ISSUE #143: Joe Worthen, Derek Bowman, Mail The Horse

Posted: Monday, May 22, 2017 | | Labels:

Art by Derek Bowman

by Joe Worthen

The waitress is on a hard couch with the SEO expert, and it’s late and something is burning. The waitress has a braid that has been eroded almost past recognition by a double shift. The braid has got to be examined up close to even seem like a braid. The braid is on the way out.

Issue #143 soundtrack: Mail The Horse “Magnolia”

The SEO expert leans in and says in a gentle monotone:

“Let’s party all night and for the rest of our lives.” And the SEO expert has got breath that seems too hot, and the waitress says: “Oh my god.”

Someone walks into the room with a tiny burned pizza on a plate. He looks up from the pizza to the waitress with an expression of grief. He looks to the SEO expert and almost says something but doesn’t. He takes the pizza outside to probably throw it away in the dumpster, but the waitress imagines him burying it under a starlit line of poplar trees. The whole apartment is filled with smoke.

The SEO expert says:

“This scene is bringing me down.”

“Well, I’ve got work tomorrow,” the waitress says. The waitress has shifts like traffic all through her week. Every day. Always washing her black apron and her three black shirts and pulling them out of the machine in a warm black wad.

“I know a place.”

“All right,” the waitress says. “For a while.”

* * * * *

The waitress has got an attitude that is pretty shit but has two beautiful, long-term hopes that sustain her. And her face is pretty, though her body is small and featureless, which is fine because she feels like she can be added to any setting, any situation, without changing it in any noticeable way. The waitress is always approaching tables and blending in to the conversation, taking orders and fading out. This process is invisible and surgical. The waitress does take notes on a pad because, to be honest, the waitress has got a memory that is pretty shit because she can never remember more than two things at once, especially wine orders.

The SEO expert comes back from the bathroom.

“You walk weird,” the waitress tells the SEO expert.

“Everyone knows me by my swagger. Let me tell you about the particularities of my walk. I step with my right foot and bob twice, double-time, my head and my leg too, they both bounce real slight. Then I step with my left foot smooth, no bob. I developed this swagger over a week in September in 2004. I was eighteen. People see my walk now, and they know me. Even from a distance. Even in silhouette, they know I’m coming.” The SEO expert continues to walk in place without diminishing or accenting his swagger, and then he sits down and looks for a moment as if he’s about to cry.

The waitress receives her drink, which is well tequila with no further instructions. The SEO expert gets a glass of water and some cocktail with a name. The waitress closes her eyes and sees the black wad floating in a void, slowly rotating like something very large or like something very small.

* * * * *

The waitress feels like she’s come a long way over her lifetime but has no proof and no sequence of sentences or stories that bring people over to her perspective. The response is always unspoken, but she knows it reads like: If you came so far, how are you still here?

This apartment is real claustrophobic going on size alone, and there are also three dudes in there also who have been talking about a website. One of them gets up and puts Blade 2 in the DVD player. One of them passes the waitress a bong. She accepts the bong, but it seems like way too much to handle for getting a little high. She doesn’t know whether to pass it or not, so she holds it and does nothing. She would like to, if possible, take it outside and bury it under a starlit line of poplar trees.

The SEO expert takes it.

“Puff puff pass, daywalker.” He blows out a cloud of smoke and whispers: “But do you mind if we watch this? I haven’t seen it in like three years. And there is a lot to appreciate, if you give it a chance.”

“I don’t want to watch Blade 2. I think that’s normal and I shouldn’t have to defend myself,” says the waitress, quiet and direct.

They watch all of Blade 2. The waitress is always surprised and delighted when Wesley Snipes hisses at someone. The waitress never hits the bong, but she breathes so much uncirculated weed air that by the end of Blade 2 she is feeling pretty lifted. Then they put in Blade for context.

“I’ve got work tomorrow,” says the waitress.

* * * * *

They’ve got really nice bourbon here; the waitress knows the names of most of them. But she orders house tequila. The bartender, who is wearing a black vest and bow tie, pours it slow, with his chin tilted slightly away in reproach. There are oil paintings of dogs at staggered heights on all walls.

The SEO expert says: “In a lot of ways, I’m just trying to fuck whoever. But it comes from a good place because I’m actually lonely.” He smokes and smokes and smokes until his pack is gone, and then he complains in slow, aimless whorls that begin with cigarettes and spiral into numerous other areas of dissatisfaction. The waitress thinks about telling him about her two hopes. The waitress thinks about telling him one of her hopes and holding the other one back. She wonders if she ever had a third hope that she forgot like some old woman’s Moscato order.

The SEO’s glass of water is at that point that gives the waitress anxiety, just under half full, where she wouldn’t be sure whether to refill it or not. It could be too late or too soon.

* * * * *

The waitress doesn’t feel drunk, and she worries that she will never fully understand anything. Like the world is always eclipsed by the body, and she’ll never see anything but a luminous outline of herself and have to live by this small light. Maybe even her body is eclipsed. Maybe this eclipse is caused by the black wad. The black wad that she cleans and dries every day. The black wad that knows her shape. The bar here is underground, and the bartender tells the SEO expert that it used to be a bank.

“The vault is now a lounge,” the bartender says.

“Do you guys need any SEO work done?” asks the SEO expert. “I’m trying to get a pool of clients together, and I think this place is pretty cool.”

“I don’t have the authority to commit to anything,” the bartender says.

“Maybe I’ll leave my card,” the SEO expert says, but he doesn’t produce it. Instead he says to the waitress: “Did you know that I did SEO for one of the Spice Girls? It’s something. A woman like that pretty much optimizes herself for Google.” The SEO expert delivers this line with a lot of troubled intimacy, and the waitress wonders for the first time if he’s a virgin.

“Aren’t you going to drink some more of that water?” The waitress looks at the SEO experts glass, which is just under half full. He doesn’t drink any of it, though he looks at it for a little while.

“This scene is sort of bringing me down,” the SEO expert says. The waitress looks at her clear, glossed nails.

* * * * *

The waitress does a little bit of cocaine in the bathroom and looks in the mirror. The braid is totally gone. That much is for certain. There was a point when she was young and the school bus picked her up early, when it was still dark, and took her into the city. The school bus drove her by an empty field where there was nothing but a line of starlit poplar trees. She doesn’t want to think too deeply about this memory because she’s afraid of what she’s buried in it.

“They measure the alcohol here,” the SEO expert says. “They got machines on all the bottles that give you an exact pour. In the future, they will have a big device that makes all the cocktails and is full of tubes and rubber apertures and gaskets,” says the SEO expert. Like this is a simple fact.

“No one wants to get drunk off the efforts of a machine,” says the waitress. There is a long pause here. The waitress realizes they might have been to this bar already. The layout is familiar, but all of the details seem new. The waitress realizes she will never be sure. The waitress is struck by a faint nausea that could maybe be the end of her small high.

“Do you want something to happen?” the SEO expert asks and looks into her eyes.

“What are you talking about?”

“I want something to happen. With us.”

“Oh my god,” the waitress says. She doesn’t like to explicitly talk about this sort of thing. She shrugs. The SEO expert kisses the waitress. His mouth is very warm, and he doesn’t touch her except to put one had on the back of her neck. But they stop and don’t begin to kiss again. The waitress checks the time on her phone.

“I have work tomorrow,” says the waitress. The SEO expert tells her it’s still early, though it’s late, and the waitress is reassured.

Joe Worthen is a writer from South Carolina. He spends most of his time sleeping and drinking cherry lime-aid on the porch. Other stories, interviews, comics, and news can be found via his website

Derek Bowman is an artist based in Greenville, South Carolina. He attended Savannah College of Art and Design where he received an M.Arch. He dotes on Bayern Munich, MMOs, ancient warfare, and his young son. Out of research, for him, comes inspiration, and he is continually intrigued through learning. For more, visit

Mail The Horse is a five piece that was born in a basement apartment known affectionately as the Gates Motel on Gates Avenue in Bushwick. The band has been playing the kind of rock and roll that makes lady-mullets stand on end since 2010. For more, visit, stream or purchase tracks on Bandcamp, and follow them on Facebook.