The following piece contains graphic, (potentially) traumatizing content.
“The same way another person might yawn or boil a potato.”
Kolby, as was typical after a night like last night, woke up laying with his cheek pressed into the impersonal, olefin carpet of Milton’s mom’s living room. He was facing Jacob who had managed to fall asleep on the couch the color of dead, yellow lilies and tacky and too large for the small space. A window caught the morning sunlight and shone a beam over Kolby’s red face and a moat of dust lazily drifted course like the slow current of field runoff. The boy glanced around the room and crooked his ear to listen to any sounds which may have presented themselves to him and all he heard was the slow whirr of the subdivision generator and the distant moan of traffic.
Milton’s mom wasn’t home — she rarely was — and so it was okay to be laid out across the room like a couple of liquor simple idiots too lazy or perhaps stupid to understand how to properly employ pillows and blankets rather than just the hard floor he slept on or the tacky, yellow couch his friend slept on that smelled more like an empty bag of chips than it did fabric. Not that it would have made much of a difference anyway. Milton’s mom was a drunk. She was a whore. The whole friend group understood this and they recognized this fact only with a whispered sympathy and none of the boys talked about it or made any mention, even as a joke. To do so would mean the uncovering of a truth which all knew, but none dared recognize. That was their dynamic and it worked. The quiet acceptance and fear associated with their friend’s mother being a woman who sucked off men in navy blue suits for cheap fifths of Popov and rumpled bundles of green cash that smelled like cheap cocaine and the back of an airport rental car. Moreover, it was better that she was a neglectful basketcase rather than some overbearing and offensively intrusive figure such as his own parents because at least Milton had freedom.
His own mother worked as a sales rep for a small coffee company that was local to town and got big after a successfully launched advertisement campaign with a chain of boutique grocery stores. His dad worked as a glasser of surfboards down in Mission Valley mostly doing work for a few well-known shapers in the local area. They were divorced of course and had been for some years. However, that didn’t seem to stop them, especially his mother, from harassing Kolby about his job, about college.
Kolby, uh-uh. Don’t even fucking think about just slipping outta here — I got that goddamn email from your school. They’re threatening academic probation, Kolby. Honey, we need to talk about this. His mother had said the previous evening as she caught him trying to pretend he wasn’t avoiding her as he was leaving the house.
Mom, okay — okay. I just can’t talk about this right now. He had said, acting more frustrated than he actually was.
When’re supposed to talk then? She replied, eyes wide in an exasperated fatigue.
Kolby put his face in his hands. Mom I don’t know.
And this went on back and forth for some odd minutes and eventually ended by Kolby agreeing to work on better voicing his concerns to his professors and making it known when he was struggling and needed help.
I love you, be safe. His mother called after him as he walked across the small patchy lawn, out to his truck.
Love you too, mom.
There are many things about the southern coastal region of this state which those who have never visited — or even those who were not born here — fail to recognize. It is this: the place is, in essence, no different from any other. It takes up geographic space and is bordered by arbitrary yet decided upon boundaries and embodies a certain culture relative to itself and therefore a certain stereotype and expectation. What does make this place so different, however, is its sheer mass and diverse topography with its variant sordidness and beauty which seem to be in a kind of unending dialectical struggle. The country and the various tons of concrete. The views off into oblivion and the I-5. The stark, lonesome Sierra mountains and the sheen off those glass towers through the curtains of smog. The timeless Pacific and the ephemeral trends which depend on it. The lush, green of the lulling foothills and the various pounds of beige paint lathered on the Spanish-style homes of the subdivisions and the complexes here. The beauty — and the needles one must walk over in the downtowns and the sidewalks of even the small towns which, like a bunch of leukemic cells, cling to the various freeways, themselves stretching like veins all over the place this dialectic being true of elsewhere but for this place’s pronouncement of the thing. In fact, one might say this is the only difference to all wheres.
There is a cause for this thing. But maybe it is just another symptom. And on this winter night, as on the countless scores of others that this place breeds, this symptom came articulate through the gloom soundless and with no name like all manner of death those shades know.
It is the subtle uneasiness that lingers through the quietude here. A kind of lazy anxiety which like some derelict wraith haunts the cool, glassy sky overhead because it has nowhere else to do so, nowhere else to go — some unspoken negation that only the dead stars peering through the opacity manage just a glimpse. There is the unspoken and in many cases unknowable sense that at night the whole world is somehow lost and that you are lost with it. The feeling, a melancholy, a rage, that if these buildings were not here the ice plant would grow back and sprawl its legs out up the coastline and the fine beige sand like pale soot could blow, that this home would just be a desert on the edge of some shifting, impersonal mass and out to an infinite beyond lay the sea and passed that only aberrations know and lore those travelers keep. And this maybe is how most fathomless horrors spawn even in the mild climate of such a place.
For even when Kolby picked up Jacob and Milton, after he pulled away from his house, leaning out of his window to wave to his mother, beneath the anticipation of the night ahead and the impatient drive to the liquor store and then the house, that same feeling of aimless tension whispered in the ears of the boys, letting each know the weight of itself, its ineffable presence and the inescapable nature of its grasp.
Shortly after lifting himself up off the floor and shuffling into the kitchen to grab a lone beer that had escaped the night, Jacob woke too — groaned a morning yawn and rubbed his eyes.
Yo, Kolby said from the kitchen.
Yo — what the fuck. What time did we get back? Jacob asked, muffled and horse.
I don’t know. Kolby emerged back into the living room, holding the cold and perspiring glass bottle to his forehead, sat down on the floor and propped his back up against the maple coffee table. Think like three or four.
Yeah. Kolby took a drink.
Jacob flipped on the television and the news came on — a hint of uneasiness reared in the air between the two boys and then subsided — and a story about a former flower field which had been bought and was now to be developed by a tract homebuilding company was being reported on. They watched for a few moments, not saying anything, and then each pulled out their phones.
Kolby was scrolling through Instagram, idly passing the time and taking infrequent sips at his beer which tasted like a bag of cold, stale bread, pausing every couple of minutes to glance up at Jacob who had his eyes fixed on his own phone, looking pale and very thin.
Jacob hadn’t always been thin — at least not this thin. It had really only been the last few years, the years since the boys had graduated from high school when Kolby and others had started to notice this trend of weight-loss. Throughout most of high school and before, Jacob had been a heavier set kid — though not fat — and shorter than the rest of their group by a margin of about two to three inches. The fact that Jacob grew up as the short, fat kid might have bothered him more had he not been the better surfer out of the group. This had been apparent since about middle school when their surf team held practices at a break primarily known for its right, and Jacob being a goofy foot emerged unfazed, surfing better than most despite the more technical proficiency and skill required to surf backhand consistently. What had made it all the more spectacular, that is, watching Jacob surf, was his heavy-set frame — his little pudgy rolls of fat that textured his stomach like little tan bread loves, his forearms, thick like sausages, and his face which made him look like some distant kin to the Bimbo breadman. And his height. Despite the weight and the height disparity, however, he was the better surfer.
Now — no one quite knew what had happened. Most, if prompted, would be sad to admit that they simply hadn’t noticed when the change had occurred. The easy out, of course, was to say he just grew up.
You ever fuckin eat? They would tease Jacob. You’re like a fuckin lamp post.
Just got a high metabolism, or whatever. And this was his answer. Of course, one might think, the blow couldn’t be helping. Of course, one might think, the drinking, the occasional methamphetamine, the cigarettes, the two day — three day, four day — long benders couldn’t be helping. And it isn’t that anyone acknowledged this — or if they did there was no mention of it — no one seemed to care, and if they did they didn’t adequately recognize causation, they simply postponed the recognition — outsourced it to some other time more favorable.
Yo, check this out. Jacob laughed and turned his phone so that Kolby could see his screen.
A clip of some kind of artist on Instagram performing sexually suggestive acts on various fruits and foods — blueberries, a moon pie, a pear, a strawberry — played on the boy’s screen and the two boys laughed and cringed and then a cold chill crept along Kolby’s spine. Jacob didn’t seem to notice and still held the phone with his boney, white hands and smiled with a dead gaze in his eye. Without letting the trouble show, Kolby turned away to watch the news and he killed his beer.
It was a much older house than perhaps Kolby was used to seeing — built about the mid-50s from the looks of it — although he nor the others seemed to pay much mind or interest. It was a one-story with a long flat roof, painted a faded eggshell white with chic vintage turquoise molding. It still appeared to have original everything. That is, there were no additions, walls, or much work that had been done in general. A long, wide and cracked driveway led the boys from their parking spot on the street and on each side the grass yard lay trimmed and neat, larger than the square footage of the house it seemed. The noise coming from inside the house was a jostling and warm sequence of sounds which all at once emulsified with the voices of the several kids about. Despite the unseasonably warm day earlier, it was chilly out there and soon they found themselves within. All around people smiled and got drunk and there were kids who went in and out of the bathroom, which too was painted a chic turquoise, and would snort lines of sixty-dollar-a-gram blow off their cracked iphones and tall boys with long blonde hair and red pearl-glazed eyes talked to each other over the din and paid no mind to the blonde girls who stood in their own circles and moved their lithe hips to the music and looked around with apprehensive smirks to the other girls they knew and who they thought bitches or some sort of idiot they themselves could not even fathom. And throughout this desolate spectacle Jacob and Kolby mingled as seemingly one and the same with the crowd, and passed them walked a girl.
About an hour after the two boys had awoken, Milton waddled out wearing only boxers and his brown hair stuck above his head like some kind of dejected wheat field. A new program after the news came on about the city’s minor-league baseball team which turned out to be a veiled advertisement for a string of local furniture stores and Kolby decided it was time to leave.
Take me home? Jacob said, looking up from his phone.
Yeah, let’s roll now though I’m hungry as fuck.
Wanna stop and get something?
I don’t care.
Alright. Let’s cruise.
Milton, who was in the kitchen drinking out of a carton of milk, called after them as they were rustling and getting ready to leave. You guys surfing later?
Nah, Jacob said.
She was pretty, though not anything particularly stunning. That is, not to be brazen or rude, there was simply nothing about her which an objective onlooker might perceive as anything necessarily distinctive. They were all pretty. Some were taller. Some shorter. Some who wore what looked like items fresh off the sales rack at Free People or perhaps Anthropologie — although they may have denied this last observation till their dying breaths — some being what obviously looked like anthropomorphic mannequins of some Brandy Mellville outlet. As a matter of fact, most seemed the latter. However, this particular girl appeared to be somewhat in the middle. She was of course shorter and wore snorkel blue high-top Converse and blue jeans which she had either cut at the cuffs — as the many mannequin-boys seemed to have done with their jeans that they wore three sizes too big at the waist — or they had come that way. There was one gaping hole that was ripped at her knee, and she wore a plain yet fashionable heather grey top which turned out to actually be a bodysuit and a softcropped bubble gum pink zip-up hoodie. Her hair was short, although not particularly so, and nearly black. She was cheerful and a pleasant conversationalist and although not what some might call witty or charming — to her credit, no one there could be described as such — she was nonetheless delightfully innocuous.
While not typically a heavy drinker, this night was an exception. Earlier that day she and a group of her friends took advantage of the unseasonably warm and sunny day and went down to the beach to drink and pretend it was Summer. Three bottles of sixteen-dollar Korbel champagne and a one-and-a-half-liter jug of pulp-free orange juice, and no one up and down the beach save for women who looked like the mothers of children in their twenties and sunburnt men with straw hats or visors and some walked their dogs. While the four girls were finishing up the second bottle of champagne, one of her friends received a text from a boy she was seeing about a party and asked whether she was going or not. Her friend replied yes. The girl was going to have the following day off work, and now with plans for later that night too, she saw an opportunity to have some innocent and deserved fun — and so she did.
With the goading of her friends as a response to hearing her plan, she popped the third bottle of cheap champagne open and took two large gulps until her friends’ giggling and joy forced bubbles out of her nose. She wrinkled her face in an exasperated smile and coughed until her eyes were red and teary with laughter and her head had the familiar headache of processed grapes and sun.
Hours later, after she had gone home to take a shower and change, still tipsy from the earlier afternoon’s outing, she found herself walking through a party which although not all that large or boisterous or fun, was nevertheless bearable. She knew plenty of people there and she made her rounds and greeted everyone with a similar drunken helloohmigoditssogoodtoseeyou. Later, after a couple of hours of conversation and shots of raspberry Svedka and drinking a beer from a boy who was a friend of hers and smoking a couple of cigarettes in the backyard with a group of girls who she did not like very much and sticking all the while close to her initial four friends who she had arrived there with, she walked past a group of boys who had just shown up. With the group of boys was Kolby and Jacob who she did not know and therefore did not understand to be wary of — in fact, very few understood this. She smiled at Jacob. In her drunken delight and freedom she walked past them with a friend next to her and accidentally stumbled onto the lap of a green-swayed couch and fell into it with a cute clumsiness and sat and laughed with her friend and Jacob came up to her, and Kolby followed.
There was no smog. The day was clear and all for the quiet and persistently cold onshore breeze which strolled across the water not a flaw could be found in the day. Above, the sky showed clouds like torn apart cotton balls lain waste to the wind and time and the palms bent back accordingly.
The two boys sat in Kolby’s truck that his dad had bought him and they ate their food and through their full mouths they laughed and talked. They had known each other since elementary school, although it hadn’t been until eighth grade that they began to form what could be called a friendship. They initially bonded over the normal things all boys bond over. Mutual friends, interests, and a general lack of appreciation for anything too serious or what could be considered dull. Not that these boys didn’t have a deep connection — they did. It is simply that the interpersonal adhesive which bound them to each other especially in those initial adolescent years was a weak mucilage only proven in its utility by a tried and tested series of millennia. Yes, they had a connection. However, as the years trotted on in their slow and oftentimes painful step the boys seemed to cling to each other for less the innocent and normalized reasons and more for a single common trait that seemed able to permeate every aspect of their friendship — albeit in some spectral and unspoken way that went undiscovered and unknown by all others who were lucky or maybe not discerning enough to peer through their opaque facade of normalcy.
After they finished their food a man in his late-sixties crossed their path. He rode a silver bicycle that looked worn out like him and he stayed on a straight course in the bike lane. Jacob smiled coyly and remarked at what a good time the man seemed to be having. Kolby smiled too and started his truck and pulled out of the spot and drove on in the direction of the man.
They passed him, slow at first, so Jacob could gain the time to hurl what was left of their lunch at the man. A shameful rain of plastic and styrofoam and food with the spit of the two boys still on it hit the man and he swerved his bike and hit the curb and put his feet down before the point where he would have fallen, then Kolby sped on.
The two boys laughed like they had been victorious and around them the wind still blew like a limp sigh and the sky was crisp and everyone they saw was enjoying their day.
They are with her now. How it happened only that sepulchral night knows and it houses her. Only those whispers in the memory of those who were present that night might know and still no one can quite be sure how. It is many hours later and no one else is around. Not her friends or her family or anyone save the two boys and what they are doing to her and what they are making her do.
The sweet miasma of saliva and Cowper’s mucoid weighs the air like a kind of aerosol blight and her pale skin shivers and the boys show nothing in their eyes but a strange, sinister kind of concentration like they are trying to remember how to breathe.
They finish now.
Everything stops and a lapse of silence finally sets in.
Come on let’s go, whispers Jacob and he sounds like he has wads of paper in his mouth. A frantic rush to dress and reconfigure courses through the blood of the boys and they are making their way to the door. Kolby looks back at the girl before he steps out. She did not get dressed with them. She lays — very still — on the floor.
After Kolby dropped Jacob off he went home. He parked his truck on the street and locked it and went inside to where his mother was on the living room couch reading a book. She looked him in the eyes and he met her gaze and she smiled at him and said hello and he said hello back.
How was your night? You guys stay up late?
Nah, not really. We just went out for a little and went back to Milton’s and played videogames.
Was that mother of his there? She said with a tone of passive unapproval.
Yes, mom. She lives there, he replied with a quick laugh.
I don’t know — I don’t know what that woman does with her time.
Yeah, I don’t know. Me neither. He said and they talked about dinner for that night and what she did with her night last night and if he was going to see his dad the next day like he had talked about and then he laughed when she told him a funny story about her friend who had recently gotten a divorce and then he went to his room after he told her he loved her and she did too.
Let me know what you want from the store. I’m going in a little bit, she called after him as he was making his way down the hall towards his room.
After he got into his room he undressed and decided to shower. The stench from the night before came off and then he laid in his bed. Kolby opened his laptop after peering into social media and browsed a frequently trafficked porn website extensively before deciding on a video that suited his tastes for that day. A casting-couch-style interview fuck with a young and pretty girl from the Midwest. She had flown into LA that morning and was getting fucked by a stranger twice her age on camera in a hotel room trashed with unfamiliar lights and men with corpse’s eyes before noon a kind of rape for some financial security as ephemeral as the many punctures that man made into her gut with that thing longer than she was deep.
Kolby finished and wiped his hands and those viscous remains on a nearby towel. He threw it across the room and it landed near his dresser. He got up, got dressed. It was getting dark outside and the wind was still blowing a dilerial yawn. In his waking moments the boy is haunted but he doesn’t know. It is a cosmic trauma, apocryphal like fanged noumena this world in which it houses. Just like the land around him there is only a kind of neurasthenia, a death in his existence and the girl is only a part of the wasteland he creates and many others create theirs as well. He opens his door and leaves his room weightless but for the towel. It stays there in some unhomely clump — very still — on the floor.