Evan met Thomas getting off the train, when Thomas
handed him the book he’d dropped between the seats when he passed out next to
him. They hadn’t talked at all
during the ride but Thomas said he knew a good rooftop and asked Evan if I felt
like smoking and Evan told him he did.
Thomas sat on his haunches, beard thick against his
cheeks and the cold, looking over the city. The beard, curly and rust-colored, made Thomas look older
than he was, thirty even. When he
was done rolling the joint he passed it to Evan. Evan needed his help lighting it in the wind, and Thomas
watched him over the little flame, struggling in the cup of his hand. His eyes were dull, sky china polished
too often. They seemed to see not
straight ahead but sideways or around, but nonetheless to see deeply.
was newer to smoking than he admitted, newer to most things than he
admitted. He coughed, smoke and
phlegm, and a white serpent of vapor passed into the cold air. They stood against the wide gray
skyline, the sun already down but still playing its violet spectrum across
streaks of clouds.
the decay,” Thomas said, when the high had taken them both. “That’s what I still like about
it. It’s falling apart faster than
it can be rebuilt.”
looked at him, and Thomas looked straight forward at
the setting sun.
living in the slow ruins of our own civilization. The pantheons and coliseums. The sacred and the
forgotten. And we don’t
know it yet.”
tried to think of an answer, something profound enough to display his
commitment to the topic, but the urgency passed like the white smoke and he
looked back across the city instead.
that night Thomas took Evan to meet Marla.
club was a small one, crammed between neon and dirty posters on a side street
Evan didn’t know. The city was
like this, he was finding: fifty feet away a busy intersection and some of the
kitschiest clubs in town, but turn ninety degrees almost anywhere and you found
yourself in the skin, grease and gray pimples. The streets and the walls alike were littered with paper and
spit and neglect.
had been singing earlier (she said) but her set was done by the time they got
there and she was drinking with Oz the Russian. Thomas introduced them and Oz took an immediate liking to
Evan, smiling wide with dewy-drunk eyes.
friend!” Oz proclaimed, “He will drink with me, yes?” He was large – twice Evan’s mass in soft white flesh,
and his hand on Evan’s shoulder was a mitt. He ordered two vodka shots and they drank. Thomas and Marla joined them and then
Marla asked what Evan was doing in the City, but the band started their set
right at that moment so he just shook his head into the cacophony and smiled.
the first song Marla excused herself for the bathroom, which Evan didn’t
mind. He’d been avoiding talking
to her because she was beautiful, and he was aware of it so it was worse.
He asked Oz about Russia. Oz waved his hand dismissively.
they do not cheat you on the price of Vodka. The rest, here I like it better.”
ordered them both second shots, then dismissed Evan’s attempt to pay with
another broad wave of his hand.
Evan thanked him, reddening uncomfortably with a now mounting sense of
debt. The band began its next
song, discordant, screechy, a crowded stage between several trombones and
electric guitars, an upright base, an accordion, a synthesizer.
sounds like a fucking subway train,” Evan said to Oz, and the Russian laughed
without any indication that he’d heard what Evan said.
like that on the inside,” he heard someone shout next to him. He looked over to see Marla, settling
onto her stool, smoothing the aesthetic patches sewn into her jeans. “From the outside the city is this big
symbol of hope and opportunity and progress. Inside it’s screams – metal tracks and sirens and the
worst kind of all.”
that?” Evan shouted back over the din.
kind inside people that they never let out,” she shouted back. She smiled, white portrait framed in
dark brown hair. Evan laughed,
knowing it was the wrong reaction, and was relieved when Thomas returned from
talking to a group of men at a nearby table.
good,” he said, really smiling for the first time Evan had met him.
fantastic!” Marla shouted.
glanced between them, feeling suddenly distanced, an outsider.
“Let’s drink,” said Thomas, and bought the first round.
Evan felt the drunk coming on a little dizzyingly, mixed
with the numbing remnants of his high earlier that day, but Thomas and Marla
and Oz were happy and enjoying themselves so he let his inhibitions wane. He began telling Oz about Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but the Russian’s
senses seemed to be dimming. He
nodded slowly to himself as Evan talked, perking up when Evan mentioned the
devil, then receding back to the slow undulating motion. Suddenly he looked straight past Evan
and declared something loudly in Russian, followed by “Go, go away!” Evan looked to see if any of the people
at the table behind him were taking notice, but they seemed absorbed. Thomas and Marla started laughing
especially hard and so Evan laughed too.
Oz looked at them all, heavy-jowled, with one
eye partially closed, a weighing expression. Then he stood and shoved his way quickly out of the bar, toppling
a stool in his wake.
Evan was drunk before he quite realized it and found
himself talking loudly with Marla, not entirely sure what he was saying. She was drunk, too, and at some point
Thomas left them to shout at each other over the speaker music that had
replaced the band. She asked him
to come outside so she could smoke, and he shuffled after her into the frigid
air. The ground was slick with a gauze of new snow.
“Fuck it’s cold,” she said. “I really need a smoke.”
“Yeah,” said Evan, sliding his hands into his
pockets. Then she kissed him, up
against the graffiti, her hands on his face, and he was too startled not to
kiss her back.
The night blurred, and Evan was helping her into a taxi,
giggling, getting in after her.
Thomas got in, too, not smiling any more, and Evan greeted him happily,
asked if he lived near Marla.
Thomas nodded. Evan tried
to kiss Marla in the car but she pushed his head back so he talked to Thomas,
and Thomas responded mostly with nods.
Evan told him things he’d told Marla already, probably told Thomas
already too – about graduation, about moving to the city, about wanting
to do news, or maybe to write, or maybe to travel. After awhile he fell silent, feeling the alcohol fade and
the fatigue set in, and when he woke up the taxi had stopped.
Evan blinked, uncertain for a moment of where he
was. The confidence of his drunk
had worn off and he began wondering in a rush what he should do, whether it was
too strange to ask her for her number now, whether he was supposed to ask if he
could come in or wait for her to offer – and with Thomas there…
“Come on,” she told him, and pulled him out of the
car. Thomas got out, too. They walked up some steps and Thomas
opened the door. Evan watched him
jangle the keys, his uncertainty mounting. He opened his mouth to offer to go home – he was sober
enough now, he’d say. He’d kiss
Marla good night and give her a wink and stay mysterious for the next time, then he’d ask Thomas for her number…
She led him in.
They walked up a flight of wooden stairs, and the three of them stopped
in the hallway. She turned
to him, cheeks flushed with the cold, put a hand on his chest.
“Do you want to see Heaven?” she said.
Evan was cold, uncomfortable. A few responses fluttered through his subconscious: “I hope
it’s in your room” or “You gonna show it to me?” He glanced over at Thomas, who was watching, and swallowed
“Maybe I should head back,” he said.
“Come on, don’t you want to see it?” Marla was caressing
him now, smiling. The smile was
genuine, it was kind, and that unnerved Evan even more.
“Marla exaggerates,” said Thomas. “There’s no Heaven.”
“There is too,” Marla said, “and it is full of horrors.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Evan,
suddenly angry with them, both of them, for their games.
Marla tilted her head at him. “Do you know the old joke about the three people who die and
find themselves in a room together?”
Evan started pulling away from her. He was tired, and he was beginning to
reject the lingering sense of social debt keeping him there. He wanted suddenly to be alone, and to
Marla leaned into him as he pulled away. “So these three
“He’s right,” Thomas but in. “We should offer an
“I am,” said Marla.
A real one.” Thomas fished
into his pockets and came out with a plastic bag. Inside, Evan could make out little metal beads of
capsules. Evan unfolded it and pulled
three of the capsules out with his fingers, laid them on his palm for Evan to
see. They were made of dull,
unpolished steel, one end slightly smaller around than the other so they could
fit together at the middle. Evan
looked at them, looked back at Thomas.
He could feel his lids dragging, heavy shutters on his eyes.
“Look, I don’t want to take any drugs. I’m tired.”
“Drugs?” echoed Marla, “no, no.”
Thomas held his gaze. “Do you wonder what dying is like, Evan? Do you wonder where you go?”
Evan’s eyes flitted from Thomas to Marla. Images and phrases rode suddenly into
his head, stuff about suicide cults and kool-aid. He glanced down the stairs, wondering idly how quickly he
could make an escape if he had to.
“I guess. Who doesn’t?”
“This isn’t about any of us dying, so don’t worry about
that. This is an experience. It’s a journey your body goes on, and
then it comes back from.”
“So it is a drug,” Evan said.
“If you like.”
“The best drug,” chimed in Marla.
“What is it?
Acid? Mushrooms? It sounds like that sort of thing.”
“It’s new,” said Thomas. “It’s the new big thing.”
“Come on,” said Marla, “I want you to do it with us.”
I’m tired, thought Evan. I’m tired and I don’t do drugs very often and I don’t want
to try anything I don’t know is safe and frankly I don’t know either of you
Marla slipped her hand into his.
“Fine,” said Evan.