The three of us tossed Avi in the bathroom and locked her in. She screamed for hours, until her voice gave out, then banged on the doors. We slept in shifts. We had crudely soundproofed all the walls with our heaviest blankets (and we were cold when we slept, thanks to Avi’s fucking habits). We’d cut a little mail-slot in the door so we could give her cigarettes and fresh clothes. Sometimes Avi would stick her hand out, grabbing for us or grabbing for the khat we were keeping from her. It wasn’t real khat, which in its purest form is a mostly non-addictive African coke-like thing. Avi snorted some bastard of coke and khat, with maybe some Adderall cut in, and a mystery Caribbean addictive stimulant. I am pretty sure there was also bleach in it, or baking soda; it was pure white.
Called my ex on the phone and said how about now. They said not so sure bout it, I know we’ve talked about things in the past but I’m in a strange place right now and it would be weird I think. Called everyone I know on the phone said I don’t want to be like whatever but I have a bad feeling right now. They said I’m twenty-two, across the seas, don’t speak the language, this country’s gonna break into war any second, I haven’t spoken to my parents in eight months and all I can think is how exciting it’ll be when the soldiers start pouring out the tunnels along the border. They said I’m nineteen, the like fifth guy in a row told me he won’t seriously consider someone as young as me as a boyfriend, I’m gonna have to wait like five years to be able to really date anyone I like.
Billy Monroe was stuck in the plastic fun tunnel at Gator Grotto.
Thankfully, this was my only problem. Everyone else was accounted for. The birthday was over. Gift bags had been handed out, choking hazards made in China promising minimal play value and maximum clutter: squish balls, rubber snakes, number puzzles whose pieces never quite fit. Tommy’s party had gone off without a fistfight or allergy breakout; no knuckles lodged in coin slots. The boys had all struck Bonnie & Clyde poses with Everglade, singing alligator and mascot of the popular themed play space, who lugged over the mesh wire shoe bin like a dead body and dumped it onto the floor for a final mad scramble. Muddy shoelaces looped into ears then bows, Velcro crushed together. We were just waiting on pick-up.
Cale is treading water in the middle of the deep end, water sloshing in his ears and lapping at his chin as he listens to the aqueous echo of the moon-faced timer at the end of the pool wind and wind and wind. How many seconds left? He tries to breathe.
One packing crate, he thinks. Forty-five planks of wood. One hundred and ninety two nails. Twenty-six feet of rope. Two hundred pounds of lead. One pair of cast-iron manacles. Fifty seven seconds.
He closes his eyes. When he opens them again, Lula’s orange-sandaled feet have appeared beside the timer, slapping impatiently at the wet tile.
Yo, she says, and raises an arm. Inside the YMCA’s humid, windowless indoor pool, her shrill voice is amplified.
In a world forever re-creating itself in the image of itself seen on screens, the shift from 100% cotton jeans to those made of 93% synthetic fiber went undetected by Wurst until he arrived at the second of two murder scenes in which the female victim had been wearing a pair at the time of her death. She and her Pinarello CX Carbon Cyclocross lay mangled across the South Bosque bike trail, the toes of her bike shoes still clipped to the pedals. A single bullet, yet to be discovered by Ballistics, had penetrated her temple a little below her sport helmet, and the force of the blast had twisted her from her bicycle seat. The bike’s rear tire was pressed up between her legs, and Wurst noted that while the fabric of her jeans resembled denim, it adhered to her skin like ink.
We hated him when he was a boy – he was a poor student, an embarrassment on the pitch, and his family owned the store to which so many of our own families owed money. We enjoyed embarrassing him in front of the girls, and exposing him to the wrath of our teachers and their wooden pointers.
Despite his habits he was sent to a good university in another country. For this we despised and admired him.
When he returned from abroad, we began to love him. He wasn’t handsome, but his bearing was manly and the women found his worldliness enticing. We were grateful when he proved informed and concerned about our local difficulties—he had not forgotten us—and we began to defer to his sharp political instincts. Also, he bought good wine.
First of all Pytheas, Pytheas of Greece.
He was everything that you’d expect from an ancient Greek person. Toga laurel wreath, all of that.
Everywhere he went he discovered things.
He discovered the Baltic.
He discovered amber.
He discovered the British Isles and everyone living there. People who painted their faces blue and who traded in tin and who had not yet discovered themselves. When his boat made landfall, Pytheas, the British people said, discovered them. And then, when he left the British Isles, sailing north, he continued discovering things.
The midnight sun, for example.
The relationship between the moon and the tides.
He discovered Thule.
The man sat hunched above us on the hot tub’s ladder, his ankles in the water, his nipples pendulous and oyster pink.
“So what brings you to Hot Springs?” he asked. My girlfriend Macy and I had just slid across the hotel’s marble atrium, up the stairs and onto the deck, then out of our clothes and into the water safely, like ball players coming home.
“We’re here for our friend’s wedding,” I lied. “Gina, from college. You know how some people need to top everyone else’s occasion?”
“Oh I do!” a red-haired woman in a two-piece said. Beside her a man with a walrus mustache and a woman with a long, wet ponytail lolled in the backlit water. “But at least you get a vacation.”
“That’s true,” I said. “It’s been wonderful.”
Excerpted from the novel The Lola Quartet, available now from Unbridled Books.
Anna had fallen into a routine, or as much of a routine as a seventeen-year-old can reasonably fall into when she’s transient and living in hiding with an infant. She was staying at her sister’s friend’s house in a small town in Virginia.
Break All the Way Down is also available in Joyland Retro Vol. 1 No. 3.
The mother of my boyfriend’s youngest child called in the middle of the night. He was asleep, the heat from his body wrapping around us. I stared at the dark shadows of the ceiling fan lazily spinning above us. He sleeps soundly despite many reasons he should not.
“I’m at the front door,” she said. Her voice was tight and thin.
I tried to shake my boyfriend awake but he merely shifted, stretching his leg across my side of the bed. He snored lightly. I sighed.
At the mall a lady offers me a free sample of zit cream and I’m about to be all sarcastic, like “Look, lady— I’ve got a giant bull’s head. No one’s going to notice a few zits.”
But there’s something about the way she’s smiling at me, not a plastic fantastic artificial airbrushed smile like all the ladies on the magazines, that draws me up short and makes me smile back at her (have you ever seen a bull smile? It took me years of practice to get my lips to curl just right) and yeah, I know she’s been trained in the fine art of zit cream sales but either she’s the best actress in the world or she’s the nicest person in the world and either way my heart just melts. Zits or no zits, suddenly I know this year is going to be different.
“You’re sure you want to do this?” my mom asks, piling my plate with spaghetti and drenching it with sauce, just the way I like it.
3. The Gettin’ Place
People are never coming up to me and asking, “Andrew, where do you get your ideas?” Mostly they want cigarettes or money, neither of which I ever have on me.
I’m in the middle of an argument with my mother—she thinks I should ask her friend’s daughter Denise Knickerbocker out on a date while I’m home for Spring break, and I think that’s the worst idea ever—when the phone rings. I want her to let the answering machine get it, or make Dad answer it, wherever he is, in their bedroom or the basement or sneaking a smoke on the back porch, because I want her to listen to me for a change. Instead, she glances at the caller ID and lifts the receiver.
After “Hello,” she’s silent, nods solemnly as if the caller can see her and will understand that she’s taking whatever it is seriously. Then it’s “Yes,” “Yes,” “I’m so sorry,” and she hangs up. She looks at me and there are tears in her eyes.
“Cousin Barnaby is dead.” She says this with resignation in her voice, as if the news is inevitable.
Last month, by Gmail, I got the invitation to your funeral in Japan on March 11th. It took me a few breaths to remember that was the first anniversary of the 2011 Tohoko earthquake and tsunami. It would seem impossible to forget—even for the span of a few breaths--one of most the powerful earthquakes ever recorded, or a tsunami with waves 140 feet high. It would seem impossible to forget a force powerful enough to jilt the earth itself four inches off its axis, or leave us with days that are shorter. And then the meltdown of three of the seven reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Could I forget that for a moment? Or the heroism of your father Masao who saved the northern third of Japan?
And then there was you, Himamari.
Could I forget you?
And then she pulled off the highway and rolled into the town there and stopped in front of a bar and said “Get out” and I said “For real?” and she said “Get out” and I got out and she popped the trunk and I retrieved my bag and closed the trunk and without looking back at me she gunned the car and drove away.
This was how it was going to end, in a kind of preordained melodrama, with an egregious stupidity that would manifest itself like this. We had just crossed over from Quebec. The gust of wind kicking up the parking lot dirt was probably Canadian. And now I was here, the first town in New Hampshire, and I was in front of a bar and that triggered a thirst.