In Which The Inside Of Pacey Is Everything I Expected

You Make A Beautiful Ranchhand, Pacey

by DICK CHENEY

The Affair
creators Habai Levi & Sarah Treem

Noah Solloway (a craggy Dominic West doing his usual terrible American accent) has sex with his wife on a Thursday. He is on top of her when she starts laughing. He asks what’s funny? “You were making a weird face,” she explains. They have three kids together, but he uses this as a reason to cheat on her with a depressed waitress named Alison Lockhart (the English actress Ruth Wilson, whose accent is better but barely passable).

I have always been kind of a Wuthering Heights guy, but the new Showtime seriesThe Affair is entirely uninteresting until Joshua Jackson takes the stage. He plays Alison Lockhart’s husband Cole, and he has kind of rapey sex with her in their driveway. Alison lost her child, and visits the grave often. It’s clear she wants to be with the more English of the two men, but she can’t because reasons.

Pacey lets his wife work catering jobs to pay for his Xanax smh

Noah witnesses one of the more disturbing sexual escapades of Alison and Pacey as he is out for a scenic stroll on in the greater Montauk area of Long Island. “Cole and I had anal sex,” Alison blurts out to her sister-in-law. When someone confesses one thing to you, they are nearly always hiding something more. Infidelity is only actually feasible in urban settings or beach towns; otherwise too many people see your car.

Noah masturbates in the shower while thinking of the borderline crime he accidentally strolled upon. His wife (a gorgeous Maura Tierney) offers to join him, but since he has just ejaculated on the floor of the shower, he declines. Are you really all that surprised that Fiona Apple sings the theme for this show?

Wife and girlfriend are in Montauk, heart is in B-more

Noah and his wife are staying with her parents, and they are not all that nice to him, I guess because they think he is faking the accent? When he is out with the kids he sees Alison selling jam at a local fair and dramatic piano music starts playing. He is completely nonfunctional for the rest of the day. The Affair replays some of its scenes twice, once from the male perspective and once from the female. You only get to see Dominic West masturbate the once however.

But honestly who cares about all this, Pacey is back and he’s a creepy ranchhand! I dreamed of this; I even wrote weird fan fiction where Pacey was the president of the United States and the First Lady cheated on him: it was so sad.

“I met my wife at Williams” is the beginning of most murder mysteries.

Even though Noah has a Macbook Air (2013 edition) and a loving family, this is still not enough for him. “I’m just bored,” he whines to his wife. He has a lot of balls to cheat on her and complain about her, he should really pick one. He also tells his daughter her dress is too short, which I regard as inappropriate. The Affair feels like something that happened in the late 1990s; people are reading print books (wtf?) and no one has a Galaxy Note.

The irony of course is that Noah’s wife is actually a great deal more alluring than his mistress. It is more that Noah is really tired of her parents, but that’s the thing about dissatisfaction. It is incredibly contagious. The mistress actually has kind of a weird, off-putting set of lips and her shape looks like a smoothed out dumpling. “Marriage means different things to different people,” Alison explains to Noah. “Not to me,” he says, unaware perhaps that this makes no fucking sense at all.

riding without a helmet is the dumbest thing anyone can do

It’s amazing that white people have all this time to cheat on each other, or even that anyone would want to cheat on Pacey. “How many times have we had sex?” Pacey’s wife asks him. “10,000?” Who would ever get bored of that smooth beard rubbing up against their thighs, except everyone Joshua Jackson has ever loved?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“No Shadow” – Young Statues (mp3)

“Flood” – Young Statues (mp3)

 

In Which He Stops Himself Just When You Need Him To

Before He Opened His Mouth

by SARI BOTTON

Somehow you wind up on the topic of his wife’s vagina.

“It took Terry three months to even lubricate again after the baby was born,” he says, and you’re shocked.

But more than shocked, you’re buzzed from the two glasses of house Chablis he poured you. And so you notice that as Steve Alessi’s mouth forms the “lu” in “lubricate,” his lips round off into this cushiony, slightly lopsided ring. You want him to say that word again, or anything with an “oo” sound, so you can estimate just how much play there is in the spongy matter beneath that very soft-looking pink skin. You hope he says something “oo” soon, before the wine makes you forget to watch his lips.

“She also suffered post-partum blues,” he informs you. There you go – “blooooos.”

But he’s been talking about how he almost lost his wife during childbirth two years ago – gets this super sad look on his face every time he says “summer of ’90”  – so you feel guilty for ever having flirted with him, and you question what the hell you’re doing there. You begin to wonder if you’ve misinterpreted all the looks you’ve received from Steve Alessi across the office over the past six months. You review all the looks you’ve volleyed back, and want to shoot yourself.

Then you consider where you are – a dimly lit midtown bar on a Friday evening – that there’s only a carafe of cheap wine and a small wobbly table between the two of you, and that it was Steve’s invitation.

Of course, you prompted his offer to go for a drink. You were a basket case when you hung up with your ex-boyfriend at the end of the day. Before pulling yourself together in the bathroom, you took a detour to the water fountain near Steve’s cubicle and did a little extra pouting in his line of view.

A few weeks back you wouldn’t have done that. You had gotten to know Steve Alessi better, and you thought you’d lost whatever interest you’d ever had in him – even though you never imagined anything would have happened anyway, him being, like, a real grownup, and you being just out of college. You continued to flirt with him even after you lost interest, because it was the only fun part of your job, and because for some reason it felt important – really important – to keep him liking you.

To your friends from college, Steve Alessi is known as your “flirt partner” at work. Your magazine works on a buddy system. You share your Tandy IBM clone desktop computer with a computer partner. You share the monthly task of filing photographs after they’ve run in the magazine with a photo partner. And you share looks and lines with Steve Alessi, your flirt partner. You have always believed it means absolutely nothing. All you think you’ve ever wanted from him is attention. It’s not like you actually wanted him to touch you.

Tonight at the bar you can’t help but wonder whether it’s more than attention he wants to give you, and more than attention that you want. You wonder if it’s entirely far-fetched to think he thinks something could happen tonight.

He is doing his best flirting. It’s much more effective than his usual office routine, because tonight he’s not clumsy and obvious, and because tonight there is wine numbing your brain, and because tonight you need a big boost – your ex-boyfriend blew off the date you made to talk about maybe working things out after all. You’ve been living out of an old gym bag all week, sleeping on friends’ couches, waiting for the chance to talk, and hopefully go back to your boyfriend’s apartment – to go back “home.”

And so tonight you forget that at the office, Steve’s gotten to be nervous and awkward when he has the opportunity to talk to you, that he tries too hard to impress you. He knows you studied dramatic writing in college, and so he drops the names of obscure playwrights he thinks you think are cool. But you’ve never even heard of them. And he actually shakes when he comes close enough to offer you a Breath Saver. In fact once he dropped the roll as soon as your finger touched it. That was when you thought you’d lost interest for good.

“Oopsie daisy!” he said, as he bent over, reminding you of his age. Eesh.

But before he opened his mouth, Steve Alessi was perfect. You felt strangely electrified every time you caught him staring at you from the other side of the office. Sometimes when you were bored, you’d stare off on purpose, making the better side of your profile available to his gaze.

He at first seemed way too attractive and cool to be writing about the insecticide business for a trade magazine called Pest Control Monthly – which is the way you’d like to think of yourself, too. You used to like that he had a whimsical twist to his yuppie style – the too-wide vintage ties, the retro hair cut, short on the sides, long on the top, like Michael Steadman on thirtysomething. You liked that on Fridays he wore his old Levi’s that you imagined he still had from college in the 70s with a sport jacket, and you liked that he wore them with worn out hiking boots instead of Top-Siders or penny loafers like the other grown up men in the office who were too daddyish, especially when they tried to pull off that end-of-the-week relaxed, casual look. Steve Alessi seemed, when you first started writing for Pest Control Monthly, genuinely relaxed and casual. And – just – hot.

This evening he is somehow hot again. At the bar, there are no clumsy Breath Saver offerings, no absurdist or Situationist playwright name-droppings. Steve Alessi’s flirting is subtler than ever before.

In fact, you’re not even sure he’s flirting. After all, he’s talking about his wife, his marriage. He’s giving you advice on how to get your boyfriend back, how to convey to him that commitment is not such a difficult thing, even in your early twenties, take it from a guy. He blushes every time he says his wife’s name, Terry. And every time “Terry” passes through those plush lips, you hate yourself for thinking he might have ever been flirting with you. He becomes more appealing with every soft utterance.

Then, somehow you get on the topic of childbirth, and somehow that leads to the climate in Terry’s vagina, and there’s something about the way he’s telling you that makes you wonder whether this means he’s thinking at all about yours, and whether you’d even want him to be. You try hard not to think of that TV movie about a burn victim whose lips are repaired with grafts of her vaginal tissue. Trying to not think about it makes you laugh out loud.

“Are you feeling better?” he asks. “You seemed so sad earlier. Like a little girl with a broken heart.”

You tell him that this breakup is the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through, harder than your parents’ divorce when you were ten.

“Some days, getting out of bed, or even doing the smallest tasks, seems impossible,” you say, a throat-lump forming, your voice cracking, your eyes filling. “You know what I mean?” You’re afraid if you say more, you’ll cry.

Oh, fuck it.

“Like, the other morning? I found getting dressed a major challenge,” you add, one tear escaping from your left eye, “and I was just putting on this one-piece jumper thingy.”

He hands you a tissue, and tells you he knows that jumper thingy. And he likes it.

“Does my flirting help or hurt?” he asks.

You think he’s just admitted to his half of your flirting partnership. But you’re a bit drowsy from the third glass of wine he poured for you, which killed the carafe. He is studying you, smiling at you in this warm way.

“Um…I mean, it’s flattering, the flirting. You know? It’s fun.” You hear yourself giggling, but you don’t feel as if you have anything to do with that. It’s just happening; it’s something you’re hearing. The laughter stops when you see Steve Alessi’s hand reach across the table. It is aimed directly at your face, head on, and you can’t imagine where it’s going to land…until two of his knuckles gently clip your nose in that got-your-nose way your dad used to grab it.

“You’re a good kid,” he’s saying – not really what you want to hear right now, but it doesn’t matter, because he looks like he wants to be saying, “I love you.” You don’t want to like that. But you do. So you’re just sitting there, smiling this relentless smile and not moving.

You and Steve are staring at each other, dead on. If you weren’t drunk, you would be uncomfortable right now. The waiter seems uncomfortable. He drops the check and you and Steve reach for it simultaneously. His hand lands on yours and you both laugh and say, “No, I’ll get this,” at the same time, and then Steve picks up your hand and the next thing you know, he is kissing the back of it. Those lips are pressed against your skin and they’re as warm and as spongy as they seemed.

It’s not just one of those, like, courtesy kisses, either. Steve’s eyes are closed. He is not letting go. And you are not pulling your hand away. You wonder whether you should be. You know you should be. But this kiss is warm, and, well, warming. You wonder what this hand-kiss could possibly mean to Steve Alessi.

“Why don’t you let me make you dinner,” he says to you with your hand still in his. And before you can even think of dry-crotched Terry, Steve adds, “My wife stays in Sag Harbor for the summer,” which puts a look of shock on your face, even though you are trying very hard not to look that way. And so Steve places your hand gently but purposefully back on your side of the table and begins to nervously laugh and explain away. No, he didn’t mean it that way, and of course nothing would happen between the two of you, blah blah, blah blah, blah blah.

“I’ll tell you what – you can even stay over if you want,” he says. “I’ve got a two-bedroom, and so you’d have your own room. You know, then you won’t have to go all the way downtown later. It would just be better for you since you seemed so lost earlier. I don’t think you should be alone tonight…”

You want him to stop talking. You wish he weren’t trying so hard to cover up and seem so unmistakably platonic, because he’s making a fool of himself and confusing you all at once. Wasn’t he just kissing your hand with his eyes closed? Wasn’t he stunning just a minute ago? You can’t imagine how the same man can seem alternately so attractive and so repulsive from one minute to the next. You wish he would just pick one and stick with it.

In the subway on the way to his apartment, you and Steve bitch about your jobs at Pest Control Monthly and generally concur on which geeky reporters remind you of certain insects. It would be funny if you hadn’t had this exact conversation with him three times already. Even with a heavy buzz, you don’t need to think in order to feed him your lines on cue, and so you use your time between responses to wonder…Is it at all possible that you will sleep with Steve Alessi tonight? Do you even want to sleep with Steve Alessi? Will you go to work Monday knowing what Steve Alessi, your flirt partner, looks like naked?

Steve steers you into an Upper West Side liquor store a block from the Alessi residence and grabs a bottle of some special Chardonnay he likes, on which he then delivers an entire dissertation. In the elevator, though, he’s back to the business of bugs, expounding on his fascination with the mating habits of the Kalotermitidae termites.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “The king will work and work to get the queen’s attention, but in the end, it’s all about his scent. After a while, based strictly on that, she’ll either kiss him or diss him.”

You think he’s just used the word “diss” to show he can relate to people your age, and you hate that. If you weren’t right at his door, and deeply intoxicated, you’d probably find a way to escape. But here you are.

His apartment is filled with a cozy mix of garage sale antiques, functional Formica and pseudo-country natural wood Door Store furniture. In a corner of the living room sits a Pack-N-Play, littered with colorful toys. You sink into an over-stuffed, pseudo-shabby, vintage-looking sofa while Steve opens the wine bottle in the kitchen. You try sitting all the way back, with your butt in the crevice between the couch’s back and seat, but your feet don’t reach the floor, so you lean forward. You search for some object to get involved in so that when Steve comes back into the living room, you won’t look like you’ve just been sitting there, wondering what he thinks you think your being there actually means. You choose the big coffee-table book about Florence.

“GREAT city,” says a smiling Steve Alessi as he returns to you with two very full wine glasses. He has removed his sport jacket and his oxford shirt, so he’s down to a Hanes on top, old Levi’s on bottom. “Ever been to Firenze?” he asks, rolling the R, in case you forgot he was Italian.

You take a huge swallow of wine and then tell him you were there two summers ago, with your boyfriend. You mean your ex-boyfriend.

The word “ex-boyfriend” has a hard time making it out of your mouth. You’ve said it, but it feels like it’s still in your throat, and then it goes down into your stomach, which starts to ache, and then it goes back and forth. It’s like one of those vomit burps. The word “ex-boyfriend” is like one of those awful vomit burps.

“It’s his loss,” Steve Alessi says as he puts his wine down and moves a little closer to you on the shabby-chic couch. “He doesn’t know what a great girl he’s giving up.”

Now he starts to rub your back with one hand. He begins in big, consoling circles around your frame, then wide stripes up and down your spine, and then he concentrates on your neck, opening and closing his palm around it. At first you resist but then you let your shoulders down and lean your head forward. You close your eyes and Steve brings in his other hand. He lifts your shirt a little and starts making tiny circles with his thumb in the small of your back. This makes you a little nervous, and reminds you of junior high over-the-shirt/under-the-shirt distinctions.

You realize you should put your wine down. You are holding your glass with both hands between your knees, and every time Steve Alessi kneads your body forward, something gets splashed – your tights, the pastel Dhurrie rug, the Florence book.

Steve takes one hand away and you look up to see what other task he’s found for it. He is dabbing splattered wine off a full-page photo of a Botticelli in the Florence book. He looks concerned. But that doesn’t stop his other hand from massaging your neck.

“Which gallery did you like better,” he asks, “the Uffizi, or the Pitti Palace?”

You take another swallow of wine and ask him to repeat the question. It’s not that you didn’t hear it – you just want to watch his mouth maneuver the “U” in Uffizi one more time.

“Did you do both, the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi?” Yes, you tell him, while noting that that the “oo” view is even better in profile. “They’re both overwhelming,” he continues, “but I prefer the Uffizi because it’s curated more categorically.” Here we go again – he’s trying to impress you, and you wish he would just kiss you instead, before his charm wears off once more.

More wine. You’re so mellow. Almost numb. (What was that about him making you dinner?) You are staring at those lips with eyes that are way out of focus. Steve’s hand has stopped moving. It’s just holding the back of your neck, warmly.

He moves in.

You move in.

The kiss begins.

It is so soft and warm.

And it is cut off by the fucking phone.

Steve jumps up abruptly to grab the extension by the window, which throws you off balance, and so you drop your wine glass. It hits the edge of the blonde wood Door Store coffee table and shatters all over the parquet floor and Dhurrie rug. The Botticelli is soaked and so are you.

“Hi, Baby!” Steve Alessi exclaims over-enthusiastically into the receiver, and then mouths, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll get it,” to you, about the spill.

Steve is dabbing your kiss off those spongy lips with a pink paper napkin, and he’s pacing and talking fast. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until tomorrow, but what does that matter? How’s my beauty?”

The word “beauty” sticks you in the gut. Then the throat. Then the gut. You run in search of a bathroom. You make it just in time to throw up neatly, without making a bigger mess than you already have in the Alessi household.

As you’re leaving, Steve actually begins to try and convince you that it would still be a good idea for you to stay, but he stops himself just when you need him to.

You ask him to put you in a cab. He offers you a Breath Saver. You could use one. But you decline.

Sari Botton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Rosendale, NY. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Fiona Ackerman.

“Hotel Anywhere” – Cold War Kids (mp3)

“Hold My Home” – Cold War Kids (mp3)

In Which Aldous Huxley Takes A Trip With His First Wife

Around the World

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Just tired and busy and amazed and amused and charmed and horrified. – Maria Huxley, in a letter

In 1913 Aldous Huxley began to lose his sight. His eyes clouded over, his vision was “steadily and quite rapidly failing. I was wondering quite apprehensively what on earth I should do.” After seeing an oculist, it was decided that a milder climate might help him, so Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria Nys went to Italy. Their son Matthew spent the first four years of his life in Florence and Rome.

Matthew was an extremely large and difficult child. Aldous and Maria were a bit taken aback by who they had created; Matthew Huxley would later become a prominent epidemologist. The child was a picky eater and stuck to a vegetarian diet, causing Aldous to remark, “he realizes that meat is dead animals.”

Matthew had no desire to read, which made him the polar opposite of his father. The entire family was practically grief-stricken at the young boy’s non-literary habits; only Aldous was able to be patient with him. “Too early a passion for reading distracts from the powers of observation,” he told everyone.


The whole family liked Italy, but Aldous was the only one who admired it, more in theory than in practice. Florence never suited him; it was more a place where culture had been rather than a city where it was. He chose Rome as the young family’s landing spot. “After a third rate provincial town,” he concluded, “colonized by English sodomites and middle-aged lesbians, a genuine metropolis will be lively.” They could not stay in Italy, however, as fascism was in the air. They left Matthew in Belgium with his grandmother and took a boat to Bombay.

Aldous despised the architecture of Lahore, and loathed Kashmir worse. They kept incredibly active, fortified by a gnawing fear and the weight they burned off from their time in Florence. At Srinagar they visited the lunatic asylum.

Every place that they visited, Aldous asked question after question, ostensibly as research for a series of articles that helped pay for the journey. He also did it when he felt he did not have something himself to say.

An attempt to travel second class did not go well – a holy man spit his mucus all over their car – so they paid the extra rupees for first class, money they knew they should not be spending. Maria could barely eat the food. “India is depressing as no other country I have ever known,” Aldous wrote. “One breathes in it, not air, but dust and hopelessness.”

Aldous was most put off by the beliefs of the people he met. “A little less spirituality,” he wrote, “and the Indians would now be free – free from foreign dominion and from the tyranny of their own prejudices and traditions. There would be less dirt and more food. There would be fewer Maharajas with Rolls Royces and more schools.”


He was not impressed at all by the Taj Mahal, and told everyone so. “These four thin tapering towers,” he wrote in Jesting Pilate, “are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands.” Whatever one thinks of the Taj Mahal, it seems a greater dissatisfaction with the world and his place in it may have been the cause of this observation.

Things got better as soon as they left Calcutta for Burma. Dutch ships took them to the Philippines. From there they landed in Japan, taking the train to Kyoto and departing via Yokohama. Aldous watched Maria’s eating closely, preventing her from having too much caviar, the only food she felt comfortable consuming at sea.

Japan was almost as nauseating to Aldous as India, but for different reasons. Kyoto was “such a collection of the cheap and shoddy, of the quasi-genuine and the imitation solid, of the vulgar and the tawdry.” The industrial city did not suit Aldous’ taste at all:

Little wooden shacks succeeds little wooden shack interminably, mile after mile; and the recession of the straight untidy roads is emphasised by the long lines of posts, the sagging electric wires that flank each street, like the trees of an avenue. All the cowboys in the world could live in Kyoto, all the Forty-Niners. Street leads into identical street, district merges indistinguishably into district. In this dreary ocean of log-cabins almost the only White Houses are the hotels.

with D.H. Lawrence

San Francisco was next, and from there Maria and Aldous took the Daylight Limited train to Los Angeles. They did not stay long in any one American city; Hollywood was “altogether too Antipodean to be lived in.” (Aldous would spend the majority of the rest of his life in Southern California.)

When they returned to England from New York, Maria went to see Matthew while Aldous stayed in England. It had been only the two of them for so long.

While they were apart, Aldous wrote Maria long letters. They prefigure a latent unhappiness that would lead him to dalliances with other women, but also the connection that would allow the marriage to survive his mistakes until Maria died of breast cancer in 1955.

I think myself it’s rather nice to be busy and practical on the outside – and daydreams, as you call it, inside. The things one cares about are all inside, like seeds on the ground in winter. But one has to attend to the things one only half cares about. And so life passes away.

Luckily, the inside thing corresponds with the inside thing in just a few people. I think it is so with us. We don’t fit in very well outside – but the inside corresponds, which is most important.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Bowls (Gavin Russo’s Rework)” – Caribou (mp3)

“Odessa (Junior Boys mix)” – Caribou (mp3)

In Which We Place Boundaries And Accept Fate

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

I recently met a guy who I will call Toby. Toby grew up in circumstances very different from my own, and has a very complicated relationship with two sets of parents – his adoptive parents, and his birth parents. Without boring you with a family history, both sets of parents come with their own foibles and nuances. Although neither is what I would call a destructive influence on Toby, the resulting time commitment from maintaining these complex relationships takes it toll. For example, one of his dads expects Toby to watch football with him all day Sunday, which seems asinine to me.

I think I am in love with this Toby, but the incredible amount of baggage the situation represents is immense now and only threatens to become moreso as things become serious. Toby has asked for my advice in dealing with this, but not only am I not sure what to say to him, I have little idea with how to deal with this myself or if I should just bail before things get worse. Thoughts?

Eliza H.

Dear Eliza,

Sounds like Toby’s coming down with a classic case of the, “I’m a young adult who needs to learn how to create and enforce boundaries with my parents.” You can suggest this, but making him do it would overstep your boundaries as a romantic partner.

Position it like this: “Honey pot, you seem stressed, and I don’t see you as often as I’d like. Is there a way for you to scale back your commitments? It seems like it might be good for everyone.”

We all have parent issues, but allowing them to encroach on our burgeoning adult lives is madness. If Toby’s addicted to the drama or too scared and won’t even consider it, it’s time for you to exit the cluster.

Hi,

Is it possible to be in love with two people? I’m seriously dating this one guy, but have been falling for a close friend at the same time. When I’m with one, I barely think of the other. When I’m alone, I fantasize about both, at different times. What should I do?!

Clarissa R.

Dear Clarissa,

Yes, it is possible to be in love with two people at the same time, especially if you are Shia LaBeouf. It is a common fallacy that all our needs can be satisfied by one person; I believe this hokum was perpetuated by Jesus or Margaret Thatcher, I forget exactly which one. Since you are not married to either of them, enjoy these precious days.

There is a more limited kind of love we can have for people who we respect and treat us well. There is no word in English for it, but the disgusting substance called ambergris that come from the digestive system of a sperm whale is perilously close. This kind of love comes from inside us, is expressed when we are being loved and cared for and appreciated, but in truth is not “true love” as you probably thought of it after you finished Frozen.

You will know the real kind of love when you find it, and if you never do, perhaps it is something that you cannot actually feel. Then you might be regretful that you didn’t keep playing these two saps longer.

Transitioning a boyfriend into a friend is impossible, but transitioning a too-close platonic friend into a boyfriend is as easy as waking up. Platonic friendships that contain the seeds of an unrealized sexual chemistry that is never fully consummated are one of life’s great pleasures until you are 25. After that it’s just bullshit.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

“Love Gone Wrong” – You + Me (mp3)

“Break the Cycle” – You + Me (mp3)

In Which When It Happens We Have Already Slipped Out

photo by thomas bollier

Heavy Sleeper

by MAUREEN O’BRIEN

I’m not telling the whole story. There are intentions to which I am blind, which have almost certainly dictated that certain parts of the truth have been be occluded. I can’t tell you which parts, because I am engaged in hiding them from myself. So I’ll tell a story as if it were true, and hopefully it will hold together by some mutual tensions of its component parts.

Pete and I met early in the school year at a party. It was cold for October, but the room was so warm that the windows dripped with condensation like the walls of a shower. I can remember noticing his body first, seductive with a drumming energy.

“Good evening.” His teeth were surprisingly white for a musician, and square. His hooded drunk eyes slipped open and closed around the room until they landed on me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you,” I replied. It was a lie; I saw him almost everyday in the back of the library. McGill had a strict no-shoes policy to protect the library’s wooden floors, and I blushed, realizing that I even recognized the socks he was standing in now.  “And what’s the story with the dog tags? Are you planning on dying in battle?”

“If I die, it will be doing my duty, baby.” He swung a leg over the top of the grubby couch and climbed down next to me. The corroding leather sagged and our bodies edged together. I breathed in his smell –  nicotine and old spice.

“I’ll tell you what though,” he smiled at me with those big white teeth. “I’m bored to death here.”

That night I felt so alive I could barely breathe. We left the party together and he kissed me hard in the bitter winter cold. I wanted more of him, and had to fight a compulsion to scream. As he unlocked his door I tried to slow my breathing. Entering the tight stairwell, a wave of heat rose from his body in front of me on the stairs. Shadows fell over us as we wrestled in the darkness. Mystery made me hungry and my hands reached for every torrid part of him, felt the weight of him, untamed and rapacious. His dog tags swung from his neck and the cold metal hit my lips. I grabbed a hold of them, pulling him closer. My sense of time and space refracted, and everything collapsed into this minute.

photo by thomas bollier

I woke up to the taste of metal in my mouth. I was jarringly sober and naked, breathing in the unfamiliar smell of his apartment, moist, sultry and far from fresh. He stirred and I slowed my breathing, allowing only my eyes to slit back and forth. Who was this man? His bedroom didn’t tell much. A basement apartment, it was claustrophobic and sunken, with a tiny window above the bed that looked out onto the ankles of passersby. His bedside table hosted an array of things and I began to conjure up an idea of him. This was a man who chewed spearmint gum, and had a sewing kit. He owned an antique portrait of a woman propped up on the floor next to crumpled up athletic shorts. He read Descartes in French, and bookmarked passages with guitar pics. He was also a heavy sleeper, indifferent as I slunk out of the bottom of the bed against the wall. As I tiptoed up the stairs, giddy from my escape, I began to piece together the night. Unwittingly, I’d already started crafting a story.

I woke up beside him the next night, and the night after. Everything about this romance felt novel, and Pete glistened with newness. I was obsessed with the way that I must look to him, and would glance at myself in windows as we walked together to try and see what he saw. I loved the way he said my name. His voice had an exotic color, not the flat metallic tone of the Great Lakes, with it’s clear hard r’s and absence of theatricality.

It was cold out now, the bitter cold of a Montreal winter. I stood in his doorway peeling off layers covered in snow, and dumped my boots in the corner. Pete strode over and pulled out a clear plastic baggie. “You wanna?” He placed two white pills onto my palm. Asking what they were would only reveal my innocence, so instead I looked into his beautiful bright eyes and swallowed them down without hesitating. He laughed and kissed me. “You have to come see our new strobe light.”

photo by thomas bollier

I sprawled out upside down on his roommate’s bed, my arms cactused out and blood rushing to my head. Blue pink and purple lights rushed across the ceiling. I had started to feel a great pull on my heart, as though gravity had taken a hold of it, but didn’t stop with a gentle downward force. It pulled in all directions, leaving me paralyzed. Where was Pete? He’d disappeared and I needed him. I was starting to panic, and even with my eyes squeezed closed I couldn’t turn off the swirling lights. I opened my eyes and watched their pattern unfold above me, trying to make out voices above the booming techno. Then his face appeared above me. He sat down cross legged and cradled my head upside down in his lap. From this angle, I noticed a nick under his chin from a razor, and could smell the cigarettes on his worn in jeans. “Kiss me,” he said, and I flipped over onto my belly. I closed my eyes and pressed my lips to his. They felt so perfect, so smooth, I almost couldn’t stand it. This was an impossible world I’d entered, in which I could give everything I had to him, but lost nothing of myself.

It was a winter of firsts: first high, first quiet come down, first pull of addiction, first love, first impassioned goodbye. Falling in love is spectacular, so much so that it necessitates a rapt consciousness. I was so busy jumping, falling, diving into Pete that I forgot to notice him, his lifetime of sorrows and beautiful triumphs. My memories of those months exist inside a teacup amusement ride; I’m sitting on the ride in focus, and he’s somewhere out there, a blur.

I think I remember the moment when things started to go south, but I can’t be sure.

“I know how to tell a joke,” Pete says absentmindedly. “You can’t telegraph the laugh.”

“What’s the joke?” I ask.

“That was the joke. You didn’t get it?”

“What was?”

He sighs.

Years later, I have a longing for truth. If only, for a moment, I’d thought to step off the roller coaster. As irony would have it, it is far too late in the story for that sort of transience. Instead, I’m left with the worn out stories I’ve reimagined too many times. What would the first layer of the palimpsest look like, before time and fantasy pressed out the creases?  There are the things I definitely remember. These are usually brought on by something sensual, and I’m transported through a perception time-warp. Late for work, eating eggs over the frying pan in my kitchen, I recall the morning we went out for breakfast at 2 p.m. after staying up all night.  I wanted to leap across the table and push my face hard into his, consume him. Instead, I piled both my eggs onto a piece of toast and shoved them into my mouth. I can still call to mind the feeling of the yolks breaking open in my mouth. Memory is like that – it conceals with a great nonchalance until suddenly, standing over a hot skillet, you are struck with deep loss.

photo by thomas bollier

Then, there are things that I think I remember, like the way his wallet fit in his back pocket, or the sheen of sweat across his brow that gave him a look of aliveness. I sort of remember how I used to try and walk on the lower side of the sidewalk so that he would be slightly taller than me. Did Pete actually like Mark Lanegan, or am I confused because it is on a playlist I titled “Thinking of Pete.” I think I remember that we had a beautiful thing, whatever it was, before it went cold and I was alone again.

Finally, there are things that I can’t remember at all. Squeezing my eyes closed, I try to picture him. Colors swirl and expand on the backs of my lids, muddling the outline. I can’t stretch out a face shape, or the perfect fine hairs that caught the sun as they turned. When we lose someone we lose the color of their lips, the way lashes curl around bright curious eyes. I feel my memories jumbling, thickening, my mind sagging with the effort, growing old by the second. I look down at my hands as I ride the subway. They curl in my lap like empty flower pots. I think about how they once held his broad shoulders, felt the blood pump in his temples as I drew him closer.

When we tell stories, do we agree to trade fictions that both of us know – with a strategically suspended knowledge – to be fictions; and is that enough? If histories are built on distortions and lapses, accounts of the past that we pack away without the messiness, are we destined to step into the same river twice? The great irony, of course, that in this sea of fictions there is only one ending we can rely on: death. It is the only thing in this world that is objectively true.

Maureen O’Brien is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and you can find her blog here. She last wrote in these pages about her time in Mexico.

Photographs by Thomas Bollier.

“The Wild People” – Mark Lanegan (mp3)

“Judgement Time” – Mark Lanegan (mp3)

In Which They Write To Us From Someplace

This is the second in a series. You can find the first part here.

photo by jun hongh

The Other Inbox

by MIA NGUYEN

The act of writing a letter, or even receiving one in the mail, has become almost obsolete in an age where technology has taken over the majority of our precious time. These last years I found myself being drained from the lack of romanticism in receiving empty e-mails and text messages. I wanted something to hold onto.

In 2011 I started exchanging handwritten letters with strangers online, incubating long distance friendships. The intimate exchange of handwritten letters lets me connect authentically and compassionately with others on a level to which we are no longer accustomed.

Dear M,

I am writing you this letter with both fear and excitement. The pressure to be witty is at its strongest rigor, but yet it’s difficult for me to contain my excitement?!

Currently: sitting with my cat and eating my earthquake emergency supply food in case you wanted to check up on my well-being. It’s near five in the morning and, as usual, I can’t sleep. I’m sure by now you’re awake! Running and being productive as I sit on my ass.

Sincerely,

D

Dear Mama Mia,

I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you over break, I think I need to accept the fact that I live in CT now. I’ve got roots here and it’s hard to come home. Regardless, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family!! I miss you soooo much!

I’m going through a really hard time right now with Adam :( Right before Christmas I felt weird about us and felt like we were changing. I hate saying it, but I felt like the more desired one at the beginning and use to try so hard, now I feel like the one who shows all this affection and am constantly waiting for applause. I didn’t want to ruin the holidays, but I finally couldn’t hold it in any longer. We discussed everything and I felt better, but I still felt like he didn’t respect why I was upset.

Recently we got in a little spat that started over a stupid comment, this led to a 5 a.m. argument, which we finally resolved. However, once again there wasn’t really a compromise on his part, just an agree to disagree.

The following day however he asked me via text how I felt about our “discussion.” I basically summed up my feelings about everything.

I’ve been too scared to say it, but I really love him. You know how long it takes me to be comfortable with a guy and I’m really scared. I do want us to work out, but at the same time maybe are are too different and want different things.

I know you just broke up with your boyfriend, and even though it wasn’t your first I know it was really hard for you. But if you could give me some advice I could really use it. I’m scared, and I love him and I’m afraid he doesn’t love me as much I love him. But it’s not that I’m scared to be alone. I’m afraid I won’t find someone who will wait for me to be comfortable with them before starting a relationship. I’m just scared.

Anyways I really hope you are well and feeling better. Good luck next semester! Miss you tons!!!

Love,

V

M,

I got your letter a few days ago, but its taken me some time to respond. I don’t know if it’s been a lot going on or I simply can’t motivate myself or what, but I’m taking some time to write.

This Newtown shooting is horrendous. I can’t imagine the impact it has had on the community. Those poor kids who went through something like that at such a young age. And here comes the old gun control debate. I hope that this time around something will change. I think the bigger issue at hand is mental health, and also, we as a culture should reevaluate our morals and what’s important. There’s a lot of readjustment that needs to be done. With that, I’ll stop writing about it. It’s too heavy of a topic for a grey morning.

I’ve done a lot of Christmas shopping. I usually don’t, but this year I’ve done quite a bit. It’s unfortunate, but shopping for gifts gives me this weird sense of guilt and anxiety. I always feel that fundamentally, our consumer culture has it wrong, but here I am looking for deals on a pair of leather gloves my mom wants. Ugh. I just want it to be over.

Speaking of which, winter is another thing I’d like to be over (even though it hasn’t even started yet). I miss the warmth, green trees, birds, grass, sunshine. I’m really not made for New England.

My two friends from high school and I are going to hike Mt. Monadnock on Friday, “la fin du monde.” I haven’t seen them in a while, and also, hiking is just a good time.

I’m glad to hear that you’ve got an internship out in California. I hope that it goes well for you, and who knows, maybe that will be your foot in the door to a new life out on the West Coast!

I’ll close now. I’m doing my work laundry before my shift today at 11 a.m. Hooray to serving Brown professors lunch!

Your friend,

T

Dear Mia,

I loved getting your letter in the mail…much more exciting than bills! I used to have many pen pals in college before the internet and email hit the scene.

Where are you from? I don’t think we ever met. Did you ever meet my husband? He has been teaching middle school art for over 15 years, so he knows a lot of people…and many are all grown up now! It makes me feel old :)

My kids loved Halloween this year. R is 5 and went as Frankenstein and M is 3 and dressed as a princess doctor. T and I ate a lot of their candy and I suspect we won’t be getting away with that for too many more years before the kiddos notice. Did you do anything fun and exciting for Halloween?

How is the new stove? I enjoy baking. As a matter of fact I am making a spaghetti pie for dinner. Did you make anything special yet? I get most of my recipes from Pinterest. I like to cook whatever my kids will eat, which is not too much right now. R is a pretty good eater, but M is so picky.

What are your plans after graduation? I have my undergraduate in Communications & Performance and Elementary Education. I also have my Master’s in Instructional Technology. I taught for a while, but now I spend time with my two kids and managing our household. I plan to return to work when the kids are a lot older. A job will always be there, but my kids won’t be this young forever!

I am so happy you wrote and had so much fun writing you back. Although, I think my hand is cramping up…I haven’t done this much handwriting since high school! I am happy to do my part to help the post offices. Have a great day!

Sincerely,

H

Mia Nguyen is the features editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Rhode Island. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Jun Hongh.

“A Fistful of Flowers” – Zun Alak (mp3)

“Sunshine Dust” – Zun Alak (mp3)

photo by mia nguyen

In Which We Wonder Who We Were Upset With

A Date

by ALEXANDRA KIMBALL

In the spring, I moved out of the house I was sharing with my boyfriend and reunited with a longed-for ex. But that, too, was falling apart for all the reasons it had the first time, only much more quickly. I hadn’t just pressed rewind on the relationship; I’d pushed rewind and then 4X FF.

Writing marketing copy from home meant that I had all the time in the world and no money at all. In my city’s Gay Village, I signed a lease on a cheap apartment the super informed me had previously housed a family of junkies. When I moved in, I found broken glass in the kitchen sink, pink stuff around the caulking (blood?) and a bra hanging from the living room ceiling fan. It was wedged in so deep between the blades, I couldn’t dig it out even with a broom handle. Tattered, the bra swung down the center of the apartment, like a flag from some torn, but undefeated, civilization.

I had ordered a bed — my first piece of brand-new, grownup furniture — but for some reason, the delivery service was delaying. Same with the cleaning service I convinced my landlord to hire to tackle the kitchen, which still scared me. I ate Cheetos and slept wrapped in a sheet on my living room floor, like a kid at a sleepover. At 32, the last few years of my life had been a crash course in impermanence. Love, money, self-regard: I knew now that all of these were things that could be abruptly withdrawn. But closing my eyes against the hard floor, I felt the whiplash of adulthood in sudden reverse. I didn’t know maturity was fragile, too.

I wondered what, if anything, could be salvaged. On the first warm day of May, I took a break from waiting for my bed and met with Robert+ — the ex-boyfriend of ill-advised reunion fame — at a pub. “OK, let’s do it,” I said. “Let’s move in together and pick up where we left off before.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea”, he said through his pint glass. “But maybe we’ll see. I don’t know.” He shrugged — like a little boy, I thought.

I remembered the night we’d met: at a party, the same way I met everyone I wound up with. For me, love had always been the result of drunken collisions; social happenstance. Hanging out. Suddenly, it struck me as important that I’d never been on a date. Even the word “date” suggested an adult world that was alien to me as a layabout copyeditor, one of calendars and schedules; things happening at specific and prearranged times. It was a small project I felt I could handle in my disoriented state. The backwards lurch of my life — the breakups, the bra — seemed unalterable. But I wondered if changed the visuals of that life, the lingo, it could, like some optical trick, quell my vertigo.

A week later, I sat across from David at a cheap Cambodian restaurant on a busy street in the West End, trying to relate a nutshell version of my life history while figuring out why I felt so fake and nervous.

On his online dating profile, David had listed his profession as “club managor/painter” — a double violation of my stated rule against poor spelling and backslashed occupations. But in the swamp of goatees and disappointment that is Internet dating, David had stood out. His username was Important_earnest — an Oscar Wilde reference. With his dark, direct gaze and big scythe of a jaw, Important_earnest didn’t look like the good spellers I knew. Around his planar cheekbones, hair twisted in distinct black coils, like the foliage on an Art Nouveau woodcut. If he were around at the time of his namesake, the right word for him would have been “rake”. Looking at his profile, a fizzy feeling rose in my ribs. In the name of adult dating, I had been prepared to reject clever guys, funny guys, “cool” guys — anyone who reminded me of my childish exes. What I hadn’t steeled myself against were good looks.

In person, though, the fizz had gone flat. When I imagined dating, I’d pictured flirting, a slingback heel dangling from a flexed toebed; “touche”. But with David, I could barely look up from my noodles. It was amazingly awkward. I asked him things he’d already answered; he started anecdotes only to stop abruptly in mid-sentence, transfixed by some movement outside the window or something on his plate.

“I’m sorry,” he said at one point. “I still live with my ex-girlfriend.” He said this as if to explain the odd lapses in his speech. And I guess it did.

“I had a really nice time,” I said when the bill came. What I was thinking was, “that was fucking awful.”

David’s well-shaped eyebrows inverted, turning his brow into a dark, pleading wave. “Did you?” he asked. His voice was quavering. “Because I really like you. I really, really want to go on another date with you. Did you know I’ve never been on a real date?”

The carbonated feeling returned. Maybe, I thought, I didn’t need someone more mature than me, to show me how adulthood was supposed to be done. Maybe what what was called for was not tutelage, but partnership; not a guided tour, but a buddy system. Maybe growing up was something David and I could figure out together, date by uncomfortable date.

+

Dating David was difficult, not least because he lived with his ex-girlfriend, worked most nights at a hellish thumping club, and, like me, had no money. But over the next two weeks, we found our way into our own weird, broke version of the montage in a romantic comedy. We met at Canadian Tire before his noon shift and picked out a recycling bin for my apartment. At midnight, we shared a pitcher of beer on a bar patio up the street from his club. That these meetups were always at weird times, and never lasted more than a couple of hours, seemed less relevant to me than the fact that I got to call them dates.

How different the pomp and ritual of dating was from the hangouts of my past! With hanging out, love could slip out of ordinary moments without logic or warning. Dating, on the other hand, was a defined happening, a place so distinct from regular, ungrownup life it had its own language; its own rhythm and economics. To date is to give and receive clear signs: to understand that “I like you” is a heartfelt confession while “you’re pretty cool” means it’s over. It is letting him pay on the first date, but splitting the bill on the second and treating him on the third. With my exes, something like the wording of a compliment or who winds up getting the bill was ripe for misinterpretation; usually, these were signs of nothing at all. But when David told me he liked me, I knew that it meant we were moving along — or, in the patois of dateland, “connecting”. After years of ambiguous encounters, it was comforting to enter a world in which nothing could come as a real surprise. Every moment with David came pre-stamped with importance.

David liked dating too, or so he said, sitting across from me at an all-night Greek bakery, just a block down from the apartment he still shared with his ex. It was a dirty little room with metal chairs, and we were the only people in there. Still, he had ironed his t-shirt, and between us — beside the plate of baklava we were sharing — was his offering: a pretty clump of carnations in a plastic sleeve.

“This is the only thing I’ve got going on besides work,” David said, gesturing vaguely in my direction. He poked at the baklava and sighed. He told me that he’d moved and switched relationships so many times he often woke up misremembering where he was or who was sleeping beside him. “You feel like you’re moving backwards; I feel more like I’m in a Mobius strip.”

Across the table, David passed me his iPhone. A black-and-white painting of a bald woman, naked but for a black garter belt and stockings, filled the small screen.

“Just so you know, this is my real work,” he said. “Feel free to scroll through.”

I flicked through the slideshow of images with my thumb. All paintings of naked women, seen from behind or below, through parted curtains or keyholes or open doors. All in moments of undress, their heads turned; unaware they were being watched by someone just out of sight.

“They’re great,” I said, absorbed. I meant it.

“My thing is fantasy,” he said, shrugging.

“My real work is writing stories,” I confessed. It wasn’t something I liked to say out loud. “I guess my thing is fantasy, too.”

We smiled at each other — a rare moment of eye contact. Our forks hit one another as we poked at the honeyed square. With every small ding, I felt some layer — between me and David, between me and the life I wanted — flake away.

To date is to not only know what is going to happen, but how to feel about it when it does. Installed on my living room floor that night, I looked up at the ceiling and thought, “I am elated.”

To go from hanging out to dating at 32 was to enter a world that was both completely alien and completely familiar. It was the same slightly dissociative experience I had visiting Paris after years of seeing stock Paris visits on TV.: here I am at the Eiffel tower, this is me avec baguette. “I can’t, I have a date,” I’d tell people breezily, hearing myself saying it as I said it. I welcomed the feeling. This was something that might have said by a sleek, joyful woman in a razor commercial, not by a 32-year-old girl-child who couldn’t handle a simple furniture delivery. In the hours before I was due to meet David, I would comb my hair in my bedroom mirror and watched myself watching myself, getting ready for a date, infinite refractions of Woman Before Date that pushed the actual me temporarily, but blissfully, out of frame.

Spring went on, each day a little sunnier, a little more temperate, than the last, mirroring my brightening mood, making me feel buoyant and almost carefree. I got a long-overdue check for a website I’d written for a juice box company. Just back from a date with David, feeling bold, I called the line for the delivery service that had my bed.

“Twelve to fourteen business days, miss,” said the guy on the other line. He had a thick Northern Ontario accent: furteen. “Just like I told you last week.”

“Well, I just got paid, and I if you rush it, there is a cool sum of forty dollars in it for you,” I said.

He chuckled. “Yeah, it doesn’t really work like that.”

“What will make it work like that?” I asked.

“Look, miss, we’ve been back and forth about this bed for weeks now. And I’m not going to lie: I feel sorry for you. I know you want it, bad. So I’ll tell you what — I’m going to make sure your item gets out of the warehouse and on the Toronto delivery truck on Wednesday. That’s two days from now. So that would put it at your door between nine and eleven AM on Friday.”

“I can’t!” I said. “I can’t then. I have a date.” Even now, I got a thrill from saying that.

“You have a date from nine to eleven a.m. on Friday?”

“He works a night shift,” I explained.

The voice exhaled. “All right,” he said. “I’ll have the driver loop back to your neighborhood between three and five. Good?”

“Yeah,” I said, relieved. “Thank you.”

“This must be some guy you’re dating, meeting him at 9 a.m.,” he said. “Now I understand why you want this bed so bad.”

I hung up in a daze, wondering how I could have missed this. David and I had met in coffee shops and on park benches, we were dating like crazy, but not once had we even come close to having sex. Other than a few dry, on-cue goodnight kisses, our time together had been completely chaste.

In dateland, the consensus is that you should wait three dates before having sex. This is supposed to be a long, torturous delay, but David and I hadn’t even noticed. By the usual standard, we were three dates overdue.

I picked up my phone to text him, but he’d beaten me to the punch.

“Why dont we hang out @ yr place tmw?” he wrote. “I can cook.”

An uneasy feeling squirreled around inside me. “My kitchen is covered in junkie blood/glass,” I replied.

“I work @ club,” he texted back. “If I can do anything its clean up blood/brkn glass.”

+

The bed didn’t come, of course, but I refused to take that as a sign. Grownups had sex on couches, right? It was more spontaneous that way; more passionate. But that evening, as I leaned against the doorjamb of my kitchen, I watched David’s hipbones shift around the waistband of his jeans and realized I felt nothing. He was crouching over my stove, turning the knobs this way and that. The glass on the floor didn’t bother him as much as my ancient stove, he said, so he’d cleaned the burnt-up gunk out of the burner holes with a dental pick. The igniter clicked and stopped as he turned it on and off, testing the flame. I kept my eyes on his hips, trying to feel more than abstract appreciation. David was a gorgeous guy; he’d worked as a model. He’d fixed my stove, and now he was going to make me dinner. But determined as I was to sleep with him, there was nothing in the fact of him — nothing in his gestures or the way he talked, no detail in his face or physique — that made me want his body against mine.

“Well,” David said, turning to face me. He leaned back against the stove and glanced at me, bashful but expectant.

“Yeah,” I replied. I thought of our first date, the awkwardness. We’d gotten past that — could this be a first-time nervousness, too? Outside the kitchen window, the sun had become a low, orange stripe.

“We should get to the supermarket,” I said. “If we want to cook dinner.”

“For sure,” David said. “But would you mind if maybe we first smoked a joint?”

I expelled a long, grateful breath. Weed: it was a perfect idea. I’d bought wine, but this was better: it would take the edge off the nervousness, but not mess up the mechanics. It wasn’t exactly an adult move — there was nothing about cannabis in the dating lexicon — but if it would help me relax, who was counting?

David and I went into my living room, where, on my third-hand IKEA sofa (Ektorp), I watched him unpack his drugs and rolling papers and spread them out on my coffee table. He took out a shot glass and scissors and cut up the weed. Bending over the glass, he snipped away for what seemed like forever, the only noise in the room the sound of the scissors and some guys laughing on the patio of the gay bar next door. I couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t about the very meticulous way he was cutting up the weed, so I just watched the scissors open and close against the sides of the shot glass. Music, I thought. I should have put on music. Or would music just draw attention to the fact we weren’t talking?

At some point in this self-questioning, I realized I was holding the joint, and sometime either before or after that, I understood that I was high.

“Hey,” David said, turning to me. “So.”

“This is really good weed,” I giggled, but he kissed me anyway.

Around this time, it struck me that we were making out, and that his hand was under my dress, and my leg was over his knee. It was good, if only because it meant I no longer had to find things to say.

+

In my preparation for the date sex, I had bought wine and put on a black lace bralette and matching panties. But, because I was out of practice and also, I thought now, because I was an adolescent in all the ways that mattered, I had forgotten entirely about condoms. Sitting naked on my couch, I tried to figure out our options. We could go out and buy them, but that might ruin our momentum. There was no way I could do it without one (or could I?). Of course, we could not do it all, but we’d come this far, and to end a date like this would be a dramatic failure: a kid-like chickening-out. None of the options seemed to jive with my fantasy of mature grownup dating.

“There’s a drugstore across from the subway,” I said, finally.

David stood up and stretched, oblivious to the fact he was standing naked in front of an open window. “Oh,” he said dazily, “I think that one closes at 7.”

The room was dark now, and I went back and forth about whether or not it was weirder to turn on the light or to continue the conversation in blackness. There was more laughter coming from the patio up the street; vague dispatches from the world I’d left behind: hanging out, hooking up; fun. I decided we should stay in the dark.

“Do convenience stores have them?” I wondered.

“Yeah, probably,” David affirmed. “But — this is embarrassing — I haven’t gotten paid this week yet? Condoms are like, twelve dollars.”

Don’t do this, I thought, but then I was walking over to the dresser where I’d slung my purse and then I was counting a twenty out of my wallet — the juice box money I’d set aside for the groceries I’d planned to buy with David. And then I was at my living room window in the dark, watching David enter, and then exit, the yellow-awninged HastyMart across the street.

When David came back, he produced a 3-pack of “Pride Edition” Trojans: yellow, purple and green. I looked up at him, disbelieving.

“The yellow’s almost clear,” he shrugged.

“Alright,” I said, but I didn’t really care anymore. Whatever pretense of maturity David and I had been keeping up was gone; a distant mirage — as remote and fantastical as a condom box rainbow. I had almost called off the sex, but now my determination was redoubled: the damage was done, I’d be a kid forever; so I may as well get some action. Even if it was teenager style: on a couch, high, and in total silence.

+

The first time I hung out with Marcus, the guy I had been living with, we talked in a bar for four hours straight, a conversation that unfolded like the best kind of road trip, great, distance-traversing stretches that gave way to sudden, exhilarating turns and poignant moments of rest. The conversation was so absorbing we missed last call; the bartender had to kick us out. Outside, we made out in the middle of the sidewalk with such open abandon we drew honks and cheers from passing cars.

In my hurry to transcend the laissez-faire patterns of my past, I’d forgotten that I had endured them for good reasons. Excitement; vulnerability; the seismic thrill of meeting someone who, within a few moments, could crack my life in two. When my relationships were good, I didn’t get caught up on surfaces, on how things looked, because I was in the core of the things themselves. I asked myself now: what was more childish than trying to be grown-up?

+

Afterwards, David and I sat facing each other at opposite ends of the Ektorp and smoked another joint.

“Do you want to stay over?” I asked. “I have no bed.”

“I dunno,” David replied. “My ex was pretty upset last time we went out and I didn’t come back until late.”

“So you have a curfew,” I said. “Perfect.”

“Yeah,” he said neutrally.

“You know,” I remarked, “I’m starting to think this woman isn’t an ex at all.”

“I dunno,” David conceded, shrugging. “It is what it is.”

I should be outraged, I thought, I should scream and cry. But I was high, and I couldn’t get a grip on the anger. Was it even David I was upset with? I thought about my bed and the delivery guy on the phone. I thought about the fact that the next week, I’d have to write a website for a company that made instant macaroni-and-cheese. I thought about Robert breaking up with me through the bottom of a pint glass. Vaguely, and then with tremendous volume, I again heard laughter from the patio of the gay bar. Before, the voices had seemed to be making a point of everything I was missing, but now, I knew, they were laughing directly at me.

“Do you ever feel like people are laughing at you?” I heard myself say softly.

David sighed, a whorl of smoke curling around his face. “Oh man,” he said. “All the time.”

He hugged me goodbye and promised to call, though I knew we’d never talk to each other again. It was as positive a way to end things as we could have managed, I thought. There were no hard feelings. But when I turned the light on in my living room, I noticed that David hadn’t left the change from the twenty I’d given him, and he’d also pocketed the purple and green condoms.

+

Spring became summer, and the sun in my windows was bright as bleach. My mind, too, seemed clear and empty. After the drama of the spring, it wasn’t a bad feeling. I wrote the website for the macaroni and cheese company, plus some others. I understood why people talk about taking refuge in work. I stacked one dumb task on top of the previous until they became a wall around me, something through which I could see neither present nor future, forward nor back.

On the first day of the first hot week of the season, my bed arrived, a great foamy square that the big-shouldered delivery guy said couldn’t fit into my tiny bedroom.

“It’ll fit,” I urged. “Just try.” It did fit, but barely. Still, when I threw myself down on its crisscrossed surface, I realized that it didn’t matter that my bedroom was cramped. Only I had to see it, and I didn’t care.

“It’s getting hot in here,” the guy said as he left, and reached up to yank the chain on my ceiling fan, the one with the bra permanently wedged between the blades. It turned for days, maybe a week — I forget how long. But at some point, I came home and the bra was on the floor. It had come down on its own. It had needed a push, I guessed, but mostly, it had just needed time.

Alexandra Kimball is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Toronto.

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