“Leaving in five. You better be ready,” Kelly said when she came into the bedroom and found me watching an episode of Thundercats in my pajamas. I rolled off the mattress, got dressed, squeezed a few zits. People get uncomfortable around adults with acne, so I did my best to take care of what I could.
In the taxi on the way to the play, Kelly asked if I was excited.
“I just hope it’s not packed,” I said.
“Don’t start, Tom.”
“I also hope the play isn’t some surreal, sensual journey or something. Did Jody mention what this play was about?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. God, can’t you just enjoy things?”
I cracked open the window, hoping the rushing wind would drown out our conversation.
“Yeah, I can. I will, you’ll see. So, Jody’s sister is in this, right?”
Kelly rubbed her temples. “No, her new boyfriend is playing guitar for it.”
“New boyfriend. Got it,” I said.
We pulled up to an abandoned Brooklyn factory where groups of nicely-dressed people stood around smoking cigarettes. Kelly brushed something off my shoulder and asked if she looked ok. I wanted to tell her she looked great, but wondered why she cared so much. Who was she trying to impress?
“Uh-huh,” I said.
The doorman let us in without even checking our tickets. Waste of thirty bucks.
Jody ran up to us, shouting, “Kelly!” They hugged while I stood there starting to sweat.
“Thanks for coming, Tom.”
I said, “You’re welcome,” and laughed my awkward stranger-says-something-I-don’t-quite-hear laugh.
We stepped into a huge room filled with folding chairs surrounding a wooden stage.
“They have beer and wine over in the corner,” Jody said, “but the show’s starting soon so hurry! Saved seats for us.”
We got our beers and sat down as the play started. The whole thing was in French. Jody handed us translation booklets. I gave her a thumbs up, then leaned over and whispered to Kelly, “This is bullshit.” She gritted her teeth and shoved me.
I tried reading along, but the faded ink and dim lighting made it pretty difficult. I flipped to the first page and scanned the description, which started with “A strange, sensual voyage…”
I shoved the booklet under my ass.
The girl on stage spoke her lines in this breathy, carnal voice. She lay on the floor. She took her shirt off, revealing a lace bra. She arched her back, moving her hand down her pants. She was exploring her sexuality, I guess. A guy I recognized from an earlier part of the play stepped on stage. They chatted a bit, then his shirt was off too. The music picked up. I wondered which of the three grinning, mustached guitarists was Jody’s new boyfriend.
“I bet they’ll be an orgy,” I said.
Another guy stepped into the scene, followed by a woman. I nudged Kelly.
Clothes flew from the stage into the audience. An undershirt landed on my head, and I left it there until Kelly pulled it off, laughing. When we made eye contact, she glared at me, then tossed the shirt at Jody. People threw the clothing in the air and snapped photos. A sock whipped my face. On stage, about fifteen people feigned some goofy orgy, shouting things in French. The girl in front of me held up a pair of fishnets and pretended to lick them. She took a selfie. I saw myself in the background, a sweating, blemished mess. I thought about her deciding not to post the photo because I’d ruined it. For the first time that night, I smiled.
“Did you love it?” Jody said.
It felt good to be outside. I had the rolled up translation booklet in my hands. I raised it to my eye and looked around, bringing everything into sharp focus.
“It was fun,” Kelly said. “Tom hated it, though.”
“I didn’t hate it,” I said, still looking through the makeshift telescope, “it just wasn’t for me.”
“I’m sorry you didn’t like it,” Jody said.
I tried to tell her it was fine, but her boyfriend came over and put his arm around her. He had on a flat-brimmed baseball hat.
“Killed it!” he said.
“We were just talking about how great the band sounded! This is Kells and her husband, Tom.”
We shook hands.
“I’m Jordan. You guys do the whole monogamy thing, huh? Old school!”
“Color me conservative,” I said.
“Dope play, right? I think the live band really takes it up to level sa-weeeet. Reviews say we sound like early Modest Mouse smoking crack with Radiohead while Ariel Pink DJs.” He put both hands in the air like he was surrendering and said, “Their words, not mine!”
“Kells loved it, but Tom gave it two thumbs down,” Jody said.
“No I didn’t.”
“Nah, it’s ok, bro. Not everyone’s gonna get it.” He patted me on the shoulder.
I could see him scanning my face, eyes pausing at each blemish. Happened quick, but I caught it. I had to pee. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I snatched the hat off his head and peed in it right there, not breaking eye contact or saying a word.
“The band’s gonna meet at this wine bar, you all wanna come? Got a pre-roll in my bag, too.”
I shot Kelly a pleading glance.
“Sounds fun, but we should get going.”
Jody pouted, hugged us both.
Jordan gave Kelly a hug and kissed her cheek. He gave me a low five. We watched them walk away, Jordan saying, “Before we hit up that wine bar, let’s grab something to eat. I know a place that serves some dank sushi.”
“So dank,” I whispered.
Kelly’s goodbye smile faded. “Why do you always have to ruin everything?”
“Apparently it’s what I do best.”
She hurried ahead of me down the street.
“Come on,” I said, struggling to keep up through streams of people, “I wasn’t that bad.”
“You were a pain in the ass… as usual.”
“Oh like you really enjoyed that play. Gimmie a break. And Jordan?”
“That’s not the point. You’re a killjoy, and I’m sick of it. I’ve been sick of it for a long time.”
I felt the words rising, felt them clawing their way up my throat and out of my mouth. I said, “Why don’t you go be with some asshole like Jordan then? Go have some dank sushi and party all night. Have a fucking blast.”
“You know what, I think I will. Have a great night watching G.I.Joe or whatever the fuck you’re into lately.”
She turned around and headed back the way we came, zipping past me. I called out, “Kells, wait. I’m sorry… and it’s Thundercats!”
I walked down Bedford Ave. Everyone seemed to be in groups. I sent Kelly a text. I’m sorry, K?
“Am I the asshole?” I said out loud, surprising myself.
“You’re the asshole. I’m the asshole. Everyone’s the asshole,” came a voice to my left. A guy in torn sweatpants and a stained Prince shirt sat slumped against a building. Moist yellow crumbs dotted his mustache, and a dirty comb poked out of a tangled mess of chin hair.
“Hell yeah,” I said.
“Gimmie something, asshole.”
I checked my pockets, found a loose piece of gum, offered it to him.
“I don’t need no shitty Dentyne Ice, asshole.”
I still had the translation booklet so I handed it to him. He flipped through it, sniffed it. “Sensual discovery. Nice, asshole,” he said.
I told him to enjoy and walked away.
“Hey asshole!” he called after me. “I was wrong, not everyone’s the asshole! Prince was pure gold!”
Not sure how much further I walked when a girl screaming “Mom! Mom!” broke my Facebook scrolling trance. She crouched over an older woman laying spread eagle on her back. The girl pushed her hair behind her ears, but it kept falling forward over her unconscious mother’s face. I asked some onlookers what had happened.
A woman in a navy pantsuit said, “Just a few seconds ago this lady passed out, boom, smashed her head into the concrete. Sounded like bat hitting a softball. Already called 9-1-1.”
I tried to see if the lady was breathing. I stared at her stomach, waiting for it to move. The girl kept saying, “Mom? Mom?” and pushing her hair back. Someone said, “Does anyone know CPR?” We all shook our heads.
The woman in the pantsuit took her heels off and ran down the street yelling, “Does anyone know CPR?” Groups passed by—their voices became hushed, then picked up volume again as they cleared the scene. I turned and ran.
I ran past what seemed like endless waves of people, shouting until my voice started to break. “Anyone know CPR? Does anyone know CPR? Someone needs help!” They avoided me like I was naked, waving a flamethrower around. “CPR? Anyone?”
A larger crowd gathered near the unconscious lady. I started to run back, but tripped and came down on my hands and knees. I felt the skin of my palms tear open, felt the blood start to flow. Out of breath, I rested on all fours. My phone started ringing as the ambulance whizzed past. I let it go to voicemail, eased myself into a sitting position. Police arrived and started clearing the crowd. I wiped sweat from my face, staining my shirt with blood. I felt like an asshole for not knowing CPR. I felt like an asshole for judging Jordan for and ruining Kelly’s night. The bum in the Prince shirt was right. I am an asshole, I thought, just as much of an asshole as everyone else. But still less of an asshole than Jordan.
I checked my phone. There was a missed call, and a text from Kelly. Where r u rn?
I went to type something back, but blood smeared across the screen and I sent a bunch of gibberish.
Felt pretty satisfied with that response.
Michael Seymour Blake’s work has appeared or is forthcoming at Queen Mob’s Tea House, Barrelhouse, Fanzine, Flapperhouse, Entropy, Corium, Paper Darts, People Holding, Hypertext, Heavy Feather Review, and Reality Beach. He has painted various murals around NYC, including one that was prominently featured at Silent Barn in Brooklyn, home to the new Mellow Pages Library. He lives in Queens.