Mikey puts out the roach and reaches to roll another. He must have seen me watching because he starts to extrapolate. ‘It’s not the drugs, you understand, it’s the habits. I could lose one if I could keep the other but they’re part of the same whole and there’s wholly nothing good enough to replace them.’ I don’t know what to say, I’ve been here with him for every high, I understand the restriction of want and banality of restraint, I just don’t get why he’d think I’d care. I tell him, I’ll roll the next one after this.
I’m just trying to ride the bus when some fucking droog starts offering me an ice cream. When I do the polite decline thing he starts angling to pay it forward. I watch the whole bus circulating this cinema style, plastic wrapped choc-top, a wave of a pained bewilderment passing over the patrons like belligerent children playing pass the parcel with a melting sack of increasing obligation. Nobody appeared to eat it, but the cone eventually disappeared, the driver unaware, the passengers returning to states of awkward passivity and me just trying to keep my peak-hour calm.
Jo’s standing in the kitchen with a paring knife and an expression of torpid decimation, not vacant but vacated. I call out his name and hear the inside of a seashell, the frightening hush of unmeasured depths. He doesn’t move while I slide the knife away, the stillness of it more dangerous than the blade and intrusive in a way that an incision could never be. I stand with him for a time, horrified and curious, enraged by my own inability and actively drawn into dark and quiet introspection. If someone calls out my name, what will they hear?
I took myself to the cinema, the ‘Walk-ins,’ Colt calls them, alone. It’s always seemed like a group thing, a date activity. I didn’t visit the snack bar. Sitting in the semi-dark, aisle lights threading bloom up the stairs and the screen yet to silver, I felt less than isolated. Several couples, a few threes, and half a dozen odd numbers were scattered around without sequence. I could hear pre-melted butter congealing in the seats, the crunch of stale fabric under ripe asses, and the calculated murmur of impatient purpose. I don’t remember what I saw.
I wear a mouth guard now for most of any given day. Doctor Kwan, Chantal when you’re close, calls it nervous clenching, which I thought was only buttocks but apparently as part of my anxiety I bite down on myself. Hairline dental fractures from wear in the daily grind form slivers of fault line in canines and co. I tried to not but it never worked, now my mouth’s been silicon moulded to carry the stress in my jaw. Sure, it makes it hard to talk, but I find it helps my condition if I don’t chew the fat.
Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m talking or not. The vocalisations in my skull can be just as vivid if not more so than their acoustic consequences. It’s led to countless skewed comedies of error, a petty handful of fist fights, and a brace of sore hearts. I understand the why of each of them perfectly well, the circumstantial insanity, but I’d like to get a handle on how come my brain so often doesn’t know when I’m doing what. The problem is I’m not really sure who to ask or if they’d even hear me if I did.
I didn’t realise I was digging until I felt the blisters. Once I knew what I was doing, the pain was all that kept me going. I was in over my head before I realised I wouldn’t be able to fill myself in, too deep to provide the hole purpose. I’d wanted a dirt cage to die in but found myself in a horrifying stasis chamber with slim chance of success. I thought if I approached from another angle I could tunnel to oblivion. I didn’t realise I’d dug myself free until I felt the glaring of the light.
Julien lowers his lens and looks for long enough to make me feel truly uncomfortable. ‘Something isn’t right,’ he says, the sound of scree tumbling. I tell him it’s the subject not the artist, hoping levity will save me. He doesn’t say anything, for long enough to make me feel truly worthless, then the lens is back, a thousand shuddering frames. As I lean into it, loosen up and smile again, Julien tells me, ‘No. You’re only beautiful unhappy,’ and looks for long enough that I can truly believe it. I stand there and let his aperture devour me.
I ask why she didn’t call the cops and she says, ‘Are you kidding?’ Just sucking down a cigarette and huffing smoke out of her nose. ‘I’ve seen Law & Order, I know how this works. Manslaughter, easy. Involuntary maybe, I don’t know. Anyway, I thought you’d be more helpful.’ I wonder if I could kill her and leave. I doubt it would be that hard. Get a knife and murder-suicide the whole place up. Wipe a few things down and be done in time for dinner. I wonder if I’d miss her. ‘What are you going to do?’
I like to tell people that Petey is the tequila of people, every ounce should be taken with a grain of salt and makes you feel like you’ve sucked a lemon, but I often think of him as the keeper of uninteresting facts. He’s the kind of person who describes mainstream memes without ever going dank or touching on the topical and approaches interaction with a wilfully ignorant disregard for conversational flow or other people’s patience. If it weren’t for the digital world I’d picture him surrounded by reams of nostalgia and newspaper clippings, forever entombed in irrelevant minutia.
I watched a butterfly land on my dog’s asshole today. Hard to gauge a butterfly’s intention without degrees in chaos, but it seemed ambiguously direct and profoundly meaningful in an unsavoury flavour of mockery. It was a beautiful thing though, crimson red with flecks of yellow, broad-winged and poised. For all of their filigree the most beautiful part of a butterfly lies in potential stillness. I watched for as long as I could, still myself, on the cusp of some gross mystery, until my dog’s own tickling fascination grew and made its nature destroy nature, like an asshole.
Selena never really gets jokes, so I don’t giggle or flinch when she says, ‘You haven’t made me laugh in the longest time.’ I tell her, I guess it’s hard to find me funny if you can’t take me seriously. She looks at me sideways with a silly little scrunch I’ve never seen, then cracks up. ‘I guess I’ve been looking at you all wrong,’ she says, ‘you’re a fucking clown.’ Somehow I don’t think she means it in the Pagliacci sense, it could be gallows black but I doubt she’ll catch the irony before it breaks my neck.
On my stomach with my arms above my head, more than half adrift in the afterglow and groggy on the emptiness. Cleo tracks her nails around my back while she ruminates and waits for me to purr, a thing of idle not intention. ‘How often do you think about sex?’ Her voice harbours the dry workmanship of putting up wallpaper. Most of all the time, I tell her, at some point everything boils down to sex and my brain does the rest. ‘Sounds like your brain’s the thing boiling,’ she says. I close my eyes and let it simmer.
Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what’s real, not in a wanky hypothetical way, just straight up. The problem with life is that it’s anecdotal. I see things that aren’t there, I’m told I’m sane because I know they’re not real. I’m told the sky is blue because light particles react with molecules in our atmosphere, because blue waves bounce and violet sinks. I have proof of none of this. When a minor disparity can totally revise reality, I often find the truth more malleable than my imagination. You can drown in a puddle but you can’t unthink an idea.
Dana runs her finger down the shaft and boops it on the tip. I finally managed to drag her to the gallery and she acts in exactly the way I should always expect. You shouldn’t do that, I tell her. ‘Why,’ she says, ‘because of the rope or because of the cock?’ Both? I tell her, it just feels wrong to be molesting marble, some kinda sacrilege, more so if it’s a martyr. ‘Oh, you know me,’ she says, ‘phallus see, phallus do.’ I watch her pirouetting off towards the surrealists and wonder if maybe I’m the crazy one.