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.
―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?
―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.
―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.
―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.
―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.
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?
―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.
―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.
―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?
―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.
―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.
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!
―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.
―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.
―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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