- You went to your first meat raffle with me not her.
- You went to your second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth meat raffle with me and not her.
- And apparently you went to, what, your nineteenth raffle with her?
- Your reason for breaking up with me the first time was that you needed some time alone.
- You didn’t say that you were breaking up with me because you were fucking Alison Ward.
- And her name is Alison. So fucking say it! Alison Ward.
- You texted me fourteen variations of Don’t wait up for me or Band practice ran late over the month of February:
- You wouldn’t have been able to use that fucking meat raffle as an impromptu first fucking date if it wasn’t for me.
- You weren’t turned off by a woman who calls someone she dated for two years a vagina to his face a half dozen times on the phone while she waits for her rebound to pick her up from his studio apartment?
- You like Mumford and Sons.
- You still come to the coffee shop where I work at, usually in a hoodie.
- You fucking took her to our meat raffle!
- You bought the Mumford and Son’s SECOND LP?!
- You cheated on me in my Chevy Nova?
The Continuing Tales Of… is a new bi-monthly feature where we pay tribute to an album’s anniversary by asking writers to compose a short story inspired by each one of the songs. This installment is The Postal Service’s Give Up, which turns 10 this month.
It’s fitting we’re kicking off our new short story feature with an album like Give Up. There have undoubtedly been thousands of hasty narratives scribbled on 11th grade physics notes, blessed with working titles like “Recycled Air” and “Brand New Colony”. These songs have been internalized by an entire demographic — it was indie rock. It taught us how to think, how to feel, how to love. Strange to think that these daring, transparent emotions have had 10 years to mature, without losing any of its briskness. In lameness and in coolness, The Postal Service has never been insignificant, and asking our writers (including Kitty) to chide or celebrate reckless teenaged infatuation was a wonderful challenge.
Artwork by Cap Blackard.
Click the arrow below to continue on to our first story…
“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”
BY ABBY JOHNSTON
“I love you.”
That is all the note said. Not signed, nor sealed. Just like hundreds of identical declarations before it I crumpled it up and threw it in the trash. I liked the crunch as it folded into a tight ball. I liked the anonymity of the paper as it joined the other refuse in the bin, packed away.
As I worked a cork out of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, I thought how his handwriting looked more frantic, even with a few strokes. I slugged down the glass like a teenager, desperate to erase the note, and recalled where the ink had run from another night spent weeping. I kept thinking that after all this time, all we’d been through together, the last three tumultuous years of desperation and longing, that I should be completely disgusted by now. But I’m not. I just feel sorry for him. One glass finished already. This was going to be a long night.
I looked around my box-filled apartment, once a constant stream of friends and lovers, now compartmentalized in brown cardboard squares. God, I love this place. High ceilings, big windows that flooded it with light. I already miss my mismatched decor cramming the walls. My books filling the narrow, floor to ceiling shelf. How am I going to move all of those? I need a Kindle. Taking a seat on the bare floor I began to cry. I could still feel the paper pleading for my attention all the way from the trashcan.
It took a while rifling through boxes, but I located my emergency cigarettes. I’d smoked all through journalism school and my freelance career. In the earlier years, I remember a carton of Camel Blues showing up at my doorstep. He was always good about the details. I can’t consider myself a smoker anymore, but this stash was reserved for moments exactly like this. I unlocked the window and struggled to push it up as it screeched. Straddling the sill I inhaled, then pushed a cloud of smoke from my lungs over the streets of DC. I will miss this city.
Tomorrow I’d start my transition to a new life, away from this place where I’d become an adult, where my friends were. I was on a first-name basis with the cashiers at the store a few blocks down. The bar where I worked nights during leaner times was a mile away. That is where it all started.
I had worked there about a year the night he walked in. I knew immediately he wasn’t a regular, I knew the regulars. These guys were the blue-collar bunch, they ordered beers, not cocktails, and quizzed me over the Redskins. I even let Dan, a 63-year old HVAC tech, smoke inside toward closing time, but only because he reminded me so much of my dad and bitched about stepping into the cold to have a Pall Mall.
I wish I could say he slunk in or interrupted the flow of things ostensibly, but he didn’t. He just walked in.
It took me a bit to get to him at the bar. He took a corner stool and waited patiently as I attended to regulars.
I pointed to him hurriedly.
“Vodka tonic, please.”
As I made the drink I studied him. Blond, brown eyes. His hair reminded me of Julian Assange, who I always thought had a fabulous coif, despite being creepy. I thought about telling him that, but wasn’t particularly talkative and I thought he might take it the wrong way. I gave him his drink and opened the tab. He was a good looking guy, and I figured he was meeting a girl there, but the hours passed as he nursed his drinks, blinking at nothing in particular. He only had two. He closed his tab with minutes to spare and walked out. He hadn’t said more than 10 words to me.
That was the meeting — nonchalant, forgettable. Now it gives me chills.
A few days later, the letters started to come. My boyfriend at the time found the first crammed through the mail slot, the simple folded message, “I love you.” He brought it to me when I was still naked in bed. We laughed about, speculating which of the boys at the bar it could be. We always figured that’s where it came from, because surely the writers I worked with would have been a bit more verbose. We joked about my “stalker,” laughing that we would hold stake-outs to catch him.
I shook my head as I thought about it. My carelessness made me sick. It all unwound from there, the notes became more frequent, but always the same – “I love you.” Then packages, presents. Things that I actually wanted. This guy knew things about me. My favorite cigarettes, my favorite wine, a novel I’d been eyeing at the used book store. Each time I received another box, another slip of paper, I felt sick.
It’s strange how things erode you over time. I was afraid of everything. Countered by my joy of finally landing a staff position at a paper was the love of the solitude that freelance work allowed. I stopped going to happy hour with my friends, or even inviting them over. I quit my job at the bar and lived on Chinese delivery. I became so despondent that my boyfriend of two years ended things, clueless of how to handle the situation. The once loudmouthed life of the party was reduced to a cowering hermit, engineered by a puppet master that did nothing but give me gifts.
I flicked my cigarette into the street below and held out both of my middle fingers. “FUCK YOU!” I screamed at the empty block, as I lit another. Tomorrow this will be done, tomorrow I can start again. And tonight, I ruled my life again. I wasn’t afraid to sit in my open window. The promise of something else was tangible, I could taste it. Even if it was in Boston.
I smoked a second cigarette down to the filter and went to check that the door was locked for the second time. It was a tick I had developed since this ordeal had started. To assure myself it was locked, I undid the lock, the chain, the deadbolt, and opened and shut the door. But as I began to close it, something caught my eye. A brown paper box, and a hand-written note.
“Such Great Heights”
BY CAROLINE RAYNER
Do you remember calling me the night you left town? You asked if I’d started drinking, if I’d finished a bottle of wine yet, and I told you I was drinking mint tea and reading about life beneath Antarctic ice and thinking about ice inside the rings of Saturn.
I read the same sentence over and over and thought of the whirlpool galaxy tattoo on your shoulder.
You talked about Logan. You said that he was driving, that he was playing music you hated. Rap and space station disco, rewinding and skipping forward at the same time. You said you couldn’t wait to play the lame punk and metal you liked in middle school.
Are you still eating stale Cheerios?
Did you end up stopping for cigarettes?
You’re always almost out of cigarettes.
I like when you talk about chain smoking before shows and writing songs at the last minute. Songs about spiders or surgery or video games or acid. Songs you laugh about and Dan loves and Jesse hates and Logan sometimes forgets. Songs you all sing together, or yell together. Songs you play as fast as you can.
Remember the night you got high and played “Sister Ray” for an hour? In Logan’s basement before he got rid of the antique mirror and traffic cones and lava lamps? Jesse let me play his guitar, and Dan sang. You were wearing black jeans, and you’d just cut your hair into sharp angles that framed your face and fell across your eyes as you played bass.
I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve forgotten how to sleep. I’ve forgotten where to sleep. I tried piling pillows and towels and sweaters in the bathtub and sleeping there. I tried curling up in the argyle armchair on my fire escape. I tried lying on my couch under the puffy blanket you stole from a yard sale.
At four o’clock in the morning, I made chocolate chip pancakes.
I broke a salt shaker.
Do you remember driving through the mountains in the middle of the night? You took all the turns way too fast, and you told stories. About buying records and learning to like whiskey. You pulled over next to an abandoned gas station and spray-painted your name across the back wall. You spray-painted shooting stars and a shark, too.
I drove through the mountains by myself. During the day. I saw red flowers and a crumbling chimney and an old woman wearing a paisley dress and round glasses with turquoise frames and carrying a basket of apples.
You would’ve wanted to stop to talk to her. You would’ve made us stop to talk to her.
You said that you’d been stealing Dan’s clothes. That you were wearing one of his T-shirts. A hot pink one with a ragged V-neck that he cut himself.
Did you take the black sweater I let you borrow? The one that’s too long on you?
You can keep it, if you want.
I don’t know why I called, because you’re playing a show tonight. You’re playing a show right now. You’re playing in some room with a low ceiling and exposed pipes along the walls, some room where everyone crashes into everyone else because you and Logan and Jesse and Dan play so loud and so fast and you hate saying anything between songs.
I bet you’re wearing a jean vest and red lipstick.
You might forget to call back. Sometimes you forget. Usually you forget. You’ll shoot whiskey and shotgun a beer and start an argument about Johnny Thunders and lose your cigarettes and bum one or two or three from someone you don’t know. Someone wearing a leather jacket. Someone skinny. Someone you’ll convince to get a neon blue comet tattooed on his wrist.
It’s almost midnight.
I haven’t eaten yet.
I wish I could remember all the songs you’ve played for me. I wish I could remember what you say about them, too. You say weird things. You say they sound like garage shock treatment and old horror films on coke.
Do you remember sneaking up to the roof where someone always hangs quilts from a clothesline? Do you remember sleeping there?
I should go.
BY JEREMY D. LARSON
A hare darted out so I just fired one shot.
‘Oswald! You almost shot me! Shert voz me!’ Every time they say my name it sounds like ‘Ass-wild’
The snow is too loud under these boots and it’s so wet it’s crinkling which is no good because those hares can smell us and hear us. These tracks aren’t going anywhere, boys, and my hands are frozen to my rifle. Look! I’m not even grabbing it its frozen to my hands and I taste vodka in the corners of my mouth and —
She was right behind me – I wonder if she saw the hare. I need to turn around. I need to turn around. Turn around. Why can’t I turn around? OK, why am I still walking. Stop. Turn around.
And now she’s on top of me, Ethel, her onyx eyes and astonishing tits directly in my face. Ethel I have to tell you — you have huge tits. They’re astonishing and huge.
‘Lee, where are we? What happened to the hunting trip?’ I can see her breath in the room. We’re not hunting anymore, we’re at the hotel.
‘Which one?’ The Soviet one in Moscow, with the chipping enamel on that tub. Ethel, feel my wrist, is it cold? Her fingers fall on my hand and her thumb swipes across my veins. Heaven, her tits are even closer to me. Unbutton her blouse and let them out. Do it. Just move your hand and do it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see frost lacing the corners of window. Our breaths collide into each other. Her tits are so close to my chest it feels like they’re breathing on me. My hands are frozen. Can I warm them?
‘Lee I’m a married woman.’ It’s like her tits are radiators, I can make out the wavy lines of heat coming off of them. Now she’s just in her bra. ‘But, Julian…’ Oh to hell with Julian, Ethel.
Her hand slides up my uniform my old civil patrol garb, and she dents her spine, drags her lips up my neck, and whispers in my ear, “The proletariat is right. The proletariat must always be right, and the revolution of the pro-“ Christ, not now! She presses her lips in harder, calming my shivering body, moving to my cheek and finally her lips are on mine, her tits are on mine. Bend my hand back and touch her tit. Bend my hand back and slide it under there and touch Ethel’s warm tit. Why won’t you don’t it. Why can’t I do it. Just do it. Move your hand. Come on.
There. Oh my god. Never let go of Ethel’s tits. Her hips push into mine, and I finally I start to warm up.
‘Lee, you left the water on in the tub’ The tub with the cracked enamel (I’ll never forget the cracked enamel) now, apparently, has rosy-pink water pouring out of it on to the floor. Oh no. We have to go, we have to go where it’s warmer. Ethel, please, the Cuban embassy, Japan, come on.
‘Lee, no, let’s stay here, you’re warming me up’ Ok. Staying here is fine, the water will freeze anyway because liquid couldn’t stay liquid this freezing room. Out of the corner of my eye I see a sheep. Ethel why is there a real live sheep in this hotel room? My uniform was on the floor, and the rosy water wasn’t stopping. My wrists are cold again.
‘Lee, when did Castro go to the Bronx Zoo?’ 1959 – he fed peanuts to the baby elephants. I wish we could have been there. I used to go to the zoo as kid all the time, skip school and feed the elephants peanuts just like Castro did. Is that where the sheep is from? The zoo? Another kiss on the neck. We could still go, just steal away and go.
Ethel I’m sorry but your tits – I just, see, I can’t stop feeling them, I never want to take my hands off them. I grab them and lift her so she’s straddling my skivvies it’s like touching two steaming kettles.
‘Lee, we shouldn’t. I kiss her chest, between her tits. I look up: Mr. and Mrs. Lee Rosenberg: It would have been perfect. Why didn’t you meet me at the Bronx Zoo when I was a 14? Why didn’t you meet me in Mexico City where it’s warm? Or in Texas in my tiny room. I go to these ridiculous ACLU and ACP meetings in Dallas eyes trained on the door waiting for you to walk in.
‘Lee, I’m here now’ Ethel, why Moscow? The hunting trip, the hotel – what are you doing here? Why this place with the tub and the water and the fucking sheep—she kisses me quiet, her tits now hot like kettles to the touch, burning my chest red. It feels so good. The bed is starting to move. Ethel the water it’s picking up the bed. Your tits are burning me, I can’t let go of you. ‘Lee, the revolution of the proletariat—‘ Christ, Ethel stop and just take me with you.
The sheep won’t stop bleating and the bed is unhinged from the floor, adrift in the hotel room. Ethel’s body is burning mine, my skin is starting to blister and char but she’s here. The crendza bumps into the bed, and the frost on the window is gone. The room is porous and breathes with our breath, crinkling and curling into itself — seeping through any hole it can. No. No. hang on. Don’t stop. Ethel’s lips graft on to mine, her tits sinking into my chest, through my ribs, and my hands catch fire behind her and as the water rises faster out of the corner of my eye I see the rifle floating. ‘Lee did you shoot the hare?’ she speaks into my mouth, burning my tongue away turning my teeth to ash sending fire down my throat. No, I didn’t.
It was 11:00 a.m. November 23rd when Lee awoke, and a few miles away in Dallas Texas the Union Pacific Railroad that ran parallel to Dealey Plaza blew its whistle he knew it was too late to get to the 6th floor and all of a sudden a real pain hit his throat and ran down to his stomach. He sat there, paralyzed in a flutter of afterimages. He thought about sprinting (he could get there), but then he tried to hang on to Ethel as her face, her eyes, and voice slipped from his mind.
BY ANDREW UZENDOSKI
She called me at eleven that night: “I just broke up with my boyfriend.” To be more specific, he had just broken up with her. But she was in shock and I would give her the benefit of semantics. More to point: it had happened just two and a half minutes ago; she was still in his studio apartment; and yes, he could hear her having our conversation.
“He is sitting right on his bed. He’s just playing with his stupid cell phone.”
In a single studio apartment: an x-boyfriend and an x-girlfriend, on a bed and a couch, respectively. It was 7 degrees outside and snowing. I asked her how she was going to get home, how she was going to get out of there.
“Well, I don’t want this vagina to give me a ride.”
The response was jarring. Passively she called him a vagina, via our phone conversation, to his face. Had I never actually heard someone call anyone else that? Not even sixth graders? Not even six year olds? I never had! Somehow the gluttony of its synonyms had rendered the word itself utterly useless as an insult—and society had just kind of instinctively known this. Except her! And her insistence on using the word again! She called him it a second and then third time. And then a fourth! It betrayed a stunning stubborn faith in uncreative emasculation. But I was caught up in the awesome moment of her newfound singleness to realize the ramifications of her not using “pussy” to shame an x-boyfriend!
I later realized that this was the exact moment when I watched myself not dodge a bullet.
I picked her up at his place at a quarter past eleven. I couldn’t see him through the door, not even his silhouette. Even though it was February, she clearly wasn’t in a hurry as she slowly crossed the half-shoveled path from his front door to my car. It was almost too respectful of the accumulating snow, her deliberate transition.
Waiting in the car for her to leave his studio apartment, I texted you not to wait up for me.
There was no obvious destination for us to drive toward. She didn’t direct me anywhere. And I desperately didn’t want to know if she would prefer to go home. So I didn’t ask. Instead, the car drove us around the neighborhood for fifteen minutes. For twenty minutes. For twenty-five minutes. The neighborhood was just north of the Mississippi and the warehouse district and it was marked by rows and rows of streets named after presidents in consecutive order. Washington. Adams. Jefferson. Madison. Giant artificial clouds produced by the city just south of us hung over our presidential drive. Monroe. Quincy Adams. Jackson. Van Buren. Giant tangible subzero clouds that reached upward three times the size of the skyline. Harrison. Tyler. Polk. Giant clouds that somehow simultaneously didn’t weigh anything and yet made everything else weigh twice as much. Taylor. Fillmore. Pierce.
We stopped at one of the forty or fifty corner bars named by or after Polish or Czech immigrants that checkered the neighborhood and the neighboring neighborhoods to the north. In Northeast Minneapolis, physics dictate that a late night drive will end, or at least monetarily rest, at one such bar. But the one that we stopped at, named Kermaczek’s, was the only bar that had a six by three fishing aquarium embedded into the wall behind the liquor shelf. After ordering a couple of PBRs, a sixty-five year old lady, who was bartending in front of the aquarium, asked me if I wanted to join that night’s meat raffle.
I turned back to her, a girl I had known for eight or nine months, but a girl I had never actually been alone with prior to that night. “Do you want to join tonight’s meat raffle?” I asked.
She had never participated in one and was ecstatic. It suddenly seemed to her like the most perfect and urgent way to forget about a break-up. She bought eight tickets from the bartender at one dollar apiece.
On the sixth number called, she won her choice of meat. She chose a pork chop.
I told her we would come back here next Saturday at noon and win more meat. I told her we could then go across the street and catch a rival meat raffle at 3:00 PM. We made plans for two consecutive Saturdays. The frozen pork chop stood on the table thawing at an imperceptible rate. It might have been a trophy or it might have been nothing more than a slowly thawing pig. But ten minutes after 2:00 AM, I rested my hand on the pork to find it softening. We needed to get it back outside, back into the cold, back below freezing.
I texted you not to wait up for me. That I was going to meet up with Jason at Grumpy’s. That he had some dates for the band’s next couple shows and he wanted to run them by me.
There was a vintage typewriter on her table. It was like some manifestation of her official hipsterdom; it was like her hipster passport. And she didn’t have any underwear on—I didn’t know if she started out the night without it or if that decision was made on the fly. Yes, I texted you not to wait up for me while I drove in your Chevy Nova to take another girl to a late night meat raffle.
Here is a list of reasons why, not only do I never want to date you again, I never want to see you again, and if I ever do see you again, I’m running you over with my car that you drove to pick up that bitch from her x-boyfriend’s apartment:
It was the morning after my first night spent at your apartment. We didn’t mind that we were sleeping through half an entire Saturday. But then suddenly you sat up—you remembered!—there was a meat raffle at 12:00 at Kermaczek’s! And it was already 11:47! Last night we had discussed that neither one of us had ever been to a meat raffle, but it wasn’t until after the morning had passed that you remembered about 2:00 at Kermaczek’s.
You quickly described the handmade poster that hung on the wall between the men’s and women’s bathrooms: “Meat Raffle Saturdays at 12:00 PM. Premium cuts from Von Hanson’s. Share your winnings (or not) with your neighbors.” The “Or Not” was not an amendment added later but clearly a deliberate choice by the poster’s original author. Below the handwritten lettering there was a pig playing pool with another pig. A no-nonsense looking cow, who worked as a mechanic at the shop around the corner, watched from a stool in the back. He was wearing a plaid t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes tucked into his right sleeve next to the shop’s logo; he clearly knew his way around these parts. But whether he was staring in defiance of bovine segregation or in anticipation of the next game with one of the pigs, it was not clear. There was also two PBR cans, a case of Bush Light and a single Old Style tall boy huddling around the table. The cans were all the same size as the cow, and astonishingly, they were somehow characterized as equally captivated by the pig duel as the no-nonsense (and maybe an asshole?) cow was. But for you, the advertisement’s most striking feature was that there was not any actual “meat” meat on the poster. There were talking pigs and talking cows and possibly talking beers but there was no packaged and ready to cook meat. You were suspicious of this at first. But then you sensed that this poster was for community insiders, and then you weren’t suspicious. Rather, you were Minnesotan. (And I was from Wisconsin, which was close enough.)
Two hipsters went to a meat raffle: I found your underwear, you found my jeans, I forgot my socks, one of us was twenty-five and the other twenty-four.
Neither of us won any meat. The first generation grandparents cleaned-up. There must be skill to this, we thought. There must be old-world knowledge of how to fight for meat. Or perhaps it was just that our five dollar joint pot was not enough capital for a weekend’s supply of ground chuck, let alone the top sirloin steak that was chosen within the first three tickets. But at a dollar a ticket and with the raffle three blocks from your apartment, it certainly felt like the odds would get better as the year went on. And our luck/skill did increase! We would grill out first cut of prize tenderloin in less than two weeks. And I would find a yet undiscovered skill at preparing pork shoulder. Later that summer, I would even win first choice from the hallowed freezer of meats.
And we learned that the aquarium was a gift from the will of an old bartender. His wife (and co-owner) still worked as one of the bartenders and he wanted to leave her with something that reminded them both of 80’s décor and retirement. At least we’ll always have the meat raffle.
BY ANDREW WINISTORFER
“I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say. You hate love songs?”
“No. I’m saying I can appreciate love songs. I get why they exist; love is a universal human emotion. You could probably play ‘She Loves You’ to a person who doesn’t speak English and has never heard the Beatles and they’d get it.”
“I might disagree.”
“What I’m saying is that I understand why love songs exist, I just can’t really relate to them.”
“Because I’ve never been in anything resembling love as popular culture has told me to expect. I mean, I love America. I love pizza. I’ve had girls I’ve considered my girlfriend and maybe considered me their boyfriend—and girls who hung out with me and let me touch them who have not allowed me to consider them my girlfriend—but nothing, so far at least, that makes me feel like I can relate to bands that sing extensively about love.”
“Give me an example of a band you think you can’t relate to.”
“I guess I always feel guilty at not being able to relate to the Ben Gibbard songbook. He’s such an important artist for people my age, but I’ve never related to a single song he’s done. I always feel like I’m at an emotional deficit. I like the music alright, but I can’t relate to the context. It’s like listening to folk songs about the Dust Bowl, or something. You get them; you don’t feel them in your gut. In some ways, I relate the same way to Death Cab songs as I do songs by Young Jeezy. It’s all tourism.”
“I love Death Cab.”
“I think they’re okay. To me, Gibbard is a guy that makes songs that are only about love. Every single song– even if it’s that one about burning grape vines or that one about being on an airplane and being lonely—is about love for that guy. He doesn’t have any other feelings.”
“Is that really such a bad thing though? His mode of artistic expression is inspired by love.”
“I get that. I appreciate it. I just can’t relate to it.”
“But that’s not Ben Gibbard’s fault.”
“No, no it’s not. I’m totally willing to admit the deficiency is mine.”
“You haven’t met enough people or given love enough of a shot.”
“That’s probably fair. I think I’ve given up on trying to relate to the Ben Gibbards of the world. I have accepted that I am never going to write a ‘Modern Love’ article in the New York Times, you know?”
“Maybe you just don’t see your definition of love in love songs.”
“How would you define it?”
“I like to think love is spontaneous. You find a person and over time you decide that your life would be more meaningful with them around, and the thought of them leaving you fills you with existential dread.”
“By that definition though, the only people I have ever loved are two strippers from Montreal.”
“You go to strip clubs? I never thought you were that kind of guy.”
“I’m not really. But I guess I am, because I went to one.”
“Well, what happened?”
“You really want to know?”
“It can’t really hurt you now.”
“Ok. So, through a long convoluted story involving meeting people on the Internet and covering a music festival, I end up in a high-end strip club in Montreal, in a private booth, drunk out of my mind, with three dudes from Toronto. We’re in the booth for not more than 10 minutes when two strippers approach us and say they’d do anything we can imagine for $40 a song. We agree, since we are drunk, and none of us can agree what ‘anything we can imagine’ actually means.”
“What, they lap-danced on you?”
“Well, to start they did. They got completely naked, and gave each other lap-dances. One of them was tall and thin, and the other was shorter and had humongous, uh, breasts. The second song starts, and they continue lap-dancing naked on us. Then the thin one puts her legs on the shoulders of me and the guy next to me, and leans back. The one with the huge, uh, breasts, starts, uh, fingering, the other one, and starts licking the end of her breast. I think to myself, ‘What the fuck is happening here?’ Then the one with the boobs starts packing her boob into the thin one’s vagina.”
“Yeah. And I’m not talking like just the nipple. She was packing it in like she was trying to pack a bag of sand into a leak in a wall. It was insane. I bet roughly 30 square inches were in there. The song finishes, and they look at us, and say, ‘Do you want us to keep going?’ And we say no, because we are out of money, and unsure what just happened. I probably looked like I just saw the Ark of the Covenant. The guys I was with kept asking me if I was OK.”
“And that’s who you love? Who are you?”
“No, not really; I don’t love strippers. I am not T-Pain. But honestly, after something like that happens to you, you can believe in anything. Nothing seems crazy after you watch a woman pack her breast in another woman’s vagina. Nothing. It was a testament to the human spirit, in a way. That that is something that could happen on earth. So, when you say you are looking for someone to surprise you, someone whose mere presence makes your life seem more livable, I think of those two strippers in Montreal. I did not know what they were going to next. That sort of sounds like love to me.”
“That is not what I meant.”
“I didn’t think this would offend you. Your Match-dot-com profile said you like thought-provoking conversations and talking about pop culture.”
“I never thought I’d be talking to you about strip clubs — and how you don’t think you’re ever going to be in love — on a date.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint, I guess. You ready to go to the movie?”
“No. No I am not.”
BY MARK SENA
And then it struck me.
The Ford F-150 clipped my shoulder with its mirror as it passed in front of me. It was a sign I tell you, from divine providence. No not the truck, the one on the Los Angeles Metro Bus that declared “LIFE IMITATES ART”. An ad for the Los Angeles Film School, that the built-Ford-tough haulin’ bastard blocked my view of right before he splayed me out on the pavement. The brakes screamed—just a touch too late—and the driver ran out, flailed his arms over his head and started up a ruckus in some sort of slurred English. I think he was either drunk or from Boston. Either way I paid him no heed. I was in the zone. My mind was lit-up. If those nickel-a-hundred film school fascists thought they could capture life, much less create art, then I damn well could. And I went to a real film school, U-S-fuckin’-C. Not that I finished, but then what real artist does these days?
He offered to drive me to the nearest hospital, and a plastic vial of expired valium from the glove box. I nodded my head and got in the cab. I needed to move. I chewed a pill and rubbed my left shoulder like a prized goose egg.
In urgent care the nurse handed me a clipboard. The man got on his phone and began pacing rapidly. That reminded me, I needed to get on a phone myself. I looked down and signed Gene Autry on the space for name, got up and felt as if I levitated through automatic doors to the lobby while he shouted at his phone.
I shoved my good arm into my pocket and fished out some change. Payphones are few and far between in the times of toothbrushes and mobiles with more computing power than the lunar module, thankfully hospitals keep one or two of these relics on hand.
“Hello? Hello Manheim?” I said.
“Warren? What in the fu- I told you never to contact me again.”
“Listen. Really listen right now.”
“Where are you? The area code is for the Valley.”
“I’m at the hospital. I just got hit by a car.”
“My God,” her voice lost its teeth “…are you dying?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. I just need to know you’re on board for something.”
She paused before replying with an air of hesitation. “What do you want?”
“I want to make a movie.”
“Really? You just got into an accident.”
“George Lucas got in a car wreck, decided to get his shit together and then he made Star Wars.”
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation. I already know your eyes started to gloss over at the mention of Star Wars. I preferred American Graffiti, really. It took a bit of convincing and a lot of guilt tripping before she finally agreed to commandeer some of the university’s equipment and her mother’s Toyota Tercel, then meet me at a park on Olive street downtown. I had already set up the tripod when I heard her heaving the equipment up the hill. When she finally ambled up to me the fourth degree began vis-a-vis.
“Isn’t this…” she cocked her eye at me.
“Yes, it’s nice, I like the way the light is right now.”
“No, I mean isn’t this where they filmed that movie with Zooey Deschanel?”
“Good, you remember. Help me find the angle they used.”
“I thought you hated that movie.”
“…as a whole, yes. But visually and aesthetically it was sound.”
I composed the shot.
Channeling the ghost of Meisner, I psyched myself up to begin method acting.
“Okay I’m gonna sit on the bench here, then you call out to me after a minute.”
I handed her the script. Manheim started recording behind me and I sat with my hands in my lap, looking at the skyline.
In the corner, just barely visible and out-of-focus a transient was urinating from the second level of a parking garage. A much more stimulating mise en scene than the original.
“Shit, we’ll get that in editing. Let’s get a couple more takes though.”
After the first scene she handed the script back to me.
“I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking at here.”
“What’re you having trouble with?”
“It says here they kiss at the end.” Manheim scratched her head. “I thought she got married to some other guy. I don’t get what this is.”
I sighed deeply into my hand. “The auteur theory, Manheim,” I made two L’s with my thumbs and forefingers, touched the tips together like I was framing a shot and winked at her “I have a vision.”
She said nothing.
“Think of it as an homage, okay? Tarantino does it all the time.”
“You said you hate Tarantino too!”
“I hate him, but I respect him. Wasn’t even a film student. He worked at a video store and then he made Reservoir Dogs out of nowhere.”
“But then he made Kill Bill Vol. 2.” I added.
We finished filming and started walking back to where she parked. I lugged everything but the Red One camera. Manheim insisted. As she stacked it above the other equipment on the backseat she said “This thing’s worth more than my car you know.”
“A lot of things are worth more than you car.” I said.
She scoffed and jabbed me in the shoulder, the bad shoulder.
“Jeezus, I got rammed right there by a truck earlier.”
She turned beet-red and started apologizing profusely.
“Say, how about you let me drive to make up for it. Been a while since I’ve taken White Lightning for a spin.” I scratched at the white paint chipping off the side panel.
Surprisingly, she consented and I hurled myself down into the seat.
“Where are we going?”
I revved the engine, stamped on the clutch and let it roll back a bit in neutral.
Gunning it for all it was worth I sped quickly down Flower, then Spring Street. I whipped the car wildly at every turn. For some strange reason the roads of Los Angeles were dead.
“Warren this isn’t funny, you’re not fucking Dale Earnhardt.”
“That’s fine, I’d rather be Steve McQueen”.
From my peripherals I could see her squeeze her seatbelt with a tighter grip.
I continued. “Did you know in Bullitt Steve McQueen insisted that he do his own driving? The studio relented but eventually they switched him out for a stunt driver.”
She nodded her head and squeaked “Ah…”
“They said he drove too aggressively.”
The car was an extension of my body now, and my body was ass-heavy.
Just as it seemed she was about to yell bloody murder out the window I assured her things were crystal.
“No sweat, we’re here.”
She gave me a wan stare and bit her lip.
I parked the car behind the Hop Woo Restaurant.
“Why Chinatown?” she asked, exasperated.
“There’s an overlook above the park that has a nice view of the city, I want to get some footage of it while everything’s all golden.”
She said needed to use the bathroom, I waited for her at a table in the restaurant while I sipped ice water. When we went back outside the rear windows were smashed in. The only thing on the backseat was glass fragments and a bit of blood splatter.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” she put her face in her hands.
“This is okay, we can work through this.”
She ignored me and sighed deeply. “I’m probably gonna be kicked out of school, I can’t pay for this.”
I went to the street to try and flag down a cop car, I turned back and saw the grim look she had while putting the phone to her ear. After ten minutes I gave up.
“They’ll be here in an hour,” she said.
“Your stuff’ll be hawked in Pasadena by then.”
“I will tromp around here until dawn if I have to…” her face was pink.
I tried to stop her but she started marching down the block, ‘til traffic stopped her.
“Now Manheim, just wait!” I said.
She spun around and spat on the ground in front of me. “Don’t call me Manheim.”
When she heard that she stopped on her right toe. I could see the tops of her ears perk up.
“Forget it Kate,” I pleaded. “it’s Chinatown…”
“If I had a gun I would shoot you right now.”
After filing the police report I handed her a couple yellow pills.
“What’s this?” she asked as she peered through the “V” stamped through the center. I took one for good measure as well. I drove like I was geriatric. Langer’s Deli is a good place to collect your thoughts over a sandwich, I offered to buy her dinner there to cheer her up.
When we sat down I pulled out my DSLR from my bag.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she rolled her eyes.
“We can’t one little set back eighty-six the whole project Ma-…Kate. I mean look how Apocalypse Now turned out.”
“Can we even film in here?”
“Consider it guerilla film-making, and it looks like a regular camera anyway.”
I switched it on and set it on a corner of the table, then I handed her my script.
“I was thumbing through this in the bathroom, it just seems like a bunch of random shit you’ve cribbed from other movies. I’m not exactly sure what we’re doing.”
“It’ll all be clear in editing, trust me.”
I continued. “You need to watch more French New Wave films, Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend makes about as much sense as a salvia trip.”
“I don’t like to read subtitles.”
Shaking my head I said. “Turn to page fifty-seven. Ever seen When Harry Met Sally?”
She glared hard and spoke low. “If you expect me to fake an orgasm in here then I’m just getting up and going home.”
“Of course I don’t expect that of you.”
“It’s the 2010s, I’ll do it.”
As if a starter gun went off Manheim bolted upright, raised herself and ran out the door. I grabbed my camera and chased after her. With the camera around my neck I ran into the middle of the street. I looked at her and instinctively flipped the switch on. The sky started drizzling, which is an occasion to have a five-car pileup in Southern California. She patted her head, turned to look at me and said, “You’re not gonna ask me to swing myself around this light pole and sing, are you?”
I smiled. I didn’t get a chance to reply. The eighteen-wheeler howled at me. I heard her scream. Then I started screaming. A few seconds later came the sound of my camera crackling under a tire.
I got up and instantly saw her again, a vision, illuminated by lamplight. I walked maybe ten steps and fell again. The next thing I saw were her eyes hovering over me.
“Hey Manheim, didn’t they always say in class it’s good to end where you began?” I grinned.
She put one hand to her mouth as she dialed 9-1-1.
“Don’t worry, help’s on the way.”
I spat blood and tried to speak, but my voice was weak. The trucker who careened into me got out and crouched beside me, and put his face close to mine.
“What’s he saying,” she demanded. “is anything broken?”
“He said ‘this is kinda like the ending of Breathless’.”
“What’s that mean?” she squinted.
I sighed deeply.
“We Will Become Silhouettes”
BY LAURA STUDARUS
The practice runs grew in frequency after She left. Having taken to sleeping on a cot just outside our room, He would come barging in, flicking the bedroom lights to wake us up. His singsong voice recounted a new catalogue of potential horrors each time. Terrorists. Fires. Earthquakes. Chemical warfare so deadly it would cause a man to mutate and explode from the inside out.
“Only a silhouette left!” He would exclaim, gently tugging at my braids.
It was my favorite — the only threat I ever considered seriously. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, the moment when a body became a silhouette. Would a shadow feel itself getting lighter? Would it get nervous with all its new freedom? Would my shadow miss me? What does a shadow do all day? I closed my eyes and pictured it, the darkened outline of my body playfully floating through the oak trees that lined our street. Spread out on the lawn outside our classroom, hunting for dandelions at noon. Flickering as it played a never-ending game of tag with all the other newly liberated shadows in the playground as the sun slowly set.
It wasn’t that scary.
The night drills were always the worst. During the day, we could hear hopscotch chants and ball bounces from the nearby park. Light would filter through a crack in the trap door, creating a single, buttery line against the unfinished floor. But when it was dark, there was nothing to remind us of that the real world was still standing. Some nights, owls would hoot insistently, making the stillness feel that much denser when they finally gave up. I took to carrying my Walkman with me everywhere to cut the silence.
Little Brother hated being woken up for a mission (as He would often call them) even more than I did. He would cry every time, fingers digging into his teddy bear, tears streaming from his clenched eyes. It was my job to toss back his covers and help him into the tiny orange backpack that always sat at the foot of his bed. He would time us, counting off the seconds in a gruff voice. To hush Little Brother, I would sing to calm him, brushing my fingers through his sandy-brown hair the way She always did. “Ba, ba, ba, ba.”
The panic room. In His less manic moments he would call our enviable stay there an adventure. “Think of the exciting opportunities!” He would cry, his voice adopting the ominous singsong lilt again. For…? Neither Little Brother or I were tall enough to see where those opportunities might lay over the endless stacks of Spam cans and dusty Poland Spring water bottles.
In the early days of our practice runs, Little Brother tried to embrace our future home. Fumbling with chubby fingers, he taped a small photo of Her up in the corner of the cupboard, proudly showing Him his handy work. He was unhappy, and failed to hide it.
“She’ll never last a day out there,” He told us through clenched jaws. “It’s my job now to keep you safe. Have you seen the news reports? Air quality is dropping like a stone.”
We hadn’t. TV unplugged, we ran the drill three times that night.
It was all over by the time I hit the ground. I had just celebrated another birthday without Her. By then, I was a soldier. Day drills all but done away with, I was an expert at sleeping at attention, turning over worst-case scenarios even in my dreams. I’m not sure why I didn’t see my inability to knot my dirty shoelaces as a threat.
Rushing—as per our usual—I tripped, sprawling across the dense lawn. My orange backpack was caught in the forward momentum and thumped the back of my head. My face was buried into the dew-heavy dirt.
Dumbfounded, I sniffed. Despite the shock of the fall, the smell of the earth cradled my senses. Brain flooded with hopes for the upcoming summer I knew I’d have no real part in; I turned my head to a side, inhaling deeply.
Hearing me fall, Little Brother stopped in his tracks. He turned back, studying me with a morbid curiosity. I smiled at him and tasted grit between my teeth.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Him take Little Brother’s hand, nearly wrenching his arm from the socket in an attempt to keep the boy moving. I raised my head. Back to the mission.
“Big Sister!” Little Brother howled.
“Leave Her” I heard Him hiss through clenched teeth.
Little Brother planted his feet, screaming his one word protest again and again at the top of his lungs.
“no No NO!”
He stopped dead, sizing up his tiny opponent. A man with a saying, encouragement, or chastisement for everything, this could go in any number directions. Little Brother and I held our breath, frozen with the sudden stream of adrenaline.
He did none of those things. Instead, wordlessly, He turned on his heel and stormed back into the house, leaving Little Brother and I behind. Alone. The door slammed shut behind Him. I couldn’t hear if he threw the lock.
Above us, a breeze rustled through the trees, breaking our silence. Not knowing what came next, we stood clinging to each other and staring up at the night sky, waiting for it to crumble.
“This Place is a Prison”
BY KATHRYN BECKWITH
My disdain runs deep for natural light from open windows. It’s always KIND OF blue, and too bright, and inconsistent when there’s clouds and I can’t handle that. I buy the darkest blinds and use the kind of fluorescent lights that give a slight unhealthy buzz.
Like every other aspect of my personality, my family uses this fact as a punch line. Sometimes, 14-year-old me is brave enough to leave her room to grab a snack and is greeted with
“HARK! SHE EMERGETH FROM HER LAIR!”
“The curtains are open, I hope you have your sun block on!”
Or simply, “WHOA, who are you?”
Fourteen-year-old me lives in the year that Rihanna got that haircut everybody’s mom tried to copy. She is not allowed to have a MySpace profile, but she does anyway because not having one in high school in 2007 is socially equivalent to showing up at the Gathering of the Juggalos fully clothed and without fireworks. Nobody really particularly cares who you are, and you really have no idea what’s going on.
Fourteen-year-old me still sometimes lets people call her Kathryn, and because most girls in her grade do not share names with Renaissance-era queens, it was very easy for her mother to find the MySpace profile she is not allowed to have. Now, there are many more things she is no longer allowed to do; use an internet browser, own a cell phone, leave the property. She is also not allowed to close the door to her room, because it is no longer attached to the hinges.
However, 14-year-old me has listened to far too many Misfits albums to succumb to such suppression. 14-year-old me has a Bikini Kill shirt. She dyes her hair black, and when her mother drags her to the snobby salon that plays Taylor Swift on a loop, she lets FiFi spend 4 hours bleaching it back to white-blonde per mother’s orders with full intent of dyeing it black again the next day. She is a LONER, Dottie. A REBEL.
Fourteen-year-old me smoothes an old sheet across her doorway with scotch-tape (the nails are hidden from her- her parents know her far too well). She spreads out on the floor and uses one big toe, painted black, to gently tap the volume button DOWN until Conor Oberst is just barely whining. She listens closely- Ayatollah KhoMother is on the sofa talking to her BFF excitedly. She has somehow learned to roll her eyes with her voice; 14-year-old me makes a mental note to teach herself the skill. Me flips open the ancient Samsung phone with the ONE COLOR screen…the one she’d kept wrapped up in her sock drawer for emergencies when she was given her SideKick 3. Me is not only a smart girl, but a terrible rule-breaker, and even as she swiveled open the screen, she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold onto her phone privileges for long. A backup means of communication is important for a FREE SPIRIT. The secret Samsung comes in handy. She knows the ayatollah will never find it; since 7th grade this drawer has housed the G-strings she’s not allowed to wear but sometimes buys anyway. She’d never actually worn any of them.
“I need to do something, ” she whispers desperately into the phone.
“I can’t really hear you. Whose number is this?” Roni asks, in a gravelly voice that probably meant she was smoking weed in some guy’s living room. 14-year-old me imagines said living room kind of smelling like a mixture of Hamburger Helper and old bong water, with a carpet that someone wanted to be white but ended up splotchy yellow.
“It’s the sockphone. Is there a show tonight? I feel like skanking. Actually, I feel like anything. Please save me. I’m rotting.” 14-year-old me keeps one ear to a scratchy-sounding Roni and the other in the den where a certain someone is laughing at an abnormally high pitch. She shudders. You don’t have a laugh. YOU DON’T HAVE A SOUL, YOU SOLD IT TO MOTHERHOOD.
“Man, I wish I could, but the guys are in the middle of band practice, and we don’t have a ride anywhere, and TJ doesn’t really want you here.” Those fuckers. 14-year-old me utters 1,000 ancient gypsy curses under her breath- one to break up the shitty ska band, one to give her 21-year-old ex-boyfriend scabies. He’s just jealous because she’s still in high school and he didn’t even make it through 9th grade. Dick.
“I miss you though! Are you ever coming out of your room? How are you even dealing with the light thing?” Roni’s words cut deep, but 14-year-old me is touched by her concern. The bedroom she is trapped in has a notoriously terrible glare around 3 pm that lasts an agonizing two hours. Within those same two hours, her dad comes home from work and gets mad at her, and they stop playing trashy talk shows on channel 8. 3 to 5 p.m. are arguably the most unbearable hours of the day. Roni is certainly picturing 14-year-old me listening to “I Hate Myself” in her closet. Accurate.
“I already told you I was rotting. I’ll keep trying. Someday I’ll escape….I will burn this fucking house down. IloveyouIhavetogoohfuckbye” There’s no more laughing and there’s also bare feet stepping down the hall. 14-year-old me thrashes at the stereo with one foot, CRY LOUDER, CONOR. CRY LOUDER. She chucks the contraband into the closet and braces herself for battle. She is well armed, because she’s reading about Che Guevara. She keeps an arsenal of rebellious quotes at her disposal- her inner arms absorb Sharpie ink for DAYS.
“Do you want to go get our nails done? We haven’t hung out in a while!” asks the WARDEN, enthusiastically.
“NO. GET OUT OF MY ROOM.” She does not mean to shout. She knows shouting is not proactive and will possibly prolong the sentence she had at first hoped to shorten with good behavior. The adrenaline of rule-breaking surges through her and she feels close to overdose; is that possible? Her words escape her mouth and take the form of giant bitch explosions.
Her mother’s eyes are doing that thing where they fill up with tears but she and 14-year-old me both know that she is way too reliant on her power to cry. 14-year-old me fixes a glare upon her, a practiced blend of hate and challenge, and hopes her mother will not see through this to the guilt bubbling up in her lower abdomen. It’s a strange phenomenon, and for a moment 14-year-old me considers the damage that her douchery may or may not be doing to her mother already made fragile by the dumb shit grown-ups cared about, like JOBS and MONEY and MARRIAGES.
The douche-beams radiating from 14-year-old me’s eyes are strong enough to push her mother down the hallway and into her own bedroom. Her bedroom doorknob locks with a drawn-out click that holds a resignation. Triumphant, 14-year-old me exhales and curls up in the closet; it is 3:09 and the muffled airplane noises outside the window fanfare the arrival of the stupid afternoon glare. Conor Oberst moans.
“Brand New Colony”
BY LUKE WINKIE
I wish I could reach down and let the water drift through my open fingers, but I can only move in deliberate ways. Instead I sit on the moldy old sand, and watch the lighthouse fire spin around, and around, and around. The shores of Westfall. This endless, gorgeous strand. Dressed in blatant, digitized colors, the same five cloud shapes up above, I need my quiet space even in fantasy. This was ours; this is where we fell in love.
I bought this game because I was bored. I played it because I was lonely. I stuck around because of you. This felt like home, why shouldn’t it? I crawled through my computer. Teleport away from this irrelevant life, build a new legacy and a new name. I was Crogan, a mighty Dwarven warrior. You were Ily, a fierce Elven hunter. You said you were from Georgia, I lived in California. It was destiny.
We met under the cover of darkness, in Duskwood’s perpetual night. You were level 25; you killed ogres faster than I could. You saved me from a mage’s fireball that was too hot to handle. I remember you standing proud over its dead body, giggling at my hasty retreat. You helped me; your smiles tickled my ears. I smiled back. I don’t smile when I’m not with you.
This is a vibrant, unchanging land. The snow will never leave Winterspring, the Burning Steppes will never stop smoldering, TinkerTown will never stop belching up black smoke, and the skeletons will never leave Icecrown Citadel. Seasons don’t change; it only rains when it’s programmed to rain. I liked its continuity. My heroism was a constant, I could never be doubted. I lived life in an endless cycle of conquest and respite. And I would reap my rewards.
But you, you were different. You came out of left field. You were a living, breathing thing. And you were getting close to me. We conquered the ogres and spent the next month telling stories. You were with me every time I logged on, whispering more and more reasons to fall in love with you. We were hundreds of miles away, but I could never tell. Our virtual bodies would meld together. We’d seek out all the quiet places in this digital world, eager to forge real-life memories. Westfall’s modest little beach became our most frequented rendezvous.
I lied to you; I told you I had kissed a girl before. I told you I wasn’t a virgin. I said I was in college, I talked about all the parties and the friends and the casual addictions. I was afraid; you wouldn’t love me if you knew me. But I know better than that. You’ve got a career and a family, I call my mom once a week. You don’t eat mac & cheese for dinner. You’re young and stunning, and you say all the right words. I’m sorry; I was just scared of losing you.
Our characters were growing older. More seasoned, more resolute. We destroyed impossible monsters, overcame impossible odds, saving each other’s lives was our courtship. I finally I told you I loved you on that same moldy old beach. You smiled, you said you loved me too, and then things were quiet. I didn’t know what to say after. I couldn’t kiss you, so I said, *I kiss you*. My first kiss. I’d never been in love before. But you didn’t stop smiling. Technically that beach doesn’t exist, but I will never ever forget it.
I told my brother about you, he said I was crazy. He said that love isn’t meant to be fostered on World of Warcraft, and I need to stop fooling myself. I don’t care, I felt safe with you. Nothing can hamper our union when we’re strong enough to slay dragons. Sometimes we’d talk about seeing each other, meeting halfway at a designated landmark, and falling in love for real. I think we were both too nervous.
And then, sometime over summer, you decided to disappear. I’m not sure the specific date, but I do know that one day you stopped logging on. You deleted your character; Ily was wiped from the plane of existence. You were gone. Forever. I don’t know why, I hope it doesn’t have to do with me, but I know it does. There aren’t any implications or obituaries in the World of Warcraft. Ily did not have a funeral, because, outside of me, nobody knew who she was or why she left or what she liked or when she played. To the other 12 million people playing this game, she was just another Night Elf Hunter. Shame on them. I never saw her face or heard her voice, but she was still the most important person in the entire world.
I sit on the beach watching the waves lap in, the same five cloud shapes up above, drifting across digitized stars, the lighthouse fire spinning around and around and around. This game feels empty now, but I don’t feel empty here. Nobody goes to the beach in Westfall.
It still feels like destiny.