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A Simple Short-Story.


In the cupola of an old Victorian home on South Willard Street, three of us sit and plan a trip we will never take. Sweltering air curls lazily in and out of our lungs beneath the persistent glow of the setting sun. A threadbare recliner sits as one point of a triangle formed by a rocking chair and a pinewood loveseat stolen from a dorm. In the middle, a walnut nightstand holds dented metal water bottles, candy wrappers, a lazily attended bong, and a smoldering splint of Palo Santo. In the corner, Orlando plucks a record from the collection amassed and sets it on the turntable. "Dublin," he says as the music starts. He turns, adds, "For Bloomsday," and bobs slowly from side to side with his arms slightly away from his body as he dances into his seat in the rocking chair.

Jasmine uncrosses and re-crosses her legs as they pour over the arm of the recliner before turning her head to look at him. "We'd all better get through Ulysses, then." She twists her body and sighs happily. A string of deep and rapid cracks ushers forward from her back and shoulders, drawing a smile to her face.

"Nah," he makes a content face and waves both hands out as if he's full. "I just want the excuse to wear a cream suit."

"Nothing's stopping you from doing that now, it might be quite fun." She drops her head back onto the arm behind her.

"Sweat through it and then see how fun it is," a voice calls up the stairs. A short crop of black hair comes with George as he climbs into view and, plucking the bong off the center table, drops into the other half of the couch, his shoulder just brushing past mine. "I swear to god, you could probably wring the sweat out of my shirts." He takes a hit and exhales the heavy cloud into the golden light. "I love you, Peony," he says, as he cradles the hot pink and lime green pipe. "You don't make me wear a suit to class. And we might want to avoid Dublin." He fixes his gaze on the ceiling and smiles to himself.

I ask him after a moment, "Why?"

"The earth shall keep its secrets." His lazy smile betrays him before his eyes do. "Lady and gentlemen, Geo has returned." He holds up a peace sign and takes another hit.

The music and the gentle gurgle of smoke bubbles fill the silence until I, finally taking my eyes off the chipping paint around the window, say "If we're going to Dublin, we have to go to the Cliffs of Moher." My eyes drift close and I see the edge of Ireland snapped off by the churning maw of the Atlantic. "I believe that they're so steep because there was once a battle between the faeries and the selkies. The selkies were winning, so the faeries rose the Cliffs up out of the sea so the selkies couldn't get on land as easily. Mind you, this is before the rise of the Mermaid Empire, but we all know that that was what the faeries wanted all along. Either that or the Irish brought them up to keep the British out."

"I'm right here," Orlando says.

"Fuck imperialism." He has no other choice but to nod in agreement because he himself said the statement first among all of us. I open my eyes and return their gaze to where the old dandelion yellow paint peaks through the newer-but-still-old forest green. From my perch on the couch, I've spent an exorbitant amount of time staring at the flakes. I've always wanted to repaint this place back, but we've collectively decided that until we find a better place to smoke, we shall honor the dandelion's leaves instead of its flower. Unfortunately.

"Once out of Ireland, we have to hop to Scotland," Jasmine tells us, the stick of Palo Santo turning over in her hands as she relights it and swirls it through its own smoke. Beads of sweat collect on the end of her nose and catch the light as it burns and fades like the stick she holds. "Especially the Highlands. I can't wait to hike them."

"We absolutely love hiking," Geo chimes. "It's so peaceful. Think my parents will kill me if I drop out of business school to become a park ranger?"

"Only if you choose Yellowstone over Yosemite."

"Me? A fag? At Yellowstone? Absolutely not. The fag son of the esteemed Errol and Barbra Marwick, no less!" George's parents had recently found out that he was gay when they saw a text on his phone from someone named Eric with a blue heart. He is still wrapped up in the tender shroud of anger and anxiety. He exhales low and says, "Fuck, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, George jumped back out." His chest slowly rises and falls a few times as he says, "It's spring again," with a lazy smile as Geo reforms like a cloud of smoke. If I had not been there the night that Geo was named, I never would have thought that someone as naturally neurotic as George could ever do anything that wasn't making spreadsheets. Yet that night under the warm glow of string lights, Geo slipped past George's armor and managed to strike a bargain with him. Sober George will chart a course out of their problems and Stoned Geo would loosen his grip on the wheel enough to enjoy the ride. "Blast it all to hell, Allen, please just start rambling about some random bullshit until I forget everything, and you somehow end up spitting out where it is you want us to go."

"I don't ramble." I chirp.

"And the sky is green." He looks at me, cocky and self-satisfied and desperate. In his brown eyes illuminated by the light, I see his grip on the world dimming beneath the resplendent weight of depression he barely cares to manage, the classes he is forced to endure, and a prison constructed around him, in part by himself. "Please."

I nod graciously and say, "If there's anything I've learned since coming to college, it's how to turn a pile of intoxicated ramblings into something that resembles something good." A shiver runs through me as I tell my friends, "I think my greatest regret is that I always sell myself short. I mean, like, don't get me wrong, I'm not hot shit, but like… I should've said I wanted to go to Bush Gardens when we were in Colonial Williamsburg instead of just hoping Mom would read my mind. I want to go to Bush Gardens. Fuck Colonial Williamsburg."

"That'll have to be a different trip from the British Isles Grand Tour, then," Jasmine says. "Do you want to add it to the Great American Road Trip or the Southern Invasion?"

I take Peony from Geo and hit it. My eyes squeeze as I try to keep a handle on my thoughts despite the burning in my chest and throat. "Actually, I want to make it a new one. Missed Opportunities."

Their faces drop for a moment until Orlando says, "The London Eye."

"Cloud Gate." Jasmine nods for a few seconds. "Cloud Gate."

"A Broadway Show." The four places hang in the air, invisible and yet shared, made easier to carry without spilling all the contents. Our breaths are slow and sweet, stifled by the heat and smoke and yet some of the greatest breaths any of us have ever had.

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