“ARE YOU CALLING TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY A LIAR?” by Chris Drabick

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After a few sad weeks alone, cheering myself with wine and weed and Wolf Parade, I started to try and program my dreams. I’d read about it once, or seen a TV program, I don’t know, it’s not all that important. Songwriters who’d found a way to write songs when they sleep. Terence Trent D’Arby, I think. He dreamed Marvin Gaye gave him a song. I wasn’t looking for anything so grandiose.

I’d go to bed and just think; that’s the easiest way to put it. But I’d try and train my thoughts, keep them focused on what I wanted to dream about, which was, you know, her. I wanted to see her in my dreams. She wouldn’t see me in waking life, I’d see her in dreams. Maybe that’s violating her in some way? I don’t know. It’s not really her. It’s just, like, a projection of her. What we don’t know can’t hurt us and all that. It’s not as though I was going to tell her.

The Terence Trent D’Arby song I was referring to is called “To Know Someone Deeply is to Know Someone Softly.” I don’t think it sounds very much like Marvin Gaye, for whatever that’s worth.

I had to try for many, many nights. But I was patient. I didn’t really have anything else to do, and sleep was what held peace for me. It felt good to fall asleep, and it felt good to fall asleep thinking of her. I missed her. I missed her face. I fell asleep looking at her face, stroking her hair. It was nice.

I had an ex who dreamed all the time of babies. She spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on pregnancy tests and eventually stopped sleeping with me altogether. I found out later that dreaming of babies means you regard yourself as immature.

There was nothing special about the night that it first worked, apart from the dream itself. Which was amazing. The dream. I felt everything, not just physical. When I woke, I felt loved. I walked around with the sensation of a full heart for days. When that left me, I was sad, but not because it wasn’t real. It was real. Even a projection is something real.

Isn’t “To Know Someone Deeply is to Know Someone Softly” real?

I had to try many, many more nights for it to work again, but I was patient. It had felt so wonderful when it happened that I was willing to work to make it happen again. And when it did, when it did happen, it was slightly different than before. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was different, but it was different. I still felt it, the physical and the love and the full heart, but it was just so slightly different. Diminished, yes. But also just, well, different.

Terence Trent D’Arby changed his name. He’s now called Sananda Maitreya.

The very next night, I fell asleep quickly, with no time to just think, before I had the opportunity to train my thoughts and keep them focused on what I wanted to dream about. Still she came to me. But in dreams, there are those moments in which we think it’s like this but really it’s like that, while talking to the person their identity changes, you’re in your house but it’s not your house, the memory shifts from happening in your teens to happening in your twenties.

Her name was Sue. In the dream. It was her, but she said her name was Sue. And I didn’t feel it, the physical, nor the love. My heart was empty.

He sang, “The larger picture will come with time.” But he was wrong. He was wrong when he sang that.

Chris Drabick is a former rock music journalist whose fiction has appeared in Cease, Cows, Midwestern Gothic, After the Pause and Great Lakes Review, and non-fiction in BULL and Stoneboat, among others. His first novel, “The Way We Get By”, is due from Unsolicited Press in November 2019. He teaches English at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he lives with his wife Alison and their sons, Augie and Elliott.

“THE FURTHER I GET FROM THE THINGS THAT I CARE ABOUT, THE LESS I CARE ABOUT HOW MUCH FURTHER AWAY I GET” by Chris Drabick

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I saw my ghost again this morning.

I was rinsing my face after shaving, letting the warm water soothe the nicks, when I pulled my head up and saw him in the mirror. I don’t know what else to call him. It’s clearly me, although also not me, in the way people are and aren’t themselves sometimes in dreams. And as soon as I see him, as quickly as it registers that he’s there but before I can touch and vouch for his corporeality, he’s gone. No whiff of smoke, no lights, no magic. Just gone.

I’d have so many questions for him. Still assuming it’s actually me.

Are you dead? How’d you die? Is your favorite book still Remains of the Day, or did something supplant it between now, my now, and your death? My death. What happened to our house? Did you stay in it until you died? I died? Will I stay in my house until I’m dead? Or do I spend some years in some awful old folks’ home?

Did she ever come back? Did she ever say she was sorry?

The last time I saw him was in a rest stop on the Turnpike, a few months after she’d left. My friends told me a trip would be good. Get out of town for a few days, go someplace new, maybe put some sand in between your toes. I didn’t have any ideas of my own, so I went. The Atlantic Ocean. It was cold and it rained and the sand was too packed to even get in between my toes.

On the drive back, I couldn’t stop the anxiety. I even bought a pack of cigarettes, the first I’d smoked in years. Nothing seemed to help. I pulled the car into a rest area, got out and put my face into a sink full of cold water. When I looked up, there he was. In the mirror. The glass was old, worn with the dirty air of thousands of weary travelers. Truckers. Heartsick, like me. But I could still see him. It was clearly me, although also not me. And as soon as I saw him, as quickly as it registered that he was there but before I could touch and vouch for his corporeality, he was gone. No whiff of smoke, no lights, no magic. Just gone.

I’d have had so many different questions for him that time. Still assuming it’s actually me.

Am I dead? I’ve been feeling a little dead. Or, the want of death, I guess. Hence, the cigarettes. Do I start smoking again? Is that what happens? Lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema? I’m driving toward nothing right now, on this road, this stupid fucking road, and I’m afraid.

Is she going to come back? Is she sorry?

The first time I saw him was in that bar. It was ten days after she’d gone. I’d barely slept, but had been drinking a lot. Gin. Rocks. Letting it burn. It was the bar she and I used to go to sometimes, close to home, walking distance. It was late. There was a mirror over the back bar, large and hung low, still covered in nicotine dust even though there’d been no smoking in the place for seven years. Yellow-brown, worn, weary with the faces of all the lost souls who’d tried in vain to avoid their own reflection. “I never go around mirrors,” the man sang, “I can’t stand to see me without you by my side.”

Before I could grasp the lyric, before the tune had finished playing in my head, there he stood. I was drunk. I was down. I was so tight that I had to cover one eye to focus, but I could still see him. It was clearly me, although also not me. And as soon as I saw him, as quickly as it registered that he was there but before I could touch and vouch for his corporeality, he was gone. No whiff of smoke, no lights, no magic. Just gone.

I didn’t want to ask any questions. I didn’t want to know. But I forgot to remember to forget.

Who’s the next woman I’ll fuck? Is she in this place tonight? Do I already know her? How will I feel, after I cum? In that brief moment after the pleasure is shattered by the loneliness, and it hurts worse than it feels good, the balance shifted to sadness. Will I embarrass myself? Cry? Something else? Act out in anger? I don’t want to fuck anyone. I don’t want to. Why did I leave the house? Do you know? Why are you here? You want to help me or hurt me? I know I’m going to die. I’m already fucking dead.

Where is she tonight? Is she sorry? Is she sorry that I’m dead?

Chris Drabick is a former rock music journalist whose fiction has appeared in Cease, Cows, Midwestern Gothic, After the Pause and Great Lakes Review, and non-fiction in BULL and Stoneboat, among others. His first novel, “The Way We Get By”, is due from Unsolicited Press in November 2019. He teaches English at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he lives with his wife Alison and their sons, Augie and Elliott.

“THE COLD PART” by Chris Drabick

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The bar was crowded, but someone had played the whole of The Moon & Antarctica on the jukebox and that made it feel lonely.

I knew the signals. I’d learned about them in the college class I took on the Psychology of Human Sexuality. Gazing, smiling, parading. I checked them off the list. Gazing, smiling, parading.

I sat next to her. I didn’t know what to say. I never know what to say. I told her—I like things.

She smiled and laughed. She asked me—What kinds of things do you like?

“And in the faces you meet you’ll see the place where you’ll die.”

I lifted my pint glass. I told her—I like beer.

She shook her head slightly. She told me—All men like beer. Try again.

I didn’t know what to say. I never know what to say. I asked her—How old do you think you’ll be when you die?

Her expression was muted. She didn’t recoil, although she had that right. She said—Which death?

I raised an eyebrow. It was my only party trick. Now I’d already used it. I told her—I don’t understand what you mean.

She sighed. It didn’t seem an exasperated sigh. Her hair was brown, a light brown, sandy, whatever the fuck you call it. Long, tight curls. She liked me. Gazing, smiling, parading. She told me—We all die three deaths.

I’m not religious. I told her—I’m not religious.

She looked at me over her glasses. She told me—I know you’re not religious. Three deaths. I’m not religious. First your heart stops beating.

I told her—That’s one. But that’s all. Then you’re dead. Your heart stops beating. You’re dead.

She shook her head. She smiled. She told me—Your brain. Your brain dies next.

I nodded. Yes. The brain. I told her—The brain. That’s two.

She gazed at me.

I waited for her to speak.

“Our hearts pump dust and our hair’s all gray.”

She breathed. Deep. She told me—Your name.

I told her—My name is _____.

She shook her head. She looked at me. She smiled. She told me—Your name is the third death. The last time a living human speaks your name aloud. That’s the third.

I raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t a trick that time. I told her—That made me a little happy and a little sad.

She told me–____ , you like beer.

I took a sip. I remembered something else from the Psychology of Human Sexuality. I told her—The French call orgasms “la petite mort.”

“I’m gonna remember to remember to forget you forgot me.”

She told me—I’m already dead.

 

Chris Drabick is a former rock music journalist whose fiction has appeared in Cease, Cows, Midwestern Gothic, After the Pause and Great Lakes Review, and non-fiction in BULL and Stoneboat, among others. His first novel, “The Way We Get By”, is due from Unsolicited Press in November 2019. He teaches English at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he lives with his wife Alison and their sons, Augie and Elliott.

“COME GET YOUR FUCKING DOG” by Chris Drabick

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The thing I miss about landlines is being able to angrily slam the receiver as punctuation in an argument. It’s impossible to emphatically press the hang-up button on an iPhone without looking foolish. I know I looked foolish doing it.

The last words I assume she heard me shouting are the title. I didn’t mean to say that about the dog. Or shout it. Snoopy was the tether. As long as I had her (yeah, I know, Snoopy is supposed to be a male dog name), then Jennifer had to talk to me. Had to deal with me. Maybe, subconsciously, somewhere deep inside, I’d even agreed to adopt Snoopy knowing full well she’d eventually have this use. This purpose. I don’t mean to sound sinister.

On cue, she whimpered. The shouting had spooked her a little. She’d not been herself since Jennifer had gone; she was doing a lot of pacing, waiting by the door, the whimpering. The waiting, of course, was for Jennifer. The whimpering was for me. She seemed to be telling me, what the fuck did you do?

Snoopy told me what the fuck did you do?

I shrugged. I still had the phone in my hand. I resisted the urge to call back, knowing Jennifer would still be in fight-continuation mode even though I may have shifted to fight-conciliatory mode. My modes were often wrong. I needed to be more multi-modal.

Snoopy asked me do you want her to come back?

I shrugged again. I nodded. I told Snoopy, “Yes. I fucked up. This is a mistake. But Jennifer is angry.”

Snoopy appeared to shake her head. Snoopy told me you’re a dumb motherfucker, aren’t you?

I didn’t say anything.

Snoopy asked again you’re a dumb motherfucker, aren’t you?

I didn’t say anything.

Snoopy told me listen, asshole. Answer me. You’re a dumb motherfucker, aren’t you?

I remembered a dream I had, a very vivid one, in which I was best friends with LeBron James. We bonded over having bad dads. I guess I became more like a therapist, in the dream, but I felt like I was getting something out of it too, seeing as how I got to hang around with LeBron James, even if he spent most of his time crying with me about our bad dads.

I told Snoopy, “Yes, I suppose I am a dumb motherfucker.”

Snoopy told me that’s right, you are a dumb motherfucker. Got yourself stuck, didn’t you? I’m a dog and I know not to shit where I eat. What are you going to do about it?

If I knew, I wouldn’t tell the dog, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. My impulse was to try and win her back, but she was angry. I was never good at diffusing Jennifer’s anger. I’d usually throw an aerosol can on the fire and let that shit explode all over me, like the time we were in Chicago and got into it and I got super drunk at the House of Blues and left her behind without a hotel key.

The walls in LeBron James’ house were all exposed brick. In the dream. He didn’t appear to have a family.

I looked at Snoopy. I asked her, “What does she want?”

Snoopy told me we all want the same thing.

I was confused. “’We’ meaning dogs?”

Snoopy looked at me with the same expression she’d have when she was given an alternate food due to Jennifer’s and/or my combined laziness and/or forgetfulness. She told me women, you dumb motherfucker. All women want the same thing.

I don’t know why, but I assumed Snoopy to be woker than this.

There was a basketball hoop in LeBron James’ living room. In the dream. That’s not all that strange, of course, but he would pick me up so I could dunk. He was like twice my size, in the dream.

“Okay,” I said to Snoopy. “I’ll bite.” (The pun was intended.) “What is this same thing you’re speaking of?”

We want to know we’re the center of your world.

The center of LeBron James’ world is basketball. Isn’t it? It’d have to be, right?

“And if she’s not?” I asked Snoopy

Snoopy looked at me with the sadness of a twice-jilted Cavaliers fan. Cavs fan. Snoopy told me if she’s not, then you have to let her go. Let us go. I’m her dog, you dumb motherfucker.

I shrugged. I grinned a little. My modes were always at war with one another. I can’t dunk a basketball.

“I already told her to come pick you up. Didn’t you hear me?”

 

Chris Drabick is a former rock music journalist whose fiction has appeared in “Cease, Cows”, “Midwestern Gothic”, “After the Pause” and “Great Lakes Review”, and non-fiction in “BULL” and “Stoneboat”, among others. His first novel, “The Way We Get By”, is due from Unsolicited Press in November 2019. He teaches English at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he lives with his wife Alison and their sons, Augie and Elliott.