Joyland

New York |

Walpurgisnacht

by Alexandra Tanner

edited by Emily Schultz

 “I’m so tired,” Kate says.

“I feel like shit,” Kate says.

“We should go out tonight,” Kate says.

Next thing I know I’ve gulped down, like, four vodka tonics — even though I hate vodka tonics — and I’m sitting on Kate’s bed eating a Ziploc bag of macadamia nuts by the fistful while Kate shoves tall black heels onto my feet.

“I don’t know if these are gonna fit,” she says. “Your feet are huge.”

“I know,” I say, “and look, my hands are big, too!” I pull my hand out of the baggie to show her and I accidentally sprinkle macadamia crumbs all over. “Oh, it’s in your hair! Like fairy dust!” I say, and go to brush it out, but I just make it worse. Kate shouts at me and fastens the buckle on the right shoe so tight that it pinches the skin beneath my anklebone and I cry out.

***

Kate’s in a sorority. When she went through initiation freshman year, the older girls made her sit naked and blindfolded on top of a washing machine and circled anything that jiggled in thick black Sharpie. She came over to my dorm room that night, crying, pulled her shirt up to show me the words DONUT POCKET written on the soft skin below her bellybutton. I helped her try to wash it off a little and mixed up some cake batter that we ate raw while Kate drafted and then deleted an email to the university administration on my computer. When I told her, Come on, send it, fuck those girls, fuck them all, she took a big breath and said, I already paid my dues, and that was that. A week later we went to a yoga class together, and when her shirt lifted a little bit during sun salutations I could still see DONUT POCKET, very faintly.

We smoked a joint in the parking lot after class and Kate told me she was thinking about moving into the sorority house early, after winter break, because one of the sisters was graduating and a room was opening up and there was mold in the dorm showers anyway. I started crying—mostly from the weed, I always cry when I smoke weed—and I told Kate that it wasn’t fair, that those girls weren’t her friends, that I was her friend, her friend since orientation, that she was supposed to move in with me next year, that we were supposed to live in a 2/2 in this beautiful new apartment complex a few blocks from campus that had a gym and a pool and plenty of parking. Kate shrugged and pulled a bit of ash off of her tongue, wiped it on her yoga pants, asked for a ride back to the house because it was dinnertime and it was Chinese night.

A little after she picked up her theater major at the end of sophomore year, Kate moved out of the sorority house. Her sisters never went to any of her plays, and the president told her she couldn’t rehearse her Medea monologue for her Classical Acting final in the house because it was loud and sad and distracting to all the other girls on Kate’s floor. Since I lived alone in a house with a backyard and there was never any rehearsal space in the theater building, Kate spent a lot of time walking in circles on my back porch—draped in a sheet, trying to get Medea’s presence into her body, shouting I take what’s mine, I take what’s mine, I take what’s mine over and over. Once, my next-door neighbor came outside and told Kate she needed to shut the fuck up, so she threw a half-eaten grapefruit at him, and the next day my welcome mat out front was gone. I told Kate she needed to buy me a new mat, to replace the stolen one, and she told me she would, but she never did. I thought maybe she’d get me one as a graduation present—instead, she shoved a worn collection of Chekhov plays into my arms right after the ceremony, swearing she’d learned everything she knew about life from this one book.

“Kate,” I said, “what do I do with this? I’m going to med school.”

She smiled big, moved my tassel out of my face, said, “Chekhov was a doctor too, mama.”

***

When we get to the party, Vargas is there.

“Vargas is here,” I hiss in Kate’s ear, tugging at her shirt.

“Let him come to you,” she says. She holds my hand. I run my thumb over the big opal ring she always wears.

“He won’t though,” I say. Kate rolls her eyes. She drags me by my wrist into a bedroom where there are four or five people standing around, passing a little bong made out of a Gatorade bottle in a circle. When it gets to me, I turn to Kate. “I’ve never used one of these ones,” I say.

Kate frowns. “You don’t need any anyway.” She snatches the bong and the lighter from me, takes a monster hit, passes to the girl on her left. The bedroom door opens and it’s Vargas, standing there with a big smile on his face, holding some fancy ridiculous beer that is probably technically a lager.

“Hey,” he says, probably as a general hey to everyone in the room, but I shout a hello back way too loudly and way too happily and Kate shoots me a look which I ignore in favor of grinning like an idiot in Vargas’s general direction in hopes of getting him to walk over towards us, which he then does. After the standard hello-hellos and sloppy-kisses-on-cheeks, Vargas chats for a little bit at Kate and me. Somehow, out of all the small talk, all that registers is that he says something in passing about how he has a book I lent him forever ago in the trunk of his car which is here at this party because he drove himself to this party in his car.

“Let’s go get it,” I say.

“Now?”

“Yes, now,” I say. Even obliterated, I can tell that the look he’s giving me is a weird one, but I smile and shrug my shoulder a little bit in a way that I hope looks kind of cute since I’m wearing an off-the-shoulder top. “Come on,” I say, “I want my book back.”

In the apartment complex parking lot, Vargas pops the trunk of his car and leans his whole body in, feeling around for the book. I have an urge to slam the trunk down on him really hard and cut his body in half. He finds the book. He hands it to me.

“Did you love it?” I ask.

“I didn’t ever get to read it,” he says, and I make a frustrated noise and throw the book up in the air and let it fall on the ground. I don’t move to pick it up, so Vargas grabs it and hands it to me and I shove it in my purse and look up into his face.

“I still have such feelings for you,” I say. “I hate telling you that though, because it’s like: ‘I have all these feelings, but since they’re for you, here, why don’t you take them,’” and I mime shoving a bunch of invisible stuff at Vargas, and he blinks many times very quickly. “So?” I ask.

Vargas asks back, “So? What?” and I can’t believe someone I love has just said so what to me. I move my pointer finger between his chest and my chest very quickly and I ask again, loudly, “So? Us? So?

I don’t know,” Vargas says, and he’s looking at the ground, breathing fast. “I don’t know. I get wishy-washy. I think not right now but maybe not never. I don’t know.”

I shake my head back and forth out of sadness, but I’m a little dizzy and it feels good so I keep doing it, very slowly. Vargas asks me if I’m okay and tell him I’m not. He lights a cigarette and I ask for a puff and he gives me one and as soon as I inhale my vision fuzzes and all of a sudden I’m on the ground.

***

Vargas made this little movie in a film class fall semester of sophomore year. He called it Walpurgisnacht, and it was about this single-mom stripper who tries to sell her soul to the devil to get good at pole dancing so she can make a bunch of money and buy the strip club she works at for herself, only the devil thinks she’s so beautiful that he takes her back to hell with him as his bride. On our third date, we wound up back at his apartment, in his room, and he showed me the film and when it finished he asked what I thought and I told him I thought it was really wonderful and then he went down on me.

I loved him right away. I loved all the little things around him that made him up into who he was. He had this one pair of jersey pajama pants that made his ass look absolutely unholy. He had a framed picture of Barack Obama in his bathroom. He rolled his own cigarettes and he called his family on the phone every day no matter what. He drew little cartoons of Buster Keaton in this journal he carried around all the time and his face lit up when he talked about how much he loved Andy Kaufman and how he just knew he was still alive somewhere, waiting for the perfect time to come back.

I loved Vargas too much though, and he didn’t love me quite enough. One time his roommates got him extremely high and convinced him to shave his head, and I stood there next to him in the bathroom, going, “Don’t do it, don’t do it,” over and over again as he ignored me, plugged in the electric shaver. Once we watched a movie that had Jessica Chastain in it and he turned and looked right at me halfway through and said, “God, I wanna fuck her stupid.”

Eventually, Kate, in the middle of a sleepover at which I was recounting all manner of this shit to her, put me in her car and drove me to Vargas’s place and told me to go upstairs and tell him to treat me like a human being. When I tried the door, it was open, and Vargas and five or six of the boys from the film school were sitting around someone’s laptop in the dark, watching Stardust Memories. One of them was actually taking notes.

“I need to talk to you,” I said to Vargas, and he followed me outside and we stood in the stairwell and yelled at each other and when it was over, he hugged me for thirty-three seconds.

***

I feel my glasses slide down my nose and off my face. My knee stings. The cigarette is still lit. I go to pick it up but Vargas gets there first and he puts it out on the pavement.

“That was the whole cigarette,” I say, “save it for later,” but Vargas leaves it on the ground and helps me up instead. I squeeze the wrinkly skin on my kneecap and blood runs down my leg. I look up at Vargas. “You’re the most special person I know,” I say. “I just think you’re so, so special.” He stares at me. Kate appears from nowhere and she puts an arm around me and starts to help me walk away from Vargas. She yells over her shoulder at him in Spanish, which they both speak because they are from Miami, where everybody speaks Spanish. “Are you speaking Spanish so I don’t understand you?” I ask, and neither of them answers, and I go, “I took four years of Spanish in high school, fuckers! Entiendo, entiendo!” even though I do not entiendo one word they’re saying. Kate walks me over to her car and puts me in the passenger seat very carefully like I’m a teddy bear she’s strapping in for a little drive. She leaves the car door open, crouches down on the pavement, blows cool breaths on the scrape on my knee. I watch Vargas walk back inside. 

“I’m such a mess,” I say.

“I know,” Kate says.

“He told me he was wishy-washy about me.”

Kate stops blowing on my wound and looks up at me and asks, so sweetly I could cry, “How could anybody ever be wishy-washy about you?”

***

This one time, Kate smoked DMT and it made her really sick, even though she had promised me that no one gets sick off DMT. I held her hair back in the bathroom while she threw up again and again. After almost an hour of this, she looked at me with half her face squished against the toilet bowl and said, “You’re the love of my life.”

“Um,” I said.

“Don’t be weird. You know what I mean,” she said, and closed her eyes. I could see all the veins in her lids.

***

Back at Kate’s house, I knock on her roommate Julian’s bedroom door. He opens it. He’s half naked. There’s a pretty Asian girl in a cashmere sweater on his bed. She smokes a cigarette and looks me up and down.

“I need some drugs,” I say. I shove a twenty-dollar bill in his face.

“Alright, lemme get my scales,” he says, and he tries to shut the door, but Kate’s hand shoots out from behind me and holds it open.

“Just give her some,” she says, and Julian goes over to his bookshelf, picks up a Russian stacking doll, and twists it open. There are no other, smaller dolls inside, just a big plastic baggie of weed. “So queer,” Kate whispers under her breath. Julian pulls out a little bit of weed and puts it right into my hand. Kate gives him a look. He gives me a little bit more. I tell Julian that I am grateful now more than ever that he is a drug dealer and that he lives with my best friend, and Kate starts to push me down the hall towards her bedroom.

“She is very beautiful,” I say to Kate, sneaking another look over my shoulder at cashmere-sweater girl as Julian’s bedroom door closes shut.

“Ugh, no she’s not,” Kate says. “Her name’s Mary, but she pronounces it like Mah-ree,” and then there’s a silence, and I realize that I have made a mistake in calling Mary beautiful.

***

Kate and Julian used to have sex, which is generally not a good thing for people who are each other’s roommates to do. Julian broke Kate’s heart a few months ago when he showed up to the theatre department’s production of Angels in America: Perestroika—in which Kate played the Angel—halfway through the second act, drunk out of his mind, his arm around a skinny girl in a bodycon dress who texted during the play. When Kate got mad, Julian told her that she was being crazy, that it was just a play, to which Kate replied that no play is just a play and that this play in particular was the most important thing she’d ever done, which was probably true—she came down from the rafters on big metal wires at one part, and there was this spotlight on her, and everybody clapped, and I cried because she looked so perfect in her big white wings and I was so proud to be her friend.

***

Kate pours some rubbing alcohol on my skinned knee and then helps me roll a joint. She rips a little piece of cardboard off of the pack of rolling papers and uses it to make a filter, which she does every time and which never really works. I take four hits, and then I start to feel a dull pain somewhere behind my left eyebrow. I lie down and Kate uses her pinky finger to rub little circles there. In moments like these, I love Kate more than I love anyone.

“It’s four,” she says. “You wanna go to sleep?”

I know that I will have a hangover in the morning and that I will probably have to have diarrhea in Kate’s bathroom, which she shares with her two roommates and their girlfriends and friends and whoever else happens to be sleeping over tonight.

“I’m gonna poop now. I’m gonna poop now while everybody’s sleeping,” I say, and I roll off the bed and grab my phone off the nightstand so I can play solitaire while I’m on the toilet. I tiptoe down the hallway to the bathroom. Before I get there, I feel my phone buzz, and when I look at the screen, there’s a text from Vargas.

I have ur glasses, it says. I guess they fell. I have to be on set at 9 but come get them before.

I write back, 9 at night or 9 a.m.? and when he answers, 9 a.m., I decide I’d better get the fuck to sleep.

In the morning, I drive to meet Vargas at Maude’s, which is a very popular coffee place with a very crowded, confusing parking lot. I pull my car into a ten-minute-only spot and walk up to the entrance. Vargas is waiting for me outside, leaning against the wall.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say back.

“This place doesn’t have doughnuts. Can we go to that other place over there that has doughnuts?”

I sigh a big sigh. “Do you really need a doughnut?” I ask.

“Doughnuts. Sss. Multiple doughnuts. I’m going straight to set, I’m paying my actors in food.”

“I’m in a ten-minute spot. “

“They don’t tow here.”

“They tow everywhere.”

“I’ve never been towed here.”

“Can I have my glasses?”

“Just come with me.”

This is a thing that Vargas does. He knows that it is very hard for me to say no to the things he asks of me, and he asks them anyway. I don’t say anything, just turn away from him and start to walk towards the doughnut place. He follows me. We walk in silence.

Vargas orders two dozen doughnuts and I order coffee. It’s early and we’re told the doughnuts are going to take a few minutes.

“Wanna sit?” Vargas asks, already moving towards a big booth with pink leather seats. I slide in across from him. Vargas reaches into his pocket and pulls out my glasses. He places them on the table—lenses down, a big no-no—and nudges them towards me. I pick them up, wipe them off, put them on. I look up at Vargas and I can see his face more sharply, now. I don’t know what to say, so I figure I’ll just start talking and see if something good happens.

“Kate and I have the same prescription. We trade glasses all the time.”

“You and Kate are so gay.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m joking, it’s a joke, obviously—”

“No, I don’t want to joke with you.” There’s a terrible, wonderful pause in which Vargas actually looks vaguely hurt. “I don’t want to anything with you,” I say, “because you don’t want to anything with me, so.” I breathe out through my nose, pull my hair back and twist it into a bun.

Vargas watches me. “It’s so long now,” he says, quiet. Someone behind the counter shouts for us. Vargas leaps up, grabs the boxes, brings them back to our table, sits down. He opens a box and takes a doughnut for himself, then offers one to me. I take it.

“I’m doing this new thing where I don’t say sorry, to anyone, ever,” I say, mouth full of doughnut. “I walk around saying I’m sorry all the time. Sorry for bumping into people, sorry for dropping change on the ground—I caught myself saying I was sorry for sneezing one day and then that was just it. No more sorries. So my point is if this had been a few weeks ago, right now I would be saying something like: ‘Sorry, Vargas, for last night, when I got drunk and told you things,’ but instead I’m just gonna say that I have ten-minute parking and I have to go,” and I stand up.

“When am I gonna see you again?” Vargas asks, and he looks at me, looks at me, looks at me with those eyes.

“Never,” I say. “I don’t know. Soon, maybe.”

“The movie wraps Tuesday. We’re showing them all the week after graduation.”

“I’m going home right after graduation.”

“Like, right after? Immediately after?”

“Like, a day after.”

“So when will I see you?”

What I feel myself getting ready to say to him is Every day for forever if you really want to, but I know somewhere in the back of my mind that this would not be a wise thing to say, so instead I take a bite of doughnut and chew. And as I chew I think about this doughnut and I think about DONUT POCKET and about how everything comes back around full circle. I think about Walpurgisnacht and about how sad it is that all I seem to do these days is mope and drink and skin my knees and park in ten-minute-parking when I need more than ten minutes. I think about how When will I see you is Vargas’s standard goodbye and this is nothing special and he does not actually care about seeing me anymore. And then I think about how proud Kate will be if I call her as soon as I walk out of here and tell her all about how I walked out of here. So I turn around and I walk out.