I asked them all–Taboo, Lies, Blue, Underage, Rocky, and Centerfold–to think abstractly, to answer the questions without thinking at all. The task should not have been hard but became so, since all they were doing was thinking.
Only Taboo performed beautifully. Poetry slipping right off the tongue. Questions I shot at her rapid-fire, and answers she always had ready, sharp as her black skunk hair.
Thanks, I said, meaning I love you. You’re awesome, I added, meaning let’s do this again soon.
Words were the Colt 45, gold-plated, Lies took in a trade, and words were all that Blue thought to defend himself with. Taboo saw through the ruse as she does all insincerity.
I opened my mouth, tumbled, not meaning to, Fine, I’ll be your moron. Because really, it was the same knight, different chess board–a woman on a steed jousting the things in her head.
Underage just shook her ears and lit a cigarette. Taboo plucked the cigarette from her lips, inhaled, and kissed Underage deeply.
Blue nodded along with his iPod and feigned nonchalance, dark hair flopping over one fat eye so casually. He tossed it back with a well-practiced flip.
Rocky entered the greenhouse wearing only his underwear, accentuating too-long, nicely-muscled limbs. I wanted to stretch him and see him bounce back, limp. Lies made an inappropriate joke, heavy with envy. Taboo and Underage stared coolly.
Horizon, Taboo spoke through the airy center of a smoke ring.
Kurt Cobain, Underage echoed. His face was groovy.
Centerfold came out of hiding, where he’d been nursing a patch of hemorrhoids. A meteor carved the space around his curly combover. Way I see it–, Centerfold offered.
But, I said. What if? And everyone looked or they didn’t.
It’s fight night. Rocky speaking. He kept trying to use his legs, which was against the rules.
I’ll bring my cello: Taboo. Concerning being Vietnamese American with facial piercings.
(I have saddlebags and wear too much make-up. My jackets shrink in the dryer.)
[You know what will make you feel better? Some Riesling and a book of zombie haikus.]
Quiet! Underage screamed. Everybody! Let’s lay face-down and meditate.
Sometime in the evening Rocky had an idea. All of us, he declared, shall dress in fine corsets and hose, sing and throw sliced bread at one another.
Taboo considered the fishnets she was already wearing. Lies got flustered and became uncivil. He broke a guitar string and excused his impotent penis, citing the timely death of a beloved. Blue reminisced about the time he made out with his best friend’s friend, just for kicks, and seemed very much a part of his own conversation.
Underage maintained, I once had three girls at the same time, why not? And applied more black eyeliner. Centerfold, skeptical: Just what do you guys think you’re doing?
Rocky retied his green shoelaces and changed out his underpants for gold ones. Ready! He crowd-surfed away.
Centerfold stoked the fire. I roasted a marshmallow and allowed him two questions.
I answered honestly.
Lies filed a restraining order and publicized all death threats against him. Blue was called a man-whore but couldn’t take the accusation seriously.
On TV a smack of jellyfish attacked the town. Underage laughed and ordered tentacles tattooed across her abdomen. Stubbing the cigarette into her flesh, she detailed suckers on their danglies.
I really, really hated animal print.
Taboo began to suck the base of Centerfold’s skull. There was more hair on his neck than anywhere else. She wheezed: Amen.
Lies just kept on crying and slept with his dog. He’d paid $500 for her anyway.
Blue shifted and did a shimmy, meaning I’m hungry and probably bisexual.
Let’s get banana milkshakes. With malt. On me.
He led the way.
Finally, I thought. A man with a plan. Unfortunately, Blue’s swim trunks kept bunching.
The night was warm though and Underage contemplated the stars. Said her mother was watching us, and she yearned to be somebody’s bitch. Taboo snapped a picture of the moment.
I feel like dancing, Centerfold mouthed. Who wants to dance? Who will dance?
Dancing being the thing that kept me alive.
We found Rocky at the theater, prophesying to the masses. His yellow hair had dreadlocked in the wind. He’d worn through the soles of his vintage sneakers.
Kata, Rocky explained patiently, requires ironing out all the wrinkles.
Underage was smitten.
One pursed his lips and the other stared unconvinced at the camera. Both wore thick-rimmed glasses. A pair of wooden clogs hung on the wall and clicked its heels together occasionally.
Centerfold crossed his arms, modeling Blue’s newest black hoodie. Together, they built a cardboard pyramid.
The sky was gray and the clouds were blue and the ashtray kept filling up. Taboo’s orange cat swished before an electrical socket. A broom lay in a corner where it was never used.
Underage moused over her laptop, twisting. I sat under the Chinese lantern. Ppfff.
Lies was off the grid and Rocky hadn’t come home.
In response to the questions there were only more questions, asked in hindsight, without erotemes.
So that one year later:
Lies had sold the Colt 45, and Blue was still proclaiming, in words, that his actions were true. Rocky had taken a sabbatical to Wisconsin, and was only ever heard from via technology. Taboo, after washing Rocky’s old underwear, wore them on her head, ensconcing her black skunk hair. Centerfold was creaming another semi-annual outbreak.
Underage hollered. Her cow came ambling up to the fence. She propped a sheet of black cardstock against the barbwire and with white chalk drew its skeleton. A humerus and extra-large scapulae.
I’m the Pope, Blue announced. What’s up? He wore a tube sock on his head around a styrofoam cylinder. Spreading his arms: let the snot-nosed children come to me! He rode an elephant whose feet were shod with bottle caps.
And I’m not gettin no more life back, Centerfold lamented to no one, serving us coffee. My tongue slavered and prickled.
I took Taboo and two surfboards, and we drove to the coast. The sun was low and not warm, so we rented wetsuits and zipped each other up. There is nothing to worry about, I assured her. The water is not too salty; there are no sharks; and tonight we shall go dancing. We paddled and paddled, past a sandbar, and out to the farthest break. I prepared for the wave.
Back on shore, Taboo said simply: There are berries on the briar now. And that’s how we measured the passage of time.
Taboo spotted Underage at the club. House music whipped through the air with the light show. Blonde now, are we? Taboo hissed. See that one over there? Underage pointed. He’s going to buy me an island.
[BIO]: Jess received her MFA in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.