Painting by Omar Bakry
EVEN NOW NATURE UNDOES IT
by David Fishkind
Everyone Alex knew had started doing drugs. He’d first noticed it with his friends from high school. He came back from college for a weekend to find them freebasing cocaine, sitting on the curb, staring blankly at the passing cars. One in every three cars on average was a Honda Civic, Alex had noticed.
Issue #5 soundtrack: Weed Hounds "Beach Bummed"
Next was his sister: a prescription for Xanax. For flights, she’d told him, anxiety on flights, and also unfamiliar social situations, familial get-togethers, movies, until she was showing up to dinner, and, Alex had heard, her actuarial job on Wall Street with a glazed lining over her cornea. Her husband, inhaling Benzedrine, didn’t really have much to say about it. Alex’s college friends discovered psychedelics, which seemed fine as they roamed wearily through Central Park talking about transcendental writers and German expressionism, but soon became disconcerting with the introduction of needles, droppers, and the occasional home experiment. His professors talked slowly, a mix of Wild Turkey and crushed Oxycontin in their lazily tilted cups of coffee, lecturing on Newton, Locke, Derrida. Even Alex’s mother was on Ambien. He sat with his father one morning over spring break and watched nervously as the aging man hand fed himself fistfuls of vitamins induced with adrenaline, testosterone, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Alex’s dog needed a special chemical called colmipramine to quell its disturbing reactions toward neighbors, rodents, and other burdens of existence. When he exited his apartment in the morning Alex was often harassed by pintsized pushers. This had become the appellation. Four to five seven to ten year olds were liable to surround anyone between the age of fourteen and forty, forcing crack, smack, phets, drines, dope, and pope on you for a real sweet deal. Alex didn’t know what pope was but he imagined it to be a religious experience of sorts. Once when he was fifteen, Alex had taken ecstasy with two friends and gone to the local shopping mall. They’d spent the majority of the evening in Linens ‘n Things, touching feather dusters, pressing their hands up against one another. Later that night Alex awoke to find his two friends dry-humping ferociously on his bedroom floor. He never quite forgot the smell of burning cocaine. It was a sugary plastic odor, which had made him remember a childhood trip to Busch Gardens, drinking lemonade, waiting in line for the safari. For one reason or another, Alex thought. He’d sat down next to the young men, who’d once been teenagers, who’d skateboarded to the corner to buy pickles and drink Orangina, and who’d once been boys, who’d kissed girls for the first time in woods and behind dumpsters, and who’d once been children, and who’d once been not even that. Every time they lipped the pipe the sound was like a tiny steamboat engine.
Alex had applied to college in New York, was accepted, and moved into a dorm in Greenwich Village. He spent the majority of his freshman year looking out a pane glass window, thinking about sex. It was soft, Alex recalled. Life, he thought, would be like sex: sought after, short-lived. After his first year, he’d considered staying with his parents, but on a whim, remained in New York, alone, tired, working at a restaurant with a friend. He worked nights. Bussed tables. He moved into a sublet in lower Manhattan with the friend. They stayed up late after work. Sometimes they talked, most times they didn’t. In the mornings Alex would wake up early, often hung over from successions of tallboys, and think about the future. In school he planned to major in something. Writing, Alex thought, would serve well for a tiresome youth, a quiet, anti-political sentiment. He would compose a small oeuvre, well accepted early on, featuring articles on the Internet and in independent magazines, and further into newspapers, perhaps developing a cult following, eventually leading to an entrenchment in the modern literary scene—a novel, a poetry book, two more novels, short stories in The New Yorker, succeeded by a third novel, a nomination for a National Book Award, a Pulitzer, followed by a love affair, sex, expensive beer, a healthy knowledge and understanding of whiskey, a credit card, an apartment toward the center of Manhattan, sleep. Alex thought of this, masturbating to nothing. When he ejaculated, the feeling was quiet.
He registered for summer courses, and sat in the college library, behind the monitor of a large iMac. He thought, I will begin my novel this month. Intense bouts of depression were clandestine but ever-present in the library. There was a steady suicide rate, an increase in furtive amphetamine use picked up by hidden cameras in the stacks. Alex typed words. Rereading them later he was overcome by uncertainty, displacement, and doubt. His novel grew. About something, he felt, that would come to him once deeply immersed in the work. At eleven thousand words Alex fantasized about the direction of the piece: an epic demonstration of modern sociopolitical-economic commentary, highlighted by a deep-rooted intellectualist relationship between two children, perceptively irrelevant at first, but ultimately growing indispensable, plot-driven, a frame narrative, a story arc that builds two divides as one complex remark, clarification, interpretation of the jaded state of the twenty-first century. At night Alex would lie in bed, going over idioms and phraseology, considering the clout and form of a novel. David Foster Wallace, he thought, had written Infinite Jest, committed suicide after awarded with a MacArthur Fellowship. A posthumous release, Alex deemed, would be an important component to ultimate brand establishment.
From June on, a rare day dropped below ninety degrees, and in his introduction to creative writing course Alex said nothing about the initiation or progression of his novel. An exaggerated youth, and fellow students, draped in tank tops, Birkenstocks, mouths dry and open, submitted to instruction. After class, Alex jogged to the restaurant, changing clothes and applying deodorant in the kitchen, doing his best to smile and make small talk, putting away swigs of vodka from a plastic water bottle with his friend to pass slow nights. Sometimes he would go to the bathroom for long periods of time to break up his shift. Catching his reflection in the mirror, he would try to judge the structure of his face from a conceived outside standpoint. Alex contemplated shape, size, symmetry. He did this best he could, then quickly looked away.
This was the summer the mayor had made public statements at a press conference regarding his addiction to dissociative anesthetics. A head full of Ketamine, he declared he was checking into a top rated rehabilitation center in Arizona. There had been a great public admiration for the man’s bravery, and he was filmed embarking on a government issued helicopter. There had been no word of his situation or progress for two months, though things in the city carried on as usual. The morning commute, public sanitation units, the parks swept, trimmed. The economy was steady; people looked more at peace. Crime rates, while citizens anxiously awaited an anarchic overthrow of consumerism, the fears of bloodstained Best Buys and burning Sunglass Huts, were static—dropped even. There was an instance in Union Square Park in which a large homely man, visibly packing, approached a couple of drunken Port Washington high school students. The scene looked like an opener to an episode of Law & Order. Instead they talked about the Yankees game for a few minutes, swapped some stories, and ended up at a late night diner, discussing the interests of a post-capitalist economy.
In creative writing class Alex sat, looking forward, evading eye contact. He had small glass bottle of San Pellegrino Sparking Natural Mineral Water, which he put to his mouth infrequently, thinking about what he would make himself for dinner later. He had bought shrimp from Trader Joes, he thought, which would make a good scampi dish, with the purchase of garlic, yellow onions, linguini, and lemon juice. He had a large bottle of virgin olive oil on his bookshelf. Months earlier Alex had invited over a friend he’d met at a concert. They had emailed for a little while and eventually began to meet in informal situations. They made dinner and listened to punk music on Alex’s laptop. Alex had watched the acquaintance saturate pizza, salad, and sandwiches in olive oil, which Alex later tried with pleasure. That night they drank beer and played cards with some other people they knew. Someone said that if you immediately chased a shot of whiskey with a shot of pickle juice, the two canceled one another out completely. They all tried, and Alex slowly began to lose face; he spoke in a louder voice than usual, saying things to and about people. The friend said it was time for him to leave. They hadn’t talked much since. Alex would check his email, hopefully, up to forty times a day: mostly he received messages from Ticketmaster and The Bowery Presents. His professor said something about Gertrude Stein, and Alex said he liked Gertrude Stein. He looked around. There were lots of people in the small room; there were no windows. Alex opened his mouth. He poured some water in and closed it nervously.
Mornings kept happening the same way; Alex was always tired, had no facial hair, no erection. His novel had commenced at about one thousand words a day, and as summer faded, so did Alex’s drive, self worth, productivity, to five hundred, two hundred, and sometimes five or six days would pass in such a way that he became too nervous to even look at the document. The beginning had to be reedited constantly, fearfully. It was the most important part, he thought. Though it lacked a sense of propriety. People would not read on if they did not enjoy the beginning, Alex knew, and applied weeks on the first two thousand words, focusing intensely on the use and placement of words such as humanoid, condensation, and merde.
He’d had a girlfriend. She was a year older than Alex and had gone to France for a short trip in May and failed to return. He found that he had not thought of her for most of the summer, and stretched out on his bed, looking up at the ceiling, There Will Be Blood playing on his laptop. There was no evidence that they’d ever had a relationship. No pictures, letters, notes, anything. The forcefulness of expressing love was not a goal of theirs and in bed they would touch each other, getting exhausted by the exertion of emotions. Sex, they agreed, was not worth the effort, and the objective of simultaneous orgasm seemed hilarious and alien. Dates were trips to Chinese restaurants in the West Village, Chinatown itself being too much of a haul for them with nothing truly interesting to talk about. They lay in Central Park on clear days and studied for classes. Turning their faces into the grass, pushing their lower backs against tree trunks. They slept facing opposite directions, and the first to wake up would get up. There was no expectation or incentive to lie with one another, and they made separate breakfasts with different steps and different preferences. The relationship was not tedious, but felt comfortable, and hours could pass easily, no words or glances exchanged, on the Persian rug Alex had received for his birthday, in the library, at the plastic kitchen table. They told one another when their nails were getting too long or when they looked a little fat, and they cut each other’s hair, as evenly as they could with no background or training. And one day Alex had asked Laura what her favorite band was. She had lay silently beside him, fully clothed under the covers, looking at the ceiling. Alex counted two hundred nineteen seconds, waiting for her reply: simply “I don’t know.” And then Alex had thought what his favorite band was, realizing he had none, and not just that: no favorite movie, book, food, color, hobby. He turned to her, grinning. But Laura slept quickly, prone to falling out as early as eight or nine. Her teeth softly began to grind, and Alex put in pink foam earplugs and lay on his side, watching the sky through his blinds get a little bit darker. That was April. Alex’s ceiling was stained, yellow dots forming a fish scale pattern, lulling above his face. He heard his laptop. It said, “Get liquored up and go to the Peachtree dance.” He turned over onto his stomach, put his face into his sheets. Alex remained that way for some time. The earth revolved around the sun at 29.8 kilometers per second, and light moved at 299,792.458 kilometers per second, and an object traveling near the speed of light dilates time, contracts in length, and a person traveling near the speed of light will be younger than a person remaining on the earth over the same period of allotted time. Alex’s laptop stopped making noise. He sat up. The sheets where his face had been were wet.
Alex’s novel was sixteen thousand words when he deleted the file. There were backed up copies through email, hard drives, library computers: Alex deleted them all. He bought six packs of beer, twelve packs on occasion, and looked at the wall for hours at a time, its patterns shifting slightly in the heat of August sun, while visible particles of dust floated sarcastically through the air, landing and bouncing and moving on.
On the Internet Alex logged onto eBay and felt calm. He bid one dollar and fifty-four cents on a blue vintage Ralph Lauren Polo pullover sweatshirt. There were only a few minutes left on the bid. He bought a small, black American Apparel flex fleece zip hoody for half price. He checked the status on the Polo sweatshirt. He had been outbid. There were five minutes left on the auction. Alex watched the screen intently; he considered his options and decided to use an eBay strategy he’d read about on a forum. Anticipating the final bid price to be between four and five dollars, he typed “5.01” in the bid box. He counted down with the ticker, and at eight seconds he clicked “Bid,” followed by “Confirm Bid.” Alex’s bid was placed with five remaining seconds. He refreshed the page and looked at the auction history: someone had bid four dollars and seventy-five cents at the same time as Alex. He received an email. The subject line said, “You have won eBay Item Vintage Ralph Lauren Polo Sweatshirt Sz. M 250573035945!” A pressure overcame the front of the inside of his face; one that traditionally preceded grief, and Alex felt as if he was going to burst into tears. The sensation passed, some weight on his chest, he touched his cell phone. It was almost five in the afternoon. Alex had not showered, his skin was oily, he felt, and touched his nose, lifting some grease onto his finger. He gently rubbed it on his chest. He dialed Laura’s number and listened to the ring for a minute or two. An answering machine relayed the digits that made up her contact and stated that the owner of this number’s voicemail inbox was full. Alex opened his mouth; no words came immediately, and leaned to the right, exiting his body against the whitewashed concrete. He spoke to no one, “I won a vintage sweatshirt on eBay. What did you do today?” He pressed a red button on the cell phone and closed his eyes.
Alex went to a grocery store in his neighborhood. He ordered a drink made from beets, carrots, apples, lemons, and ginger. The drink was red and stringy pieces of produce stuck to the roof of his mouth and between his teeth. He thought about calling a friend from first semester of college, but imagined him to be at The Cloisters, wearing cutoff shorts and a tank top, a sheet of paper, then placed to his tongue, quietly experiencing an internal excursion, lying in the grass. Alex picked up a small bag of organic whole curry dry roasted cashews. He brought them to the cash register. He paid for the nuts, walked to a coffee shop, finished his drink, threw it away, and asked a young woman, age nineteen to twenty five, in a floral dress if there was Internet. She said yes, and asked if Alex would like tea or coffee. He said, “French press,” looking at the woman’s cleavage, then at his shoes: they were two years old, made of cotton canvas and rubber. He said, “I will be sitting there,” and pointed to a chair next to a steep flight of narrow stairs. The woman smiled at him, and Alex imagined telling her his name, and asking where she lived, but sat down and opened his laptop. His headphones were on and a band he thought he might like more if he gave them a chance played loudly. Two people held hands across a table next to Alex; they looked over at him and smiled. The music was too loud, he thought, and turned it down, anxiously avoiding their field of vision. Alex typed words in an email draft, and the young woman approached him with a miniature French press. She looked at what Alex was typing and possibly smiled, but possibly didn’t smile, and Alex’s analysis of the situation was that he was being judged, and he thought he no longer liked the woman. He moved the position of his laptop out of her eyesight and said, “Thank you” in a neutral and direct manner, and the young woman looked down at her feet, which were petite and yellowish, mostly exposed in ballet flats.
Later Alex’s roommate invited him to a party in the East Village. Alex felt anxious, but agreed to go along. His roommate smoked a joint on the walk north, passing it sometimes to his right, where Alex would hold it for a moment, weighing his options, in which time it would be casually taken away, dragged, and returned to its position of indecision. Alex thought about how he must look. He couldn’t picture himself. He lifted a hand to his face, and let it idly drop. A homeless person sidled up to the two from an erratic direction. He wore ripped jeans and a t-shirt sporting the words “the truth must be revealed.” There were no shoes. Alex grinned at the homeless man. He said, “Sup.”
The homeless man sauntered left, right, his course was indirect—the motion reminded Alex of a scorpion he’d seen on Animal Planet, lying at home on soft carpet, silverfish huddled deep beneath the floorboards. “Get laid, get money,” the man whimpered.
“Get bitches,” Alex replied.
At the party there was a couch, bright red, mostly clean, and empty. Alex sat down. His friend walked forward into a group of people Alex knew on acquiescent but avoidable terms. Beers appeared in front of Alex and were emptied. Thoughts transformed into projections of thoughts, and Alex considered this while placing his hand where he expected to find an armrest, but instead found the pale thigh of a girl. He knew the girl from something, probably school, and removed his hand as soon as he realized its placement, though it seemed to have rested upon the skin much longer than Alex wanted. The girl looked down at Alex and smiled. Her lips were nice, but a little too dark in complexion, Alex noted. He reciprocated eye contact apprehensively glancing down at his shoes, hands, back to her face every couple seconds. She said, “Alex.” He could tell she had blown painkillers simply observing the manner by which she spoke. Her lips opened slowly and stuck together upon separation, causing an especially unattractive stretching of the skin of her mouth. Her eyes were cocked slightly, her nose discolored, breathing slowly, her hair not quite as it should be. Alex averted his eyes from her mouth to find her breasts. He averted them further to find the wooden floor. Who in New York could afford wood in their apartment, he asked himself. The cadence of the question felt vague to Alex.
He awoke later on the couch, the sky outside still dark, something preventing a steady inhalation. His throat was not quite sore, but blocked, and he staggered slightly to the bathroom. Looking at the mirror, he opened his mouth widely. Inside, Alex’s uvula had become stuck to the roof of his mouth. Pushing it with his tongue, the adjunct dropped, dangling. It had swollen such that it touched the surface of his tongue, its shape thick and cylindrical, its weight laden. The effect of a purple flaccid appendage seemed disconcerting. He added salt to water and gargled longingly, stolid, maintaining eye contact with himself in the mirror; the girl slept in the tub by Alex’s feet.
Outside, the night was still bent by something Alex could not define. There was a worn out sense of disposition, a gangrene sort of latency. He walked downward somehow, into a grounded disbelief, a future not his own. There were moles in this place, the sort of human, which, not accepting its fate and letdown in the overworld, had come to peace in the wet, darkness of loam. And deeper there seemed to be another thing, blank, ancient, exposing itself and allowing itself to experience the exposure of others. And further still there was a rock and a blanket and a place to place one’s head, fully, decidedly under the mass. The urge to push the inside of his face against the outside of his face seemed to overtake Alex. And he moved forward into the night, south, not sure of the temperature, the direction of the wind variable, a growth steadily ripening in his chest. He could see no people out, but for a group of grade school children, who walked up to Alex and said things to him and pushed things in their hands at him. And though he towered above them, Alex was easily overpowered, tackled to the ground, and in moments he was stripped of belonging, kicked callously in the ribs and between the legs, left bereft, derelict. Time passed. He preferred to not reflect on how much. Standing up, Alex looked at the endless rows of buildings before him and realized there were things in his apartment, and there were so many things in his apartment, and he imagined that each thing had its own things and those things their own, each collecting more things to put in his apartment. And maybe he was just a thing, a thing in somebody else’s things. And more. He moved through space. There was a likeness to this summer, Alex knew, and to this life, and for a timeless instant a word came to him—one that could describe earth, existence, purpose, in a plane of pluralistic self-invoked philosophical extensions—but was lost as soon as it came.
David Fishkind is nineteen years old and lives in New York City. He is the author of Baby Hedgehogs and American Apparel Dogs and is working on his first novel, Step Cousin. His favorite foods are beer and kale. He blogs at david-fishkind.com.
Egyptian artist Omar Bakry was born in Sweden, and later moved to Egypt where he graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts. In 2007, Omar moved to New York where he continues to work on art and exhibit work at NYC galleries such as Elmo Lounge, Naiagra, The Greenpoint Gallery, and Aeon Logic Art Gallery. Visit him online at omarbakry.webs.com.
Weed Hounds, a four piece from New York, recorded their demo a year ago in a friend's basement. It was released on cassette by Austin's Crooked Direction label. "Beach Bummed" is soon to be released as a 7" single via Iron Pier Records. This summer they will embark on their first tour with Boston-based Girlfriends. Visit Weed Hounds online at weedhounds.tumblr.com.