“You smoke it like – here. Yeah, like that.”
“Hold it in. You’re not holding it in.”
A shattered cloud, exhaled. I looked to him for a flick of the eyes, maybe a chuckle. He was good with that kind of thing, the eyes. The laughter. He had this smile that could burst your fucking heart. I toyed with the vapor pen, twirled it once before handing it back. Seven Moscow Mules into my night and I wasn’t crying yet, and I considered this a small war won. We looked at each other for a second and I made him want to kiss me. Long and hard, the way of cinema and all things theatrical. Again.
Again, I said.
The Strip bustled because it was Friday night here, and there, look all around you: A trillion lights smeared down to the west. Cars honked into the east, drunks hobbling their way home after Bar Marmont made good on the promise to treat them, and their livers, kindly. We sat on the edge of a cement ledge guarding the parking lot to the kind of taco place everyone warns you about. It’s the guac, I’d heard. Maybe that’s why people got so sick. Or the meat. Yeah? Maybe. We could see everything though. Laugh Factory shined tacky-bright; I’d gotten friendly with the owner of the place recently, Laugh Factory dude is what I called him, mostly because I laughed at all his bad jokes, of which he’s got a lot. So we hugged when we saw each other out at the bar. He’d do a little set and I’d laugh. Once, he looked at me, drunk, and joked I was probably so fertile I’d have a baby in eight months instead a’ nine.
A car swerved near the gas station. There, up there to the north? The Hills, baby.
I shivered under my sleeveless blazer, a draping thing that frames you in a violent blossoming if you walk the right way, which I always made sure to do. I wore it special for today. For tonight. I’d gone for my run earlier, got my five miles in amidst a daydream of how eyes might wander to me as I blossomed, how the Men might perceive me this time, specifically, out of all the times they had admitted admiration for my person. This outfit, I kept thinking, would be The One. Collected and casual and with such slick verve, the Men would be darting to me like fruit flies on a hot day. And me?
Mashed mango magnificent.
“You have a good relationship with your dad. Obviously,” he said after a drag. I gave him a sigh and a guffaw, hoping he’d notice some quiet exhumation of the soul, some shift in me. He didn’t. “So, how many guys is it going to take for you to feel attractive? Huh?”
I motioned for the pen and tried to hold the vapor. “I dunno.” My throat burned after a few seconds and so I exhaled with the slightest wheeze. I suddenly imagined myself a practiced smoker in her seventies, derailing on the smallest details of a dull life long lost. “It’s that,” I said, coughing to scratch the burn, “I just get sad. And that’s different. Because of the guy before.”
“You get sad. You’re gonna let one fucking gay guy make you sad?”
“He wasn’t gay. It’s just… I’m the plaything, I guess. Nothing more than that, and that’s my vibe out here. That makes me sad.”
“People treat you like that, it’s because you’re probably giving out that vibe.”
“No, no. It’s like, porcelain-doll syndrome – everyone wants to look, no one wants to touch. All these guys? They want it, but they don’t go for it. They’re afraid I’m gonna break or something.”
“That’s not how it is for me.”
I rubbed his back. I coughed. “Look, you ever feel so fucking sad that it becomes nauseating? Like, you’re emotionally nauseated. You’re gonna throw up. I was at work a couple days ago and I thought, oh my god. I’m going to throw up because I feel so fucking rotten right now. A spiritual flu. I thought I was gonna have to go home.”
“And it gets so bad sometimes that it’s just this emptiness. This vast emptiness, so completely empty that it turns in on itself, an inversion, and it intensifies to the point of actually becoming dense. It’s that empty. That’s why you see me trying to laugh all the time.”
“Some of the laughter seems fake, I noticed.”
I swung my legs. A woman and her friends stumbled into an Uber for their ride home. Looked like one of the nicer cars, a pricier fare. I wondered if the Man with them was gay, or straight and hoping to get a fuck.
I looked over again and we didn’t kiss this time. We just looked. That by itself has its own positives, its own trials and tribulations. You can ebb and flow with a look like that. You can shatter someone with a look like that. You can bring someone back to life with a look just like that.
“I’m doing this for you, y’know,” he said. “It’s to protect your emotions. Women – they feel it more than Men. I feel like they do. Unless you’re so emotionally dead – “
I snorted. “Me. Definitely me.”
He let me have another smoke.
“Well, alright then. But this is for you. I dreaded telling you. And I still think you’re amazing.”
And this was the moment in which I wanted to cry. The vodka churning in my stomach, the vapors seeping into my nasal cavity, that god-awful smell of burning chemical: all of it latching onto my brain stem and climbing, rooting into me, pincers of an alien persuasion. I slumped while it happened, let my aggressors take hold. I wanted something to take hold at least. If this person beside me wouldn’t do it, something else would. And it did. That swirling majesty of depressants and soft-core hallucinogenic grabbed me in a gut-punch and absolutely fucking flayed me.
But I still couldn’t cry.
He cleared his throat. “It’s just complicated, is all.”
My lips twitched into the grimmest of grins, jack-o-lantern lit, a kind of mouth-y upturn so constricted with anger and masticated shock that it threatened a horrifying psychosis. “Look. My mother said something pretty great to me back when I was complaining about my last boyfriend. I kept saying it was too complicated. And she said that it wasn’t really complicated at all. It’s actually really simple. It’s so fucking simple. Just ask yourself: are you happy?”
“Well. Sometimes I’m not. But yeah.”
“Are you happy, though? Ninety-nine percent of the time, are you happy in general?”
He laughed about that. “Oh, you know.”
“Then do what you fucking want. Go be happy. And, y’know, we’re creatives. We romanticize everything. You’re just romanticizing all this because it’s more beautiful that way.”
He eyeballed me, facetious. “Very profound.”
We walked down the street. I crowed that the Men hated him for stealing my affections. A lot of them. Men with families, Men on soap operas. Men with things to say, things to be done. Men who didn’t even know that they hated him yet.
“But, y’know, I think I like that.”
“I’m sure you do.”
I sat on his lap at one point, too drunk to stand. I worried I was too heavy for his knee but he didn’t seem to mind. My mind’s eye cried looking at him, morbid anguish creeping. Why had I wasted the last month on such a person? Why had I wasted a single iota of my being?
We found Sunset Blvd once more, and he hailed a hulking black SUV that seemed suspicious. My cab ride home for the night. The Man inside eagerly accepted me into his vehicle. The door stayed open, my would-be person standing there and waiting on a kiss.
The door closed.
“Usually twenty-five for fare but I give you deal. I give you twenty,” the driver said. He started the drive. “He boyfriend?”
“Something like that but not really. Not anymore.”
“He has a girlfriend. Who lives with him. I didn’t know that until now. Something like 2 years with her. But I didn’t know.”
“By the cafe. Here. Up the street. Yes. Make a left. Thank you.”
The driver stopped the car and I shuffled my money – nineteen and not a dollar more in my wallet. I looked up at him, intoxicated puppy-dog eyes. Bruised ego. Mussed hair.
“Is nineteen okay? I know you said twenty.”
“Is okay. What is… uh, what is mood?” he slimed. “Huh? He didn’t care for you. I could care for you.” He wrangled himself to lean into the back. I felt my entire body tense.
“No. No, please.” I got out of the car. I found my keys.
“What is mood? Miss?”
I somehow found the building. I somehow found the elevator. I somehow pressed buttons leading to my home. I slid a messy key into the door and locked myself inside.
What is mood?
A shattering. A disengagement. A chill. A sweeping sorrow. A disappointment. A sickness. A longing. An aching for something I never even had in the first place.
The Men, the fruit flies – they’ll sense that, though, which means they won’t come to feed, and so I forced the best smile I could. I climbed into bed and laughed, even.
What is mood?
I laughed and I laughed.
Mashed mango magnificent.