Rollie showed up to class late. He slid into his chair, thizzing. He’d been thizzing every day for a week. He started tapping his nails on the desk. He yanked at the purple Mardi Gras beads dangling from his neck. He scratched his thin, wispy goatee. Acne scars marked the side of his face, and he looked completely strung out. But give the guy a break. You would look that way too if you had been on a pill for seven straight days.
Up in the front of the class, Mrs. Christopher was talking to him, asking where he’d been. I didn’t know where he’d been, but I knew that it didn’t matter. Wherever he was coming from, he wasn’t going to say.
‘Rollie! I’m talking to you!’
He finally glanced up. ‘Sorry, Mrs. C. I overslept.’ He grinned like a Cheshire cat, which is to say he grinned and bared his teeth with slightly psychotic wildness. Mrs. Christopher must have felt his look too, because she dropped the subject and continued teaching about aequus, alter, ago, and other Latin derivatives.
Rollie ripped out a piece of paper from his journal and huddled over his desk. He started drawing, scraping away with his pencil. I leaned in to look at what he was doing, then felt his right eye rotating toward the back of his skull, watching me watch him. I shifted and turned away.
Tammy Winston sat three rows in front of me. I was fine staring at her. Even from the back, her hair has serious sheen. Even from the back, she’s a sight.
‘Look,’ Rollie said.
He slid his drawing onto my desk. It was a stick figure lady sucking off a stick figure man with an enormous cock. The lady had two large circles for boobs and a hairy vagina. It said ‘MRS. CHRISTOPHER’ across the top.
I laughed because I knew I was supposed to, and handed him the drawing back. Mrs. Christopher saw this transaction. Sometimes, I guess, I’m pretty indiscreet.
‘If you’re sharing notes, Rollie, share them with the class,’ she said, and marched over, sticking out her hand. For a moment I thought Rollie looked scared, but maybe that’s just because I was scared for him. Rollie popped the paper in his mouth like a pill. He chewed it down, making loud throaty sounds. When he finished swallowing, he showed his empty palms.
I went to a party with my girlfriend, Maria, that Friday. I dropped by Rollie’s house to purchase an eighth before I picked her up. His mom was around, so he had me come through the alley. When I got into his room, there was a girl lying asleep in his bed. She was a younger girl, and I recognized her from a couple of Westside parties. She was always falling over drunk, always wearing black plastic frames with cut out lenses. She wasn’t wearing those now. She had the covers pulled up to her neck, and I doubted she was wearing anything.
Rollie had my eighth bagged and resting on a scale. The digitized device read 3.9 grams. The homie hook-up, he said, although I knew that the scale had probably been tampered with, and he was serving me a scant eighth. Beside him was a large glass bong packed with a mole and he passed it to me. I immediately thought of Maria, thought of the bitching I’d receive when I picked her up with bloodshot eyes, thought that she wasn’t wrong when she said it was weird to spend an evening in the shadows of a party, stupefied, hood up, arms folded across my chest.
I shook my head. ‘I’m good.’
‘For real? You’re eyeing it though.’
People like Rollie are out there getting it. You and I, we dream of doing lawless things, but they actually exist in a universe with no boundaries. It’s hard not to appreciate their untamed authenticity. It’s hard to tell them no, and turn into an actor in their eyes.
I shrugged. He laughed and punched me on the arm, a collision of bone against bone that was certain to leave a bruise.
The bowl burned bright and layers of smoke filled the glass, changing from milky to yellow to brown. I cleared the bong and exhaled a cloud. My head unscrewed like a bottle top. My body fizzed and collapsed into something stale. For fifteen minutes I lay motionless, burping up smoke lodged at the base of my lungs. Rollie watched me, cackling. I stared at his television screen, set on the NBA 2K homepage, listening to a song that repeated on a loop.
Maria was as pissed as always when I picked her up, and we sat outside her mom’s apartment, arguing in my dad’s car, while she kept threatening to break up. We must have sat there for nearly an hour, going nowhere, before we finally agreed to drive to the party. Eventually, I guess, the sheer exhaustion of fighting defeated us both.
The party was at her friend’s house, and on the drive I let her jockey the radio. In our argument, I had said some hurtful things about the company she kept. I was always saying hurtful things, and she was always telling me that it might do us both good to take time apart. I liked to tell her that she was talking crazy, and if she really loved me, it wouldn’t matter if we went the whole night without communicating. But she kept saying something between us had gone missing, and it sounded like regaining this something required rules and sacrifice. Still, Maria was beautiful, and I knew I had it incredibly good. She could’ve been with whomever she wanted, and I suppose she picked me because I had a future and a good family. My parents had immediately welcomed her with open arms. She told me we reminded her of the way a real family should be. In her house, things weren’t so good. Her mother wouldn’t touch her. Her father lived in an Ashram abroad.
The plastered voices came roaring at us two turns in the road before we pulled up to the Hollywood Hills home. I parked behind a line of cars on an undivided windy street and squeezed Maria’s hand. I truly did care for her, and knew I would never do something to fuck us up. Not for another six months anyway. Not until April, when Maria would go to visit friends in New York, and I would fuck Samantha Adler on a tile-bathroom floor, drunk, and without a condom.
When we entered the party, I tried to make nice with Maria’s friends, but found this taxing. They were drunk and loud. They wore long skirts, and bangles, and danced around barefoot. They blasted Miike Snow and chain-smoked Turkish Silvers. They’d been bouncing between social happenings since they were fourteen, and half of them were recovering coke addicts. Worst of all, I knew that when she was with them, Maria became one of their kind. There was a side of Maria I didn’t know, and this threatened me. Her friends shared a history with Maria that I couldn’t touch.
I walked to the kitchen to pour myself a drink. Most nights I visited a liquor store that didn’t card and bought a pint of vodka to set me right. With my sense of smell shot and all, things don’t taste so bad, and I never need a chase. But after the fight with Maria, there hadn’t been time to make a pit stop.
I half-filled a plastic cup with Smirnoff, and watched the host, Chloe, dance up against a male friend. Chloe was dick-hungry, according to some guys I knew. Maria corroborated this rumor by fearing that Chloe’d one day try to fuck me. I swore to Maria I wouldn’t. I even expressed my disgust at the thought. Of course, from that point on, I had begun to observe Chloe with a small spark of interest. Sometimes, I thought, we shared intoxicated secrets with our glances.
I started to force the alcohol down, thinking that if I got a little cross-faded later, I’d zone in and still be okay to drive.
Powerful hands clasped down on my shoulders from behind. I sloshed my drink on my shirt and spun around. Rollie stood there sniggering, a high-pitched hee-hee-hee, and slithered a hand from his waist into the vacuum of space between us.
‘Oh, whassup?’ he said.
I met his hanging hand with my own. ‘What’re you doing here?’
‘My boy Hector’s fucking some chick and she told us to come.’
I followed his eyes across the room. A couple of guys with beanies and gauge-earrings leaned over and whispered into female ears. I didn’t know any of them.
‘Wanna burn one?’ I said.
‘Sure. I’ll match.’
We stood out back on a patch of earth that sloped down a hill into the canyon. The smog had dulled the stars, so they looked kind of burned out and sleepy. I felt a sudden sense of shame because my observations seemed maudlin. I racked my brain for something entertaining to say. Rollie must have felt the strain too, because he nudged me, and started performing smoking tricks to fill the dried-up space.
His new girl, the one with the plastic glasses and hair the color of oil, approached us. She reached up and scratched Rollie’s head.
‘Can I have a hit?’
‘You got weed to throw down on the next spliff?’ Rollie said.
She batted her eyes at Rollie, then turned to smile at me. ‘Not with me.’
‘Then fuck off.’
I felt the violence in Rollie’s voice chase her into the house. He turned away and spat on the ground, sweeping October coldness into our human cluster. ‘Was she serious?’
When I got back inside with Rollie, I found Maria looking for me.
‘You promised me you’d be social,’ she said.
‘Relax,’ I said. ‘I can still be social.’
‘You’re blitzed. I hate it when you smoke with him.’
‘I’m not blitzed. I’m just a little faded.’
‘I hate him.’
‘He’s a character.’
‘I hate him.’
‘C’mon. Let’s go see your friends.’
We rejoined the party, and I silently suffered, cursing the unfamiliar male cling-alongs who shot me looks I didn’t like and, I assumed, masturbated with Maria in mind. At some point, Chloe came out of a back hallway screaming that some of her mother’s jewelry was missing. One of Chloe’s male friends cut the music and stood on a table. He yelled at everyone and the exits were blocked. People were made to line up. The girls opened their bags, the boys emptied their pockets. The search party came up with nothing and things soured fast. We said our goodbyes and left.
On the drive home I talked dirty to Maria, confident that I had enough substances in my system for a prolonged fuck. I told her how hard I was, that I wanted to hold her tits and do her from behind, that I wanted to have her in her schoolgirl outfit on the kitchen counter. When we got back to her Mom’s and slipped into bed, she told me she was too tired to give it a go. I tried to guide her body into it, but she slapped my hand away.
‘What’s wrong?’ I said.
‘I don’t like your friends.’
I snorted. ‘Feeling’s mutual.’
‘You hang out with assholes.’
‘You hang out with frauds.’
‘Rollie’s a rapist.’
‘He rapes girls.’
I grabbed her arm. ‘You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.’
She pulled her limb back but I held on.
‘Let go of me!’ I released my grip and she massaged her wing. ‘I’m going to have a bruise,’ she said. Then she rolled over. ‘You’re all so violent.’
‘This is bullshit,’ I said, and went to go sleep on the couch.
That night I dreamt Rollie and I were running away from faceless men. We were on a conveyer belt, thousands of feet above the ground, and I was certain if our pursuers caught us we’d be thrown to our death. I woke and thought about the time I got jumped. I was fifteen, and two out of towners, both fucked up and looking to pick a fight, attacked me on the street. They sucker punched me in the eye and the stomach, and when I went down, one of them brought their heel onto my face. They shattered my nose along with most of the olfactory nerves in my brain, and my sense of smell hasn’t ever been the same.
While I was in the hospital, Rollie somehow found out who these kids were, and where they were staying. He rounded up a crew and advanced on the destination, clomping two bricks together. He stood outside of the house, and shouted threats. One of the bricks went through the window, but no one came out. Word was, the cocksuckers had caught wind of the mob and split town.
In the morning, Maria and I both apologized for the previous night, and chalked our antics up to an overflow of alcohol. Over a cigarette on the balcony, I asked Maria to explain her accusation. She told me that a ways back, before we dated, Rollie and Chloe had briefly hooked up. One night, when they were both blasted, Rollie fucked Chloe. She was too drunk to resist, but also too drunk to consent, and she lay there silently crying, while he had a go with her. I thought about a younger Chloe, too bombed to turn her head, lying below Rollie’s naked body, filled with his unwanted D.N.A.
‘Jesus Christ,’ I said. ‘Why didn’t she report him?’
‘I don’t know. She said she didn’t want to.’
A strong breeze hit us sideways. I pulled Maria close to me and held her there.
‘What?’ she said.
‘How’s your arm feeling, love?’
She took a drag of the cigarette and let the smoke out slow. Then she showed it to me.
‘No bruise,’ she said. ‘Everything's all right.’
Luke Silver is a recent MFA graduate in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. He is a Pushcart Prize Nominee, Best Small Fictions Nominee, and Shirley Jackson Award Candidate, and his work has been featured most recently in After the Pause, The Matador Review, and BOAAT PRESS.