Not trying to make sense
Don’t care if he comprehends me
I am writing
This manuscript, these letters
Addressed to him but meant for me
Tied up in tempestuous knots
I am writing myself
Not trying to make sense
Don’t care if he comprehends me
I am writing
This manuscript, these letters
Addressed to him but meant for me
Tied up in tempestuous knots
I am writing myself
At work I dispatch covetous Americans to pungent foreign countries.
They come during their brief lunch breaks, beet and feta salads in their fishy pale palms as they exclaim on their blinking Bluetooth headsets. They point to the posters behind me. Chandelier waters and laughing white people beside a giraffe. That’s what they want, they say. They want an adventure, they say.
We spend the next thirty minutes planning their wild, forward-thinking excursions. A cliff hotel pod in Peru. An elk sleigh ride in Finland. An underwater room in the Pemba Islands. I tell them these are must-have experiences, these $500/night stays in all-inclusive resorts where the Americans will drink blood-red margaritas and use their local guide books as foot props on their lounge chairs. They will snap photos of locals, whose faces will one day stare from strangers’ computer screens, trapped and unblinking.
These Americans have such longing on their breath and restlessness beneath their nails, it’s like they’ve been scratching the Earth for evidence that they’re on it. Sometimes they ask me where I’m from and the question is so ravenous, I’m afraid to answer. I’m afraid they will steal home from me like a snack they’ve been craving.
Avalea agrees. She is the booking agent at WorldAir and although we have never met, she is my closest companion. Her voice is as smooth and warm as an elephant’s ear, as melodic as an open jar of lightning bugs. She likes to calculate my customers based on their orders. She is superb at this game.
“Two business class tickets to Maldives for Arnold Denton.? Let me guess…single white male in his 30s, nice tie, conventionally handsome, kind of obnoxious?”
“40s, I believe.”
“Having an affair?”
“You better not be seating me in the 40th fucking row. I’ll take my business elsewhere, I’ll do it right now.”
I cover the phone with my hand. “I’m discussing something else, sir.”
“God, he sounds like a tool,” Avalea hums in my ear. “Let me talk to him. I want to hear his ache.”
I have my job because they say I’m good at dealing with people. That’s how they say it too, dealing with people. I thought it was a strange thing to say because back home, we call it “speaking” with people, but I am a fast learner. The covetous Americans, along with their wives and husbands and mistresses and misters and unaccountably young wealthy partners, were not the kinds of people we had back home. They ask questions like Where is the best country to hunt a rhino? and Can I take a tour of the slums?
I don’t understand these people, but I can pretend I do. I can laugh at their jokes and log in their seSrvice animals and smile as I click my nails cross the plastic keyboard to log in Gertrude Swine for a ticket that costs more than my mother’s funeral. My mother used to say there is no greater skill in life than acting.
Avalea is a superb actress. When my accountants speak to Avalea directly, their creased brows unfurl like a massaged muscle. Their eyes soften like a spring garden. I can understand these Americans then because I, too, possess this same landlocked expression. I have heard the sweet refrain of Jane’s purr and felt my cheeks dew.
Sometimes I imagine adoring words spilling from Jane’s lips like soup too hot to swallow. I imagine us booking our own excursion, holding hands in first class as we fly over smoothing waters and sleep in underwater rooms. I imagine my fingers cupping her elastic cheek, suspended in a moment, frozen, around the shadowy outline of a woman I’ve never met.
And I wonder if I’m acting so well, I’ve fooled myself into having wishes.
The Americans are all wishes. I think that if I were to unbutton their suits and lift their skirts, I’d find wants instead of skin. This is what makes me call them the covetous Americans. You can understand now. They exist in two states: having and wanting. Sometimes they live in both states at once.
Like the American woman with black nails filed into claws, hair pulled back so tightly her forehead is pinched and pink. She places a piece of paper on the surface between us. On the top is the name of my nation. She pronounces my home like she’s sucking on glass.
Hurtling through the void, I am bathed in your light. An improbability manifest in a universe composed of vacuum. Cautious, intrigued, I continue my approach, bound to this trajectory. I arrive to find another, another similarly bound, another like me. Our paths cross just close enough for me to feel the tremendous weight of your core, warping the very reality surrounding me and pulling me in closer. Contact.
As we brush our celestial bodies against one another, the vectors of our paths twist. Our dance, our spiral through the expanse begins, your matter entwined in mine. The immense force of this collision rips our being apart, splitting our atoms, mixing, fusing them together, releasing the most brilliant light to have ever graced this darkness. Ripples of this collision expand outward infinite, but infinite our dance is not. Stretch.
We are torn between two great forces. Our attraction, the force which binds this universe together, infallible in its constant pull, and our momentum, the very thing which brought us together. Grasping out, our pull gives way to our ultimate paths. Eject.
We fling outward, apart back into the unexplored. Continuing the journey as before but forever changed, I in you and you in me.
Declan, the redheaded bartender, ladled mulled cider into white styrofoam cups. Paul, The balding host next to him, plugged a microphone into the small practice amp behind the bar. Trivia was getting a late start, but no one minded because Maxwell House offered a welcome warmth on this late-winter evening. There was an electric fireplace in the middle of the room and the brackish slush on the bottom of everyone’s pants dissipated quickly.
The place had already filled up with the kind of people that were here every week: a group of millennials from a nearby startup, couples coming together after what felt like a long day apart, and Ron Frongle. Ron Frongle was a handsome man, not so much because of his features, but because of his almost-irritating level of self-confidence. He’d shown up every week for the past six and sat alone at a booth in the corner. Most nights he was silent until the game started, at which point he’d shout whenever he felt like he’d written down the correct answer.
Della wasn’t sure if she found him maddening, or wanted to bed him. Regardless, she respected the fact that he came here by himself. In recent weeks she’d taken to doing the same, a fact that most of her friends found three shades of depressing. She was just happy she got to keep the bar after she and Todd split up. She loved the fact that she was a regular, and Ron Frongle was becoming one as well. As annoying as he was, she felt like they could relate.
She sipped her martini in three successive gulps. Per usual, the vermouth was light and the vodka was heavy, but the olives were stuffed with small hunks of prosciutto, so she knew it wouldn’t be her last. She grabbed one of the print-outs being passed around and scribbled down her go-to team name: Ellen & the Degenerates. She made brief eye-contact with Declan, who brought her another drink without a word.
Della made sure that she could keep her eye on Ron without coming off as obvious. She needed to make up her mind before she made any sort of move. She’d always wondered how the hell he had such a photographic memory of 70’s British pop-culture. She wasn’t particularly interested in it herself. In fact, it was a rare occurrence that she even got a single question right. She didn’t care, she just appreciated being surrounded by people whose faces she knew.
Trivia night was simultaneously Declan’s most and least favorite night of the week to tend bar. Least because of the amount of time he had to listen to Paul prattle on about 70’s British television, and most because of Della. After four months of pining for her, he finally had an opening. For the past few weeks, she’d been showing up without her boyfriend Todd. Their rapport hadn’t changed in that time, but whenever she ate the olive at the bottom of her drink they made eye contact, and if that wasn’t serendipity, he wasn’t sure what was.
Della was the caramelized brown sugar on top of fresh apple crisp.
Todd was a pair of socks that got wet as soon as you left the house.
And now Todd was gone now.
As soon as she’d walked into Maxwell House alone for the third time, he’d written his phone number down on a cocktail napkin. He intended to give it to her with every successive drink she ordered, but he hadn’t yet had the courage to do it. At first, he told himself that he respected the grieving period one goes through immediately after a breakup; now he realized he was just too chicken shit to go through with it. Until tonight.
“Which member of Monty Python starred in the 1975 sitcom Fawlty Towers?” asked Paul, “and for a bonus point, what common seasoning was his character named after?”
Della turned the question over in her head; the only member of Monty Python she remembered was Terry Gilliam; and she only knew that since Todd’s favorite movie was 12 Monkeys and he’d never shut up about it. She wrote down his name and let out a little burp, adding in “Nutmeg” for the bonus question. She didn’t care that she was likely wrong.
“Ron Frongle!” screamed the cardigan-wearing goof. Her skin crawled at the utterance, and she couldn’t help shooting a glance in his direction. From the angle she was at, she noticed the distinct glow of a cellphone screen underneath his table.
“Do we have to go over this again, Ron? This is a quiet, respectful game,” Paul cooed into the microphone. “If you keep this up, I’ll have to ask you to forfeit.”
“Ro-onn Frongle,” he giggled.
The usually jolly host groaned and continued, “Rowan Atkinson, the star of the 1980 show, Blackadder, is also known for his more famous character, named after what popular legume?”
Della absent-mindedly scribbled down the words “pea-brain” while looking at Ron. His scruff barely covered his face, which smirked even wider than before. The terrible cheat, she thought. She wanted to scream it at the top of her lungs. To expose the fraud that he was, and to make him pay back the past $300 in free bar tabs he’d already won. She sat idly by instead. She stewed.
“Ron Frongle,” he muttered, still pleased with himself, though quieter than before.
Paul had begged Declan to ban Ron from Maxwell House, but he wouldn’t do it. Ron had been coming here since before trivia started. The guy was a prick, no doubt about it, but he tipped 20% on every drink, so Declan had never been inclined to take any action. Ron’s impossible confidence threw him, sure, because the guy was honestly a bit schlubby, but the bartender appreciated his need to cause a scene. Anything that got on that squirrel Paul’s nerve’s was another point in Declan’s book.
“Tom Baker’s 70’s stint as the eponymous Doctor Who was popularized by wearing what piece of clothing?” wheezed Paul.
A heavily tattooed girl in scuffed Doc Martin’s sidles up in front of him and orders a Guinness and a shot of Jameson. Declan nodded and, as he poured, caught Della staring bullets at Frongle. Once he’d handed the girl her change, she waited a moment before asking, “Did you really grow up in Ireland?”
“Aye,” he said, scowling.
“Ugh, that must have been so cool. I was in Dublin for a week last summer.”
“Very nice,” he sighed, not taking his eyes of Della, “I don’t go back much.”
“Have you ever been to the Guinness brewery? I think it might be my favorite place on Earth.”
He walked away without answering so that he wouldn’t have to hide his eye roll.
The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. Declan stopped by with another drink without her asking, and stood there for a moment, as if he were waiting for something. She glanced up at him, before returning to her gaze to Ron Frongle, trying to catch him in the act again. She rustled through her wallet for another twenty before he shook his head.
“S’on me,” he sighed and sulked off.
There was a bit of a commotion as the game ended and Paul walked around to collect the game sheets to tabulate. Chatter filled the room and Ron sat still by himself, scrolling through his phone. She felt like she should do something to hide her fascination with him, but she chose to stand up and walk over to his table instead.
“I know what you did,” she whispered.
“Hmm? Whatever do you mean?” he asked, sheepishly.
“I saw you on your phone, you were cheating,” she spat, sticking an accusing finger into his flabby chest.
Della could immediately tell that his shocked expression was fake as he exclaimed, “Who me? Never.”
Paul sighed deeply before announcing, “Surprise, surprise, we have a winner. Ron, you have a $50 tab to use before the end of the night.”
Frongle grabbed her elbow, stopping her as she turned to rat him out. When she looked back, he had a glint in his eye and her knees felt weak.
“What’re you having?” he asked.
“Whiskey ginger,” she said, changing it up.
Ron nodded once before walking up to the bar to collect. He had a swagger to his movements, was light on his feet, though he probably could have stood to lose a few pounds. She couldn’t figure out what it was about him that she didn’t want to keep her eyes off of. She sat back, waiting patiently to see where things would go from here.
Declan was crushed, staring at Della sitting in Ron’s booth while the smug bastard ordered not one, but two drinks. He’d finally left her the napkin from his back pocket and he could still see it now, at her table, unmoved by her half-finished martini with its abandoned olive.
“What’d she want?” he asked casually, pouring ginger ale into a plastic cup.
Frongle was confused, “Huh?” he asked, looking backward. “Oh, red?”
“That’s the one.”
Frongle shrugged, “Beats me.”
Declan gritted his teeth, fingers wrapped tightly around the soda gun, as Ron departed, a fresh tenner left on the bar in front of him. Della’s smile lit up her whole face, the whole room, from his vantage point as Frongle returned to her. Declan felt frustrated, felt like that smile was owed to him and not this cocky joke of a man.
“Hey, Guinness,” he said to the tattooed girl, quietly building a house of coasters to his left.
Her ears perked up, “Yeah?”
“My shift’s about to end, you wanna get out of here?”
She smiled, biting her bottom lip, “Sure.”
As soon as Declan was relieved behind the bar, he grabbed her hand, and lead her out into the night. Instead of stealing one last glance back at Frongle, to the conversation he felt he should be having, he imagined the fingers laced through his own as Della’s. And for a moment, he believed the night was everything he’d wanted it to be.
When you first came to help your sister Stacy move, you hadn’t been in your hometown in a decade. When she called to ask for your help, you had been 6 states over and were squatting/living? with some girl who worked in a coffee shop and read the horoscopes every morning. She liked your beard, and that’s probably all she liked about you, as you really didn’t have that much going on. So much so, that when you left to head back home, you hadn’t felt the need to let her know. While she was at work, you simply grabbed your coat from the couch, and got in your car.
Stacy had moved into this apartment over a few humid days in July. The thick, wet, air allowed the fresh paint smell to linger for practically a month. You remember the scent distinctly from the week you spent sleeping on her couch after you arrived. Her sister, also your sister, Bridget, had come only once to visit in that first month, and had come only once to visit her ever. Bridget had said she didn’t mind the paint smell. Bridget also likes the smell of gasoline, so why would she mind?
It’s 6 years later, and it’s the second time Bridget has been in this apartment. You and she are standing in Stacy’s bedroom, and you are fighting. She is insisting that the pair of earrings she is holding in her hand are rightfully hers. She says Stacy took them from her when everyone was home for your father’s funeral last year. That had been the last time the three of you were in the same room together.
Now it’s just the two of you in Stacy’s apartment. Bridget’s face is all blotchy red as she yells at you with her fists clenched tight around the jewelry. This is the kind of petty shit that is so Bridget. She paces back and forth within the room while she spews her bitter argument in a manner that sounds more like grinding metal than it does speaking. You haven’t seen her since your dad passed, and before that, what, 6 years? She still sounds like the bratty teenager you grew up with. No matter how much time passes, no matter how long you go without seeing her, she’s still the same Bridget.
In reality, you stood beside Stacy 6 months before she moved in, in front of a glass cased counter when she bought the earrings herself. They were small, and round, and if someone had asked you what they looked like before you saw them in Bridget’s hand, you wouldn’t have remembered. But you’re looking at them now, and it’s like you're back in that shitty corner store, freezing your ass off, and thinking, “Stacy, hurry up.”
That had been the last time you and she had travelled together. Stacy made the effort at least once a year or two to come meet you wherever you were and spend a week in your nomadic lifestyle. How she could remain living in the town where the three of you grew up was beyond you. You couldn’t stand that place; the streets, the houses, the people. To you, every aspect of that town was like a ghost of your adolescence that you did not need hanging around. You shed it as soon as you could and hit the road. Somehow, Stacy never seemed to mind. Did she really not remember, or god, was she that good of a person that she could fight her demons that way? As a kid she always seemed happy. As an adult she always seemed blissfully ignorant.
You’re thinking of your childhood now while you stand watching Bridget yelling in Stacy’s room. Stacy’s bedroom is so tidy it’s immaculate. Stacy’s whole apartment is immaculate, like she never even ever lived there ever. There are no dishes in the sink, no laundry in the hamper. As Bridget continues her rant, your eyes stray from the desk to the chair to the duvet cover. You know you unpacked all of this stuff, but you don’t recognize anything.
You know how when you drive the same road enough times, you can anticipate every curve, every pothole? The same applies when you travel enough different roads. Every curve is the one you just passed, every pothole is the one you avoided 6 weeks ago. When you had pulled off the exit onto the main street of your own hometown, it looked the same as all the ones you’d driven through on the way there.
Bridget’s bickering fades out as you realize Stacy’s apartment looks like any other one you’ve ever been in. Your eyes are darting as you struggle to find something to tell you, Stacy was here. Stacy is not here. You leave the bedroom and rush through the hallway to the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom. You’re opening drawers and doors and overturning cushions and crying – god are you crying?! You hold paper in your hand, dishes, towels. You’re looking for her but you know she’s not there and it won’t ever be again.
You wipe your face with your hand and choke back the guttural sound you feel crawling inside of you. Bridget is in the room again with you now. You can’t understand what she’s saying and you can’t even make out her face completely, but you know it’s Bridget because who the fuck else would be yelling on a day like today?
You walk out the front door. You do not say goodbye. You get in your car, and you drive.