Olivia woke hallucinating the fat splayed brachia of a river. That was gone, and her torpor remained: her sticky window and cottonmouth coalesced in sinking nausea. Her bed was a swamp of fresh and stale sweat. It was afternoon.
She listened to glassy, soothing music, ageless, deathless, and ate a peanutbutter cracker.
At five o’clock she cracked open a watery beer and drank the whole thing and immediately felt better. She typed up a poem about trembling leaves and memory and eyes. She put on some old-timey songs about love and danced with herself.
Sometime thereafter she was drunk. Rereading her poem she hated it, swept it up in blue highlight and replaced it with knuckles all over her keyboard to the tune of sdknadsjlfnhudskjaehsaefskdjlhuadskjmfkjhlkjasdmnvfnakjsdkfnakjsdmfnkjasmndfnkmasdnfkamsdfnjkesdfjlmsdfncvxmdkflasknfadsfmnkmadsamnaksmdfjjkknmasdfn, which she ctrl+c, ctrl+v’d over three pages (appendix A.) She titled it “12 Tone,” then exited without saving. She put on a funny Youtube video and opened another beer. It was nine o’clock.
Strictly as the Devil’s Lettuce
Olivia broke the jaundiced fingernail of a roach, tumbled the burnt crumbles into a pipe. Vera picked apart a nugget, laid a downy bed to the brim. Vera took the first hit and passed it, with curling smoke, to Olivia.
“When did you first smoke?” she asked.
“Ninth grade,” said Olivia. “Dave introduced it to me. My friend Dave.”
“I know Dave,” said Vera. “I’ve smoked with him and his friends before. Tangentially. Through Karl.”
“I’ve smoked with Karl!” said Olivia, “with Dave. He seemed nice. Main thing I remember we were in a large group of boys and none of them wanted to say they want to get high. So we all acted like it’s a glass of water that we could take or leave, and not something that will alter the course of the next two or more hours.”
“I’ve only smoked with him once,” said Vera, “but people do that, distance themselves from the suggestion to smoke. Like their voice will get soft and blurry as they say the key words.”
“Like sometimes he’ll exaggerate and ask if you wish to partake of the sacrament,” said Olivia.
“Karl’ll ask if I would want, like, or be inclined to boke a smowl,” Vera continued, “and I always accept as if the idea had never occurred to me, but since he mentioned it, I could, all else being equal, gladly indulge in a modest puff of Old Toby.”
“If I have options I always get the most ridiculous name I available. Gorilla cookies is the best I’ve heard so far. Dave always knows if it’s an Indica, a Sativa, or a blend, and he can tell you the exact chemical composition of each cubic centimeter of smoke, vapor, or edible.”
“Karl too,” said Vera. You talk to Karl when you’re serious about getting high,” said Vera.
“I like calling it pot,” said Olivia, “because I think that’s what most people’s parents call it. It’s how authority figures call it, so it makes people nervous.”
“That’s very nice of you,” said Vera. “I refer to it strictly as the Devil’s Lettuce.”
“You know,” said Olivia, “I’m pretty sure I was just describing myself. I have a theory that whenever people describe other people they describe themselves.” She slid the record again from its sleeve, secured it on the turntable.
“Just now, with the glass of water?” said Vera.
“Yeah,” said Olivia.
“Anytime anyone describes anyone?” said Vera.
“No, I mean,” said Olivia, “like, more so when people describe society at large. When people say that we live in an age of alienation, they really mean that they feel alienated. If they say society’s coming apart at the seams, that means they feel like they’re coming apart at the seams. You know?”
“No,” Vera laughed, “I don’t think that I do.”
“Yeah, I don’t really know what I’m talking about either.” said Olivia.
She dropped the needle. The two of them knelt seiza by the record player.
the chocolate enzymes
Olivia and Vera’s first conversation took place after Social Studies when the former offered the latter a Hershey Kiss, one bulging already in her own cheek. Vera thanked her, noted approvingly that Olivia treated Kisses as a hardcandy, handled her fragrant volumes of hair as she spoke, gathered them behind her head and looked up, or placed them in front of her shoulder and looked aside. Olivia rubbed her elbows and neck repeatedly and tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear.
“You can’t chew them,” said Olivia.
“You can’t chew them,” Vera agreed. “They’re more of a waxy nut than chocolate.”
“But when you suck on them,” Olivia agreed, “it’s like you activate it. Into a rich sludge. With the enzymes.”
“Exactly, with the chocolate enzymes,” said Vera.
Four am. Forget? She dreamed of a frog that threw up his flies: frog wretch. The next morning she vomited up a lot of liquid that looked like lentil soup and tasted like stomach acid. There was a spot of blood on her sheets—she uncovered some blotches—and a tattered bloody ball of toilet paper that she had packed into her sleeve. There was a wound on her arm, which began to hurt. She had pitched forward into bed last night. This frightened her: some people fall asleep and choke on their vomit, people who don’t mean to fall asleep drinking.
She nursed herself on a bagel. She cleaned up her room very well, rinsed the blood spots thoroughly with cold water and rubbed soap in with her thumb, rinsed again. Then she opened her laptop and masturbated, with the help of a fingerpad vibrator, to a looping GIF of prickly-lipped cunnilingus and came with a weak shudder and a surge of cleansing brainchemicals which passed into nausea. She did not drink at all that night.
Back in Olivia’s room, Vera removed a record from her tote bag: the sleeve showed large umber-skinned man with a pale-pink birthmark that tapered from a pool atop his head to a crack through his green right eye, behind a larger saxophone and, in orange lettering above his eyebrows,
And beneath his bell,
The Condor was faded—the press of vinyl had largely effaced him. Olivia felt the fuzzy corners, and chipping spine, slipped the record from its sleeve and traced for Vera a disappointing gouge, tilted the disk to illuminate a cirrus abrasion, flipped the disk, slid it back in, and read the back sleeve, which said:
“A first-rate collection from a leading light of American music . . . who cannot be characterized . . . phenomenal.”
///// MEMORIES ARE ISLANDS IN A WRINKLED SEA ///// CLOTS IN THE CONTINUITY ///// THE CONDOR SINGS OF A TIME ///// WHEN ALL WRINKLES SHALL BECOME SMOOTH ///// ALL BIRTHMARKS SHALL BE BLOTTED OUT ///// TODAY IS MIASMIC EFFLUVIUM ///// TOMORROW IS ROSEWATER AND HICKORY ///// TOMORROW ///// WRINKLES ARE ISLANDS IN A SEA OF MEMORIES ////
“Miasmic effluvium’s a bit much,” said Olivia. “But I like rosewater and hickory. Shall we? Should we smoke first?” Vera shrugged like she could go either way.
pleasant suburban home
Olivia picked Vera up from a sunny cul-de-sac behind the Pike. Vera was recumbent in sunglasses in the middle of the loop, a happy lizard. They drove halfway down into the valley, back to Olivia’s house, with the windows down. Vera got out of the car and looked at the house with the trees, but Olivia took her by the wrist around back—
They stood on a high, flowery porch.
“I learned today,” watching smoke trickle up the paper through Vera’s fingers, “that a third of all dalmatians are deaf.” Receiving the joint she sphinctered her lips hüüüüüüüüp.
“101 Dalmatians would have been a different movie,” said Vera. Olivia coughed out smokey laugh then suppressed it; at last fragilely exhaled.
“Much better movie,” she said hoarsely. Vera took the joint, inhaled, held it, then spoke smoke:
“Come to think of it,” she said, her eyes alight, “only a handful ever talk, right?” she exhaled a thin unabsorbed lungful.
“Yeah,” said Olivia, “There’s the mom and dad; and like, 4 or 5 representatives of the puppy class. We don’t know what they had to go through to achieve their delegate status, but we assume they’re representing the interests of all 101, of the dalmatians. The rest have become pliable in the damp and dark and hopelessness and they just swarm to new leadership.”
“And they’ve never told what the plan is,” said Vera, taking the joint back. “The other 90-whatever. They just take their cues visually. They could be deaf.”
“They could be deaf,” Olivia agreed.
Twin jets of smoke came from Vera’s nostrils. “Remember that TV show at the beginning,” she said, and returned the joint to Olivia. “In the happy times, before Cruel Devil shows up?”
“Right!” Olivia exclaimed. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Right,” said Vera, “and there’s this hero dog, like really proudchested with a thick coat. And the villain’s this ugly, like, caricatures of a Mexican guy villain with bad teeth and squinty eyebrows and a big moustache. And the dog’s like a smarmy doggish Clint Eastwood and all the little puppies are howling for blood and gnawing the carpet . . .”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” said Olivia. “These are the little bloodthirsty psychopaths that grow up to be great leaders. Iron discipline if they ever get out of Cruella De Ville’s lair. My dad could’ve been one of those puppo’s.” She realized she was high: silence assailed her just-spoken words. In a panic she clarified: “like the TV—he’s not—he’s not iron— or—”
“Are you feeling it, I’m feeling it” She said helplessly.
“Yeah, I’m feeling it” said Vera. Olivia watched a smokethread distend and a new spool issue from the end of the joint. Vera probably didn’t think she was serious. The smoke was pretty. When Vera returned the white stick to her, she licked her finger and stubbed it out. “Save for later,” she said. They sat in silence. Olivia smiled; then felt the muscles in her face had frozen in mannequin happiness. She smiled brighter—insane glee—alarmed herself—looked at Vera, who was watching her—swallowed an explanation, and said,
“My cousin told me there’s extra thc in the roach, like from all the smoke passing through it. So it’s like, small and hard. I don’t know if it’s true.
“But I act like it is. I want to be the person who takes the most ludicrous claims about weed as gospel.”
“There are much worse people to be,” said Vera.
“My cousin has all these tips and tricks,” said Olivia, not breaking rhythm.
“He’s like the Avogadro of weedsmoking / he’ll measure out a quantity of oil to have the right molar proportions / between the lipids and the thc n’ all the other chemicals.
He knows how to extract everylast resinous crystal / from everylittle babyfingered leaf / from the sautéed simmering stems to the supersaturated roach,” she finished, with her hand on her heart.
She had said it perfectly.
She had talked much too long.
“Hey, I wanna show you something,” she said, to rush away from her speech. Quiet! She said to her clamorous thoughts. Are you . . . much too high? Shut up!
She rushed Vera up to her room, in order to show her something. But also—
—her room was a cramped and disorderly refuge in an otherwise spacious and extremely pleasant suburban home. It contained books, stacks of magazines, posters, statuettes and rare coins, heaping plants, a bucket of empty rolled-up aluminum paint tubes, a record player, a bowl of melted crayon, a glow in the dark starmap that she had measured out with a ruler and protractor . . . collages in stacks, or residing among the bric-a-brac . . . a guitar . . . scissors . . . yarn . . . .
“So originally I put 36 nails at grid intervals, 5’ across and 5’ high,” said Olivia, “Wound colored yarn, simple or elaborate, taut or draped, in one or eight colors, depending on my mood . . . back in June, I had like horizontal rainbow stripes . . . but I had to skip indigo . . . then I had these long tassles at the end, so I slackened each line so it was like a spacious inverted rainbow . . . but then I added” (she swallowed) “120 nails, 2 between each one . . . 156 nails in a grid, like that . . . I draw words from a bowl, a lot of the time, which gives me like a guiding principle as I work . . . this one here was for ‘thorns’”
On display, a prismatic abstraction of crisscrossing triangles.
“Can we?” said Vera
“Of course!” said Olivia, and drew the word: hunt. They took down the web, brought out the bin of yarn and scissors, and set to work. Before long, there emerged the polygonal profile of a yellow crane pursuing a black beetle . . .
One Saturday evening, they walked to the half-renovated elementary school halfway out the valley. Olivia heard construction every weekday beginning at 7 am. The Friday a week before a man had tried to wrestle a Sawzall into a waffling piece of plywood for twenty deafening minutes.
Alone in a badland of equipment and fences, they clambered up the rubble (filled their shoes), pulled themselves up a sagging crisscross of bent rebar to the low roof, and then ascended a utility ladder to the high roof.
They could see just over the treetops. A single star danced in the lavender and shimmer of faraway chemical production. The 720,000 ton suspension bridge was a watermark that would disperse with the haze. Vera and Olivia took turns pointing these and other beautiful things out to each other: the smashed brick and half a classroom; the steel support beam that had bent like a paperclip; a darting bat; the flicker of cars through the trees.
“What do people do?” said Olivia. College. Square cap and diploma. Throw the cap and catch children in succession like a juggler one, two . . . three. Mothermilk. I never knew what it was to live until I saw those tiny crinkly fists ball up for the first time.
“Generally?” said Vera.
“After high school,” said Olivia.
“They get jobs,” said Vera. “Then they die.” Olivia laughed.
“Don’t forget motherhood,” she said.
“That’s right,” said Vera, “sometimes they have babies first, if they’re selfish. If you’re lucky, you can squeeze in a couple hobbies, too.”
“O,” (Olivia in clumsy Irish accent slanting West Indian) “I was mothering along minding my own business determined to be a scientist or some such silliness when some bless mother’s son said wouldn’t you like to be a mother and I said ah, take me, I’ll be as mother as ever his mother was mother and bless his mother but I never knew what it was to live until I knew what it was to be a mother. Do you think I’ll have time for a swim?” she added in in flat northeastern.
“Maybe as one of your hobbies,” said Vera.
“Do you believe in God?” Olivia ventured. She watched two stars flickering in lavender.
“No,” said Vera. “Do you?”
“No,” said Olivia, embarrassed. “I mean, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like—like what we were talking about earlier, if art is a Frankenstein creation of your experiences, then that inexplicable ability now and then to break off a piece of the blue sky,
“smear it over the monsters brow,
“and bring it shuddering to life:
“the act of resolving ambient tension:
“that might come from God,”
—Vera became still. Her eyes were luminous and haunted and she had quiet, delicate features. Olivia sensed, with fleeting dread, dark recesses in her, like a ship in the abyss—
“or some sublime, impassive source,” she finished miserably. She involuntarily bethought herself that the best artists had tuberculosis.
Vera said nothing. Olivia saw a chrysalis.
“Check this out,” she said. “Do you know how they become butterflies, or moths, or whatever?”
“No,” said Vera, “how?”
“They digest themselves. No kidding, they digest their whole body, except a couple organs suspended in a nutrient-rich goop. And then it congeals into all the moth parts, like fuzzy little bodies and crinkled wings.”
Again, Vera was silent. They watched a train arrive in the trees and depart.
Then Vera told her: how she often cut her own ambient tension by running a razor along her forearm and watching the skin open like sliced pork; how she would watch capillaries blossom and well up to the trough’s brim; how she would catch it with a tissue or toilet paper before it ran down her arm. She showed Olivia a bright red scab, mildly infected. Her tone was proud, bitter, imploring. Olivia touched her elbow.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, how, how, “I don’t even know what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty minutes” what do you “are you okay?” Her hand was still on her elbow. She withdrew it.
“Yeah,” said Vera, “Forget, I—it’s stupid, it’s nothing. I had that built up in me,” she added, “for some . . . stupid reason.”
Night was falling: a dimmer third star danced in the lavender sky.
the valley and the pike
The Valley is lush, hot, and shady in the summer. Oaks, sycamores, maples, beeches, ashes, tulip trees bear the sun’s main weight on their glorious wilting crowns. A slow mosquito-breeding river, and its quicker forks and runs, give some breezy relief from the haze. On one side, the Valley rises into farmland, towns, a municipal airport, and then Amish country.
On the other side, it rises to meet the Pike: a glittering ridge of car dealerships, traffic lights, sunbeaten weeds in cracked sidewalks; a permanent choked river of exhaust and stagnant metal; a lurching pedestrian with all his possessions.
the needle struck
The needle struck, gathered lint from the groove, and up jumped the horn midflight, febrile euphonies, clotted notes cluttered round knotted chords, saxophonic fibrillations fluttering down a chromatic staircase, noodling up and scoodling down, flittering round corners, skidding to a halt, thrashing out a drum solo; and afterward, the deluge.
Vera and Olivia exchanged skeptical looks, like two accosted by a holy rambler.
“It’s a lot,” said Vera.
“It’s a lot,” agreed Olivia.
“No wonder my mom got rid of her turntable,” said Vera, and turned it down.
“Let’s draw a word,” said Olivia, and retrieved the supplies, proffered the word bucket.
Vera reached in, drew, said . . . “…Nightmare.”
“Nightmare,” said Olivia, and took out a black spool.
Olivia wove scattered red strands, jagged panicky scraggles. Vera iterated a thick black vertical bar. They wove a nightmare on the wall, while the Condor chirruped on low, and they talked.
“Do you have any recurring nightmares?” asked Vera.
“Sure,” said Olivia. “I have all kinds of nightmares. Recurring, though, lately, are mostly just about Peter.” Lovover life. Highschool sweethie. Fucking asshole. Come back. Stony Peter.
“Yeah, you two used to date, didn’t you?” asked Vera. “What happens in the dreams?” Scent of aroma. Scent of the vent in the restaurant smelled exactly scent of the vent.
“Nothing happens,” said Olivia. “He broke up with me and it . . . bothers me to be reminded of him. Not that you reminded me of him,” she added hurriedly. “I just . . . haven’t felt happy in a long time. Each day feels like it extracts a corkscrew from my heart by a quarter-turn or less; and then a scent or memory will twist it three turns deeper. Sometimes it all comes back in a dream and it can fuck my whole day up.” Peter laughing, I can’t believe you thought we’d broken up, I love you so much much much much . . . .
“That’s real,” said Vera, and handed her green. “Here, try decorating the top a bit, like . . . a tree, kind of, is what I’m picturing. How did you two meet, if you don’t mind me asking?” Down to earth vulture. Down to earth, Vulture.
“He was part of a group of boys that welded itself to my friend group, five and five, you know.” She half-grinned. “That was back when I hung out with Ipsi, Nasreen, Charlie, and Meg. (You hung out with them?) I know. Ipsi has that volleyball-player look, and Nasreen that soft, full figure, and they’re both gorgeous, with heavy, silk black hair and eyes like gleaming coal; Charlie’s petite, with fine, pretty features, golden hair and very dark eyebrows; and Meg has strong features, I always felt like she looked like a Roman, bold and imposing, and probably attractive, at least to a Roman, anyway; and then there’s me, tall, ungainly (No!) with a wide face, my dad’s stooped shoulders (No, what?) dry wispy hair (oh come on) . . . but! Easy-to-talk-to-slash-down-to-earth, so the boys said, which basically meant I could talk to my friends on their behalf. (Of course.) Anyway, Peter started out interested in Ipsi, (Uh oh.) but they really had nothing in common (course not.) In the course of our conversations, we, ah,” she exhaled, “formed a real connection, I guess.” Swing low, sweet vulture. Olivia made a little black birdball on one branch. Vera shook her head.
“Do you know how bad I used to wish I was tall?”
“Stooped,” said Olivia with a wry smile. “Hunched. In middle school some of my meaner friends called me ‘Vulture.’”
“That’s horrible!” said Vera. “Middle schoolers are the worst. You also have gorgeous eyes, you know that? I’m not sure if they’re grey or green, but they’re kind of both and I’ve never seen anything like them. And down to earth is real, even if they didn’t mean it.” Gorgeous greygreen eyes. Thank you. Say it. Do you have
“Do you have any recurring nightmares?” asked Olivia. Escaped.
“Oh, yeah.” said Vera, “My number one recurring nightmare I call Things Bleeding that Shouldn’t Bleed.” I’ll break off the branch of a tree, a living tree so it cracks and bends and twists but holds on, like at the shoulder; but then I’ll feel it crack for real and realize my shirt’s soaking through and look up and see blood streaming down from a fleshy sinewy tree shoulder. That’s one of the older ones. Recently I had one where I was taking a test, thinking furiously, not about anything in particular, but aware of how furiously I was thinking and how unable I was to come up with an answer and I was chewing the back of this pen, gnawing it, and it snapped like a bitten carrot and the end came off in my mouth and I looked at the back of the pen, a little confused, and saw blood start to trickle out. I felt around in my cheek for the pen end and pulled out the white tip of a finger and I just remember the bleeding pen and the rubbery fingertip and then I woke up.”
“That’s horrible,” said Olivia, scanning her memory for anything as vivid. Mushrooms:
“I had this one dream once,” she said, “Where these mushrooms were growing out of my ankles, you know, like how mushrooms grow, like terraced?” She made terraces with her hands. “On a treetrunk?”
“Mmhmm,” said Vera.
“And then they started to burst out of my skin everywhere, all over my arms, legs, and torso, and I knew, because there was a tree in my backyard that came down with fungus, that wherever they sprouted on me, I was already all dead rotten and eaten up in the, the underneath, and they were moving towards my throat and face—horrible,” she said, “it was horrible. I wonder if—I was kinda young at the time. My grandma died of cancer when I was little; I wonder if my little child brain connected that with the fungus in the tree. Oh god,” millipedes “and then the fungus was crawling with millipedes and horrible insects . . .”
Say it or you never will.
“Anyway,” Olivia said, “I like being ungainly. Or, it’s all the same. I rock the flailing arms. If I’m ever desperate for money, I can dance outside a car dealership.” She swayed and waggled her arms, tilted and snapped upright. Gorgeous eyes. Greygreen eyes.
“I think we’re done. What do you think?”
On the wall, behind a penumbral web, was a blackrooted twisting monstrosity with jagged blood-and-emerald leaves.
“I like the obfuscation,” said Olivia.
“Like a fading dream,” said Vera.
After that, Olivia texted Vera every day. Every time she texted her, she feared that Vera might not reply. But Vera always replied, and Olivia always picked her up from a sunny cul-de-sac behind the pike.
There were five houses on the cul-de-sac. One had a fenced off overgrown lawn. Another was covered in Tyvek paper. A third had five BMWs spilling out of the driveway, with eight wheels between them, plus strewn about hulking or delicate car parts. A fourth had the cul-de-sac’s only tree, which had been maimed to make way for the cul-de-sac’s only power line. The fifth—Vera’s—had a garden which, for all its tidiness, looked small and exposed in the relentless sunlight.
One day Vera asked if they could hang out with Karl, who she hadn’t seen in a very long time:
“Who?” said Olivia.
“Karl!” said Vera. “I used to hang out with him all the time. I think you’ll like him. He’s like a punk bassist.”
“Yeah, I’ve met him before,” said Olivia, as enthusiastically as she could.
They planned a day. As the day got closer, Olivia decided it would be better to invite Dave too, as a buffer, and to show that neither needed to worry she would compete for Vera’s attention.
Karl, who smelled musty and whose arms hung lankly at his side, arrived with wellkempt Dave to a Panic feast of buttered, lemony trout; oily rice with allspice, currants, and walnuts; fiddleheads and tender broccoli in oil and lemon; and chocolate chip muffins for dessert. Vera and Olivia were not efficient cooks, so they spent the whole day preparing the meal and they ate with gregarious Dave, quiet, polite Karl, and Olivia’s benign parents, who asked all manner of questions and received glares from Olivia and a lot of effusion but very few clear answers from Dave.
The two boys spent the rest of the summer wandering about with Olivia and Vera. They ate multiple Wawa hoagies a day and Dave charmed Olivia’s parents in implicit apology for declining their dinners. He played classical piano and spoke a lot about augmented sevenths and perfect fifths and unresolved diminished thirds. He showed Vera and Olivia a musician who sang softly over acoustic guitar about sexuality, depression, and divorce. Karl kept silent but could play a thunderous bass.
the Dread Pirate Roberts
Karl was cagey about the source of the acid, except to tell them that he was certain it was safe. But when he said he could get DMT, they refused to hear it until he told them an elaborate story about a secret eBay for drugs that could only be reached through a certain software if you had a certain key. He said that it was run by the Dread Pirate Roberts. They made him explain it again and again; but they never understood the difference between depositing money in an account and withdrawing money to that account. Still, under Karl’s direction, they got money order together and one Sunday went to CVS and sent $150 off, as in a glass bottle, into the deep web.
The abandoned house next to Olivia’s wasn’t technically abandoned, only neglected by a couple that had grown old and moved to England before Olivia was born. They were now in their late nineties.
The house was modest and handsome with an enclosed garden. It had once been the guest house in a colonial estate that deteriorated up to the second world war, after which it was subdivided into pleasant suburban lots. The manor and guest house acquired new suburban owners; the stable welcomed its first human occupants; and the rest of the lots, including Olivia’s, were rectangular patches of field or orchard on which houses later cropped up, one after another.
The garden wall mainly enclosed weeds, plus a few stubborn rosebushes and blackspeckled buttercups. It was broken brick and knee-high, with sun-straining poppies that had worked their miniscule roots into the fissures. A breast high shrine to the Virgin Mary sheltered a porcelain figure robed in chipping blue, with a faded face and upturned palms. Vera, Olivia, Karl, and Dave spent most of their hours sitting in the porch shade, surrounded by the wild garden, by an coarse and uneven field in which grew an ancient Pterocarya Fraxinifolia tree (by Karl’s identification).
Every now and then a worker would come by to install a new toilet, or replace some furniture, or throw something in the dumpster. At first they thought the elderly couple might be returning. But months later, little had changed; and Olivia found out that one was dead, and the other planned on dying soon, in England.
“Maybe he’s stealing it,” Dave theorized. “One little piece at a time. One day we’ll come here and the whole thing’ll just be cardboard cutout, and he’ll be living in the original reassembled somewhere off the coast of Florida.” They laughed.
“When I was a little kid,” said Vera, “I used to throw things out to see if it got noticed. And then if the trash went outside, I’d go get it that night.”
Down past the porch was a driveway, beyond which lay another field that led quickly down into a dense, swampy woods, thick with poison ivy. There had been a dumpster in the driveway for as long as Olivia could remember.
DMT was scary because you could get abducted by aliens. The substance itself smelled like new shoe rubber and melted into the marijuana, which they smoked without feeling anything extraordinary. But then Vera coughed horribly; and Olivia took a hit that tasted chemical and her cough sounded electronic.
In a few seconds she rushed through the clouds to a very high peak, where the kitchen hung suspended, and within it, a cloud of smoke shimmered with Mayan patterns. She stood under tremendous weight; took ten heavy steps into another room and sank into a chair.
The carpet patterns began to writhe, and the border tulips grew in slow whorls. Cracks between the floorboards swayed like thick plucked strings. The sheen of woodfinish became smoky glass, a sheet of ice that detached and shifted as condensation crept up the walls. Woodgrain flowed in ambergold troughs, thick, sluggish, rich. Beautywealth. Flowed, swirled, folded, oozed. Then it slowed; stopped; cemented. The icy sheen slid to center and attached—was part of the floor. Olivia had withdrawn into her chair. She touched the floor with her toe and, finding it dry, flat, and hard, gave it her full weight and walked back into the other room.
“Wow,” she exhaled to Vera, who shook her head in amazement. “Where are Karl and Dave?”
Vera pointed. Karl was staring at the ceiling. Dave was face down on the couch, shaking violently. Then he stopped, groaned long, and rolled over.
Afterward, Vera and Olivia enthused about Mayan patterns and flowing floorboards. Karl’s had felt the same initial rush that they had felt, then watched the wallpaper warp and wobble. Dave had felt like he was taking off in a rocket, then remembered no more. Later, Olivia felt empty, like she was alone on a mountain peak in a time before or after humanity’s reign on earth.
two minutes and fifty-seven seconds
Olivia read about the infamous three-minute concert which she thought showed a sense of humor presaging her own.
In the mid-sixties, The Condor, on the occasion of his most anticipated appearance at the most prestigious jazz festival, had played for two minutes and fifty-seven seconds and departed, after which an at first bemused, then incensed, then white-hot audience rose from murmurs to boos to vandalism. A short video which captured the “three-minute concert” was basically a spasm of honking, then a long screech, and then a very pretty melody that lasted about fourteen seconds before unexpectedly breaking off. Olivia watched this video again and again: there was something grating, gouging in it, that dug a horrible feeling out of her stomach.
very little blood
A party: around 10:00 p.m., someone opened Carly’s parents’ bedroom door, in search of a bathroom, and accidentally let out Luka the Corgi. Luka was in a state of distress and dashed off in search of a familiar face; but was reassured after an alarming influx of adoration. Carly, when she found her, was so brimming with love, waved her hands in such an exciting way, that Luka began barking and jumping in circles. This earned her giggly shushes and fawning affection; but eventually she was left on her own to hunt for morsels (and soon found an aromatic spot of vomit in the pachysandra).
Olivia was sulking in a vacant room when Vera closed a door and locked it.
“What’s up?” she said and produced a bottle of gin that she had pilfered from the group supply. A corgi who had entered with her began enthusiastically licking Olivia’s hands. Olivia wanted to brood and spoke generally of dark moods that seemed like they would never pass; but she laughed at the corgi’s wild expectant stare and even began incoherently to explain the cause of her sulkiness.
“I’ve never felt so alone,” she reproached Vera, and then, “sorry, my thoughts are all over the place, it worked though, for a minute, you were right and I’m sorry I know you told me not to but I saw him again and it threw me off but it got me right back on track but now I know I shouldn’t have you’re going to be mad I know—”
“Olivia,” laughed Vera, “what are you talking about?”
“I saw him,” she said. And she explained that a friend had persuaded her to come watch a movie with three other people, including Peter.
She had started out determined to be nonchalant. They talked through the movie, which all of them had seen before; but she began to fear that her casually offhand remarks were coming across vague and pompous, or missing the tone of the conversation entirely. Once or twice she struck a perfect reply to something he said, but then refused to let go and ran her own comments to the ground. She felt steadily more idiotic, talked at a greater rush, stumbled more, made ever more general proclamations, and turned red and redder, until finally in her confusion she pretended that she had received an urgent text and left fifteen minutes before the movie ended.
She was humiliated to think that Peter must, they all must suspect that she had put on that pitiful show for him. Every stupid thing she had said flashed louder across her brain. She screamed in her head but could not drown out the growing cacophony. She bit her lip; and then in desperation, struck her wrist with the longest tooth of her housekey and dragged a short ribbon of skin up her arm.
She looked at the throbbing line. Her thoughts subsided and very little blood began to fill it in.
She drove home at once frightened and calm, no longer thinking of what a fool she’d been among a group she wasn’t very close with, anyway. Besides, while she was pretending to receive an urgent text, she had in fact been urgently texting Vera; and as she buckled her seatbelt she saw that she had replied, and knew that she would be seeing her that night.
Vera grew visibly annoyed when Olivia said that she had cut herself; but restrained herself when her turn came to speak.
“I hoped you wouldn’t take what I said to you as a suggestion,” she began slowly. “I’m sorry I gave you the idea to cut yourself. It’s the worst.”
“I’m sorry,” said Olivia, “it was . . .”
“It’s my fault,” said distant dark Vera.
“But,” said Olivia, “I see now, how it can focus you.”
“You shouldn’t play around with these things,” said Vera all of a sudden. “What do you have to cut yourself about? Because some bo— . . . Why are . . . What are you doing?”
Olivia was furiously chewing a nail.
“I’m thinking,” she said. “I’m thinking my teeth into my thumbnail.” She pulled a strip of nail from her thumb. Vera stared incredulously at her and then burst out laughing.
“You’re a nervous wreck, huh?” she said.
Olivia turned her eyes up, still hunched and chewing.
“I don’t sleep much,” she said.
“Who needs sleep?” laughed Vera and gave her the gin. It was godawful harsh, but they drank the whole bottle passing it back and forth. Vera put on music, high clear vocals over warped and turbid electronics. They talked about their parents; but when Olivia asked Vera about her father, Vera’s tone grew vicious, her visage cloudy.
“I haven’t talked to him in three years,” she said.
“Oh no,” said Olivia. “You have to talk to your parents. You have to make peace with your past; unless, I mean—I don’t know what he’s done,” she corrected herself. “What did he do? You don’t have to tell me.”
out in a V
Lovely Olivia bought a pack of cigarettes for lively Vera. Lowly Olivia then asked if she could actually have one, as her pack was at home, and lofty Vera drew two long cigarettes from the packet, held them out in a V. Lively Olivia took one, lovely Vera the other, and lush Oliviera sparksparked their lighters and sucked two flames neatly into twin deathsticks which lit and smoked bright lively white slim columns that they turned in their smokemulchy fingers, with smokestems that elongated, twisted, and were by turns blue, grey, and yellow in the changing sunlight.
Karl rolled lumpy twisted cigarettes with pouch tobacco and they always canoed and had to be relit w/ a birchwood flare of paper. Dave smoked menthols. The other day, derelict Dave had come late from McDonalds with ketchupfingered Karl, who licked his spitchupy fingers, a thin solution. Olivia felt bad, but that was why she withdrew so violently when, in the lamplight, while the piano bled, and Vera’s eyes, Karl, unaware, worked up his courage and tried to take her hand.
One day Vera was busy, and shinyeyed Dave took Olivia to the movies. Voluble Dave told her to get excited for a smash hit of smash hits, for they were going to a superhero movie, and what did superheroes do if not smash, hit?
Manic Dave narrated the whole first fight sequence according to whether damage was inflicted on person or object: smash! hit smash! hit-hit-hit! hit-hit-hit-hit-hit-SMASH! KABOOM! Smash-smash-smash-smash-HIT! hit-hit-hit-hit-hit-hit-hit—
“Shut the fuck up,” laughed Olivia. Penitent puppydog Dave suppressed himself with difficulty.
“I’m sorry I kaboomed,” he said.
“I have clonazepam and cyclobenzaprine,” he said.
“What’ll they do?” asked Olivia. Casual Dave shrugged, put them in her hand, lifted the sprite cup from the cupholder between them, sipped, then offered it to her to wash the pills down.
“Not much,” he said. “Clonazepam is an anxiolytic. It’ll make you stumbly. Cyclobenzaprine is a muscle relaxant, but it’s eh,” and he made a gesture like you could take it or leave it. “I’ve never felt anything from it, but I keep trying.”
Olivia took both with a small sip of sprite. They finished the movie. She didn’t feel anything special, which was disappointing.
The next day she told Dave that her memory was patchy.
“I don’t remember a thing,” he laughed. “The clonazepam does that. Do you remember anything?”
“No,” she said, “just driving back.” In fact, she remembered two things. One was cigarette Dave, speeding along the pike through endless green lights at 11 pm. The other was frustrated Dave in the parking lot, talking about Vera, saying “she has no interest in addressing any of her issues in any mature way.”
She told Vera about the night, but left out Dave’s parking lot comments.
“It was a little weird,” she said. “I’m not sure where he got them or if they even did anything for me.”
“They don’t do anything for me,” said Vera. “I just figure every one I take is one less he’ll take.”
“Yeah,” said Olivia, vaguely. She was searching for way to figure out what kind of issues Dave thought Vera wasn’t addressing when she registered what Vera had said, and said, “That seems—” then again, more distantly, “Yeah.” She decided she wouldn’t get any answers at that time. “I don’t really trust pills,” she said.
Vera was in the master bedroom. Dave shot tequila with picklejuice ‘mazing, he said blindly waving a glass can’t taste it at all. He lifted the jar with both hands and drank a deep draught of picklejuice.
Vera was in the master bedroom when Dave chopped through his finger like blind carrot and lime, laughing tied it up in a bloody rag Olivia hated him blind the counter sticky with limejuice blood shining equally on the black countertop lids halfgrinning stupor Karl set a fan cool against her cheek and Dave turned stumbled entered the master bedroom and closed the door and she took another shot focused on setting the glass down very carefully—
Then Olivia was vomiting in yellow vomit already present in the shitflecked toilet, how much later, she didn’t know. Grogheaded, coiled pubic hairs plastered linoleum, paintbrushtip in the water, hers. She groaned, pulled it up, dabbed with toiletpaper. It was very dark outside the bathroom. Laid in the laid in the whitewalls, dingy sink heaved up wrung another yellow bile trickle from her stomach laid her head on the toilet seat and cried.
So nobody else was awake. She braced herself, stood in the stood in the stood. Soap and watered the paintbrushtip of her hair and stumbled cottonmouthed to the sink, put her mouth under warm sinkwater and stumbled to bed.
She woke foulmouthed with the sun in her eyes, splitting hide-from-the-light headache, a clamor of kitchen pans dogs and cats and loud birds. A poem:
Dogs are yelling.
Cats are yelling.
Birds are yelling.
Good morning, nature.
nobody said anything about breaking anything
Vera lay over the bed, her earrings inverted, her hair a swayed pillar to the floor. Olivia lay proximal to the pillar, keenly aware of its fragrance. Karl lay draped over a wooden chair, one leg over the armrest, one leg canting floorward, his head lolling back. Dave sat crosslegged nearest the door, the polygonal profile of a crane in pursuit of a black beetle.
“We could go on an adventure,” Karl suggested.
“Where?” said Olivia and Vera, almost in unison.
“There’s nothing, said Olivia, “in the suburbs. Just more and more and more suburbs. The woods are packed with families. The parking lots are full of cars. The Wawa’s are full of snacks. There’s no such thing as adventure when you’re always twenty feet away from someone’s house. I want to see something new. I want to get abducted by aliens. I want to do a drug.”
“Druuuug,” said Vera.
Dave sat thinking in polygonal profile.
“I don’t think there’s anything in the medicine cabinet,” he said.
“None of that good Robitussin?” said Olivia, her voice distant, so it was hard to tell how seriously she took her own words.
“No,” said Dave. He thought a while longer. “Your backdoor neighbors are out of town, right? Didn’t you say?” Olivia confirmed. “What if we tried their doors,” he continued. “You never know what people have in their cabinets. You know, just enough to get us something to do for tonight.”
“What about the windows,” said Olivia, again as if distracted.
“I mean, if they were unlocked,” he said.
“Fuck that,” said Olivia, and then, “what do you think we would find?” Dave shrugged.
“You never know. I have an aunt with back pain, and her cabinet’s a’ orange forest of Rx bottles.”
Olivia prepared to say something, hesitated. Vera said,
“Should we all go together?”
“Definitely not,” said Karl. “I’m not breaking into anyone’s house.”
“Just if the door was unlocked!” Dave protested. “Nobody said anything about breaking anything!”
“It’s breaking and entering,” said Karl. “And burglary,” he added, unsure if this was true. “Fuck that. I’ll roll us a big fat joint, and maybe if we smoke enough of that we can meet us some aliens.” Olivia and Vera looked at each other, unsure if the option of raiding another house was now closed. They looked at Dave, who was watching Karl with some incredulity as he set about rolling a joint. They could see it was between the two boys. It was the kind of thing that Dave usually won on, and he kept his gaze questioning for some time. But when Karl finished rolling the joint without meeting his eye, he relented and said,
“Alright, where’re we gonna smoke this?” knowing full well that the answer was the porch of the abandoned house.
The latch of an illfitted storm door pried free. The inner door was unlocked. The first room in the abandoned house was still furnished with old cracked speakers, an orange La-Z-Boy, wooden chairs, a wooden dining table, a barewooden floor, and a small piano. The bathroom was upstairs. There was no furniture on the second floor and nothing in the medicine cabinet.
The circuit: points along a six-and-a-half-mile loop: Wawa 1; the Valley School; Wawa 2; the abandoned house. The Valley School had a well-lit parking lot at night, good for smoking cigarettes and being unobtrusively intoxicated.
thirtythousand is a panoply
Flashing through the trees, Vera and Olivia in the back, devouring road at a little over 80 miles per hour, a few shrill turns and they were out in the corn flashing by, suddenly Dave slowed and stopped on the gravelly shoulder. There was a gap in the corn, and Olivia, Vera, Karl, and Dave disembarked to explore the field.
They spoke quietly as they walked between high stalks. Occasionally something rustled in the field.
Olivia paused. The other three continued, quietly conversing. She looked up and almost fell flat under tens of thousands of stars. The other three were far off, conversing. She heard her name, didn’t want to part with the stars and stepped aside, into the thicker corn.
She had seen the Big Dipper before, and Cassiopeia’s chair; twelve or twenty she could see from the porch of the abandoned house. Twelve is a number; thirtythousand is a panoply; four billion is a milky mist decked with lively jewels, glittering diamond dust, and twelve or twenty icy blazing rich. A voice:
“Liv!” They were looking for her along the path. She smiled in the corn.
“Liv!” Then they were beside her, but didn’t see her, passed further along towards the car.
She waited a little; then ran to catch up, feigned breathlessness.
“Sorry,” she said, “I wandered off. I’m glad I caught up with you!” The boys laughed bewildered how she could have, and Vera said nothing, looked at the path. They got in the car. Headlights: a truck with twin flags snapping in the back: it pulled up beside them, stopped, and flags fluttered, became still and vertical. Dave began to drive on the gravelly shoulder and the truck paralleled them slow on the road, small life to twin flags, one American one Confederate. Dave bluffed a sideswipe and then floored the gas: to no avail, a cloud of dust and spitting gravel and slight swaying of the car rear. The boys in the truck jeered, a thick redfaced roundface with a buzzcut from the passenger’s side called out “fags in the front, let the beat bump; dykes in the back, show me your rack.” The truck bluffed a sideswipe, then leaned on the horn and shot off, a meaty middle finger wagging back; Dave began to drive and a hand threw a dark arcing object that burst on the windshield with a lateral spray of glass and Dave threw up his arm to protect himself then, trembling, activated the windshield wipers, which pulled a twisted tea label across the windshield, then brought it back; then pulled it out and brought it back; and he deactivated the wipers. The label hung on, with some glass attached. Dave was pale. Nervously, he made a joke about the flags. They drove home along the same route at a moderate speed. Olivia looked out the window as they passed from corn into the trees. When they got to the abandoned house, Dave picked off the reluctant twisted tea label and threw it in the dumpster and looked for damage to the car. He scowled and pointed out a chip in the windshield to Karl. There were twelve to twenty stars in the purple sky.
Smeared red paint along the white keys; clanged about with purple fingerprints; spraypainted the body gold and poured rivers of red and purple down the sides so they pooled purple-red swirling on the floor. The wet paint shone like blood in the dim light.
“You can see the music oozing out the sides,” said Dave, and thundered an E Major chord. “E Major is purple,” he informed them, and intoned an A Minor chord: “and A Minor is red.” He emphasized the long pause between chord changes, added clinkity flourishes, and he sang soft but ‘bleed’ he howled hoarse:
when you—play with
it can—bleed out
on the floor”
Then he dipped his fingers and began to play clanging chords interspersed with bits of classical melody and his playing accumulated in purple fingerprints on the redsmeared keys. Olivia watched him play, full of bravado and dexterity. She looked and saw Vera was watching him play, and a similar light showed in her eyes as in the bleeding paint.
The next day, Vera and Olivia went back to the house. The piano looked terrible.
Olivia tried to peel off a puddle of paint, but she peeled the wood with it. The piano, which had been simple, stately and sound before it oozed life music blood the night before, was a dry carcass of gold, red, and purple, spraypaint and acrylic. They had destroyed it. There were fingerprints all over the keys.
They called Dave in a panic.
“We’ll just take it out,” said Dave. Can you store it in your garage? No, no” he said over her protestations, “we’ll take it to the dump.”
“Are you crazy?” she said, “it won’t fit in my car.”
“Of course it will. Trust me.”
“I do not—I do not trust you right now. Trust you?” she broke into tears.
“Okay okay okay” he hurried “just go back to your house and Karl and I will take care of it. And then we’ll get together tonight and show you how—completely taken care of it’s been. Okay?”
“Fuck you,” Olivia’s voice shook. “I swear I’ll never talk to you again.”
Dave and Karl came by for her car and they watched them take the piano out and load it up with some cursing and joking. Then they were gone for several hours. Olivia cursed him to Vera.
“He thinks there’s something brilliant in his spontaneity. But he’s just an idiot who destroyed someone’s piano,” she said furiously.
In the evening they returned the car and showed Olivia and Vera how they had wiped every surface and doorknob. There was no evidence that a piano had ever been there, except two scuffed, chipped patches of floor where the paintpuddles had been and a few flecks of paint on the walls too small to justify the damage entailed in removing them.
“It’s like we were never here,” said Dave.
“Except we destroyed a piano,” said Olivia.
“You didn’t destroy anything,” Dave laughed. “We metabolized it in the artistic process. It was a dead Apollonian artifact. And now we’ve eaten it. Unforgettably.”
Olivia refused thereafter to go near the abandoned house. The circuit lost a vertex.
What do you want from Vera?
Something had shifted between Vera and Dave, but Olivia didn’t know what. Then one day Vera caught her off guard by asking if Dave was alright.
“I haven’t heard from him in days,” she said, her voice strained, urgent.
“I don’t want to keep texting him if he’s not up to it,” she said, her voice a bitter well in the desert.
“But I’m also worried about him,” she said, her voice welling urgent.
“He’s fine,” said Olivia flatly. Then softer, she said, “Ver, let me talk to him, I’ll find out what I can. He’s been weird lately.”
Vera looked at her with holloweyes blurring. Olivia smiled and gave her a hug, which she weakly returned.
Something had shifted between Dave and Vera and Olivia wasn’t sure what; but she had seen that lately Dave was often distracted with texting. He was going out the door and she stopped him.
“What do you want from Vera,” she said as bluntly as she knew how. Dave smiled, sighed, bit his lip, turned about, threw up his arms, crossed them, and sat down.
“So far, it’s been the best summer of my life,” he said.
“I don’t know what to do. I’m going back home in a couple of weeks. Honestly, we’re going to go our separate ways one way or another and the last thing I want is to hurt her. The expectations she has—they’re not healthy. Really, you— I think it’s really kinder this way, for me to not make her see me.” By the last sentence, he was assured. Olivia swallowed.
“Listen. Motherfucker.” The second word felt loud and clumsy in her mouth but she bit down on the f for fortification.
“You can either respond to her texts; or you can break it off with her. But you cannot go stringing her along like this just to, to, spare yourself the trouble of having to face her.” She swallowed. Her heart was pounding. He stared at her incredulous and for a second she wondered if he had ever hit anyone. He moved and her heart accelerated but she kept her eyes steady on his. He made a sound of disgust in his throat and said,
“You were always jealous. The second we had something going that didn’t involve you. I’m going out now.” He walked past her and went, she wasn’t sure where.
The next day she texted Vera to ask if there were any developments with Dave. Vera replied that he had called her to break up the day before.
“I’m sorry,” Olivia wrote back. Then, “Dave’s an asshole.”
She was determined never to have been jealous one bit and as jealous people might show distance out of guilt, she insisted to herself that she would show no distance to Vera, even though Vera didn’t reply to her texts for over a week, and she decided to write every other day, between 10 and 2, with the exact same mix of friendly openness, solace, and unobliging availability, regular with human not machinelike regularity. On day eight she sent another self-yielding text and Vera wrote back almost immediately, without prologue:
“I’ve been in kind of a daze.”
“Daze’s an asshole,” Olivia wrote back, then, “what if I pick you up and we drive around and find something dazeling to look at? I haven’t felt right in daze.”
She waited long and despaired of a reply. Then:
“It doesn’t have to do with him.
“I just remembered something from when I was little.
Sobered Olivia ruminated. She texted,
“Something you did?
“Or something someone did to you?”
“Something someone did to me.”
Ruminating Olivia drew a breath.
“Did an adult do something to you?” she wrote.
Vera did not reply.
Over the next week, Olivia wrote and deleted several overtures, the first too apologetic, the second too assured, the third too pre-ambling, before at last she sent a concise text saying that she wanted to see Vera, that she missed her, and that she could pick her up any time. Vera did not reply.
Every other day, between, 10 am and 2 pm, Olivia sent a warm, solacing reminder of her friendship. Vera did not reply.
Blearyeyed hollow Vera didn’t care.
“I don’t really care,” she said and, unrelatedly, “I have to get rid of a shirt.”
Olivia twisted a coil of hair and chewed bits of skin off the inside of her lip.
“I don’t care,” said Vera flat, holloweyed. Let the record show that Vera W—- on August the Twenty-Seventh Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve did not care. Olivia took a piece of skin from her mouth, examined it, ran her tongue along the roughened chewed-up lip. Let none imagine she could have cared.
“I think you cared, more than I did,” said Vera.
“You what?” said Olivia, struck, flustered, annoyed. Vera said nothing.
(“You don’t care? You—”)
A shuddering glower was the only external sign of the words that she almost spoke.
“Dave’s an asshole,” she said sourly instead, flicked her skin from her finger, and made a steeple before her nose.
“I always knew he was an asshole,” said Vera. A tight bandage peeked out from under her sleeve.
“What’s on your arm?” said Olivia. Vera was casual.
“It’s nothing. Something’t,” she cleared her throat, “bled more than I expected.
“I soaked it up with a shirt, but now it’s all stiff and I have to figure out how to get rid of it before my mom finds it. I liked that shirt, too,” she added, with some regret, “but it’s brown, now.”
She really thinks she doesn’t care, thought Olivia, with some astonishment. It’s like she’s naked and doesn’t even know it. She sliced her arm open, deep, and doesn’t even know it.
One day, Olivia wrote that Dave was an asshole and that Vera had every right to hate him, but that she didn’t think it was fair for Vera to take it out on her, who had really, really tried to be a good friend above all else. Vera did not reply.
Every other day, between 10 am and 2 pm, Olivia sent a kind, friendly reminder of her own warm availability. But college was approaching. Finally, Vera wrote back.
Each day looped into the next, a perfect daisychain of eight, wherein they took a very, very long walk in the woods and brought two apples, two oranges (which neither liked oranges, it turned out,) and two sandwiches each; drove headlong down the pike, past car dealerships, fast food restaurants, and used record store, the sun flashing on a succession of windshields, before taking a right to park at Wawa 1; climbed up on the elementary school roof and listened to Thelonious Monk in the early evening on phone speakers; spent a day drawing (Vera) and writing (Olivia) in which Vera explained that she wanted to juxtapose block colors and Olivia said she wanted to juxtapose words with their shadows; took a stimulant and went to the art museum on Olivia’s mom’s credit card; lay stoned listening to Brian Eno for hours; Vera finished drawing Olivia; and dropped acid that Karl had given Vera many weeks ago, out of abundance, and then forgotten about.
so unusually happy
Olivia smacked the door with her flat hand. “Vera!” she called. “Vera, are you in there?” Smack! “Vera!” A soaked hardening cold t-shirt.
She kicked with her toe and the door jumped out at the bottom and she rattled the doorknob again. “Vera!” she cried and kicked the door. Weak warm flow into cold coldening puddle.
She threw her shoulder against the door like she’d seen in movies, but she withheld her weight because she was afraid of really breaking it. Twice she slammed against the door and it jumped around the bolt. “Vera!” Corpse Vera, pale, rigorous, soft, dead. So cheerful so quiet that whole day (how could I have known, they always say, she was so unusually happy that day.) “Vera, please!” Olivia cried in renewed panic, ready to break the door down. She slammed against it one more time, then braced herself to throw her body through split wood onto the far floor. At that moment, Vera opened the door and said,
“Sorry, were you calling me? I was in the bathroom. You can’t hear anything in there.”
After the first week of college, she lies on her back with her arm draped elbow over her eyes, listening to a skittish saxophone and thinking of the friends she hasn’t made. This music has it has never appealed to her, and she thinks about changing it to something better. But hesitation holds listening and all of a sudden in the Condor’s wild warbles she fancies she hears music: a febrile rush of euphonic colors flashing past, an abandoning search through the chromosphere which finds no answer, but incidental clusters of warmth as if by random grouping, flinching chokes and sobs, freefancying flight and a promise of escape, before it ends in twin notes, and between them . . .
Appendix A: Twelve Tone (Excerpt)