Joyland

PNW |

Fathom

by Grace Campbell

edited by Kait Heacock

Even after eleventymillionish lukewarm texts, we still walk through the gluten free/Kurt Cobain Anecdote Repository of downtown Olympia. Together. You go on like ish ish ish from your pretty white mouth about how the weight of your male privilege is making you allergic to artichoke hearts and rendering you an empath. Every few seconds you wince like the woke is cutting obtuse angles into your stomach probably because you think you swallowed it whole. You're drinking that milkshake the flavor of Only Little Boys Like This and I'm waiting for you to punt out an anemic Hey Thanks because I'm the one that bought it for you but yeah.

The city sighs through the diner vents, inhaling the Puget Sound, exhaling the fry oil that will go into everyone's fuel tanks. You ask me how I've been and before I answer, you ask if I'm proud of you for not having checked your phone yet and ask if I've noticed that you're checking it less.

I wish I could skate around your eagerness with the speed and ease of a single eye roll. But I have this other You I'm holding. The best You. The You from the first few minutes of the now-mostly-defunct Us. The person who doesn't want to be the man his father was, or the one who thinks MeToo is an attention stunt. I tell myself you're trying and thread it out on willful exhales because I haven't yet decided fully that you're not.

Still, I have Who You Could Be curled into this tiny bottle within the inside pocket of my jacket, against my chest, like always. An intricate but mostly decorative sailboat made exactly to scale with that same cork topper sealing it into blamelessness like the one I have here at my mouth guarding that heaviest stone on my tongue and I know who put it there.

I listen to your update, try to put your features on some inner somersault setting where I can spin the pinch of lusty chemistry out of them. Where I can watch you scroll up like paper towels or small print film credits. Where I can feel no register of care. Then I tell myself it might be unfeminist to give up hope. Then I flash to Ivanka Trump calling herself a feminist. Then I think I want to eat a giant weed edible. Then I remember that I'm not into weed.

Anyway, the stopper's not your fault. Which is probably why I buy you Oreo peanut butter vanilla flavored things from The Reef, the only place in the city were everyone loves to eat our collective failure to follow Goop diets, one tater-tot-nacho-heap at a time. We sit at the diner and you remind me you're only one good job interview away from being able to take me out, all nice-like, all like I deserve. Your words.

In truth, I am not sure whose fault it is. Only that faults repeated everywhere, all the time, don't look like fault of any kind any more, just the regular pattern of things. Which causes me to think, who would be left if I started pointing out the shape of the pattern? Everyone would say I didn't create that and talk about trapezoids and stomach pain. Every fuckboy would become an empath. Everyone suspect would vanish into ash, like at the end of Infinity Wars, Spider Man holding Iron Man, weeping out not this way, not like this. But what way? What this?

So it's us, on refrain, again, at the corner of Fourth and Capitol in downtown Oly. It's milkshakes sans rBGH dairy, the follow through non-date to tepid emojis and half finished thoughts sent without any punctuation. Like how B is the unfinished form of Boy or Baby. Like how we both pretend you're either one of those things to me, or to anyone, which means you can go on behaving like one. Or both. Even though, by all accounts, you should be M as in Man or Monochrome, like the way the pattern looks if you're so used to it you don't see it any more. Monocloud: the pet name for the sky over Olympia, four months out of every year. Everyone tells everyone from everywhere else that we don't notice it except that we talk about it all the time. As if to administer a routine dose of ambivalence through the telling.

We leave the Reef and hit the streets and it's been October for four years solid, now, and neither of us owns an umbrella and we've both lived in the PNW for twice the amount of time Obama was president. Are we gluttons for punishment or just cooly disaffected?

Is this a date?

You say out of the blue how much easier it is to not check your phone than you had thought. You say it again, a moment later, in slightly different words.

Fourth Street comes at us like a checkered shadowbox of bespoke offerings and vacant storefronts. You say you want to rebrand yourself, create another name, but not PNW-y. Not like Moonflower or Celery Water. You don't ask me for suggestions, though I have a few.

I have all your names here in my breast pocket, you and the seven wokesters that came before you.

Scrolled up like a replica; the broad canvas of promise that won't ever set sail and is actually taking on water. Like I feel my mouth flood when I'm waiting to offer an earnest but B, it doesn't work that way in case there's a perforation in your monologue. A single syllable sized opening. I want to tell you that you don't get a badge, cookie or cookiebadge for riffing off the Feminist News article with the decoration of your own humblebrag patois. But I'm wrong. You have seven hundred followers on Facebook. You have all the cookies you could ever want. One pulverized, even, getting shot up into your mouth through a compostable paper straw for eight dollars and ninety nine tiny-me-shaped regrets. You're trying, I think. I will up the image of my grandfather, standing with his newly cleaned rifles, explaining to me why women were best suited for domestic work. I let myself heat to the fantasy of holding a firearm right now. Are guns unfeminist?

I remember that you're not paraphrasing any article right now, here in the middle of the forever October. I'm only half with the You Right Now, and half with the bleed-over of the other weekend milkshake runs. Somehow I suspect the Real You is at home in your jams, swiping right on a hotter and younger version of myself.

You say about how you're gonna go off dairy pretty soon, a thing you say every time. I hear the straw search for the last bits of Oreo at the bottom of the paper cup with the blue and violet slashes across the side. You say this stuff is like crack, like you've ever been.

I wonder if you see yourself as Perfectly To Scale on these hangouts that pretend to be one thing instead of the other, and not, rather: the unfinished form. Both of which I carry around when I give those abbreviated hugs with my body bent away so that the hidden glass bottle against my breast won't break. I wonder if there were some way I could collect a tax on half-given embraces, start a GoFundMe for the maintenance of the tiny, hidden little sailboat. I hear a rando cis dude on Reddit barking out no one took a gun to your head and made you buy that fucking milkshake.

You ask where we should head and then suggest we just walk around the same block till we figure it out. Which is what we have already been doing, a thing I thought we were doing on purpose. You ask me what I think of Schoolboy Q's new joint or 6lack's new joint or Janelle Monae's new joint and it's too much for me to suss out and I'm distracted by the fact that I haven't planned for the weather.

We're not the hot joints, though. In truth, we're the pop song and this is the bridge part of the tune, where you think the melody is changing, where you feel the tempo shift; the new notes come in. But since we're both culture vultures we know that the bridge is just placed there to extend the song, give you a momentary reprieve before the return of the most profitable chord progression and fuck, dude, isn't that song great? I love that goddamn song. You love that goddamned song. This is the kind of shit I want to say. That song's a guilty pleasure, like an eight thousand calorie milkshake or an hour long loop-walk through the center of downtown with B: the best and worst parts of the city all coiled up into one. The sandwich boards of the stand-alone businesses and sales signs all: something saturated in promise that will never set sail, cut against the tide-wreck of the empty storefronts whose failure is a pattern that imprints everyone's skin. The city turns to ash, then, this, and every time we walk around pretending like we don't notice. Not like this, not this way.

I look down as you're singing the praises of going smartphone dark. Beneath my footfalls, the strangle of dandelions trying to make something verdant between the composite rock that was designed to stifle them forever. I wonder which are the markers of the pattern here, the dandelions or the cracks? Which marks the reliable truth of things, the fissure or the flatstone? Then I think, how poetic of you, girl, to think there's any kind of pattern here when it's really just random. Incidental moments of rupture and individual attempts on the part of the most under-appreciated flower ever given a name to flourish. Though really, given all things, why the hell do they even try? I step around the dandelions as if I can hear them threading out the reminder of effort, one doomed inhale at a time.

You stop to throw the milkshake cup in the trash but pause long enough to swish it around in your hand and ask me if I want the last sip and of course I say no because you're actually listening to me right now. I tell you I'm going off sugar and you say no shit, really and I look down at my phone for a whole chorus of seconds, then say No. Your face smarts into a grin like someone trying on a brand new word with brand new people, just to see if shit will float.

Nah, I meant Facebook , I say. I'm going off social media.

Fuck yeah, right on, good self-care , you say. Then you look up at me with a kind of apology soaking the sugar doped glaze of your glance. Really, you ask. For the first time in a hundred Octobers, you're paying attention.

No , I say. Nope. And once more, for the wokeboys in the back: No.

I like the way the word sounds, coming out, still solid: the single syllable in one form. Something in the delivery sets sail from my mouth, working easily around that heaviest stone. Like it's gliding on water. A sugared distillate, maybe. The whole city unfolding, in brand new, unrecognizable patterns.