"At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since."
Salvador Dalí (via ryandonato)
Brian Johnson’s lawnmower rouses me from sleep at every morning at eight o’clock. Not a minute before, not a minute after. I have no routine save for sleeping late and sleeping often. I stretch my limbs and my leg pops. I find a message from Dave waiting for me on my phone. “Good luck today, man. Don’t forget to mention your strengths in consultant strategy management.” I have been dreading today’s date, February 22nd, for some time now.
Wandering into the kitchen I open the first cabinet I see. One of the handles is missing. I find the miserable remains of Lucky Charms stashed in a back left corner. I pour myself a bowl of whatever’s left in the bag. I check the expiration date for the milk inside the refrigerator. My former roommate Frank knew an inordinate amount about pasteurization although how he garnered that information, I’m not sure. He told me once the dates printed on food are marked several days before food actually expires. It’s only for liability’s sake. This one expired two days ago. I think I’ll be okay but it’s not like Frank is around to tell me otherwise.
Slowly I pour the milk over the cereal, watching as it carefully glosses over the top of stale marshmallows then engulfs the pieces whole. I don’t make any noise so I can listen to the crumbs crackle underneath the strain of the liquid. Satisfied, I take my bowl and choose the side of the couch that’s sunken in. I turn on the television. Static coats the newscaster’s face. The volume is on mute but I’m sure if I could read lips I’d discover a specific body count, a developing political scandal and a local kitten fashion show benefiting PETA. Or something like that.
It’s first time in nearly five months I don’t wake up after one. I’m strangely awake, all things considering. Usually I’ll stumble to Sal’s for a greasy tray of the all-you-can-eat eggs and bacon deluxe breakfast special. There I lie nestled in a vinyl booth people-watching until I can stand and walk again. This process usually takes about two and a half hours. I wonder how many strings Dave had to pull for this interview to happen.
Rising, I rinse off quickly in the shower. I pluck a crisp white shirt from the back of my closet. I pick lint from the shoulders before I put it on. I pair it with the sole black pants I own. Glancing in the mirror, I smooth a cowlick but otherwise I’m surprised with my appearance. I look rested. My cheeks have gained color, my arms some girth.
This floors me, the foreign feeling of confidence. I even go back into the bathroom dig out a bottle of cologne from the medicine cabinet. I think Morgan had given me the bottle but it’s a too hazy of a portrait in the past. All I know is it’s been lingering in there for a while bottling a scent that’s too musty for me. I feel outside of my skin with it on but most well-adjusted men I imagine wear cologne. Maybe these things are learned. Maybe I too can learn what this means, to be stable and well-adjusted.
The edges of my life usually feel skewed like a crooked painting hanging on a wall but I feel a strange lucidity today. Peace permeates my body. Cynicism has dissipated at least for now. I feel good.
It’s light outside but not too bright as I step outside. It’s a five minute walk to the bus stop. The 6 bus is always late though so I decide to get there a little ahead of time in case there are any delays. I notice the apartment complex next door has repainted their shutters a canary yellow. It’s pleasant. I pass my walking reflection in glass panes at the end of the block. There is a slight smile on my face. This is the start of something.
I reach the bus stop. The only other person there is a small Asian woman, older. She makes eye contact with me and beams. I beam back, unable to recall the last time I exchanged an amiable gesture with a stranger.
A white figure catches in my peripheral vision. To my right lies a paper on the sidewalk. Forgotten but neatly folded. Curious, I bend down and unfold it carefully.
Delicate script curls in the center of the paper. It reads “anything that has shape will crumble.” I read over the words several times. The black typeface burns against the white. The more times I read the words the more the edges of the crumpled paper become square and unrelenting. My resolve evaporates. I don’t see the fucking point. Dave had to do something terrible to this guy, Robert, for him to agree to interview me. Consulting firms do not interview recovering meth addicts. They just don’t. Especially ex-addict deadbeats whose last job climaxed over an argument about the validity of Freddie Mercury as an artist and culminated with throwing lamps.
The 6 bus sighs to a stop in front of us. The lives it carries, they seem so rectangular and determined. I was never molded into a shape. The small woman climbs in. Folding the note back up, I place it on the stairs on the inside of the bus. I watch the doors close in front of me like eyelids. My reflection in the window looks shapeless this time. The bus pulls away from the stop slowly, as if confused.
I begin walking in the other direction, eyes on the sidewalk this time. Sal’s is three blocks over and I’ve never been one to deny a second breakfast.
The sunshine is not hopeful but mocking. I put on my sunglasses, cursing the California summer. I recall same thought process went through my mind yesterday. With these caffeine-laced headaches, I can’t think of anything but everything that’s going wrong even when things are clearly right.
The spatiality of a gutted warehouse space turned creative agency incites my primal need for an oral fixation. My productivity will improve with a refill of joe. That’s what I kid myself with as I raise a mug to my lips for another desperate gulp. Six cups later, my skin grows spikes.
I finally reach my car parked in the alley. Warm air envelops me into a suffocating embrace as I open the door and sit inside. I turn the air on full blast. My skin takes longer to cool than usual.
The highways of this city crisscross like lines on a palm and make little sense to me still. Luckily this drive is merely a journey down an extended line. I’m not going home yet.
I had forgotten about the Broadcast CD in the console until I start driving down to Santa Monica Boulevard. The strangeness of synthesizers are fitting for displacement. I pass Alexandria Avenue and turn up the volume on “Corporeal.” Just to hear that one line where Trish Keenan purrs “we are mankind/we are mannequins.” I turn the volume back down.
Reaching Serge’s house, I park and walk up the steps. I reach over the front gate and unlock it. I knock on the door and stare out into Hollywood’s breast while I’m waiting. The sun has nearly faded completely. I remember when I got here and saw the sunlight fade over skyscrapers for the first time. Suns in the east don’t set like this one. Pinks melding with blues and oranges.
Serge opens the door finally. He unlocks the wrought-iron cover. His eyes are a puffy blue, like the outlines of clouds.
“Hey.” He motions me inside and locks the two doors behind him. I look around and see blankness. You can tell it’s a bachelor’s home when seldom adorns whitewashed walls. He guides me to the bedroom. Shutting the door, he turns out the lights save for a lavender bulb.
Even with two hands cupped firmly around my ass his face is hijacked of feeling. Wordlessly he removes my floor-length sundress from top to bottom. I peel away his gray t-shirt. He presses his body against mine and I fall against the bed. His pants aren’t quite off yet but he has an erection. He runs his hands through my hair. Unbuckling his belt, he positions himself inside of me.
As he silently moves through me I hear squeaks and sloshes. The sounds of bodies. Serge is a body. His limbs are available to me. We’re using each other because both of us are just pieces eroded from the bygone hands of others. In a crass way you could say feelingless sex displaces what it means to be human. It’s like floating. Still, an alienated body is better than no body.
I turn my head away from his. Staring at the stale afternoon light outside, I see the sun is a speck now. Defunct shadows reflect on the opposite wall. Although he doesn’t say it outright I know Serge concedes in this silent, ghostly ideal of a woman whenever we have sex. Passively I wonder if her eyes crinkle at the corners when she grins.
I’ve had empty sex without guys kissing me before but Serge plants wet kisses on either side of my neck when he thrusts. It almost feels more false. I can only think of Ian when he does. I’m at the point where the salt has been extracted from the open wound but the scars are still obvious. I don’t think agonize about the whys all the time like I used to. It’s over, that I know. But my mind still wanders to where he might be. Where his lips may rest at this very moment.
I’m curious how Serge would react if I just openly admitted what I’ve been suppressing. That is, the part of me intent on Ian realizing just how badly he fucked up. In this scenario, Ian will crawl back to me, remorseful. He’ll tell me can’t live without me to fill his life with meaning. I’ll know he’s telling the truth this time because I’ll be able to hear the hollowness resound beneath his Brooks Brothers button-down. Serge would scrunch his face up in that way when he finds something I say ridiculous. Or he wouldn’t say anything at all.
I should deny Ian the chance if he ever does come back. I should make him work for it. It’s pointless to think so though because I’ll cave. Underneath the tough exterior, I am nothing. Only someone hung up on the one person I imagined traveling with and picking out colors for our living room couch cushions.
Serge doesn’t know this, or maybe he does, but I’m really a selfish bitch. At the core I’m holding out for one man’s misery.
We finish. I don’t come and neither does he. He turns out the purple bulb. We settle into our usual sleeping arrangement where I face the door. The crystalline door handle shimmers with the impending moonlight. This is an old house.
He curls his wrist around my waist. I hold his body, warm and foreign, for an extended moment before pulling away. I have trouble sleeping with others in the same space. So does he.
Eventually Serge’s breath grows distant and shallow. Moments later he begins to softly snore. My eyes can’t close. To pass the time, I align his five fingers with five of my corresponding ribs.
- An attempt at some flash fiction. I’m trying to be more succinct these days. Writing one of these a day, all things considered.
Over spring break, out or pure circumstance I saw fires erupt both in St. Petersburg and Reykjavik. Billowing plumes of smoke suspended themselves in the sky, as if held together by the very strings that puppets are fastened to.
I find there’s really something intensely and oddly beautiful with destruction. Perhaps it’s because destruction breeds creation.
"Cynics are just disappointed idealists" screams the graffiti sonorous and red inside of the toilet stall. I’m squeezed in so tightly in this box, my bare knobbly knees are gathering splinters pressed against the door, cracked like chapped lips. The words are visible and true but don’t feel immediate.
I mouth the syllables, so that they will one by one embed themselves inside of me when I speak. Instead I feel something splatter fast and wet on my thigh and I realize it’s the foamy beer spilling from my lips.
Blinking it dawns on me that I’m clutching a beer, squatted on a grimy toilet with an indiscernible color, wads of damp toilet paper clogging not just the bottom of the john but also the moist floor space of the cramped stall. The sharp movement of my head downward causes my mind to swim. I’m more drunk than I think I am, which happens more often than I would like to admit to myself, and most of all I feel stupid and insecure about a botched haircut.
The truth is I’ve been reading wall philosophy like “truckers are the backbone of America” for an undetermined amount of time, and I would rather do this than pull my underwear up, unlock the door to the claustrophobic stall and have to look at my reflection as I was my hands in the sink.
I don’t have to look in the mirror though — I know I currently resemble a fucking empowered single lesbian living alone with her cat in Brooklyn. Despite my admiration for women who themselves have the tenacity to embrace androgyny into something entirely their own, I look like I’m trying to be some hip other that I’m not. All I want out of life is to each day be one step closer into comfortably and finally settling into this skin, which more than often feels stretched too thin or too wide or not at all.
Frankie and Sharona and Lockett and Brad are even drunker than I am, dancing, reveling, reeling upstairs. Of this I’m certain, and I’m certain they’re wondering where I am, probably so that I can listen to Brad ramble about an inane existential identity crisis, smart as he is. Intelligent people often feel entitled to examine the seams of themselves feverishly to find something wrong to pick at, even when nothing is. They sink entirely into themselves, drowning in a deeply irrational, internalized problem that’s never realized but imagined, which holds the power to convince, sway, paralyze.
Lockett is certainly stumbling around the wooden tables, perplexed that my ass is not around, a concern that only ever happens with his friend Jose, last name Cuervo. He wants me, to please first with that flattery bullshit he’s so damn good at, the words just tumble so slightly and sweetly from his mouth and he’ll occasionally stroke my cheek with his forefinger and thumb, which simultaneously disgusts and floors me. I fucking hate when I turn to putty in his hands.
Then, he’ll plead. Nancy, please for the love of God talk Sharona out of drinking more, so that she won’t pee in a hostel locker like she did one time she was shitfaced and we were in Albuquerque, and that other time we found her in the bathtub and she had nearly evaporated completely.
No, all I can think of instead of going upstairs and having that nightcap on top of the “nightcap” I’m holding in my right hand is teleporting to my bed, into the solitary satisfaction of reading, hopefully drifting off with Kundera or Steinbeck or Nabokov’s words on my lips, but who knows. Sleep doesn’t come for me much these days.
I don’t know why I pretend to go to these bars anymore, these underground after-after parties, these contrived and unfulfilling nights of empty revelry, leaving only a consistent void of meaning or purpose. Everyone knows it but it affects me the most, it seems. I don’t know why I don’t just admit to them, to myself that this is all just a huge distraction. Everything we do, I do, is a farce, a series of meticulously scheduled events crafted in order for me to forget about myself. I’m even failing at that. Maybe —
I’ve been found. Drawing in a breath, I hesitate before speaking.
"Are you sick or some shit?" Frankie’s distinctive drawl, he’s definitely on something. "Get on upstairs, Sharona met some Austrians and we’re going to their place to get fucked up then crash on their couch, maybe, after we go to this open air rave their DJ friend Mazuko is throwing down at Echard Park."
Aren’t we fucked up already? I glance at my watch. 5:15 AM.
"Nance? You coming or what?"
Taking one last look at the ceiling, I notice a phrase carefully penned near the upper lefthand corner. “The world is yours.” The words drain whatever sobriety was left within me. Is it really? I doubt it ever was.
Draining my beer in a single bump, a half-vomit half-gas burp emits from my mouth. I unlock the door and face Frankie’s half-mast eyes, bloodshot and hazily withdrawn from reality. I avoid looking at myself in the mirror as I smile and say,
- Scribbled on the ferry from Copenhagen to Berlin, inspiration taken from some compelling bathroom graffiti in Austin, Texas that I had written down and forgotten about until recently.
Like many of his beloved ‘80s hair metal bands suffering through mid-career artistic crises, Chuck Klosterman’s novel-writing period is like his 1990s. First there was Downtown Owl, a book that took various lives in a small-town in North Dakota (pot-smoking, single school teacher, high school…