Party Hats


It felt like life had been tuned to the wrong channel.

Hal unpacked quickly, not doing a thorough job, just getting it all out. He hadn’t thought to get furniture, so that first night would be spent sleeping on the floor. He’d get a cot the next day, and the week after that a proper bed. Everything in its time.

Hal unpacked the trinkets last, left the ones he got from her in the box till he could figure out what he would do with them. His first instinct was toss, the best thing would be to toss, but knowing himself he’d probably keep them in a private shrine.

He inhaled the fact that he knew no one here. That he was a seal on the shore, skin ragged, miles away from its herd. Exhaled loneliness and the smell of cat food. His cat was depressed and so ate more to try to quell the pain. There was no use for Hal to simply feed him less. The cat mewled and clawed the door till Hal popped open another can.

He considered getting cat Prozac, maybe regular Prozac too. Something to put on the list, anyway.

Finding a reason to get out of bed became hard, so he turned it into a game. If he got out of bed before noon, he could put a party hat on the cat. The cat was too depressed to do anything, so the party hats would pile up day after day until the cat was a display cat advertising party hats.

He met her on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe met isn’t the right word. Maybe stare in disbelief and wonderment across the library is the right way to put it. She was reading something by Murakami, had a selection of Díaz stacked next to her. A fat copy of Infinite Jest covered her hands as she read. Hal went over and waited as if in line. When she acknowledged him, he spewed his adoration for the authors she’d chosen. He tacked on an invitation to coffee at the end and she said maybe.

The maybe was a no. He went back to the library the next weekend, prowling where he’d met her. Went back to the coffee place at the time they’d agreed upon the next week in case she’d misunderstood. Nothing.

And so it was back to putting party hats on the cat. Peeling open cans and plopping out food. Hal unpacked the trinkets she left him. He tossed them in a bag and put the bag in his front lawn and set the bag on fire. As the plastic burned and wafted a dying smell, Hal watched intently.

It got so he couldn’t put hats on the cat, because he stopped getting up before noon. Couldn’t find a reason to keep going.

And so back to the library. He goes back to the appointed spot and she’s actually there. She notices him right away but acts like she doesn’t see him. Hal goes up to her. Is she reading anything? And no, she isn’t. Is she busy at the moment? And no, not particularly busy. Would she want to get a bite to eat somewhere nearby? And umm, okay. Really? And yeah, really.

Her name was Julia. Hal and Julia spoke of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and of 1Q84, and of the way the stories were structured in Drown. They traded new authors, old favorites, and ones you might not have heard of. They labored over Wallace’s sentence structure and Zadie Smith’s use of POV and Eggers’ sense of place. They spoke at length.

When it was all over, she gave him her number without him first asking for it. When Hal got home, he gave his cat three party hats, one for each segment of his body.

They went out the next weekend and the weekend after that. Their hangouts were equal parts literary love and adventure. Ducking out to hang at the aquarium and Hal imagining putting party hats on all the sharks. When she inquires, he tells her of the party hat cat. The reason for the hats. He tells her she’s the reason he gets up now and she smiles in a nervous way, like if she makes a single wrong move it’ll all go away.

When they make love, it’s like dawn’s light filling in all the cracks on the sunscape. It’s an ethereal thing that leaves its impression in the sand before getting up and diving into the water. Hal makes those up and tells her, asks her what she thinks. She says it’s worthy of DFW and he says stop but almost laughs from excitement.

Can a love ever really be pure anymore? In our times, can it be? I don’t know about yours, but for Hal and Julia it was. They did things like yawn out of bed in the morning and then come back into the golden light of dawn to kiss through morning breath and make love one last time before getting up and going about their day.

I can’t find a reason to make their story a sad one, so I won’t. I’ll make theirs a story of them gifting new books at every holiday, of staying madly and ferociously in love every day, over and over again, of trading off who gets to put on the party hats.


Pinching the Moon

Me and the Moon

We’re sitting in Joelle’s car, her rolling a joint, me looking out at the full moon and pinching it between my fingers. She is not mine. Not like in a possession sense, but let’s just say we should not be here and doing this right now. She drops some of the weed down her shirt and fishes half of it out. The rest will be stuck there forever. When she licks the joint she looks at me. I stop pinching the moon. I pinch her head instead, but she’s not far enough away for it to be accurate from a perspective sense.

She lights it and takes a drag, hands it to me and then exhales, like she had to ensure its safe delivery before letting out her air. I’ve known her since the sixth grade. Her guy has been with her for six months. I don’t say that to make everything seem okay. I’m using it as more of like an interesting fact. A did you know.

Joelle has this birthmark under her eye in the shape of a tiny heart and I’m pinching that since the perspective is in the goldilocks zone. She tells me to stop as if I’m pinching it for real, but laughs after she says it.

I drag hard, hold the smoke in for as long as I can before letting go. I try not to, but I cough. She calls me a lightweight and steals it back. We talk about where we are and where we want to be. I make up some life where I’m happy on my own and she doesn’t call bullshit even though I can tell she wants to.

The smoke circumscribes the car till she rolls down the windows. She was never one to hotbox. I was, so I roll mine up. She rolls it back down and locks the window. The joint’s getting to pinching status, so when I take it back our fingers touch for a second, then let go. The moment breathes through both of us.

Joelle laughs and I ask her why, but she doesn’t have an answer. It’s hitting us all at once, stretching seconds into minutes and warping everything like a spaceship starting to blueshift. She can do nothing but smile, nothing but laugh.

It’s become a roach. I motion to give it back to her for the last hit. She doesn’t reach out for it. What she does is she shifts in her seat. What she does is she stretches out to me. What she does is she takes the hit as I hold the joint, her lips kissing my thumb and forefinger.

When she pulls back, I almost drop the roach on my seat. Instead, I toss it out the window and look at her. Her cheeks are burning as she laughs and laughs and laughs. I ask her what she’s laughing about again, but she only looks at me. Her blue eyes reflect the light inside her car, the headlights outside of it. She looks at me as if to say “You know.”

I wonder where to take this from here. We’ve been friends since sixth grade. It could work or it could not, and am I prepared to take that kind of loss if it backfires? Am I willing to risk a beating by her pituitary case of a boyfriend? Or is it all in good fun? I don’t know.

Joelle can feel the tension, we both can. So she produces a second joint and lights it up. Its cherry glows with her sporadic inhalations like stop and go traffic. I am to take this joint like nothing has just happened between us. Her leg glows palely in the light like sculpted marble. I ask her what that was. She asks what and I just say that.

I don’t know, she says, but her eyes hold on me as she does. I put out the joint. I lean in to her and go for it. She pulls away and asks what the fuck. What the fuck, Hal? I have nothing to say, so I say nothing. I have nothing to do, so I look anywhere but at her.

Joelle grabs me by the chin and turns me toward her, so I have to look. What the fuck, she asks again. I just say I don’t know. I’m halfway about to ask if we can still be friends when she leans in and kisses me. I don’t have to say the rest. You know. The moon shined on the maiden fair. My eyes became bugeyes. And all that.

When the smoke clears and the high fades enough, she starts up her car and takes me home. Her cheeks burn the whole way. We say things, but not really. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Commenting on the song that’s playing, etc.

She parks and we kiss some more by streetlight. She pauses between each kiss, cheeks still red, like she’s going to pull away but then doesn’t. Chooses not to. Pulls back in. If I don’t get out of the car, I never will. I say all right, then. She says okay. I say so. She doesn’t say anything after that.

I open the car door and get out. Shut it behind me. She rolls down the window. Opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I turn away before anything else can happen and walk inside. The last thing I hear is her car dopplering away, first a rumble, then nothing at all but a rush of wind.


In Which We Enumerate What We Will and Won’t Do

Secrets In The Attic

We are far more resilient than you might think. We are like mice, or cockroaches, or other various resilient things. We are savvy inasmuch as our savviness can be measured or quantified in an accurate fashion, using beakers and graduated cylinders and the like.

We are potent, like the first time you tried to make a mixed drink and almost choked, definitely sputtered. We are like that time you stepped in the leavings of a dog but did not know it at the time and so attempted to scrape out the remnants of it with your bare finger. We are most definitely self-aware.

We will humor you when you play games of twenty questions to guess who we are, but we will not give you an ultimate yes or no. We like to dress up like people from the old days and act like we are people from the old days when in fact we are not. We won’t take no for an answer.

We had no discernible childhood, but we will act as though we did if pressed. We will be very convincing from a distance but something will be off about us when you look closely. We have reached a consensus and we will not be attending the party. We will not accept your conciliatory remarks. We are staying. We are leaving.

We have been here long before you and we’ll be here long after you’re gone. We will never be gone, or else we don’t think we will be. We haven’t nailed down the details just yet.

We often catch ourselves in the mirror and think to ourselves that we are quite attractive. We are told by people using the mirror in public bathrooms that we are quite attractive. We open up doors for strangers and keep them open for an uncomfortable length of time.

We address what our flaws are without putting in any effort whatsoever to correct them. We are sometimes lazy creatures. We behave if our full names are stated in a stern sort of voice. We have tattoos and piercings everywhere. We do not care. We care very much. We are a paradox, but not one of the sciencey, mathy ones.

We take all precautions and leave nothing off the table. We turn the tables. We do anything that somehow involves tables. We possess brains that are really very good brains. We insist you give our brains a look-see.

We will not do what you tell us unless you brandish a weapon, and even then we will only think about it. We are dreaming constantly, even when we are awake. We recognize the logistical issues of constantly dreaming while moving about in space in the real world; it’s quite difficult.

We encourage you to read our blog. We give you our card. We can conceptualize the concept of infinity. We are ending world hunger as we speak. We never speak, besides in text form. We recognize the sovereignty of barge micronations that are parked in international waters.

We are making a list of all the people who have cute laughs. Unfortunately, we do not laugh. We can laugh, we just don’t ever do it. We were at that addiction recovery meeting that one time even though we weren’t addicted to anything. We came for the free coffee and stayed for the story ideas. We don’t write stories, but if we did we’re pretty sure we’d be excellent at it.

We would never say psyched or pumped, even if we did speak. We would say excited and nothing else. We have no opinion on the possible existence or non-existence of God. We have no opinion because we already know the answer. We will never share this fact with anyone, for fear of mass uprising.

We date occasionally, but nothing serious has come of it yet. We aren’t holding out hope, but the prospect of being able to spoon someone does sound pretty nice. We aren’t sure if we can die, but all evidence points to our being immortal. We insist that you don’t quote us on it, but it does seem that way.

We are when you wake up with drool covering your pillow and you flip it over and resume sleeping. We are that bonfire that slows everyone down when walking past to enjoy the smell and the sight. We are the way out when you feel like you’ve fallen down a long and dark well. We are the way back to the surface.

We are doing just fine, thank you very much. We are working toward a change, though we know not what it’ll be in the end. We are power. We are fame. We are willing to fight for what we believe in.

We know what your greatest fears are, but we don’t capitalize on them. We are cool like that. We will grab hold of humor and never let it go. We can compromise when we want to. We can see the future but we choose not to divulge. We will see you, alone, in the dark, wandering, unsure of where to go, and we will take you by the hand and guide you out.


The Cold of the Night

Female Warrior # 17

There’s something to be said for getting out of bed and going about your day. For understanding the sullen weight of what you’ve got, and for putting the mask on before you leave. For putting your kitchen knives away when you need to, locking yourself in your room and putting on comedy after comedy.

For practicing smiles in the mirror so you can try to make them look real. For going out in the rain, running in it, arriving at an open field and standing in the center as the rain turns to drizzle and it seems like it’s all coming from the multitudinous stars in the sky.

For exercising restraint where you never used to, sitting on the bathroom floor and dislocating your shoulder so you can feel the sweet release of pain, long after your cutting days, and this one seems better because it leaves no marks.

For going back to your hometown and sitting on the old swingset, chains rusty, creaking in the breeze, and there’s a way to dismount so that you’re standing in place when you get off, and you’ve done it now, 20 years after the first time. For remembering old bike tricks: look ma no hands, butt steering, I believe I can fly, etc.

For undoing years of reptilian brain training and cutting your ties with your bio parents, and to dislocate and dislocate and locate the source of the pain but to have no means of stopping it, at least none in sight.

For waiting at the bus stop with no route in mind, sitting on the bench and talking to dozens of people over the hours, imbibing stories, eating anecdotes, consuming the lives of those who came before.

For painting again, flecks of new gamboge on your chin and canvas, becoming something, though what that something is you don’t know. For telling yourself it’s the last time you’ll dislocate and then doing it again, feeling like you’re a stranger to yourself. For collecting the bodies of animals who have died on the road and to feel their blood on your hands, sticky as you try to wipe it away.

For defying childhood orders and staring directly into the sun, watching it fall from the sky until the pain is gone and you can see the giant spots in your eyes, they won’t go away, at least not for a while. For setting your shoulder for the umpteenth time, lying in bed and the sweat running down your forehead, passing the corners of your eyes till you’re not sure if they’re tears.

For calling your bio dad and only listening when he says hello, only breathing, and when he disconnects you listen to the dial tone for two minutes before hanging up. For taking the things from your old life and collecting them into a pile, and to light this pile on fire, catching the way the black smoke spirals and whirls, the way the flames dance and twist and lick the cold of the night.