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Stoney looks me in the eye and says it, and it’s nothing, except it’s Stoney. Stoney in his Docs, stomp-stomp laissez-faire sangfroid, Stoney and his curled cigarette smoke statements.
He says, see ya, then. That’s it – see ya, then, and the thread snaps and it unravels and I drive home shaking into the desperate decibels of Neil Young, windows rolled down so the winter ice can prick into my subdermal layers and I can feel the capillaries crackle.
That’s all he says – see ya, then. Except it’s more than that. It’s more than that ’cause it’s Stoney, who I’ve known since we were just swimmers in our fathers’ scrotums, concepts in our mothers’ fevered diaries. Stoney, fucking the girl of my dreams, Katerina The Sublime, Katerina who chose Stoney the moment she saw us both at Yosemite one summer, eating rum-soaked beans out of the can. I think about her like breathing; I don’t think at all – it’s an involuntary reaction of my body, except not in the alveoli, localized a bit further down. She’s a dream within a dream, all red hair and red lips and red cheeks.
And she’s his, not mine.
Not even Stoney is mine. And he says, see ya, then, and that’s when the realization guts me.
Sometimes I want to fuck him. It’s how it’s always been – worshipping the earth beneath this drunkenly enlightened vagabond, watching as he seduces every person he meets, and eating the scraps, the crumbs, that trickle out his pocket. My life is my life because of the force of him, the gravitational pull he has on entropy. It makes sense. I’m no special thing; I’m not exempt from his sociological physics; sometimes I look at him and I wonder. Sometimes I look at him and I want. And it’s not some identity crisis, because the thought of his cock sure as hell does nothing but the tiniest sliver of Katerina’s breast never fails to make my balls catch, no, it’s the vibgyoric cant to his words, that boom-boom shiver in his battle cries. He’s brightness and abandon, run through with the electricity of living, and sometimes I look at him and I want to plug into it, that energy. Sometimes I want to fuck him and feel his insides and feel like I’m inside him, inside my own life, instead of a spectator in the cheap seats.
We’re leaving a house party when he says it. Nothing special, coming off our highs, and when it starts Katerina is head-first, ass-out in the bushes dry heaving while Gills holds her hair. It’s me, Stoney, Paul, and Crux, passing around our last cigarette and discussing the oncoming heat. The past month has been unusually suffocated by rain and hail and sleet, so the dream of burying ourselves in some dry dirt has us all spewing laughter and grandiose plans.
Crux wants to go clear across the country. Just drive ’til we hit someplace hot, he says. Maybe Texas. Maybe Hueco. Let’s go climb some rocks, man. And that’s Crux, always trying to get us to visit his kin.
Of course, it’s Stoney that’s opposed to the idea, calls him out on it, says, Fuck no! extending the vowels to make his disapproval clear. Jesus Christ, Crux, how many times do we have to tell you? We don’t want to go to fucking Texas, that hick-ass, gin-soaked, flag-covered wasteland. Last time I was there someone tried to run me over with his jalopy, man. Just for being olive. Nah. Let’s go all in on this snow shit. Denali, man. Alaska! Alaaaaaaaska. He punctuates his pleasure for this idea by shimmying his hips up to Paul, who pushes him, and already unsteady, Stoney falls to his knees and laughs. You guys are pussies, he laughs, spine on the grass.
You’re the one who hates the cold, asshole. You’re the one that’s gonna be whining about frostbite on the drive up, Crux says. And look, we’re not all backwoods cannibals in Texas, all right? Look at me. I don’t have a mullet. I drive a Prius.
You don’t count, Crux. You’re gay.
We all laugh at that.
Fuck your faces, he says, flicking the spent cigarette onto Stoney’s crotch.
Yeah, you’d like that, but we like chicks, Crux.
Whatever, man. Look, so what’s it gonna be, then? We can’t go to flippin’ Denali. Any of you ladies got a float plane readily available? Princess? He looks at me this time, eyebrows raised. Think your daddy can spare us the company pilot?
I hate that. C’mon, I say. You know how my dad is. You know I probably can’t go at all if we’re gonna drive that far. I pat all my pockets before I finally remember we’re all out of smokes.
Goddamn, Morgan, Stoney says, up on his elbows now. You’re gonna own that place. You can’t tell me you can’t take the week off.
I stuff my hands in my pockets, say, C’mon, it’s not like that, and I know what he’s going to say before he says it.
Yeah it is! You work too hard, Morgan McMill, he says, mordant lips pressing into the M’s like an irate mother, and, I’ve seen how many assistants you have – you should be spending your finite, your precious, your only minutes on this sick rock with your dick in a woman and your mouth on a bottle of Jack. We, he swings his head around on his neck, indicating the others, We bastards have to work – you actually have choices!
Sometimes I want to fuck Stoney. Stoney on the ground half-drunk, half-high, spouting his epicurean bullshit and selling it, selling it with the ease lined into his shoulders, the soft curve of his brow, the open hands upturned on the grass. Stoney selling it with his body, pliant with earnestness and the simple life that thrummed underneath.
I wish it wasn’t, but it is, and I say, It’s not like that anymore, Stoney. And I say again, You know how my dad is.
Yeah, yeah. Blah blah, woof woof.
Paul, always the diplomat, ends the conversation for us. Shrugs, Whatever. It’s your life, Morgan. And he looks at Crux and says, Dude. We gotta go to the mart and get some Spirits. And he kicks Stoney, who’s on the grass now with his arm around Katerina, redheaded seraphim asleep, mouth nuzzled open on Stoney’s neck, Get up. I need some Spirits, get up. It’s cold out here.
Chemically mollified by the mere thought of nicotine, Stoney rubs his head on the grass. Even on the ground with his face next to my boot he manages to delegate with imperial command. Morgan, you’ve got work in the morning, yeah? he says. Mind giving Kats a lift home and tucking her in?
Lying Katerina down on Stoney’s bed. Red hair on his white sheets, taking off her shoes, her coat, her exposed neck Irish cream under my hands. And it’s true: I’ve got work in the morning, I should be getting home, but even then something like desperation makes me say, She’s your girlfriend; you take her home. And Stoney just laughs some more.
C’mon, Morgan. Be a good lass – take her home. And that’s when he says it. All right, breath white out his mouth, exorcising the heat of his lungs, Have fun at work tomorrow. See ya, then. Rolling to his feet, he and the boys and Gillian head down the blanketed night to Figueroa, waving their hands absentmindedly over their heads as they orbit obeisantly around Stoney, stomp-stomp-stomping boisterously in the center, the echoes of him coming back to me.
Alaska, he’s saying. Alaaaaaasssska!
The party swings stridently behind me, the yellow incandescence of its belly casting gold into the fire of Katerina’s hair, her mouth, dreaming on the grass. She’s cold in her dress, her bare arms tucked white underneath her chin, traces of a shiver running down her legs, knees apart. She smells faintly of bile, but also of powder and oranges. Everything is loud, and cold, and pungent, but none of this matters.
With Stoney’s words pressed into my heels, a branded conflagration, I go to my car, leaving the fallen Katerina in my wake. Neil whines about canyons as I drive, and I think to myself, tomorrow.