Aubra wanted to take a picture of the sky. The colours reminded her of the glitter Silly Putty she used to play with as a kid, swirling two different balls together then pulling them apart so they stretched into a long, gooey rope. She’d take the rope and coil it into a circle so the colours blended more. The sky was pink and purple. She felt like she could look at it for a long time.
Something was moving on the roof. She recognized the silhouette of a large raccoon that came and went, a creature she knew operated with both fear and curiosity, because of the way it tested things before it touched them, then darted from the slightest sound. The raccoon was pressing its paw against a light branch that grazed the peeling shingles of the roof. What if the raccoon fell and got hurt? She’d have to deal with it right before her friends arrived. She was relieved when it turned its body, strolling along the ledge of the roof until it was out of sight. It would be tiresome to deal with death so late in the evening.
The raccoon had friends. They would sometimes surround her while she was in a daze, before she noticed what was happening. One time, she looked up to see six of them standing on the fence beside the stoop. They were all babies except the big wobbling one. Lined up, they looked like furry versions of Russian tea dolls. They all stared at her in a way that was meant to conceal fear, their bodies in freeze mode, stunted and withdrawn, suggesting a readiness for attack. Aubra knew they just wanted her garbage, and she tried to recall what she’d recently discarded—some expired potato chips and a few sheet masks. It’s possible a raccoon could eat one of her used sheet masks and die. She thought about what it would be like to die from a sheet mask. One of her enemies could sneak into her apartment and inject the package with a quick-acting poison. That sounded fine for her, but she didn’t want that for the raccoon.
How would her friends react? Liv would probably stare at the raccoon and take a picture, then post it so she could seem tough. To be honest, most of her friends would do the same. Harrison would be sad; he loves those little critters. Maybe her friends would help her move it, call the city to pick it up. Peggy might suggest some sort of burial service. But all this could be avoided if the raccoon didn’t show up again just to die.
Aubra went inside her house to collect some plates. She wanted to start setting up some food and snacks, mainly a package of blue cheese she’d bought at the market without realizing it cost fifteen dollars. There were some gourmet truffle chips that cost the same.
She left the food on her kitchen counter and walked over to her desk, where her computer was open. Aubra wanted to clarify what a pink sunset actually meant. Did it mean the sky was polluted, or was that just a myth? She was going to find out for certain, then tell her friends. Some e-mail notifications popped up. An Internet bill. One more from an address she didn’t recognize. The subject line was “too much.” All lower case. She clicked on the message so it expanded to fill the entirety of her screen, and what she saw made her feel embarrassed, maybe disgusted. It was her own face. It had been turned into a meme by the person who had sent the e-mail.
She’d taken the photo a few months ago, in the morning, when the light was reflecting in a pleasing manner on the walls of her bathroom. Her eyes looked wide and scared, but Aubra kind of liked it. She had pressed herself against the wall to take the photo.
The meme wasn’t very creative. It showed her face and a cock that looked like it was drawn with Microsoft Paint. Above and below her face reading, “desperate.”
She walked to the kitchen and pumped a large amount of evergreen-scented soap onto her palm, lathering for a long time and applying pressure to each of her fingertips with the opposite hand. After she dried, she took a cloth and some antibacterial spray then began to clean the tiles underneath her oven. She heard her phone ring and ignored it. She moved on to the tiles near the bottom of the fridge, wondering how she could have let it all get so dirty. Aubra was scrubbing at a faded orange stain when she heard a knock on the door.
Her apartment had an unusual number of mirrors. One of them was positioned above her sofa, in the living room across from a large front-facing window. It allowed her to see who was at the door. She didn’t feel ready to talk to Harrison. She sent him a message saying that she was peeing and that she’d be right out. Then she walked to her freezer and took out a bottle of vodka. She grabbed a glass from the cupboard and went to her room.
When she met Harrison at the door, she took out a couple of cigarettes to mask the smell of the vodka. She didn’t want to appear to have been drinking before her guests arrived. Harrison didn’t have much to say at first, and she knew it would be better if she asked him some questions about his day to get him talking. Aubra’s stomach felt warm, and the cigarette was making her feel dull and woozy in a way that made her think that she would be O.K.
Thinking about who made the meme was a dark trap that would leave her tired at best. She began to lead Harrison through her home to the backyard, where everyone was hoping to take advantage of a mild evening in the early spring. She paused in the kitchen to pick up the plates and food she’d put aside.
Outdoors, the sky had dimmed to a dull grey. Aubra walked to the iron patio furniture and said, “Only the best for my friends,” as she unfolded a black tablecloth. Harrison smiled and took a seat. He lit another cigarette, which prompted Aubra to grab the ashtray she kept on the steps near the door.
“I’m going to get more chairs,” Aubra said.
Once inside she made sure Harrison couldn’t see her through the screen door as she went in a direction opposite to the one she had stated. Hypervigilance wasn’t necessary. She could probably just take the bottle of vodka out and start chugging from it and Harrison would be left unfazed.
She had to appear like she was consuming a respectable type of liquor at a casual pace. If she kept making trips to her room, she could drink the way she wanted. She pulled the e-mail up on her phone, ignoring texts from friends who were arriving and probably waiting. Harrison could let them in.
What bothered her the most was that she didn’t know if the photo of her face being featured in the meme was good enough. Maybe that was the point. She thought of one of her exes who said that she should assume every photo she posts of herself is going to be turned into a meme. “That’s the way the Internet is,” he’d told her before making her promise she would keep all her accounts private. This comment, although it was made many years prior, could make him a candidate for suspicion. But it was unlikely it was him. Based on this logic, and his paranoid removal of every photo of himself, it would be difficult to find him on the Web, if she even could recall his name. Aubra didn’t feel anything from the vodka, so she drank more. She sprayed a sample of a perfume on herself in case anyone could smell the liquor on her. No one would get close enough to smell her, unless she could arrange something for after the party.
Her mind had already gone into mourning. It was as if a serenity of voices was coming at her brain, explaining that she was in danger and that it might stay that way forever. Aubra had no idea what she was mourning, as if her happiness before the stalker was something even viable enough to lose. She sat on her bed, curling her legs into a fetal position while her friends socialized. If she stayed much longer, they would wonder why she was shutting herself in there. She’d have to get up. At least then she could drink more. Then she would go back outside.
“We let ourselves in,” Peggy said when she saw Aubra emerge. Peggy’s partner, Jake, was filming the neighbour’s cat through the wire fence that separated their yards. Aubra’s garden was sparse and dry, while her neighbour had an abundance of vegetables and flowers. None of this mattered in the dark.
Harrison was talking more than usual, teaching Jake how to connect a tiny speaker to his phone, via Bluetooth, in a hushed and deliberate way. Harrison always ended up taking over the music, playing punk songs from bands some of the others had maybe heard of without knowing their history or context. He’d explain when people asked.
Aubra smiled at Peggy as she sat down at the table to arrange the food she’d brought out.
“I bought this special mayonnaise.”
“What’s special about it?” Harrison asked.
“It has ketamine in it.”
Harrison sat down at the table and started to rip the bag of truffle chips open.
Aubra wanted to dance to the music that was playing. For now, Harrison had chosen the soundtrack to Fire Walk with Me, and dancing to it felt good and right. Peggy got up and joined. Harrison filmed everyone swaying gently with eyes closed, mimicking Audrey’s dance in the Twin Peaks diner. Then the dancing stopped because they all wanted to see what the video looked like; if it was good enough to post on social media.
Aubra went inside and thought about whether or not she had a right to mourn. She walked into the room and sat on her bed, wondering if she could share these vacant feelings with her friends. She thought of the music that could get her to a point—similar to an orgasm—where she could just feel grief. It wasn’t about the Internet stalking, although that had moved her to access a deeper feeling of unease.
She lingered for a moment, playing the song she thought she needed. It was a symphony of moans and hums, and Aubra knew it was the only song that could make her feel a thing. She waited to feel, and it came. It made her stomach feel empty. She stared at a spot of paint on her wall. And what was this mourning about? The chords of the violin felt frantic and jarring, as if they were prompting her to relive a terrible, repressed memory or make one up.
Aubra wondered if she could match the nuanced calm of the conversation that was ahead. When she got outside, no one was dancing anymore. They were all standing around the table while Liv prepared to give Peggy a tarot reading.
Aubra joined the circle and smiled at Harrison. He had a look of determined patience on his face. When Liv had finished shuffling the deck, she placed it in her palm. She presented it to Peggy, indicating that she should rub it.
“Think of a question you need answered.”
Aubra knew Liv wanted someone to take her picture while she was doing the tarot reading. She didn’t offer.
“O.K., I got it.”
Peggy looked serious and hopeful while she gave the cards a delicate rub.
“You’re not going to tell us?” Aubra asked.
“I’m thinking, well—”
“You don’t have to tell them, Peggy,” Liv said.
“I’m wondering if I should quit writing poetry.”
“Fair,” Aubra said, wondering if she sounded like a bitch.
Liv either didn’t know how to do tarot readings or she was just a beginner. Peggy drew a card and everyone stared at it, making sounds that indicated appreciation and awe. Then Peggy took her phone out of her pocket to look up what the card meant. If she had any idea what she was doing, she would know each card by memory. It could also be that memorizing the meanings of each card took time and that it was for the people who were making money off it, people who were invited to art fairs or had a separate Instagram based on their tarot skills.
“What’s the card again?”
“Aubra! It’s the Fool.”
“Aren’t we all.”
“Exactly,” Harrison said as he turned his head to scan the garden.
“It means we are all on a great adventure.” Liv spoke softly and without irony.
As amused as she was by the mix of earnest wonder and ennui from each person in the group, Aubra didn’t want to read tarot any longer. Her stomach felt warm, but she could feel the wind hitting her wrists near the cuffs of her yellow coat. She decided it was time to tell a story.
“This reminds me of something.”
She introduced it in a cheap way she hoped would tie whatever she said to the hope and mystery of the Fool.
Her friends stared at her.
“I was at the park with my friend, and we saw a kite stuck in the tree. It took a long time for my friend to be able to place it. I had to direct her line of vision. When she finally saw it, she had the same reaction as me. She said, “Woah.”
Aubra paused to make sure her friends were interested. After all, it was a story of subtext and she needed them to pay attention.
“And what does ‘Woah’ mean, exactly? In this case, and in many others, I believe it’s a reluctance to express any opinion. My friend Gwen might not have cared about the kite in the tree as much as I did. Maybe it didn’t ignite a feeling of loss and longing the way it did for me. I thought about what I should say to her next. The last time I flew a kite was, well, average, or maybe it was just a difficult emotional experience because I was with my dad. I felt like I had to do something significant with the kite, but not even that. I felt like I had to invent a new type of kite in order to impress him. I told none of this to Gwen, my friend. The park was pretty full that day. Gwen and I were drinking these low-calorie sparking waters with vodka. I can’t speak for her, but the drinks were making me feel like I was stoned. I was thinking about how boring flying a kite must be for a kid in this day and age. Like they probably just wanted a fucking drone instead. I looked at the kite and tried to note each different colour and the way that it contrasted with the tree’s leaves.
Then I made a comment about how all kites look the same, with these simple rainbow patterns, and that the designers should come up with a concept that is more interesting. But in the end, what do I know about kites? What do I know about the feeling of control you get when it hits the wind the right way and it’s yours, you know? I have spent my whole life chasing that feeling. I have diminished myself to try and find that joy. I asked Gwen, ‘What if the kid flying the kite crashed it on purpose because they didn’t want to do it anymore—they just wanted to stop?’”
Aubra’s friends nodded in a contemplative way.
Liv said, “Oh Aubra! Imagine if you had a Twitter.”
“Why would I get one now?”
Peggy stepped in with wisdom: “There’s a kite that’s the fastest in the world. I forget how fast it flies—”
“A hundred and twenty miles per hour,” Jake said, as if he had been hoarding this knowledge, waiting for the chance to be recognized for it.
Harrison took a bottle of Jameson out of his bag. This sudden reveal of the whiskey made Aubra wonder if he had been holding on to the bottle but trying not to drink from it. A strange thought, as it was pretty normal for Harrison to drink heavily. He unscrewed the lid and started to pour the whiskey into his mouth, lifting the bottle so a stream formed onto his tongue like, a professional athlete would drink with a bottle of Gatorade.
“Want a glass?” Aubra asked, because getting one would serve as an excuse for her to go back inside and drink more vodka. She didn’t know how much of her vodka was left, and began to wonder if asking Harrison about the glass had inadvertently shamed him. People can do what they want. Maybe she could grab the bottle and start drinking from it like Harrison was. But if it was her, it would just seem sad.
Harrison said, “Yeah.”
Aubra felt like problems were sorting themselves into categories of irrelevancy in her head. She was being given the gift of a grand perspective that had to do with her place in the world, and she wanted this feeling of enlightenment to continue. She would bring Harrison her finest glass. She would even add an ice cube.
On her way into her house, Aubra walked into the screen door. She didn’t have to check if her friends had noticed because she could hear them all laughing in a subdued and empathetic way. They knew she was fragile.
The bottle was next to her mirror with light bulbs all around the edges. It was balanced precariously on her dresser. She’d found the mirror at the thrift store. Only a few of the bulbs still lit up, barely highlighting her face, which felt dry and painful. She applied some rosehip oil to her forehead and underneath her eyes while studying the liquor bottle. It surprised her that it was still half full, indicating she had been limiting her intake unconsciously.
She listened to her friends’ muffled voices as she walked into the kitchen and opened her freezer door. She had this ice cube tray with skull-shaped moulds. Sometimes it took a second to extract the ice. She’d broken a nail trying to do it once. Harrison’s voice became audible. He was yelling something about how he was a man. Aubra brought both their glasses outside with her so she could witness the spectacle. Some of the vodka was falling out as she carried what was a pretty heavy pour. It stung her cuticles and she wondered if people would smell it on her hands.
She loved it when Harrison got rowdy. It reminded her of a punk show. All his movements and words were an unpredictable outpouring of rage. It turned out Harrison hadn’t been yelling about how he was a man at all. He’d been yelling at his phone, perhaps making a video.
“I know that I can,” Harrison drew out the letters of the word “can” and raised his hands in the air as he finished his vague yet optimistic declaration of competence. Some of the whiskey spilled out of the bottle he was flailing. It must have landed on his phone because he started to wipe it with his black T-shirt. Aubra had never noticed that Harrison had abs. She made a note to ask him about it later, as if he could give her advice.
Everyone was laughing. Peggy was trying to record Harrison while hiding her camera under the table. Aubra knew Peggy was filming sheepishly because she didn’t like being perceived as eager.
“I know you can, Harrison,” Aubra said in a tone of feigned seriousness as she sat down.
“Thank you, Aubra,” Harrison nodded while making meaningful eye contact that was half-intended as joke, something she was used to doing with her close friends.
Everyone watched Harrison drink more whiskey. Then he sat down in an empty chair and was quiet.