This is Not for You – by Haley Z. Boston

This place might remind you of a newly deceased doe, pregnant, on the side of the road, bleeding out, neck snapped. Steaming. Dead eyes. Baby still alive inside, waiting to be muscle-contracted out into the hellscape, oozing, oozing with terror and inherited trauma. Trauma of headlights and wandering uncovered, dark, lonely, tufted, spawned, thrust. Baby’s still alive, little giblets racing. Fawn? A fawn? Doe, a deer, a female deer. Hum it. Now you’re humming it. That’s what this party is like.

What would you do if you witnessed a murder?

That’s a good opening line.

A guy comes up to Duke at the bar and asks her that.

It’s two forty-seven. In the morning. This warehouse is empty but full. Horny and pulsating. Spindly-armed and tone-deaf. A cavernous space, all beams and cement and windows painted white, painted shut, things that used to be doors now gluey in all their crevasses, history removed by sludgy toxins.

Duke’s ordering water. It’s four dollars. The guy who said the opening line looks like a cherry tree. But sweaty. Tall. Knotty. Not naughty. Knotty. He’s wearing a mesh shirt. He’s very thirsty. He stares at Duke’s water, sweating. Who’s sweating? Him, or the water? They’re both sweating. He wants to lick the plastic, oh, he wants to bite it, clear through, imbibe the water through puncture wounds.

He’s not really thinking this.

Duke is.

Duke is imagining Cherry Tree pricking her bottle with his teeth and scaling his tongue along the paper and desperately licking the condensation until it bursts into his mouth. Duke’s thirsty, too. She’s looking for someone to suck dry. She can tell by his eclipse eyes that he’s on something dangerous.

She stares at him. He blinks one time too many.

“So, uh, what would you do if you overheard a murder?”

“Join in.”

Duke walks away, out of the crowd, toward more crowd.

She notices a girl. The girl’s name is Grxce. It’s pronounced “Grace.” I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. Duke knows Grxce, but thinks her name is Lauren. She remembers her as Lauren. A fair-haired Lauren. A Lauren who was Good and Wholesome, who grew up in an adjacent suburb, whose family had more money, more worth, more kids, more sanctity, less inclination toward raves, less smudgy eye-shadow, fewer thoughts of stolen street signs, fewer C’s in Calculus, fewer flasks snuck into school dances. She didn’t look Good or Wholesome now. She looked stringy and lopsided. She looked like a black hole, but Duke was the black hole, prepared to entangle someone in her vortex, prepared to lick teeth, prepared to be all-consuming. Lauren is wearing a plastic crop-top and a clairvoyant expression. She looks like a painting.

Duke gets a text.

Oh. But. Not. Just. Any. Text!!!!

She has a burner phone because she’s lazy. And a drug dealer.

She gets a text. And because she has a burner phone because she’s lazy and a drug dealer, it’s like a stick of dynamite vibrating in between her pants and her hipbone. She gets a text and it shakes the whole goddamn building.

Oh, but not just any text.

A text from The One.

You know The One. The One whose cologne sometimes sneaks into your brain cavities, stabbing you in the insides, some French name, some lower-case cursive, a lick on your wrist from that Friday when you finally stole a spritz on your way out, that you’ll somehow never be able to wash off, so intrusive it only takes a stranger to walk past, and you’re in a grocery store aisle staring at the ground beef, the raw chicken, and suddenly it’s over, French-name, long hair, knife twist in the ribs. The One who left a holey tube sock in your bed one December and never came back for it. The One who once nose-bled on your white bathmat, and you didn’t even try to get the blood out, in fact, you rubbed it in deeper, and now you have this iron splotch on your bathmat and it reminds you of the time you saw your first dead body on a train track from your youth, it reminds you of the time your lover made you nectar margaritas and you sipped them on a pool deck in the dead of winter, and you think about getting a new bathmat, maybe this time not a white one, but you’ll keep finding reasons not to do that. You know The One. The One who reappears in dreams to undress, or say hello, but always ends up curb-stomping you outside your childhood home, splitting your jaw, cracking your teeth open.

You know The Ones that earth-shatter. The earth-shatter-ers.

The name buzzes four times on Duke’s phone.

DO NOT TEXT (4).

Duke has a burner phone, so it looks like this, unfortunately.

([Redacted] has an iPhone, so it’s also unfortunate for [Redacted] because her convo with Duke is vomit-inducing, status-rejecting, holy isolation green)

 

heard u were in la. 

i need T. 

800 Mercy. 

pay u bigtime

 

Duke doesn’t make house calls.

Well, she does.

Well.

She used to.

But not normally like this. Normally, in Bel Aire, normally in the Hollywoodland Hills, normally to those uppity bitchy witches with loose septums, model boys with bulimia, Beverley Hills houses with murdery histories, with things-we-don’t-ask, with boyfriends and girlfriends and sleazy happy rich dicks with sleazy happy trigger fingers.

Duke’s fucked up, also. That’s why she can’t think straight.

Her phone buzzes.

 

DO NOT TEXT (2).

do u still have a burner? hey.

FaceTime me dukey!!!!

 

Duke wants to puke.

Her heart also wants to tie a noose around itself. Her organs twitch. Her fingers jitter. Love says, isn’t this exciting! Isn’t this dope! Aren’t you addicted! Yes. Say it with me. YES. YES YES. You could quit anytime, though. So, for now, just this once, let love cum all over you. Sorry, come I meant come. Let the tar cum into your lungs. Tar is fun. Fun fun tar tar. It sucks you in and it traps you in the funhouse. The laugh palace. The madness.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. bUzZ. BuZz.

BUZZ.

 

you do still have a burner

loser

sorry i didn’t mean that

ur not a loser

just a drug dealer

am I allowed to say that

duke

i’m dying

ur in la tho right?

 

Oh, god, Duke thinks. This is the end of the world, actually.

Well, if she were other people maybe it wouldn’t be.

If she were people who listened to other people maybe it wouldn’t be.

But she’s not those people. She doesn’t listen and her thoughts are never end-stopped, and she’s blurry-eyed and just dying to slice a jugular open right out on the dance floor. Neck-snapped, oh, to be neck-snapped, twitching. Doe, a deer, a female deer.

She calls her ride-or-die, a girl named Trixie. Trixie is awake and says, hey, there’s a high-speed chase on channel seven. Duke says, do you remember Lauren? Lauren LeRoy. Lauren Loftus. Lauren Whats-Her-Face. I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. I saw her earlier, wearing a clear crop-top and blowing a yellow lollipop.

Trixie says, no. She doesn’t remember a girl named Lauren LeRoy or Loftus or LeCroix or Whatever. She doesn’t remember a girl with self-cut bangs and boney wrists standing zombified in a corner with other translucent-skinned artsaints.

“Well, Lauren’s from Wisconsin and now she’s here, chewing Trident or Orbit or, hopefully, a piece of someone’s tendon.”

“Oh, I remember her.” Trixie remembers her now. Slutty and grotesque. She used to chase cherubic boys around the soccerfield at dawn.

Duke leaves one crowd of messy, sloppy, slackening people. People glistening. People shouldn’t glisten, Duke thinks. It makes them seem like they’re slathered in butter. Like they should be rolled in a dinner roll. They shouldn’t be hyped up on amphetamines. They should be licked until their skin is raw. Salty. She goes to another crowd of messy, sloppy, slackening people. It looks like the same crowd. Feels like the same crowd. You could keep doing that, Duke thinks. You could spend your whole life walking into new rooms that feel like old rooms.

Duke zeroes in on Lauren, all bones and legs, rattling around, looking like a human bodybag, dancing in a circle. Duke cocks her head to the side, sizes up Lauren’s muscles, counts her ribs, notes the rosy spots, the places where her skin thins, the beat of her pulse, superfast. She says, “but, I don’t think she’s slutty or grotesque.”

Trixie says, I said bloody. B-L-O-O-D-Y Bloody. Remember she used to get nosebleeds – Duke is thrown off, by the way, at the mere mention of nosebleeds, as if nosebleeds were not universal, as if only [Redacted] got them, sitting up in bed smoking something, bleeding and being apathetic, letting it come so close to falling on the white bedspread, and Duke would think, how how how could you not care, how could you sit like that and beg to be touched but then shift away, how could you wait until the last second, wait until the blood has pooled above your upper lip, wait until I lean in to lick it off, and then you reach your wrist up and wipe it, and you get up and you say, what? Why are you looking at me like that? – Coke habit? Diet coke? Coca Cola? Sniff sniff. Don’t tell me it’s dehydration. And, by the way, you do think she’s grotesque. You started that.

Duke’s like, oh, yeah. Hey, where are you?

Trixie’s sick of holding her phone and wants to hang up. “I told you. A Toyota Camry’s fucking some cruisers in the ass. Channel seven.”

Then she adds, “By the way. Lauren’s right-side-of-the-tracks, Dukie. She took her pills and crossed her eyes and dotted her ttttttttttt’s. She sucks dick and eats pizza like all those other frauds.”

Okay, Duke says. She’s hyperventilating now. She says, “Look. [Redacted] just texted me.”

Trixie says, J E S U S C H R I S T DUKE. Fuck me with a meatball sub, Duke!

Then, she says, send me a screenshot.

But Duke can’t. She has a flip phone.

Fine, Trixie says. Then verbalize me a screenshot.

Duke tells Trixie what [Redacted] texted.

“Don’t text back,” Trixie says. “Then you’ll fall down the spiral staircase again.”

But Duke needs T, and she needs to find a way to get T, and she needs much more than that, a hug, for instance, the lingering touch of manicured nails against her wrist, a ninety-nine cent Slurpee, a kiss from just-the-right-person, at just-the-right-time, in just-the-right-driveway, but mostly T, mostly that, and she’s going to have to get it the hard way.

Before you do that, Trixie says, turn around.

Trixie’s standing there.

Great.

Duke goes up to her and points at Lauren.

“I left my high speed chase for this?”

Duke responds to [Redacted]. She texts back, “hi.” Then, she throws her phone across the room. Down the spiral staircase, Trixie says. Off you go.

“You’re bad at this,” Trixie says as she snaps black surgical gloves over her ring-laden hands, “What drug dealer runs out of T? You know, everyone could avoid everything if they didn’t fuck that one person they shouldn’t have fucked. Look, you’re head-first in a garbage disposal with shards of glass at the bottom. The world would be butterflies. You know. Less of a trash-fire. Oh, look at your fingernails. They’re gross and long. Duke. Use protection.”

Well, yeah, trash-fires, Duke says, preferring not to wear surgical gloves. The rubber takes away from the feeling.

Of.

Manual strangulation.

But, Trixie points out, increases the chance of disease. So, what. Take me, disease me, I’m dying at an unimaginable rate anyway, okay, we all are. Jesus, don’t be so morbid.

#

It’s three-thirty-ish in the morning when Duke and Trixie drag Lauren’s body back to Trixie’s friend’s apartment. Trixie’s friend is named 425. That’s an area-code. Trixie doesn’t remember his name and he never says it outloud but that’s his phone number. 425 something something something. Duke prefers to call him Just Outside of Seattle. Jos. People who are from just outside of cities say they’re from the city. They’re not.

Lauren’s alive but not conscious.

Jos lets them in. He’s pale and skinny and, of all the people Duke knows, he tried the hardest to take his Gov-regulated pills during puberty. He’d spent a lot of time vomiting little blue tablets in boys’ bathrooms and forcing rare hamburger patties down his throat, and he tried to crave female lips and hips and pelvic bones. He still has the pills. He still sometimes takes them, when he’s too drunk to see straight. They make him nauseous, make him shutter, make him hot, then cold, then hot again. And, he used to rule the suburban Illinois underground scene. He was kingpin. Used to farm farm boys for parts. Used to manufacture the best T, sell the freshest heroin-laced blood, the best weed, extracted straight from stoner piss, and even milked a few sick LSD strains from teenaged spinal fluid.

He’s dating a junkie named Needle. Needle will assure you his name is because of Space, not hypodermic. He doesn’t go by Space because that’s dumb.

Jos and Needle drink homemade cocktails. He apologizes, he can’t offer any to the ladies. You know, three drunk guys died tonight in a high-speed chase. Lot of spilled blood. Wish we’d been there. Oh! Trixie says, hey. I watched that. Damn. She tuned out just before the concrete-smashing, skull-breaking part. But, that unconscious girl, uh, let’s crack her open. Duke has a special talent.

They lay Lauren down on the couch. Duke uses a safety-pin to puncture a hole in Lauren’s neck. Just a little. A tiny stream of blood spits out of the hole. Duke licks it, and then sucks out more. She feels Lauren’s slow pulse against her tongue. 0.25 BAC, she says. Give or take. Then, it hits her. Bitter, sour. Something else.

She checks Lauren’s arms. Track marks. Fresh. On both arms. Trixie dies laughing. Oh, Duke, you said you quit. Oh, Duke. Relapse in five, four, three, two.

One.

The earth shakes. Five tremors in rapid succession.

 

DO NOT TEXT (5).

Hey

How u?

T???????

i’ll do ANYTHING

😉

 

Duke backs off, stumbles a little. Her whole head hot, trapped, swampy. Trixie makes larger incisions in Lauren’s track marks and takes a greedy mouthful. Watch it, Duke says. You’ll kill her. Trixie flashes a smile, teeth stained red. Baby, she says, it’s like really nice. Top shelf. A hug for your poor poor heart. More, take more.

I just want the T, Duke says.

Trixie pouts. What a waste of a whole, beating-heart human. We thought she was Wholesome. Turns out, she’s a druggie. But isn’t that how it always goes, huh, Duke?

I wanted Wholesome, Duke says.

OH WHY DUKE?? Because [Redacted] prefers un-tainted T? Cavity-free? Calcium rich? Good-girl T. Baby T. Milky Milky. Duke. Promise me you.

Won’t.

Fall. Into.

The. Trap.

T O O

L A T E.

 

DO NOT TEXT (4).

I didn’t mean it like that

i meant I’ll TAKE anything

not DO

??? duke answer me srsly

 

Jos says he might have female T. Somewhere. But it’s old. He disappears to look for it. Needle eyes Lauren.

“You can’t even get good T that fresh. Needs to be dehydrated.”

“We know,” Duke fires back.

This is good, Trixie says. Give [Redacted] old T. Sell it for, uh, a lot. We can keep this girl to ourselves.

I think fresh T is still good, Duke says, and tenderly pushes Lauren’s lower lip down, running her finger along Lauren’s bottom teeth, silky, well-brushed, might not even bleed if you tried to floss them.

Needle shakes his head. Nah, that’s like a green banana.

Yeah, Duke, Trixie adds. Green banana. Hard and plant-like. Slimy. Gag. Not even good in a smoothie.

When’s the last time you had a banana.

Who cares, Duke. It was before.

Duke feels ill. Ill and shaky and jittery. Must be from the blood. Must be from the texts. Must be from the impending doom and ecstasy of seeing [Redacted] again after months of bone-souring nothingness. Sometimes she imagines how slippery, shiny, magical the taste of [Redacted]’s intraocular fluid would be – you could just stick a needle at the surface of the eye, don’t touch the baby blues, don’t blind her, just taste it, cross my heart and hope to die.

Jos has pliers. Trixie prefers to use a hammer. Duke doesn’t let her.

Duke moves Lauren so her head is hanging off the bed. She has a bump forming on the side of her skull, from where Trixie slammed her against the bathroom sink. Jesus. Duke had stood back, hands shaking, but not from the violence, no, from the hangnail-tearing feeling of being sucked back into [Redacted]’s all-consuming orbit. Trixie had let Lauren fall to the ground with a thump. Lauren blinked once before slipping away. Duke felt a rush, something almost orgasmic, from watching Lauren lose consciousness. There’s something tingly about it. You could get high off that alone. And Duke has been starving lately. She cramps herself between the foot of the couch and the coffee table, opens Lauren’s mouth and gets a good grip on her jaw.

Wait, Jos says. He disappears.

Duke doesn’t wait.

She grips a back molar, the richer kind, pulpier, better for swallowing, better for injecting. She slams her fist against the steady plier and the tooth tears from its socket. Careful, Needle says. You won’t get the root that way.

Fuck off, Trixie says. She knows what she’s doing. Trixie beats the head of her hammer against her palm. Duke, she says, I want to take a swing.

Duke keeps ripping teeth out, dropping them into a clean ashtray. “No,” she says. “You’ll smash them.”

Oh, precious. Precious T. Trixie drops the hammer, and she sidles up next to Lauren, swallowing more heroin-infused blood, listening to Lauren’s pulse and tapping the rhythm gently against her exposed ribcage. You know, Duke says, you can get sick from that.

Tell me about it, baby. Trixie keeps drinking.

Jos returns with safety goggles. Duke’s hand slips and the force knocks Lauren’s jaw sideways, a satisfying crunch, a snap of the tendons. Oh. Duke and Trixie both salivate. Fuck, Trixie says. Can’t we just kill her. I’m starving.

Duke drops the pliers, sets her hands firmly on either side of the hanging, floppy jaw. She snaps it back into place. There. She keeps going. Needle winces, massages his own jaw out of sympathy or something similar.

Okay, Jos says.

Okay, Needle says and slips down the hall, into the depths of the apartment, presumably toward a bedroom. Jos follows.

Bleach is under the sink. Don’t scuff my floors, Trix. Goodnight, morning, whatever.

Duke finishes extracting the teeth, sweating, nauseous, suddenly head-pulsing high. Aren’t you forgetting something? Trixie drops Lauren’s arm and re-positions her. She straddles the girl. Uh, scalpel.

What?

Scalpel. Trixie motions behind Duke. Duke hands her a Swiss Army knife. Trixie slices into Lauren’s gums.

Duke’s phone seizes on the coffee table, quaking the whole apartment, shaking Duke’s insides, all of them.

DO NOT TEXT 

is calling.

Duke gets up and stumble-sprints to what she thinks is a bathroom but really is a nursery. She vomits watery blood, but not her blood, Lauren’s blood, into the child’s room and Trixie laughs and Duke clutches the doorframe and tries not to make eye-contact with the toddler staring back at her.

“What the fuck. Your dealers have a baby?”

“What’s wrong with that, Duke?”

“Nothing, it’s just–”

She pukes again and Trixie rolls her eyes, appearing behind Duke, somehow always appearing behind Duke. She pokes Duke’s ribs. Duke, look. Duke. Duke heaves and Trixie shoves three sparkling, slick-with-spit, speckled with gum-bits wisdom teeth in Duke’s face. Take one, Dukie Duke. Take one.

Duke swallows a wisdom tooth and so does Trixie and she presses the third one into Duke’s palm and whispers, for [Redacted], even though I don’t support it, and Duke wipes her mouth with her shirt, and the baby just maintains a cold-faced stare, unfazed by the two strange women in its doorway.

“Cute,” Trixie says, motioning to the baby. “Duke, look at the baby. Hi, sweetie. Hi cutie.” Trixie waves at the thing.

Duke can’t look and she also can’t move. “You’re not supposed to look them in the eye.”

“That’s big dogs. Not babies.”

“I’m afraid of both.”

“Apologize to the baby, Duke.”

“I’m sorry.”

She closes the door and stumbles into the living room. Lauren’s heavily bleeding from the mouth, bloody spit pooling on the white leather couch. Duke’s phone continues to vibrate on the coffee table. DO NOT TEXT. DO NOT TEXT. DO NOT TEXT. If you don’t answer it, I will.

Duke answers it and hangs up. It stops buzzing. A second of silence. Then, she texts, “I’m coming.”

DO NOT TEXT (1).

cool.

Lauren starts choking on her own blood. Gurgles. Toothless mouth agape. Duke pulls Lauren onto her side, and a river of blood and saliva snakes down Lauren’s cheek, her perfectly-aligned jaw, her neck, some of it falling down her chest, her cleavage.

Duke washes and dries the teeth, then organizes them by kind – incisor, canine, premolar, molar. She separates them into their own baggies. They’ll have to be taken like pills. They’re not dry enough to crush and snort. You know, children’s teeth are the purest, most potent, least affected by caffeine and night-grinding and lockjaw.

Trixie scoots Lauren’s feet over and slides onto the couch, rocking the baby on her lap, looking for car chases on local news, petting the baby’s golden hair. Duke avoids eye-contact.

“I’m not gonna kill a baby, Duke. Besides. This baby hardly has teeth. It’s a joke, Duke. It’s a joke.”

“Ok, ok, I’m leaving.”

#

Duke somehow survives a winding drive through the Hollywoodland Hills and ends up stationed a few turns up the canyon from [Redacted]’s house. She’s been there for twenty-three minutes. She’s had fifteen and a half imaginary conversations with [Redacted] and most of them go like this:

 

DUKE: I think. There are worlds of people who wouldn’t notice you or care that you exist.

[REDACTED]: Okay.

DUKE: Anyway here are your drugs.

 

But this next one Duke thinks is the most poetic option:

 

DUKE: I’m running. And I’m running. And running. And you turn off the treadmill. And I slam into the little flashing numbers. And I don’t think it’s fair.

[REDACTED]: The numbers wouldn’t be flashing if it was turned off. Also when’s the last time you went running.

In this version [Redacted] takes a drag from her cigarette, which is hand-rolled, and it’s made from the cremated ashes of a girl who jumped off a cliff near Mullholland.

 

The next one Duke thinks is the most favorable option, the most romantic:

 

[REDACTED]: It’s not my fault that my mere existence hurdles you into an endless time-space continuum of pain and suffering, feelings of being lost in an unknown forest, feelings of organs ballroom dancing inside of you. You know. I’ve felt that way, too. But not about you.

DUKE: It would be so like you to say something like that.

In this version [Redacted] shrugs after Duke says that, and looks ugly.

DUKE: It would be so like you to do something like that.

 

The next one Duke doesn’t even imagine because it would be too bone-breaking, stomach-churning, hydrochloric-acid-in-the-eyes burning to even think about, but it’s necessary to include:

 

[REDACTED]: You yanked teeth out for me.

DUKE: Yes.

[REDACTED]: I love you.

 

Duke walks out of the car feeling like a newly born deer on jello legs. She rounds the bend feeling like a juggling stilt-walker with vertigo, and she goes up to [Redacted]’s front door feeling like a sixteen-year-old girl who just pierced her own bellybutton and now can’t really see or hear, some kind of darkness enclosing like marshmallow fluff, some kind of existential heatstroke. She forgot to check what she looked like in the rearview. Her mascara might be smudged, her eyes might be spidery, she might have dried blood on her chin, and she doesn’t know if that would turn [Redacted] on or disgust her.

The lights are on.

Duke texts [Redacted] and says, “I’m here,” and she waits four and a half minutes, but there’s no response. She presses on the door handle, feeling its grooves, like a language forgotten, a door handle that is foreign now, that could be any door handle on any door, in any home furnishing store, and not one that has a certain nick on the base, not one unseasonably warm, not one that makes Duke feel like hot lava is dripping down her back, her thighs, not one that brings with it a mad tingling behind the eyes. She turns the knob and goes inside.

Oh, god, this foyer. Duke takes a light step, her heart pounding, expecting [Redacted]’s blind dog to come lumbering, barking, narrowing its cataract eyes at Duke, the loved-one, Duke, the intruder. Duke, where have you been? You used to come here. But, the dog doesn’t lumber.

She starts up the spiral staircase, touches the icy metal, each step feeling further from the last, and yet, after one complete rotation, she can’t remember how she got there. When she looks back, it’s like a blackout. When she looks back, all she sees are more steps up, snaking around blind turns, curved like an isolated hipbone, a ribcage bulging, two fingers pressed together, motioning, come here, come here.

Duke reaches the top of the stairs. And then, there’s a laugh. A laugh that melts Duke’s skin off, cinches her veins, pulverizes her esophagus, jams an icepick through her neck, rips her nails right off her fingers. Heart seizes. Brain freezes. Everything goes dark and airy and she passes out violently, falling backward, head slamming against the metal stairs, body spiraling like a corpse down a water slide, crumpling to the ground with a depressing lack of grace.

A girl with well-conditioned hair appears at the base of the stairs. She stares at Duke. Duke’s nose bleeds. The girl is tall and skinny and would describe herself as “very L.A.” if anyone ever asked her. She calls out to [Redacted]. She says, “it’s for you.” Then she drifts off, weightless.

[Redacted] comes. She’s not what you’d expect.

Although unconscious, Duke can sense her presence, and her insides are vibrating, and she’s trying to get herself to wake up, wake up, wake up, smell the haunting perfume, let it ruin her enough to snap her out of this.

Duke’s mouth bleeds. [Redacted] crouches down. She slips her hands into Duke’s pockets. Duke’s unconscious self is giddy. She’s touching me. At least she’s touching me. Oh, but, it’s not like it was. She feels suddenly very isolated, very lonely, very molecular, as if experiencing the opposite of life-flashing-before-ones-eyes. She didn’t think she’d feel this way. [Redacted] keeps running her hands through Duke’s clothes, like a tourist on a roadmap, and of course its foreign, of course it’s hard to take, and not revitalizing, not hydrating, the opposite of what she’d thought, the opposite of how it should be, just the opposite, the opposite. [Redacted] doesn’t find anything, except old movie ticket stubs, a dollar bill, lint, a receipt, a ring, a cheap and busted ring, one that Duke used to wear on her thumb, that she once accidentally left on [Redacted]’s nightstand, and it lived there for a whole day, and Duke felt empty and [Redacted] felt powerful, and [Redacted] remembers it now but can’t access any sort of emotion to accompany it. But, you know, whatever.

Duke accidentally left the T in the car.

[Redacted] opens Duke’s mouth. One of her front teeth is gone. The other, cracked down the middle. Nothing but a jagged nub left. [Redacted] feels for more loose teeth. Duke’s right canine wiggles between [Redacted]’s fingers. She plucks it out. It comes, easily, like a ripe blackberry, careful, no thorns, just round and bursting. [Redacted] stands up, finds the missing front tooth on the third stair, shining like a full moon. She picks it up, rolls it around in her hand, rubs it clean on her shirt, and swallows it. Oh. It tastes like something familiar. I just don’t know what.

[Redacted] looks down at Duke.

[Redacted] thinks nothing more of it, and disappears back into the dark folds of the house, waiting for the high to hit, maybe fucking that girl with the soft hair, maybe eating her, digging into her skin, or doing whatever else she does that’s so magical, so world-stopping, so, godlike, so.

But, certainly – and you can be certain – what she’s not doing is

Thinking about you.

#

Lauren, the girl with the most unfortunate evening – depending on your definition of tragedy – she’s not dead. She woke up on a white leather couch, throat slick with blood, next to a sleeping girl with jet black hair, holding a soulless baby, knowing not to look it in the eyes, and now she’s stumbling the streets of LA, just wondering how someone could misplace all their teeth. You lose your keys, sure, you drop your ID, the coke falls in the toilet, okay, but, these bones were once stuck in my head. She’s not dead. She’s wondering what happened. She’s numb and toothless, wondering how things got to be this way, wondering if she’d moved to New York, would she have woken up with no teeth? If she’d stayed in Wisconsin, would she be less of a casualty? If she just hadn’t slept with that one boy she shouldn’t have slept with, if she’d just gone home that weekend? And she’s wondering if you’re aware of how painful it could be.

She decides that you have no idea how painful it could be.

#

Duke snaps back into consciousness while speeding through the valley. These turns, they feel warm, like they’d been pressed between someone’s thighs, a human-radiator. Some people are like that, they radiate things. Some people are cold always. Duke is cold always. She’d found herself a human-radiator. Then it broke.

Duke is running her tongue over the spongey holes where her teeth used to be. She can’t believe [Redacted] swallowed them. There. Now there’s something of mine dissolving inside of you. That means I either got what I wanted, or was forgotten. Duke can’t think about this too much. No one can. So she focuses on the warm curves, the tires gliding lightly, the feeling of soft touch, the feeling of I-am-never-coming-back-here, not in real life, not in my mind, and the sharpness of these turns will smooth, until this road no longer haunts, until eventually things don’t need to be crossed out. Instead they would be butterflies.

Duke’s car nearly slams into something. A deer. A belly-swollen, pregnant deer. She swerves to avoid it. She swerves off a cliff. Losing control. Spiraling, spiraling, spiraling down. Rock destroying metal. Metal crushing bone. Shards protruding through skin. Blood pouring from the nose. Isn’t that how it always goes.

Smooth, then, the opposite of smooth.

Now’s the time, Duke. Now’s the time for life-flashing.

I’m sorry it had to end this way, but aren’t you kind of glad? And, of course, the deer thinks nothing of it, and walks off, leaving you, leaving you to wonder.

# # #

hzboston

Haley Z. Boston is a writer from Portland, Oregon who begrudgingly resides in Los Angeles. In 2016, her short story Number 36 was published in Helicon Literary Magazine. This is her second publication. She is a big fan of fake gore, but is afraid of real needles. She can be found on twitter at @swampmonstr.

Advertisements

How to Fight Hate with Humor : JAMIE ANDREWS

A tell-all with Croydon’s Jamie Andrews on sexuality, race and using mockery in the face of hate

How to Fight Hate with Humor: JAMIE ANDREWS

An in-depth interview with Croydon’s Jamie Andrews

Andrews on facing adversity, rejecting labels and what it’s like being a part of the LGBTQA community in the UK

Jamie 6

After we finished sizing up each other’s accents—and I listened to Andrews put on his best Scottish accent, I soon discovered that what Andrews had initially referred to as leading a very “obscure life” has been anything but.  The way he spoke so casually about the violence he’s encountered throughout his life was initially jarring; but also intriguing. When I would gasp and say something like, “That’s awful!” Andrews would reply with a simple, “That’s life.”

Jamie Andrews, 33, currently studying for his Bachelor of Arts in creative writing at Falmouth University, has led quite a colorful life. He even said at one point that he used to co-host a radio show with a legend named Rod. He’s also just finished designing his own web site, where he can display art, writing, poetry, etc, which was 90% worked on by his friend Worayud from Laimy.

We began our interview talking about adversity.

“The National Front is a group who are essentially Nazis. They’re a UK political group. They would stand by the bus stops by the school and hand out badges when I went there.”

As a child?

Preparing to go into this interview just to talk about adversity that Andrews may have faced over his sexuality, I was instead unpleasantly surprised to hear about the violence he’s encountered his entire life over his race. He has been the victim of a number of hate crimes over being mix-raced.

What?

“I was one of five kids of mixed race in a school of 1200,” says Andrews. “I remember I was 13 and I asked out this girl because she’d been nice to me once or something like that and she spat in my face. I wasn’t even a human being to her. I remember she ended up becoming really popular because of this one incident.”

This stopped me in my tracks.  But it gets worse.

“I would get swastikas drawn on my locker and ‘Fuck off, Paki,’ which is ironic because I’m mix-raced, which is nowhere near Pakistani. I used to get just as annoyed with their inaccuracies!” Andrews says with a laugh.

Well, I had to ask, what mixed-race are you?

“South American…East Indian…Guyana—but my dad’s from London,” he says.

So, are you half and half, or…?

“No—I’ve no idea what percentage I am. Pretty sure it’s way down the line somewhere.”

That sounds like most of us Americans—I’m Irish, German, English and Scottish, I think. So from my point of view, where America is full of mixed races and blurred lines of heritage and people who might be an eighth Cherokee, it was so difficult for me to comprehend this hatred he’s had to face his entire life for his heritage.

He’s been stabbed twice (these incidents were not race related), jumped and beaten up his entire life—because his skin wasn’t the “right shade” for people.

It trumps the bisexuality issue, which Andrews has really faced little to no grief over.

In England it’s fairly commonplace to refer to someone or yourself who isn’t “white” as “colored.” In the US, this is a highly offensive term. And this is one of the many differences between US and UK culture struggles I pick up on while we’re talking.

“In Arizona, people just thought I was English, which was the first time in my life I wasn’t identified by my race,” says Andrews. “I had to go out of the country to experience that.”

“In England if I get in a cab and the driver is Afghan, he’ll think I’m Afghan. I’ve had every race thrown at me and try to claim me. ”

Really?

“I’ve been stabbed. I’m deaf in my left ear because I was attacked walking home one night by a group of skinheads,” says Andrews. “They perforated my ear drum.”

Jamie 3

It’s difficult for me to pick up and try and switch topics after hearing this. But he doesn’t seem to carry any sort of hard feelings or harbor any anger over these issues, which just dumbfounds me. I harbor anger about nearly everything, whereas he’s seen the worst in people and is able to find his happiness every day.

So, when did you come out?

“I don’t think I ever have. In fact, I never really had a second thought about it until you asked me the question of if I identified as bisexual.”

He’s a bit opposed to labels. “As strange as this sounds, I don’t really identify with any sort of sexual label. I’ve never bothered to give it a thought until you asked. I don’t go around introducing myself like, ‘Hi, I’m Jamie, I’m mixed-race, I’m creative and I’m bisexual. I’ve never thought about labeling myself.”

This is not to say that Andrews doesn’t consider himself a part of the LGBTQA community at large. In fact, he jumped to answer that question. “I’m thrilled to be a part of the community. I mean, in any sort of group of people who have been bullied or misunderstood and still can continue to be who we are…I mean, it’s great.”

What misconceptions that are out there about bisexuality irritate you?

“When people say that we’re being ‘greedy.’ It’s no different than someone who’s gay or straight. If I like someone, I like someone. If it’s someone I want to fuck, then it’s someone I want to fuck, do you know what I mean?”

Jamie 2Jamie 5

What’s your personal take on homophobia?

“I’ve always thought that homophobia is the fear that a gay guy will treat you the way that he treats women. The people I’ve known that are the most homophobic are quite misogynistic as well.”

When asked if he’s aware of the political scene and the equal rights battle for the LGBTQA community in the states, he balks at the question and says, “Of course. It’s everywhere; it’s all over my Facebook newsfeed. How can you NOT know what’s going on in the states?” I then went on to make a comment about how our two-party system is much like a three-ring circus. “Ours is terrible! Have you seen any of ours lately? My God.”

That, I did not expect to hear. It’s so interesting; there’s always so much more going on from another person’s perspective than we could ever dare to dream. The way that I feel about our political system is the same way Andrews feels about the UK’s political system.

Basically, as I said to my husband sweetly over dinner tonight, “Shit’s bad everywhere, man.”

But people like Andrews give me hope. “Gay rights are the same as women’s rights, race rights, etc. Everyone should be entitled to the same things.”

And I think that’s a damn good quote to end on if I do say so myself.

*********

Pen pals – by JAMIE ANDREWS

A delightfully quirky tale of how meeting up with a pen pal can go so, so wrong.

 Do you ever get so righteously drunk that you think it’s a good idea to prank your sober self?

I have.

The last time this happened I ended up registering for a pen pal finder website.

Two days later I get an email saying I have a message from a Japanese chap, aptly named Super K!.

Now, in retrospect, this is where I should have deleted the email, the profile, the pictures on my phone from the drunken night that led to this and a million other more sensible things.

Sadly, I’m not sensible… I’m an overly curious halfwit. So I decided to read the email and, as it turned out, this Super K! seemed like a cool bloke.

What’s the harm…? I remembered thinking to myself.  And so I messaged him back.

These messages went back and forth for about a month or so and Super K! and myself were starting to become buds (albeit online ones).

I even told a few of my actual, genuine, real life, human being, non-internet friends about it and bar from the odd bit of mockery for being a tosser (and rightly so), they seemed intrigued too.

Then I get an email from him…

Hey, Hey!

I’m in England, in Lewisham!! We should meet up!!!

Again, what I should have been thinking to myself at this point was, “Of all the places to visit and he chose to stay in Lewisham..? Really?”

jamie andrews pic 2

(Dustmen in Lewisham do things differently).

In reality I thought, “That’s awesome!” and messaged him back, “Why don’t you come to Croydon and we can go for a drink? You can meet the rest of my friends and it’ll be a right laugh.”

We arranged to meet up and ironically none of my friends could make it.

So I dragged along my little sister (she was really happy about this).

The first thing that struck me about Super K! was his hair (it was immaculate). This was shortly followed by the way he dressed (very, VERY well – if a tiny bit effeminate and sparkly). He was also pretty short and he had this curious way of making his hips wiggle as he walked, instead of his shoulders.

We went to the pub and had a few drinks, chatted about a range of light hearted subjects and seemed to be getting on well. I got him to confirm what the kanji tattoo on my right bum cheek says (another story for another time) and in general, he just seemed like good company.

Then my little sister asks him, “So why are you staying in Lewisham of all places?”

It turns out he’d moved there.

To become a hairdresser.

Six months ago.

Then he looked at me dead in the eye and said…”And for the gay scene… Do you know any good gay clubs?” then he put his hand in front of his mouth and managed a squeaky laugh that can only be phonetically written as ‘TeheEeeeeheeeheeah! Aha!’

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not what you’d call 100% straight (more 85-15%), but when you’re sitting in your local pub and an effeminate looking Japanese hairdresser announces: he’s lied, has been living in Lewisham for the last six months, then tries to stroke your thigh and lean in to kiss you on your near to non-existent neck, I think I was justified in recoiling in what can only be described as wide-eyed #whatthefuckdude-fuelled terror.

To top things off, my wonderful dearest darling little sister reacted the same as I can imagine any other little sister/witch would do in the situation. She stifled her laugh, said she was going to get another round of drinks in, then burst into fits of giggles as soon as she was out of earshot.

Then started telling anyone we knew in the vicinity of course…

Luckily for me there was a LGBT+ night at the local alternative bar close by. I suggested we gave the place a visit (my intention was to hook him up with one of my friends, then bugger off; no pun intended).

As it happens, this plan failed. And it failed badly.

Why?

Because even though I was introducing him to pretty much everyone in the club. Who in one case politely offered to ‘Fuck his tight little backdoor in.’

Super K! didn’t seem interested (although this got another ‘Eeeeeheeeheeah!’).

In fact, he had pretty much decided he was going to stick to me like shit to a blanket instead.

Now whilst walking around a bar, talking to your mates and introducing someone to them is normally considered a sociable thing. Two hours of being followed by an artfully camp, manboy, was starting to look like I’d made him hold onto my pocket (metaphorically)…

jamie andrews pic 1

(Apparently it’s the third front pocket you need to worry about)

Now as you can probably imagine, this entire situation was starting to piss me off.  Not wanting to seem to be rude I informed Super K! I was leaving, and if he wanted, I could show him where he needed to go to get the bus home. He took this as an invitation to partake in a spot of man-scuttling and near skipped out of the club (my image/orientation has been in doubt in that place ever since).

It took about ten very awkward minutes to get to the bus stop with Super K! In tow. It wouldn’t have taken that long normally but Super K! spent every waking second trying to hold my hand on the way.

We got to the bus stop.

We waited at the bus stop…

He tried to kiss me again.

I again politely informed him I wasn’t interested and asked him to stop. Then I patiently pointed out, that he was quite slight and if he carried on I’d level him.

jamie andrews pic 3

(Hello Mr Mystery diner. Today we have a special on fist and floor).

I think it was at this point that he finally realised I wasn’t interested and as far as I can tell took his go to option in that situation.

He went apeshit.

In between him screaming at me in broken Japanese and flailing his arms around like a hyperactive windmill, two salad-dodging community support officers decided to show up (their sense timing is notoriously amazing in situations like this).

It’s common knowledge that community support officers are good at two things: being self-entitled and being useless at anything that isn’t harassing teenagers. Unsurprisingly, upon seeing what was going on, they decided to intervene.

I was trying to explain the situation to one of these rentacops while Super K! Is screeching things like ‘HE SAI HE WAN NO TO FUK ME! *SOB* NOW NO FUK I GO HOME! I FUK HIM!’ in the background at the other officer.

Then it went quiet.

The wally in a uniform and I turn around to see Super K! running at some speed towards a night bus. He gets on it and the bus drives off.

I shared a moment’s worth of bafflement with the support officers, shrugged at them and went home.

Strangely enough I never heard from Super K! again.

Moral of the story..? Cultural exchange can go visit someone else itself, if it thinks it’s getting anywhere near my arse ever again.

jamie andrews pic 4

jamieandrewsbiopic

***Jamie is a renegade halfwit, writer, poet and ish-artist. Who when allowed out of his cage to be exercised, hangs around the beautiful English town of Croydon. The rest of the time he’s sat in a cave, fiddling about with himself and sporadically spewing out creative nonsense which can be found on his facebook page and on Twitter. ***

Ignorance is Met With Education in Denton : Kamyon Conner

A candid interview spotlighting Conner’s community involvement. We address issues that everyone else is too scared to talk about.

Within moments of speaking with Kamyon Conner, 33, social worker, activist, daughter and friend to many, I can easily surmise that her candid way of speaking and gregarious aura are contagious.

She’s a rare breed of human who can temporarily make you forget about all those things that seem so bad and instead, help you to focus on the good.

“I really do apologize, I’m usually more on top of it,” Conner says about having to re-schedule our interview. Working three jobs, volunteering and maintaining a healthy relationship is enough to keep anyone’s plate full.

“When I went to the University of North Texas, I went there thinking that I was a cisgender [denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender] heterosexual woman. I remember going to my first GLAD meeting and I thought, ‘Wow. Being around all of these people facing the same issues as me allowed me to feel that it was okay to be myself and that I was not alone in my struggle.’”

Now busy serving as a steering committee of OUTreach Denton, a program devoted to providing mentorship and a safe space for LGBTQA youth, and the Texas Equal Access  Fund, Conner’s community involvement is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

“I didn’t come out for a long time,” says Conner; “While I was in college, it seemed that there was this culture of people being out at school but not at home, which can be common. The ability to move away from a familiar environment can allow you to grow and cultivate the most precious parts of yourself.”

After a pause she picks back up, “Coming out to my family took time and for me it also took some healing in regards to childhood sexual trauma. I remember coming out to my mom during the Vagina Monologues and divulging not only was I a lesbian but also a survivor of childhood sexual assault. I also told her that I had undergone my first heart-wrenching break up and that I had a very hard time healing from the loss of that love because I felt I could not share my grief with her for fear of being shamed for loving a another woman.”

When asked about her community involvement, Conner first mentions OUTreach Denton. “Our organization started the first transgender day of remembrance in Denton. It’s sobering when you actually hear the names of all the transgender people who were killed in the past year and how also hearing descriptions of their murdered such as, ‘blunt force trauma to the head,’ just makes it all…” Conner trails off. “Surreal, devastating and enraging. There is also mourning for those we lost with music, poetry and speakers. These events are held all over the country and the next TGDOR is going to be on November 20th so it is coming up soon.”

IMG_20140911_200803

            According the Texas Department of Public Safety’s web page, hate crimes in Texas have risen by 22.9% for reported incidents, 22.8% for reported offenses, and 13.1% for reported offenders followed by 8.0% for reported victims just up in one year, from 2013 to 2014. This doesn’t even take into account the incidents that were not reported. 

“The total number of reported Texas hate crime incidents in 2014 was 166. This represents an increase of 23 percent when compared to 2013. These incidents involved 190 victims, 198 offenders, and resulted in a total of 167 offenses.” (http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/crimereports/14/citCh6.pdf)

“In 2014, the largest percentage of hate crime reports in Texas were race/ethnic/ancestry in nature. The second most commonly reported bias motivation was sexual orientation. The third most common bias was religious. The fourth most common bias was disability.” (http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/crimereports/14/citCh6.pdf).

To that end, Conner said, “There are a large number of transgender people who are also people of color—everything is an intersection of something else.”

So, what is the Texas Equal Access Fund? What role does Conner play in this organization?

“We help provide funding for people in North Texas who can’t afford an abortion.” Abortion continues to be a controversial, polarizing topic of conversation especially in Texas with the passing of HB2. “There are 1 in 3 women who get abortions. We probably receive anywhere from 70-90 calls per week per week from individuals in north Texas seeking abortion access, so it’s not like no one is having abortions. We only hear from those who are truly in need of financial assistance and we are never able to assist everyone who requests our help.  The idea that abortion is rare or that it should be rare is an archaic notion. The truth is you’re not faced with that situation until it actually happens to you and at that time we make decisions with our futures, our families, our religion, our health and our safety in mind.  I remember when you had your abortion and how badly I felt that you were there all by yourself and more so that I could not be there with you during that experience,” she says.

Wait, you remember it that vividly?

“Yes, of course. We talked that day and the next. I remember you telling me that when you sat and looked at all the other women waiting next to you, you were temporarily bonded, but knew that you would all part ways and probably never talk about it again, and possibly never tell anyone. More people should talk about it.”

Conner and I met at Wichita Falls High School, during the school year of 1998-1999, also known affectionately to residents of Wichita Falls as simply, “Old High.” After becoming fast friends, we have kept in touch all these years.

“Reproductive healthcare is my life,” Conner says, summing up her involvement.  Conner is the intake coordinator and board member for the Texas Equal Access Fund, Co-chair for OUTreach Denton, and a board member for the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Conner isn’t all work and no play. She has a personal life, too.

“I have an addiction to reality television. It is so terrible and I know with all my feminist sensibilities that I should give it up. I often say it is social work research.” she says, laughing. Earlier in our conversation she spoke of her recreational involvement in the Vagina Monologues. “Doing the Vagina Monologues was a really healing experience for me. It was the first time I’d talked about sexual trauma in a group setting.” Saying it was cathartic is an understatement—it seems to have been life changing for Conner.

“I’d been holding back things from my mom that were impeding us from becoming as close as we could be. I told her about the childhood sexual trauma and that I had been in a relationship with a woman for almost 2 years but that we’d broken up a few months prior. That’s how I came out to her in 2006,” she says with a quiet laugh. “It’s also when I told her that I was dating Jackie, my current partner.”

“My mom and dad are pretty accepting. They like Jackie—they treat us like a couple and we are so grateful for that. There are many people who do not have any support from their families in regards to their relationships.”

FB_IMG_1436791137356

So, what are some of the daily challenges she faces?

“Being out at work. Everybody’s pretty accepting, but there’s still that sense of privilege that the people who aren’t LGBTQ have. There is also the difficult experience of having to constantly tell every new person, staff or intern, BTDubs, I’m a gal lady.” She continues to say, “Also dealing with people from all parts of your life on social media requires a lot of skill. I have started deleting people that say ignorant and harmful things. As a current LGBT leader in my community, I cannot and will not condone hatred on my news feed. The activist and social worker in me always tries to educate people prior to deleting them, but sometimes you have to preserve your own sanity.”

 How does she handle adversity and stereotypes?

 “I have done a lot of work with the aging community and people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I was with one of my clients in a waiting room and Ellen was on the television. She said something like, ‘I always liked her, but I heard she’s a lesbian!’ and I responded by asking her what she liked about Ellen before and if she now thought this woman was a bad person just because she was a lesbian when she had always liked her before. She said, ‘Well, no, I guess not. Maybe being a lesbian isn’t a bad thing.’ So I tried to come at the situation from a place of education and relatability.”

Thoughtful, sharp, and eager to educate as well as learn, Conner is a kind, caring soul who is dedicated to her day job of social work and helping out others through her volunteer work. She just also happens to be a pretty cool lesbian.