“The real machinations of powers must be visible somewhere,” says someone as the lights dim in the arena. But I’m not listening. I’m still being pissy that they put us in the Ace Hotel. “You take it from the grapevine when it’s most fresh,” says someone else I don’t know. None of us are MMA fans, so everyone’s pretty much just talking shit about their own thing, their own projects. We’re up in a booth that overlooks the cage and below us sits a bunch of guys with slick hair that seem to know exactly what’s going on. All the slick haired guys’ dates are in strapless dresses and as the strobe lights circle around the arena their sequins light up with Christmas colors. It’s sorta-beautiful but not the kinda thing I’m taking my cell phone out for. I don’t need a picture. No, not of this.
In the corner of our suite the catering dishes shine with pulled pork and a special type of macaroni made with Havarti. “What is this shit?” says an actor I recognize from TV, looking over the food. He’s a vampire on one of those CW shows, and he plays a bad guy well with his thin and purposeful eyebrows.
When I look around the suite all I see are half-famous people. Drives me nuts. I should’ve stayed in LA, where everyone is half-famous, but nobody makes a big thing about it. I always get invited to these things. I do all the half-famous actresses’ hair before events: the red carpets, the movie premieres, the talk shows, all of them. I am decent at hair–that’s not why they invite me around though–lots of people are decent at doing hair. Most of the actresses I style could probably do a comparable job with their own hair. No. They invite me because I always bring pills. And powder. And whatever else. And I’m not afraid to take it on the plane with me and that makes me an asset in a world of people that have their reputations to consider.
Ali grabs my shoulder. She says my name, “Charlie.” She’s transitioning into movies. Her agent feels good about it, but he still sends her scripts for sitcoms in case there’s something that really jumps out at her. Of course, I’m in love with Ali. But she only loves one thing about me: the drugs. And for now, that’s fine because it keeps me close to her, but I do want more, soon. I want her. And for her part Ali Lomé is about as sane as an actress can be. She hasn’t been told “no” enough to be broken. She’s tall in a good way–in a way the commands the room. Yes, she’s undeniable. Yes, I want her to love me and be with me, so we can marry, and be undeniable together. And I think if she saw me in any other context than the context she’s seen me in, she would fall for me, and agree that my persistence and work ethic extend far beyond just my ability to score blow or Ativan in any neighborhood in Los Angeles.
She asks if I’m loaded up.
I tell her, “Yes.”
Soon: we’re in the bathroom of the suite and I’m giving her red pills to crush up on the tank of the toilet; her nose is small and fake but it still works for drugs.
“Do you have any of the green ones?” She asks me in a way that suggests I should.
“Yep,” I say, pulling a baggy out of my sock.
Ali snorts two green ones and her eyes shimmer.
The crowd in the arena is really starting to fuss.
It must be showtime.
“How long do these fights normally last?” she asks. The bathroom light makes a halo around her strawberry hair, her skin is tight all over. Her arms have perfect little muscles. I think, for a moment, about standing up and kissing her. But no. Not now. See, Ali is one of the few actresses that knows I’m straight, which isn’t something I go parading around because I fear it might make some of the actresses who I’ve seen naked uncomfortable. Sometimes the actresses text me pictures of themselves with just their hair done, no clothes. Then they text me, “How do I look?”
“How long?” asks Ali again.
“No idea,” I say, wondering if her lips could be too sweet, if that’s even possible.
Back in the suite, we walk up to the glass overlooking the cage. The fighters look big, even from up here. The referee pulls them to the center of the cage. Both men are swaying like oil tankers. Their fists raveling and unraveling, and their permanently crooked noses holding shadows against the light
The bell rings.
My vision blurs and for a moment it looks like four men–two sets of twins–are taking turns punching. My nose starts dripping. I go to grab a cocktail napkin and by the time I get back to where Ali is standing the fight is over. The fighter in white shorts has knocked out the fighter in black shorts, who happens to be a Frenchman. He’s standing over him with his arms outstretched in victory.
“That’s it,” says Ali.
“I guess,” I say thinking about kissing her again. “Real crazy.”
“I got invited to go downstairs to meet the fighters, you coming?”
I wonder who invited her and then nod that I do want to go. We go to the bathroom to get a little higher, then, both spinning, we crowd into the elevator with everyone else from the suites.
Down in the bowels of the arena, I see some actual famous people. “That’s Denzel Washington,” says Ali. She grabs my hand. As she laces her fingers in mine, I imagine lying next to her in bed, naked, reading her news from an iPad while the light from the screen presses against my face. I imagine sex with her, the little shake of my hips that would let her know I was done, and her jumping off me and running into the bathroom, turning on the faucet and preparing our toothbrushes. My eyes close and my body leans against the cold concrete of the tunnel wall. I’m a little too high to meet people but Ali stands with me. “Ewan McGregor,” she says. I open my eyes to see him across the hall. He’s short. Maybe. No, he’s tall and talking to a ring girl and wearing a leather jacket and his own band’s t-shirt. He smiles at something the ring girl says. “Cute,” says Ali.
I close my eyes again.
I think about an all-white room, clean and bright.
The thought keeps me from getting sick.
And it kinda works. But still, somewhere in my head I can feel my brain begin to unfasten. My thoughts drift. The green pills will do that. And soon I’m imagining my brain floating, unmoored and listless above some moonlit beach. Like a cloud maybe. And I imagine that maybe a bird would shit on it, my brain. Or the locals might shoot their farm guns at the idiot floating brain that no one remembered to tie-up. And then I imagine my brain losing air and sinking into black water and I–
I come to in the limo, having lost a little time.
It scares me when this happens.
In the limo: It’s mostly the same lame people from the suite, except the Frenchman that got knocked out is with us now. His face looks boiled, his eyes pulped and runny, a Halloween mask.
“Tough fight,” I say to him.
The limo shakes a bit.
“He’s sleeping,” says Ali. “You got anymore green ones?”
I reach into my sock.
“When’s the flight?” I ask, watching my hands shake as I return the bag to my sock.
“We’re not going to LA,” she says, crushing one of the green pills against the unlit screen of her cellphone. “We’re going to Montana…Jackson Rathbone’s having a party, everyone’s going to be there.”
“Everyone?” I ask.
“Every. Person. Ever,” says Ali
“Cool,” I say. I close my eyes.
I want to go with the flow but I’m running low on junk. I itemize in my head what I have left in my socks, in my bag. 12 red. 8 green. 1 gram of dope. 2 caps of Ketamine and a ½ gram of good molly. We’ll burn through that quick, I think.
And I want to object to us going but I can’t keep my eyes open.
When I wake for the second time we’re descending into a small mountainous town. The lights pearl against the blackened woods. Sorta-beautiful, I think, this time pulling out my cell phone. It’s dead. Unfortunate. I look to my left and Ali’s now sleeping. Her chest doesn’t rise, and I worry for a moment she’s dead.
Panicked, I grab Ali by the shoulders and give her a tug.
Her eyes open.
I lean back pretending it was the plane, feeling the slickness of her lotion on my hands and fingers.
I wish it could stay under my nails forever.
Before landing we decide to hit the bathroom once more.
“I’m texting this director,” she says, our shoulders touching in the cramped lavatory. I say nothing and try not to look jealous.
Ali snorts another green, I snort two red.
There’s another limo waiting on the tarmac as we load out of the plane. On the way down the stairs one of the actor’s falls and hurts his leg. Everyone’s a mess: we look like a bunch of unruly democrats on vacation, and in a way we kind of are. The pilot closes the plane door as we drive away.
The propeller having never stopped.
In the limo: the Frenchman, still bleeding a bit, opens a bottle of whisky. The limo driver lowers the partition and tells us we can smoke, drink, whatever. Someone lights a joint as Ali lays her head on my shoulder. The Frenchman looks at his cell phone through swollen eyes. He taps the guy next to him, some chump with a beanie that has a skull and crossbones on it. The Frenchman pulls out a pair of reading glasses, they look funny on his jacked-up face. He clears his throat. “There’s a storm coming,” he says, loudly, his tongue like cement and his teeth like barbed wire. “A big one,” he says, removing his glasses. “Let’s get drunk.”
Through the smoke I see my reflection in the limo window
I squint, trying to really see the way that I am. Not skinny or fat, not handsome or ugly. My hair’s not straight or curly. I have a face but barely, ears and a nose that look picked out a bin. I’m not anything; a ball of gas that changing shape with the light. A figment. A mirage. That’s how I’m able to walk around with my pockets stuffed to the gills.
Some people think they know me.
A very famous playwright has me saved as Pill Clinton in his cell phone. Not that I’m bragging, or that’s even worth bragging about, I just tell people sometimes. Because it’s funny? I don’t know. My wish is that people knew more about me–the real me–intrinsically. And I know that’s not how the world works but still…I do wish that.
Ali’s little nose whistles as she sleeps.
“You’re handsome,” she told me once in her trailer on the Paramount lot. I handed her a bag and she gave me a cheek kiss. “Attainable handsome,” she amended, her voice soft like it hurt her to say it. I think I didn’t say anything back. I think I was silent.
The limo drives onto a smoothly paved bridge and it feels like were floating.
A joint gets passed down our way and Ali’s eyes dart open.
She takes a hit.
“Good timing,” I say like I’m clever.
“Charlie boy,” she says, leaning her head back against the window.
My shoulder is still hot from her head lying on it.
I cup my hands against the glass and look out at the word: the houses, big and ranch style, the lawns all surrounded by stone walls. The moon is already hanging unimpressed beyond a ridge of pine trees, and the water in the grass is making everything shiny. We cross another bridge. We float. Do they make these bridges out of pudding? Marshmallows? I laugh at my own thinking as we pass a mangled guardrail. Next to the rail a mountain cat lies exploded by tire tracks.
The car bumps and I cup my hands tighter.
On one of the lots we pass there’s a grain silo with an unlit cross hanging dead on its chest. Below the cross, there’s a steel stave starting to turn orange, and a bible verse spray-painted in gray that I can’t make out. Something about all of us needing saving, I think. Beyond the stave is a trailer surrounded by old cars like their waiting to be told a story. And beyond the trailer and cars, in the window of an empty gas station, signs hang for dollar bags of ice, for cheap gas, for two-for-one menthols.
I feel Ali’s leg humming against mine. She’s wearing a t-shirt that says, Bambi, under her fur coat. I imagine pulling her shirt halfway over her head, kissing her while her eyes sit in darkness.
I imagine pulling her shirt up over and over again, for forever.
Or, maybe just one time, slowly, for eternity.
Two girls start kissing at the far end of the limo. One of them used to be on a kid’s show, I think. My ears pop as we start driving up a long, private road.
There’s a stretch where all the woods look sick, burnt.
But it doesn’t last.
Continuing up the driveway, we’re soon surrounded by a thick of white-trunked trees. They seem very precious to me, these trees, but I’m also way too high. They seem vulnerable, being so close to the bad woods. And in this moment I feel I have more in common with these trees than anyone in this limo. It’s silly, but I too am ready to die in the manner I was birthed: by a rogue breeze or an incurable fungus. At least I feel that way. Maybe. Maybe I’m just talking. Ali points at my sock and I pull out another green pill and we get after it.
Soon, after a few more minutes of driving, we come to a large clearing.
The house is huge, a compound.
People stand in little knots across the driveway.
“It used to be owned by a Micron guy,” says Ali.
“Cool,” I say.
“Jackson said we should come right in.”
“You’ve been talking to him?” I ask like I’m accusing her of something.
“I mean, yeah. A little. We text. We both auditioned for that pirate thing last month. You’ll like him…He’s cool.” She sounds like she’s confused about that last part.
I had a girlfriend when I first got to LA that used to sound confused about everything. My girlfriend was small and imperfect and filled with too much joy. She always asked if we could go to the boardwalk in Venice and get henna tattoos of each other’s names on the tops of our hands; she wanted to walk around where water rotted the wood and eat caramel corn from newspaper cones; she wanted to try the ring toss.
I always told her we would go sometime but we didn’t.
Then one day I told her I wasn’t in love anymore and that I didn’t see the point in us staying together. After I told my girlfriend this, I walked into the kitchen and got a glass of water. I drank half the cup then put the glass in the sink and told her I had to go to work.
“A night shoot in Pasadena,” I said.
At midnight I got a text from a number I didn’t know: never call again.
The next morning when I got back to our apartment, all her stuff was gone.
I think I cried for a second.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that later that day I took the only bath I ever took in that apartment. And when I bent my head back, submerging my face, I imagined someone coming in and holding me under the water with a strong hand. I imagined them teaching me some horrific lesson about love and sacrifice, they thought I didn’t know. And then I sat in the tub until it fully drained.
We tumble out of the limo like we’re something special: Me, Ali, the Frenchman, all the actors, even the other hanger-ons. We all look good. A mess, but good.
It’s colder in the mountains.
The compound is like the White House. Long windows drip down the face of the building and I can see a different party in every room.
We make our way across the shivering lawn, and I recognize a few faces in the crowd, a few girls whose hair I’ve done on occasion. People are smoking cigarettes. A haze lies motionless in the air above. In one cluster, I see a guy with a pointed chin who I recognized from a billboard on La Brea. He’s telling a girl in a tiny dress about how they found larvae in his mother’s heart. “She eats too much meat,” he says, then he pulls his long hair behind his ears. Her eyes blink as the actor speaks; she looks cold to me. Or excited.
“Toby rented this place for his fourth,” says someone behind me.
Ali taps her knuckles against mine and speaks quietly, “Should I do him?”
That sends me back a step.
“Who?” I ask.
“Jackson,” she says.
On the steps: someone reaches out and rings the ivory doorbell.
I smile, an acid erupting in my stomach and swallowing my heart. It’s bad. I feel the hatches inside me fail as the front door opens and a green fountain of foam erupts from my mouth, painting the door and shoes of whoever’s opened it.
I fall to my knees.
“Goddamn,” says the Frenchman.
The shoes I’ve puked on are crocodile, Prada.
I look up.
“Funny tummy,” says Jackson Rathbone, kindly.
My hate is automatic.
I try to speak but cannot, still fearing more vomit.
“I’m so sorry,” cries Ali. And she’s looking right at Jackson like they’re on a dating show: his big antelope eyes, her big antelope eyes, his good haircut, her willingness to be loved by him and his good haircut. It’s sick.
I get to my feet.
“An accident,” says Jackson, playing all nice as he looks down on me.
And the two of them laugh. They laugh.
I don’t need her to speak for me, I just need her not to sleep with this idiot.
Two girls in leather skirts and diamond shirts run over with towels and start cleaning up the door, the landing, Jackson’s shoes.
I tug on Ali’s wrist, but she ignores it.
Inside, a real Sodom & Gomorrah situation is occurring.
People hanging in cages.
Changing colors everywhere.
An NBA player that was suspended for an entire season after punching his coach is sitting on the third step of the staircase, he’s lighting something with a torch.
The party is everything, all in one place.
It’s magic. And I wonder if, in fact, David Blaine is somewhere in the house making some girl’s engagement ring disappear before leading her by the wrist into the nearest bedroom.
“Do you want a drink?” asks Jackson, putting hand on my shoulder.
But I’m so mad I’m barely listening. He moves his other hand to my other shoulder like I’m a baby he’s about to shake to death.
“I’m Charlie,” I say, “Ali’s hairdresser friend.”
“Cool,” says Jackson. “That’s dope. The art of hair is important.”
Ali looks at me like I’m in trouble for talking to Jackson.
Like he is hers and hers only.
The light in the room goes red.
I see snow beginning to fall out glass windows that overlook the yard.
Ali whispers in Jackson’s ear that I’m not just her hairdresser but also her dealer and then offers him some of my drugs. “I don’t really do that stuff,” says Jackson, louder than Ali. “But welcome to Lumee Ranch, where you can do anything you want.”
I can’t stop them.
So, I excuse myself to the nearest bathroom.
I need to clean myself up.
In the bathroom, I take a handful of everything I’ve brought with me and rinse my mouth with water from an emerald spout. It’s kinda-beautiful, but I hate it. I take perfume from one of the drawers and dump it into the toilet. Dior. Whatever. I spit in the sink to keep from vomiting again. I get it. Jackson’s famous, rich, et cetera.
But doesn’t Ali see that Jackson’s not me?
And how bad that is.
Him not being me.
I could kiss her, I think.
I could have some guts for once and take what I want.
What would she say?
What would she do?
I know you don’t grab people and kiss them without asking but sometimes it works. And I think if it’s someone you really want and you do it to keep them from sleeping with a worm-man, then probably–while still slightly inappropriate–it’s justified. What other recourse do I have? I run my lips under the water to make them soft. The Frenchman bangs on the door and it sounds like he could pound through the thing if he wanted to. I hit a whole cap and eat one more green pill. I know it won’t help–me getting all wasted–but it fills my head with a warmth that can only be described as candlelight. Civil-war-candlelight. Something small and precious inside of me. And I am the keeper of that something. And I guess I like that–having something. I wish I had more secrets, that people trusted me with their secrets–not like what dress they’re going to wear to The Teen Choice Awards, but real secrets–where they were touched when they shouldn’t have been touched there, or if they’d ever left someone for dead by the side of the road.
The Frenchman almost knocks me over when I open the door.
“That dude is with your girl,” he says. “And he seems sexually wonderful like a horse. Yes? Don’t ask me how I know, I can just tell.”
The Frenchman moves past me and lifts the toilet seat.
“I’m wonderful too,” I say, drying my hands.
The Frenchman laughs.
“You’re a pill head,” he says.
“So, why’s a fine piece like that going to land with a dude like you? No offense.”
“I have more to offer than drugs,” I say, lying. “I do hair.”
The Frenchman laughs again, and I feel so small as he does this that it makes me want to hurt him. I consider kicking him in the back but instead I cup my hands and have another drink of water from the sink. Sometimes I feel like I can beat anyone in the world with just my will. Like if I start punching, by the time I finish someone will be nothing more than a pile of mush. A pile of mush so finely ground into nothing that it itself would become a wonder, traveling state-to-state with the country fairs, and a sign could read just above the pile of nothing mush: Here was the mother fucker, a Frenchman, who talked shit to me.
“I’m just saying,” says the Frenchman, then he moves his swollen hands to his hips and gyrates in the sex way.
“It was fun to watch you lose,” I say, opening the door.
I didn’t even see him get knocked out; I’m so full of shit when I’m angry.
He keeps laughing and peeing and neither seem like they’ll ever stop.
“Made two million tonight,” he says. “I make more losing than you do winning.”
“Great,” I say, the door closing behind me.
I want to hate Jackson’s party so much but in truth it may be the most extravagant thing I’ve ever attended. In the foam room–the heaven room–someone who I think may be Colin Farrell is wearing only a braided belt. In the hallway I pass one of the most famous directors in Hollywood, explaining infinite orgasms to a hoard of half-famous, and dumbfounded onlookers. Out the window Laura Linney is at the edge of veranda, plumes of blue cigar smoke drifting out slowly from between her lips
I keep going.
I find one of the many living rooms; the disgraced basketball player from the landing is now shooting wine corks into a vase above the fireplace. I find the corner of the room and sink down into a chair. My stomach throbs.
It growls, then hushes, then growls once more.
In attempt to distract myself, I take stock of the room: there’re the award-winning equestrians; the newly disgraced talk show hosts; the bison burgers and earthly grief and glow sticks and Siegmond Lubin’s granddaughter balancing a drink on her ass, like that’s a trick worth showing to people.
There’s all that.
Even the Scandinavian blood rockers are here.
Me looking for Ali.
But I can’t find her.
In the rush of the party, I wonder if she’s in Jackson’s bed, enjoying his Savoir mattress, telling him things she’s never told anyone. Then she’ll smile and he’ll smile. And he’ll start talking about having a strange permission from the cosmos to take what he wants from this world, and his lust for life, and the umbilical that ties all energy and negative space together and blah, and blah, and blah.
She’ll have him.
He’ll have her.
Their bodies will find harmony and outside the snow will begin to fall in big flakes, and there will be a distant wailing of wolves and the click of the watermill spinning in the hand-built creek.
I swallow the rest of green pills and do some molly in the kitchen; and the thing about the green pills is they’ll give you this feeling of being waterboarded if taken incorrectly, which is how I’ve just taken them. Too many. Too fast. Too much. So, the lights above the dance floor begin to tear through me and I begin to hear the gossip of the unheard planets, all together, sitting, chatting, drinking in a sports bar full of solar flares and red dwarfs, and they’re saying things that make no sense to me: “Burnt cow tongues are bad.” “Black-hearted actors are good.” “No fucking fatties, okay?” “You should pump gasoline into the hot tub to regain your clarity.” “You can be strong and weak at the same time.” “You can!” “So, wait for the sun to eat them all and then grab one of those swag bags with the mini speakers.” “Do it!” “Run!” “Run!” “You’ve been granted a vision.” “So, fuck them. “Let them watch you lose control.” “Do it!” “Knock out their teeth and toss them into the punch bowl.” “What are you?” “Scared?” “What’ve you become?” “Nothing more than a drug mule with a passport.” “A poser from the worst galaxy.” “Dear lord!” “Good God!” “Heavenly father, won’t you save this little freak.” “Run kid, run!”
“Woah,” says Jackson Rathbone, and he’s holding me now. “You’re okay.” And I’m looking for mockery in his tone, but it just isn’t there. See it’s cold now: and we’re deep in the rocks and deep in the snow. I roll to my side and take a long breath like I’ve just lost a street fight. I can still hear the bass from the speakers, from the party, bumping from afar; the bass sounds small in the muted, disquiet of winter.
He has two hunting dogs with him, his dogs, maybe rented dogs for the party.
I’ve wandered a good half-mile.
A bad distance.
My feet are hurting and cold in my boots. “Where’s Ali?” I ask.
“The girl I came with. Red-blonde hair.”
“Oh, yeah. She’s at the house partying.”
“And you came to find me?”
“Someone said you were tripping.”
“I am…I was. Now I’m not anything,” I say.
I pick myself up from the crunchy snow.
“You’re awesome,” says Jackson, resting against a large builder.
The snow’s falling all around him but not on him like it’s nervous to get too close.
“You’re awesome. But you’re all tense because you’re scared.”
“What?” I repeat, my lips cracking at their ends.
The dogs’ ears perk like they’ve been trained them to listen.
“You’re scared because you’re scared,” says Jackson. Then he slides his hands into his pockets like it will help me understand him better. He clears his throat beneath the canceling stars. “See we’re all born hearing the sound of our own cries…and why? Why is it we’re born feeling like we’ve already stepped in it? You know, that hunch we all have, that the first thing we ever did was the worst thing we ever did… being born. And worse, we’re born to no longer live one day in the future. To die! And how unfair that is? That–that’s! why you cry. That first violence–your birth –you already felt like you’d done wrong. And you didn’t but no one could explain that to you. And that’s why you wept until you were given your first rattle. And why you pleaded for your mother’s milk. It’s why you cried. And it sucks. Sucks! And the most untrue part of the story is that you’re supposed to feel this way. Sick. Tired. Sick-and-tired. It’s wrong. It is! But it’s your nature. Your very, very, very wrong nature.”
“It’s a bummer,” he says, pulling his hands out and clapping them over his perfectly messy hair. He looks at me like I’m meant to understand him.
“Did you sleep with Ali?” I ask, crying now.
He pauses, sighs.
“Yes,” he says, not ashamed nor excited.
“I love her,” I say, stepping back into the dark ring of a spruce tree.
“Yes, I’m sure that’s true,” says Jackson, the light of the moon all over him as walks into the clearing. “But you know it feels better for me to have her then for you to have her. You do…You know that, don’t you?”
He smiles but not in a mean way.
The birds are chirping in the high up trees.
I can hear the calm jingle of the house bells tied around his dogs’ necks, and the churn of earth as the dead snow falls away from their rising paws.
“It’s time to go back,” says Jackson. “She probably wants to see you.”
“I doubt it,” I say, my words coming out small, petty.
“I bet she really likes you.”
“You two were together.”
“Doesn’t matter. I had her for a moment, that doesn’t mean she’s mine.”
“But it hurts my feelings,” I say. “It makes me mad at her.”
Jackson shrugs. He shrugs like there’s nothing to be done, like it’s not his fault when things happen to him, or for him, and that’s just the way his life is sometimes. “Let’s just go enjoy ourselves,” he says, then he turns and begins his track back towards the house, his long jacket swaying behind him, his dogs following in lockstep.
I watch Jackson Rathbone grow smaller and smaller against the hillside.
I think of Ali.
How silly she’ll feel tomorrow.
How much she’ll need me.
Her hairdresser. Her friend.
And then a wind sweeps through the trees.
And the snow touches the back of my neck.
And even though Jackson is now too far away to hear me, I yell, “Please! Please wait! I still want to–still want to party!”
When I get back to LA I quit selling drugs. And, after a while, the actresses stop calling me to do their hair. Ali too stops calling too, though sometimes she’ll leave a message when she’s drunk and feeling emotional or needs a ride.
Or an 8-ball.
I’ve become unnecessary, I feel.
Forgotten: because now I have a job in the valley as a beautician at a funeral home. And there are no drugs, only a handsome garden in the back where people drink coffee and Pepsi after the funeral proceedings. I sit on the bench in the middle of the un-bloomed flowers on my break. And as I sit, I have the funniest thoughts. I think about God being a woman. See it makes sense. But not an actress type of woman, the world isn’t built like that. I think maybe God’s a woman pastry chef with a warm and inviting, pendulous bosom. Maybe she even has a little upturned nose that wrinkles when she’s excited. It makes sense. Enough of the world ties together for me to believe that. How else would you explain the oceans, salted to perfection? Trees growing for a thousand-years? Quicksand?
There are other times, in the garden where the living mourn their dead and drink Pepsi, I imagine God–still as a woman–in a big city, her eyeliner smeared as she uses a payphone on First Avenue.
God never imagined things could be this difficult.
Then I remember there are no payphones on First Avenue.
And God probably doesn’t exist.
And it doesn’t matter.
Because there are real wonders to still be found in this life, real life.
Like down where we keep the bodies, I sometimes find bugs. House spiders and caterpillars fat on milkweed. Amazing creatures. And when I grow tired of their many eyes and their marble bodies, I will sometimes pull back the eyelids of the dead that they walk over. The dead are amazing and they ask for nothing. They don’t even mind bugs on their white, white chests. I think about what they might be like, and I imagine them waking with a strange startle and asking what year it is.
“Three thousand and three,” I would say trying not to laugh.
“Where were you just now?” I’d ask.
“Moving from lake to lake in a place with only lakes,” they’d say.
“Very cool,” I’d say back, resting my chin in my hand, pulling my stool closer to them. But not too close.
Just in case.
You can never be too sure when it comes to matters of death. Plus, it’s sometimes easier not to joke. So just to make sure I’m doing things the right way, I tell the dead the truth about me: that I want to be known without speaking. That I want to never wait and always have. That I want to go to art galleries and see road blockades stacked twelve feet high and I want to pretend this is art and then have sex with the prettiest museum docent in the bathroom. And I want her to tell me her boyfriend used to be handsome but has quite trying. Then I want to smash my head into things I can afford to replace, because–as I will explain to the dead–I too am marooned and unsafe and without friends in this life.
But as always, they say nothing.
And I just keep going.
Explaining that I’m lame.
A loser, even to a dead, unfamous corpse.
And that like any good loser I just want everything. Everything. And even more than everything, I want to be told the truth. All truth. Any truth. It just needs to be solid. Something whispered in my ear, quiet and powerful.
Yes: a secret would do.
A very real secret from the very real world.
That would be so nice.
Sam Berman is a short story writer who lives in Boise, Idaho and works at House Of Wheels, in a very nice warehouse with Wes & Peter & Whitney. They are terrific coworkers. He has had his work published in Maudlin House, The Masters Review, Illuminations, Smokelong Quarterly and recently won Forever Magazine's Unconventional Love Stories competition. He was also selected as a runner-up in The Kenyon Review's 2022 Non-Fiction Competition. He has forthcoming work in The Fourth River and D.F.L., among others.