Biting

by Elie, Managing Editor
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“Do you think it’s hard to write dialogue?” she asks me. “Like in a short story, I mean. It’s gotta be. You want what you’re writing to sound real, not like a freshman struggling with each phrase.”

“Hmm, I don’t think it’s that hard.” I look over at her. She’s staring at the ceiling.

“Really? I’d think it’d be very hard.” Her emphasis on the word “very” seems intentional, almost a direct thrust, as if to say you’re wrong, idiot. You’re so wrong and you have no idea about it, you smug little fuck. She would never call me that outright, but when it comes to hurling biting jabs in shielded locution, she’s a queen. I pause, looking distractedly at the wall.

“Why would it be so hard?” I wonder. “Everything that gets said by anybody reflects some sort of conversation. All actual dialogue reflects real speech in some way, not some, you know, perceived understanding of how speech might be. And then you’re just jotting it down. It’s not that, um, not that…”

I stop. She’s staring determinedly away from me, unlistening. Her foot taps out an urgent rhythm on the carpet. I don’t say anything. We’re sitting on her couch, plucking the stray threads from her roommate’s woolen throw blanket. A strained silence hovers overhead.

I get up. I have no idea what’s wrong, nor do I have a clue why I always feel like something is wrong.

Insensitive, she called me, but I found that completely unwarranted. We’d been standing in the dim corridor outside of Marvin’s brownstone. The party had died down and only smoky stragglers were left, fumbling around in the foyer. My head had been spinning inside from the near toxic combination of tunes, fumes, and flashing lights, but as soon as I stepped out into the cool of 2 am on a September Sunday morning and sucked down the cold crystal air, I was feeling golden. We hadn’t come together – she’d gotten there late – but we made it a point to leave arm in arm.  I wanted to go back to my place but she’d been insistent that I stay over. I never like staying over. I get wary of her roommate, a large, sad-eyed girl name Laura who throws dirty looks at me whenever I spend the night. She never says anything nasty – I doubt she’s capable – but there’s something spiteful in the way she constantly foists her presence on us. Her large, brooding presence.

Back in the moment, I pace around the room. I know that I look worried and that she’s about to ask me what’s on my mind.

“What’s on your mind?” It comes, but there’s no love in the question. Just impatience.

I’m trying to figure that out myself, and I tell her as much. “I don’t know, I really don’t, man.” Somewhere inside I’m hoping that my blasé appellation will cover up the globs of cinder I feel smoldering down my ribs, though at the same time I know I intend for her to feel the pierce, even if it’s tucked away in the cool resolve of practiced distance. “I couldn’t tell you, buddy.”

Just to have something to do, I sit down beside her, but she pops out of her seat and disappears into the bedroom. Luckily Laura the loveless hasn’t yet returned from one of the many local brews where she practices the art of liver-smashing with a resolve that’d make Dylan Thomas proud. They’re both poets, Dylan and Laura. The latter was kind enough to tell me such last time I was here. Conversation for the sake of conversation. You’ve got to love discomfort. She mentioned that she’s been working on a series of poems that reflect the absurdity of her recent dreams. As soon as she wakes up, with the remnants of memory about to fade into the consciousness of the morning light, she pulls out her coverless notebook from under her body pillow, and records all of her fumblings-for-sense, filling in the details of her night visions where they’ve dried up. How eighteen, I thought at the time, remembering back to my own practice of attemptive dream-catching.

Sighing, I heave myself up from the couch and amble into the bedroom. “Look, whatever it is, it’s got to come out. You can’t keep it to yourself like that.” She’s thrown herself face first into the sheets. She might be crying, I don’t know. She looks up, “You fool, don’t you get it? I shouldn’t have to say anything.” Her voice is even but noxious. Her eyes are dry and pale. Nope, no tears there.

“What?” I start, “Why should I be expected to read your mind? I mean, I don’t–it doesn’t make sense that I can think your thoughts—”

“No, no, that’s not what I’m saying!” Her voice slashes through the apartment.

I try and tell her we’re not getting anywhere with this argument, but I get cut off by the swinging open of the door. Laura stumbles in, her eyes glued to the phone in her palm. She looks up. “Oh hey,” she says. The blocky thickness of her voice is that of a Class A drinker who has just recently hit her stride. With the dim light from the hallway wafting over her sheepskin coat and her hair undone in a deflated puff, she looks mopey and pathetic.

“Hi, Laura,” I say. For some reason, I’m feeling unnaturally pleasant towards her. Who cares if she feels the pressing need to get plastered on a bi-weekly basis? So she’s got some shit swinging through her day that she medicines with the world’s oldest panacea. Good for her. She’s found a way to make peace with her crummy lot. We should all be so lucky.

“How was your night?” I ask, smiling. She returns a grin, but it’s a sloppy one, almost as if she’s having a hard time keeping her cheek muscles in check.

“Great, yeah. Like really great.” Laura’s roommate – my girlfriend – slides silently between us into the kitchen. I hear the fridge door open and the silky tumble of liquid pouring. I peer at Laura. I actually don’t get how she manages to drink with such aplomb and maintain her coherency. Sure, she’s swaying slightly in front of me, but after several hours of pounding shot after shot, I’m impressed by her ability to answer my questions, regardless of their roteness.

She really is a world class drinker. I saw her go at it up close and in person once. It was at my twenty-fifth. We were in the Black Squirrel and I was freezing my ass off. I hate going out on winter nights. Especially to clubs with busted heating systems, relying on the alcohol to inject the warmth. It was a small affair, no more than twenty people. Laura was there of course, chewing on a piece of red licorice in the corner. For some reason, that memory has lodged itself tightly in my mind. Staring blankly at the door, twisting an already knotted licorice like a girl auditioning for Lolita. An unhappy, somewhat dumpy looking lady in a faded pink jacket and too-tight jeans that made her thighs look like beefy seals. She glanced at me as I walked past, on my way to the men’s room, for the first time that night. She forced a smile. Happy birthday, dude, she offered. Thanks, Laura, I replied. I told her to enjoy her drink. As my body flooded out its excess liquid into the stained porcelain of the lone urinal in the Black Squirrel’s seedy back section, I pictured Laura, who always seemed so unhappy, so morose, whenever we’d run into each other. Laura, who always made her perpetual singlehood known, often through a passive comment offered in response to overheard relationship jargon. You guys look like you’re gonna have a great time tonight, when we’d be getting ready to go out, or don’t forget, guys, it’s Valentine’s Day in two months, when I’d mention Ashton Kutcher. Or the worst: it’s nice to know that some people are happy. Poor sad Laura. The door to the men’s room opened, and I shook my head, my thoughts drifting elsewhere.

Back in the apartment I’m watching Laura. We don’t talk. I hear the rattling of dishes from the kitchen. Laura scratches her left thigh, which, along with the right, is covered by a neat tan A-Line skirt. Better than those jeans. She suppresses a burp, then giggles. I smile, finding it hilarious.

“Did you drink a lot?” I inquire. “Ha, yeah,” she responds. I suddenly feel cold. Laura’s looking very warm. I step a little closer. “Can I ask you something?”

“You just did.” She giggles again. Wildly, I feel an odd urge to kiss her. I move my face close to hers. Up close she looks a far cry away from dumpy. Her slender little nose curves down the valley between her rosy cheeks. She looks human, like somebody’s daughter from this distance. Nothing like the stereotypical sad sack I’ve written her off as being. She’s staring at me, determinedly. I pick up whiffs of her breath, which reeks of sour whisky. Neither of us speak for a moment. Then she closes her eyes and moves her face forward – quickly. I’m reminded inexplicably of a circling eagle who’s just spotted helpless prey that’ll soon disappear. You’ve got to swoop while it’s there. Her open lips crash into my closed mouth and she holds it there for a long moment. I panic, grab her by the arms, and push her away. My girlfriend is in the kitchen, six feet away. Laura looks up, a willing prisoner in the messy cage of trifling drunkenness, and moves away from me. I watch her enter her bedroom. She shuts the door quietly and the radiator begins to hum.

“What was that?” I hear a quiet voice ask. I turn around to see my girlfriend. Her eyes seem oddly empty from this distance. “I don’t know,” I respond. I really don’t. “She was drunk and we were talking…”

She looks at me, her empty eyes replaced by a flash of coldness. “She? This is because of her…?”

“WHAT?!” I’m almost shrieking. “What! Are you kidding? You’re going to take that and use that to—”

But she cuts me off. She’s becoming increasingly hysterical, refusing to look me in the eye. I don’t even hear what she says anymore. I just feel knocked down, numbed by her distance. It’s almost as if she’s latching on to this fuckup as a way to shove down my throat whatever it is that’s been building up. I have a hard time looking at her. I don’t know what she’s saying, if she’s saying anything at all. I find it so odd that I can’t look at her. My heart begins to pound.

“Listen,” she starts, her voice quiet. “I don’t know anymore. I just don’t know. I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know how to act around you anymore.” I’ve finally worked up the ability to be able to look her in the eye. Her face is flushed, her eyes softly pinched. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do about all of this. I’d really love suggestions.”

Outside, the wind is biting cold. I gnaw at my fingernails. I bite them until they hurt when I move them. Then I bite them some more. I move around to try and get warm. I can’t believe this is happening. But it is. This is happening.

Back inside, we had been silent for what seemed like far too long. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I had to say, but for whatever reason, whenever I tried, the words zigged away from me. I’d open my mouth and stare at her, mute. We needed this, I tried to comfort myself, we needed something outside of us to get the ball rolling, to get the yarn unwinding. Thankfully Laura was kind enough to drunkenly attack me.

“Why are you the way you are?” She asked quietly.

I looked at her. “Because that’s how I am.”

“It’s a shame,” she said. “I really liked us.”

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Comments

  1. such a fan, i am.

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SOME THINGS ABOUT US

LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from tumblr.com). Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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