Joyland

New York |

A New England

by Rodrigo Ribera d'Ebre

3rd Runner-up, Open Border Fiction Prize 2018

The last time I saw Karen she was dolling herself up to go out with girlfriends. They were the type that backstabbed each other on the regular. One of those girls gave me her number on the side after a club one night, but I never followed through. I should have.

A tight black dress enveloped Karen’s body as I sat on the bed leaning up against the headboard, with my arms folded. Her tits popped out of her chest and she had a smug look on her face―sulky and pouted lips and squinted eyes. I surveyed her four-inch heels and her long-layered hair, and I could faintly make out her panty line. When she caught me through the mirror she rolled her eyes. I felt that she was going to meet up with a guy but I couldn’t prove it. I thought about following her, but if I did I would have reached the lowest point. I felt small stab wounds all over my chest. I hid secrets from her too.

When she corralled her purse and keys from the cherry wood nightstand, I asked, What time you coming back? Like the other night―four in the morning?

I remembered that I couldn’t sleep and I pictured her tumbling around with another man. I imagined him bald-headed with a mustache and baggy clothes―like a cholo or something. We had a big fight that morning too. I didn’t want another sleepless night.

She said, Oh god. Why are you always getting on my case? I can’t do anything.

When she galloped towards the door, I hopped off the mattress, grabbed her by the arm, and said, You seeing someone else? You could tell me, I’d be okay with it―really. I just need to know. I had fucked other girls behind her back so I knew the drill―start a fight and storm out into the wilderness, but neither of us could admit our infidelity.

She pulled away from me and said, Don’t fuckin grab me―let go! She pushed picture frames and CDs on the chest of drawers and stomped towards the door. She dashed out and didn’t look in my direction. I air-punched the wall and stayed in the bedroom until I heard her SUV turn on. Then I went on high-speed pursuit to the front door but she had already vanished. The lights from the vehicle in the driveway illuminated the living room and I sank into the worn-out sofa. My chest caved in towards my spleen, then made its way to my stomach.

I ran my hands through my hair and I visualized her at a club in Hermosa Beach―letting some motherfucker rub her all over and press up against her with an erection. They danced closely, scandalously, to some stupid hip-hop beat and she laughed cruelly as if any man watching would want to masturbate. My heart pulverized against an iron curtain and I couldn’t take it any longer. I called my sister, and within the hour she rolled up in her pick-up truck and we loaded it with my cherry wood bedroom set, including the mattress and box spring, and my clothes. I played this album from The Damned on full blast and neighbors came out of their apartments. Someone knocked but I was all like whatever. My hands trembled and my body almost collapsed, as I yanked my coats from the closet. My heart kept hammering through my chest plate and I clearly saw Karen lifting up her dress and getting penetrated in a bathroom stall. I kicked a big ass hole in the wall.

When my sister and I finished our U-Haul transfer, and while she waited in the truck, I ran back inside and threw Karen’s clothes in the center of the room, on the floor. I pissed on it. When I fled the crime scene, there were a few neighbors at their doorsteps with smirks on their faces. Two of those were her parents, who lived next door. Her mom―with her pale skin, excessive lipstick, corkscrew hair, and tight eyes, looked towards the floor when I glanced in her direction. Her dad―tall and dark-skinned with frizzy hair, squinted his eyes because he was partially blind. My sister and I didn’t say shit to them. I even left the front door wide open and hoped the looters made their way inside.

I stayed with my mom for a few days until I figured things out. Not far from Karen’s apartment. On one of those nights, she came over and tears cascaded down her face when I met her at the front door. She said, Please come home, I need you. Don’t leave me please. I love you.

She threw her arms around me and kissed me all over. She wore a t-shirt without a bra and her nipples pierced through and rubbed against me and I immediately slid her sweat pants off. She unbuttoned my pants and I fucked her on the sofa real quick. I kicked her out after I came, but we both felt better afterwards, at least temporarily. I’m not gonna lie though, I did feel like sobbing when she boned out.

A few days later, I moved in with Chris Allen a couple of blocks away. He was a small-time drug dealer and rented the back unit of a duplex in Hawthorne. He wore a magnum mustache and drove a black Crown Victoria. He looked like a narc. He had three guard dogs, which he kept caged, surveillance cameras, two security doors, and a mechanically-operated front gate. At least I was protected in his fortress.

I was about to tell you how I moved on, but I should probably tell you more about Karen first. I met her at a cell phone shop in Lawndale in 2001. She had almond-shaped eyes, bubble lips, a broad-tipped nose, and a heart-shaped face. And she was fit. Her long, straight dark hair went down to the center of her back. She was like a dark-skinned, Polynesian-looking Denise Richards. I imagined her sucking my dick all the time. I always talked to her behind a counter so I never saw her dress code. I was into girls’ fashion and I judged them by their shoes. If you had dope shoes, you were a dope ass chick. But I couldn’t see Karen’s. We flirted often, as I focused on her lips, and I found out a few things about her―she had two daughters, she was a single-mom, and she dropped out of high school. And she wore lame shoes. Should’ve backed off then. She was a real winner and the type you’d take home to meet your mom.

One day I invited her out for a sandwich or whatever. I figured she was easy because she had kids, and I was in college, so getting effortless pussy was the goal. After lunch, we parked in an empty lot in front of an elementary school. I guess they were on vacation. I stuck my tongue down her throat and caressed her all over. She slid her skirt off and undid my belt, and I fucked her right there in her SUV in the middle of the day. Just like that. I assumed I’d hook up with her a few more times and that was it. But after a few months, she still came around. And she bought me things, like a backpack for my trip to New York City and some Tiger Asics sneakers. She even got me a few band t-shirts―Joy Division and a Bauhaus one. She didn’t know anything about that music though. She just looked through my CD’s and surprised me. I bragged to my friends that I had this one skank who bought me shit.

I was straight-forward with Karen right from the beginning. Some people who knew about this relationship said I was an asshole. But at least I was honest.

I told her, First of all, I don’t want to be in a boyfriend-girlfriend type situation. Second, I don’t like kids. And third, I don’t believe in marriage. If you’re cool with all that we can kick it, if not, we can end this now.

She said, That’s fine with me. I’m not looking for no baby’s daddy. I was in a relationship for too long with my ex, the last thing I need is another man telling me what to do.

But she lied. Karen had a hidden agenda. That’s how some girls were. They wanted to change guys and she saw my intransigence as a challenge. She admitted to it when we were through. So, we kept fucking here and there, and getting drunk, and partying, and doing whatever. And she kept giving me stuff and I got used to it. My mom didn’t like her because she was Salvadoran, dark-skinned, and she had kids. That was a Mexican mother’s nightmare―Might as well have been with a Black girl, she said. She also said that Salvis were all sluts and she hated when Karen came around the house. My mom didn’t engage her in small talk, although Karen tried talking to her in Spanish and even abandoned her country’s accent. Mexicans hated the Salvi accent―for real.

Then my friend Arnold told me that he had a friend―Chad, who fucked Karen too. She went by Chad’s house once, and while he was in the swimming pool, she came out of the guesthouse naked and slid into the water. It was their first date, or hook-up or whatever. First time they fucked. That performance sounded like something she would do too. I pictured it over and over. Chad standing in the heated pool. Chest and head above water. Steam clouding around him. Karen staggering towards the pool with a white towel wrapped around here. Then―bam―a drop of the towel, and a quick dash into the pool. Their soaked bodies pressed up against each other. I felt a bunch of needles being thrusted into my intestines. I had developed feelings for Karen and I hadn’t realized it. They just crept up on me―no joke. I even got mad at Arnold for telling me. I confronted her about the Chad thing and she denied the whole incident. She cried and swore up and down that she didn’t even know him. I knew she was lying and it took weeks to get over that shit, and then all of a sudden, I started going out in public with her. And holding her hand. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking! I was embarrassed too because she wore UGG boots, t-shirts, and sweats on the regular. Like some fuckin philistine. Didn’t match my modern indie style.

But I still called the shots with her. That’s what I told myself. I said, We can go out and stuff, but on one condition though. Don’t bring your kids. I don’t want to meet them. How’s that gonna look―me dating a girl with kids? People will think they’re mine and I’ll get judged. Me, a college student at Otis, with two kids. I can’t do that. I’m not a statistic or anything. That’s your mess.

And sure enough, I was driving down Sepulveda Boulevard by LAX in her SUV and I saw one of my professors. We were at a stoplight and he rolled his window down and said, Guillermo, that you? Hey how’s it going?

He looked at the two car seats and the girls in the back and said, Is this your family? The girls were all smiley and giddy and waved at him.

I said, Yeah, my sister and her kids.

I rolled the windows up quickly and my face was flushed. The light turned green and I hit the gas quick-like and Karen and I got into an argument in front of her children.

The oldest girl said, Mommy’s not your sister, that’s funny, Memo. You’re so funny. That’s why mommy likes you.

I mad-dogged her.

Originally, Karen agreed to my relationship terms and we went to places without the kids. I always wondered how she put up with me and all the bullshit I said and did. But what I mostly thought was, what kind of girl abandons her kids to be with some dude? That shit was foul. She must have been desperate for love, companionship, or attention n’ shit―just like me.

One night, I crashed at her apartment after Arnold and I went to party in Hollywood in a limo with some acquaintances. We got so drunk from the movement inside the car that we threw up inside a bunch of the glasses in the mini-bar. And I didn’t even remember what we did that night. I blacked out for a few hours. I only partially recollected that I lay with Karen in the bed and told her she was a slut. I even told her I hated kids and that I didn’t like holding her hand in public. Said her hand was too wrinkled. My voice slurred and my eyes were half-closed. I said something about how she was just a teenage mom and I couldn’t be with someone like her long-term. I told her it was over and the last thing I saw was her tears. Always with the tears. I told her, I’ve always lived by this rule: Never trust a woman with tears in her eyes. Never. Cuz they could tear on command. Then I passed out. I stayed away from her for a few days because I was embarrassed, but then I was back there with her since I was an insecure coward who couldn’t be alone.

I took Karen around some of my friends and before long she made her way into my life. She just wouldn’t go away. She even went to barbecues n’ shit. I even saw her in a family photo! It happened so fast and I hated myself for not breaking it off. She was not someone I was proud of. I didn’t tell any of my college friends about her either. It was fine with the guys from the hood because some of them already had kids and they had also been with skanks. I even told Arnold that I was just practicing for a real girlfriend later down the line.

And then I dropped Karen off one evening and her kids came to the window. The older girl, which was like five or something, waved at me from behind the curtain. I didn’t think anything of her and I didn’t wave back. I was like whatever. She didn’t leave an impression on me and I didn’t like her face. But then the three-year old opened the door and stood on the porch, and she was like a mini-angel. I swear to god she had this radiance around her. A halo circled around her head. She stared at me for a few seconds and didn’t back down. She was so pale and had light hair and looked like a miniature Denise Richards. I wished I could make a kid that looked like that and this new weird feeling took hold of me. It was like that Marc Almond song where he said that something invaded his heart and made him want to stay. I felt this different type of love I didn’t know existed. I couldn’t stop thinking of the kid for a few weeks and I was so pissed at myself. I didn’t feel that emotion for my friends’ kids, and the closest I could compare it to was how I felt about my niece. Like I could be her caretaker or some shit. At that point, I wanted to see what the kid was all about. I told Karen I wanted to meet her kids and she told me she loved me. I didn’t reciprocate though.

Around the holidays, Karen invited me to open presents with the girls and her parents. The oldest girl was Yasmin, the baby was Samantha. I purposely did not bring anyone gifts. I stepped into the apartment and glanced around awkwardly and the parents walked over to shake my hand or whatever. Then I made a reservation on the sofa in the living room. Her dad stood about two inches from the television to make out blotched images because of his diabetes and her mom spent the whole evening in the kitchen. The girls brought toys and books to me and they just posted up.

Samantha stood in front of me and said, Are you mad at me, or happy at me? Then she said, Do you live here now? Do you want to live with us?

Samantha stole my heart away. I couldn’t stop playing with her and her toys, and Karen and her parents were all cheery and all that. She’d run to me and want me to pick her up and then we played tag around the sofa. Oh man, it was terrible. Then Karen handed me a wrapped box and it was a Sony PlayStation 2 video game console. And she got me the Grand Theft Auto game that me and my friends always talked about. I played for like eight hours straight. I locked myself in the room and let her and the kids bring me sandwiches and water. This lasted for days immediately after Christmas. I ignored my friends’ phone calls. I did poorly on exams that semester too because I was stuck on the console stealing cars and running people over or whatever. I felt like a crack-head when I finally came out of the room, full of anxiety and stress and I hadn’t showered for two days. I even had road rage and I contemplated packing a strap in the car.

My friend Armando called and said I needed to get out of the house and go with him to this kickback in Long Beach. This fool was married and had two kids but he fucked around on the regular. We grew up together, a block away, from the time we were about six years old. He loved to party and hook up with girls so marriage wasn’t going to stop him one bit. His wife knew he was a philanderer. Always blamed me for it too. He was seeing this girl, Ynez, and we knew her from high school. I met him at the kickback and she had this friend, Nicole, and she was Greek. She was tall and had olive-colored skin, curly hair, and a prominent nose. She had a master’s degree in nursing from Pepperdine and she worked at the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance. She was a few years older than me. She was the type of girl I always wanted to be with―educated, smart, independent, and hot. The whole package. She had an alumni frame around her license plate and drove a BMW. At last, a replacement for Karen! It was so refreshing to speak and hang out with someone who actually knew a thing or two.

Nicole said, What do you do? Ynez said you used to be in a band.

I said, Yeah, back in the days. But now I’m just a full-time student at Otis―in Westchester. I do illustration and design.

What kind of music did you play?

Post-punk mostly. Like new wave or dark wave type stuff. I guess the comparison would be like Television or the Velvet Underground. That’s what people used to tell us.

Why’d you stop playing?

Creative differences with my bandmates. The lead singer wanted to go in a certain direction, and I wasn’t having it. I wrote most of the songs too and they didn’t want to give me proper credit.

Nicole said, What kind of art do you do?

I do a lot of illustration like in comic books or graphic novels. I try to bring the music stuff to that world, you know? I take songs, or albums, or even themes, and I give them a visual narrative.

Like what?

Do you know this song, The Cutter by Echo and the Bunnymen? She nodded that she didn’t. I said, Well that song is about the music industry and how they basically chop your head off. So, I took this record company, like Factory or Sire Records from England, and made a band manager like a serial killer who kills lame bands. Like a Jack the Ripper type.

She rubbed my arm and said, Wow that’s so neat. Do you have a girlfriend?

I said, Not really. How about you, you have a boyfriend?

I don’t know, said Nicole. And we both laughed at our foolishness. And I knew then that I was going to fuck her.

The next evening, Armando, Nicole, Ynez and I went to dinner in Redondo Beach. Afterwards, the four of us relocated to Ynez’ pad in old town Torrance. She rented the guest unit in a quaint cottage house and we played Scrabble and drank vodka-tonics all night. When Ynez and Armando went to sleep, Nicole and I hooked up right there on the carpet next to the bed. Ynez heard the whole thing. Nicole was wild and placed my fingers where she wanted my hands to be and she demanded I move in certain directions. I took her commands like a champ. She was more experienced than me and she knew what she wanted, and how to get it. She had a fiancé but she didn’t care, and that is how I began this side thing with Nicole. It went on for like two years, even after Karen, although there were long breaks here and there. I stayed at her apartment for days at a time, and since she was a nurse, she told her man she worked irregular hours. She always screamed during sex and trembled for long periods while she orgasmed.

She fucked with me too. When she wanted to see me she’d say, Aye, Memo, you got girlfriend duty tonight or what? Can you come over?

I felt bad for what I did to Karen, but she never questioned me. I began to put some distance between her and I. I just told her I was in study groups or had exams. I stayed with Karen out of guilt because I could’ve walked away whenever.

I’d spend entire weekends with Nicole, Armando and Ynez. And that was our routine―drink all night, play Scrabble and fuck afterwards. There was no drama or kids involved, and Nicole didn’t care what else I did.

Oh, and you know what? I started messing with this other girl too―Josie. She was Armenian and she was tall, voluptuous, and thick, like a Kardashian or something. She lived in Sherman Oaks and went to Cal State Northridge. She was in accounting or human resources―something like that. The first time I fucked her was near the Santa Monica pier, right there in a lifeguard tower. She didn’t even care that people watched, and a dude walked by with his lady and gave me a thumbs-up. Her and I lasted for a few months and that’s all I remembered. And that was basically how I tried to get out of the relationship with Karen―by fucking around. Nicole and Josie gave me the confidence I needed. They were college-educated and they were independent. And good-looking. Any of them would have been a better option than Karen because they didn’t have kids. I hoped I’d get caught, but I tried not to get caught. You know what I mean? The fact that Karen never questioned me led me to believe she was doing the same thing. And I only lived with Karen for like two months, at the tail-end of the relationship.

One day, the girls came home after being with their dad and Samantha said to me, You’re not my real daddy, Papi is my daddy. You’re just Memo.

And I knew right then that it was over. That little girl stabbed me in the heart and I realized I was getting in the way of someone’s family. I wasn’t no fuckin stepdad. I didn’t have what it takes to jump on someone else’s train. And a few weeks later, that’s when I moved my furniture and some clothes n’ shit. That pretty much brings us up-to-date.

My friend Pete called and said, Hey―you wanna go out? Wanna go to The Underground?

―Sure, why not.

―Okay, we’ll pick you up in a few hours.

―Who’s we?

―Me, Little Anna, and her friend Violet.

―What does the friend look like? Have you fucked her?

―I’ve never met her. Maybe you should try. She just moved back here from Miami.

―Well, one of us should try to fuck her. We’ll see who gets lucky, I said.

―Oh yeah, my sister Monica’s coming down from San Francisco too. Remember I told you about her? She’ll meet us there with her boyfriend.

I didn’t remember. I never met her so I couldn’t place her.

―Alright, see you in a bit, I said.

I made myself a vodka-tonic and turned on the stereo while I waited for Pete and them. It had been weeks since I searched for songs that communicated the thudding in my heart so I constantly swapped CDs to create the best arrangement. The first song was Karen by the Go-Betweens. I bobbed my head to bass guitar strums and tapped my heel on the floor. I lit a cigarette. Chris Allen, my roommate, didn’t like the smell but he was away for the weekend. I kicked it in the cramped living room, which was clean, but was filled with bulky sofas. The lyrics on the song were the antithesis of my Karen, except for one line, because she too was a peasant from the village―somewhere in El Salvador. She didn’t work at a library and she didn’t help me find Brecht or Genet, and she didn’t have the kindness of the Japanese. On the contrary, we once got caught fucking by her blind diabetic father in the living room. She just laughed. She was definitely a Queen Street sex thing―whatever that meant. I was eager to get to the club, where girls wore mod haircuts with bangs, dark leather jackets, ripped jeans, and vintage shoes. In the early 2000s, there was a garage rock revival and these girls were more my style. The opposite of Karen.

I had three vodka-tonics before Pete and the girls showed up in the driveway. I made them wait while I listened to one last song and smoked one last cigarette. To the End by Blur was on, and indeed Karen and I had made it―to the end.

I couldn’t stand hanging out with Little Anna. She always told the same story. Remember Memo, when you used to ride your little bike right there on Acacia Avenue? You used to be so small―I’ve known you since like, forever, right? How’s Armando?

She told this story again to Violet, a gothic-looking girl with burgundy hair and matching lipstick. I couldn’t see what her body looked like but she was too macabre for my taste. Her arms looked thick too. I only saw her profile when she opened the door for me to slide in the backseat. The light from the open car door brightened her face and I made eye contact. Pete looked rested and he handed me a beer. He laughed and poked me on the side. I forgot about Karen for a bit.

Hey Anna, do you mind if we smoke? I asked.

No, go for it.

I grabbed the cracked and torn leather front seat headrests and pulled myself towards the girls and poked my head between them. So, you just moved back from Miami?

Yeah, ten years. But I feel like I never left. It’s great to be back.

Why did you come back? Well, why did leave to begin with?

Pete said, To follow a guy. And he blew smoke out the window.

Yeah, I moved over there with my boyfriend. But things have been a little rocky so I wanted to come back. He might come back too―we might have to start all over, you know.

I knew a guy who moved to Miami a while back. His name was Frank.

Violet said, Frank Nuñez?

Yeah, Frank Nuñez! We went to middle school together. A Nicaraguan guy.

Yeah that’s him―what a small world.

Pete said to me, You know Frank too?

I know Frank, I said, but I don’t think you know him. Why would you? You grew up in Westchester.

Pete said, Of course I know him! Everybody knows Frank Nuñez.

But he had a tendency of lying and being sarcastic, especially when he was coked-out or drunk. I ignored him.

I can’t believe your boyfriend’s Frank Nuñez, I said to Violet. I patted her lightly on the shoulder. I said, We were in a Depeche Mode cover band together. He was Martin Gore. Looks just like him. That’s so funny.

Pete raised his beer, To Frank! We all said, to Frank!

Even if I was drunk or disoriented, Violet was now off the table. I had fucked with girls that had boyfriends and fiancés, but never a friend’s. That was the lowest of the low. And I thought about Chad fucking Karen and that shit hurt all over. And he wasn’t even a friend, just some motherfucker that I knew.

We were jovial that night in Anna’s vintage, primer-colored 71’ Nova. My eyes were red and they welled up and I looked like death, but I was living the Depeche Mode song―But Not Tonight. We played songs and cracked jokes on the drive to the club, and we talked about school and growing up in Hawthorne near LAX. Westchester was close enough and Pete got in on the dialogue. I had the window down and the wind crashed through my hair. The laughter and beer, and the clouds of smoke that circulated around Pete and me in the backseat were memorable. He snorted several lines when we stopped at intersections and I did a few too. I hoped the drive down La Brea Boulevard towards West Hollywood would last forever. We winded through the curves in Inglewood near the oil fields, then went up the hill by Park View and Culver City. We whizzed down the wavy canyon through Kenneth Hahn and Baldwin Hills, and through flattened Mid-City, and we steeped in the lit streets near Park La Brea and Hancock Park. And not once did anyone ask me about Karen and if I was alright. And that was great.

A song came on Anna’s mixed CD by Billy Bragg―A New England. I said, Turn it up, turn it up, that’s my song! When the song’s chorus came on, we all looked at each other and in unison sung it. And it summed up my life in one sentence.

I didn’t want to change the world or anything like that, I was just looking for another girl.

The front patio of The Underground was lined with vintage Lambretta and Vespa scooters from the 60s and 70s. Some had union jack stickers and others had the London tube or band stickers. I wanted to get one someday and join the Westside Scooter Club in Santa Monica. I pictured scooter rallies with a starting point at the pier and heading north towards Malibu. Maybe they screened Quadrophenia after or got into fights like the mods and rockers did at Brighton Beach. When we stepped in, Jeepster from T-Rex was playing. Glam rock videos were shown on the monitors. I usually remembered what song played upon arrival to a club because it set the theme for the night. I was on the hunt for a girl who had the universe reclining in her hair. Pete’s sister and her boyfriend were already inside and I had totally forgot about them.

Pete said, Hey Monica, this is my friend Memo―Guillermo. He looked at me and said, This is Monica and Lenny.

Lenny extended his hand, Hey, it’s great to meet you, man.

Monica said, Wow, I can finally put a face to a name. Pete talks about you all the time. I feel like I already know you.

All lies. They’re just a bunch of lies.

I focused behind Monica and made eye contact with a girl at the bar. She had a bob haircut with dark hair. She had a cute face and that’s all that mattered. I decided I would approach her at some point, after I had enough vodka-tonics. The way the girl laughed and smiled and played with her hair, it caused a vibration in my feet. She looked in my direction a handful of times. I went to the dancefloor to loosen up.

The guy she was with got up and I saw an opportunity. Hello, you wanna dance?

―Not at the moment, thanks.

―What are you drinking?

―A dirty martini.

―Can I buy you a drink?

―I’m with someone. He went to the bathroom.

―Oh, you guys are like a couple or something? You guys on a date?

―What’s it to you?

―Nothing. He just doesn’t look like your style. I don’t think he’s part of the scene.

―Oh, and you are, right? With your little jacket, your torn jeans, and your Docs. You look like a skinhead with your shaved head and sideburns. She turned away and smacked her lips.

―Well at least I fit in, I said.

―It was nice talking to you. I’m gonna leave now.

Damn it, I had misinterpreted her look as approachable. But she was just a stuck-up bitch. I glanced over at Pete and his sister and she nodded her head. Then she smiled.

I walked over to them and Monica said, Did you strike out?

―She had a boyfriend.

―Pete said you go to Otis. What are you studying there?

―Illustration.

―What about you?

―I go to San Francisco State. I’m either gonna major in Psychology or Art History.

―You should choose the former. What are you gonna do with Art History―work at a museum giving out brochures or something? I said.

―Well, I’m leaving to Paris this fall for a year abroad. I’ll decide after.

―Paris―great! My favorite novel is set in Paris.

―Which one?

―The Age of Reason by Sartre. It’s about this philosophy teacher who gets a girl pregnant and is looking around for money to get an abortion. It takes place in like a seventy-two-hour period and he goes to bookstores and museums afterwards.

―Oh, so you relate to it or something? You get a girl pregnant and go to a museum after?

―Twice. But I had the money to take care of it. I went to MOCA, I said.

I wasn’t lying. We both laughed.

―So, what are you gonna do with illustration? She asked.

―I’m thinking of doing a graphic novel―The Conquest of Reds. It’s gonna tell the history of the persecution of the left-wing in Los Angeles, from the early 1900s, and bring it up to present day. It’ll look at things like the Wobblies, the bombing of the L.A. Times building, the Hollywood Ten―that sort of thing.

That sounds―

Sorry to interrupt, said Lenny. He took her by the hand and whisked her away to the dancefloor. She looked back at me apologetically and her hair covered half her face. She had piercing eyes, and they looked gloomy.

I didn’t see Monica again until a year later. She hadn’t made an impression on me because I was mourning the death of my heart and she had a boyfriend. She lived up North and she was leaving for Paris. I thought nothing of her at the moment and I didn’t know she’d be my girlfriend. She had pale skin, an average frame, medium-length mousy brown hair, freckles, and she was Pete’s sister. And that’s all I remembered at the time.