Dan’s roommate, Chris, keeps saying, “Hi, I’m Chrisopher, have a drink…”
You keep saying, “Hi. Thank you, I will.”
You touch shoulders with him while the gin glub-glubs, and then the tonic, and they even have limes.
“So what’s your sign?” says Chris.
You laugh and go on the balcony to look for Dan, and then back inside, to his room with the old mattress.
Dan comes in holding a new drink, breathing hard after he fetched his CD book from downstairs.
Dan has changed his glasses from horn-rimmed to a thin, gold wire, so his brown eyes are visible. It appears he is no longer afraid of wearing shorts, and his thin calves glow pink and tan, with small white circles around the hair follicles.
You tell him what you like about every band he puts on, in a loud voice. You can’t tell if he is pleased but he keeps playing them, one after the other. He removes his disco ball helmet from his head, and puts it on yours.
You say, “Tell me about the music.”
“Tell you all about the music,” Dan repeats. “Some’s mine, some’s Chris’. I don’t know. It’s good. It’s all good.”
The short-haired girl that Dan was talking to earlier enters the room. You take off the disco-ball helmet and give it to Chris, who puts it on. Chris leans toward you, reflecting spots on your face.
“Don’t worry,” he whispers. “Don’t worry about Dan.”
Katie from Applebee’s calls again. She says she’s bringing her friends to your birthday party and she wants directions.
You say, “Which friends?”
She says, “Like, probably Mike, and Rob, and Austin. We can just have a few birthday drinks and fuckin’ rip it up, yeah?”
“Yeah,” you say. You wonder if you should tell them that this party is not your birthday party. You think of other ways you could spend this night, but nothing comes to mind.
Dan has left the room.
Right before you went to college, he told you he had liked you since the first time he saw you, but that it would never work. You would be too far away and not here, in your hometown, with him. Then you consented to sleep with him in the sort of half-attic that was currently above the two of you, pasted with Frank Zappa posters.
Katie and her friends arrive. You bring them to the basement. There are the three boys, Ross, Mike, Austin and another girl named Kelsey. You have never seen them before in your life.
The five sit around you lifting their glasses and saying, “Cheers, to the birthday girl.”
“What else did you do to celebrate your birthday?” Katie asks.
“Oh, nothing,” you say.
“Come on, you must have done something.” She is smiling.
“I’m here, haha.”
She says, “That’s something.”
Austin is stocky and wearing a yellow t-shirt. He stands up and claps once. “Let’s check on the upstairs, y’alls.”
Dan and Chris are lost in all the people and you are not as drunk as you thought, or you are and you don’t know it. Everyone is wearing black again and you are getting sweaty.
You tell Katie not to invite anyone else to your birthday party.
“I think it’s funny,” you say, “They’re all here and don’t know why.”
She nods. Maybe she can’t hear you.
Katie’s friends yell at everyone in their way and begin to play darts.
Dan is on the dance floor, with Chris and the girl with short hair. You look at him a lot over the floating heads. Here he comes, from dancing, winded.
“Come dance, birthday girl,” he says. “It’s my last night.”
Dan’s looking at you while you’re dancing, even though you’re red-faced and your hair is wet again. You keep your arms down but you shake your body a lot. Maybe you are drunk. You don’t know. Dan is, now. He’s sweaty, too, and dancing like a wild man. His skinny body flails and his eyes are half open and every once in a while he smiles his thin-lipped smile at you.
You ask him right in his ear, “Why are you going to Italy?”
“Because I got a fellowship,” he says back, close to your neck, and your ear heats up. “And I have to get out of here.”
“I know how you feel,” you respond.
“This place kills me.” Dan grabs you closer. “It drives me insane.”
“Me, too,” you say, and your blood is pumping as you’re pressed against him, and you see everything he sees. By all accounts, your realities are the same.
“Speaking of insane,” you say into his neck. “Guess what?”
“My real birthday’s actually a few days away,” you tell him.
“What?” he repeats.
“I just said it to get out of work, and then kept going.” You laugh.
He laughs, and there is that gap of silence between songs.
“Why couldn’t you just wait until your real birthday?”
Because your pelvises were touching, and you were finally in the same place. He would get to peel off and never come back, but you had to stay right where you were. Even a few days, to you, is the same sort of eternity you find in novels and dreams, where time is distorted.
“The day is not the point of the birthday. The point of the birthday is the party!” You gesture around you.
Dan has sort of backed away, dancing bodies between you. That song, “Stuck In the Middle,” by Stealer’s Wheel comes on.
On your real birthday, you would also be working at Applebee’s. Your parents had even suggested meeting you at the restaurant after your shift, and eating dinner there.
You realize how sad all of it is. Problems of Philosophy would say it is only sad because you perceive it so, but there is also some part of you that would like to know if it is objectively this way. That it is not just you.
Dan disappears, and you let him.
Chris is sitting upright on the couch with the disco ball helmet on, asleep. The house is empty.
You walk home in the dawn. Your next shift starts in seven hours.
That afternoon, you call your college roommate, the one living in Hawaii. She answers, sounding muffled.
“Is your mouth full?” you ask.
“Yeah, I’m eating a pineapple I found on the side of the road.”
You say nothing because you are walking on the sidewalk on 17th street, pausing to let a wheelchair pass.
“You can do that here,” she continues, and you can almost hear the acid juice trickle into her cheeks. “There’s fruit everywhere.”
“Guess what I did last night?”
“What?” she says, chewing.
You contemplate telling her that it was your birthday, or perhaps that you told everyone it was your birthday, but maybe she will tell you that you are depressed, and you would rather not hear that from someone who is eating fruit off the side of the road in Hawaii. That was all over now, anyway.
“Nothing. Never mind. I wish you could be here.”
“It’s this place,” you tell her. “We should drive somewhere. We should drive to Vermont, or something. This place is killing me.”
“All right,” she says. “We can go on a roadtrip when I get back. Maybe go back to school.”
“This place,” you repeat, and you try to forget the summer already. You want to forget it before it happens.
“You’ll be fine,” she says.
You watch an ambulance depart from the retirement home, lights only but no sound, in no hurry.
“I’ll be fine if I can just get out of here,” you say.
If you tell yourself it is true, it is. If there is sadness, it is only here. You will leave and everything will be better and different, because why not? Soon you will turn nineteen, and that’s the way your mind works.
Front page image by emmma peel.