by Conor Teevan
Naddy’s bent over a table in the corner and the curtains are drawn so the room’s dark, the only light a lone ray slipping through the crack where the curtains don’t quite come together, and it, the ray, is filled with floating particles—more particles than usual because we’re in some super seedy hotel room, which is called something like Queen Anne’s Inn or the Tokyo Princess, at least per the flickering neon sign outside, and it’s got those beds that shake when fed quarters and the comforters are all that ubiquitous floral print designed to hide stains from bodily fluids and god knows what else, a print that always reminds me of this story I once heard about a maid who was caught eating dried semen off hotel sheets because she thought she could get pregnant that way, and if only she could get pregnant that way, with the type of man who could afford to stay in hotel rooms, maybe she wouldn’t have to be a maid anymore and things would be better—although if you ask me she’d still be someone who eats dried semen and that’s got to be worse than being a maid—but none of that’s the point. The only point is in rooms like this it’s important to strip the comforter off the bed the moment you walk in, which we did, so we were good on that front, except now Naddy’s foot is resting half on the nasty Berber rug and half on the discarded comforter, and his foot is positioned perfectly so the lone, dust-filled ray hits it, his foot, and the ray seems to feel good on his skin, the way he keeps wiggling his toes, so I don’t say anything and anyway he’s not paying attention to me or his foot, his only concern right now being his nose, which is hovering just inches from the table above all that white powder.
Right then someone knocks on the door. It’s got to be Arianna because she’s been gone a good fifteen minutes when all she was supposed to be doing was getting a Sprite from the vending machine down the hall, but what if it’s not? What if it’s the neighbor we share a wall with and he’s coming to complain about the yelling and thumping and snorting and huffing? What if he’s the kind of man who pays women to eat his semen, which is horribly possible because, remember, that’s the type of place we’re in.
Imagine a TV bolted not just to the dresser but also to the wall, redundantly bolted because one bolting isn’t enough. Imagine a place where people steal TVs, even though the sets themselves are bubble-screened with channels controlled by dials, not buttons.
Things, for me, are about to get really bad. But I have this trick for these drug-induced situations: what I do is personify my headspace, the idea being if I can see it, my headspace, in the real world maybe I’ll understand it better. In this case, he—my headspace—is walking down some nondescript urban street. It’s night and the only light comes from a row of streetlamps stretching into darkness. He moves erratically as if someone’s chasing him, every few steps looking over one shoulder, then the other. When he stops at the corner it hits me: he’s lost. And as he stands there blinking, I realize he’s picturing his own headspace—i.e., my headspace’s headspace—to see what his headspace would do, and I’m pretty sure that if his headspace were a person it would be running down its own street, which means it’s only a matter of time before my headspace’s headspace is thinking the same thing about its headspace, all of which leads to the inevitable question: am I someone else’s headspace? Except that rabbit hole is too much of a mindfuck to go down so instead I open the hotel door and there she is: Arianna.
“Wanna hear a joke?” she says.
I pull Sprite-less Arianna into the room.
“You wanna hear a joke?” she says again.
She takes Naddy’s shit-eating grin in the corner as a cue to go on. “So a ballerina and a motorcycle walk into a bar—”
“Hold on,” I say, and the only thing I can do to stop whatever’s about to happen from happening is to point out how little sense this whole-fucked up scenario makes. “There’s no way this can be funny,” I say, before getting into how motorcycles don’t walk. Or go to bars for that matter. And even if there were a walking motorcycle and even if, walking, it went to a bar, what next? Does it just sit there? Lean against its kickstand? Rev its engine a few times? Order a drink? Maybe a shot of oil. And what about this bar-going ballerina? As far as I know ballerinas don’t walk, they pitter-patter. And how would this pitter-pattering ballerina even push open heavy saloon doors. Wouldn’t she be up on her toes—what’s it called, en pointe?—and could she even get the doors open like that? There’s no power there. And what happens when the doors swing back? Do they hit her? Knock her on her ass? Can you think of anything worse for a ballerina than falling on her ass? And imagine what happens once she’s inside. Can’t you picture the ominous undertones, the hints of sexual assault and abuse and all-around badness, these scruffy guys watching this little girl in a pink tutu with her long elegant neck and her hair pulled back in a bun order a drink. All these angry-looking men staring at her. So, please, go ahead, tell me—what’s funny about this?
When I finish, the room’s silent, the first real silence we’ve had all night, which is really two nights. The silence goes on until Naddy grabs his belly and laughs. He laughs so hard he doubles over, falls to the ground, and rolls toward the comforter. Before I can stop him he hits it, face down, and it happens to be the moment he’s sucking in oxygen to fuel his maniacal laughter, so instead of air he gets fecal-infested fabric.
“You okay?” Arianna says, looking at me. I don’t respond, so she says it again: “Are you okay?” The tone of her voice isn’t really asking if I’m okay, but rather why the fuck aren’t you laughing. So I go, ha ha, and watch as she relaxes muscularly.
Arianna bends over, snorts a line of cocaine, tilts her head back. I step over Naddy on my way to the Timeout Chair. Naddy’s not his real name; his real name’s Andy but one day he scrambled the letters and came up with Naddy, which stuck. It’s not really a Timeout Chair; it just reminds me of the one that my parents used to put me in. The main difference is this one faces the room, not the wall. Truthfully, I’d rather it face the wall. A secret I never told my parents: the Timeout Chair was one of my favorite places. With other chairs you see just what’s in front of you—in my house, a dining room table, an oriental rug, and a dangling chandelier—but staring at a white wall, the Timeout Wall, you can see everything. You can see what your life would have looked like if you had become a doctor, like they wanted; Camille before you ever knew Camille existed; your parents if they had been happily married.
Sitting in the chair now all I see is Naddy on the ground, snot covering his face and Arianna walking toward me. When she sits on my lap she kisses me and my mouth starts to tingle. “It’s okay,” she says. I know she’s only trying to cheer me up but all this does is remind me of how my night began.
Which is like this. There’s a girl on my arm—Betsy or Betty or Bets—and we’re in a hallway about to walk into a party. I remember her saying something inane like, maybe we should knock, but because the music’s blaring FUCK THIS FUCK THAT through the walls, I just open the door. That’s when I see Camille. She’s leaning against the far wall, one long leg bent up underneath her. Having positioned herself perfectly under a floodlight, she’s all shadows and sinew. She looks stunning like that, so stunning I’m certain no one but me notices the little nubby fingernails she holds her wine with. She catches me staring and for a second that’s all it is: two people looking at each other. But then she kicks herself straight, wobbling just enough to show she’s tipsy, which I already know because when isn’t she, and walks right at me. She doesn’t weave or turn sideways to get through the crowd, instead expecting everyone to part for her, which of course they do because it’s her.
All I’m expecting is a Hi or How are things, but instead she gets up on her toes and leans into me until her breasts are pressing against my sternum and her lips are inches from my face, so close I can feel her breath on my ears, and it is hot with booze, and if you could smell pills, I’m sure it’d be hot with that too. I actually hear the puh her lips make as they separate right before she says, I miss you.
That’s when I lose it. I start to turn my head so I’ll be looking her straight in the face when I tell her exactly what she can do with her missing me, but the thing is she doesn’t pull back so her mouth drags along my cheek. As I turn, I catch this whiff of her hair, some melon-y scent that for the longest time reminded me of weather, no weather in particular, just weather in general, but now the smell reminds me of the day I came home from CVS with her shampoo and conditioner in a bag, just like she asked, only that didn’t stop her from dropping the bomb on me about being with other men—not man, but men—and then asking me to leave, which I did, spending the next three days on Naddy’s couch, trying to mix the shampoo and conditioner in the appropriate proportions to approximate that weather smell, something I was never able to get right.
So that’s what I’m smelling as I turn my head and what I’m hearing is the dragging lips and what I’m thinking is fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, until, whack, her lips land on mine. Still, I’m about to tell her to go fuck herself, except of course she interprets the tucking of my lower lip under my teeth to make the ‘f’ noise as a kissing motion and she opens her mouth. She flicks her tongue in and out the same way she used to, which keeps me from saying what I’m trying to say because how can you say shit with an extra tongue in your mouth? We stand like that kissing, the only noise that rice-krispy crackle of saliva swapping.
I feel a slight tug on my arm, then a firmer one. The tugging feels distant, like it’s happening to somebody else’s arm, only I know it’s mine, which is when I remember Bets or Betty or Betsy. Rachel. Her name’s Rachel. It’s like Rachel’s trying to communicate in Morse code—one long tug, two short. I want her to wait, to see what I got in store for this bitch who’s kissing me, but I feel her arm unslide from mine.
Finally Camille and I stop kissing, and before anyone can get the wrong idea, I start saying what needs to be said: “Fuck you this, fuck you that, I don’t give two shits about you.” Except what I’m saying doesn’t mean anything because what means something is the fact that I’ve got a big fat fucking erection. There I am two feet from the girl who betrayed me, except that’s not even the worst betrayal that’s going on because even worse than that is the betrayal that’s happening with my own body right then and there. And so bad is the betrayal that it physically hurts. I mean hurtshurts, the way my erection is pressing hard against my jeans. It’s like the arm that was on my arm has been replaced by an arm in my pants. I’m breathing heavy and seeing stars, and my face is red. So what choice do I have? I leave. It’s from that hallway with its FUCK FUCK BANG BANG music where I call Arianna and Naddy, and head over to the Tokyo Princess.
In the hotel, Arianna’s still on my lap, only now she’s babbling about some condition she has, something she keeps calling stress orgasms. Every few words she pauses to chew on the inside of her cheek, which makes this incredibly annoying kissing sound. As she talks, I stare straight ahead at the twice bolted-through television. On it is a silver-haired man pointing to a picture of the sun saying something like, sun, sun, sun. The condition started, Arianna says, sophomore year in high school. At first, it only happened when she didn’t know an answer to a test question or was running out of time on an essay. For some reason the stress made her horny. So horny, in fact, she’d have to stop working on her essay to actually come, and it would happen—the coming would—sua sponte after a few minutes of sitting there focusing on how little time she had left. No touching required. But here’s the thing: once she started up again, she’d have even less time so she’d be even more stressed and the cycle started over. Which is why, she says, she had to drop out of school. Only once out of school, she found other ways to induce stress—being late for appointments, rolling through stop signs in front of cops—so it didn’t really matter.
She must be able to tell that I find the whole thing absurd because out of nowhere she says, “Google it bitch.” She even starts offering phrases: “Are stress orgasms a real thing”; “Can you come as a result of only stress even without touching”; “If you come without touching as a result of stress is it debilitating.” She’s throwing these search terms at me one after another so all that’s left for me to do is put up my hands and go, “Okay okay, I believe you.” Except what I’m really thinking is not how to Google it, but how to induce the necessary levels of stress to test it out for myself, which is when I remember Naddy talking about how he brought a gun in the car.
When I get to the car, it’s there. Silver and heavy. I bring it back to the room and pull it on Arianna. She’s like, oh my god what the fuck, and I can practically see her heart beat faster. Red splotches form on her chest. The thing is I’m not sure if this is all happening because Arianna’s getting turned on or if it’s the result of too many drugs. Still I figure whatever the situation is, it’s a highly-stressed one so when she’s like, oh my god oh my god, maybe those are sexual oh my gods or maybe they are fear-based oh my gods, but in the end what does it matter? According to her, those are one and the same. I keep waving the gun and she’s like, help me help me call someone, and I’m like, yeah yeah do you like it? and as she’s screaming in ecstasy or fear or maybe both, the gun accidentally goes off.
After the shot it’s dead quiet. I put the gun down and say something like, shit, a smoking gun. Naddy laughs, then I laugh, then Arianna laughs. We’re all laughing until Naddy stops and is like, fuck, what if the cops come? Together we look at the drugs.
But then Arianna says of course they won’t come because we’re in a place called the Tokyo Princess, and we’re like, yeah, that’s right. Except right then someone knocks. We look around like we’re counting each other, double-checking to make sure we’re all there, which we—all three of us—are.
Naddy makes his way to the door taking high, careful cat-burglar steps. He turns to me, holding his finger to his mouth, saying, “Shh,” then I do the same to Arianna, and she does the same to the door. Naddy leans forward to look through the peephole, then turns to us.
“The manager,” he mouths.
I kick the gun under the bed and Arianna stands in front of the drugs. We nod to Naddy, who puts the chain on the door and cracks it open.
All I see through the crack is an eye. The eye’s pressed against the door. It moves back and forth.
“What’s going on in here?” the eye says.
“Nothing,” Naddy says back.
The eye squints. “Nothing’s loud,” it says.
“We haven’t heard anything either.”
The eye stops scanning the room to focus on Naddy. “Not what I’m saying. I’m saying it’s loud. I heard a bang in here.”
“Here? Not here.”
The eye bobs. “Here.”
“Maybe next door?”
“Look,” the eyeball says, which makes me giggle. “Just keep it down.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
As soon as the door closes, we look at each other with big shit-eating grins, except Arianna who’s not looking at anything because she’s slumped on the floor, eyes closed. Her head’s cocked to one side and her skin’s pale.
“Arianna,” I say. “You okay?”
At this point, I’m certain I don’t have what Arianna has in terms of stress orgasms because nothing’s erotic about this; all I feel is panic. I’m already picturing how we’re going to have to wrap her body in the god-awful comforter, and I’m telling myself, no I can’t do it, I won’t. But deep down I’m terrified that I will, which disappoints me, but I don’t know which disappoints me more—that I may have played some role in killing this girl or that I’m thinking about how much I don’t want to touch the fecal-infested comforter—and that dilemma is disappointing in itself.
Naddy rubs his nose with the heel of his hand, then goes over to Arianna and slaps her. At first it’s a tap-tap on one cheek, a tap-tap on the other, but each time she doesn’t respond the arc of his swing gets bigger until he’s really hitting her.
“Naddy, stop,” I say, grabbing his arm. “Do it like this.” I hold out two fingers and slam them into her sternum.
“No, this is better.” Naddy slaps her again.
“This is how paramedics do it,” I say, tapping.
“Fuck that, my way’s working,” he says. It’s true, she’s getting color back in her cheeks, except you can tell it’s only on account of the slapping because the color has fingers to it.
Naddy leans into me to get a better slap so I push back to ensure my pokes get a fair shot too. From there, it’s only a matter of time. We lose our balance, falling onto the nasty, fire-retardant rug. But here’s the horrible thing: as we fall one of us hits the table next to Arianna, and like that all the drugs are on the floor.
Not the floor.
Which means there’s a new god-awful dilemma, one I’m not really sure how to handle. I’m already on all fours and I’ve taken the dollar bill from Arianna’s limp hand. The bill’s poised just above a clean-looking pile of powder collected in one of the comforter’s folds, and all it’ll take at this point is a quick snort on my part. But I know it’s more than that. I know it’s really a question of values. I’ve got in my mind a picture of one of those semen-eating maids and she doesn’t look all that different than how I look now, both of us on our knees, and if I’m forced to really think about it snorting dried semen isn’t much better than eating it. So I get to thinking about who I want to be. About how I came here to get a break from myself but the opposite’s happening: this shit’s defining me. And how often is that the case—that going to a party to show everyone what okay looks like ends up just showing them the outline of your penis. I get to thinking about how just forty-eight hours ago I was happy and clean and had practically forgotten about Camille, and how I’m only here because I saw her at the party, and how weak it is to let someone have power over you like that. I get to thinking about how I’m better than this and how so much has changed and that it’s not too late to go home, get under my clean comforter, and go to sleep—
I snort the cocaine.
Right away I’m vaguely aware of the crusty stuff in my nose, but I’m doing my best not to think about it or what I’ve become or whether there are flakes of some other man inside me, which is all actually pretty easy, until I glance up and Naddy’s staring at me like, what the fuck man. I look over at Arianna and Arianna, god bless her, isn’t making any face at all so I’m flooded with a tingly sense of gratitude that she’s not being judgmental, even if it’s only the result of her unconscious state. I want so badly to show her my appreciation that I grab her shoulders and shake her so hard her head bobbledolls.
“Breathe, damn it,” I yell. “Breathe.”
Naddy’s slid down onto the rug and he’s leaning against the dresser, head in hands. For a second I think he’s gone all Arianna on me, but as soon as I stand he looks up. He tries to speak but his lips are dry. They don’t really part, just stretch. “What should we do?” he finally asks as if this situation has become my responsibility. Above him on the doubly-bolted TV the weather man arm-sweeps a map with lots of suns. I’m still breathing fast and shallow so I say something about needing fresh air. But once outside I don’t lean against the beige stucco wall to catch my breath or sit on the cold concrete curb to huff and puff. Instead I’m hurrying down the street. I pass the hotel lobby with its dull glow from an unseen TV, then the flickering neon sign. Every few steps I glance back to make sure Naddy’s not following. My world flashes back and forth between receding neon lights and an empty street. Only at the corner do I realize how lost I really am. Somewhere above me a street lamp flickers.
Conor Teevan’s fiction has appeared in a number of journals, including Sou’wester, the Portland Review, Pinch, Sonora Review, Flashquake, and Prism Review. He recently finished sailing across the South Pacific with his dog.