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.
Jenny makes a play of detaching her head and putting it on the table to face the rest of the group. ‘Sorry,’ it says, giggling, ‘I just get a sore neck from watching everyone talk. It’s like spectating tennis, sometimes.’ We weren’t forcing an exclusionary point, so the move feels brattish and the LOL in Lolita manner is disturbingly forced, those mealy blue orbs bouncing back and forth between us, watching smugly while her body crosses its legs and folds the hands on top. ‘Don’t let me stop you,’ the head says, but, as usual, Jenny’s killed the conversation.
When I was young I might have called them butterflies, now I don’t know. It’s an anxious swell, the jittery presage of a panic attack all twisted up with ideas about love, lust, and loath, like being tickled to the point of pain. I want to dive in deep and run away far, I want all or nothing. I can’t seem to resolve myself and the wings keep beating a goddamn maelstrom in my stomach, a tattoo on my heart, and emotional tinnitus wringing in the mind. When I was young I might have called it potential for happiness.
There’s part of a dead cat rotting in the corner. Nobody wants to talk about it. An off-brand noir loops its whodunnits weakly on a modest LCD TV. Everybody stares and stays the same. The natural cycle of entropic tropes thins the plot. The air is derelict and the grounds are green but wasted by weedy creepers. There’s no wildlife bar the tomcat, an alley male bastard that flickers at the edges, Schrödinger’s yin to the rancid yang growing rigid in obscurity. Nothing always changes predictably. Something is born, something is dead, between them is everything’s eventual horizon.
It’s good and bad, you know. I like that his parents are dead but he’s always going on about it. Not them exactly, just general parentness, I guess, admiring people’s kids and shit. Cooing, he sorta coos, which is gross. Also, the situation makes him kinda needy, nesty, but that’s nice in its way, I kinda like it, the abandonment thing. Hell, my parents weren’t around enough to do me any real damage, it always seemed weird to get worked up over something that wasn’t there. Anyway, I really like this one, I could see us having history together.
I step on little pieces of you all the time, the pain is immediate and travels from sole to brain with sharp familiarity. They’re strewn everywhere in stealth, tiny daggers wherever I want to be, lingering with benign viciousness in the path of my life. Once upon a time we dreamt of building something grand and enduring together, though we always found the most fun in the revels of destruction. Eventually we stopped planning anything together. Now you’re just a wistful ache, a stubbed-toe ghost, and all these leftover pieces that no longer fit together like they should.
I often think that I should come with a disclaimer, a funhouse mirror waiver stating the quivering nature of reality brought out by factual distortion in transitive communication. Objects may not be as adjective as they appear. Though that too bears its own linguistic issues when knowing that language is based on an inadequate expression of isolated experiences, mere slivers of a spectrum that should have their own indecipherable disclaimers: The things you think you know are true based on outside influence and you but both being bred to meet in isolation means certainty of understanding is always insecure.