I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Lacy lately
And eating fettuccini in my underwear on the floor
Having hate sex with other corpses
And droning on and on about fucking poetic justice and inevitability of our active decay
The fucking made me lonelier
Gaping gaping gaping rage clawing for intimacy begging
The sound of you breathing in the corner of the room comforts me even when I feel like I’m swallowing glass
Dream space, void space
I was standing on a balcony beneath the blue and unassuming North Carolina sky, face to face with a girl who I always hated but never really knew why. Her name was Elena and she had trendy brown bangs and a pointed chin, like a chubby, pretty witch. She was always talking about how tacky it is to wear shitty jewelry that stains your skin green, and I was always wearing two dollar rings from online stores that definitely stole my credit card information. “That’s why you have to invest in silver, real silver,” she’d slur, waving her glass of red wine at me accusingly.
Elena was crying on this balcony, wind whipping her hair in every direction, and her skin was dry and red, like she had a cold even though it was summer.
“What’s wrong?” I sighed.
Elena glared at me, arms folded over her chest.
“I like your top,” I said, gazing at the gingham black and white crop that was barely covering her large breasts.
“I’m getting old,” she wailed.
“Old?” I echoed.
“I’m too fucking old and time is getting away from me, just like it’s getting away from all of us. I’m fucking twenty-seven now. Twenty seven is too old to be pretty.”
“You could always join the twenty seven club,” I joked.
This made her cry even harder.
“I might as well!”
I bit my lip, and walked towards her. Tentatively, I brushed her hair behind her ear. “Elena,” I said.
She refused to meet my gaze.
I exhaled, and awkwardly embraced her short, trembling figure.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I insisted.
“Nothing’s okay, you wouldn’t know.”
“I can try to know.”
I sat on the grimy front steps of Aidan’s house. Red brick row home, twenty six twenty two wallace street. I was smoking a cigarette, to feel something, anything to cut through the eerie calm of an afternoon where time seemed to stand still.
Aidan and Jack sat two steps beneath me, their flannel-clad backs to me, stiff and silent. They either didn’t know I was there or were pretending not to. The two feet between my figure and theirs felt like a highway, Friday felt like a Monday, the October air felt like ferocious winter. I cleared my throat and Aidan’s neck snapped backwards, darkness pooling in his narrowed brown eyes.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
I was speechless, my fucking insides felt like candle wax, hot and panicked and dripping down to become a collapsed pile of things that used to burn.
“You didn’t fucking tell anyone you were coming,” Aidan spat. “Why the fuck would you do that?”
Jack slowly turned around.
“You’re a fucking cunt. Stop destroying everyone around you, yeah?”
I had never heard Jack had never utter a mean word about anyone. He delivered bugs outside to ‘free’ them instead of killing them and didn’t have the nerve to talk badly about his ex, even when she cheated on him.
Aidan refused to meet my gaze.
“What?” I whispered.
“You heard me,” he said.
I was standing on the rooftop of a Metropolitan building that I vaguely remembered but couldn’t identify off of the top of my head. It was glass and modern, and the sky was gray, an ominous November type of gray that stung my cheeks and made me feel like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was sobbing so hard that I couldn’t see straight, unphased by the sting of mascara getting in my eyes, or the strong, masculine hands tightening around my stomach in an effort to hold me still. I couldn’t stop thrashing, screaming at the city below me, screaming at God and the void that made me too nauseous to move some days. “Beruhige dich, Baby,” I felt Fynn whisper in my ear. I just shook my head. “Console, calm down,” he tried again.
I couldn’t catch my breath to say something, I wanted to rip my chest off to stop it from aching.
“The love I give you – it is not good?” Fynn asked. His thumb grazed my cheek
I just shook my head.
“Everyone’s turning into ghosts, that’s all.”
“I can replace the bad shit with love,” Fynn said.
“It’s not like that. Just because there’s love doesn’t mean I can just stop fucking erupting. Just because there’s love doesn’t mean we’re not all see-through and scary and fake and impermanent.”
“Life itself is impermanent, what did you expect?” Finn sighed.
He fished his wooden cigarette case out of the pocket of his leather jacket and lit one with his zipo. He held one out to me, but I shook my head.
“No,” I said softly.
Fynn never asked if I was saying “no” to deny the smoke or “no” as a reaction to the fleetingness of love and everything around it.
Fynn and I slept in his basement, which was too sunny and well-decorated to feel like a basement at all. I felt feverish and frail, laying on his chest, the shadow of the white light from the tiny window casting shapes on his bearded cheek. I detangeld myself from his arm to pee, but when I got to the bathroom, I felt suddenly compelled to curl up in the tub. Without removing my underwear, t-shirt or socks, I sat in the bath and turned the faucet on. I let the water burn my flesh, not bothering to adjust it despite it being uncomfortable. There was a peaceful heaviness swirling around me, in the water, in my limbs in the linoleum.
I must’ve fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes, Fynn was sitting behind me. His face was hard and unmoving, and he was wearing his gold-rimmed square glasses, his boxers, and his socks, too. He sipped from a grim glass of whiskey, no ice.
“The love you give me is okay, Fynn,” I said.
My cousins, Jolee and Harry and I sported marching orange t shirts. The baseball game was like radio static, crackling on in front of me, cleats hitting the pavement. I didn’t know the rules of the game, I never bothered to learn, or watch or listen, even but the listening part was never intentional. I would listen if I could. I think everyone would.
“Do I know you from somewhere?”
A tall man with a goatee smacked his gum beside me. He smelled like peppermint and smoke and mulch. I knew his name was Trevor but I wasn’t sure how. Jolee and Harry didn’t turn their eyes away from the game, seeming to have not heard him speak.
“Maybe,” I shrugged.
“I definitely do,” he stuck a tattooed hand out to shake mine. The image of a snake curled sinisterly around his knuckles, a tongue sticking out to almost lick the number “3” on his index finger.
“Three,” I said.
“Trevor,” he said.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“I’m watching the game.”
“I am, too.”
I shoved my hands into my pockets.
Trevor leaned forward, and clamped the tattooed hand around my neck. I froze.
“You really don’t remember me?”
“Am I supposed to?”
“It’s disappointing,” he said, tightening his grip on my throat.
“Are you from Philly?” I asked.
“Think about two thousand and eighteen,” he said.
“Those aren’t my angel numbers.”
“Who said anything about angels?”
“You must believe in angels,” I said.
“That’s a bold claim for someone who claims not to remember me, no?”
When I looked away from the piercing green of his gaze, I couldn’t find either of my cousins.
Back at Trevor’s one bedroom apartment, my shoulders quivered with fear and arousal. The mattress was on the floor and the space was only illuminated by the angry white light of a lantern. He stumbled towards a large canvas, and gestured for me to follow. I sat behind him and watched, as he revealed to me a painting of a girl. Her eye sockets were melting, wax dripping down her face. The background was purple, and there were hands around her neck, choking her. Her hair was snake-like, hard to distinguish if she was supposed to be Medusa or if she just had curls. Self-consciously, I touched my own long ringlets.
“Who is that?” I breathed.
“Someone I used to love,” he barked.
“My insides feel like her,” I said, pointing at the candle wax.
“You need to take better care of your insides, then,” Trevor said.
He fished a lighter out of his jeans’ pocket, flicked it once to be certain that it worked and handed it to me.
“Fuck it up,” he ordered.
“Fuck what up?”
“Destroy the painting.”
“Didn’t you spend a lot of time on that?” I gasped.
“Curly hair means nothing to me anymore.”
I shook my head.
“Set it on fire.”
“I’m not gonna set it on fire for no fucking reason,” I protested.
“There is a reason. I made it and it’s out of me and I need to get rid of it.”
I didn’t think that’s how expulsion was supposed to work.
Aidan painted images like Trevor’s, psychedelic and dark and weird, of people melting with hollow eyes and rainbows coming out of their mouths. I loved them in a strange way, to where I wanted to hang them on my walls because I felt that they belonged to me. I felt that our memories could be trapped in the morbid weirdness of it all, our beach LSD trip and our violent series of almost’s. I didn’t feel connected to Trevor’s art like this, but I wasn’t disturbed or angry enough to set it ablaze. In my refusal, I birthed a new kind of numbness.
“You have to set it on fire because it’s yours,Trevor. You can’t force expulsion. Maybe that’s not even the way it was intended to go out.”
Trevor rolled his eyes.
“Paintings don’t just fall off of cliffs and die natural deaths. We have to get rid of it.”
“That’s the thing, there’s no we.”
It’s never any fun to have nightmares about people who were supposed to love you, when the six am light becomes scathing, something that burns (drowns) you rather than bathes you, something that hurts you rather than heals you.
It’s theatrical enough to be a play, goosebump-inducing enough to be a horror film.
I woke up sweating, dazed, angry at time.