom and Jerry comics. “Come in, come in, sit down and read some comics.”

 

    “Comics?” uttered Sam. “Do you think I should waste my time on comics? It is only the children and withered old people who find pleasure in reading comics. I just came in again to tell you that you are an old oaf!”

 

    “Old oaf!” said Cornfield, taken aback and upsetting the plate of nuts.

 

    “That’s right. Old oaf with capital O. That’s why hair have said goodbye to your head. That’s why your stomach has revolted against you and is coming out inch by inch every day; that’s why……..

 

    “Enough,” said Cornfield coolly. “I know what senseless things a feeble-minded person can utter, but it really takes courage to insult one’s future father-in-law. I am indeed glad to learn that my future son-in-law, though loony to the core, is a courageous fellow. I always admire people with courage.”

 

     Sam now shivered like a jellyfish. God! Why on earth did he involve himself in Julie’s outlandish schemes?  Drops of sweat began to form on his face and he ran out, but Julie was coming near the pond. He met her halfway.

 

    “Now what?” she asked, frightened.

 

    “I said raucous and bitter things to your dad, but he took everything calmly, and instead of turning me out, said that he admired courageous people.”

 

    “Courage!” she said, looking up at the sky for a few seconds, as though she was struck with another of those bally ideas. She then smiled contentedly. “Wait here Sam, I will be right back.” She went to the gate and said a few words to Max, who was now sitting on the compound wall like Humpty Dumpty. When he heard what Julie said, he clenched his large, rough fists. Then both of them came in.

 

    “Nincompoop!” roared Max.

 

    “I beg your pardon, young ape-man,” said Sam.

 

     Max laughed like some prehistoric animal, moved his apelike jaws and said, “Pretty boy, I don’t think that a little dip in the pond, which by the way contains a number of fishes, would do much harm to your looks.”  Saying so, he approached Sam with fire in his eyes. He rolled up his sleeves, showing enormous hairy arms and bulging biceps.  At the same time Julie screamed. Cornfield got up from his chair and came running towards them.

 

     Max advanced, caught hold of the shirtfront of Sam, and with a light push threw him into the water. Sam was taken by surprise. He came out bewildered. Max caught him again, raised him up in the air and threw him again in the pond.

 

     To Sam, it now seemed useless to come out, for the brute was bent upon keeping him immersed. He brushed aside a small fish that was keen on entering his nostril.

 

     He saw Cornfield smiling and delighted, shaking hands with Max “Courage! Sheer courage! And determination to throw one’s opponent down! I admire you young man in animal form. Are you still anxious to marry my daughter?”

 

     Max uttered a grunt, showed his big white teeth in a smile and nodded vigorously.

 

     The old man looked with a benevolent gaze at him and Julie, put his arms around their shoulders and said, “Come my children, let’s go inside and make plans for the wedding.”

 

     They went in. With some effort, Sam came out of the pond, water dripping through his hair and clothes. He tried to control his shivering, but couldn’t. Removing a fish from his front pocket, he quietly got away, swearing never again to help a damsel in distress.

Rafiq Ebrahim is a freelance writer, contributing to various magazines.  He has also written three novels; the last one, BEYOND THE CRUMBLING HEIGHTS, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

 

TRAPDOOR

9

 

       Esther walked along the bridge. The pink beams, the cage structure. There was the faint spray of lamplight. It was quiet. A bike passed along the other side, and a subway rattled just below her. The cars had thinned out in the night and a couple people crossed her path in the opposite direction, drinking from paper bags with straws.

       She started to mumble the lyrics to an old song, remembering more the music video. The actor with the trombone. The feeling of imminent baldness on all fronts. ―A street in a strange world, she said. There was the sound of quick footsteps.

       ―Hey. Hi. Esther turned. A woman of indeterminate age was behind her. ―I just wanted to say something to you.

       ―Oh? What?

       ―If I ever end up like you… The woman was wearing a yellow blazer and yellow jeans. She caught her breath. ―If I ever end up like you, I want someone to shoot me.

       ―Oh.

       ―No, I mean it.

       ―I just… That’s fine. I’m just, like. I just want to try to walk.

        ―You just want to? That’s what you want to do?

       ―Or I’m doing it, okay. I’m just taking a walk.

       ―What are you saying to yourself?

       ―I… It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry if I bothered you.

       ―No, I want to know.

       ―It’s stupid.

       ―Okay.

       ―I was saying the words to You Can Call Me Al.

       ―I don’t know that one.

       ―Yes you do. You just need to hear it.

       ―Well then say it to me.

       ―It’s the hook that does it. It’s the instrumental hook. You’d, like, recognize it.

       ―Well I don’t doubt that but if you won’t say it to me…

       ―I’m very tired, I… Like, I just want to walk across the bridge.

       ―Well who’s not tired? Who’s not tired in the middle of the night?

       ―It’s not that late.

       ―Every second you don’t let me hear the song, I don’t get to know, and it fucks me up, and you don’t get to keep walking, so it’s pretty futile, right?

       They were silent. Esther looked at the woman for a moment, then began, ―Da duh-duh dunt. Da duh-duh dahnt… Da duh-duh…

       ―I can’t understand you.

       Louder, she chanted, ―Da duh-duh dunt. Da duh-duh dahnt… Da duh-duh dunt. Da duh-duh dahnt.

       ―That’s what that is? It’s called "You Can Call Me Al?"

       ―Yeah… Yeah, it’s a famous song… I don’t know.

       ―Well it’s a stupid name.

       ―I mean, I guess so… That’s just its name.

       ―Well if I’d have written it I would’ve called it something else.

       ―Yeah… Well, okay. Good night. Esther tried to turn away from the woman.

       ―Where are you going?

       ―I’m just walking over the bridge.

       ―You live over there or something?

       ―No, I live that way.

       ―So you’re just going to walk back over when you’re done?

       ―I guess so.

       ―Does that make any sense to you? That is so pointless.

       ―I’m… I’m sorry. It’s fine, I just, like, need a walk.

       ―When I was a kid, nobody walked on the bridge. It was a way to get raped or abducted or to kill yourself.

       ―I mean, but it’s not so bad now. Clearly…

       ―You would get to one of those side things, where it goes out over the highway and then you’d scale the fence and jump off. It was easy. What do you know about it?

       ―I don’t, I’m sorry. I don’t. I’ve had a very long day. Suddenly I’m very tired. I was, like, awake, that’s why I was walking… But now I’m tired.

       ―So go home then.

       ―I think I’ll walk a little more, if that’s okay. I just need to clear my head. Good night, I’m sorry for annoying you or whatever.

       ―Don’t give me that or whatever. I’m a person. I’m just trying to have a conversation with you. What are you mentally ill or something?

       ―Maybe… Or something… I don’t want to, like, talk right now really.

       ―So little of what we do in life is about want. Or even choice. Free will is a fallacy. What is free will?

       ―You’re right. I don’t know. I agree with you.

       ―What freedom do you have in that you’re thrown into life and forced to start dying? What freedom is there that you’re confined by gravity, by the fact you need to breathe and eat?

       ―I said you’re right. I’ve heard the argument, I’m with you. We are chained to certain things. There are things, like, arbitrating everything, so that any choice is, like, predetermined by what is even possible to do, et cetera. I get it.

       ―Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. You think I’m some retard or something because I talk to you on the bridge. Who are you, why are you on the bridge?

       ―I’m not anyone. I don’t think you’re stupid. I’m sorry… I’m sorry.

       ―You’re so special for being alone on a bridge? I’m alone. I live alone. What do you think I do that makes me so retarded or whatever? I’m just another person. I need to be taken care of too. I didn’t think this is what would happen to me. I didn’t spend my life thinking this is what it would be.

      ―I know… I know.

      ―What do you know? What are you suffering? I’m suffering. What, you think because I’m out here in the middle of the night on the streets I’m homeless? I’m a junkie? I’m at the end of my little retard rope?

       ―No. No, I didn’t think that. I was just, I don’t know. I just came from…

       ―’Cause I am homeless. I am. You think just because I take care of myself I can’t be homeless? Just because I’m not a haggard old freak? Some of us are able to take pride in the little left we have of will. In cleaning our clothes, in brushing our teeth and finding the right foods. Stuff you would throw away, but it’s perfectly healthy!

       ―I believe you!

       ―There’s microorganisms in soil, you know. There’s ways of being nutritional, of being dry at night. You think I couldn’t live in a fancy little apartment like you and get a little job like you? I choose to be this way!

       ―I think. Like, that’s great. I think it’s, like, really important to do what you want to do.

       ―You do what you want to do?

       ―I, like. I try to.

       ―What are you?

       ―I’m just… I’m nothing. I’m Esther.

       ―Oh, perfect. I mean what do you do, Esther? For money and things?

       ―I… I just got out of school. I’m, like, an artist, I guess.

       ―You make art? What do you make?

       ―Just stupid things. I made some things with wood. Never mind. I need to go.

       ―So you do what you want? You’re living the way you want to?

       ―It’s fine.

       ―You always knew it would be this way? That you’d get this way?

       ―What way? The woman stood, looking at her. ―I don’t… I mean, guess I assumed it could happen. Or that it would, really. That everything would, like, fall into place. If you did the work, made stuff good, you’d get recognized. Rewarded. You could get anything in life just by attempting it… And that’s exactly what did happen! That’s how it went. If I did something, if, I like, tried something on my own, it almost always worked. When I wanted to go to the beach, we went to the beach. If I sat down with something, I could ultimately reach some convivial state with it. People frequently said they saw something in me, but that was on them. It’s in other people that the things get lost. I always wondered, why do they say people settle for something in others? Is that what people are doing? I never felt like I was being forced to do anything. I feel like I know freedom. I feel free.

       ―So you are happy?

       ―Okay, I’m happy. Is it a crime?

       ―It’s unexpected is all… That you would be.

       ―Aren’t you?

       ―Well of course I am. I’m very fulfilled. I’m suffering on my own accord. I can see into the core of people. It’s what I do with my day. And I have a P.O. box, and I get checks in the mail from the government.

       ―How do you vote?

       ―I can’t! Thank god. It makes life even better. And it doesn’t matter. Either way the checks keep coming in.

       ―People don’t want you to be happy here. They don’t think you should be able to find satisfaction, but when everything is gone, when you let all the noise slip away and it’s just a blank flat world, and all you can do is think it. Is there anything more to life than having thoughts? You think your own world, like. How could it ever be any better?

       ―Now you’ve started to lose me.

       ―I never took any medications. I sold them to people online without insurance. I, like, I wanted to let the world have me, but I feel like I have it. I feel like I can see the patterns changing. I am lifted.

       ―But that’s limited. That can’t go on forever.

       ―No. Yes, of course, I mean. You’re lifted, or then you drop right through the ground. That is another thing they make you want to think is bad. It’s not a trap, you’d just, like, fall right into the next thing. It couldn’t take yourself away. This and every world is just an extension of that.

       ―Why do you think he called it that? That song?

       ―Who knows. I was just a kid. They played it on the radio. It’s like I just remembered. The walks were very long and different every time. There was a freckled old man who wore all black and you’d pay him to park your car in his driveway. He had large glasses, like, and terrible teeth. And he always held his jaw when he smoked, like it hurt him. But he never stopped smoking. The beach was a half a mile away, but it was different every time. Sometimes you’d walk with your sandals off on the rocks and you’d be, like, jumping. Sometimes you had collected periwinkles or something and you could throw them out behind you as you went. Sometimes it zipped by, the entire thing. But you still, inside of you I mean, like, you always knew the walk was long. I went to sleep on the beach many times. My brother and me. We’d go into the water and stay until our lips were blue and shaking, and talk to the other kids out there. Once my brother said he saw a girl’s boob. We built structures and dug pits and buried each other. And one time I went to sleep and when I woke up everything was different. Like how when you wake up in the afternoon and your face hurts. But this was even more than that. Not different like every time but totally transformed. We could dig much deeper much faster and our lips didn’t get blue, and the walks were quick and even. This is when I started to see things like how they were for only me. My parents don’t have memories of the sound my brother used to make with his tongue against his cheek. He doesn’t remember seeing the boob or being stung by a jellyfish. Nobody did. The sunset, you could, like, pause it or something. It happened so fast before, but then you could control it so the days lasted as long as you wanted.

       ―What you’re saying is inconsistent with what we were talking about before.

       ―It doesn’t matter! That’s how it is! You were wrong about everything, you were trying to manipulate me!

       ―But what about free will? What we agreed on?

       ―I don’t feel attached to that anymore. I don’t feel interested in your philosophy.

       ―But do you think I was like I am now then? When you had your memory?

       ―Maybe. I don’t know how old you are or how it happened.

       ―Yeah…

       ―I’m going to go home now.

       ―You should finish your walk. You were holding onto the fence, like, tracing it with your hand.

       ―I don’t want to anymore.

       ―Want or need? What’s going on? Where are you going? Did you take something from me, wait a second. But Esther had started to walk away. ―What’s the tune of that song again… You won’t be cute forever, you know. One day you’ll get old and boring and boring looking. We all need to die.

       ―But I’ll get there on my own. I already told you. In a way, I am. In part of my lifetime, it’s all happened. We get to do it anyway, though.

       ―But can’t I walk with you?

       ―I don’t think so.

 

 

10

 

       In the subway station, there was a damp sound. And emptiness. The tunnel was lighted, and it was dark. ―Matt! Damn you, are you down here?

       ―No.

       ―What are you doing? Where are you?

       ―Leave me alone.

       Tyler walked across the platform, looking for the source of the voice. Then down, at the body lying on the tracks. ―What the fuck, man.

       ―Why aren’t you with your girlfriend?

       ―Who?

       ―Why are you here?

       ―I tried to follow you.

       ―I don’t care.

       ―I came back for you.

       ―Esther just doesn’t like you either.

       ―That’s fine. I’m okay with that. She couldn’t handle me. It’s fine, that was so long ago. I still like her okay, I’m just not into her.

       ―Great.

       ―What’s your plan here exactly?

       ―I’m killing myself. You think I’m not depressed? How could you do this to me?

       ―I didn’t do anything.

       ―This is a classic deceit. I’ve been forsaken. The whole of my life I could’ve done something. It’s like I’m a spectator to my own pointlessness.

       ―No, no. This isn’t classic. It was just, it was just a thing.

       ―It was classic and it’s been done. You’re like Judas. Or Iago. Or like a Bret Easton Ellis character. You suck.

       ―This was like, no. This is my life. It resembles nothing. I’m trying to engage with the world.

       ―Well have fun with that.

       ―You know this doesn’t count. You’re not depressed, you’re just being dramatic.

       ―I am. I am depressed, and I’ve always been, and I’m going to kill myself.

       ―Letting a subway run over you doesn’t count.

       ―Sure it does. Why shouldn’t it?

       ―It’s so passive. You aren’t doing anything. You’re just letting something happen. Plus this way you make the conductor have PTSD. It’s cowardly.

       ―You’re a coward.

       ―I know. I’m very scared. I feel very scared of everything that’s happened. I was alone and I was scared. You left me alone.

       ―I didn’t leave you alone. You just wanted me to do something and I couldn’t do it. I have responsibilities.

       ―It would’ve been better for everyone involved. It would’ve been, like, you could’ve escaped. You wouldn’t have been a spectator, we’d have been in it together.

       ―Why would I want to? You don’t take me seriously.

       ―You’re not a serious person, man. Look at you right now. You can’t even kill yourself right. Buy a gun. Use a kitchen knife. Slice open your milky blond wrists and watch it happen. Don’t just wait for someone else to come along and do your dirty work for you.

       ―I don’t care about you and Esther. It was her name. It was what it meant, all the things before… You don’t know, man.

       ―Sure I do.

       ―Not everything is easy for everyone. Sometimes people’s unhappiness, people’s struggles… They don’t just act on them and show it off to everyone.

       ―Hey, stop. It’s not my fault. But right after you told me, I had to have her. Didn’t you know I’d have to do that? Don’t you even know me? It was exactly what was always going to happen. I had to track her down…

       ―No you didn’t.

       ―You still have photography. I have nothing.

       ―I don’t like taking pictures anymore!

       ―I could’ve been somebody. Did I ever tell you I was a high school athlete? I broke half the sprinting records.

       ―You’ve told me.

       ―And I quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a strange and beautiful way of seeing things. It’s all gone. I don’t see anything in anything anymore. I was depressed, but now I’m broken. I don’t even exist.

       ―You’re not the only sad person. You’re not, like, the only person who might’ve been something but actually never was.

       ―It’s like, everything I found meaningful and touching. A little flutter in the corner of my eye. It used to be anything I saw, I could speak on it forever. Now all I know is that I’m, like, that’s all inaccessible. I’m out of my prime. I’m resigned to this way. And I have to live so much longer. I’m not even drunk right anymore. I sweated it all out looking for you.

       ―I sit at a desk in university archive all day looking at the records of stuff people did. People who mattered, they made breakthroughs. Downtown New York, the eighties and nineties and everything we loved. How do you think, like… How should I feel? I never did anything.

       Some silence. ―Should I get down there with you?

       ―Come down here.

       Matt moved over, and Tyler lay down on the tracks next to him. ―I feel old. Old and used up in this world.

       ―But we’re still really young.

       ―I’ve spent so much time finding identity in depression that I can’t even remember why I ever felt depressed. People say they’re just lucky to have their memories. Where are mine, though? All I have is a series of things that happened. I haven’t written them down. I don’t remember my childhood in terms of any real thing at all. It had no effect on me. My parents weren’t schizophrenic or drunk or even mean. They punished me by having me sit quietly in my room with books. They kissed me on the lips until the appropriate age. I was never humiliated, I avoided everything like it was my job. I’m not haunted. I lived normally. 

       ―I was abused as a child.

       ―You were?

       ―Well… Matt looked at the ceiling, where the water swam around the supporting structures and dripped off. ―Not that I can remember… But it would make sense.

       ―Yeah… Yeah…

       ―I’m just another person with dreams and love and a slow death inside.

       ―You shithead.

       ―I already didn’t want to say it as it was coming out.

       They didn’t look at each other. ―How long were you waiting down here before I found you.

       ―A while… Where’s the train?

       A voice barrelled down the tunnel. ―What the fuck do you think you’re doing? A body appeared above them. A neon orange vest and hard hat.

       ―Don’t try to stop us, Tyler said. ―We’re here to end our lives. This doesn’t concern you.

       ―Damn straight it does. Get the fuck off the tracks, we got a construction team coming through.

       ―But where’s the train, Matt asked. ―We just want to die passively.

       ―There’s no trains coming through here this weekend. It’s closed for maintenance. Don’t you read the signs?

       ―The signs?

       ―Posted all over the fucking platform. Get your asses up, or should I call the police? I’m sure there’s room in lockup for a couple fairies cruising trying to get their rocks off in the subway on a Thursday night.

       ―Can we go to a mental hospital maybe, Matt said.

       ―I’ll put you in some kind of hospital.

       Tyler sighed. ―This is hardly how I imagined it would go. Somehow, I don’t even feel like dying anymore.

       ―Me either.

       ―In fact, why would I want to die? I have thoughts. I have experiences. Isn’t every thought a worthwhile thing? Isn’t every neuron that fires an event? A creative explosion? I’m, like, maybe I’m just marginal. Maybe I don’t think like how other people do, and they just haven’t caught up with me yet.

       ―Maybe shut the fuck up and get out of here.

       The employee kicked at Tyler, who, helping Matt up, smiled. ―I feel, like, reborn.

       ―I feel depressed.

       ―Me too, me too, though! But it means something now. It means something again. We faced death and came out the other side.

       ―I should quit my job.

       ―Yes! Right now! Send them an email right now!

       ―I can’t really do it like that…

       ―Well another time then. I’m very hungry. And thirsty. Do you think there’s any cute girls at Myrtle? What time is it?

       ―Maybe you should just go to bed.

        ―But alone?… Maybe… Maybe… They went to leave. ―Wait, listen. Let me tell you something… There was a band. I always wanted to see them live. Their name slips my mind now. You know, two guys and a girl? They did a lot of heroin and drugs and stuff? It seemed so cool. They came to town a few times, I think they even came through Myrtle once, but I was always busy. I figured there’d always be another chance to see them. But they put out an album and, like, immediately broke up… They had this song I loved. I always messed up the lyrics. I thought they were saying, like, All blurred out hoodie bitch I can’t see ya. Like that he was wasted and his hoodie was falling over his face or something. That’s not the words, though, I got those totally wrong for years. And I think I, like, poisoned myself with that. I can’t remember the real lyrics for shit, but I’ll remember the wrong ones forever… Not so distant sounds of a construction train emanated from the tunnel. ―Look. Tyler picked a magazine up off the ground. ―Sixty-three secrets to better orgasms. I’d actually like you to flip to that while I figure out where to go. Tyler took out at his phone.

       Matt looked at the magazine. It was dusty and wet and in his hand. ―But what about your cat?

       ―What about her?

       ―You… You wanted to say stuff about your cat to me. You kept saying that there was something you wanted to talk about. Back before… everything.

       ―Oh, Tyler was looking at his phone. ―I mean, she’s just a cat. I think she might have a tapeworm, but I’d hate to take that away from her.

 

< Chapters 7 & 8

 

 

TRAPDOOR

7

 

       ―There was no escaping. It was a feeling of total aloneness. Complete isolation. Like my entire mind had been turned in on itself. I walked miles just, like, trying to regain a sense that there was something left of me. Why I was even there. Tyler took a long pull on the beer and moved his hand on the table, next to Paula’s. ―God, and now the summer’s over. Just like that. It happens without you even seeing it. I can’t even, like, remember it. While it’s happening it’s just like blurs. But all you ever get is the present, you know? It’s insane. It was just like in high school, running around the track. The goal was very unclear. You got nowhere. You could break a record by getting to where you started. I saw the ocean, monuments and churches, cherished art, and it was inescapable. It was repetitive and terrible and made me, like, a little horny, but I had no way to act on it. Everything was a divide. I couldn’t even experience it. It was very depressing, I had to get out of there.

       ―But surely you cannot say all of Europe is the same in this?

       ―Can’t I? Didn’t I just say that?

       ―But that was just Berlin, it…

       ―No, no! Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Lisbon. Are you even listening? I went through it all. Portugal! Isn’t that even why we’re talking right now?

       ―You need to be more quiet. This is verging on the unacceptable.

       ―Listen, Paula. I’m sorry. Listen, see, my tone. I’ve adjusted it. I’m sorry. I got excited. I had a very difficult summer. It was difficult to control myself. I had a girl not so long ago, but she’s gone. I think I can’t control my voice because I like you so much. One woman called me crazy once, you know. It was a very painful thing. I just want to be, like… I think you are very compelling to be around.

       ―So you say.

       ―Oh god, no! I know you think I’m all, like, whatever. I’m sorry I insulted Europe. Maybe I’m not. It’s strange to be back home. I’m supposed to be, like, together. I should get a job and stuff. My cat’s all upset I’m afraid it resents me. I’m afraid it always did and I’m just seeing that now. I had a friend stop in and feed it, but maybe that wasn’t enough. It sleeps on the couch now. It shakes its ass around all brazen and stuff.

       ―What is your kitty’s name?

       ―Cookie. No. That’s a lie. I don’t know why I said it. I don’t know how that came out. Her name is Marble.

       ―Oh… She’s a lady cat?

       ―I think it’s only right for one’s pet to be of the opposite sex. It makes for a more domestic dynamic. We keep each other, like. We keep each other. Like husband and wife.

       ―Why does it have to be only husband and wife? You think it is not right for a man to love women and not other men?

       ―You’re missing the point! Of course I’m pro-gay marriage. LGBTQ whatever. Yes. I am pro all that. I’m very progressive. Believe me, I’m really very put together. About as normal as I could possibly be. I know you’re thinking otherwise, but I’m assuring you this is just an act. I have a very nice apartment, that I keep very clean and orderly and well decorated. It’s just me and Marble and our thoughts and a handful of drugs and things.

       ―I can’t really want to look at you when your hair is in your face like that. Getting to and inside your mouth.

       ―I’m sorry, it… It was supposed to be something else. It’s kind of a way of, I don’t know. It got too long. I know it doesn’t look good that’s the point.

       ―There are a lot of men, it seems, who look like this around the city. It’s been a eye opening experience. Everywhere, it’s like stupidity abounds. Everyone trying to outdo the next. You think it is repetitive in Europe, I think it is too much hoping for difference here. There is a certain homeliness. Everyone tries to look cooler than he is. Like are you thinking to be artist? What must you prove? What do you make?

       ―Well I don’t know, why don’t you come see for yourself. My place is just a few blocks from here. You don’t even know, the neighborhood’s changed so much. It is all different. That’s what I was looking for. Berlin used to be this cool, dark city with all these possibilities. It might’ve been like that here too, years ago. But it’s over.

       ―What is over? It’s not a memory here. You can look and see it’s as this now.

       ―I mean, I get it. Everywhere is over. I feel suspicious of you. What’s so great about your opinion on New York? Why don’t you come over anyway?

       ―But you weren’t able to communicate with women like this in Lisbon?

       ―Sometimes I tell people I’m bipolar to get out of difficult situations, but it didn’t really translate… He helped with her coat. ―I should warn you. That girl I told you about, she’s back in town. She’s an artist. A real one. I mean she’s also an artist. She’s showing at a gallery not far away, the opening’s tomorrow. We may be together again soon. We might be in love, the two of us. Maybe you and I won’t last, but, like, who knows? Maybe there’s time for that too. I already feel like maybe we should go. I’m, like, but, hey, so come over here in the bathroom a second, maybe you’ll like this…

 

 

8

                        

       ―It was just so unexpected. It was scary, you know. And I don’t see why they had to interrogate me like that. Why couldn’t it have been prearranged? The way it went down, I mean, like, they know how unnerving it must have been for me.

       Emily touched Esther’s arm gently, righting the plastic glass of wine. She brushed hair out of her friend’s face. ―Well, but why wouldn’t they? Why should they care? I mean, the way things are, what else could you expect?

       ―I hardly knew her! Esther took the wine back. ―I was barely aware who she was and then I’ve got, like. It feels like the walls were going to come down around me, I could hardly breathe. They’re in my doorway holding up their little wallets and stuff showing me badges. It was like TV.

       On the wall there was a large paragraph of bold, black text that Esther had painted with stencils earlier in the week. Driftwood was arranged in the center of the room and again in the corner. In another corner, a thirty foot telephone pole stood. Emily wondered how they’d got in it. She looked back at her friend, who wasn’t far from shaking. ―Come on, it’s okay. They have to cover their bases, naturally. I mean, like, really, consider yourself lucky. I’ve been on and off the phone with them everyday for a month.

       ―They were acting like I knew something or something. I was crying. I couldn’t even think of her last name. The list of things they said to me… It was impossible. The room was spinning, and I’m trying to explain to them I have an opening I’m supposed to be setting up for. My first ever solo show, as if they gave a shit.

       ―I know. I’m sorry.

       ―I only met her those few times, I don’t see why they’d even consider me more than, like. Like a wisp in her life.

       ―It’s my fault. They probably were using our phones as microphones. They can do that you know. They knew you lived with me. Who knows how long she’d been planning it.

       ―But why now? Like, why ISIS?

       ―Why does anyone do anything?

       ―Does she want to die?

       ―I doubt it. If she did, though, would that offend you? How many of the people in your life act like they want to die all the time?

       ―I was reading those excerpts from her Twitter, and I was just, like inside her. Wondering. Thinking of her on the plane, crossing into Syria. The checkpoints, her planning and communications, everything, like, encrypted and stuff. It was all happening and nobody even tried to deter it? How must her family feel?

       ―I’ll tell you how they feel. They’re treating it like a funeral. They’ve had her Facebook shut down and they’re planning, like, a memorial or something. Her picture in the paper like that, it’s like she doesn’t even exist anymore.

       ―And what she’s calling herself now, Amatullah Aliyah Muhammad? How the hell did she get that from Megan?

       ―She always used to sing that song, "Are You That Somebody?".

       ―The last thing I needed this morning was the CIA in my house.

       ―Well it’s over. I can’t imagine they’re going to bother you anymore. Emily looked around the room. More people were coming in, wanting to say things to Esther, but seemed afraid to approach. ―And this is amazing. You guys really made it look great.

       ―Thanks.

       ―Let me get a picture of you in front of that one.

       Esther posed. ―Let me see… They passed the phone back and forth. ―Has she tried to get in touch with you at all?

       ―She did… She tried to, like, convert me. Like a week after she left. It was very weird. I had to, like, contact this guy from Washington and he came over and took my computer and gave me a new one. They said that’s going to happen every time she contacts me, if she does, but I doubt she will.

       ―I hate this world.

       ―Well so did she, I guess.

       ―Hiya. Esther felt someone’s hand on her shoulder.

       ―Oh. Suddenly she was being hugged and put her arms out, gathering what was happening. ―Tyler. Hi.

       ―What’s wrong?

       ―Nothing.

       ―I don’t believe you. Did somebody do something to you? Did somebody try to sexually assault you or something?

       ―What? No.

       ―That’s good. That’s a relief. This place looks great! Hi Emily. She walked away. ―I can’t believe you put all this together in just a few months, god. I’m so happy for you.

       ―Well, thank you. Thanks. I just hope it’s not too stupid. I don’t even care if anything sells, I just don’t want someone to write something for a lot of people to read that says it’s stupid.

       ―Well someone’s going to say it’s stupid. People always say stuff like that. Hey where’d you get that wine? Not that it means that it is stupid, it’s just that stupid people, like, there’s always enough of them to… You know?

       ―I guess so.

       ―So where’d you get that wine?

       ―It’s on the table, over there.

       ―Oh, just a second. He poured himself a glass. Drank it and poured another. ―I have a terrible hangover, I’m sorry. I could hardly get out of bed, but I had to come see you. This is amazing.

       ―Thank you.

       ―You know, like, the artist herself. You were right. It’s good you went back to school. How else would you have had the time, the resources. You were so right. I’m sorry I ever said anything contrary. Like, this is really an accomplishment. You’re the real thing, I mean, look at it.

       ―All right, okay. It’s just, you know. It’s really nothing. It’s just what I was working on, I don’t know.

       ―Well anything more like this and you’re made. Like, your career… Listen, I’m just so happy I get to see you. I haven’t stopped thinking about you. Maybe you think I did stop, but I didn’t. You left an impression on me that I can’t get away from.

       ―How was your summer?

       ―You know, it was pretty horrible. Running around Europe alone, lost. I wanted to feel like I was enveloping myself. I wanted to believe I could make myself a part of anything, but I couldn’t. It gave me a lot of time to think, though, you know? Maybe I’m not on the right path. Maybe I should listen to others more than just run my mouth and believe in a certain destiny because I’m so much better than everyone. I’m really not. I’m really sad. I’m sad and anxious, and I thought I’d somehow gotten out of that with energy or whatnot. But, like, I think I’m more like I was as a child than I ever have been before.

       ―That’s a very, um… You sound like you’ve had a chance to really… That’s a very mature realization.

       ―I mean, I get it. It was my fault things didn’t work. But you’re independent, you’re in control of your life. I respect that. Last winter everything was all over the place for me, but I’m more centered. I see things how they are. I, like, I think you know what I mean.

       ―Your hair looks better.

       ―Oh, you think so? Well thank you. You know, I don’t want to alienate people anymore. I want to be a part of people. I think you taught me that. I feel inspired by what you’ve done here.

       ―It really isn’t anything.

       ―But it is! It makes me feel like I want to make sculpture and art and stuff. Do you think I could make something like this, if I tried?

       ―Maybe… I’m not sure. Maybe your thing more is about who you are. Maybe you’re more the product than the creator… Of, like, yourself.

       ―Well see, that’s what I always thought. You always understood stuff about me before I even got there myself. But I don’t want to be that anymore. I want to be something besides myself. I want myself to be able to, like, to take the back seat to something greater I’ve accomplished or something. I want to be like you.

       ―I don’t know if you want to be like me, Tyler. This past year was a struggle. Like, just this morning, I…

      ―But that struggle, see! It’s productive. It’s beautiful. You take something out of your instability, you don’t just see the despair and say that’s it! The insanity alone is not the answer, it’s the thing you work to escape, to express!

       ―Please don’t try to, like. Don’t put your own ideas on top of my, like. I’m a person. You’re projecting.

       ―I’m not!

       ―Can’t you just come here and say hello? Why do you have to act like this is some gesture. I have a bunch of friends here and I’m all caught up dealing with you. I thought we let this go after you couldn’t handle trying to visit even just that one time.

       ―But it has to be now. You’re here now, and…

       ―Esther! Hi! Matt bounded across the room, wrapping her in his arms.

       ―Oh, hello, Matt.

       ―Here you are again! Sorry I’m late, but I just heard about this now! The event just popped up on my Facebook, why didn’t you invite me?

       ―Oh, you know those things, it’s, like, sometimes it just messes up and never works.

       ―God, like, this sure is… Wait. So how do you know Tyler?

       ―Oh, Tyler… He’s just…

       ―Well, Matt, it’s good to see you. Did you have any luck with quitting your job this summer?

       ―Hey, you know what, I’m not like you. I can’t just ask my parents for money and fuck around and go travel the world carefree. I don’t have that luxury.

       ―You think I’m… You think I get money from my parents?

       ―Well whatever it is. I can’t live like that. I wanted to, and I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but…

       ―You left me alone out there, man. I was waffling. I was flapping my arms in the fucking deep end of the pool, man. Like at the edge of losing it. Who would’ve taken my picture if I’d died? What was I supposed to be doing out across Europe all fucked and alone?

       ―I told you, I’m sorry. You should’ve hit me up when you got back. I’ve missed you, but… Wait, Esther, where are you going? We should, like, catch up. How long are you in town?

       ―I don’t think this really concerns…

       ―But of course it does, wait! Wait, please, how long are you in town? I feel so stupid we never got a chance to hang out after that whole fucking ordeal at Myrtle. I spent the night in a holding cell, and then the next night too. They don’t see people on Sundays.

       ―Well that’s awful, but…

       ―Well just let me know if you’re in town, and did you change your number because I tried to text you after that and nobody responded.

       ―I’m sorry. I, like, I live here now, okay? So if you ever, like, really need to…

       ―Wait! Tyler grasped her forearm. ―How long have you been back in the city?

       ―A few months.

       ―What do you mean a few months?

       ―Well I graduated in May, so… What else was I going to do? Stay living in Rhode Island?

       ―Jesus, like. You… Tyler stopped holding her arm. ―But why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you tell me?

       ―Why would she tell you? How do you even know each other?

       ―Esther…

       ―What? Matt looked at Tyler. He looked at Esther.

       ―We dated for like a second. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t realize how much it mattered to you. It’s not like you were dying to stay in touch with me the past six months.

       ―It’s not my fault! You left and I didn’t know how to do long distance. You weren’t anywhere near, and maybe I needed you. And then you came back without saying anything? I was battling my way through foreign countries and we could’ve been hanging out? I’ve been battling my way through just trying to be alive.

       ―You… But how did you date? How did you even know each other?

       ―I met her on a dating thing. I used, like, an app on my phone or whatever.

       ―What? When?

       ―I don’t know. In like February? It doesn’t matter. Listen, Esther…

       She opened her mouth.

       ―Wait. Wait. Was this before or after I told you about her?

       ―What do you mean?

       ―Was this before or after I, like, fucking bore my soul to you? Matt didn’t know what to do with his hands. ―About how I’ve never been able to get over her.

       ―Man, I really don’t even remember. You think I care about…

       ―Yes, yes I do! I think you did care. I think you still only even gave a shit enough about it because I…

       ―You don’t know what you’re talking about.

       ―Did you, like, fucking stalk her? Did you try to figure out who she was through my social media and shit?

       ―And what if I did? What if I did? It doesn’t mean, like… It was still total chance. So I looked around and found her website and Twitter and what if I was able to glean she was recently single? Even if I fucked around on enough dating things, it was still complete chance. She had to reach out to me too. That’s how these things work. I might have given it a little shove, I might have tried all the angles I could or whatever, but I couldn’t force her to try back. Your little speech, sure it got in my head, but it was me who got into her life, not you. You didn’t do anything to make us fall into each other.

       ―I can’t believe this.

       ―It was kismet! It was true and honest kismet!

       ―No! No, what Esther and I have is kismet. It was going on for ten years, we keep running in and out of each others lives. We’re the ones falling into each other, not you! You just tried to take advantage of a situation because you’re a… conniving ass.

       ―Okay, what did my profile say? I made my About me thing specific. It was explicit, it said Must be depressed. It was funny. It was my way of getting girls to think it was funny, to look at my thing and if we had that in common, that’s why they reached out. Esther and me, we’re depressed. We’re the kind of people who suffer through this life looking for something. She’s an artist, and I am too. We have more in common than your little story about thinking she was cool when you were fifteen.

       ―But I’m depressed! Look at me, I’m depressed too! I’ve always been depressed!

       ―You’re not depressed. You’re normal. You go to work, you get tired of taking pictures. You’re a couple years away from moving to Westchester with some other dull bitch and sitting at a desk for the rest of your life. You don’t have passion, you don’t have fury. You have nothing to escape, no lust for life.

       ―I’ve been in therapy for years!

       ―That’s nothing! That’s meaningless. Think about not even being able to deal with a therapist. That’s real illness!

       ―You don’t know. I am, like. I’m horribly depressed. I’m crushed. I’ve been betrayed by the two most important people in my life.

       ―Now how can you say that? Esther, who’d been looking at her phone. People were moving around them now, trying to distract her from the display. ―This is, like, the fifth time we’ve ever even seen each other.

       ―Face it, pal. You’re nothing to her. You’re not even on her level. You come over here like a little puppy yapping at her heels, vying for her affection. You’re pathetic.

       ―Fuck you, man. Fuck all of this.

       ―Just leave. This is awful. This whole thing is, like. God. Why did you even come here? To look at art?

       ―I don’t need this world! Matt ran out of the gallery.

       ―Jesus… I’m sorry you had to see that. That’s my old life. That’s behind me. He doesn’t understand the nature of existence like we do. We think differently, we love differently. He just thinks things can, like, fall into his lap if he follows after them. That’s all he is. He’s a follower.

       ―Tyler, just…

       ―It’s okay. It’s over. I’m sorry he annoyed you for so long. I’m glad you came back, I can forgive you for not telling me. I understand. I hurt you… He walked around Esther’s turned away body to face her. ―We love each other, Esther. We were always going to have it harder than others, but together… 

       ―I don’t love you, though. I never loved you.

       ―Don’t say that. But maybe you just don’t understand how to approach something that feels so difficult at first.

       ―You don’t love me. You don’t, like. Just… This isn’t about that. I got back with my boyfriend months ago. Like, almost as soon as you wouldn’t come visit me. In Providence. We were only ever broken up for like a few months anyway.

       ―What do you mean? Like if you have a boyfriend, then where is he now? Why isn’t he at your opening?

       ―He’s right there. A man stood under the telephone pole, admiringly. He waved.

       ―But why is he… Why didn’t he…

       ―Because he respects me. I don’t need someone to be, like, irrational and horrible and hopeless around me. He’s supportive. He understands my art.

       ―But what does it mean? He turned to the man in the corner. ―What does it mean? The boyfriend smiled. He shrugged.

 

< Chapters 5 & 6

Chapters 9 & 10 >

Two Poems


Magic Hour, Bronx, 7 PM
 

When the train rose all magic-hour-like
up to 161st in the Bronx & I looked up
from the Dillard essay I had assigned
my community college class, the city looked
on the precipice of something apocalyptic
yet kind. Like God (are you there?) melted
a Jolly Rancher over us all. We would be
sticky & sweet, licking fingers & toes of sugar
before jumping into rivers. God serves
as a useful tool in poetry because I can
bring him (or her? sorry) in when I want
and leave her (or him? apologies) out
when he-she-it-I-they is not needed.
I have tried to do this with people
but have found that they will hate me
for it & I cannot tell if this is proof
either that God does not exist or that
people don’t. There is too much going on.
On the train the people wore headphones
& all was silent. Dillard writes that the mind
wants the world to return its love, but I know
it won’t. My mind’s love is a dream
of heaven. My mind’s love is the smell
of a burning leaf. My mind’s love means
that I might die before the world is ready,
or, worse, that the world might die
before I am ready. & somewhere out
there someone is humming & have you
noticed that many things carry a human
sound? The whisper of electricity, the
stomach gurgle of an old car. It was dark
when class started & Richard had his head
on his desk. When I asked him where he was
last class, he said he got lost. I didn’t ask
where or why or how. I wanted to smile
but instead sipped a cold cup of Dunkin' Donuts
coffee. It was dark, still. Richard got lost
& I thought of that Joni Mitchell song
where Joni sings about how all good dreamers
pass this way someday & Richard got lost
& I thought of where or why or how &
though I didn’t ask, I thought that Richard
could tell me a fine & beautiful story
one day & I would love to listen, in a dark café.

 

 

 

 

 

Poem for a Child Running Away from Home
 

You walk the long road till dawn. 
                  There is water & a stream & all of Arizona

cliff-cut & bruised. You stop to drink. 
                  Your brother & you watched Men in Black 2

in a small room inside the rehab facility. 
                  You want to remember this for a long time.

The smell of cold turkey, Heinz 57 sauce, 
                  a sky that held a sky that held a sky that held a

plane, & how your friend George years later
                  would write a poem that said: did you know

a kiss could leave contrails in the air? 
                  You can be anything you want to be,

except now. Now, you are the wind
                  that blows the dust that hides the prints

your footsteps make as you walk away. 
                  Now, you are the ink your mother used

when she wrote I’ll be back later & later
                  became a day & then a month & then

a plane trip to Arizona where most things
                  dry up in the sun & you don’t understand

how someone could get better here. 
                  So you leave. You can be anything

you want to be except a good son.
                  You can be a fighter pilot parachuting

out of a test plane somewhere over
                  Pomerene, Dos Cabezas, Tombstone.

You can be a face you put on at parties.
                  You can be the words you use to make

someone feel sorry for you. You can be
                  the plane crashing into the side of a mountain.

Stop drinking. Don’t you know most water
                  is bad for you? Save for the small cupped ounces

they gave your mother to help her swallow
                  the sedatives just a minute after she birthed you? 

You didn’t know that, did you? It’s a pain
                  to bring someone into the world. The stream

will dry up soon. You will be cold
                  without the desert sun. You will miss

everyone. Call George. Tell him
                  there are planes flying forever overhead.

Tell him about the lacey remnants
                  they trace along the sky. Tell him

there must be so many people kissing now, 
                  kissing long & hard & into the dawn.

 

 

 

 

Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a co-host of the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Manhattan. His collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume Press, and his other work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Gigantic Sequins, Post Road, The Millions, and more. He's on twitter @themoneyiowe.

TRAPDOOR

5

 

       ―Esther!

       She turned, hand on green scaffolding, looking for the source. ―Oh… Hi?

       ―It’s me… Matt… From, like, DC and, like…

       ―Oh, Matt! She let him hug her with both arms. ―How are you?

       ―I’m okay… I’m okay… What are you doing in New York?

       ―Oh, nothing. Just, like, visiting for the weekend.

       ―It’s Wednesday!

       ―Sure it is. Is it Wednesday? Sure, I must have gotten confused, I… thought it wasn’t…

       ―When did you think it was…

       She looked at her phone, smiling. ―So, are you working, or…

       ―Yeah, still doing archival shit for NYU. Working the noon to nine shift. Very shitty desk work.

       ―Oh… Well that’s great at least. I mean, that you have a stable job and everything.

       ―I mean, it is fine. They give me good money, benefits and everything, but it’s shit. I’m gonna quit in the summer. Anytime now, I’m just gonna quit. I have to, it’s like… I just have to.

       ―What will you do?

       ―Oh, I don’t know. Freelance or something? Most of my friends just move stuff around three days a week for a living.

       ―Sure. Yeah. Well, I guess I should get going. It was great to see you.

       ―You too! You still at the same number?

       ―Huh?

       ―From, like, that party, like… Like years ago. Do you still have the same phone number?

       ―Oh yeah, I should. I mean, I assume so.

       ―Well maybe we can get a drink sometime or something.

       ―Yeah, sure, like. Well I can let you know the next time I’m in the city. I mean, I’m in the city right now, but you know.

       ―Just hit me up whenever.

       ―Sure. We should catch up. Esther waved. Matt turned around as he walked into the subway. He waved.

       She looked in a window. Decals of sandwiches and beer. Pancakes, rolls of bread. Lettuce and stickers half peeled off and neon signage for beer. She unlocked the door, swung it open and ran up the stairs into Emily’s apartment. ―Oh, startled to see the tenant, sitting at the kitchen table, laptop open. ―Hi.

       ―Hi.

       ―Why aren’t you at work?

       ―I called in sick. I couldn’t sleep last night. You on that date with that guy and not answering my texts. Like what the fuck.

       ―I’m sorry.

       ―You come home at like four a.m. then get out of bed at seven. Like, if you’re going to stay here with me, you can’t do shit like that. I have a schedule and job and stuff, I don’t just want to sit around and make sure you’re not, like, getting raped or in some fugue state drowning in the river or something.

       ―I’m sorry. I know.

       Emily closed her laptop. ―What were you even doing?

       ―I just went for a walk. I needed to go for a walk. It’s nice out.

       ―I mean last night.

       ―It was a weird night.

       ―Did something happen? Are you okay?

       ―I’m fine. Just, the guy I met up with was all fucked up. He was really nice and seemed smart and stuff, and we talked for hours and I just felt really comfortable with him, but I know I shouldn’t have gone home with him, and…

       ―Oh, god. Why would you do that? Someone you met on your phone?

       ―It was fine. Why shouldn’t I have? That wasn’t the problem, but like, he couldn’t keep it up. And then he got all emotional and annoying, but I didn’t want to just leave him alone.

       ―Sounds like a winner.

       ―I know. It was stupid. Like, but I… It’s fine.

       ―Can you show me a picture of him?

       ―I don’t see why that really matters. It doesn’t even, like, count as sex if nobody comes. It was just some stupid thing. I don’t even know if we’ll ever talk again.

       ―Just show me a picture.

       ―He looks better in real life. He has, like. His hair is weird. It’s not long enough. He looks kind of like a girl here.

       ―Oh god.

       ―What?

       ―God. Tyler?

       ―What? You know him?

       ―Oh fuck, come on.

       ―What? What are you talking about.

       ―My roommate freshman year dated this guy. He was still in high school and then he moved out here and got all entangled in my life and shit.

       ―What?

       Emily took out her phone. She looked at it and handed it to Esther. ―This Tyler?

       ―I mean. Yeah, but… But I don’t understand. You didn’t come up as mutual friends or anything, I would’ve asked you.

       ―I haven’t seen him in years. As soon as he got here, he acted all fucked. Like I’d run into him randomly crying on the street. He’d get in arguments with people over nothing. He was always wasted. Him and Sarah hardly even went out together. She said he valued his independence, but he’d call her all the time and they’d fight for hours. I don’t even understand why they were dating.

       ―But that was, like… How long ago was that?

       ―Like, I mean forever ago. Like seven, eight years. They broke up pretty soon after that. I mean, it’s fine, but I don’t know. Whatever, I don’t care. But tread lightly. I don’t want another friend being a receptacle to his bullshit.

       ―So is he lying about being bipolar and stuff?

       ―I don’t know anything about him being bipolar, but I wouldn’t put it past him. That impotence thing is not going to get any better, though, by the way. Like what did he tell you, he liked you so much you made him nervous? 

       ―Shit…

       ―Yeah.

       ―He talked like he knew me. We talked about our childhoods and stuff. I told him about my disorder. My aberrations. And he, like, seemed to understand what it was to feel falling apart. We both talked about being really far away from certainty and everyone else and stuff.

       ―He’s not like you. He’s not, like, talented or creative. He’s just glib. He’s a talker and a leech. I don’t know, I mean. He’d go on these long rants about how nothing mattered and how he felt marginalized. He said he didn’t have to make anything to prove it was art, that just by living like that superficial critical idiotic way was enough. And that was before he even really got into drugs.

       ―You’re just fucking with me. He does, like. He said he makes stuff and stuff. Of course he’s a little unbalanced, but he’s still generally just trying to make it like any of us. He lives alone, his apartment was so intricately put together. You can’t say he’s an idiot if you’d spent time with him and, like, saw him. That’s unfair.

       ―You do whatever you want to do. God, he had all these stories of his darkness, his sadness. All these plans to write something or record something or leave something behind, some legacy. He used to talk to Sarah about killing himself all the time, but he was full of shit.

       ―Yesterday he talked about how he never wants to die.

       ―Of course he never wants to die. People like that live in constant fear that they’ll stop being able to hold an audience. That their little thoughts and observations and quips will go unnoticed, that they offer so much to the world someday they’ll be, like, celebrity.

       ―I don’t really know him.

       ―Neither do I, to be honest.

       ―I think you’re being unfair.

       ―Maybe, like. Come on. Everything’s unfair. Your staying out all night and getting up at the crack of dawn, figuring you can just come back to my apartment and sleep till I get home so that I can cook dinner and we can chit chat about your stupid fag no dick Tyler. Then I’ve got Megan calling me up about her problems, like she’s all afraid that her career is going down the toilet because nobody commented on her little essay about how ISIS is recruiting women through sex positivism or some retarded thing like that. What am I supposed to do with all of you?

       ―Which one is Megan again?

       ―You’ve met her a thousand times. You’ll see her next weekend. She’s having a birthday party at Myrtle Social Club. I had to tell her how great and perfect and underappreciated she was. That’s the only reason she ever wants to talk anyway. Sex positive jihad? What the fuck is she talking about?

       ―That by associating sex slavery with sex work, women who choose to submit to that, to be committed to a higher religious cause and by controlling their bodies that they, like, they’re offering something they can’t get in the West? Like aspiration and politics and sex all aligned? It’s a little misguided, but I kind of enjoyed the tenacity of the argument.

       ―When did you read that shit?

       ―I had to look at my phone on the bridge. To ground myself. I walked across the bridge and back. It was a very quiet morning and I couldn’t stop feeling like I was going to blow off. Like I felt like I was going to be lifted and blown off like a piece of paper.

       ―I don’t have time for this.

       ―I felt like paper, or a grain of something. I kept having to touch the fence to know there was something separating me from the highway, the water, but I was sure I was about to jump, even if I was clinging to the thing. It was really surreal. I kept feeling my phone vibrate and I knew it was my mom going to say something about how I haven’t gone back to school, and I thought my body would just react, that I’d… Like a trapdoor would open below me and I’d just twist into the wind like a ribbon and be gone. But nobody was calling.

       ―I said I don’t have time for this.

       ―But you took the day off. Listen, I’m sorry. I’m very tired. Maybe I should just go to sleep.

       They watched Emily’s phone start vibrating. It inched across the table. ―Megan’s calling again. I fucking hate everyone.

       ―Me too.

       ―You don’t hate Tyler.

       ―Maybe just let me get there on my own. I’m sure in some part of my lifetime, I already do. Like, by then we’re all a million miles away.

 

 

6

 

       ―I just don’t understand why you don’t bring it around anymore, Tyler said. He pushed a pool of condensation around on the table. ―You used to take pictures all the time. I had this vision of you documenting the lives of your friends and stuff, like in fifty years you’d have this huge catalog of material from this period. How else are we going to remember it?

       ―I have no desire to do that. What do you want me to be, like, always taking my camera out and stuff?

       ―I just assumed you always would. How would there be, like, footage of bands and people before they got famous if nobody had taken the initiative?

       ―So what you really want is for me to be taking lots of pictures of you because you think in fifty years you’ll have become, like, famous and there’ll be demand for it?

       ―You could be famous too. You’d be the one who, like, captured my death or whatever. The exclusive pictures of my OD, hidden away in the archives somewhere. It’s very, like, I don’t know… It could make for a great retrospective.

       ―That doesn’t mean anything anymore. Nobody has AIDS or is living on the street that we know. This isn’t, like, 1988.

       ―Imagine if it was.

       ―One of our friends, if not several of them would have AIDS.

       ―It would be kind of great wouldn’t it? Like, like you’d live in some squat in the East Village and go out to the Meatpacking to fuck some twinks or something and then go catch a Sonic Youth show and your parents would hate you and stuff.

       ―We have a lot of materials and documents from that time at work. It seemed really depressing. I don’t really think I would’ve fit in.

       ―They’d refuse to come to the hospital when you got AIDS. Your brother would, like, smack you around and say you ruined the family.

       ―What about you?

       ―I’d be all really sorrowful at your bedside. I would miss you, man.

       ―Why would I be gay?

       ―Dude, it’s okay. I think it’s cool you were gay in the eighties. Maybe that’s why you’re so skinny and stuff now. You’re still on psychic recovery from the disease.

       ―Why wouldn’t you have AIDS?

       ―I’d be too busy, like, learning from your example. I’d be in a relationship with some woman. An artist, like, much more intelligent and successful than me. I’d hang on her and be her muse and, like, live in her loft and she’d tie me off all day. I couldn’t be distracted by the scene. The scene would never have me. Look at me, I don’t have your beautiful blonde hair.

       ―Can you explain to me what’s up with your hair by the way?

       ―I don’t want to right now. Should we buy horse?

       ―No… Jesus.

       ―What about Berlin? Why don’t we go back to Berlin this summer? You could bring your camera.

       ―What would I take pictures of?

       ―I don’t know. Anything. I want to become very engaged with the world. To have a deep personal dialogue with life and places and leave an impression on people that justifies my artistic shortcomings. Like a nightlife personality.

       ―I don’t think I can afford to go away this summer.

       ―Otherwise we’re just a couple of dilettantes. Two washed up fucks hanging out at a stupid bar in Brooklyn trying to recapture the idea of why we moved here in the first place.

       ―Where have you been lately anyway? I’ve been texting you.

       ―Just, around. You know when you get a bit fixated on something and start to neglect everything else. I’ve been fixated.

       ―It’s some girl?

       ―Yeah… You should call them women, by the way. We’re adults now. We need to call them women.

       ―Do you want another drink?

       ―I brought some bottles in my bag. Picked em up at Warner’s on the way over. I’ll still never buy more than just the first drink here, they never know.

       Matt pried the bottle cap off with a lighter under the table. ―I just want to be in love with a girl.

       ―No, that’s what I want. A woman. That and I want you to take pictures of me after I OD in Berlin.

       ―Imagine Berlin in the nineties.

       ―You’d get AIDS having sex in the back of Berghain. There was the chime of the door opening, and from across the room Tyler could see Esther enter behind two other women. ―Hold that thought. Remind me I have something I want to talk to you about… About my cat. He walked over to the bar and put his hand on Esther’s shoulder for longer than a tap but shorter than what could be called resting it there. ―Hiya.

       ―Oh, hi! What are you doing here?

       ―Just having a drink. Hi, Emily.

       ―Hi. Emily walked away, dragging Megan by the arm.

       Tyler looked back to Esther. ―How’ve you been? I miss you.

       ―I’m good.

       ―Why didn’t you want to hang out last night?

       ―Everything’s been kind of crazy. They found my driftwood in this storage facility. I guess it got moved ’cause of some cleaning project or something over break, and now I’m, like, trying to find out a way if I can get back into classes this semester.

       ―Oh wow. Damn… That’s great.

       ―It really is. And I think they might let me come in late to this critique or something, and if I pay tuition at least I can get access to my studio back through the semester. So yeah, I’ve been pretty busy. How are you?

       ―Fine, fine. I actually am about to dissociate. I feel. I think I can feel it’s just about to kick in, I need to get out of here. Do you want to come over?

       ―Right now? He stood there, looking in the direction of her face, glancing curtly at the wall beside her, then back. ―I’m sorry, I can’t. I just got here.

       ―Are you sure? I’m a little afraid of this. Maybe we should take something and talk? I think I have some extra tabs if you want.

       ―Yeah, I don’t really know if that would be a great idea with my, like… I mean, like, with where I am right now. I’m feeling a bit unhinged by all this new running around and everything. The other day I heard a very loud humming, like a roaring sound, and I was walking around normally through the park, and out from behind a building I saw a plane flying so low like it was going to crash into everything, right above the trees and nobody else seemed to hear or react. I ducked for a second and then looked up and it was gone. Everyone was moving around normally on the street. I didn’t know what to do.

       ―Right, I mean, like, damn. Of course. Yeah, I mean. Wow. You said that in the way I would want to say it if it happened to me. You should… I mean, if you want to come over later. I really like you. I should probably get going.

       ―Why don’t you stay.

      ―But why don’t you? You’re going back to Providence and all. Why don’t you stay?

       ―I don’t think you really understand. I’ve put a lot into this program. I just need to finish this last semester. There’s money tied up in this. And, like, besides it’s been instrumental. It’s, like, I can feel that the work and resources. It feels like the beginning of something. Like, I need to think of my career.

       ―But I feel like we’re just starting to get to do this. To get to know each other and stuff. Can’t you just be like me? Like a life rot? I thought you wanted to walk dogs. We could just… People like us, we’re charming. We could just be that couple. You could make your art. I could be a part of that.

       ―Why are you talking like that? We’ve only known each other a couple weeks.

       ―But I feel really excited about this. I feel like this is a very powerful thing. I don’t want to say I’m obsessed with you, but I feel like I can’t stop thinking of you. This is all I’ve wanted.

       ―I like you. I’m not just saying stuff. I got out of a very serious relationship recently. I’ve been spiralling and allowing myself to be destructive because I didn’t know what else to do, but meeting you helped me. You, like. I like the way you don’t care and just say stuff how you think it. You’re funny and weird, and I think things are getting better between us in… She put her hands up. She let them drop. She was implying sex but didn’t want to say it. ―But you also make me feel like I don’t want to be rotten, you know? Does that make sense? I’ve spent my whole life trying to escape from that mindset. I just, you know I have to do this. I don’t know why you’d try to talk me out of it. I’m trying to be happy.

       ―But be real! Neither one of us can ever be happy. You can’t escape from that, you embrace it! It’s not in the cards, it’s just the way we are. You need to drive that as far as you can. If you can be able to accept being broken, then you can use it to your advantage. You test yourself, you test others with your ugliness. You have to be willing to indulge in whatever thoughts or feelings or impulses because of the possibilities of just keeping going. I just want a girl who is, like, able to drive down that darkness with me. Just be a part of it, control it. I know you, you can’t be happy!

       ―But you don’t know that about me! She was laughing. ―That doesn’t have to be true about me. I feel like what you. Don’t you think what you just said is, like… horribly unfair?

       ―I guess I’ll leave now.

       ―You don’t have to go. My friends are right there.

       ―But I’m about to dissociate.

       ―You can visit me in Providence. I can come here. We can talk and hang out and see where this goes.

       ―It’s hard for me to imagine getting to Providence. You’ll be all busy with your stuff and all your friends and things. I’ll be all depressed and feel inferior to you and ignored. I just want to hang out with you and watch TV and sleep all day. Let’s get high.

       ―I don’t like you right now. I think we could be okay if you just act more rationally about this. It’s like a quick bus ride I do it all the time. I know it’s hard, like, I know it’s stupid to say be rational but…

       ―It is stupid. You aren’t even capable of being rational. Why would you put that on me?

       ―I’m much better when I’m being productive. I’m excited to go back to school.

       ―Well let me know if you want to come over later.

       ―Let’s have a real conversation, okay? When you’re not all fucked up. I don’t want you all dissociated or whatever.

       ―Yeah, okay. Whatever. I feel hurt by you. I really like you a lot. Bye.

       ―Bye.

       ―Bye.

       Esther walked to the table. Emily looking at her phone, Megan was alight, saying, ―I want to get it framed or something. It’s not often that a fortune cookie really seems to get things so right. I take it as a, like, omen of things to come. I want to bring it to my parents on Easter and be like, see! Here’s my justification for staying the path. It’s a sign.

       ―What does it say again, Esther leaned in, trying to see the paper held up in front of Megan’s face.

       ―It says, you have a deep appreciation for offbeat cultures.

       ―Who else is coming to this thing, Emily said.

       ―Well who did you invite?

       ―Why would I invite people? It’s your birthday, you were the one who invited me.

       ―But I meant I wanted you to set this thing up. You know I had a deadline this week.

       ―You wrote about the relationship between the Malaysian Airlines flight disappearance and the how the proposed alternative flight path looks like a dick on account of some, like, what, you think the Illuminati is too patriarchal?

       ―The New World Order. The Illuminati is actually mostly women.

       ―What do you guys want to drink, Esther said.

        ―Can you get me a very dirty martini?

       ―Make mine an extremely dirty martini.

       Esther stood up. She heard, ―Esther!

       ―Oh. Hi.

       ―What are the chances? Matt tried to hug her. ―Meeting you like this twice in two weeks.

       ―Was it only two weeks ago?

       ―It must have been seventeen days, actually. February 11. I remember because the following weekend was Valentine’s Day… And that was the Wednesday before Valentine’s Day.

       ―Oh. Yeah.

       ―So what are you doing back in town again so soon? Why didn’t you call?

       ―Just visiting friends. It’s my friend’s birthday actually. They’re right over there. I’m going to get some drinks.

       ―Oh wait, but don’t do that. We’ve got drinks. Or, I mean, my friend says to never order more than one drink here because you can just bring in your own. He has a bag full of these. He tilted his beer up to her face. Esther recoiled. ―Anyway, he’s… Where did he get to…

       ―That’s okay, that’s okay we don’t want beers anyway, don’t worry about it.

       ―No come on, just have one. On me. I don’t know where the hell he went. He was acting all weird and stuff.

       ―It’s fine.

       ―No, no, it doesn’t matter, hold on. Where are you guys sitting? Over there? Taking her by the arm, Matt pulled a seat to the table, unloading three beers. ―What’s up, ladies?

       ―Uh,  this is, um, Matt. We met in high school.

       ―You guys went to high school together?

       ―No, that’s just the time period in our lives when we met.

       ―Any martinis in that bag, Matt?

       ―No, no, just… This one’s on me. Then I’ll get out of your hair, I’m just waiting for my friend to show. Esther and I go way back. Keep, like, slipping in and out of each other’s lives. Kind of crazy… Who’s birthday is it then?

       ―Excuse me. A man in a black t-shirt was standing over them

       ―Oh hello, Matt grinned. ―What seems to be the problem?

       ―Did you bring those beers into my bar?

       ―No, no, of course not. We got these at the bar. You must’ve just missed it, you know it’s so busy and all. I could hardly get the bartender’s attention to order.

       ―Well it’d be a pretty difficult maneuver considering we don’t serve Modelo here.

       ―Oh, but… Well, I mean. I didn’t do it. My friend brought these in.

       ―Um, excuse me, Megan said. ―But we don’t really know this guy? And I’m not sure we should be held accountable for the ignorance of his crimes? It’s my birthday?

       ―Let’s go, buddy.

       ―No, but I swear. I mean, like, just wait a second, where’s Tyler, he’ll explain it’s not a big deal. We used to do this all the time back in the old Myrtle. I just ran into my friend Esther here. Esther can explain it. She knows… He was being escorted, then dragged away, Esther averting her eyes, embarrassed. ―Esther, just tell him what I told you. Esther! Esther…

 

 

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