An Unbearably Beautiful Girl

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Jack Wright is a faded celebrity of the strangest variety. His life is not glamorous or exciting—his fame is unearned and arguably undesired. He is not an actor or a musician or a politician. He is something else entirely.

Maggie Stanton is a woman who, after a family tragedy and a lifetime of apathy, lashes out at a man she’s never met—a cultural figure who without knowing it stole a part of her childhood.

Driven to get his detoxing best friend out of the city—Jack embarks on a road trip to answer a letter from a woman he's never met. These three figures will eventually collide in a strange and spectacular fashion.

An Unbearably Beautiful Girl is a story of self destruction, self realization, and the times when the two are the same

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2. Part Two

PART TWO.

J: WILDLY OFF THE RAILS

I woke up slowly a few hours later in a reclining chair in my friend’s living room. I sat there silently staring out the kitchen window down the hall. There was an ice cream truck playing its little song on the street behind me. My eyes were heavy and sore.

Willy sat at the tiny kitchen nook stirring around the last few pieces of cereal in his bowl. We were quiet—uncomfortably trying to ignore the night prior. He was wearing a long sleeve shirt on an unseasonably hot day. It was his dubious little badge of honor. “What are you up to today?” I asked with a forced lack of tone. Utter neutrality. “Not sure yet man—you?” “Probably head back to Charlie and Jill’s for the day.” “Cool.” I stood up and approached the kitchen where I began looking for a glass. His spoon clinked behind me. Under any other circumstances we’d have a polite goodbye and I wouldn’t see him for another year or so—maybe longer. I’d drive off and reflect on a nice little evening with a friend without a care or concern. A good reason to act out of character doesn’t come along too often. You anticipate it, but when it actually comes along it’s normally more than a little uninvited. “I’m driving up to Santa Barbara tomorrow, I want you to come.” “Jack I—” “I’m serious.” I fiddled with the taps until water choked out in a few quick spurts. “We barely talked last night—It’d be fun.” “I don’t need you keeping an eye on me for a night. Eventually you’ll go home and this will all have been pointless. I’m fine, really.” “I’m not trying to keep an eye on you.” I was. So Willy finally agreed on the promise of a “fun night out” and a decent hotel. I drove back across the city to Charlie’s to spend a nice, reasonable day with them. I needed one. I told them I was leaving the next morning. They asked how I’d spent the night and I told them a few selective details about the party. The saloon door and the pretty girl made for good, wholesome, all American kind of party anecdotes people who’ve given up on parties love to hear. Just fun enough to light the spark of nostalgia but not enough to really piss them off. You tell someone in a calm, long-term relationship about going out and railing a stranger and things tend to get a little bit uncomfortable. Such is life. I silently wondered if they knew about Willy and his disastrous turn. Charlie insisted that we go downtown—whatever that meant in L.A. I sat in the backseat wondering how far the two of them had drifted apart. I decided not to broach the subject. It’s easy to think sitting in the backseat of a car. You feel a little disconnected from everything. You’re a passenger with little say in your circumstances. If someone decides that this is the moment I’m going to go wildly off the rails, and you happen to be in the backseat of the car they’re driving? Well, my condolences. I wondered why more songs weren’t written about the backseats of cars—and then I realized why that was sort of a stupid thought.

M: SIZZLE REBELLIOUSLY

There are centered, reasonable ways of solving a problem. I say to hell with these ways. Investing a little effort in the theatrical—something I hadn’t done in ages—is more than worth it. I bought a map of the world from an office supply store and hung it up on my wall. My focus would wander back to it every few minutes as I wandered around my apartment. It’s fun transposing yourself onto all of those exciting, exotic locales when you know you’re not really leaving anything behind. Everything is shinier in that perfect imaginary future. I looked up names of beach villages and tiny rustic European cities. To say nothing of work visas and embassies—all of these things were imaginary in my world of roguishly good looking Italian men and drinks made of fruits I’d never heard of.  I’d fuck my way across continents like some newly liberated pseudo-feminist Genghis Khan.  I looked at Mexico for a bit—but it felt too close. Geographically at least it felt like barely a stone’s throw away. If you could make it there drunk on a bet it hardly seemed fitting for a sweeping approximation of self. Next. I looked at Europe—the clean, tidy, western part of it, as I understood it. Looking at pictures of those cities, you get the distinct feeling you need some real cash to maintain any standard of living. Finding a nice little corner between ultramodern and modern relic is a balancing act in the wind over there. Next. India is too busy and their food scares me. Next. China—see above. Next. Australia was far enough away. It was warm and alien all at once. However the people there are all white and impossibly tanned, and I burn like a peach. I needed to fit in or stick out, but I didn’t want to sort of just...sizzle rebelliously. Then I saw it. It was tiny and unassuming—a patch of freckles on the face of an Australian.  It was a magical land where I was foreign and exotic—where things were cheap and mopeds were plentiful. It was as far from where I was as I could muster. I stared at the map for a few seconds before rushing into a flurry of excited research. To hell with all the haters—I was moving to Indonesia.

J: PRIVILEGED WHITE KIDS

“I’m tired.” Charlie announced over waves of lurking, bass ridden music. I hated clubs, Charlie hated bars, Jill was just happy to be out of the house—so we found a bustling little lounge and set up camp at a tiny square sofa marooned off the coast of a bathroom and the dance floor. “I think I might head home.” “Yeah?” I asked. Charlie and Jill shared a quick glance. “Yeah…” He said, glancing hesitantly at Jill and apparently sensing her happiness at simply being out past seven. “Well if you guys want to stay out, Jill, you should just grab a taxi with the credit card—” “Great!” She replied. Some kind of nuclear device would have been required to measure the time between the words credit card, and Jill emphatically shouting the word great! New units of measurement would need to be invented. Records would be set. Charlie gave her a quick kiss and departed back through the front door. Jill and I sat perpendicular to each other on the inner rung of the square sofa. She was nursing a gin and soda and bobbing her head along to the music. Charlie was the luckiest kind of fool—one with honest friends. “You guys go out much?” “Not particularly. Charlie isn’t one for the nightlife.” “But you love them.” I said with a surprising certainty. She laughed. “Used to.” “So you do. You just don’t go out anymore?” “All my friends married off. What can I do?” She said with a feigned shrug. I was familiar with the feeling. “So did you though. Can’t really judge.” “So I did.” I picked up a bottle of beer I’d bought when we arrived. It was half full and getting warm. “Why did you enjoy it?” Without missing a beat—“I liked dancing.” I grinned. “There it is. You’re one of them.” “One of what?” “You’re the girls you see when you walk in. The intimidating moving wallpaper.” She laughed. “Excuse me?” “You’ve never tried talking to a woman in a club. It’s menacing as shit. They’re like scenery and you’ve got to go try to make them real.” I took a drink. “It’s the worst.” “That sounded rehearsed.” “Standing in bars quietly waiting for people to approach you offers you a lot of time to think up clever excuses.” “Girls approach you?” “Sometimes.” The label was peeling off of the bottle. There was a little wrinkle in the soggy, gloss coated paper. The light from the dance floor whipped over her shoulder as it spun violently on cheap plastic hinges. It shone through her curly black hair blinding me for a moment. “Do you want to dance?” She asked. “See—girl approaching me.” Jill laughed. “Believe me—you don’t want to dance with me.” “You haven’t seen Charlie dance.” “He’d look elegant by comparison.” “So what then?” I considered it for a moment. So many songs get forgotten. They get pumped out of headphones or speakers in a faceless club only to wander through the head of someone barely listening. I tuned into the generic music for a split second before immediately tuning right back out. It wasn’t very good. “It’s your first night out in a while?” I asked. “Ages.” “Then we’re drinking.” “Oh are we?” She asked sarcastically. “You have somewhere to be tomorrow?” “No, but…” I let her trail off. She watched the last little bit of gin in her glass vibrate softly along with the music. “Alright.” I smiled and nodded “But you’re buying,” she tacked on. “You’re getting the taxi.” We laughed polite laughs as I stood up. “What do you want?” I asked her as I fished through my pocket for a bill. “Vodka.” “And?” “Vodka.” I got the feeling the hard sell might have been unnecessary. I bought vodka and scotch in cycles. The night burned away as roving packs of twenty something took perch on our square, plush leather island. We discussed life after school, life after love—life after all the lovely things you’re promised will knock your fucking socks off. So we sat, and we drank, and we cut deeper and deeper into the thick tissue between two people living lives a thousand miles apart. Geographically and otherwise. She worked at a vaccination center but was really considering going back to school.  I lived off of a government trust fund set up after the crash. I hadn’t worked a day in my life and her greatest fear was that if she took up with Charlie for too much longer—she might never again. I told her that before things get better, they tend to get much—much worse. She asked me what that meant. I told her that my greatest fear was not knowing if I was going through hell waiting for something better, or if this was as good as it was got. I then noted that I wondered if they thought about this kind of stuff in war torn countries or if we were just privileged white kids complaining. She laughed. We drank and we talked and I never danced. She sat next to me, eventually resting her head on my shoulder as the crowd started to thin. It was three in the morning when the music cut off, the lights crashed on and I kissed her. 

M: PAPAYA

Beneath the doorway of the store hung a piece of mistletoe we’d hung up last Christmas. It had wasted away to a thin, wrinkled green hairline fracture—a mere suggestion of a plant. I walked over, wrapped my hand around it and violently tugged down. It crumbled away onto the floor. I turned around and Stephanie was staring at me across the room with a stack of shoeboxes in her hands. I look down at the green dust in my hand and then back at her. “It was bugging me too.” She said softly.  Between the little bit of money left to me by my father, the money I’d get when the house sold at the end of the month, and what I had in savings—I figured I could live on some impoverished little island for damn near a decade. The rent on some dimple on the face of a beach was surprisingly low and I couldn’t imagine much mark up on papaya. Juicy, juicy Papaya. I hung up a handful of sweaters on a railing that was just barely too tall. My knees trembled as I stretched up and caught the rail with the hooks. I hadn’t handed in my two weeks notice but I would soon, and I would do it proudly. These were my last days in the cool store with the cool clothes where the cool kids shopped and I relished that fact. I didn’t relish things often enough—it felt good. All of their trendy, apathetic music suddenly sounded full of life, all of their sardonic t-shirts and carefully disheveled hair bright with youth and excitement. The whole world was peaches. It was strange. My life became a binary of now and then—now being temporary and then being soon but not soon enough. I perched myself behind the counter and surveyed my little kingdom.

J: NERVOUS LOVE

That morning was one of the worst in a while. Jill and I stood against the brick wall of the club kissing as cars passed by. The sun hadn’t risen yet and we hadn’t been home. It was morning masquerading as night. Fucking morning. “Do you want to catch that cab soon?” She asked. I hesitated—looking over her shoulder at a shadow from the headlights moving through the alley. “Where?” I asked. She pulled back a little. Her leg was between mine—it shifted as she shifted. “I should go home shouldn’t I?” the leg drifted away as she made a little space between the two of us. We made our way to the main road and after a few minutes managed to drag a cab off the road. We sat down in the back. The cab driver asked us where we wanted to go. Jill turned to me as he said this, and then back down at her lap. Her eyes wandered slowly over. “Where does Willy live again?” “Not far.” “Think he’d mind us coming by for a night cap?” “I doubt he’d be up.” She stared me down. The taxi driver alternatively looked at both of us from the front seat, “I see no harm in trying.” I said as I told the driver the address—but I did.

Willy quietly let us in. He politely agreed to let us stay before wandering back into his room. Say what you will about addicts—doesn’t mean they can’t be killer wingmen. We sat on the sofa drinking and talking. Her head would fall to my shoulder and we would kiss. Nervous love forms patterns like that as you test boundaries of stupid little drunken hookups. We settled onto the worn pea green sofa adjacent to the chair I’d spent the prior night on. Her heart was just crashing against her chest, passing through into mine. I was done for. We kissed while Willy slept in the other room—we fucked while Charlie slept miles away, and I lay there in silence pretending to sleep as she stood up a few hours later and made her way to the doo—calling for a taxi. The sun rose again through that same window it had the day before—that it had every morning, but that I’d only seen just once. I slowly sat up; fumbling for the same number Jill had called maybe an hour earlier. My bag was here, but my car was still over at Charlie’s. I would make my way over there, quietly pick the car up, and return here to head out hopefully before noon. The variables involved in this plan were innumerable.

The taxi pulled away as I jogged lightly up to the house. I had this note in my hand explaining away my early departure. I would slip it under the door and drive off without so much as knocking. As I paced back to my car I glanced over shoulder at the big bay windows framed by red brick on the front of the house. For a moment I swore I saw a shape move hastily out of frame. Odds are I did. Odds are Jill caught me making me my meek escape and couldn’t help but watch. Odds are it must have been quite a show.

I stood in Willy’s doorway. He’d packed an overnight bag and left it next to his bed. I was proud of the little guy. For someone in his circumstances he had in those last lost eight hours really pulled his weight. I woke him up and whipped up some breakfast as he dressed. We were on the road to Santa Barbara by ten. Now that’s progress.

M: SULFUR

You could smell the soft, sharp smell of sulfur in the air for the first few days as the forest fire lurched closer and closer. News reports got louder. Speculation vibrated faster and faster as the fire slowly moved. They called it a dry winter—where the snow on the ground muffled the flames, but the thick bristling branches passed the spark from tree to tree just as easily as it might on a balmy summer day. Fire floating along the surface of frozen lakes of trees—hovering along ominously. The reporters told us the fire would stop when it hit the rivers and that we’d all be just fine. The reporters told us experts were keeping a careful eye on the trees and ash pluming over town. The reporters reading calmly and confidently. The ash would mix with snow and drift down on your head like speckled handfuls of salt and pepper. A rainbow coalition of fire and ice, of elements all shuffled together in the strangest combination you might ever imagine. I smiled. I knew they probably didn’t have to worry about things like this on my little island home.

J: CONSTELLATIONS

We drove west along the coast. It’s a quiet roar on the highway with the windows open. It’s deafening but steady in a comforting kind of way. Willy sat next to me with his legs crooked up on the seat and one arm dangling out the window. We’re both strangely calm—a sinister calm in light of the circumstances. There are these high walls of decadence on either side of us. Be it infidelity or addiction—lust in either case, we’re in the eye of the nasty little storm we know we’ve made for ourselves. I think he knew I was going to bring it up, which is why he did first. He asked me what happened between Jill and myself. I smiled and I told him everything. I asked him if he’s going to quit doing drugs. He said he wanted to try. I silently decided I was going to make sure he did. We drove through the desert on a little concrete platform with commuters and addicts flowing in their cars around us. I wondered for a moment if somewhere else in the world there was someone like me and someone like him driving together. I then realized I’d just described a faded celebrity and an addict and that this combo was probably bumming around in the very city we were in. Hell there was probably a version of us on that very road. I looked around to see if I could spot them.

We pulled into the parking lot of an industrial park on the edge of Santa Barbara and skirting the edge of the pavement made our way up to the office building. The tarmac made a wet smacking sound under his sneakers as we walked. In the corner office on the second floor was my publicist, a small snail of a man with a prickly polite demeanor and a permanent smell of butane I could never quite figure out. I warned Willy before we arrived and within seconds of sitting down you could hear us both inhaling deeply to catch the smell. As if he was permanently on the edge of bursting into flames. “You’ve got some mail,” he told me “some stuff I haven’t had a chance to forward to you. A check from that speaking gig in Wyoming that came in last week, not a ton otherwise.” I made a point of making his job easy by doing remarkably little. He passive aggressively told me I needed to do more, to get out there. Will laughed awkwardly, I however didn’t.  We made polite small talk and left in less than twenty minutes with a bag of ten or so letters and a quiet fear that the smell had worn off on us. I caught Willy smelling his shoulder as we made our way back to the car and I laughed.

We sat down by the pool in the three star hotel I’d promised him. It felt oddly familiar. He floated aimlessly through the water and I sat on a lawn chair while a mother and her son played in the shallow end. “You know if there’s much work in San Francisco?” He asked me feigning a lack of care or consideration. I thought about it for a moment. “You thinking of moving?” “Not really. There just isn’t much in L.A.” “Waiter?” I said with a smirk. He leaned back looking at me with a very funny scowl printed on his face. “There’s a joke about actors I should make but I’m blanking.” I laughed. We sat silently as I flipped through the bag of letters without opening any. “I feel like shit.” He said softly so the mother wouldn’t hear. “Yeah?” “It’s been about a week since I’ve uh…” “Gotcha.” I got him not wanting to proudly announce he was on the edge of detoxing in front of a four year old. Not wanting to shout the word cocaine in a hotel pool. “You going to be alright?” “I think.” I watched him struggling motionlessly in the water trying to place exactly how he felt—exactly what he was going to do. A jobless man in with a drug problem skirting the liminal space between upstanding citizen and the nasty little world running underneath polite civilized society. He was dangerously close to jumping into something awful that he’d probably never climb out of. You’d never guess as he floated through the pool on his back in a dead mans pose with fading lines of swollen black constellations on the inside of his arms. The mother and her child got out of the pool.

M: TERMINATION OF SERVICES

“I’m going to have to hand in my two weeks notice.” “Oh, I see. Well um, well…” “I’m moving.” “Oh… Wait actually?” “Yeah. Wait why is that surprising?” “I don’t know…where are you moving if you don’t mind me asking?” “Indonesia.” “Actually?” “Yup.” “I see. I mean that’s unfortunate to hear Jill.” “I think it’s time. It’s been a rough month.” “But Indonesia? Where in Indonesia?” “I’m still working on that part.” “I guess that’s pretty awesome.” “I think so.” “Alright, well, I’ll have to get you to fill out a termination of services contract.” “Needlessly ominous name wouldn’t you say?” “We used to have a “I’m moving to Indonesia” form but it didn’t get to much use.” “That makes sense.”

J: VICTIM

Burn an image of the Jesus onto toast and you could have news crews at your house by dinner. The Virgin Mary on a toaster pastry or the Pope on a bagel and could have bloggers speculating on the divinity of your kitchen. Whole generations of gelled, tanned teenagers scrambling to get onto TV because more than anything they just want to be famous when they grow up are all missing a prime opportunity here. A loaf of French bread and a butane torch and you can start racking up your fame in fifteen-minute splashes. A hot knife and a baguette and you can realize just how stupid your dreams are. I had a small brown paper bag with eleven letters. Four letters telling me I was great, three letters asking for a signature on a picture from about three years ago, one letter asking for a signature on the photo of myself five and in the desert which I always found a little crass. I had one letter asking me to speak in front of a high school in Wyoming. I wondered why the butane snail hadn’t intercepted that one. I had a letter in broken English I couldn’t entirely understand but seemed generally pretty positive. Willy lay back on the bed closest to the bathroom while the television blared in front of him—some salesmen roaring about a really fantastic blender before he quickly change the channel. I sat on the end of the bag sorting through the letters until I arrived at the last one. It was printed by hand on paper riddled with faint shapes of fold marks. The corners were fuzzy and soft from wear, yet the ink seemed fresh. New words printed on old paper. It was addressed from some town in Nevada I’d never heard of, somewhere close to the crash. It was longer than the rest, written in angry sloppy handwriting that ripped along one word into the next. And it told me a story. A story about a little girl whose father ignored her but didn’t neglect her, who avoided her but didn’t abandon her—who was around just enough to make her think he was normal and she just wasn’t worth the concern. A story about a little girl whose father stared at the television as his body rotted and his life grew stagnant around him, obsessing over every national story. Every orphaned child— Every forest fire— Every boy who falls out of the sky. I read a story about a girl who thought about that little boy and the way he stole her father without even knowing it—about how she hated him with all her heart. The boy, not the father. It’s the kind of hatred that kicks and stirs when you’re sleeping and silently explodes at the mere mention of the name. There’s something unsettling about knowing someone somewhere hates you with all of their heart, and that there’s damn near nothing you can do about it. What’s worse is knowing that it might really be your fault. Because no matter how hard you rationalize it, no matter how hard you convince yourself that there’s nothing you can be expected to do, you know there’s a wound out there somewhere—painful and tender—that you’ve inflicted on someone. I could tell myself it was her father, or the media, or the whole damn world revolving around us—but in the end the narrow little lens of her pain was focused back on me. And like a magnifying glass with the sun beaming through it slowly started to burn. It sizzled and crackled as I talked shit with Willy, as I brushed my teeth, as we got a beer at the run down little coop a few blocks down. I fell asleep with a stirring in my stomach and the face of this girl in my head. I’d never seen her but it hardly seemed to matter. You don’t need to stare into the eyes of a hit and run victim to know driving away is wrong.

M: CONSCIOUS

Fire is just gas—glowing hot gas oxidizing into the air. I learned that in junior high. Fire can cause growth. In nature it prompts seed movement and ecological maintenance. The fact is that we’re not nature any more. At some point we created that divide, or at least acknowledged that it had happened. Now unless we’ve got it captive in a boiler room or a kitchen or a campfire—fire is destructive. I sat on the roof of my apartment building with Stephanie from my old work sipping a beer. She’d called me the day after I quit and insisted on coming by. We sat on the roof as she talked about school and the store, all about her lovely life and her lovely friends and the polish she’d applied to the very core of her personality with every life-affirming trip to Europe or house party. I want to call her enthusiasm a temporary symptom of youth but I think she might just be a better person than I was. If nothing else she certainly cared more She asked me if I was worried about the fire. I told her I wasn’t.  We sat on the roof of the house watching the warm glow soak through the thick grey fog outlining the horizon. Looking at the fire—at the apathetic mass of burning hot gas—the way it moved you’d swear it was conscious.

J: TIBETAN MONKS

I told Willy we needed to visit her—the girl who wrote the letter. He told me I was out of my fucking mind. I decided to split the difference and tell him if he wanted a ride home he was coming with me. In hindsight it might not have been just about the letter. In hindsight in might have been about stopping Willy from self destructing alone in his living room. I figured it was about a twelve hours to the tiny little mountainside town the letter had come from—two day drive if we took our time. Another two days back and a night or two on his couch and I could keep an eye on him for closing in on a week. How long does it take for a body to flush itself out? A lot longer than I week I’d imagine, but it was a decent crack at responsibility. I told myself it was about helping a friend. Probably just as much about helping a stranger. Or maybe myself. We sat down at the dinner below the hotel mapping out a route. I let my waffles soak in syrup and fruit until they were heavy and dark and almost too sweet to eat. “You’re paying for this you know.” He said staring me down from across the booth. I smiled. “The rest of this trip. I want no part of it.” “I know.” “This women is going to slam the door in your face.” “Maybe.” “I probably would.” He said. “Hell I would too. But I’d know he’d come. I’d know he tried.” “Tried?” “Yeah.” “Tried what?” “Tried to apologize.”  “What are you even apologizing for?” I thought about this for a second. “For hurting her.” “But you didn’t!” He cut himself short, running his hand through his hair as he stared down at the table. “I didn’t mean to—sure.” “So you’re going to say you’re sorry and apologize and promise to never do it again—even though you didn’t do anything to begin with?” “Something like that.” “You’re an idiot.” “And you’re an addict.” “Yes but I can quit drugs.”

Within an hour we’d shut the windows. Driving inland it got slowly colder and colder—where seasons still happened and snow still fell and winters felt like winters. I watched the wild life get sparser and sparser as we pulled onto the freeway. Within three hours I could see frost etched on the wiry little trees and dense rocky gravel. It felt like we were traveling through time, caught in some slipstream, moving through the seasons a little too quickly. I started looking in the cars around us to make sure the people weren’t moving at double speed or something. They weren’t. In Europe they call highways motorways. The longest reversible freeway in the world is in southern Australia. In Ontario they’ve got a freeway with 18 lanes—California has one clocking in at 21 lanes. I sometimes wonder why I pluck these little facts about the world and cram them into my head so desperately. Then I decide it’s probably better not to think too hard about it and I read about anglerfish or Tibetan monks and tell myself I’m somehow more informed. Somehow more connected. Willy asked me why I never called the girl from the house party. “Oh the house party where you puked in the bathroom?” He said that was the one. I thought about it, and I realized I’d given her my number and not the other way around. I didn’t tell him this—I told him I was distracted by other things. He asked me if Jill was another thing. Casually, trying not to sound too cheesy or thoughtful, I said no—she’s something. We both laughed. I think for different reasons.

From then on I was pretty much indebted to Willy as much as he was to me. I’d been perched on this little moral ledge overlooking him—this gap that the breakfast had quickly ironed out. He was a wreck and I was emotionally unbalanced. Somehow the two wrote each other off quite nicely. I stopped when he asked me to stop. I bought him knick knacks—some I’d still swear he asked for just to annoy me. You go into a little store wedged behind a gas station. You see a stand full of fruit, and you ask yourself who the hell buys fruit at a gas station? Willy does.

M: THE WORST POSSIBLE TIME

From that rooftop I could hear the phone in my apartment start to ring. Stephanie looked over at me, asking if the sound was mine. “It’s my land line.” “Do you want to get it?” “I don’t give out that number—only calls from the apartment buzzer.” We glanced at each other quickly. I stood up sending the chair jerking back against the thin coating of fine gravel on the roof. My feet dangled far behind me for leverage as I leaned out over the brick ledge—way more leverage than I needed. I could see the thick brush of my ex’s black hair bob back and forth as he stood at the front door. Scrambling backwards giggling like an eighth grader I pursed my finger to my lips. Stephanie began to silently laugh as I mouthed the words shut up! Whispering softly as I sidled back into my chair, she asked me why I didn’t want to talk to him. The smile faded from my face. The fact was that I had no idea why. He was a kind enough guy, a decent person—a friend maybe even in a world where I was as mature as my severity would imply. I sat there in the chair quietly for a minute holding on to some shred of the smile. I trailed off saying nothing in particular to her question, hoping it would go away. I slumped back in my chair watching the smoke wander over the hills. The sky was the same warm orange hued grey it had been for weeks. Each time I looked it pulsed brighter and a little brighter like the element on a stove slowly coming back to life—and I looked a lot. Stephanie reached into the cooler making a point of cautiously cracking open another can at the worst possible time.

J: WHITE WOOL

A few hours had passed when the car decided it was going to roar, and wail and rip viciously off the rails against a patch of faintly visible black ice. It jerked to the left as I tried with a fluster to remember what to do in these situations—which is of course the last time in the world you want to be digging through the annals of your own memory. We coasted to a halt half in the emergency lane, half in the ditch. The squeal of a car horn swelled past us. “That was nice.” Willy said to me with no inflection or smirk. The words sounded just cold. The sun was setting behind us blinding me as I stared back down the road. I leaned down under my seat, switching on the emergency lights. “Are we okay?” I said. The words felt heavy in my mouth. “Yeah, I think so. What the hell was that?” “Ice I think.” “Ice—Jesus.” I sat in silence staring down the road. In the rearview mirror I could see other cars passing over the same slick black patch without swerving or drifting. I wondered why it only decided to grab us. I knew I’d get my revenge as we pulled away in one piece, watching it get smaller and smaller in the distance. Sometimes I think—and I hope it’s not just me—we foster little sparks of animosity towards the inanimate world when it makes a fool of us. I was content to drive away, but part of me wanted to get out and sprinkle dirt or gravel or salt all over the road— Render the ice impotent. I shifted the car into gear and pulled back onto the road. Willy looked over at me smiling faintly. “We could have died.” He said. “Best not to think about it.” “Imagine that.” “Yeah—I suppose.” He added sarcastically, “and the worst part is you wouldn’t even get to apologize to that woman.” This actually managed to raise a laugh out of me. “I know you’d have hated that.” “Of course.” I kept my eyes down hard at the road as we cruised along down the freeway. Only eight lanes—nice and safe. “So what if she doesn’t slam the door in your face?” He asked after a few minutes of driving and casual comments on the songs playing on the radio. “I’m not totally sure.” “Might want to plan that out bud.” “Yeah I’m realizing that.” “Plan out a nice big speech?” “Sure, sure—would you mind waving a flag behind me?” He laughed. “Try and stop me.”

We pulled into a little town on the Nevada border a few hours after the sun had set. Almost everything I know about little towns like this comes from passing through—never more than a night. I never stay; I never soak in the flavor. This isn’t the kind of realization that results in a change—staring out at the dust and the snow and the fragile charcoal etching on the mailboxes—it’s the kind of realization that cements a choice you didn’t realize you’d made. We found a little bed and breakfast—we found three but the first two had a curfew and we’d passed by a strip of burnt-out out bars on the main strip we wanted to visit. I stood in the doorway of our room rustling through my bag for a jacket. All I had was the black suit and an old thick white wool sweater that itched like hell. I went with the sweater and hoped for the best. I found myself doing that a lot.

M: STORY OF THE LAST MAN

Drums dropped in first— Then guitars—jangling along slow and empty. Hollow in a good way. The singer came in crooning a dissonant note with a lovely whine. This is how average bands sound when you’re a little bit drunk and a little bit high. I stood on the sticky floor of one of the bigger venues in town—listening to a band Stephanie and her friends had all vouched were honestly so good. She dragged out the word “so” into about four syllables. I nursed a beer looking up at the thumping, sweaty young men stumbling around the stage. People bounced around me—pushing into each other as the whole mass of us drifted around.  The volume in the place was cranked too high. It was getting hard to tell what was distortion and what was just speakers crackling and peaking under the weight of the noise. Stephanie slammed her hand on my shoulder. I spun around to catch her wobble back against the side of some guy. He glanced over eyeing us down then quickly turned and walked off. “Awesome right?” She asked me as she gestured to the stage. “Awesome.” I replied coolly. She asked me to buy her another beer from the bar on the upper level and hugged me when I said I would. I got the feeling she maybe didn’t need another. Not my place to judge. I often wonder why the people in a place like this, at a time like this—are here? Are they all so desperately in love with the band as Stephanie? Were they all dragged along like myself? Did they come to find someone drunk to wander home with or just to drink alone? I think you should have to write why you come to a place on a piece of paper around your neck so people can naturally divide themselves up. So rooms can be divvied like junior high dances straight down the middle. Enthusiasm and apathy—both necessary in the world—mix horribly. The enthusiastic suddenly feel self-conscious and the apathetic feel empty. I paid for two beers and waited while the bartender cracked off the tops on the counter. That part felt a little unnecessary but looked cool—a label that could be applied to about 99% of the shit going on around me at the time. “Thanks she said—spinning forcefully back around to face the stage with her new beer. I nodded pleasantly at the back of her head. I should maybe mention— This is the story of the last man I slept with in America.

J: A LITTLE SLIVER

Smash cut to— Four in the morning sitting on the roof of a bar we’ve just won over with some mix of my minor celebrity and Willy’s habit of buying other people drinks in my name. The owner tells us there’s an after party up stairs. I point out there’s only one floor. Everyone laughs. We sat in these rung out lawn chairs dragged out from behind the chimney. Dust and pine needles fell off in giant piles as we dragged them across the tar. We formed a little circle and drank like friends do—if not friends then certainly friendly. One of the young men passed me a bottle of juice and a rag eared bag with a tumbler of what I guessed was vodka. I’m not really even sure where to start with that one. I took this bracing shot of “vodka” and quickly killed back half the jug of juice. Something rank had been angrily fermenting in there for a few months. It was something else entirely now. God bless the small American towns and their innovative journey into the depths of getting-fucked-up. I would later find out that whatever was in that scratched up red tumbler was made by fermenting everything in everything else. They drank on the roof because if they served it in the bar they’d be shut down thirty seconds before the liquor hit the glass. Needless to say Willy and I found this endlessly entertaining. Needless to say we drank a lot of what I came to call DangerJuice. This quickly evolved into Rodney DangerJuice— And then Danger-Will-Robin-Juice And we drank. I talked with the owner of the bar, asking him why he’d started a business in such a small town. He must’ve tasted the disdain in my voice. My understanding of the world (I use the term in spite of some complications) is of the city. As such my understanding of the world is that nothing is older than three years. Every business is either an institution or a doomed to fail startup by some post-graduates. It never occurred to me it was a family bar. Most bars in the heartland are family bars. The same is true of mechanics, scrapyards and restaurants. I refined my question. I asked why he took over the business. His answer was that it was “good, fun work.” I asked the bartenders name. He said it was Terrence. I envied Terrence’s hard working, true blue American attitude for a few seconds before driving another shot of DangerJuice (patent pending) into me. My inner monologue immediately shifted into one of damage control and self-reassurance. I gave myself a little pep talk as I tried to make sure I didn’t vomit all over the shoes of the nice young people sitting opposite me. This took a lot out of me. “You good?” Willy asked me, cluing me into the fact I might not be. “Of course.” “You want a drink?” “Of course.” The moon got higher and higher in the sky. I settled deeper and deeper into my seat as the conversation inched along around me. I said less and less, I thought more and more. The moon was big that night—not quite a perfect circle, but damn near close. The soft fuzzy edge of it cut thin along a narrow crescent arch. I raised my hand up—running my finger along the edge with my eye clenched shut. Like I was shaving off a little sliver of it. I looked over to catch Willy watching me. He chuckled. This was a man whose body had enough pluck and resistance to tolerate the violent throws of any small town home brew barn liquor that might be thrown at it. He was a rock and I was a drunken little city boy with a weak will bowled over by the night thus far. I smiled at him and then back up at the sky. I smiled hard at the sky—coasting along in a rugged small town while my friend detoxed and the small town folk laughed almost lovingly at the shit-eating grin plastered on my face. It’s hard to know for sure, but if I had to venture a guess I’d say that the moon approved.

M:  OH SO SUBTLE SIGNS

I stood chain-smoking cloves from Stephanie’s purse in the alley of the club. She’d tossed me her bag as she booked it for the comforting corner between some old chain-link and a brick wall where she could wretch up the evening in privacy. I kept my eye on her while the venue bustled out the front. I could hear them—muffled and vague in the distance. It was dead back there. The moon was bigger than normal. At least it looked like it from where I stood. A raspy voice asked me if he could bum a cigarette and I quickly plucked one from the bag as I turned around. He was sweaty and lanky with his shirt pasted to his chest. I said sure and he smiled and took the cigarette. The angles of his face were sharp and crooked—steeped in heavy shadows from the light bulb above the door behind him. His name was Tim and he was friends with the guitarist in the band. My name was Maggie and I was friends with the vodka cranberry breathing dragon roaring over in the corner. We shook hands and he started the little snowball rolling on down the hill as he asked me what I thought of the band that had just played. I never know what to do in those situations—do you try to anticipate what they want to hear? Do you honestly say that you could hardly hear what they were playing as they played so loud? Do you comment on their soaring levels of apathy—on the way they almost seemed to dislike the throbbing little throngs of twenty something bobbing along to their music? Or do you just say they sounded good? He agreed that they sounded good and asked me what I did for a living. We moved cautiously through our small talk as his cigarette ran out and he remained leaning against the wall. I’ve never been called an optimist, but even I have moments like this where I take the signs for what they are. Cold and shivering in a smoky alley while a girl vomits next to you just to keep a conversation going counts as one of them. A good sign I mean. A sign that he’s interested or at least buzzed enough to awkwardly ask what you’re doing tonight—and if you want a night cap after you’ve both gone inside. After you’ve danced for a few minutes. After you’ve helped your friend into a cab and he’s kissed you as you both laughed. I’m on the nose at reading the oh so subtle signs that a fellow might like you just a touch as he fucks you on the edge of your surplus store sofa at three in the morning—collapsing on top of you as all the dirty talking masculine energy drains out of him in one vaguely awkward moment. Call it women’s intuition, but I’m pretty good at deciphering what those little signals mean. Love—the easiest mystery never solved.

J: A SLOWER METHOD

Willy told me he wondered if he’d get treated differently if he wore a priest’s collar. Just one of the little white squares cropped out of the straight black line across their neck. Like someone erased a little part of them out of existence and they walked around with that gaping wound in reality cropped right along their neck. I always got a kick out of those social hypotheticals. What would people do if you tweaked their perception of you—jerked the world around a little bit? I responded by asking what he thought would happen if you put a sign over a urinal that said SOLID WASTE ONLY. For a long time now I’ve had a strong feeling you’d find a big turd in there by days end. I brought that up to a group of friends once, and you could see the look on some guy’s faces as they quietly realized they were the kind of people to follow orders like that. Obedience that drives you to hover awkwardly over the edge of a porcelain dish and pinch one out while people glanced over uncomfortably as they pissed. I laughed. I stood in front of the urinal in the deserted bar while they rummaged around upstairs. The door was wide open behind me—a stiff breeze pushed through and against the back of my neck. For a split second I thought I was outside Quietly, knowing how Willy would mock me—I thought about the woman, Maggie, who’d written the letter. It was getting tough to tell where the motivation to keep an eye on Willy and the desire to see this woman met. Seeing the intersect—the balance between the two was getting and harder every second that went by. I thought about her more and more. About her face that I’d never seen, about her life that I’d never even known I was a part of. I thought about the clutter I stacked up in her head without even trying. Topsy turvy—the stacks all fell down. I zipped up and took the stairs back up to the roof to find people pulling on their coats. They told me we were going to someone’s house a few blocks down. The plural article we adopted in a pinch to suggest we were all friends. Chums. Pals. I shrugged and smiled at Willy who nodded as he tossed back the last of his drink.

Snow had started falling as we walked. It started crashing down as we came in through the door. It started wailing as I poured myself a beer from the tiny keg in the kitchen of the house we’d come to. As I stood surprised at how many people were actually in the living room before us—tempted to ask Willy what the head count had to hit before you could call something a gathering or even a party—it started to storm. I stood in the living room for half an hour talking to a man that made shoes for a living. I asked if that was still called a cobbler. He said yes and this pleased me endlessly. Snow would always fall. Eventually it always happens—we call the weather unreliable, but in the grand scheme of things snow falls every time. On a big enough scale it never really stops. Clockwork should be jealous. The furniture in the basement was out of date by a few decades. Worn out old orange arms with fuzzy corners that screamed consignment or worse. I caught the edge of chair as I came around the corner—coming down the stairs to hunt down my friend. A bureau and a lovely little shelf cropped into view as I moved down the fifth stair from the bottom. A picture on the wall of a horse as I hit the forth. My foot landed on the third stair and I caught the edge of Willy’s back hunched over on the sofa—the soft light from a tiny stain glass lamp to his left. At the second step I could see his whole body sitting there, perched over the glass coffee table—a few inches from the head of a slender blonde woman. They both faced down as if they were staring through the floor of a glass bottom boat. They inhaled hard and a patchwork of white lines on the table began vanishing. A slower method if you asked Willy. By the first step from the ground floor I was moving fast and hard across the floor. His head popped up and he quickly pinched the skin around his nose. He caught my eyes and shifted back a half an inch in his chair—as if it was going to vanish behind him. I grabbed him by the collar and jerked him up.

Tossing him out the side door into the thin layer of snow I thought— What would Maggie Stanton think about all of this?

M: RABBITS

I was ready to leave but this place wasn’t ready to leave me. I washed the smell of sweaty aging hipster off of me and stood quietly in front of my mirror for a few seconds. Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia. I’d land there, find a hotel, and charter a boat out to whatever island I can find an apartment on. This is my plan—this is my method of escape. Less than a week. I kept finding these footprints from his sneakers around the door. He must have wandered around after we’d walked in—after I’d sprinted to the bathroom to make sure I looked okay. He’d surveyed my kingdom for a few seconds knowing in some backwards way that for the next hour it was his. A stranger in a new land trying to choose where to step foot next. He left at five that morning. We said nothing to each other, not a word as he pulled on his stained white sneakers and shuffled out the door. Two people who’ll never see each other again. It’s like they’re both vanishing as the door shuts. Two magic tricks performed in perfect sync. Tricks performed alone—without an audience. Backwards. Rabbits jumping into hats.

J: BLOODY

The plane lands, the pilot announces the time, and a sea of businessmen raise their watches to adjust the time. Why? Because something has changed. Something is new and they must act accordingly. If they don’t they stand to miss every train or meeting they’ve got coming their way. If they don’t the whole world will keep moving along an hour ahead of them, and it won’t give a shit. If they don’t then their friend will go home convinced he’s replaceable and irreversibly damaged—and OD on coke or whatever drug he antes himself up to within the year. I’d never hit anyone really. It’s simply never come up. I hit Willy hard as I possibly could. His back jerked up then sunk down as I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him up. He stumbled onto his feet following behind me clutching his stomach as I guided him around back towards the alley. A few people watched as we disappeared into the night. Some friends— Chums— Pals they were. I asked him what he was doing. Loud and heavy I threw words, because frankly, words were all I had left. I’d dragged him miles from home. I’d isolated him from all his influences and his temptations. Hide and seek. But they’d found him. They were very good lookers. So we wandered down a main road, me gruffly exhaling every few step—him shamefully quiet as we made our soft tracks in the snow. I said nothing for the first few minutes. He let out a groan. We walked under the harsh overhead lighting of the hotel parking lot and I came to a halt. He wasn’t facing me—instead staring up at the room. “Did you really have to hit me?” “Yes.” He turned around. “Why?” “Because you’re killing yourself.” “Don’t be so fucking dramatic. You don’t know—” I shoved him. “What the hell are you doing?” I shoved him again. His heal skidded against the squeaky iced concrete and he stumbled backwards. “Dude!” I hit him clean in the chin. He buckled to the ground and I was on him. Boom goes the dynamite. Both our worlds collapsed for two minutes as I thrashed around on top of him. He tried to smack me. His hand slapped weakly against the side of my hand. I dismissively knocked it away and settled myself—still on top of him. His face was bloody and soft like uncooked steak. He let out a groan and I stopped punching. A gentle bloody cough and he spit up a little on himself.  He asked me why? “Why?” with a whimper and a whine. I stood up. He was wet with the snow collected on his face as I’d wailed on him. I thought about this question for a second. I knew what he’d said and I knew what he’d meant and I knew how big the gap between these two things was. This is what love looks like. There were panels of siding on the hotel—thin metal sheet ribbed and waving that chopped off at harsh angles as they met each other. One fell at that exact moment, rattling against the ground. This soft comma in the moment that neither of us acknowledged rang out through the parking lot. I told him that this is how much I loved him, and then I walked away.

M: SURPLUS

Cardboard boxes are miracles of engineering. These tight bundles of pressed paper that expand to consume your whole life. Something that fits on a single seat in the back of your car—bound in twine and soaked in a gentle unmistakable smell. They’ll eat up all your books and your clothes. They’ll wrap themselves around everything you own until your whole world is stacked by your front door. Make no mistake though—it’ll take some time. Boxes are hungry, but lazy as hell. I sat on the floor of my apartment staring up at the airplane ticket I’d bought earlier that day. My books—the few I had brought with me after college—piled in to fill half of a television box. I wondered how long until my world became too big for boxes. I kept moving—kept shuffling things around and witling things away and I didn’t really own much. Purging once every year or so. My life was about to get much simpler. It was time to purge. You see these boxes weren’t for moving. They were for disposing. These books weren’t prized—they were parasitic. I didn’t need them anymore. I didn’t need much of anything. So I wedged in my thick wool sweater and my toaster. I unfolded another box and shoved in my movie collection and my mittens. I shoved it all down and started in on my throw pillows and the decorative chemise lining my bed—the one with the little ruffles and the birds. I unfolded a box and crammed into it expired healthcare products and extension chords from behind my television. I purged away my old collectable mugs and my knick-knacks— Fuck I had a lot of knick-knacks. I buried hair brushes under slacks, old purses—their insides stained with spilt lotion—under slip covers for things I didn’t even own anymore. Yearbooks, empty photo frames, it all went into boxes. And suddenly my life—my whole life—was elegant and simple and there, right in front of me. There were no more layers for things to hide under. I had a place to sit, a place to eat, and place to sleep, and the bare fucking essentials to do those three things. Funny how expandable those things sometimes seem. The sun was setting as I shoved these boxes into the back of my car. For a second I was tempted to put the car in a box too—but there were holes in that plan. For about twenty minutes I drove west until I hit a large consignment store with bay doors and an iron slot for receiving donations. I unloaded the boxes, left them next to it for some clerk to find the next day. Like super hero babies left on the doorsteps of orphanages or assault victims in hospital sliding doors. Someone somewhere—hundreds of someone’s—would divvy up the pieces of my life. But it was all surplus, all superfluous. This isn’t division it’s subtraction. It’s not reduction it’s refinement. I’ve never slept so well in my entire life.

J: WHITE BLOOD CELLS

Dry brushing involves apply a layer of wet paint over a layer of dry paint, and then brushing lightly at it with a dry brush. It scrapes away the paint leaving something fresh and new looking old and worn. Willy was dry brushed with his own dried blood as the sun rose through the window of our hotel. He’d passed out in his bed—me in mine after he’d come in a few minutes after me to wipe off his face. Needless to say he’d missed some. He asked me if I was awake yet. I said I was. The sun eclipsed as cloud cover set in. “We should get going.” He said—pulling up his pants as they’d sidled down off his ass down by his thighs. I said nothing until we were down by the car. I said we’d be arriving there today, later that night if we drove most of the day.  For a second Maggie Stanton’s face—drenched in the catharsis of my visit—replaced Willy’s and I was happy. I knew this wouldn’t happen, but it helped to imagine. Then again, maybe it might. It started to rain softly at first. It came down a little harder as we pulled out onto the highway. The rain was black and slick and for a second I flashed back to that moment of panic as we’d skidded off the road. That moment I’d pulled out of myself and narrated dying in a stupid glitch. The fact is, it might have been better for Willy—for his legacy at least, to have died in a run of the mill accident. Which is worse—fate or self-destruction? Which is more tragic? This is when Willy thanked me.  Buried under a layer of bruises and his own tender black flesh he thanked me. I stared forward at the road frowning ever so slightly. He thanked me for doing what I did. The rain was falling faster now. I said nothing for a second, because I wasn’t really sure what could follow that. What could follow thanking someone for beating the living shit out of you—for proving that someone gave a damn by driving their fists into the soft tissue under your eyes and the rocky arches of the cheekbones? Does that qualify as a self-realization—or is it just procrastination? Is it just relieving imagined guilt? I didn’t feel guilty, and I think he knew that. It had to be something else. I said “you’re welcome” and I meant it. I told him I had a theory that bringing someone to the brink of destruction was about the only way I knew to stop someone from self-destructing. The defense mechanism kicks in—white blood cells rush to the scene of the crime. You start to mend. He didn’t look at me, instead nodding quietly as we drove. He said he thought I was right. A fracture in the clouds passed in front of the sun for a few seconds almost blinding me. Even through the windshield it felt warm and familiar. Then it went away. If Maggie Station slapped me in the face—if she wasn’t even there, well this might have still been worth it.

M: DEDICATED JOGGERS The forest fires were on the edge of town. Thick clouds—some of ash—had settled in over the city. It was smoky and cold. Elements were colliding. The wind was picking up a little as I went to the bank to set up a transfer. I called the phone company and my utilities. I organized for society to forget me, but more importantly to make sure I wasn’t billed. For some reason this made me think of my father. I’d left a window open in my apartment and a circle of ash had settled around it. It got thinner the further away from the window you got. I rushed over to shut it, stamping a series of footprints. It kicked up into a dry mist in the air. For a second my apartment looked ancient and untouched—covered in decades of dust. Then I vacuumed and everything was chill. I stopped spending so much time at home after that—there wasn’t much of anything to do there. I’d walk mostly, pushing myself down the side streets I’d never been down, or over to the cautious suburban neighborhoods half an hour away. I liked watching the weather. I liked looking at the fires to the east and the storm coming in from the west. Anticipating a car accident—rubbernecking in advance. The city was quiet lately. The ash and the rain kept people inside. The cool street where the cool kids shopped was dead. The main street where businessmen and students crisscrossed on their ways to…wherever, well that was dead to. The suburbs— The slums— The folksy family parks and the alleys were all dead. Convince people the apocalypse is coming in the form of fire and wind and snow and rain, and you can get even the most dedicated joggers to stay inside. Empty out inside, leave nothing but tables and chairs and a set of cutlery and you can drive them right back out. Walking around in the snow and the ash I felt Spartan and nomadic and clean— Which was funny, as I also found myself taking lots of showers.

J: THE WHOLE WORLD

I bought a map from a convenience store as we got closer to the town. The return address had a street and an avenue running clean down the middle, intersecting just off the name of the city printed on the crease. I circled it with a pen and tossed it on the dashboard. “You see that?” Willy asked me as he pointed off towards the mountains wedged up against the road dividing them and the far edge of the city. On the hill a tall wall of smoke glowed with a fire bellow it. I smiled. It looked warm—the smoke swelling with the heat of the fire underneath. Behind us the rain was coming down harder. Wind kicked behind us. It felt like this was where the world was ending. The cities downtown started emerging slowly. Buildings gradually got taller—none peaking past a few stories. On the horizon a few pawed at the dense ashy clouds, but not many. It was eerily quiet here save the wind and the rain picking up their pacing. Save the wind batting at the car. I looked up at the buildings—little monuments to the incomparable, entirely mysterious heights of what a few people could do. Skyscrapers and medicines, novels and films, voyages and space ships crashing into the earth—testaments to…us. Is changing the world a means to an end, or an end in itself? I told Willy over hamburgers in the front seat of his car—parked in an empty fast food parking lot—that I think we’re better off not knowing why great people do what they do. It ruins to illusion of greatness. Because when push comes to shove the reasons never live up to the things we do—at least when we succeed. People who touch the sky to prove a high school bully internalized in the dark corners of their head wrong. Men who disturb the universe all for some unbearably beautiful girl. If the whole world knew your name tomorrow—would you ask why? Or would you eat your cheeseburger staring out at the wind picking up faster and faster, at the ash from the east and the snow from the west coalescing around you? Would you accept it? I think that’s exactly what you’d do. I know I would.

M: FIFTEEN-MINUTE CELEBRITY

The wind was impossibly loud—even with the door shut and the windows tightly clasped. I sat there bundled up in this thick knit blanket that climbed up over my shoulders and down onto my lap. So heavy it felt like it was hugging you. Rain flicked at the windows with a steady hiss. I was calm for the first time in ages—sipping at a tiny cup of green tea. Green tea has nutrients that black tea doesn’t. Something to do with the way they dry it. I don’t know where I know that from though. A fact or an idea gets into your head and it’s tricky to trace. Suddenly your world is different. Suddenly you’re convinced things are the way they aren’t. I thought about my father and his surrogate desert son for the first time in weeks—maybe the first time since writing the letter. I pictured their faces behind the frame of the window and suddenly sure why I’d done that—written him. I puttered around my apartment in silence while the storm got angry and vicious outside. Somewhere in the distance trees in lawns started falling down. Cars started shaking—alarms squealing out in the night. My building sat there contentedly outliving the whole mess of it, oblivious to the shit storm surrounding it. White flakes of burnt wood tearing around at a thousand miles an hour in horrible winds that could rip you right off the ground if they caught you at the wrong angle. The news would talk about this storm for weeks. The national news for a few days even. But from in here—nestled away in the safety of an apartment that always felt a little too safe—it was nothing. Chaos and carnage brought down to a muffled roar. From now until I left—so soon I realized in that moment—all people would talk about was the storm. About houses being destroyed and lives being taken. I thought about it for a second, not sure what I would say. No one knew where I was—no one could call. I could say whatever I wanted to say—marvelous stories of my survival. Little miss apathy concurring nature in her sensible shoes. No one would know what I’d done, where I’d been. I was getting close to the end of my tea. But isn’t that the point—not caring about the world you know just because it’s the one you know? Realizing it’s okay to run away if you’re running towards something better? Forcing grand, clichéd realizations on rainy days? Why the fuck not? I thought about telling lies and calling them stories—and decided there wasn’t a point any more. Pretend you don’t hurt after a loved one dies, or that some fifteen-minute celebrity is the cause of all your problems, and maybe you convince some little fraction of the world of it—but it hardly matters, because your life is still the same. Suddenly, as quickly as all that pseudo philosophical mush wriggled its way into my head, the tree in my front yard let out a hideous scream as it toppled over—and I was back. I didn’t move an inch. I just stared at it. I bet it wished it had escaped in time.

J: LANDING

A car alarm went off as we drove into the city center. It wasn’t a robber or someone stumbling against the side of it. It was the wind—the same wind that pulled the branches up at these alien angles like someone was controlling them. Like the trees were all reaching one way and then the next—dancing. I thought about Willy and what he’d do when we get back. How flawed my plan was—well it suddenly seemed apparent. I hoped silently some of this—any of it would stick. A big moment like a fist to the face might do it. It’s also hard to know if a fist is big enough. So we drove through one of the most violent storms I’d ever seen on earth in silence, neither of us saying a word as I brought us closer to the home of a woman who hated me—who used me as a scapegoat. To whom I guess I’d done the same

There were rows of apartments and stores crammed together tight like crooked teeth. I slowed the car on the opposite side of a wide eight lane downtown street double-checking the map with my finger. I traced down the crease—landing on myself. There we were. The map skipped a little as I tossed it on the heater.  Willy was chuckling at this point as I unbuckled my belt. He asked me if I was going through with it. I thought about it for a second and said yes—but for different reasons. I told him that I’d come out here to apologize—but now it was something else. I needed to thank her. He asked me what for. I said for giving me an excuse to help a friend out. He laughed and shook his head, easing into a quiet smile. I said I’d try to make it quick and I stepped out the door.

END OF PART TWO.

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