Friday, August 22, 2008


[I wrote this last school year, because it wanted to be written. I don't know what I think of it, but I don't care about it enough to improve it any. I published the first part in The Inkwell, Bethany's literary magazine, where it got fourth place (out of 50-60 entries) in the semester. That won me a $10 gift card, so that if nothing else buys some affection for this piece.]

This is true.

My brother died at the age of 14, in a horrible car crash that probably wasn't his fault. We weren't in the car, so we can never know, but he obviously wasn't driving and the guy in the car that hit him was drunk so there's that. We attended his funeral and mom cried and dad never cries because that's not something men do or something, but he took off his hat and stared at the ground and there was this look in his eye like a piece of him had been destroyed, which in a sense I suppose it had. And I, of course, was terribly sad. I think I cried for about a day. Literally. If you added up all the time I spent crying, it would probably be at least twenty-four hours. My aunt too, who lives like an hour from here, cried a lot—she didn't have any kids and she always wanted a boy and my brother was a favorite of hers. But he was gone and there was nothing we could do about it.

This is also true.

My brother comes out of his room every day and eats and washes himself. He is fourteen, and his face is spotless, all the acne that used to spatter it having cured itself. He makes messes, and my mom yells at him to clean them up, and he grumbles and does. And she grumbles about what an awful little urchin he is, but then she smiles and there's this light in her eyes and you can tell she doesn't really mean it, not a word of it, that she loves this fourteen-year-old boy.

My brother has been fourteen for three years.

After his funeral, my mom was unbalanced for quite a while. Couldn't bear the grief, I suppose. She went from crying to not making any sound at all to not getting up in the mornings to getting up too early and not being able to sleep. The only thing she couldn't do was work, in any form, provide any sort of compensation for her existence to those around her. She was, essentially, a dysfunctional person. The doctors said something drastic had to happen.

So my dad went to this place. He had to seek it out, kind of, for while it was not an illegal establishment it was one which people would rather not think about. He put in a certain order, brought them certain documents and tissue samples, filled out myriads of personality test forms. Six weeks later he went there one last time and brought back my brother.

When my mom saw him, she screamed and cried, but it was a happy-sounding cry. Then she said, “He's...”

My dad looked her in the eye, waited until he knew he was holding her gaze, then shook his head. “It's best to just accept it.”

She nodded, and then she did. She was an English major in college; she appreciated the usefulness of stories in motivating people.

My mom's behavior I've described; after that day my dad simply ignored my brother, pretended he didn't exist. Ha. The government did that too; my brother no longer ate or consumed in any way, and he was frozen—he wasn't a legitimate tax claim, and he didn't use the school system.

My aunt came over one afternoon, and she caught sight of my brother and dropped whatever it was she was carrying, I've forgotten, and just screamed. Then she calmed down but she was still breathing fast and my dad and I appeared in the living room at the same time—my brother was still there, staring at her oddly—and she turned on my dad and her eyes were as cold as the sort of air that will freeze the snot in your nose, and she just said, “That is cruel.” My dad raised his hands, conciliatory, and started to explain. But she picked her stuff up, or maybe just left it, and turned around and left.

We've never heard from her since.

My friends and I saw this advertisement on this computer one evening; I think I got it over e-mail. It was for a place opening in the city, about half an hour from my house (the city that is, the actual place would be a bit farther). They called the place All Party All The Time! Because that's literally what it was, though it wasn't technically All The Time! because it didn't open until seven o'clock in the evening. It was a house, a big house, that from seven until seven in the morning was this giant party. Like, you could go into different rooms and there were different types of party going on—one room would have people dressed all metalhead and loud thumping music, and another room would have people dressed old-fashioned and swing-dancing, and another had people just chilling and playing pool, and another drinking hardcore. You could rent rooms and have birthday parties, or graduation parties or retirement parties or whatever you want. Each room was a different party, and for the twenty dollar cover charge you could go and go to one party or wander in and out of a bunch of parties.

That's what the advertisement said. We heard some inside scoop from other people. Apparently the way they kept these parties going was to hire people, a sort of “skeleton party crew,” to act like people ought to act in whatever setting the party was. They hired people to be metalheads, and skinheads, preppy, “typical” or nondescript kids, and so forth. Apparently they had an almost literal army of caterers, supply trucks coming and going all day and all night. They had a massive staff, and a massive budget. The amount of waste produced there rivaled that of some nuclear power plants, though it was somewhat less deadly.

After a couple weeks of speculation and hearing about it from other people, my friends and I finally went into town to go to the Party. (That's what we were calling it by then, just the Party, differentiated from other parties by the capital P.) The people going were me, my best girlfriend Justina, Ruby and her boyfriend Steph (short e), and Gloria and Peter, who were friends with all of us and pretended not to like each other and failed to fool anyone but each other.

The place was this Tudor-style house, but huge and with all its attributes exaggerated, and you could tell it was just honeycombed with rooms because there were so many windows all lined up next to each other. Light was spilling out all the windows, and you could just see all kinds of partying going on.

We went in the front door on the bottom floor and there was this big guy with a frown that looked permanent who took our money and gave us a map of the rooms and told us generally where the types of parties were—the clique parties, the hard core parties, the more genteel parties. Since we were all under 21 we had to wear red nametags that had our names on them and would also alert various bartenders to only serve us virgin drinks. Peter wrote Sir Lancelot on his and grinned as if he was clever.

We chose one of the more genteel parties to start off with, a cocktail party kind of thing with chips and dip and drinks and pool and ping-pong and people talking and flirting pleasantly. I got a Virgin Mary from the bar and settled on my stool, wondering if people would flirt with me. There seemed to be quite a mix, teenagers through middle-aged. I wondered which were the actors.

Ruby went off to the bathroom after a while and Steph went to the bar and ordered something. He was leaning against the bar still when a girl, woman, I don't know, she could have been anywhere from 18 to 25, anyway she was wearing a tight sequined red dress and she kind of slunk over to Steph and asked him what his name was.

“Steph,” he said, and as always there was that note of triumph in his voice, as if it were something special that his parents had decided to steal a stupid Russian name instead of using a stupid American one. (His real name, in case you hadn't guessed, was Stephan, still with the short e.)

“That's a cool name,” the lady in the red dress cooed at him.

“Ya think?” said Steph, grinning more broadly.

“Sure,” she said.

They made small talk for a while. I got bored and so I drowned out the specifics, but it seemed to go along with her cooing and him getting all full of himself—he seemed to really enjoy flirting with her. After a while there was a pause, and I looked over to see him regarding her with narrowed eyes. She was looking back at him, a mysterious indefatigable smile splayed across her features.

“You're one of them, aren't you?” he said.

“One of who, darling?” she said, and there was laughter in her voice.

“Them, the actors this place hires to keep us entertained. You thought I looked bored, so you came over here to make me feel good about myself so I'd come back here and tell my friends what a great place this is.”

“Would I do that?” she said, and oh she was very prettily offended. She gestured to encompass the entire building. “Look at this place. Do you think the owners here really need the business of you personally?”

He continued to look at her with narrowed eyes.

She sighed. “Look, suppose I am. Have I said anything about you that you don't already believe? Also, didn't you get a thrill out of flirting with me? There's nothing fake about that, is there?”

He continued to watch her, and she grinned again and batted her eyes.

“Or maybe I really am an actor, but I'm actually taken by you. Did you ever think of that?”

“Yes,” he said. “I did, actually. But how can I know?”

She smiled, and batted her eyes again and now she was really pouring it on thick. “Well, ask me to get out of here and find a quieter place with you.” Her smile widened, and it was almost a predator's grin. “A paid actress wouldn't do that, would she?”

Just then Ruby got out of the bathroom. Steph saw her walking towards him. “One minute,” he said to the lady in red. He took Ruby by the arm, and found the rest of us and announced they were ready to try another room.

Look around you. They're everywhere.
Your history is riddled with them.
Your country's history,
Your personal history,
Your world's history.
No matter what religion you subscribe to (even atheism), there's somebody out there lying about it.
Your job requires a lot of it,
And especially any school you might happen to be attending.
Your nights,
Your days,
Your resumes,
Your life.
And yes, this is one of them.

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