Over our lunch break, we consider the implications of an existential hero who can’t act. Anina is sunk into a primeval gloom. She orders three donuts and pokes her way through them while we jabber. The way some stick-thin people can eat. I used to know a Latvian girl who ate a whole pizza every night, with pineapple and pepperoni, which is a whole different barrel of sins.
The place we go plays cheerful soul music and the walls are covered head to toe in stripes of color and tiles of black and white. Anina says it’s the furthest we can go from death and doom and a play set to open in two days and I think she must be right. The little sandwich shop we used to brainstorm in was cheaper and closer and less crowded and less snobby boho chic than this, but the coffee tasted like mud and the walls were low and sad and dingy and you could practically see the worms on the ground.
“We should have done something else,” says Anina. “We should have done a musical.”
We both laugh, laughter tinged with hysteria, because we’re in a mess and the idea of us doing a musical is laughable. You can have singing and dancing, running through cornfields, but neither of us are really chorus line style. The Flies is all about liberty, as Anina would say, the liberty to be whatever the hell you wanted because you weren’t really anything anyway. A continuous state of being was all social constructs to keep us from going crazy and eating each other’s bone marrow.
I was on my hands and knees beginning of sophomore year scrubbing out the fridge when I met Anina. She was eating a bag of pink candy and when she smiled at me, her teeth had a light rose enamel frosting. She was wearing a big straw hat like a Japanese anime princess and a t-shirt with a butterfly on it and I think there was dance music playing somewhere in the background or it might have been Labor Day and there might have been a festival in the park. I hated her immediately.
“Hello, roommate” she said.
It seems unfair to point out that this is mostly her fault, especially when she’s sunk into a gloomy sugar coma. She was the one who insisted on casting the German in the first place, although he showed the emotional depth of a kitten in his audition. My cat, which is no longer a kitten, used to run through moods like that, bouncing off the walls until he crashed and pouted. I told Anina that when we were casting late at night, with a bottle of tequila between us, but she was already in love with him and she told me if we didn’t cast him, it would probably ruin her life.
“He looks like Gaston.”
There was one time Anina and I went down to the 7/11 on the corner and got orange slushies and then we crawled under the broken fence in the old industrial development plant and we sat among the weeds and the pieces of broken pipe and we took turns holding our breath until the sky turned orange and glittery. It was like being little again when you spin on swings until you get dizzy and all the power-lines swoop past in sickening black flights. When I try to remember, I think that’s when we became friends, but we must have been friends before that anyway or we wouldn’t have done that. We were always all self-conscious with other people, going for Chinese takeout and pursing our lips over the menus looking for stuff that had less calories but didn’t look stupid and drinking wine out of paper cups like we were old ladies already. And when other people say that they want to have babies before they’re 30 and be lawyers and own matching plates so they fit together neatly and don’t look like a broken pyramid, we agree, but secretly we don’t know.
Anina shakes coins out of her the bottom of her purse and goes back up to the counter. I wonder if I should intervene but she just comes back with coffee. Our play is set to open in three days and the German doesn’t even know his lines, as Anina keeps pointing out. I try to explain that it doesn’t matter because even when he says his lines right, I have to suppress an overwhelming urge to burst out laughing.
I was born here and I have to ask the way like a stranger.
Anina says he looks like Gaston. We stayed up all night last New Year’s watching Disney movies, while everyone was out getting drunk or maybe at home with their families and their old friends from before we grew up. Aladdin was the best but Anina is in love with Gaston. At four in the morning on the first of January, she printed his face off in color on my printer and tried to tape it to her shirt. I told her she had to pay for the color. Fuck you, she said.
“We should have done Beauty and the Beast,” says Anina. Her eyes are already spinning like pinwheels and I’m afraid of what the combination of caffeine and sugar will do. I think maybe I should take her to the toilet and hold her head down until she brings it all back up but they might kick us out. “No one would have noticed if the German can’t sing as soon as they saw him. We would have blown their minds.”
Singing would have been the least of it, I guess. In our play, the German kills his mother. He wanders around this broken-down old city where he was born for a while, pretending to be a stranger, and then he meets his sister and they decide to murder their mother. She hasn’t seen him since he was a baby but she loves him anyway, maybe because they’re related or because he looks noble and so on. They also have a plague of flies.
They’re flies because of rot and mold and that awful buzzing they make like drone sirens. But I always think of them as mosquitos. One summer at home, when I had a real life with a house and a garden gate and three dogs, it got up to 110 °
and I was really bored. So I ate a can of ibuprofen and I cut my wrists with one of the beer cans from the recycling and lay down in the garden. The blood that came out was dark and soft and it came in little trickles, not dramatic gushes. I watched it on the grass until I fell asleep and had a dream about the little soldier ants marching up my legs with blades of grass on their backs, back and forth in the white-hot heat, to build themselves a house. When I woke up, the blood had stopped, because I didn’t know you had to be in a bathtub, but there wasn’t a full inch of my skin that wasn’t covered in mosquito bites.
I think the thing about our existential play is that it’s confusing. Some people laugh to tears and some people are so bored they could shoot themselves and you’re never quite sure when it’s over. Not everyone who kills their mother is all bad but it’s not a psycho drama either: inside the mind of a killer, from crazy to the padded cell. Maybe that’s the German’s problem. He wanted to talk everything through, analyze it to death, resurrect the ghost of Sigmund Freud and develop the Oedipus complex into full-blown glory. Anina said we should go for milkshakes and brainstorm and I said that was fine, they could go, and she gave me dagger eyes.
“If you like him,” I asked him afterwards, “why didn’t you take him out alone?”
She sighs like I’m a stupid kid and she has to humor me. Pretty people, according to Anina, are better if you keep them at a distance. You want to pull people inside you, but then you get sick of them. Anina wants to stay in love with the German because it gives her something to think about.
At Christmastime, we went to the shopping mall. There were Christmas displays in all the windows and there was a Santa collecting money for babies and they were playing Christmas music over the loudspeaker. It was sunny outside but you could sort of smell fir trees and gingerbread cookies in the air if you closed your eyes and squeezed up your face. Anina and me went past all the pretty party dresses and the root beer floats and we went wandering through the home department, buying stuff for our house. They had shiny white futons and leathery couches and princess bedframes with curtain rods, rows and rows of frying pans and sharp steel knives and vegetable peelers and cake plates and cookie jars that said COOKIES on them. We got plenty of that stuff but we also decided to get a bag of soil in case we wanted to plant a garden and a birdhouse to hang in the window. Office chairs were easy, spin them around to see which has the most swivel, but we argued over towels. Anina wanted the kind you had when you were small and you went to the beach, with the Lion King on it, and I wanted the big fluffy kind they give you in knockoff resort hotels.
If you argue over towels, maybe you shouldn’t start a life together. So we hid the cart in the back of the store, where all the frozen meat was, and left it there. Ahead of us in line at the checkout, there were three generations of a family, grandparents and parents and two kids, all fat and happy and anxious, buying batteries and a pack of chewing gum. We just bought a bag of Skittles and sat on the fire escape and ate them all so later when I spat into the sink, it came out all the colors of the rainbow.