Fiction by C.B. Auder
He wasn’t old. So what was this grunting to get up a flight of stairs?
Below, the rooms were packed with idle chatter, flirtatious squeals, pot-lucked communion. Always too many people. Riots, famines, terrorist-attacks. Tweets shooting every which way but Sunday and people just keep gurgling more people out of their orifices.
By the time he reached the landing it felt like he’d winded himself with his thoughts alone. Schmuck. Into the bathroom with a slam.
Pink. God help him, the entire universe seemed destined to explode in bubblegum kitsch. A girl’s bikini bottom lay like a fresh lava deposit on a Little Mermaid carpet–tiny, smelly crotch splayed for all the world to endure.
The parties were getting worse every year. Like hurricanes. Tonight the conversations gyred around saw-toothed humor, the slavery story behind soggy mojitos, pseudo-intellectual refutations of whey. Three guests had threatened to invite him into their homes because they enjoyed his company so much. As though just because he smiled (rather than frothing like a starved bear) it meant he enjoyed their company too.
Always trying to slather their own thoughts onto a person’s mind, onto a perfect state of solitude. His head was pounding to the music. But he couldn’t climb out of the Laastander’s window and make a break for the sea because there was no window.
What kind of assholes didn’t have a window in their bathroom? Was that a Swedish thing? What if, while he was being distracted by the disconcerting cheek-squish of this memory-foam toilet seat, little Frigga’s cheap Chinese curling iron spontaneously combusted? The whole room would go up in flames like a mousse-soaked piñata.
Was the idea that he’d survive catastrophe by huddling in a slowly-filling tub? “Och, we are so apoplectic that our mirrors exploded with such vigor. But at least you didn’t burn to death, ja?” “Ragnar’s right, sweetie–or asphyxiate from all of this smoke and hubbub!” Always pressuring him to see bright sides that didn’t really exist–
“Sweetie?” A knock. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” he called. “Just indigestion.” Which wasn’t a lie, because what could you say about humanity if not that it was impossible to stomach? “Go back to your Hustle Tangos.”
“That was a Salsa. We finished that ages ago. Now we’re Wii-ing with nunchucks.”
He had understood English once. He was almost sure of it. “If I promise to wee with upchucks?”
They said their Good-byes and Have a Lovelys and Take Cares, as per the initial contract: as soon as it wouldn’t be rude.
But his mood wouldn’t shift. She drove home while he fumed at the ceaseless, alienating barrage. A world trussed by coaxial cable. Flashing digital ads: boiled lobster dinners, diesel fuel specials, guaranteed mouse removals. One nation, on an antiquated economic foundation, every citizen held hostage by people who got rich making guns for all. Amen.
… What if he flung himself out, once they got to the bridge? Just dove down and washed his spirit clean of the whole blessed mess?
Not with his bad back, even if he hadn’t been scared of heights. His luck, he’d fumble the door handle and be the next front page hamburgered between the railing and a semi-truck full of corn syrup headed for Pancakes R Us.
“Why do you always complicate simple pleasures?” she grumbled. “Any time something nice happens, you turn it into a problem.”
“So we should silence the messengers.” His gaze swam over the rumples of her suede coat, her newest cashmere noose.
She shook her head and sped up. She’d left her Xanax at home.
This woman, he realized sadly, this repository of shared links to a wince-inducing past, clung to a hope born of tawdry cowardice. She called it “striving.” She saw her paper-pushing pursuits as normal–even honorable, given her salary–and assumed his attitude was broken. Had that been her goal, back at the beginning? To help him “fix” his aspirations?
He’d believed in the power of love and community, once. What were his dreams and desires now? Just to slow things down?
To achieve less? Some plan.
Had they ever been good friends? he wondered. Or merely acquaintances with benefits, joining forces to clamp shut the gaping maw of that fascist state of Loneliness….
Familiar billboards flashed past: Mommy kissing Tommy’s boo-boo at the clinic….
They loved the concept, that was it. They loved their ideas of each other. They honored and cherished the mutual simulacrums each of them held safe in the prisons of their puny minds.
… A stuffed bunny choking in a foster child’s tearful embrace….
“Stop the car,” he barked.
“What?” She sprang to rigidity, scanned the road ahead for signs of obvious danger she had missed. “What’s wrong?”
… The arch-backed silhouette of a gentleman’s club logo….
A black silk handkerchief fluttered down and clung to the goo of his blood-brain barrier. “Everything,” he choked. “It’s all gone to shit and it’ll only get worse.”
Her lips were limp red pepper strips. “Not this again. How many mojitos did you–“
His fist snapped out like a jack-in-the-box. Cold knuckles on a rouged cheekbone. Her skull cracking off the window and bouncing back before he’d even blinked. Inconceivable.
But it wasn’t regret or panic he felt, as they surged through the bridge railing, arced towards the channel like a silver missile in the dark.
He felt simple, pure. Like freedom. Like rebirth.
Don’t stop the car! he begged, teeth chattering in anticipation of the icy churn. As though his newborn pulse of exhilaration could have been heard over their joyful duet of screams.
C. B. Auder has recently published work in 3Elements Review, Jersey Devil Press, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and A cappella Zoo.