WAS THIS THE WORLD
by Jane Liddle
Deedee buzzed Omar’s apartment to no response. An old lady came out of the building, pushing an empty plaid cart in front of her. Deedee smiled at the old lady as she slipped past her into the apartment building. She walked up the M.C. Escher staircase that was falling in on itself as if the building were deflating. The hallway smelt like cat litter. On the third floor she knocked on Omar’s door and it opened slightly. It had been left ajar. She went into Omar’s apartment and felt uneasy. She walked through the kitchen and noticed that dishes were drying on a dishtowel on the counter. There was a fresh bouquet of tulips on the dining room table, yellow with orange accents. Tulips were Deedee’s favorite flower and she tried to remember if she had ever told Omar that. The apartment smelt like lemon floor cleaner and looked like it had been mopped that morning. The remotes for the TV system were laid out in a row on a glass coffee table that bore no fingerprints despite the sunbeam angling through the window. At the end of the apartment was Omar’s bedroom. The bed was made strictly. Deedee noticed the closet door was open and she looked in. Omar was hanging there. It was ugly.
Issue #89 soundtrack: SW/MM/NG "We Do It All the Time"
Ocean sounds filled Deedee’s ears. She walked back to the kitchen and shut the apartment door all the way. She knew she had to call the police, but she didn’t want to call from Omar’s apartment or from her phone. She was there to deliver weed and she didn’t want to interact with the cops.
She managed another look at Omar, and said, “Oh, God.” She didn’t believe in God. She believed in outer space and brains on drugs and not much else. Wait, that’s not true. She believed in dogs.
Deedee stood in the middle of the kitchen, smelled the tulips. They didn’t smell like anything. They were bred for looks only, and they were beautiful. Deedee looked out the window and saw the old lady on the corner talking to another old lady with a different plaid cart. She waited until the old ladys’ conversation was done and for them to walk away. Deedee left the apartment, closed the door behind her, and heard the lock latch.
She continued with her deliveries, consuming the early-spring sun like water. She stopped by the sixth-floor walkup right on the BQE, and when Sandra asked her what was new Deedee said, “Nothing.” She went up to Queens, to a block away from the cemetery, and when Darrel asked her what was up, Deedee said, “Nothing.” Deedee then walked to the new condo building by the Pulaski Bridge, telling herself to just get though the evening, to pay a little extra attention to the sunset. When Lizzy asked her what was new, she said, “Not much.” She told Lizzy she really liked the new couch. “It’s like a canoe.” It really was.
Deedee finished her deliveries. People were out in the newly warm night like fireflies. She stopped by Sister’s, the bar where Omar worked as a bartender. Parker stood behind the horseshoe as Deedee sat down, ordered tequila. She noticed Parker’s scowl was more pronounced than usual. “What’s up?” Deedee asked as she finished the tequila in two gulps.
“Just had to work an extra shift because Omar never showed.”
“Is that normal for him?” Deedee was unpleasantly surprised by her own nonchalance. She ordered another tequila.
“No. He’s usually early. But he recently quit drinking.”
“Why’d he quit drinking?”
“Guess he was an alcoholic.”
“Tough gig for a bartender.”
“His phone is going straight to voice mail.”
“He seems nice.”
Parker looked at her wisely. “Didn’t you have a fling with him?”
“Yeah, you don’t seem like his type. I actually thought you’d be good for him.”
“I don’t think he’s interested in anyone being good for him. Or to him. I’d be useless.”
“Don’t start. I need one customer who doesn’t use me as a sorry repository.”
Parker studied Deedee’s face. “Come with me to the soup kitchen tomorrow.”
“How good are you at keeping secrets?”
“I’m pretty good at it.”
“I’ve been delivering weed for eight years but my mom thinks I’m a receptionist at an acupuncture clinic.”
“I know she’d never try it.”
Parker wiped down the bar top next to where Deedee was sitting. It smelled like semen.
“She probably would be okay with me being a bartender. I could work here.”
“Omar’s only missed one shift, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He makes the best mojito I’ve ever had.”
“Right. I’ll see you later.”
“You sure you’re okay?”
Deedee placed her money on the bar top and left before she said something really stupid.
During the walk home, Deedee thought through the details of her relationship with Omar, and everything she knew about him. She had been delivering weed to him for almost a year. Five months ago he came on to her. She wasn’t against sleeping with customers as a principle and she wasn’t against sleeping with Omar as a matter of attraction. At thirty-nine he was six years older than her, and seemed lost, like her, scrounging up a living that was part customer service, part psychotherapy. Their date was a quick dinner at a burger joint. In bed afterward they talked about their families: his a family of immigrants and engineers, hers a family of educators and beach-lovers. Their siblings were successes. Their parents were still married. They talked about abnormal psychological disorders and what had been removed from the latest DSM. He was impressed that Deedee knew the Latin names for insects, an odd party trick that gave the impression of a scientific mind with a touch of Nabokovian romance. The truth was her mom was an entomology professor and used to read her scientific papers when she was a kid to put her to sleep.
Omar told Deedee that really beautiful women made him angry. He told Deedee that there was a really beautiful woman with reddish pink hair who came into Sister’s who always bitched about her boyfriend. The beautiful woman told him that she had recently begun turning off the ringer and vibrate on her boyfriend’s phone so he’d miss calls from other women. Omar said that he didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t just break up with the person, why she didn’t just date him instead. Deedee said that maybe the beautiful woman didn’t really do those things, just thought about it, as if she was trying on actions like clothes. Maybe she was a liar. Omar said that Deedee didn’t make him angry. Deedee said thanks then realized it wasn’t quite a compliment. He asked for her real number and she gave it to him. In the morning, she left before he woke up.
When she got home after their date she Googled him. At first the usual social network profiles camp up. After some deep Googling she found his blog written under just his first name. She read his thoughts, analysis, and rants on the unfortunate state of American women and the anti-male, anti-social destruction of feminism. She read about how there was a beautiful woman with reddish pink hair who always came into his place of work and would beg him to go home with her. But he knew she got off on her boyfriend’s jealousy so he never took her up on it. He hated her for it, hated that she wanted to turn him into a beta under her boyfriend’s alpha. He described what he really wanted to do to her. He used the word “hate” a lot in his blog posts.
What was especially confusing to Deedee was reconciling the ugly way Omar talked about women with the tameness he had demonstrated to her during their night together. Sure, he had negged her with that “doesn’t make me angry” comment, but otherwise they laughed a lot. He gave her the impression of listening to her advice, though now Deedee suspected it was just his resting face, something perfected by way of being a bartender. If his writing was any indication, he’d have nothing to do with Deedee, she being about thirty pounds heavier and six years older than his ideal. She had recently developed a permanent line on her forehead, which couldn’t have improved things. She wasn’t shaved. But most important, she was a feminist, and not a secret one.
She felt proud that she was able to break through his wall of hate and insecurity and that he accepted her. She felt disgusted by that pride. This guy was supposed to hate her. If he didn’t, then she was doing something wrong.
Three days later he had called on her personal cell but she didn’t answer right away. She waited four hours before returning his call, during which he asked her to the movies the next day. She said yes on instinct.
When she met him at the theater he told her he had already bought the tickets.
“What movie are we going to see?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Okay. Anything but Spring Breakers.”
“Seeing a group of barely legal girls in bikinis dance around a racist portrayal by Franco isn’t my idea of romance.”
“Didn’t know you were such a prude.”
He took her to see Spring Breakers. Afterward Omar tried to bait her into telling him what she thought but she just shrugged in a variety of manners. She did concede to get a drink with him because she was thirsty. At the bar he drank a large glass of scotch. She had white wine. When he went to pay he sloppily took out his pocket contents and laid them on the bar top. She noticed the ticket stubs were for The Hunger Games.
She didn’t go home with him after the date. She went to her apartment and drank her own scotch.
The next day she went to his blog to see if he wrote about her. He called her fat and a gold digger, which she expected, though it still stung. She continued to read his blog for a couple more months after that out of curiosity and also to see if he wrote about anything else about her. He never did.
He had only called her personal cell one more time before switching back to her business cell, which she responded to.
The next time she was at his place to drop off weed they acted as if nothing had occurred between them. He showed her a video on the Internet of an elephant drawing an elephant and she laughed. He told her that his older brother accidentally killed many of his pets when they were younger, usually by stepping on them. His chameleon lasted a month, a turtle two, the hamster four months before his brother crushed it with a door. She told him that was horrible, trying and failing not to laugh. She considered dating him again to change him but remembered that she had given that up for her thirtieth birthday.
He started ordering deliveries with greater frequency and she entertained the idea that it was a ploy to see her more, but no, he was just getting high more. Then he stopped. The morning of the suicide was the first time he had contacted her in two months.
When Deedee arrived back at her apartment from Sister’s, she didn’t even take off her jacket before turning on her computer and opening Omar’s blog. This was the first time reading his blog in a while, having got caught up in a series of phone games with nonsensical levels and diminishing maneuvers in reaching them. The last entry, which was the day before:
The girls at AA are even dumber than the drunk girls at last call. At least the drunk girls know what they are. The AA girls like to convince themselves that they shed the sluttiness with the alcohol, but they don’t. They’re still sluts. Just boring in a different way. On top of that it’d be considered a dick move to have sex with drunk girls while sober. Can’t fucking win.
It went on like that, a bunch of nonsense about perceived levels of sluttiness that managed to deny any sort of internal life on the part of the sluts. Deedee read previous blog entries but there weren’t any references to suicide or even out-of-the-ordinary depression, just the general ennui that had settled over an entire generation like an astrological cloud combined with the defeatist, depressing posturing of a man that found no sweetness in heartbreak or magic in people.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there were the comments, disturbing in their thorough misogyny and pitiful in their praise for Omar. The men, and some women, wrote to Omar in the comments as if he were some kind of older brother or guru, offering him advice on protein drinks and the correct frequency one should masturbate. They wrote with the certainty and fervor Deedee had only seen on medical forums about homeopathic solutions for psoriasis. Was this the world? Deedee’s faith in humanity sunk to a low depth, and that’s not even factoring in her own current actions of walking away from a dead man.
Deedee shut down the computer and went to bed, playing a game on her phone called “Cosmic High,” the premise of which was to accumulate large quantities of drug paraphernalia in record time by clicking on the correct planets. She played until the early morning, then slept terribly.
The next day was usual. The sun glowed and the sidewalks smelled of hose water. Birds played in street dust. Deedee’s first customer was Frank, who invited her in for some mint tea, which she accepted. Frank seemed distraught and Deedee asked him what was wrong and he relayed a dilemma about how his sister kept telling him to lose weight, which just made him want to eat more. “But I can’t bring it up with her because she is really sensitive and doesn’t take criticism well. I want her to stop, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“Sometimes being sensitive is an act of manipulation.”
“Maybe you overestimate her sensitivity.”
“I don’t, trust me.”
“But what do I do?”
Deedee shrugged. She knew enough to know that he wasn’t really asking.
By the afternoon Deedee admitted to herself she wasn’t going to call the police ever. She went back and forth between shame and excitement. Shame, for obvious reasons. Excitement, because she had discovered this new dark part of herself that she could peek at when she needed a little thrill, like discovering a longtime husband wanted to be tied up. A little something she could whisper over hard alcohol and ice, over a cigarette smoked during late pregnancy. “I found someone dead and left him. Don’t worry, he was an asshole. Kind of. I think.”
That evening, Deedee helped Parker at the soup kitchen, where she met a lot of people doing great small things, and other people who were more good than bad except when it came to luck. It was the last place she wanted to be. She couldn’t talk about her problem there, and the longer she was there the more she felt she couldn’t talk about her problem at all.
Deedee, Parker, and Parker’s friend Terrence went out for drinks afterward, at a dive with a terrible jukebox and a pool table with three eight balls.
“So have you heard from Omar?” Deedee asked.
Parker shook her head, said, “Wow, you really want his job, don’t you.”
Deedee ended up going home with Parker’s friend but stopped things before they made it to his bed. Terrence asked her what was wrong and she said that the Earth had gotten heavy, that humanity was putting on weight. He nodded like she said something deep and kept kissing her. She was a little drunk. This didn’t stop Terrence from trying, right up until she got up and was at his front door, which he didn’t walk her to. She gave him a little wave and he nodded at her, began texting someone.
Omar had posted on his blog every day. Sometimes twice. Sometimes it was short, just a “Good night, idiots,” type thing. But nothing was posted on his blog for two nights.
The next day, a Friday, Deedee dropped off weed at Lucy’s, who had a new puppy. It was hard for Deedee to leave there. Then she went to Donna’s right off St. Marks. She had cancer. Donna offered Deedee some ginger tea but for once Deedee declined. Her day went like that, until Manhattanhenge, when she stood a few blocks from Union Square and watched the sun make sense of humanity. For a few minutes.
That night there were more comments on Omar’s last blog post speculating where he was. Maybe he was in Thailand! Deedee signed in under a pseudonym, “Darling,” and wrote a comment about how she slept with Omar six months ago and how he was really sweet and made her pancakes and sent her flowers. She was describing someone else, someone’s dad when the kid was at the mom’s. She wrote how it didn’t work out between them because beautiful women made Omar angry. Many of the commenters sent her private messages asking her if she wanted to hook up and to send a pic. A few women sent her messages that were hostile. She wrote back to some of the women, telling them not to waste their time with Omar, that they could do better. From the messages she received, it was obvious that they didn’t believe a word Deedee said. As the week continued, commenters continued to speculate about Omar’s absence. They became irritated that Omar wasn’t posting, begging him to post again, angry that he was letting them down. They got into little fights about who among them was a pussy.
Then news broke that a man named Omar was found decomposing in a Brooklyn apartment for twelve days. The police were called when his coworkers said he was missing. That, coupled with the smell in the hall, convinced the police to break into his apartment. Within hours people on Omar’s blog put two and two together. Commenters were heart-broken and shocked. They detailed personal virtual interactions and memories. They struggled to make sense of the suicide and came up with the caricature of a man troubled by demons and women but mostly demonic women. Also, AA, that fucking cult. It was scientific fact that people were more likely to commit suicide after AA than when they were still drinking. Some commenters were helped by AA, though, so an argument broke out over that.
And after another month, the comments dried up and the blog stood as an untended gravesite.
Deedee comforted Parker and other coworkers and patrons over the tragedy, on what they all could have done differently and what they should have known. One patron even brought up the fact that Omar had a blog, but Deedee just nodded as if uninterested. She took over his shifts at Sister’s, called her mom the minute she was hired to say she was a bartender now. Soon enough talk of Omar turned to talk of difficult girlfriends and crappy bosses and ugly stalkers. Deedee did shots with patrons late at night and managed to not go home with them. She didn’t volunteer at the soup kitchen again. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly burned by the human race via nasty subway altercation or shady locksmith, she reread Omar’s blog, searching for clues not just about why he killed himself, but why he chose her to find him, why he chose her at all. She came up with nothing.
Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have appeared in Two Serious Ladies, Wigleaf, Whiskey Paper, Specter magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She recently finished a short story collection and a flash series about murder. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at liddlejane.tumblr.com.
Brad Beatson is an artist living in New York City. He is the art director for Passion Of The Weiss, and he recently designed a pair of shoes for Bucketfeet. For more, follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.
SW/MM/NG is a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based quintet comprised of Brian Kupillas (vocal, guitar), Jared Hennessy (guitar), Joel Paul (bass), Jack Lloyd (keyboards), and JD Paul (drums). The band is currently touring (see dates here) in support of their long-awaited full length debut "Feel Not Bad," which releases this week from Old Flame Records.