What happens when you mix a masochistic homophobe, hipsters, a Nova with a souped up alien engine, and a penis shaped art gallery? Read this first place winner in our New Voices Contest to find out.
Primo steps out of the Nova’s passenger seat onto the asphalt, pausing to hunch and kiss the sweet, rubbery crease of the doorframe. He kisses the car with reverence, with appreciation, such an exhilarating ride. He shuts the door and smiles, eyes closed. Thank you, Chevrolet. He walks around the trunk and waits for Eileen to extract Pancreas from the backseat. Pancreas. It is okay; it is fine. They do not have to talk at all. Art galleries are similar to libraries anyway, correct? His hands dive into his pockets, finding solace inside those pant-folds, thumbing at the wooden prayer beads and weaving a couple of fingers through the string.
Eileen steps back from the car and Pancreas jumps out of the cramped backseat. Pancreas shakes his legs out and turns, looks at him, those eyebrows. Primo squeezes the prayer beads.
He is usually in larger friend groups than this—as if this three-person arrangement could be called a friend group—and he is usually quite intoxicated, heading towards a West Hollywood bar or club. Oh, how he longs for a nameless twink to get the sour taste of last week out of his mouth. Tonight, his motley crew of college students heads down gallery row, where twinks are far and few between, he imagines.
Primo takes a hand out of his pocket and fingers the parking meters as they pass, each smooth metal bulb traced by a different digit. Thank you, major goddess of industrial metal. They are here. What a curiously shaped building. There is a woman with dreads smoking and taking money by the door.
How much is it? Five dollar suggested donation. He takes out his billfold and slices three bills free. She takes them and looks up at him with a face like, really? Yes, really. They’re legal tender. She hands him a dollar in change and he folds it alongside the others. Thank you, lesser god of paper currency. Thank you, lesser goddess of home-use metal. Pancreas forgot his wallet, but of course, Eileen will spot him. She can be so blind! If she were human—er, Earthan—she would see him for the monster he is. Was. Is.
Oh my. This place is so hipster, he thinks his smart phone just creamed itself. Thank you, lesser god of white walls. Thank you, lesser god of faux-hardwood paneling. Wood has always been his favorite. As the Books of Martha teach, wood is a sacred element to all the religious masters. Jesus was a carpenter. Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Thank you, Arbo, holiest god of all wood. Now, where are the free drinks?
Apparently next to the corner of the gallery dedicated to photographs of pigeon beaks. He strolls over, trying to look pretentious. Out of the corner of his eye he can see a fuzz of blackish hair, which means Eileen is following him, which means Pancreas is following him. Whatever, it is a free country. The man handing out drinks is attractive. I bet he’s sane enough not to go berserk over a stupid, drunk makeout session at Eileen’s apartment like some people would. And he has a better body than that bastard. Thank you, lesser god of eight-packs. Only kidding.
Primo leans against the table, elbows locked, and smiles that smile Eileen said was sexy. Red wine, please. Thank you. Now turn gracefully and ignore him; he will not want you if he thinks he can have you. Oh no. What about the snacks? He did not get any snacks. Damn his sweet tooth. Okay, inspect one of the pigeon beak photos. This one, with the dildo-patterned backdrop. Hmm. How avant-garde. Everything nowadays is dildos. Okay, it has been enough time.
He hopes they have cantaloupe. Why would they have cantaloupe? Oh! So many nuts! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen, fifteen, wait. Ugh. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen. Fourteen bowls of nuts. Thank you, major goddess of glass bowls. He traces a fingertip around one bowl, imagines playing a symphony on those glasses filled with water. These are peanuts, surely. These? He can never tell the difference between cashews and almonds. Why would they put acorns here? Macadamia nuts? Pecans? Are pecans nuts? Oh! Pistachios.
His father’s utilitarian, black desk, a single bowl of pistachios next to the gold nameplate: SOBRINO HALIFAX, CFO. What if someone has a nut allergy? Yes, someone has to be allergic to nuts here. This is a little irresponsible, that is what his father would say. This is a little irresponsible. Oh really? Well, perhaps if his father actually paid attention to him instead of just saying good, good, every time they talked on the phone, maybe he would be a little less irresponsible. When was Primo at Wells Fargo last? Right around the time he converted to the Church of Itemism, most likely. Converted to the Church is not the right phrase, he decides, but rather became a part of the source. He had been happy since then—happier, at least. Found peace in giving affection to those that are so neglected, used every day by ungrateful hands, unloved. He had seen a lacking in his heart and filled it with—
What on Earth is Pancreas doing? Who in their right mind brings a knife to an art gallery? What a psychopath. Primo hopes he cuts himself.
On to the structures made entirely of gummy-bears. This is why he wanted to come—read about it on Tumblr. He wishes he had been the first person to post photos from here, would’ve gotten so many reblogs. Oh well. Instagram! The gummy chandelier is by far the best. Thank you, lesser god of lighting fixtures. Where is Eileen, she needs to take his picture under the gummy chandelier. What filter would work best with his outfit? Toaster, clearly, but Toaster never works with his skin-tone—he ends up looking like a mer-man. He needs to remember to use those new face wash pads so his forehead will not be so oily. Okay, Nashville it is.
Where is Eileen? At the section of differently sized white canvases positioned around—what is that?—a house? How clever. Eileen. Good, she is alone. Eileen. He motions for her to come over. Why would she care about white canvases when there is Instagram-whoring to be done? Maybe it was a Gliesan thing. He still does not know how he came about having her as a best friend. Maybe it was their mutual status as social outcasts that brought them together. That happens often, no? He would not have it any other way. Eileen, look at this cute chandelier. He hands her his iPhone. Wait, he needs to put on his prayer beads. Yes, that smile. Thanks, dear. He flicks the screen of his phone, thumbing through filters until—Nashville. Perfect. Thank you, lesser god of iPhone apps. Maybe if his father had an Instagram. Please. Huh. That’s funny, Eileen, that sounds incredibly similar to your car. Do all Gliesan engines sound the same?
He watches Eileen spin and break for the door. Where is she going? Wait, don’t leave me alone with him. Where is she going? Ugh. Primo decides to just go hide in the synesthesia teepee until she—
See, we’re fine. This will be fine. Primo’s cool. Pancreas is cool. He just better not have brought those serial killer knives. Eileen steps out of her Chevy Nova, her one metal link between here and home—which she hasn’t been back to in, what, almost two years now?—and looks around. Gallery row isn’t as sketchy as she thought it would be. Was that a needle on the ground? No, just the shimmer of broken glass. Ha ha. Ha. Oh, yeah. Sorry, Pancake. Oh, come on, you know you like it. She can never get over how much she likes her Nova. It’s just the perfect car. Sleek, sexy, makes her look badass. She remembers the day Daddy got it for her, how surprised she was that he remembered—she had only seen it once, during an Earthan movie they had rented out of curiosity. He was such a good father, so much more supportive than Mom of Eileen’s choice of an Earth college. The best parting gift anyone could ever want. It’ll be safe here. Yeah, it’ll totally be safe here.
She walks out of the lot, incredulous that she didn’t have to pay for parking. Was someone tricking her? She’s one to talk: Primo literally just accused her of tricking him into coming with Pancreas/Pancake. It was the only way she could get her friends to be friends again! Her friends had to be friends, even if they were being highly sensitive about that night at her apartment last week. They were just being ridiculous. This would never happen on Gliese 667C. She sees they’ve put themselves on either side of her. Great. Maybe if she just trails behind a little bit, they’ll drift together. Also, it gives her a chance to smell her hair. Okay, good. Oh, Pancake! Be careful! Is this scarf Earthan enough? Maybe she’s trying too hard. This scene actually likes Gliesan fashion. Likes, or thinks it’s ironic?
This building kind of, umm, it kind of looks weird. Like, kind of a penis? She must be the only one to see it. Of course she would see it, not like she had gotten any recently. Tonight, she’d find a nice hipster to sweep the dust out. She had to remember to casually drop the different planet line; guys were sort of into that, so she had read. Could she pull off dreadlocks? Her hair was too thin. The guys were looking in their pockets for money, quick! She grabs a tuft of black and sniffs, silently. Okay, good. Hah! She always forgets that Primo pretty much only pays in two-dollar bills. Wasn’t his dad a banker or something? Hmm? Yeah, totally fine! It’s just five bucks, Pancake, plus you bought me tacos that one time. Not to mention, she remembers, the time when they first met, when he had beaten up that mugger so badly. She doesn’t know what would have happened if Pancreas hadn’t been walking by—no, there was no need to think of that, because he had saved her. Five bucks was totally fine.
Ugh. As soon as they’re through the door, of course Primo bolts. He and Pancake were getting along so well in the car! Well, not talking is sort of like getting along, right? Can’t he just wait a second? Pancake just needs some time to work through some stuff. He doesn’t know how to address his feelings, it’s all very scary, she imagines. Oh, maybe Primo’s just going off for drinks. Eileen follows him, grabs Pancake’s hand to drag him along. Mmm, wine sounds really nice. Oh no, which one of us is going to get this drink-chef’s number? Not me, obviously. I’ll just have what he had, thanks. Yeah, red wine. Smile. No, no smile. Smile, what are you thinking! Whatever, look how nice they are together, both eating from the snack table like adults. They’ll start talking now I bet. Here try this apple. Here, try some of my nuts. Ha ha. She’ll just slip away.
Scanning. Scanning. That one, with the camouflage pants. He seems interesting. Okay, hair-check. Sniff. We’re good. Let’s go. She strolls over, she’s cool, she doesn’t care, she’s totally ironic right now. Oh no! Prettier girl talking to him, abort! Shat. No, that wasn’t it. Shit. Shit. She’ll just stand next to him and pretend to seem really into the art he’s looking at. Then he’ll totally ask her what she thinks of it, and she’ll come up with some exaggerated opinion her critical analysis skills will spit out and she’ll be cool and the guy’ll ask to see her cool car and she’ll take him to her Nova and fuck him in the backseat. Yeah, she’ll fuck him for the best ten minutes. And then he’ll say, can I drive this bad boy? And she’ll say, sorry dude. Gliesan drivers only! Not because she’s mean, or selfish. She isn’t. Earthans just can’t be trusted with hyper-hysteresis engines. They still have war here! A hyper-hysteresis bomb would totally create a black hole, destroy the planet, and leave behind a little ball of what used to be Earth, or something like that. Good thing her Daddy pulled some strings on the Earthan permits, or else she’d have to drive some car powered by fossil fuel, please!
Okay, maybe she should actually look at the art instead of just looking at the guy out of the corner of her eye. Creepy. This is a house. Red brick, blue sky, green lawn. That’s it? A house? She doesn’t understand art here. A house, surrounded by white. White canvas over white walls? Okay? Yeah, this is totally ironic.
What’s up, Pancake? She’s startled, hopes pants-guy didn’t see her jump. Pancake doesn’t look so good, kinda sweaty, like his eyebrows are furry rainclouds. Yeah, totally! So glad you like it! My car? Um, I guess. Okay, yeah, but just be careful, just grab what you need and come right back. Okay? Come right back. What’s up with him? He’s kind of walking funny. The pants guy isn’t watching. That’s good. Is that good? Maybe she should have pretended Pancake was her boyfriend, made him jealous. Okay, art. Let’s do his art.
Was that black dot there before? Oh! A fly! That’s kind of cool, right? Did the artist mean for flies to land on the white parts? Maybe he/she glazed them over with sugar water. Sticky. Yummy. The canvas must feel nice against his hairy little legs. Oh yeah! Traverse those edges fly-friend! You don’t need that house! Look at all this white for you to walk on! And it’s definitely not as dangerous as Mom thinks. Just because there’s still war here doesn’t mean her daughter’s going to get blown up! College was cheaper here. Conversation was better. The flies here are happier.
Primo’s calling her. She bets herself a packet of pop rocks that it’s just Instagram. Oh well, some time away from pants guy might do them good. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Which is totally true. If only distance didn’t always mean no one to hug, no one to put hands through her hair and tell her she was doing well, on the right path, no one to tell her how proud they were of her. Wow, these are made of candy? How clever! That fly was totally in the wrong place. Okay. Picture. Frame it. Good. There. Totes presh, Primo. What? No, ha ha, that can’t be—
Oh no! Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no, Pancake, no no no, he’s not, he’s totally not, oh no oh no. Outside, outside, oh! Oh. Dad’s going to be so—
Pancreas “Pancake” Jones
Pancreas is hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock. Eileen just had to pick Primo up first. That faggot. That fucking faggot. You can’t even open this car door. Eileen will get him out, if she would just hurry. Thanks, Eileen. Please don’t call me Pancake. Oof. His legs are asleep. Checks his pockets, adjusts the knife. At least TickleDrip isn’t jabbing into his dick anymore—not that that was necessarily a problem. Where’d that fucker go? There he is, yeah I bet he likes the trunk, standing there like a fucking faggot with those wide shoulders and nice pants. Let’s go.
This part of town is where they used to dump bodies, isn’t it? As they walk down the gallery row, he reaches into his jeans and feels TickleDrip’s handle. Goddamn, he loves this new one. It’s got the serrated edges that pull people’s guts out when you extract the blade. He unclicks the latch and slides a finger between the bite and the safe, feeling the grooves and notches in the stainless steel. He trips over a crack in the city’s goddamn cheap-ass sidewalk and TickleDrip jabs into his fleshy palm. Blood into two spots, pocket and crotch—he adjusts his jeans slightly to make room for his budding boner. Silly TickleDrip.
Of course the faggot wanted to go to an art gallery shaped like a dick. Bet he wishes everything was just one big fucking dick that he could slob. The dreads-bitch at the door wants money. If they had gone to some place other than this fucking dick-palace. Eileen, hey, could you spot a few bucks? Super sorry. Thanks, owe you a ton. And he did, she was the first person in college to you know, call him a friend or whatever.
Look at all this goddamn hipster shit. That guy’s beard is connected to his hair. You can barely see his deep, sea-blue eyes. Bet he spends all his money on mustache wax. Mustache wax and Pabst. Bet he drinks Pabst and talks about how meta those fucking gummy-bear Eiffel Towers are. These fuckers would think pissing on a piggybank was art. Eileen said there was food. Where’s the food? And booze. She said there was booze. Oh great. Pancreas has to ask that guy for a brew. He swears, if the guy tries to pick up on him, he’ll get him right in that perfect, protective jawline of his. Pancreas isn’t a faggot. He just drank too much.
You don’t have Coors? The fuck kind of place doesn’t have Coors? This is America! Fuck this then. Not drinking this Pabst shit. Better have some fucking good snacks. Oh. My. Fucking. God. The dick-palace has a table full of nuts. This place is gayer than Elton John’s fanny pack. Fine, there’s fruit. Pancreas picks up one of the apples, a green one, sour, and holds it in front of his hard face. He brings it in slowly, rubs his teeth against the skin, breath wrapping around the quivering little stem. He chomps down, feels the brief resistance and then violent release as his teeth penetrate the inside, the meat, the juicy flesh of this fucking apple. TickleDrip needs to meet this guy. Eileen won’t see. He’ll just slice it up a bit. Just sort of poke around. Goddamn. He can’t get the knife out fast enough. Okay. Apple. TickleDrip, this is your new friend, Mr. Apple. Do you want to be inside Mr. Apple? Yes, you do! He teases the apple with the tip of the blade, pressing lightly so he can see the green skin tense in pain before shoving it all in. Oh fuck yes.
Pancreas comes. Junk spurts out of his quarter-erect dick and seeps into his black boxer-briefs. He needs to cut. He wants to feel the metal inside him, the wetness of his blood lubricating the agony. He can do it in the car. Where’s Eileen. Where’s Eileen.
Eileen. This place is so cool, thanks for bringing us, you were totally right. Need to grab something out of the car. Real fast. Be right back. Swear. Thanks, you’re the best.
Outside. Outside. Sidewalk. The dreads-bitch is gone, thank god, her hair smelled like hippo-taint. Oh shit, he’s out of the dick. Forget TickleDrip; look at this thing! It’s so fucking huge. He needs to have that dick inside him, filling him, becoming him. Goddamnit. Goddamnit. The car. He runs, runs, jumps into the driver seat. Car’s on. Revs the engine. Oh shit. That sounds pretty. Get TickleDrip out, he needs to watch the magic. He wriggles a shaking hand into his jeans pocket. Put him in the passenger seat, there you go, little buddy, sit right there. Buckle up! He slingshots out of the parking space and into the empty street, engine roaring over the screech of tires. Needs to get a better angle. Pops over the median. Wheels around, lines up with the glorious dick. Yes! Come here, you big fat motherfucker, get ready for Pancreas! He guns the Nova; it barrels towards the dick-palace/art-gallery. Someone’s outside now. Eileen, no, get out! Move! Move! Well, fuck you too then.
Of course it all happened instantaneously, but I suppose if you want to break it down picosecond by picosecond, the bomb/car went first, folding in on itself—pancake batter poured into a frying pan. Then the street, the sidewalk, Eileen, and the gallery—a swirl of greys, blacks, and pinks sucking down a pinhole drain. The city was next, the edges peeling away from the county lines and snapping down into the nothingness, tape-measure style. The ground and air and water came flying from all sides, complete compression of matter into non-space. Soon mountains/oceans and China/mantle and the stratosphere were kissing, splashing around each other and giggling like cousins who only get to see each other once a year at a family reunion in Mississippi. The rush sounded like an avalanche and smelled like gasoline, until it didn’t anymore. Then all that was became all that wasn’t—a small human heart, a fist-sized Earth frozen to the roots by the space it now found itself floating in. For the third dimensioners unlucky enough to have found themselves on this doomed rock a few seconds ago, lives loop endlessly, not in the physical universe where their bodies and planet have been pressed into a fleshy nugget the density of a neutron star, but in their minds’ universes, each life playback slightly shorter than the last, yet never fully ending, Zeno’s paradox, an eternity. Each human’s quantum-compressed brain replaying and recycling through memories in order to dispel enough energy for transmutation into dark matter, into absolution. For here Time is endlessly stuck in one bubble of a moment, like a mosquito in amber, or a tiny imperfection deep within an immense glass bowl.
© August Luhrs, 2015
J. August ___ is a writer, installation artist, and weirdo living in a ball pit somewhere in Los Angeles. He leaves his last name blank because believes a person becomes someone new every second. The human that wrote this story was J. August White-Canvas, and that human only existed for and as this story. He just graduated from USC with a BA in Creative Writing, and this is his first fiction publication. “They Ended Up in Space” won a first place prize in See the Elephant’s New Voices contest. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/august.luhrs
Natalie DeMenthon is a bird who likes to make lots of digital paintings, soft sculpture, and wearable art. She is studying communication arts and computer science at VCU and is available for commissions and internships. See more of her work at http://nataliedementhon.weebly.com/and http://birdcave.weebly.com/