Frank passes by the house a second time, the pack of lithium tablets in a bag on the dashboard of the van, wondering how to tell Anne he isn’t well. The light from the porch swells outward, imitating warmth. He parks.
Anne is walking around in thin linen, floating from room to room. Frank drops his bag and makes for the stairs, head low. He feels the sweat and dirt bound closely to him, a weight that tingles.
‘Don’t change,’ Anne says, woozy in the doorframe. ‘I like you just like that.’ Her voice flicks like a tongue inside his stomach. She pours another glass of Sambuca‘to refresh her,’ she says, ‘like a holiday.’
They are on the sofa. Anne looks over at a bit of skirting board with a dead spider curled up on it like a little hand stuck trying to make a fist. Frank crinkles the medicine inside his pocket, feeling confused and sad and a little bit like “this is a problem” but one he’s not allowed to talk about because how much does he drink and besides isn’t he the one who’s crazy and WHO THE FUCK IS HE anyway?
‘Are you…?’ Frank says, with no idea how the sentence is supposed to end. Anne’s grinning, pouting, quivering her lips. Her eyes are swollen, full of aniseed and webbed dust.
‘What?’ She says. Her hand coils round the tumbler like its moulded there. She twitches out a thud of ice like rock hitting crystal or cold hitting throat. Frank shivers.
‘Nothing.’ He chews the corner of his cheek. Frank’s dad comes back from cancer, filling his brain-space with insults, calling him worthless. The voice gets replaced by a montage of drugs and childhood tears. Frank wants things to be his fault.
Anne gulps and swallows, sighing with a snake hiss. Frank smells sweetness. Anne drapes an arm across him, her white bra peaking through loose cloth.
‘You look good,’ Anne says, lilting, a slight slur, thin fingers brushing Frank’s hand. Frank wants to have sex and break up and take Anne to therapy and get a job where he can afford therapy and go back to college and kill himself. He gets up and makes pasta. Anne eats six slices of Parma ham thin as razor blades and smokes two Pall Malls with the door open. Frank takes the tablets and feels a little further away from himself; like his consciousness and body were somehow a TV he was looking at from across the room. Limbs move, mouths move. There are rooms with lights on, bodies sharing space. It all seems fine in a way that seems dead. Like a still life.
Anne kisses his neck while Frank thinks about those aniseed sweets his grandma used to suck, little red balls that spilled onto your tongue. Anne puts pressure on his thigh and pulls up her dress. Frank puts his hand under, feels the wet warmth. His grandma dies just as quickly as she lived. Anne slips away her underwear. It stays hooked on one leg like a hula hoop rolled around a belly. They have sex fully clothed, scratching and tearing at the hard places behind each other’s backs. Frank examines them both from somewhere else, his mind locked in a threesome with a slower, greyer version of himself and a woman that several drinks ago used to be his wife.
They finish and sit side-by-side, breathing heavily, staring out. Frank turns on the news and lets the world do its work, the dissolving bigness of it, the vast expanse of anything that can crush you down and make everything close seem bearable. There were wars and fires in California. It would be ok. Frank holds on to his knees, feeling them shift beneath his hands. Anne pours a drink. Outside the city makes its broken music: sirens, aeroplanes, cheering, and underneath it all a cool wind swirling, whispering with leaves.
Frank gets up and crosses the partition back into the kitchen. He watches Anne through a dark reflection in the window, a mass of hair and neck. He’s there too, an oblong of grey sweatshirt, a piece of face; all the rest of him cut off by the frame, severed by awkward angles of light.
‘The days are getting colder.’ Frank says, pulling a beer from the fridge.
‘But we’re not Frankie,’ Anne says, ‘we’re not.’ and she lights up another cigarette before she’s even finished laughing.
Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.
Do you know anyone named Dick? Well, maybe their real name is Richard, but they don’t go by Rich, Rick, or Ricky, just good old-fashioned Dick. If so, does it make you uncomfortable? Do you giggle when they introduce themselves?
Have you ever uttered the phrase, “you can suck my dick,” when someone irritates you? How has that affected you when someone special wants to literally suck your dick? Do you feel it’s extra degrading because, in addition to putting a vessel for waste disposal in their mouth, they are also committing an act that you previously deemed a killer insult?
Let’s talk about the term “dickweed.” How do you feel about that? Here’s what the Oxford Living Dictionaries have to say:
A stupid, obnoxious, or contemptible person (especially a man).
Not a bad definition, but thank goodness for Urban Dictionary and the user that goes by Phuqit. Here are Phuqit’s definitions, uploaded on October 11, 2006:
1) A completely self-absorbed, useless asshole with shit for brains;
2) A person so irredeemably stupid that their idiotic behavior causes pain to everyone that they interact with.
Personally, I think Phuqit knocked it out of the park with the first definition. A “useless asshole with shit for brains” has got to be the winner.
What if the person you know that insists going by Dick isn’t just anyone, but he’s your dad? How does that work? What if he rails against the vulgarity of society and how it has ruined his preferred nickname, but you really want to call your boss a fucking dick? You can’t escape the vulgarity, right? You could call your boss a cock, I suppose. “Hey, you fucking cock!” That doesn’t really work, does it? I mean, you need something extra on the back end, like cock gobbler or smoker. Even so, the vulgarity is ever-present, and guilt will gnaw at you because you know that you’re just substituting for dick, and it’s not like saying penis is any better.
Can you imagine talking shit about the boss with your co-workers, and you decide to bust out penis? “Wow guys, he’s being such a penis today.” They’d laugh you right out of the group. Then, sitting alone in the break room, watching your co-workers laugh and carry on, you’ll wonder why you even felt the need to compare your boss to a phallus. Your boss might be a jerk, but a dick? A prick? A cock? Why the insatiable urge for vulgarity? After all your dad, that guy named Dick, didn’t he raise you better?
T.L. States lives in Tucson with his wife and kids, and some shit he wrote can be found at Hobart and The Daily Drunk. He wastes time on Twitter as @epmornsesh
I need a place to stay for the night. I’m commuting two hours to school and can’t splurge on gas to make two trips in two days. I make a call to a friend. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. He answers in two rings. Before I can ask a favor, he tells me come over. My phone is dying. I scrawl the directions in my notebook.
I make the drive to Alameda, wondering how long it’s been since I’ve seen him. Just over a year. We were the last of six to move out. It’s dusk when I pull up to his house. His roommate lets me in and tells me he isn’t home. I call him.
He answers: “I just got home.”
I tell him I’m here.
“Are you telling me the call is coming from inside the house?”
I open the door, welcoming him into his own home. A good, long hug follows.
Sometimes it’s awkward seeing a friend after an extended absence. There are the people we used to be and the people we are now, and it can be hard to tell how much is left of the person we remember. Sometimes the middle section in the friendship Venn diagram gets too small to hold. Those people take up ninety percent of my Facebook feed.
That’s not what this is. This is an instance where two friends part ways for a while and pick up right where they left off. We crack jokes, talk at annoying volumes, and laugh about our failures du jour. Before long, we’re sharing books, quotes from authors who inspire us, and little snippets of our own creations.
We mack some burgs and reminisce about how we used to buy a pack of cigarettes after lectures and hate ourselves for it. It’s a reminder that we’ve grown up—in some ways.
We watch Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, and he rewinds the movie every time we start talking even though we’ve both seen it before. He says that if he doesn’t, we’ll miss critical character development.
It’s after one o’clock when the movie ends. We watch an episode of The Simpsons. We play a card game until 3:30. I tell him we should have blown up the air mattress earlier, but turns out he has a great air mattress. It’s got a built-in pump that’s real quiet. Before long, we’re talking about our relationships. I’m no longer crashing at a friend’s house—this is a full-blown sleepover.
Why is it that a sleepover demands that all members of the party be in pajamas and tucked in bed before talking about feelings? Maybe this is a guy thing, meaning it’s likely that emotional repression brought on by toxic masculinity has caused us to only speak truthfully about love only under a literal blanket of protection. We’re older now; we’ve seen therapists! We can talk openly about our feelings, sure, but it’s just easier when we’re cozy. The moment is not unlike when, after a long day, my dog lays on his back and lets me scratch his belly. We call it a night at 5:30, but the sun is almost up. We’re well into morning.
At 9:15, my alarm reminds me of an impending phone interview. It’s for food stamps. I scramble around the room gathering necessities. My eyelids weigh heavy, but I’m awake. I walk outside and the morning air whispers you can do anything and I believe it because I’m twenty-five and I don’t know any better. The rest of the world is worried about when a boy becomes a man. Growing up in California, I’ve only ever been a dude. But after a night of friendship, I feel like a kid again.
Even though my trailer park butted against the stilted drive-in screen, the fence made it so I couldn’t see the movies for free. But I could still hear them.
The drive-in used speakers you hooked on your car window. They got ripped from the stands when the cars took off and the owner got tired of fixing them. So he put the movie sound on 89.9 FM so you could hear the movie on your car’s radio.
If you drove down 144 late at night, and listened to 90.1 FM, which was WTTX OUTLAW KOUNTRY, and you passed the drive-in, the movie sound would cut-in for a mile or so before it would fade back into David Allan Coe.
I tuned my Barbie clock radio and waited for it to get dark. I listened to the movies with my dad. If the drive-in played a movie we’d both seen a hundred times, we acted-out the scenes and lip synced the talking. We had our little adaptations right there in the living room. The drunker dad was the better actor he was. When there were new movies we hadn’t ever seen, Dad left because he was only ever interested in things he’d already seen, and I’d lay in bed listening and I’d cast my actors and paint my scenery and cut away and fade and dissolve.
In the winter when the drive-in was closed I watched my Unsolved Mystery tapes. I watched them alone and it got dark early. Some of the stories scared me so bad that I wore several pairs of panties to bed. In my mind it helped with two things: a raper would have a hard time and if I had nightmares and wet the bed all of the layers of underwear would keep my bed dry.
I tried to peek over the drive-in’s sheet metal fence but it was too high and too sharp to climb. I couldn’t sneak in either because somebody sat in the ticketbooth all night. But it wasn’t a total waste of time because I liked to investigate the sweet smell that came from somewhere along the fence. It smelled like Teddy Grahams. I sniffed the leaves and the clusters of showy flowers but I couldn’t locate it. The hot air really made it smell.
The movie sounds with no pictures and the Teddy Graham smell were what kept me from running away. They were my own unsolved mysteries.
But then I started riding around with boys and sneaking into the drive-in was easy when two or three of us girls hid in the truck bed under a tarp or in the backseat covered with a sleeping bag. Four or five of us got into a double feature for four bucks that way as long as we stopped giggling and were still. The smell of the Teddy Grahams was masked by our boozy breath and the boys’ stink of creosote and cum. We never stayed for both movies or we forgot what we saw. It turned out we made our own movies and I wasn’t missing anything I hadn’t already seen. Ours were better. I didn’t like watching beautiful people on screen try to make me feel things that weren’t really there. I liked making my own scenes.
Once I was taken out to the pastures, somehow alone with somebody. The boy said he was taking me out to podunk with him so we’d get abducted by aliens. He told me the story of Barney & Betty and I told him I’d seen them on Unsolved Mysteries and he got me all witless. We parked by some substation and he flashed his headlights over the sleeping cattle to attract the mothership. All that did was scare away the bats and attract the lightning bugs. He tried to touch me and I tried to stop him. The back of his neck smelled like raw pie dough. I smelled like the hot metal handles of a merry-go-round.
We sped through clouds of lightning bugs until their phosphorescent ooze was smashed out and covered every inch of the car. Until the car was glow-in-the-dark. Until we looked like the mothership we wanted to be taken up in.
“You ever seen Repo Man?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Well that’s what our car looks like right now. The car in Repo Man. I hope we start flying away.”
We went faster and he turned the radio up louder. This was our adaptation.
He brought me back to the trailer park. I walked along the fence drive-in fence and found that Teddy Graham smell because the booze evaporated and the boys were gone. I could tell finally that the source of the smell wasn’t from one thing. The smell was an amalgamation. The smell was all the flowers and weeds and roadkill and trash and exhaust. I picked the smell apart into its pieces. I didn’t sense a whole anymore.
With both mysteries solved, I felt untethered but not free. I saw where I had been tied and what was used to tie me there. I thought I’d drift. But all I wanted was to find another mystery that I wouldn’t be able to solve. I didn’t want a bigger world. I didn’t want to know anything anymore. All I could do was be a mystery myself so I got wild until I didn’t know who I was. Until I was like a merry-go-round. Sort of spinning until there were many transparent copies of me. So many of me nobody knew which one to grab a hold of. I drifted and I couldn’t see what I’d been tied to anymore, at least. I knew it was still there. And here I am now trying to cut that piece away that’s still dragging behind me.
Adam is a writer and lives with his wife in Franklin, Indiana.
The plan was to drive down from the city to my mom’s place to cut the lawn, maybe do some aerating, play with the dog. She called me that morning and said her friend Smokey’s basement had flooded. Everything was wet and fucked: the carpet, the couches, the treadmill piled with rollerblades.
Smokey was crying in the garage when I showed up. Mom hugged her and she cried and cried. She put her head on Mom’s shoulder, cigarette dangling out the side of her mouth, and kept on crying. I found out later that Smokey had to put her mom in hospice two days earlier. I felt bad before and more after that. Bad things happen to good people sometimes, but lately they happen a lot.
Smokey’s real name is Cheryl, but everyone at the hospital calls her Smokey because she smokes a lot. Nicknames don’t need to be clever.
I went down to the basement and Smokey’s husband, Bob, was taking pictures for the insurance. He pointed his phone at the carpet, the couches, the treadmill piled with rollerblades. Everything smelled musty and damp. Click click click his thumb went on the phone. The shelves of books lining the walls, the soggy brown boxes of Christmas decorations.
“I needa get it all,” Bob said, “needa get every dollar.”
“You got valuables down here, Bob?”
“Nah this is all junk.”
I started grabbing whatever was close and carrying it up the stairs. I moved stuff from the basement to the living room. I carried one box up the stairs. And I carried another box. I carried random stuff not in boxes up the stairs. I did this for like an hour.
This is some stuff I carried: tubs of winter coats and fake Christmas trees, bathroom rugs, shower rods, folding chairs, folding tables, family photos, photo albums, metal signs, stacks of wood, fishing poles, baseball bats, the treadmill, the rollerblades, candles, clocks, boots, gloves, a soccer ball in a milkcrate, some more candles, a mini whiteboard, and a shit ton more of candles.
I thought about what I’d be doing if it hadn’t rained: mowing grass, just doin’ lines back and forth, back and forth.
I’d do the front yard first because it was more complicated with trees and landscaping. Plus the driveway. You always want your east–to–west lines to match up on either side of the driveway. Not matching up your east–to–west lines is the sign of an amateur. My mom doesn’t care, but I do. That’s me looking out for her: my dear mother who tells me to get whatever beer I want and put it on her card, and tries to give me her credit card, even though all I drink is High Life from the bottle and have for years, and it’s like seven bucks for a twelve-pack, Mom.
That’s what I’d be doing if not for the rain. But it rained, so here I was. Here I am. Here we were.
Doin’ lines back and forth.
Sweat popped on my forehead and under my arms. My boots sloshed in the rain water that had invaded their basement. I plopped a soggy box down in the living room. It was getting crowded with junk already and there was still a lot left downstairs. This wasn’t going to work.
“Smokey,” I said. “We needa get a storage unit. Like a POD.”
She looked at the stacks of crap in her living room. She considered the boxes of the crap and unboxed crap downstairs. Then she said, “You’re right.”
So I called the storage unit places. The first place was closed. The second place’s phone just kept ringing. When I called the third place, they answered by the name of the second place. Eventually I got one to be delivered in a couple hours. In the meantime, I started moving the junk from the living room to the garage. The soggy boxes started falling apart, disintegrating into sloppy nothings.
“Smokey,” I said. “We need bins.”
She looked at the soggy boxes disintegrating into nothing. She considered the loose junk still downstairs. Then she said, “You’re right.”
“I needa go to Menards.”
I love Menards. I always save big money when I shop there. They always have what I’m looking for, and the aisles are wide and well-marked. I happened to find myself down the one with the air compressors.
They were on sale. I’d been price-checking compressors for weeks. You have no idea. An air compressor is useful for a lot of things: inflating stuff, powering a nail gun. I imagined placing the hose between my lips and filling myself with air, filling myself more and more until I was crunchy like Rice Krispies. I wanted to be inflated. I wanted to feel full.
Then a little voice in my head said Hey, you’re here for storage bins. So I went to look at the bins. I found some good sturdy ones and bought fifteen on sale for the price of ten.
I always save big money there. Always.
I came back from Menards and Bob was in the garage, moving boxes around. I watched him from the edge of the driveway for a bit. He took a box from a stack and carried it to the other side of the garage. Then he moved it a few feet over. Then he muttered something to himself and moved the box again. Then he muttered some more, this time with his hands involved. Oh shit, the little voice said, Bob’s starting to lose it. Not you too, Bob. You’re my rock. I need you to be strong, Bob. There’s so much war left to fight. Look, I just picked up some bins.
Bob saw me standing there and kind of shook his head. We both knew I’d saw what I’d saw and there was no use saying anything about it.
“I’m no good at this,” Bob said.
I set down a stack of bins and started dumping loose candles into one.
“Me either,” I said. “No one is. No one should want to be.”
I could hear Smokey yelling from inside.
Bob said, “Smokey’s starting to lose it in there. Probably good to stay out here.”
It probably was, but I went inside anyway.
Inside Smokey and my Mom stood at opposite ends of the kitchen table. My mom gave me a look like You should probably go back outside. But it was too late.
“Kevin,” Smokey said. “Do you think I should get ridda dis table?”
“Why would you get rid of your kitchen table?”
“I hate it,” Smokey said.
“But you needa kitchen table. Where you gonna eat?”
“On da floor.”
“I think you should wait,” my mom said. “Maybe sleep on it.”
“I’m not sleeping on my kitchen table.” Smokey lit a cigarette. “I’m not supposta smoke inside, but fuck it. My whole house is fucking upside down.”
I looked at the floor. I looked at the table. I looked at my mom.
“I don’t do disorder, Kevin,” Smokey yelled. “I’m organized.”
She opened the cabinet by the stove. It was full of Tupperware.
“Look at dis!” she yelled. “I keep da lids here and da bowls here.”
She took a long inhale of her cigarette.
“Everything has a home. I have AD… OCD!”
“We all have our quirks,” I said.
Smokey is really religious, so I thought about adding in something about us being God’s children, but everyone in the room would know I was bullshitting. Smokey was still showing me her cabinets. This wasn’t a time for bullshitting.
“I’m not getting enough oxygen to my brain,” she said, tipping her cigarette ash into the sink. “Don’t tell Bob I’m smoking inside.”
She collapsed into a chair. Mom rubbed her neck.
“Bob,” Smokey yelled at the ceiling.
The garage door opened and Bob poked his head in the kitchen. “What?”
“I needa pop.”
Back in the basement, I took photo albums from the shelves and stacked them in the bins. The basement walls were lined with shelves piled floor to ceiling with photo albums. You’ve never seen so many photo albums, trust me.
Smokey came down stairs, saw me putting all these photo albums in bins. “Now we’re cooking with business.”
A photo album slipped from my hand and fell open on the floor.
“Who even are these people?” I said.
Smokey looked at it.“Dat’s da neighbor kids from ’04 to ’05.”
And then she started telling me about the other ones, even though I hadn’t ask.
“Dat one dere is my niece’s volleyball games. Dis one’s of the old house. Dis one’s baby pictures from ’92.”
But then she started taking albums out of the bins.
“Aw. Dis is Jim and Nancy at one of da block parties,” Smokey said. “Dey’re divorced.”
“Who?” Bob said, coming down the stairs.
“Little Jimmy.” Smokey handed the photo to Bob.
“Little Jimmy? Nah, you mean Big Jimmy.”
“Well, the son’s taller than the dad,” I said.
“Big Jimmy is getting a divorce.”
“Been divorced,” Smokey said. “Now he’s buying da house back from her.”
“Where’s she moving?”
“I think she’s staying.”
“Dey share custody of da dogs.”
I stopped listening and slammed the lid on one of the bins and started for the stairs.
I imagined dumping a bag of cut grass into a yard bin. Breathing in that grass clipping air, getting all full on cut lawn air—that’s all I wanted.
“Here’s one of you,” Smokey said.
I turned around. She had a picture of my little sister sitting on tile floor with a vacuum.
“That’s not me, that’s Liz.”
“Well here’s a picture of your sister den.”
There was my sister. A head of big brown curls. She couldn’t’ve be older than three.
“I useta run the vacuum when you kids wouldn’t stop crying.”
“That’d make us stop crying?”
“Not really, it just kinda drowned you out.”
I carried more bins up the stairs. Turn right into the kitchen, then walk sideways around the kitchen table I convinced Smokey to keep. Wedge the bin against the wall to open the garage screen door. Then out the garage to the POD. I did this for hours.
Just doin’ lines back and forth.
At some point I wandered into the utility room to find Bob fighting with the sump pump. He had his arm elbow-deep in it, a towel around his neck because he was sweating so much. He turned it over and dumped out a bunch of brown water.
“You’re not gonna to believe this,” he said, picking something off the cement floor.
“Believe what?” I said.
He showed me what was in his hand.
A soggy cigarette butt.
That’s all it took. To do all this. To do this all.
Just the ass end of a cigarette.
“Don’t tell Smokey,” Bob said. The fluorescent shop lights gleamed off his shiny forehead. “It’d break her.”
I tossed the cigarette end back in the sump pump and carried it up the stairs and outside to the trash.
I found Smokey standing under the basketball hoop smoking.
We gave each other a nod. Then she let out a long sigh and said “Yep.”
“Sorry about your mom.”
“Me too. But thank you.”
She smacked her pack of cigarettes into her palm and handed me one. I borrowed her lighter. “Don’t tell me my mom.”
We smoked and looked out at the front yard. Down the street, a car returned to a driveway. A flag flapped on a pole. The sun was setting and the maples were making big shadows on the grass. Big lines stretching. Oh my, look at all that beautiful grass.
“Smokey, let me ask you something,” I said finally. “Who cuts your grass?”
“Bob or the neighbor kid, usually.” She squashed here cigarette out on the cement. “Why, you wanna do it?”
Some stuff I should mention:
My mom never offers to buy me alcohol. She discourages drinking while operating machinery.
She has a friend named Smokey, but this happened to a different friend.
Bob is a real person.
It wasn’t a cigarette that flooded the basement. It was a Band-Aid.
Everyone was milling around the lab waiting for the meeting to start when Hailey told me we were going to the amateur adult film festival.
‘You’re going to this with me and Brian,’ she said. ‘No significant others.’
Brian came up beside me. ‘Did she tell you we’re going to that porn thing?’
‘I already bought you a ticket,’ Hailey said. ‘You need to pay me back.’
We met at a bar on the north side of town. My girlfriend was working. Hailey left her boyfriend at home. Brian didn’t have to worry about it—he had just gotten out of a five-year relationship. They’d owned a house together, a Jeep, two pugs. He’d joked about finding a ring and she’d told him straight up that she would never marry him. He found a room in a house three blocks from the lab and had been living there for a couple weeks when I first met him. The ex had already bought him out of the car and the house, but they still shared custody of the dogs then. It would take an entire year to break him on that. By the time we were at the bar on the north side of town, he was drinking every day and too much, juggling three girls, and hooking up with his ex every time he went over to walk the dogs just as a fuck-you to her new boyfriend. One of the girls I never met, much less learned her name. Val was nice but all I remember about her was that she had dark hair and all of her friends were lesbians. I think Brian kept her around because she let him borrow her car. Stacy, the last girl, was about ten years younger than Brian, a few years younger than either Hailey or I. She was pleasant in a dumb way and, according to Brian, loved cocaine and sex in the bathtub.
Hailey could barely sit still, giddily leading us in a round of sexual confessions. ‘Dude, okay,’ she was saying, ‘I absolutely love it when a guy licks my asshole. Obviously I’ve never had Greg do it—’ Greg was her boyfriend, ‘—but back in college or if I knew it was going to be a one-night stand, I was always like get back there and make it happen, I don’t care if you get a disease.’
It was my turn. ‘Well, Megan is on birth control but last week she got super horny during one of those stretches where she’s on the placebos. We were out of condoms so she flopped over on the bed and shouted, Fuck it! Just put it in my ass!’
Hailey snort-laughed, sending bits of her vegan meatball sub crumbling across the table. ‘That’s so Catholic! I love it.’
Brian was making a face, a half scowl hidden in his pint glass. ‘That’s gross. I don’t do butt stuff. It’s a one-way street.’
‘I mean, yeah, with that attitude,’ I said.
‘I’ll bet you’d love getting your asshole eaten,’ Hailey said. ‘Anyway, good luck dealing with this fucking porn festival then.’
Brian’s phone buzzed. ‘Oh nice. Stacy’s here. She’s right out front.’
Hailey looked like he’d just slapped her. ‘What? Fuckin—what happened to no boyfriends or girlfriends?’
‘She wanted to go and it’s not like she’s my girlfriend.’ He used air quotes here.
Stacy arrived at the table with an oblivious smile. ‘I’m so excited! A movie fest! Wow.’ It was pretty clear Brian had not specified the style of films that would be shown. In her defense, its name was relatively benign. It could’ve been anything. ‘So, like, what’s the plan? Are we going straight there? I’ve already got my tickets.’
Hailey looked to me as if I could somehow disappear this girl. ‘We’re gonna take a cab to a whiskey bar down the street from the theater, have a drink or two, then go in.’
‘Oh cool,’ Stacy said. ‘I hope they have tequila. I don’t like whiskey at all. But I love tequila.’
Hailey puckered her lips. I hadn’t known her that long—I’d only been at the lab four months—but this was by far the angriest I’d ever seen her.
As we were paying up, Stacy got a text. ‘Holy shit, my friend is in town. I haven’t seen him since high school. Should I tell him to meet us at the whiskey bar?’
Before Hailey could protest, Brian cut in, ‘Yeah, sure. Let’s add another one.’
I don’t remember who was at fault, but we all ordered the special—a habanero bourbon that tasted like someone had simply mixed ground up pepper seeds and ribs into Maker’s Mark. The shots had us all choking. We sipped our little glasses to the bottom, complaining the entire time.
I was buzzed enough to be sociable towards Stacy. ‘So, who’s this friend we’re meeting?’
‘Oh, he’s like my best friend from back home. I haven’t seen him in years. He was like super Christian back then, basically a Mormon. I’m surprised he even wanted to come to a bar.’
When he did show up, he shook all of our hands and introduced himself as Chet, surveyed our empty shot glasses and asked the server for one of what we were drinking. He looked exactly the type of golden retriever I expected.
His shot arrived and I said, ‘Watch out, it’s pretty—’
He tossed it back. Immediately, he let out a trio of bronchial coughs. It sounded like someone had stabbed him through the lung with a screwdriver. ‘Oh my goodness,’ he said through an embarrassed smile, blinking tears out of his eyes. ‘Whew! You all did that?’
He asked what our plans were for the night and Stacy told him about the film festival. He ordered tickets on his phone.
The fest itself was fine—short films about pegging, nipple clamps, orgies, graphic blowjobs, gimp masks, a couple of narrative pieces—none of it was particularly sexy, which I think was mostly the point. Very little of it was compelling, which seemed less purposeful. Still, as each new title card flickered across the screen, Hailey would slap my thigh and stage whisper, ‘Ooh, watch this!’ as if I could do anything else.
Afterward, back on the street, Hailey was buzzing, in possession of too much blood moving too quickly, and asked if she could buy me a drink. She led our group to a crowded dive. Everyone split between trying to squeeze their way up to the bar or stake out a place in line for the bathroom. I didn’t want part in either so I stepped out front. Chet was standing next to the entrance, staring off into the middle distance.
‘Hey, man,’ I said. ‘What’d you think of the fest?’
He kept his eyes on some unknown point in space. He looked like someone had beaten the shit out of him spiritually. ‘I saw things that I will never be able to un-see. I just—I don’t know what to do with that.’
‘Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad.’
‘Yes. Yes, it was,’ he said, getting angry. ‘It was that bad. I don’t think things can be the same anymore. I’ve seen stuff now. I don’t think I can even be the same person. I’m, I don’t know, different.’
‘Hey, take this.’ Hailey stood in the doorway sloshing the head of a beer all over her hands. ‘You need to come inside to drink it.’
I turned back to try and bring Chet inside, but he was gone, just completely vanished. I never saw him again, never heard what became of him. When I think of Chet, like I’m thinking of him now, I always imagine him happy, freed of unnecessary shame and fulfilled by his fall from grace. I know it could easily be the opposite.
Aaron Block is a graduate student at Oregon State University.
In this video (the kid says) he walks us through the foolproof steps to killing yourself. One: put
on a tune! (He puts on a tune.) The tune should not be melodramatic, but should (he stresses) stand up to postmortem analysis. (The tune builds. Synth, muted percussion. I walk around with a handglove, / shrugging my shoulders, / fucking up everything.) Two: video! Even though, well. Maybe this should be the first step? (He sighs.) Never mind! (At this a rehearsed smirk.) Three: text the ones you love. Ideally something simple. (He shows us his phone. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.) Four: turn off your phone! (He turns off his phone.) Five: attempt to kill yourself. Do your best to make it appear real! (Cross-legged on a baby-blue carpet, his back against a spackled wall. The light belongs to either an early morning or a late afternoon. The T-shirt he wears is ambiguously stained and bears C-3PO’s beaten-gold face. Now hold open the door so I can fall in. Hold open the door so I can fall in. Elsewhere, muted, someone laughs. The kid laughs, too. Then he lifts a knife from the floor at his side and horizontally slashes across both wrists.) Six (he manages): wait to be found. Do not cut too deep, if you choose to go this route. Perpendicular to the veins. Permit the blood to clot, the wound to heal. Or perhaps take pills. Less dramatic. Also less risky. (There’s no more sun, / and no more light shines through. The blood does not clot. And still the blood does not clot. He wipes his wrists upon his shirt, staining it further. Panicking, he attempts to rise, and sways, and falls upon the floor, face-first. Off-screen, muted, someone laughs. The video cuts out.)
A familiar disorientation, this. One deriving from either the original Blair Witch or any of its sequels or copycats. A human face steals the scene from leaf-littered earth. Baby face. Flushed cheeks. Watercolored eyes the same color as the eggshell fragments we glimpse above and beyond him through warm-colored leaves. His breath smokes. It is cold. “I’m sorry—” he says, breathes. “But—it’s been a minute since I’ve gotten out. So if we don’t bag anything. Sorry. Anyway.” He breathes.
But he does. He bags many and without mercy. It is a crisp fall day and couples and families are out. They fall with hardly a sound. In another sort of film, one more traditionally shot, we hear a high whistle as the man’s missiles search out their marks, a satisfying thwack as they find them and sink. In another story, the hunter’s victims scream. A group of his would-be victims forms. They fight back. A couple (either old or young, old or new) survives, thereby asserting the importance and indomitability of love. But in this film we hear only the man’s heavy breathing, the steady progress of his heavy boots crushing fallen leaves.
Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his He is keeping on keeping on.
I blew my nose this morning. I know it’s gross to say but it was a big honking load of snot. I opened the tissue afterwards, to examine my harvest. What had I reaped?
I mean, was that the locket I gave my high school girlfriend? Was that a ticket stub from the baseball game where I got drunk and fell down the stairs? Was that a ragged piece of my own body, snipped away by an arrogant surgeon?
There was this green army man I stuck in my pocket when I was eight, who went through the wash and lost a hand. I promoted him to the grizzled captaincy of my ragtag force (from Navarone). He punched a whole crapload of Nazis with those binoculars in his left hand!
A crumpled can of Natty Light, too. I bet it was from that liquor store. You know? The one you and Billy and I’d hit on the way to the “ugly” bar? We’d grab a six-pack and drink some but always donate one to the old guy slumped on the sidewalk outside. Joe. That’s what we called him, even if it wasn’t his name. Do you think he minded? Probably not.
There was a lot of sand.
Was that the sand from the beach where Jules and I made out behind the palms? Or the one where the waves slammed me down and, I think looking back, I came away with a concussion? Was it the sand from all the beaches ever, all mixed up?
Or was it just the sand from every empty lot I ever crawled through and every worksite I ever sweated over? That gray-brown sand, not the good white stuff.
There was a rusty chunk of my honor, a jagged piece of my dignity, and plenty of tarnished copper hopes.
And there was so much more. I wanted to save some of it but, in the end, I just folded the tissue and tucked it into the garbage can, pushing it deep down under other, bloodier tissues and lengths of rancid floss. Easier that way.
Still the questions linger, though. Am I the hero of this play? Or its villain?
Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.
There’s a hole in my eye. I don’t think people notice it but that’s probably good. It might freak them out, especially if they got close enough to look through the hole to the other side.
My good eye sees the people talking to me, clear as day, like you see me now. But through that peephole in my other eye, I can see the coming darkness. The creeping doom and crawling chaos set to engulf us all.
Yeah, all of us.
It’s not pretty. And it’s not a fun power, or whatever, to have.
“Goodbye,” I think to myself, as people talk about new cars, new homes, old girlfriends, rich husbands, medications, and jobs.
Do they notice the sad set of my mouth when they talk about their children? I hope not. I don’t want to bum anyone out. You know?
“That’s so sad,” I say to myself when they talk about the future, about dreams and aspirations. I have to concentrate on not shaking my head and pursing my lips.
Does that sound fun to you?
Plus, it’s hard knowing what to say to people. I don’t want to lie, of course, but I don’t think they’re ready to hear about the end, either. I’ve opted to be polite, like when someone asks you if their new haircut looks good or when someone shows off a new car. You say something polite, right? Even if you hate it.
So, like, when my brother told me he and his wife had decided to have children, I said, “Won’t that be wonderful.” It’s not going to be anything, of course. But I can let them enjoy the thought of it. I even smiled to add to the moment. He’s my brother.
Or, when a colleague said she was pursuing her dream of starting her own business, I told her, “That’s going to be great.” Didn’t do me or her any harm, pretending like that.
One day, my friend Frank told me how bad things have gotten with his wife. She kicked him out. He never saw his kids anymore. In a dark moment, half-drunk, he said, “Maybe I should end it all. No one would miss me.”
“No. Don’t bother, Frank,” I said. I patted him on the back, tried to be reassuring. “It’ll all be over soon.”
He didn’t seem reassured. But he took my advice, so maybe I was helpful without saying too much.
I have looked into the mirror, you know. To satisfy my curiosity. I looked closely. Right down into that hole in my eye.
I wasn’t going to tell you this but I think I figured something out. Remember when I told you I can see what’s coming, the end that’s coming? Now I think I know where it’s coming from.
I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Like when you’re the fastest runner in your class. Or you did really well in the stock market. I looked inside there and now I know it’s getting bigger and there’s no stopping it, so don’t bother trying.
Well, this isn’t something I feel the need to brag about, that’s all I’m saying.
No, I’m not winking at you! Ha-ha! I’m just trying to get one last good look at you, that’s all.
With the good eye.
Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.
We don’t carry baggage, we carry lassos and the time has come to move on, rope someone else with our feelings, drag their nights behind our galloping will and hope they survive the long, painful cut through the mud. It’s not that I mind the gesture. It’s hard to sever ties, so we might as well start by trimming the fat before we remove the heart entirely. It’s just a picture. Two people smiling about something, with a filter that made us look like sepia gods, soaked in the sun of a beautiful, infinite day. But I can’t stop thinking about the morning of. We stopped for breakfast and you told me, in between bites of your McGriddle, that thing I promised I’d never repeat, I reciprocated and we cried, guiding our horses for another round of circling the barrels long-since filled with poison from our respective upbringings. But we drove and eventually, we parked. We found the sun and shed the greater weight for the smaller moment. For company so perfect we had to save it. Smile into your camera and preserve the day. Celebrate. Not because we found happiness, but because we’d found each other.
But fuck me, I guess.
Timothy Tarkelly is a poet from Southeast Kansas. He’s had two books published by Spartan Press. When he’s not writing he teaches English to Ninth Graders. One of them recently described his ponytail as “immaculate.”