Editorâ€™s Note: These are the first six installments of a 14-week fiction series titled â€œI Canâ€™t Believe We Only Have Tomorrowâ€ that will run weekly in the Verve section.
Chapter 1: This world feels like a movie
We walk to the bottom of the beach holding hands. I decide to take my gloves off so I can feel her skin. We donâ€™t look at each other. We just feel each other there, her breath – my breath, the color of her jacket and my jacket in the corner of each otherâ€™s eyes. We listen to the waves and follow the footprints left behind from the seagulls. Beach wood lay all around us â€“â€“ splintered and sparkling from the peaking sun. Iâ€™m wearing a blue jacket and black jeans and my shoes â€“â€“ leather lace-ups. The soles of my lace-ups barely sink into the sand because it had frozen the night before. I look at my watch and notice I have cuts around my knuckles and on top of my hand. This almost scares me because I donâ€™t know how it happened, but the screech of a diving seagull, white, with marks of gray and with motionless wings takes me from the question: â€˜How did I get these cuts?â€™
On the drive to the beach I saw a sign with Jesus that read, â€œJan. 29: Let Jesus save you,â€ he is smiling and his arms are wide and the background of the sign is white, almost blue, trying to be blue, or heaven, or something â€” the color of peace. The sign is cracked from the weather and the salt of the ocean, and I canâ€™t get the picture out of my mind.
I wonder if I could ever meet Jesus and how he felt about my father, if he even did feel about my father. I also think about how I would try to subtly tell Jesus to get a haircut when I meet him without really saying, â€˜Jesus, get a haircut, your ends are totally split.â€™
The sign is torn in the top right corner, and the material flaps in the wind. My memory looks like a photograph in my head. Like an 8X12. With an old, curled corner, there are my hands on the steering wheel, packed inside of gloves.
There is the dirty windshield, splattered bugs and winter stains. There is the dashboard, dusty, and the trees, green and taller than everything. And there is the sign, smiling â€“â€“ hair, tot-al-ly too long.
Me and Diane sit down on a log we wander toward we are both smoking, almost in unison. Seagulls fly above us, I wonder if they are vegetarians or just waiting for our hearts to stop and our faces to hit the sand. She tells me Leo is gone on one of his last business trips. She says even though the trip doesnâ€™t really matter in terms of the world and money and people, it matters to him. Dianeâ€™s new haircut is short and she describes it as daring. When I tell her I like it, she looks to the frozen sand near our feet, touching the strands next to her eye lightly.
â€œWhat was it like to grow up here?â€ She says, â€œYou know, before everything with your father.â€
â€œHe loved the beach. I remember one year he bought me a kite â€”like a dragon kite, it â€”â€ I say but stop, feeling nervous, then, â€œyou know youâ€™re the only one I can talk to about my father,â€ I say looking at the side of her face. I donâ€™t want to look at her. Ash falls from the end of her cigarette, dirtying the maroon lapel on her jacket.
â€œYou know what he did wasnâ€™t your faultâ€¦Jude.â€
â€œI would have had it no different.â€
She kisses my neck and I grab the side of her cheek.
â€œWhen does Leo get back?â€
Itâ€™s freezing outside, the wind wraps itself around our hands and joints and eyes and toes and hurts, cutting through the denim of our jeans. I glance to my car in the parking lot and notice I left my coffee on the roof of the car, fighting the wind.
Diane continues to talk to me, and I can barely hear her over the wind. Seagulls float above us. Iâ€™m rubbing the cuts on my knuckles, Dianeâ€™s mouth moves next to the side of my face, and I begin to hear symphonies in the wind, like a cello or violin, all in the wind. Finally I catch the tail end of a sentence that says:
â€œâ€¦do you think you are like himâ€¦like in terms of how sensitive he wasâ€¦â€
No answer, only wind.
I take two mental notes: One, Dianeâ€™s voice should most definitely be used on radio and two, Iâ€™m noticing dead birds â€“â€“ more dead birds than usual, bones and wings and hollowness.
â€œWhat do you see when you close your eyesâ€ she says, adjusting her position on the log, â€œlike when you close an eye and push on it. I see spots.â€ She says pushing her eye.
I push my eye and she laughs grabbing for my fingers and says no, like this and she pushes a finger into the corner of my eye, lightly.
I smile enough to show my teeth, and I can feel her grin too. The sky is gray and on top of us. The log is damp, and I think about how I have always wanted wood floors in my house that are the same dark, deep-brown color.
â€œI see blue spots at the top of my eye, they fire off unaware of time or themselves, and they exist and then they evaporate.â€
â€œWhat else do you see?â€
â€œI see hints of yellow on the bottom of my eye. Doing the same thing, just not as obvious, they disappear a lot quicker.â€ She drops her finger from my eye and says that those dots are what she sees too. And then she asks, â€œWhat do you think they mean, what do you think they are?â€ I donâ€™t answer because Iâ€™m still feeling her, like the dots in my eyes.
â€œYour eye looks swollen now,â€ she laughs and drops her head back, giggling quietly. Seagulls float above us, lusting over the tops of our heads.
We pause. Iâ€™m still thinking about Jesus and his hair and my father and the ash that fell onto Dianeâ€™s lapel. The wind is still shaking her hair and it looks alive, she is wearing maroon and sitting cross-legged on a fossilized log, next to me, poking me in the eye and she is alive.
â€œThis world feels too much like a movie,â€ she says, â€œlike how can they expect us all to believe we are going to die next week. The f***ing president is even saying goodbye.â€
Iâ€™m barely listening.
â€œI donâ€™t want to think about it. This whole moon killing us idea â€” I donâ€™t want to think about it.â€ She kisses my neck and grabs both of my hands.
â€œDo you think it is going to hurt?â€ I ask.
â€œI think itâ€™s going to exist and then just evaporate.â€
â€œI canâ€™t believe youâ€™re not scared. I barely believe you.â€
â€œWeâ€™re going to be together and then poof, all together weâ€™re not, Iâ€™ll die loving you.â€
Seagulls screech, the ocean roars, Jesus stands with his arms wide, she wears maroon â€“â€“ I wear blue, I see the president saying goodbye, and Iâ€™m still alive for now. Iâ€™m wondering how long until Leo is home calling for Diane. Asking where she is, like it matters where any of us are. I glance over to my car; the coffee cup is still on my roof, fighting the wind.
Chapter 2: Accents in English, Accents in Japanese
It is this awful brown color that no one has ever really liked. I liked it, at one point.
The water is running in front of me and heat from the sink is filling my face with fog. The brown wall needs to be painted. Iâ€™m watching the reporter on television in front of me, in front of the sink.
Iâ€™m washing pizza off of dishes.
My hands are thick with soap and wrinkles and water.
My eyes follow the face of the reporter, she is small. I can tell by how short the length is from her jaw to her ears, from her ears to her forehead â€” small. She looks like Diane.
Maybe, kind of, Iâ€™m dehydrated and just watched seagulls all afternoon maybe thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m thinking â€“â€“ reporter you look like Diane. Not quite the fox. But those lips, your hair is daringly cut.
I shut the water off with my wrinkled hands, mumbling something to myself that my father use to say to me, â€œyou can, you willâ€ I keep repeating it, mulling it around in my mouth like candy, feeling the flavor of the Y of the C of the W. My fatherâ€™s picture sits on a shelf in the room next to the TV with the reporter who looks like Diane but only because Iâ€™m dehydrated.
There are two voicemails; the first is left by Jan. The voicemail box is black. It breathes with white noise when itâ€™s played, twisting the strings of the tape inside. Jan asks if I would like to go to a party at her house tomorrow night, the theme is, â€œIâ€™m thinking Mod-Pirate-meets 18th century Spanish Victorian Fabio for the boys, and Angelina Jolie lips-meets high school virgin turned slut-Post 1980s yellow for the girls. So whoever wins gets like this amazing bottle of champagne I bought in Zurich last year â€“â€“ like totally amazing. Oh, and you better f***ing come, no excuses, Love!â€ She says and then hangs up.
The second is from Leo, he is telling me that I better come to Janâ€™s party tomorrow night also because I never get out and he wants to see me and because he is flying back from Japan- choudoh ima. In the background I can hear people speaking Japanese and glasses are clinking. I picture him standing in the first class lobby of some Japanese jumbo jet, miles off the American coast. A room of Japanese business professionals, tuxedoes, black hair, accents in English accents in Japanese. I see sake, Iâ€™m not sure if that even is a Japanese drink but it must beâ€”sake, I think, drinking sake. And Iâ€™m thinking Leo probably has two Japanese hookers, big lips, hanging on his arm with that stupid mermaid tattoo that everyone thinks is so handsome, his tie, untied. I love Diane, Diane loves me.
â€œBut anyway man, we have to meet Juarez on Tuesday still, Iâ€™m thinking we should make our weaponry something of a sophistication this time, like hollow bullets no more of that bazooka bullshit, letâ€™s make things messy but professional. Also, I hope you saw the latest report put out by the president. Not everyone is going to die in this moon catastrophe, so we will see. And Diane and I are picking you up outside your place tomorrow at nine. Please look nice, sayonara.â€
He hangs up. His voice sounds different, probably cracked from the sake and Japanese pollution. I have four guns laid out on the table next to the television set. Outside my living room window fog hangs on to the sides of the buildings; the skyline; like a pack of mosquitoes in search of blood. I feel tempted to call Diane but I donâ€™t. I get online and begin to order a gallon of Bombay Crystal Blue paint from HGTV.com.
Chapter 3: The most influential flavor combination
The HGTV website keeps talking about how blue bedrooms could become the next trend.
It says, â€œBlue is all about creating a personal space that expresses your innermost blue desires â€“â€“ ocean breezes, paradise skies. For many of us, that means a retreat in which we can relax and rejuvenate, and what a better place than in your home.â€
This line sells it to me because before it is talking about how greens and browns are totally in and Iâ€™m thinking, yeah totally, and Iâ€™m rambling off this list of people I know with brown walls including, currently, myself. And I almost lose my breath for feeling so typical or something like that. So I click â€œorder.â€
Next to me my guns are sitting on a piece of â€œclassicâ€ miracle cloth. I use the â€œclassicâ€ cloth instead of the â€œprofessionalâ€ because the â€œclassic,â€ which I live by, is more focused on wiping stainless steel or nickel-based barrel guns.
That is important because I typically only use handguns with a stainless steel finish.
The â€œprofessionalâ€ is mostly based on polishing and protecting the life and look of wood stocks, which are typically for rifles, which I donâ€™t have and truly refuse to own, they are cumbersome.
So I clean my guns and I watch the moon stare down at the world, mocking us with death and Iâ€™m thinking you canâ€™t hurt me.
I raise my p99 with its nickel-based barrel toward the moon, through the window and Iâ€™m thinking about which crater I would consider the eye. Itâ€™s shining and Iâ€™m smaller than I really think.
I shut the television off ,and Iâ€™m going to sleep thinking about Jan. 29, Dianeâ€™s maroon lapel, Jesus and how dehydrated I still feel.
The last time I went on vacation with my father we went to Mexico; I was 18 and had recently lost my virginity to some girl Leo had introduced to me at a Pixies concert.
My father got us into an exotic bungalow almost on top of the ocean. Its floors were tiled with some type of corky French-inspired design that looked like gravel roads.
He said he was there because he needed a break from business in Boston where he had just sold a handful of knives that were so ahead of their time that the buyers thought they had come from a different planet.
â€œThink about a knife that is so beautiful it out-styles the modern Mercedes but cuts so sweet it lets us feel how we can find peace in war.â€
He said they basically sold themselves, but because they were so progressive it just tired him out. My mother stayed home claiming the sun would ruin her hair, â€œThe sun will ruin my hair,â€ she said from our sofa watching â€œAll my Children.â€
So there we were in Mexico on this beach: I remember eating almost 10 packs of Chiclets a day while drinking Pacificos because the combined flavor was really an influential flavor in the art scene of New York and I had just read about the combination a couple weeks before while reading a GQ with Heath Ledger on the cover.
The magazine said that the flavor was blowing all of the other four senses out of the water â€“â€“ flavor is creativity they said.
I remember staring at magazines, comparing myself to models and thinking about how attractive the armless waitress was as she served drinks on the beach to tourists in lounge chairs. My mother called twice, once to ask where the powdered milk was and tell us the cat threw up pieces of grass on the couch.
Chapter 4: We are so different, both you and me
In Mexico my father took me out to six dinners when he wasnâ€™t too busy impressing our maid.
One dinner I specifically can recall. We were surrounded by French Canadians and we sat next to a painting of some Mexican mountains that I didnâ€™t think was very attractive to look at, but the way the glass shined and how it was placed in the restaurant I could tell it was a prized work of art.
My father used it as a mirror while we waited for our appetizers. He stared into the glass, which was right next to our table and shaved the hair off of his chin and neck and cheeks with his knife like some sort of Davey Crockett.
Everyone around us was glaring, but I kept my eyes peeled to the Pacifico beer in front of me and tried not to notice.
â€œYou see these scratches on my wrist?â€ he asked with his chin in the air, knife peeling at his neck, hair falling onto the empty plate in front of him.
â€œThese scratches, not a clue where they came from.â€
â€œMaybe the maid youâ€™re â€“â€“â€œ
â€œDonâ€™t,â€ he said with loud exaggeration, â€œtalk about her like that.â€
â€œLike what!?â€ I said taking my eyes from the beer. French faces stared. Pale French Canadian faces â€“â€“ unshaved eyebrows.
He used his knife as a finger to point at me, shaking his head.
â€œWhat Iâ€™m trying to say, Jude,â€ looking down at his facial hair clinging to the white plate, â€œis that we are different, you and me.â€
The ceilings of the restaurant â€“â€“ curved and adobe. The servers all wore red and green and ridiculous smiles, some handsome.
My father then noticing something in the French faces that were staring at him and his reckless knife caused him to take a long pause.
He adjusted, moved his collar closer to his neck. Pocketed his knife, then looked right into my eyes and said, â€œI love that shirt. Did your mother and I buy that for you?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ I say. â€œAll I can really think about right now is how dangerous you are with that knife.â€
â€œWe are different, Jude, you know, than most people.â€
â€œUh-huh,â€ I said, fingering the Chiclets in my pocket.
â€œThese cuts, here,â€ he sighed, then paused looking at his knuckles, â€œDo you ever just feel vicious like your craziness is malleable or something.â€
â€œLike dementia-grandpa-only-speaking-Slavic-crazy?â€ I asked somehow becoming interested.
â€œNo, Jesus, son â€“â€“ think.â€ He looked away, noticed an attractive waitress holding enchiladas and martinis. His lips â€“â€“ pursed.
â€œDo you ever just feel like watching someone die? You know â€“â€“ besides on TV. Like in front of you, son.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think I could ever fight a war.â€ I said peeling at the Pacifico label. He shoveled chips and salsa into his mouth and watched more waitresses.
â€œYou donâ€™t know me, son. But I do what I do to take care of you. â€
â€œI know, Dad.â€
â€œYou will.â€ I said interrupting him, â€œHow long until you stop saying this?â€
I went to bed listening to my father grunt over the housemaid. We left four days later.
Chapter 5: The moon and dinosaurs; Kenny G’s hair
When Leo came to my door it was Monday around 6:38 p.m. I wasnâ€™t dressed.
I had a cigarette in my mouth, and I noticed he was wearing the Spanish watch my mother had bought him a few years before she died. I told him I was glad to see him still wearing his watch and he said, yes, yeah it’s important to me, Jude, believe it or not.Â Â He waved his hand in front of his face a few times to get the smoke from my cigarette out of his eye. I picked up a few clothes off the floor trying to decide what to wear.
â€œHave you seen the news lately, f***ing fire everywhere, glass on the streets, Iâ€™m locking my doors â€“â€“ They are starting to say that not everyone will die,â€ he says, nodding his head.
Yeah, no I mean I havenâ€™t seen the news.Â Â Should I wear a tie?
WeÂ areÂ adults now,he says picking at his nails. I toss my cigarette into the sink after pulling on a pair of brown pants.
â€œThose look nice.â€ He points at my pants, â€œCan you tell what I did with my hair?â€
â€œIt looks a little stiff, sure,â€ I say. â€œWhere is Diane?â€
â€œIn the car, she didnâ€™t want to come up.â€
â€œBecause you smoke and your place is a f***ing disaster.â€
â€œShe f***ing smo—-â€œ
â€œWhat?â€ he says. â€œShe doesnâ€™t smoke if thatâ€™s what you meant to say, not for years, you know that. But can we go already.â€
â€œRed or blue tie?â€ I say holding each to my chest.
â€œRed,â€ heâ€™s resting his body against the doorway, â€œAre you going to do anything with your life this last week here Jude, or just die in this hole?â€
â€œIâ€™m thinking just die in this hole,â€ I say staring at his stiff hair. He frowns, walks toward me and runs his hand through his slicked back hair correcting my tie he mumbles something about the creases and the material.
His car is expensive and German or Swedish or something.
When I shut the door he tells me not to slam it so hard and then mutters something to Diane. The streets are loud and the sidewalks are stained with salt and bird feathers are everywhere.
Diane doesnâ€™t look at me. She is sitting up front listening to Kenny G. She wears a gray fur muffler and a darker gray pea coat. Her earrings are gold, and they begin to talk about the business trip that Leo just got back from.
I try not to listen because she is rubbing her hands along his arm.Â Â She rubs her thumb back and forth between his watch and sleeve.Â Â
It makes the hair on my neck stand up. I light a cigarette in the back seat and roll my window down.
Outside people are moving furniture out of their apartments. There are clothes, love seats, bar stools, lamps and children all standing together.
Diane spots a rug that she finds attractive and tells us that she would love a red one like that in her bathroom and Leo looks at her and smiles.
Chapter 6: Talking about God and fire
(Still in the car on the way to the party)
Leo and Diane donâ€™t notice that Iâ€™m smoking for almost 20 seconds. I think the only thing that tells them that I am is the cold from the open window. Leo freaks out, almost hitting a yellow fire hydrant and tells me to put the â€œshitâ€ out.
I practically ash in my lap on my brown pants before managing to get two more pulls off of it before I toss it out the window. While I am doing this he is reaching around in his seat like Iâ€™m some misfit child chewing daddyâ€™s expensive car leather. I look to Leoâ€™s rearview mirror grinning and I see Diane grinning too.
â€œJude, Can we just be polite adults before we get to this party? I should have never freaking picked you up.â€ He says this while looking out the window and pulling his hand away from Dianeâ€™s.
â€œYes Daddy,â€ I say still smirking at Diane.
The rest of the car ride consists of Leo continuing his story about a Japanese drink he had at some high-end bar in Tokyo with his business partners.
â€œâ€¦ It had this lemon, well not lemon, but citrus, like sparkling flavor, yet it smelled like cardboard .â€¦â€
Outside people are moving and adjusting. Trying to take everything they own to somewhere safe. I think about how they will probably die in the imminent, fiery moon crash that is going to kill us like the dinosaurs.
I stare out the window thinking about Diane and the red rug and the feel of our hands on the beach and how her voice sounded telling me she loved me and Kenny Gâ€™s hair and how everyone will talk to me at the party and the dead seagulls and the color of peace. Stores still have open signs flashing in blues and yellows and reds.
Women are wearing dresses and men are wearing coats and silver watches walking to their cars, walking into restaurants and bars. Trashcans are burning and smoke is filling up all the faces.
I see a family sitting on the couches they have moved out of their apartment. I glance towards the 7-11, looking at billboards that say stuff about the moon and destruction and God and fire, insurance and bomb shelters.
I open up my cell phone, shuffling through old text messages from Diane into the tools folder then into the calendar and notice there is only a few more days until everythingâ€™s ending.
Then the thought about killing Leo crosses my mind.
Staff writer Lucas Dean FiÅ¡er is a senior creative writing major. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.