On Androgyny

So here is this short story I wrote in high school. It is painfully, painfully embarrassing and I was seriously debating whether I should post it. But like, I think of it as tattoos. It’s pointless to regret a tattoo–it exists for better or for worse. It’s a snapshot of the person you were when you got it. I’ve thought about getting a time elapse sleeve up my legs where I get one each year for 20 years or something and see how the style and content changes. And so this piece is like a marker in time.

I will say that for all of its embarrassing excesses, it’s something of a relief to me that this story deals with the same subjects that I’m still interested in. I have this irrational fear that my personality is an elaborate illusion, a long hall of mirror neurons that simply reflect the ideas around me instead of create them. This is partly because I have awful episodic memory. I don’t really mind it though because it means I have very few bad memories and the world around me is always interesting.

Reading this over also gives me a better idea about why I’m not interested in narratives. It’s difficult enough for me to find meaning in small events, so creating a satisfying narrative arc is pretty difficult. I like poetry and non-fiction because I feel like their functions are just to make readers say “huh, weird!” whereas the human drive for story-telling revolves around our need for things to make sense. But things largely don’t make sense.

Ok one last disclaimer–I wrote this in 2004 when I was 15 and really into The Fountainhead. So yeah, proceed at your own peril. Oh also, there’s a character named Zayn. Yeah. Sorry.

The author would like to note that being supremely unhappy all the time is not a recommendable state of being but is sometimes helpful. But only sometimes. And even then, not so much.

On Androgyny

Prologue

The night was glistening outside. The lights of the streets and architectural monuments looked like raindrops suspended in the air, waiting for a good excuse to suddenly crash onto the gridlocked city. Some ways into the city, inside of a cream house with white shutters, a lonely dog with chocolate-y eyes waited with infinite patience for his family to come home. Sometimes he got so tired of waiting that he felt an urge deep down in his furry belly to do something. What that something was, he did not know. Pillows and furniture were regularly devastated and he whined so softly that he could break your heart, but still, he waited. And the feeling in his furry belly got stronger and scarier.

I. Setup

An older sister and a younger brother, virtually indistinguishable from one another. Born and brought up in the United States during its period of conservative tyranny, they had both acquired a certain arrogance and cynicism vital to the survival of the intelligent species. They found in their village of skyscrapers a microcosm of beauty, freedom of expression, and even progressivism if they chose to find it (they often did). They belonged to a relatively small subculture of the ridiculously wealthy and aesthetes-snobby artists and musicians who nonchalantly roamed the streets in equally nonchalantly expensive clothes. Dinah possessed two more years and the less exotic name. Her brother Zayn possessed two more inches. They came from a family of dark and intellectual Balkans who all shared glossiness of skin and hair as well as an unsettling aloofness of character. An older sister and a younger brother. The sister examined the bruises on her brother’s face and the slashes on his skin. She held his wrists and found that he is dead.

“Dinah, seriously now kid, you gotta stop wearing suits on our dates. Either that or grow out your hair or something, I get enough weird stares as it is, being an inch shorter than you.” Dinah looked over at Marcello nonchalantly and cocked her gray man’s fedora farther down over her eyes. She lifted a long leg onto his chair under the café table and leaned back to stretch her arms. As a result, she nearly punched a cat walking on the flower-box behind her. It meowed and hissed passionately, then took off running in the opposite direction.

“Why.” She said.

“Because! Well I mean, you can’t pretend to say that you’re not boiling in the middle of a New York City summer. And although your hair looks undeniably sexy indoors or when you’re sleeping or something, underneath that hat, it just makes you look like a really hot guy.”

“So.” She said, rubbing her eyes.

“Oh boy.” Said Marcello. He smiled on the inside.

Zayn handed his mother a folder full of new spreads he was in. She liked to collect them. Her eyes widened in delight, first at seeing her son for the first time in two months, and second at the folder he handed her. She pulled the cigarette out of her mouth, exhaled quickly, and kissed him on the forehead.

“How was it! I mean India jesus christ! You look like a native, are those extensions? Your hair can’t have grown that much in two months.”

Zayn stared at her incredulously. “Extensions? Whaddya think I am some sort of glam rocker or something.” He ran his hand through his decidedly dirty locks. “Nah I just didn’t bother to cut it. Plus it’s nice long.”

His mother had meanwhile emptied the contents of the envelope onto their glass dining table, which looked like a huge block of ice. The base was reflective and resembled a pool of melting water. It was made by a friend of the family, the avant-garde artist Mona Gatunan who was involved in a high-profile breach of her Sixth Amendment rights. She was linked to Las Sangres, a militant grass-roots organization that meddled in environmental socialist agendas and Moltov Cocktails of frightening destructive abilities. The group had a small but surprisingly efficient guerrilla division that slithered in and out of Sudan’s most intimate government sectors, slaughtering officials and Janjaweeds left and right. Their attacks against American oil tycoons were well publicized. A paralyzing wind of paranoia had swept the former-superpower-nation into wrapping its blanket of suspicion and smog even more tightly around itself.

Dinah unlocked the door to her apartment. Well, room at least. She lived in a room above a pub run by an old Italian man. The pub was crumbling on the outside but it was always filled at night by other old Italian men and some bored teddy boys with deflated pompadours. It had a nice jukebox and a pinball machine that she liked to play around with when she couldn’t think of anything to write about. It usually gave her some ideas. The room was absurdly hot. Ridiculous, even at night. She took off her suit and hat and lounged around in her underwear and tried to write. Nothing came to her. She was sort of distracted. She put her hat back on. She couldn’t think without her hat.

Zayn had lived in an actual apartment with his girlfriend Kate. She was slightly addicted to cocaine and had the sweetest temperament of anyone he had ever met. A really nice kid. And she had this face, right? It wasn’t beautiful or anything, but he’d gotten used to beauty, being surrounded by it all the time. She just had this face that he couldn’t reference from anything. It was stunning in its amazing plainness. He often just stared at her trying to fit her into some frame of reference– exotica, the girl next door, his own goddamn mother, anything. He always failed. He was terribly in love with her. Their house was a crash pad for all the rich kids looking for trip hideouts. It was okay with him because the only people he got along with were those in chemical stupors who couldn’t tell a telephone from a hat-pin anyway. He could remain silent around them and he appreciated their blatant search for the meaning of life. That was all before his girlfriend moved out. She now lived with her coke dealer, and so clearly had a very businesslike reason for her decision, but had to make up some lame excuse so it wouldn’t hurt him to think that drugs were more important to her than he was. It went something like this.

“Zayn, you overanalyze things. You think too much about what things look like and what they mean. It’s really very shallow.”

“What?”

“I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m moving out. It’s complicated but just, I don’t know, it’s not that complicated I guess. I think we aren’t like the same people anymore.”

“You’re moving out? Seriously? Are you doped up right now?”

“No! Zayn see this is what I mean. You don’t even take me seriously.”

“I take you seriously, believe me, I’m very serious right now. Where the hell are you going to live?”

“With Charlie.”

“With who for chrissakes?! Charlie? Oh man I can’t even…Charlie?” Zayn let it go. He knew he couldn’t win this one. Chemicals always win the war against spirituality. But he never really let it go.

What’s wrong with death? Nothing’s wrong with death. Death has gotten a bad rep from people who haven’t died yet. What do you mean by this, you fat and lazy creature. Get up, I say. You have no business sleeping in the middle of the afternoon. Dinah’s head voice only surfaced during the times of half sleep. She had somehow managed to fall asleep with her hat on and thoughts of death slumbered through her head like slow-moving mammoths, inching forward and eclipsing the sun in a barren desert landscape. She rolled over, misted with sweat, and jumped into a standing position with one swift leap, rudely shaking the sleep from her body. Thinking about death, she walked around her room, on top of the bed and the chair. There was an attached bathroom sort of thing with a crummy looking shower and she walked into that too and stared at herself in the mirror. The mirror was actually just a square of old chrome with subtle dents everywhere and it distorted her face into soft ice cream. She walked back into her room and sat down at her desk. An open letter was resting lightly on the edge. She picked it up and read the ragged handwriting for a second time.

Right now, I’m sitting here. Staring at the walls. That, as you might know, is a fragment, but I don’t care. The laws of grammar do not apply to me right now. Really, when DO the laws of grammar apply? When they can communicate? What is communication but to send semiotic signals from one brain to another? How can I know that you are not misunderstanding what I am trying to say. I can’t. I just have to have faith that our brains will communicate similar signals to each other. For this I thank education. Here is a formal thank you. Thank you education. I owe you a lot. I owe you because you molded my mind into something tangible, something recognizable, something unlike the minds of others who have not the same education as I have. The vast ocean crashes on the shore. Crash. Foam. Smooth. Ride. Wave. An ocean of knowledge from an institution which degrades other institutions like communism and even religion. It goes against all my formal knowledge to trust education as much as I do but it’s something that I have been taught for all my life and, well, it works as well as can be expected. Nuns. That’s who taught me. Nuns. They carried wooden rulers and smacked them down on the bones of my wrist and my knuckles. I was only six years old. What gives people the cruelty to do these kinds of things? The want to make the world a better place? Young children being jaded with the slap of a ruler? Disillusionment is the cruelest form of reality. I don’t condone the knowledge of santa or god or anything, but for god’s sake, don’t tell them it’s not real. Let the children figure out for themselves if anything. Children aren’t stupid. It’s unfair to assume that a group of people are stupid and form a fairly tale for their demographic based on that assumption. No one is really stupid. Everyone knows what they want. Like right now, I want some water.

And then later, scrawled hastily but more legibly,


Sorry I was really drunk but I don’t want to waste paper so I’m mailing this to you. India is good, but I wish I were in Venezuela. Hugo is a good kid. Why don’t you write about love and the forms it takes? When someone you love tells you that they don’t like the person you are, then, well, you really fucked up there buddy, didn’t you. Write about that.

-Zayn

He was talking about Kate moving out.

Dinah banged the table in frustration. She didn’t know what was wrong. Well, yes she did. Everything had to be perfect in order for her to write. She couldn’t be thirsty or have to take a shit or anything. It was helpful if she had just read a particularly inspired piece of writing or maybe remembered a favorite philosopher’s words. Right now, something wasn’t perfect. Most frustrating of all, Dinah found that she could never write with a consistent agenda. Every time she was certain of her convictions she always found this one thing, teeny tiny barely existent but still there, this one thing that always messed everything up. She found that each element of a human life had to be examined in a very narrow window in order to make any sense of it, otherwise the conclusions are so contradictory that they induce insanity or suicide. Each decision or opinion is based on the narrow opinion that came before it. Things like that make it very hard to get anything done, you know?

II. History

Dinah was an unusually subtle child. She had a firm grip on the mechanics of logic even while in the womb. She realized that if she didn’t untangle herself from her mother’s umbilical cord, she would most likely perish. So she did, and with surprising swiftness for a fetus. She saved her family from a lot of emotional baggage. Zayn made his way into the world yelling and screaming bloody murder. That, incidentally, is also the way he died.

They hadn’t lived in the city all their lives. Their parent’s house (it may be fairer to call it an estate) was nestled high in the California bay-area hills with a view! Dinah had gone to a public high-school by her own insistence, but because of the wealth of the general area, the effect was quite private. She had always been withdrawn and frustrated by conversations of boutiques and trips to Europe, even though she could effortlessly relate. She felt repulsed by her classmate’s inane speech and manicured fingernails and hungered for something unclean.

And thus Dinah’s ready association with the scumbags of surrounding middle-class San Jose was some sort of reverse osmosis of culture through association. Drugs were always a fashionable gimmick in upper society, good for a party but let’s not go overboard now. She picked up on the seedy web of people that seemed to follow the drugs through the opulent parties and created her own minor network of dealers. She had a little business set up, being a middleman between the tweaky meth-ed out valley kids and the bored blazer crew. Price gouging didn’t matter to her since her customers never knew the street price anyway. Guilt never played a role and she considered the money she made the “cleanest” there was. She never spent her parent’s money on drugs. She was a girl of principles.

“They’re supposedly your friends,” Zayn had said. “If your human relations exist only through mere business transactions, you have issues.”

“Yeah? That’s what the Communists said too.” Dinah had replied darkly.

At first, her accomplices’ severe savagery and super-violent tendencies often made her sick to her stomach. However, the pain intensified a great deal when she began dealing to her mountain-mansion classmates who loaded up on ecstasy and cocaine to take a road-trip to their grandparent’s ranch in Santa Barbara, funded completely by their mother’s leftover change, scrounged after a quickie boob job. Here, it was not a question of cruelty or morality, but a singularly nagging and perverse paradox of wealth and happiness that had and continued to haunt her thoughts. She had turned to Jewish mysticism for some time and sought some promised salvation through, in her eyes, the least incriminating form of spirituality. (Buddhism required too much patience.) Needless to say, she called bullshit by the fourth book on the matter. Zayn, conversely, devoured the stuff.

As many small boys and girls are, the children were encouraged to be athletic at an early age, but they both showed a preference for art. The parents were delighted to have visionaries in the family yet they nonetheless nudged Zayn towards the direction of some kind of sport, fearing the disenfranchisement that comes with non-athleticism in little boys. However, he remained firm in his distaste for sports and started to smoke copious amounts of cigarettes in order to feign some mild form of asthma. And, true to his parents’ predictions, he came home more than once with a bloody nose or a black eye or two.

Dinah, on the other hand, liked the way her body moved on the basketball court. She towered over the rest of the girls and felt an easy spring to her arm when she shot the ball into the basket. She felt as if she could look into her opponent’s eyes and read her mind, and thus, be able steal the ball in a heartbeat. By the time she had finished delighting over this thought, her opponent was long gone. She decided basketball didn’t suit her very well after all, and that self-indulgence was her worst quality.

As Zayn progressed into puberty and beyond, he became sharply aware of the connotations of garment and photographs. He held both in great admiration. He first noticed the eagerness of people, especially urbanites, to wear “statement” clothes and to photograph themselves in a fashionable light. He then also noticed their habit of hoarding pictures of themselves, cringing in horror at the ones they deemed unflattering. He came to the conclusion that both clothing and photographs are completely masturbatory and erotic. Being very fond of masturbation, he pursued a career in modeling.

III. India

The atmosphere of Calcutta shimmers with dead skin cells and sweat. As soon as Zayn stepped off the plane, hot air swallowed his head while the supernaturally bright sunlight stabbed his eyes. Warmth seemed to permeate his very sinews. The dirty interior of the airport was a gateway into a storybook land, a capitalist’s fantasy, where the rich lay back in five storied air-conditioned homes and the poor—legless, armless, eyeless—resemble a pile of bones in rags roasting foully on the sidewalk.

An unbearably willowy girl followed him off the plane and wrinkled her magnificent nose.

“This place will always smell the same: like excrement.”

Tara was a genuine red-dotted Indian and had spent some years of her life running through the barely paved sidewalks of Calcutta and Madras. Little tender muscles toddled over the rocky cement and one epic fall that nearly smashed her kneecaps left her with a fantastic raised scar that was instrumental to her being eagerly gobbled up by one of the biggest modeling agencies in New York by the age of fifteen. She also had cutglass hipbones, collarbones, and cheekbones.

“Yeah? Excrement? I thought that was the new YSL perfume you were raving about.” Tara rolled her eyes and stuck out her teeth in a mock overbite. “When do we start shooting anyway?” he asked.

“Early tomorrow morning, but there’s a bunch of shit I want to show you today.” After battling through the oily airport with their suitcases, she grabbed his arm with one hand and waved down a fleet of taxis with the other. The two slid onto a peeling black seat where the yellow spongy stuffings were desperately trying to escape from their plastic prison. Zayn watched in amazement as Tara unperturbedly rolled up her windows while at least ten brown little arms and hands scratched at the glass and ten little eyes stared at them, curious and accusing. Small boys in various states of undress demanded American pennies in various states of excitement. Tara indicated to him that he should probably roll his up too…etc.

As Tara watched Zayn ride his motorcycle through the russian-roulette streets of Calcutta, she imagined his ever impending death. The motorcycle would be overtaken by a monstrous lorry and be mowed over without the driver even stopping. Zayn would be unable to see the truck from behind him because the rusty old bike’s side mirror had been smashed very long ago by a similar incident, less lethal. The beastly truck would swerve and meander its way through traffic into oblivion as the russet colored bits of metal flecked with blood would remain lumped on the street with a crowd of people gathering around it, everyone making noise, shaheb!, but no one doing anything. She imagined the plane-ride back to the states and telling his mother what happened. His beautiful mother. They would hug and cling to each other like mother and daughter, and Tara with her secret ardor, her silent affection, would tell her how much she loved his son and how much he had no idea. OR He would pick up a small dirty teddy bear off the side of the road, not knowing that concealed inside of its cotton tummy lay a ticking package of explosives, ready to go off at the slightest touch. He did not know that there were commercials on Indian televisions warning about roadside bombs disguised as toys, so as to lure small children to them. He did not know any of this.

IV. Discovery

There were rare times when Dinah felt the vulnerability of her sex. It was never while she wrote, her eyes heavy-liddedly gazing at her racing hands through amber colored shades. It was never while she negotiated an article with her editor, dodging the bloody slashes deftly and managing to keep most of the piece intact. It was never even while she lay lazily back while Marcello played his finger and tongue games, trying to get a rise out of her. No, this girl was invulnerable at all times except while certain chemicals were coursing through her bloodstream. Her drug use, in one chiffony plane, satisfied her heightened sense of bravado in surviving dangerous things. This type of prancing behavior is characteristic of young males of her type, but she let the feeling plunge her into a seemingly never-ending despair—an amber, quiet gloom.

Things were lounging when she came in, bringing with her the smell of dark gray smoke and expensive felt. Murmurs rose up in sync with the intellectual rock that was blaring on the stereo. Artfully disheveled people were unraveling themselves in pools of human yarn over the slick ground, sofas, and trash sculptures. All this ennui! New York should be throbbing and beating, not thickening like jelly in an acid laced languor. But it was, what, 2 in the morning? She was too tired and it was too late to make an effort. She dutifully accepted a sugarcube. Six hours of mental entertainment and transcendence into simultaneous consciousness would be a suitable substitute for constructive thought. At least for tonight. Tonight was one of those nights. The sugar melted obediently over her tongue, almost completely hiding the bitter insidious taste of the lysergic acid diethylamide. She reached for a piece of paper. Her fears would be recorded tonight before anything else happened because, who knows, things happen, fears disappear and she might never be the same person again and a reminder of her former self would be a nice thing to have.

I was sitting at a desk in the middle of a darkened room. Doors lined the walls of the room, all of them agape like hungry mouths, dull lights visible at the end of the promised halls like recurring nightmares. Shadows and soft voices flickered through them. A desk. A room. The room was empty save for myself and the desk. We stuck to each other like babes in the woods. An irrational and paralyzing fear swept through my body and my teeth started to chatter. Clickclickclick like little castanets. The voices fluctuated- soft and hard. I almost saw the whites of their eyes. I dashed out of a door headfirst and blindly, and out into a lit hall. The hall was long and thin and slender like a spider’s leg and I ran through it and out of another door leading me outside. The night was cold. Tiny red lights started to blink in my peripheral vision and the dim glow of streetlights cast the specter of my poverty towards me. My responsibilities, every thing and every one I needed to protect and take care of were dredged up in the shadows of the broken sidewalk. I abandoned myself to a life of servitude with staunch resignation. An army of painted women suddenly overtook me. I felt them wrap their gauzy arms around me as they herded me towards a massive shape. As I neared, I felt this shape change underneath his skin. I fought so hard that I bled from the lips and chest. Screaming, screaming, not this servitude!

She opened a window. The stars looked like diamond glass, unbearably bright through her now cloudy eyes. She tumbled her words into crystalline swords. Her thoughts separated and her world fell apart.

When the pain is so great, fear has no place. It is afraid to overtake pain. If nothing else, I was free from fear in the midst of my servitude. It was the moments before my tasks began, the anticipation of another shape looming, drunken, massive, supernaturally cruel—that made the fear suffocate me with plastic bags and pillows. Soon I was the plastic bag and pillow. Easy to kick around, kiss, and slice through like fluffy cake. If this one does not hurt enough, fret not, for the next one surely will. And death, oh death is such a rare friend. Death comes in tantalizing pieces and settles in the creases of the body, but never in totality. Death, do visit soon.

Ribbons of horror were tied up in her pretty hair, softly lit up by the twinkling sky. She could hear time pass like panthers in pain. Meanings revealed themselves and vanished again.


Cruelty is borne in all beings like blooming flowers and those with fragile muscles reap its benefits. I weave a net with no one in it. To have no responsibilities is to avoid the whole mess altogether. Simple cowardice? Never. Courageous enough to protect every future person’s life before my own, even if it means constant vigilance and searing loneliness. But so is life.

V. Marcello

Something buzzed and whirred roughly against Zayn’s thighs. He jumped. He never got used to that thing, stupid cell phone.

“Zayn, kid, I hear you’re back.” It was Marcello.

“Yeah, yeah I am. I’m at home actually.”

“Good, good. How about coming to this party with me and your sister. It’s like, oh I don’t know, a couple hours away, up in Rochester, beautiful house I hear. A friend of a friend of a friend you know, an actress I think. European, don’t know what the hell she’s doing here.” He laughed in a barking Marcello-like way.

“Yeah, sure, tonight, yeah.” He thought it’d probably take his mind off of things. He was right, in a way.

Marcello began as a cancerous appendage of Dinah’s social life, somehow getting the idea into his head that she, in true girlfriendboyfriend fashion, belonged to him. She couldn’t figure this out for the life of her and decided to take naps instead of go out with him for the first few months. Eventually both her libido and curiosity got the better of her and she decided to map him out just for the fun of it. Here is how far she got.

Begin at Zayn.

Remove four inches in height.

Add some corn-fed good looks. Light blue eyes almost white in their cruelty, nearly silver even.

Take a left turn at completely idiotic.

Wait at that red light of talkative for about seven hours or until he shuts up, whichever comes first.

Still waiting.

Seriously, shut up.

She would’ve gotten farther if she still paid any attention to what he said, which she didn’t. It’s brain numbing brother, you wouldn’t have either- is what she said when she was explaining all of it to Zayn. What she never found out was that what attracted Marcello to her was not just her social status- very high for a person who held most people in contempt- but the way she looked straight into his eye without flinching or looking away, something no one he knew could do. And also, maybe most importantly, it was her inexplicably boyish way of talking and nearly hipless figure. Thirteen-year-old Marcello was once guided in the ways of lovemaking by a ravishing young man, a friend of his older brother, and he hadn’t soon forgotten it.

It all seemed simple enough. Eternal anesthesia. Conversely, the idea of infinity mystified her. Numbers go on forever. Fractals go on forever. Forever goes on forever. Religious people can’t all be stupid, she thought. There are way too many goddamn smart people in the world for religion to be so obviously wrong. But however long she looked for explanations through philosophy, nothing ever placated her mind. Even Salinger was wrong, she thought miserably. Why did she keep thinking about death? Dinah slid her hands through her rough hair, pushing it up on the sides to make it look positively electrified. Buzzbuzz went her cellphone. Hello Marcello. Of course I would love to go the party with you and pretend to like you if only to have an excuse to down several flutes of smooth vodka although I do prefer the cheap and quick stuff myself, and to stare at gorgeous people and observe their bone structure, the way their cheekbones dip and dive into the hollows of their dimples and curve like lacquered roses into their drunkenly open mouths. No I will not wear a dress you vapid prick. I hope you burn in hell. Just kidding. There is no hell.

Intermission

One day the ever-patient dog found a small hole in the fence of the backyard. FREEDOM! He wriggled his way into the neighbor’s backyard and managed to navigate the labyrinth of backyards until he made it to the glittering black pitch of a New York highway. The feeling in his furry belly urged him forward, drawing him into two orbs of fast moving light as if he were being pulled along by his long dead mother. His nose was wet and cold and his ears were cocked and alert.

VI. Journey

Marcello picked Zayn up from his house in his slick little platinum Benz with Dinah in the front seat, gracing the stiff black leather seats like she graced everything- with incontrovertible and inimitable grace. She had changed from her slate suit into a smart black one, with creases sharp enough to slice diamonds, the silk shining mutely in the glow of the trickling fountain at the gate. Her gray fedora was traded in for a smaller black one with a white satin band. Zayn looked down in alarm at his own chocolate brown suit, beautiful in his own right, and felt underdressed.

While they drove to the party, each of the two siblings underwent a mini existential-crisis. Pretty much, these two kids were pre-maturely exhausted with life. Marcello talked on about this friend of a friend who pumped his arm up with saline and how it popped oh disgusting but really, saline isn’t that bad if you’re looking to get ripped really quickly, although he prefers the lean look himself, lean being used in the literal meaning of the term, not the connotative body-builder meaning hey you guys sure are quiet is everything okay, haha? The siblings ignored him completely, with some “hm”-s and “oh”-s thrown in there out of politeness. Their heads swirled with other thoughts.

Dinah was preoccupied with her lack of anything to complain about, but the overwhelming feelings of disgust that seemed to follow her everywhere she went anyway. Self, stop it. You are in a perfect situation. Please, please, stop being such a wreck and straighten yourself out and produce something for once. You have no excuse for having no output. This life and everyone in it have been good to you, much too good for your own good. They have given you everything you need and many things you don’t need but are nice to have anyway. Why in the name of everything that is beautiful and good are you so GODDAMN unhappy? Aren’t you a little too old for this? She wanted to strike the reflection of herself in the side-view mirror. Also, she thought, life is a setup plotted by some evil origamist—folding up steel and concrete to create perfect cities and empires—folding up numbers into algorithms, folding up logic into axioms that cover every nook and cranny and every crooked nanny that any other dimension throws at it. She furrowed her eyebrows, pulled her hat down lower over her eyes and simultaneously had a sudden, sad vision of the world ending with a bust fuse and a quiet squeal, like turning off a television set. At that exact moment, and maybe for the first time, she saw the lights of New York at night and the phantasmal image of a city on fire with millions of candles flickering in and out and she felt the leather underneath her, and smelled the wind, and tasted her teeth, tried to look at herself through the eyes of the city, found herself to be pitiably tiny and her brain and thoughts to be even smaller, realized that life is a marsh for everyone. everyone. everyone. including the privileged and there is nothing she could do about it even if she were to be an ascetic hermit and were maybe raped when she was younger or homeless on the streets, she couldn’t help it, it wasn’t her fault, grief happens to everyone, and she went through the millions of words in her head that she had ever read or understood and came up with two, a possessive and a noun, which seemed to engrave themselves onto everything she ever laid eyes on ever again: My life.

Zayn was remembering this one time in the seventh grade when he was drawing a cloud formation that, he wasn’t kidding, looked like Bill Clinton smoking a cigar, a group of older boys came up to him in their dark gray slacks and neat prep-school jackets.

“Nice drawing there,” drawled one.

“Yeah.” Said another one. How original- Zayn remembered thinking this distinctly.

“Thanks.” He said, and kept drawing. He was ready for them now. After years of getting thrashed, he carried a razor-blade with him in a secret compartment in the sleeve of his jackets, self-made. He had often practiced flipping it out in the palm of his hand at the slightest sign of danger. Only problem here was though the fact that his hair was in his eyes, and looking down at his drawing, he couldn’t see the boys’ faces.

(It should be mentioned that at thirteen, Zayn was the definition of a beautiful youth, all doe-eyed slender-boned charm. Yet his quiet and bashful nature made him wary of the girls who stared at him in class, asked him to school dances, and sent him cutely excited text messages. He would be angry at himself, of course, but not as angry as the soccer players who would jealously guard their pretty young rich seventh-grade girlfriends like some would guard their vintage pearls or their shameful secrets. They were united in their locker-room rowdiness, sports drinks, and shared hatred of this delicate little threat. His delicacy was seen as effeminate and weak, earning him his queer label and at least a dozen unspoken beatings that would last him until he moved to a school dedicated to the refinement of the arts. It was here he felt at home. At last.)

The boys surrounded him still. He knew they wouldn’t leave. He tightened his abdomen and waited for the first kick. He did not have to wait very long. He didn’t even have time to flip out the blade.

The one thing he learned out of all this is that pain did not matter. He never fought back because he knew it was useless. He cradled his face and head in his hands and hoped with all his might that he would not be paralyzed. He never was. The pain felt good after a while. But only for fleeting milliseconds. Usually it made him wish he were dead. In the car, whizzing past other cars and the lights of New York, Zayn felt a pain worse than any other he had ever felt in his life, worse than any loafer kick to the chest could have felt. This was a pain he couldn’t stand because he didn’t know when it would end, if ever. This was a pain without a hate-able face. This pain belonged to her face and her body and her breath and taste and tears and relaxed expression and cheerful hugs and her empty little mind that he felt like he had to protect from a world that would use it and chew it up until she felt like him.

“Kate, oh Kate,” he said in his mind, imagining her reply.

“Yes?”

“Don’t leave me darling, please, they’ll hurt you. Let me take care of you.”

“I’ll survive probably.”

“You won’t.”

“Trust me.”

“I don’t.”

“I know.”

Damnit. He lost again. This was his fault in the end. His mind curled back to Kate’s face and remained there for the rest of the night, even while he was dying.

The party was suitably crowded and boring. The house was on a secluded hilltop, overlooking the city, gorgeous in the way very expensive houses tend to be. The only interesting part of it was that there was a panther locked up in a huge cage in the backyard, near the pool. No one really knew why. The cage was numbered 59049 in steely prison numbers. No one really knew about that either. It was tame, the rumor went. You can pet it, go ahead. Dinah spent most of the night sitting next to it, slowly getting drunk, and petting the velvety violet creature. She sympathized with it. I know friend, you feel trapped, it’s okay. So do we.

Zayn took one look at the party and took off. He filled his flask with vodka first and took a walk down the hill into downtown Rochester. By the time he had walked onto the bridge over the Genessee River, his flask was half empty and he was fully drunk. The water sloshed against the banks. Or did it? He grinned. Pretty.

Time stood still for maybe four hours. He remembered finishing the flask but not much else. He did not remember his hated cell phone buzzing on and off a million times and finally chucking it into the river. He did not remember the man who came up to him and asked if him if he was all right. He really wasn’t. He told him so with tears streaming down his face. The man offered to take him to a hospital. Zayn declined politely.

“No thanks mister nunna that here see I got a broken heart.” The man understood and left him alone. It was late and the man had to go home to his little girl.

Dinah was worried. Where was he? She borrowed Marcello’s keys. He gave them to her because he was more drunk than she was.

Zayn ducked into an alley, crying soundlessly but with more intensity than ever. God, what’s going on. He was bewildered.

Dinah went up to a guy and asked him to slap her five times, and hard. He looked at her peculiarly and said what. She did it herself and got in the car and strapped herself in.

Zayn could see a billboard from his little corner. A golden model glistened for no reason. Perfume didn’t make one glisten. Silly. Sometimes he wished he didn’t have a brain with which to process the meaning behind images and he could see the images for what they were without any sentimentality attached. Sometimes he wised he lived in a vacuum. He loved dust bunnies.

Dinah went down the hill. Steady there keep it steady whoah too much to the left there steady WAKE UP. Where would he be? Downtown. Own. Twice. Downtown.

A bar door expelled a group of drunken men onto the pavement. Black boots danced around. They danced around yelling and singing, right next to Zayn’s shoe. One of them tripped over it and landed on the asphalt, too drunk to stop his face from getting scraped up into a lasagna. It took his buddies at least a minute to stop laughing and figure out what really happened. One of them finally saw Zayn. The poor kid was shaking in the cold and in fear. They all ducked into the alley as if following orders. Zayn knew what was coming. Kate, he thought. Kate.

Dinah parked the car next to the bridge. Where was he? She walked along the same path her brother had taken an hour before.

“Look at this here fag, yessir.” Zayn guessed they probably weren’t from around there. Or maybe they were. He couldn’t tell anymore these days. He was reminded of his Catholic school days. Ah, childhood. One of them turned him over with his motorcycle boot.

“He’s got pretty hair, don’t he, this one?”

“Sho is pretty. Wanna mess him up baby?” This guy was wearing a snakeskin boot and was addressing a female companion. She was blonde. She looked cheesy.

“No, let’s mess him up right now before my buzz wears off.”

Zayn didn’t have time to tighten his abdomen.

Dinah saw a cop car racing and wailing. She felt physically ill. She got back in the car and followed it. The irony of the situation made her want to burst out laughing but she was afraid of opening her mouth to even exhale the cigarette smoke that was now pouring out of the car. She had already inhaled four during the course of her search.

Bodies, metal, one man with a bloody face, handcuffs, policemen. Boots.

She held his wrists. The soft side of it was brown and pristine, the only part of his body that seemingly wasn’t shredded into bloody pulp. His face was relatively unharmed, but he was dead dead dead dead dead deader than she had ever wished herself to be. He was really dead. My life. My life. My life.

Kate, he thought.

Epilogue

A family of nice people wept terribly at the sight of their dog. His intestines were falling out and bones stuck out at strange angles, but the dog didn’t care because he was dead.

NOTES NOTES NOTES NOTES PAY NO ATTENTION TO THESE NOTES

Note to self: stop killing everybody off. Very bad sign.

Listen to America- Simon and Garfunkel

Inability to see certain things because of obstruction of sight or hear for deafness—missing a vital sense needed in order to make sense of existence. Victims of chronic loneliness. [Symbol][Symbol][Symbol]IMPORTANT—integrate this somehow, fucking hard though

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