The long months have passed. Winters dormant stillness remains frozen in some unseen chasm of memory. Burning away in the embers sweeping upward emanating from a struggling fire into the cold castaway colors of a setting sky. The sinking sun glowing at a western latitude. Leaving behind a spectrum of inaudible explosion casting black shadows over dulled landscape. A coolness, which can only be felt in the late spring, descends from that same multicolored limitless ceiling. The icy fingers of our cosmos reaching into terrestrial existence. The static yet depreciating warmth of un-stoked flame, rendered furtive during the day in meager comparison to the ambient heat, subtly reasserts an appreciation.
“Throw another log on that fucker, will ya?”
Jedmon, Carl, Sylvia, Lola, and Pop all sit like modern renderings of American gargoyles. Crouched crooked and skewed into strange constellations of unnatural movement. All trying to simultaneously create a preferable distance to the altering volume of heat vibrating from the flames Jed feeds with dry timber and, with necks craned and hands held high to cover their eyes, watch as Tiny dances nude in the light of the setting sun.Her movements are uncoordinated and unrehearsed. She kicks up puffs of dirt into her long flowing hair and makes her body somehow look ugly by crumpling in strange places and stretching in others. A life dance if one ever existed.
“How much did she take?”
They laugh and holler at her. Although the group rests far from any sort of established civilization there is reason to assume that fellow campers could be near by. Perhaps a few preteens wandering through the woods lucky enough to get an eyeful of a nude dancing woman singing unnatural words. Or some very serious mountain bikers unlucky enough to cause a horrific crash. Tiny’s dance is not a spectacle of self or exhibition of indifference toward social norms. Tiny just likes to dance. The nude part is something of an oddity but after two tabs of acid nothing really surprises.
“Maybe someone should get her before she hurts herself.”
Smoke from burned maple has a very distinct odor. It is sweet and piney, nearly floral. Each limb blisters with a snap and crackle as the dormant phloem extricates stored hydrogen. Wafts of intricate gray chard molecules cling to skin and fabric like a pleasant cancer. Not easily gotten rid of. Like Tiny’s dance the dance of the open flame and swirling smoke illuminates something very concrete about the nature of movement. The intentional idea is never completely removed from the result but always separated by the bridge of action.
Lola stands up and tries walking over to the twisting form of her friend twirling in the open orange of fatal sky. She temporarily stumbles sideways as her reconfiguring equilibrium adjusts for forward progress and nearly falls over. A hush falls over the group. Catching her balance just one second before catastrophic failure she executes a cool one eighty turn and gives the group a double thumbs up. With half laughter and half applauds they cheer her on.
“Your problem is that here we sit and there she dances not even thirty feet away, naked as a bird, just itching to get fucked, and you won’t do a goddamn thing about it.”
Pop is what they call a beer stool prophet. The man keeps his cards close, tight as hell actually, when sober. Then, given the proper amount of lubrication, he wont shut up. His current trepidation rests with Carls inability to mount the nude dancing Tiny.
“No, my problem is that cocks like you like to tell me that I have a problem.”
“Did I hurt your feelings?”
“What the fuck have you ever done Pop. Your twice her age and sitting here balling to me about how I should be going over to what. Go fuck yourself.”
“No need to get pissed man. I’m trying to help.”
Carl looks like a human being with all of the air let out of him. Gaunt and starched with a loose posture and sullen eyes. Partly from the acid and partly form a natural dislike of physical activity. At nineteen he is the youngest of the group but his looks would never allow you to believe. His tall gangly build and wispy yellow beard made him look like an old begotten cowboy. In truth though they all know Pop is dead on. He usually is. Tiny would happily take whatever Carl was willing to give her. As asserted Tiny just likes to dance. But Carl is something of a emotional anorexic. Bound to tiresome ethical toils in which incept use of drugs and alcohol seemed reasonable but to humanly interface with a woman was, well, out of bounds.
“Your a fucking pussy Carl. Thats all.”
“I got this Syl. Pop, man, your a thirty six year old burn out sitting in the woods with your nephew tripping face off of some acid you got from said nephew, with the friends of said nephew. Don’t you think it would be reasonable for you to give the guy a break for once.”
“Thank you Jed.”
“No problem Carl. But he’s right you are a pussy. She wants it.”
With that Pop and Jed clang beer bottles and start laughing. The stupid lost laugh that only hallucinogens render. Carl runs his awkward claw-like hand through his hair and tries to smile away the ball of frustration growing in his gut. Sylvia, who is the lone acid-less head in the group, talks softly to Carl.
“Your right to be carful. Not everyone can be as wonderful as these two. Thank god.”
Although Carl recognizes Sylvia’s sentiment it doesn’t make him feel better to be coddled. Pop’s remorseless howl reverberates through him like a cold wind. Sylvia’s soft words and hand cannot distort the acid rage building inside of him. As Jed and Pop’s conversation drifts away from Carl and unto some other equally unimportant matter, wheels begin to turn in Carls head. Acid wheels.
Who is Pop to tell him how he should act. If it weren’t for Carl then Pop wouldn’t even be here. Jed isn’t Pop’s friend, he is Carl’s. Tiny isn’t some random piece of ass. She meant something to Carl. And Pop knows that, probably better than anyone, and just because he had a little bit of acid and a few bottles of beer he cannot just disregard these facts as if they were minutia.
Carl is now solidly set in his realization that this shall not stand and opens his mouth to tell Pop exactly what he thinks of him. At this precise moment Tiny sits next to him, wrapped up in a thin blanket. She is so very nearly nude with the soft fabric clinging to her moist skin that her nakedness seems more pronounced. Her breathing is heavy and she smiles like an idiot. All of Carl’s acid rage recedes like a sour tide when she puts her hand on his.
“Did you see me dance?”
In a strange sixth sense peripheral vision Carl can sense a smile melt over Sylvia’s lips. He feels the ambient warmth of Tiny’s body that seems to him more potent then the fire itself. Her liquid eyes shimmer with the twisting flame giving them unearthly characteristics. He feels the saliva in his mouth start to boil. There is a moment of utter silence when the whole universe seems to fade away. The fire, Pop, Sylvia, Jed, and Lo, might as well be rocks on Mars. Nothing exists outside of those eyes.
He leans in to kiss her as she begins to vomit. The hot projectile vomit that makes a sick audible impact wherever it lands. Which in this case, unfortunately, is Carls slightly open lips. He receives the warm booze and stomach bile with eyes closed and half a hard on. The immediate reaction is shock and concern followed by a roar of laughter.
“I guess your right Syl, he was smart to be careful.”
In the immediate aftermath of such a devastating event a concrete awkwardness sets. Simultaneously existing in the tepid atmosphere, mixing like lipids, feelings of anxiety and humor, disgust, disbelief, regret, and the utter resonance of un-surprised resolve commingled with the fact that later, perhaps a week from now, certainly a year or so down the road, everyone involved, including Carl himself, will split sides over this ordeal. Tiny’s embarrassment quickly surpasses Carl’s disgust and everyone, except for Pop, tries to make light of the situation. If for nothing else than the sole hope of preserving the rest of the trip and avoiding the desperate spiral of a bad one.
Sylvia, being the lone non-tripper, takes Tiny to her tent in order to try and calm her down and clean her up. Jed walks Carl over to the little stream not far from the camp site in order to clean the remnants of vomit out of his hair. While Pop and Lola sit by the fire trying as hard as they can not to laugh audibly enough to upset all parties concerned.
“You have to admit though man. Outside of how disgusting the whole thing is, eventually, that is going to be pretty funny.”
“Easy for you to say. You didn’t just get thrown up on.”
Away from the fire the darkness of early evening is suffocating. The black bark of endless conifers and oak resonating with an audible silence. Details are impossible to make out and the lone leading indicator of the stream is the soft rushing of water over muddy pine needle strewn bed.
“I mean at least you went in for the kiss. From my perspective, save for the grace of some acidic god…
“You mean demon.”
“…right demon, aside from that, things were going really well.”
It seemed odd to Carl that the fact he was covered in vomit was the least horrible thing about what had transpired. In truth he felt bad for Tiny. She cried like a baby when she realized what had happened. The crusted stomach bile in his hair seemed like a secondary scar compared to the aborted jubilation of a nonexistent kiss.
They reach the stream and Carl gets down on his hands and knees submerging his entire head into the water. Jeb lights a cigarette and looks up at the sky. Although they are only forty or so miles from home the clarity of the sky in comparison to the light polluted city sky is immeasurable. It occurs to him, that if not for the inability of the eye, in relation to the density of the cosmos, the entirety of the sky should shine with a variety of planetary and solar brightness. Yet the only visible lights exist from the explosion of the nearest galactic batteries which combusted thousands of years ago. Carl pulls his head out of the water and takes a deep breath.
“Holy fuck I just realized how high I am.”
Back in the tent Tiny silently watches as Sylvia rolls a joint. She is curled up into a tight ball covered in blankets and sips a juice box from a straw like a child. Sylvia sits and watches her, happy that she is no longer crying. Her gaze is far away and spectral but calm.
“Do you feel any better?”
“I feel like my brain is trying to climb out of my skull.”
“This joint will help. It always does.”
“Everyone is going to hate me.”
Sylvia laughs out loud, unintentionally, but quickly reigns it in. Amused at the concept of how a twenty year old with a head full of acid prioritizes the reality of a situation. Her concern was not for her safety or even any guilt or remorse. Instead her focus is on fear of being ostracized. Little did she realize that regardless of almost anything a pretty twenty year old girl could do to anyone she would be completely forgiven without so much as an apology.
“Worse things have happened.”
Carl lights his cigarette with Jed’s and tries to shake the water out of his ears. The intense cold of the water seemingly erases all prior maladies and restored a level headed high from before the setting of the sun. Carl most enjoys a high when he is in control of it. When he is tripping so hard that he could honestly believe that trees were talking to him but grounded enough to realize that it was just part of the trip.
“I think I have a story that might make you feel better.”
“Lay it on me brother.”
Jed and Carl have been friends for as long as they could remember. Although Jed is three years older you would never know it. Where Carl looks sunken Jed is vibrant and youthful. As Carl is awkward and crooked, twisted looking like an old tree, Jed is unblemished and astute. Given to an eye test Carl looks like the more veteran of the two friends but Jed never lets him forget who is who.
“Do you remember Rachel Row?”
“Ya, ya that little blond one that never shut up.”
“Well do you remember that party on the beach out in front of Moon’s hotel when you and Dustin and Mackie were all setting fence posts on fire.”
“Haha, yea I remember.”
“Well that night I walked down the beach with Rachel so we could hook up. It was real dark because there was no moon and we were wasted. I remember very distinctly though when I was fingering her thinking how incredibly wet she was. Like the wettest fucking pussy I have every felt in my life right. She’s going crazy so I just throw it in her bare back right on the beach. And still I cant believe how wet this girl is. I honestly remember thinking to myself how much of a fucking badass am I to get this girl this wet. So I am in full on porn-o mode and I don’t want to bust right away so I pull out and go down on her and she yells “NO.”…
“Yea. My lips hit her pussy and I taste blood.”
“OH fucking grosse dude.”
“Like horror movie amount of blood. The sand looked like I was very literally murdering her with my dick. Needless to say I lost my shit. I took off what was left of my close and ran into the ocean. When I got back she was gone.”
“I remember that you got hammered that night.”
“To this day I have never told anyone else that story and to my knowledge neither has she. But I though it was fitting, you know considering the circumstance.”
For an instant they share and acknowledge the strength of their friendship and the appreciation they have for one another. Then both break out laughing and start walking back to the camp site.
“Your a fucking vampire bro.”
Much later now, with Tiny passed out still curled up in a fetal ball in Sylvia’s tent. Jeb and Carl passed out on the ground next to each other close to the fire, and Lola softly snoring with her head in Sylvia’s lap. Pop and Sylvia, by far the oldest of the group, sit next to each other as the fire burns out and pass a joint between themselves.
“What the fuck are we doing Sil.”
“Please stop talking Pop. I really don’t want to hear it anymore.”
“I mean look at us. Thirty year olds hanging out with a bunch of kids getting fucked up in the woods. Not a child or a mortgage between the two of us. We were fucking star set once. Well not me but you. How the fuck did this happen.”
“Ecstasy, global recession, and a failed marriage for me. You have been a piece of shit pretty much as long as I have know you.”
“Isn’t it funny Syl. How it all turns out. What was I when I met you eighteen. You were sexy back then too.”
“I was fourteen you fucking pervert. You were dating my sister.”
“I was banging your sister. She thought we were dating. She was wrong.”
“Why are you such an asshole all the time?”
“Small penis. But seriously I get me. I mean your right I am a piece of trash. But what the are you doing out here Sylvia.”
Pop is always cutting to the core of things. In a way the someone socially conscious or ethically constrained never could. With cold surgical logic he dissects the nuance of social platitudes. He found this characteristic unenviable as everyone else but it yield for him what he saw as the lone characteristic of substance inside humanity. Which is suffering. Sylvia looks down at her younger sister’s head resting in her lap and then back up at Pop.
“I’m all she has. And if her being friends with Carl means that I have to see you then I guess thats my cross to bear. But don’t give me your bullshit Pop. I know you loved my sister and I know she broke your heart and I know that you should act like a fucking man and get over it. I don’t want to be apart of your pathetic pity party and neither does anyone else. And it’s not fair that you take your bullshit out on Carl.”
Pop smiles like he had just received a present. The sickest part of his fascination with suffering is the reaction his pressure always elicited. You could question someone all day about politics or their favorite sports team, their mother, or their job, and never find out one iota about them. But, if you could figure out what made them uncomfortable or where the screaming insecurity lay, well, they would tell you everything.
“Well Sylvia to be perfectly honest I didn’t know you cared. But I must say that your picture of me is dead on. The reason that I am here, so I have come to find, is the same reason that you are here. Because we both just flat out missed the boat. Not even that, we were on the boat, shit you were first mate, and we jumped out. Hijacked a life boat and went searching for some tropical island.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Let’s sleep together tonight.”
“Am I? Look at us. A single guy at forty is still considered a bachelor if he’s got a job and isn’t a heroin addict. I’m doing ok. But you, shit Syl, your coming up on thirty five babe. I mean don’t get me wrong your as beautiful as ever but you and I both know what that means. Biological clock and all…”
“Shut the fuck up Pop. I try to open up to you and you feed me your line of shit. If you say one more word I swear to god I will come over there and slap the shit out of you.”
The silence between the two of them becomes thick. They both realize that they had been yelling at each other. A line had been crossed which neither one of them intended to cross nor realized that they had been approaching. A comfortable but distant relationship had suddenly transformed in a few minutes into a close uncomfortable one. Sylvia looks back down at Lola’s sleeping head and runs her finger through her dark hair. Pop looks out towards where Tiny danced earlier which now feels like a lifetime ago.
“I’m sorry Syl. I know that losing your mom was hard and I am sorry I never said anything about it until just now. I am sorry about what happened with you and Bill and I am sorry that I am such an asshole about everything. We both know that I have no idea what I am doing. To be perfectly honest sometimes it’s nice to see someone like you, who’s always had their shit together, end up sitting next to someone like me. And that’s the truth and I am sorry about that too. I would do anything for these kids. Same as you.”
Sylvia sits with her mouth hanging slightly ajar. He never once looks at her as he says this but once he finishes their eyes meet and someone else is behind them. She doesn’t really know what to say. They sit like this together in the last swirling embers of the suffocating fire softly lighting both of their faces. A strange vain of electricity has been set between them and for the first time, perhaps ever, they really look at each other. This moment seems to last between them forever and a day.