Joyland

Los Angeles |

Another Birthday

by Eric Lindley

1. Another birthday The kids drag my paws through the icing, with this smile on my face, like a hot air balloon, never-ending. Mom reads over the din, “A story about personified other-things—this is a story about saving your money until you can buy something worthwhile,” she says, “just in case.” And my lips turn numb, my gums sting from the sugar. My palms scrape the bottom of the pie tin, water-ski, and I shriek with laughter—that specific thing. We make eye contact like you're never supposed to do, mid-swallow, mid-lick-of-the-flaking-lips, my mom and I-pale-and-four, the spinning Earth carrying the look askew, so that the intimacy narrowly grazes the fuzz on my ears, and too the weak strands caught behind her in the sun, and we can carry on as if this were a celebration.
We children then sleep with headaches, together in the clover. Under covers, over under, dovetailed, craned, beset by ankles, by wrists, by many sharpnesses. It's stupid, even with the crushed herb cloying water out my nostrils, the spice hooking out the tears, fingers dug in the black soil and water soaking through, even now. She wakes us up with loud music from the house. It's dark. The smell of margaritas? Perhaps, we kids nod to one another, and I resolve to hide all the things she loves somewhere difficult for the morning. The beat of her heart under the sink, perhaps? I only later find the book of adult parables, those of opening the mouth too wide while speaking so the wrong words can even fit through: the language of business, our bad faith; other complicities to map the life by—only later do I find the book and tie together the pages with locks of other boys' hair I have collected. Dogs' hair. Horses' hair. I stop hating our conjunctions, our similarities. I only later wake up every morning with her singular, dry hair in the cradle of my hands, brined in cigarette smoke and the snider comments of women who are only friends in name and habit. When this happens I am compelled to construct the scene of half-hearted grazing at the neon bars of Baltimore: by the harbor; by the park; thinking 'bout the fogged up windows wrapped brightly 'round the city's greenhouse. 2. My father now I imagine it's difficult each day to feign competence. 3. I hear music I hear music Through the latex scrim between the forest and the clearing. I hear it by pressing my hand and bending the space like my fingertips were little sinkholes. 4. A party This isn't my experience: boys asphyxiating in the dark, Tod tod Tod, a penicillin ring around the bathtub, gulping down the water. Only Rory, ingenious, deflecting any intimacy I can hurl, and what am I doing anyhow? I've come to hate these people as a foil for my own awareness; horror of being, where each gesture is thrown back better, more precise, fresh in a way the mirror has tossed only platitudes. The life of the party, the life of the party, evil people in masks. Crossing their legs to symbolize communion, crossing their legs to be unknown. This isn't my experience: I-swallowing-swords-in-the-hallway, backing and forth to let people-of-the-spilled-gin sneak through and hug their friends at one shoulder. This isn't my puppeted soul, the blade nudged at the collarbone, while the girl scrunches her face and ducks perfectly. A pantomime of annoyance. a pantomime of fun, of being—who enjoys the life of the party? who enjoys the freedom to be creative among their creative friends? A pit of Fitzgeralds, eagerly knowing as much as they are able, their professors' friends' friends. Aye, nest of coats in the bedroom, coil of shit in the bathroom, aye spiral of filthy water in the sink, aye ditch of conversation with the awkward boy who knows me best, who loves the things I love and isn't queer. I was happier with my wrists split, smeared with calcium, smeared with wine. I was happier wallowing in the stains your pet left on the carpet, annoyed only because we'd never measure up, and not because we all just refused, as now. I was happier licking my forearms alone in the great desert, most-of-all. 5. My life in business Handshakes like paper airplanes, this job, the probe and flutter of our fists, skin frictive on skin, I walk from country to country, looking through the same man, holding him by the tail. This is power. This is what it means to enact force at a distance. “Helluva guy, I drink with an eye on each partner, in a circle, the six of us in a logic game” we pee standing at the edge of canyons, dicks thrust through our zippers, rising and falling through the hours, for want of something. Nip the buds, oh life-plaything, would that you could kill our infant bodies when our brains were still, in the making. I've developed technologies to partition the spaces of my house for different means of thinking, but that fucking nut of being refuses to let go: for instance, I was in college once, golden child; I drank scotch, I smoked damp crystalline marijuana, I drank a tea of oolong and mushrooms, I sniffed cocaine off the mirror—windows to the soul; how many? a herd, a pride, a paradox of windows to the soul, thanks to the reflection—and never cut the scorpion-tail of brainstem puppeting, even the confusion, that homunculan man-child with the iron fist fused to the gearshift, bringing the slack arm up, bringing the slack arm down, letting callous laughter, the laughter of body-hatred, of soul-hatred, out past the lips, tooth-scraped and purified by the journey from the chest. The journey from my grandfather, who languished the in the cache of honesty and eclecticism, my father, who languished in the cache of honesty and faith, the journey to the dank pink house of pleura and wishing, the journey to the stale, beaded mansion of smoke, the ears of men who were smarter and crueler than I could admit to being. So, this is it. I-stuck-in-that-room, the room of friends and enemies, of the same face. It would be a lie that I hoped for anything more than this, for want of what the words mean, but I at least harbored all along the expectation that by now I'd've nipped the thing. 6. So, adjective to the perfect life You had the dream again, where all the animals came to feed you in your nested sleep, so when you tried to eat, awake, it-all-the-food glanced off the pastries topping your esophagus, and came spilling from your bent mouth. You woke up. I'm jealous of how much love you get from me, sobbing into my shirt, in my arms from where the feeling flows. So you scowl with a wet, wrinkled nose; the curtains are across the windows but the moon lights the whole room; I make you banana pancakes for breakfast with whole wheat, these earthy patties in the kitchen's sun, which is too much to eat, so I pile seven or eight of them on a tea plate and set it out for the neighbor's dog, who floats by and disappears them. The red light under its skin, where the happiness digests, glows off and on for twenty minutes, Carolina-the-dog huffing another beast's vomit near our fence, Carolina-the-dog ticking away. The next night, you don't even move, breathing. You wake up happier than anyone should in such a world, looking me in the eye with a dazed smile-gape. And you make breakfast this time. We take a walk, pretending to be people, porridge squeezing through. “Do you like this lamp?” Yes yes yes! “Then I will buy it from the current owner and put it by our bed.”