Marty took his beer down to the basement—maybe the last time he would have the place to himself—and dropped into his leather chair, posture defeated casual.
If Claire’s brother had nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep at night, Marty would be the first one to offer up their home, he tried to convince himself, taking a swig of beer and losing some on his chin when he thought of how many homes Claire’s brother owns. But say an embezzlement scandal or something, he tried to reason, wiping his face with the back of his hand. Money could have come from Madoff, he charged with a smug shake, not bothering with the flaw in the fantasy: years had passed since the Madoff scandal and Claude keeps getting richer. But family was family, and if Claire’s brother needed a place to stay Marty wouldn’t go into a tizzy about how long the arrogant, homeless, rich-prick bastard needed to stay.
But Jake was his own story. Only eight years old when Marty left for college. Marty barely knew his brother. And now Jake was moving in.
Jake arrived at midnight. He had finagled a flight out of his parents and asked to be picked up at the airport. To add to the arrangement, Jake didn’t own a cell phone—how that was possible in the twenty-first century, Marty couldn’t understand—so Marty had to circle slow, stupid laps around Logan until he saw him: his own parents compressed in this mockingly nonchalant man. His mother’s length and easy gait could be seen from shuttle-lengths away. His father’s dark eyes and casual smirk more evident up close. Marty pulled over and waved wildly from his car. Jake extended a single nod, making Marty feel even more foolish for his exuberance. After initial questions about the flight from Columbus, Marty just pointed out landmarks—Charles River, Fenway, Jamaica pond (“You’d like JP!”)—until they got home.
“Claire made up a great space for you,” Marty said as they entered the house. “Plenty of privacy.”
“Hey,” Jake answered back, eyes as steady as they had been since he arrived. “WiFi?”
DBC Entry: The Chronicles of FreeJK
Move-in day, Peeps! Time to hang the tapestries, bust out the lava lamp, put up the beer lights. Maybe dust off the dartboard and tack up the bikini calendar? Or maybe I should just let this styly pad be for a few days. And yes, Peeps, a styly pad it be! Can’t really college-dormatize this sorta place. Wouldn’t want to disturb the shrine to modern day manhood. What does it say when the poshest pad in the palace is The Host’s basement? Let’s listen (yes, this basement speaks): Entertain yourself, it says, shut down, bury your head in the mail-order sand. Enjoy a beverage (the fridge is stocked with beer!). Pop open one of the single-sized snacks on the side table—packaged and preserved for your pleasure! Host’s Paradise, Peeps. But you can’t put up any posters because there’s a super-sized flat-screen TV on the wall! Technology owns all the decorative space. The floor? Couch and recliner made of sleek black animal hides. The air? Never smelled so much leather and Glade in my life! Truth be told, I’m afraid to go to sleep. Might suffocate in the fumes of suburbia. Or have a nightmare about being trapped in a prison of perfumed magazines and home-good catalogues. Who could blame me for indulging just a bit? Yes indeed, this entry is brought to you by a refreshing cocktail of high-speed wireless and beer. It’s all I can do to stop myself from talking to the leather chair. Hello, chair! FreeJK out, yo.
The first few days were awkwardly uneventful. This relative stranger was living in their home, and Marty was in charge of him. Claire had made that clear when she made up a bed for him in the basement, Marty’s Man Cave—“For misuse, overuse, and uselessness!” Claire gushed when “man cave” was put on the annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English, her reaction equal parts violent and erotic. Despite having a perfectly good guest room, Claire was unwavering about the arrangement and Marty had to choose his battles, having already fought for his brother’s pre-determined stay. Claire used her rapid-blinking voice to claim it would give Marty more time to get to know his brother, to “help” his brother, which Marty understood as expedite his exit out of the house. The price he had to pay for this new burden on the family—no more personal, private space. She didn’t dare object when he stocked the basement fridge with beer.
Once Jake’s stay was confirmed, Marty’s dad had thanked him in a meandering email, closing with a cryptic blast—enough to fill Marty with emotional shrapnel: Your brother needs a little push. Your mother and I need a reassuring place for him to stay. Since you have kids, I know you’ll understand that it’s best not to leave things lying too loose.
What was “lying too loose?” Was he talking about himself or about Jake? About parental responsibilities or prized possessions? Should they chain the crystal to the countertop?
What Jake had done or was capable of doing was a colossal mystery to Marty. His parents had always been vague about their second-chance son, but it never bothered him before they insisted that he help them out, relieve them of the burden of their own child who, as a thirty-year-old college graduate, should be taking care of himself. Before they sold their home for a “retirement resort” on the Carolina coast, Marty was able to glean a few things from his father: Jake had been fired from the only job he had ever had, dumped from the only relationship he had ever known, and was now embroiled in some computer project that his father claimed was a “private and rewarding expression of his creativity and intelligence.” Claire was convinced it was gambling or pornography. Whatever it was, it kept him in the basement most hours of the day and night.
DBC Entry: The Chronicles of FreeJK
Late night/Early morning greetings, Peeps. Had a little snag in the sleep schedule, so I thought I’d enter somethin’ pithy. This one hit me when I first got picked up at the airport, but didn’t really sink in till now. Read it, Peeps: the toll on The Host can be seen from the outside! Not just the insides that are soured and turned. My bro and his wife are classic examples, takin’ polar turns. My bro used to have this boyish, kinda doughy look to him, but OUCH how things have changed! Now it’s like his face has sunk into the square pan of his shoulders. Might put out a missing persons report for his neck! Too many chins to keep track of. Waist up he’s like this hot, lumpy pillow. (I know, I know, mixing metaphors again—Lit Freaks—but pillows and dough are what I see!) Overall, there’s just not any shape left to the man. Kinda mirrors the insides, I suspect. But his wife has gone a different route. Bit harder to pin down. She’s still kinda hot in that nervous-smart sorta way (wild where it counts—you just know it). Yesterday, I caught her in the kitchen, cuttin’ sandwiches into bite-sized pieces for the kids. If only she could chew them up and poke each piece down their throats with her beak, I bet she would. Jittery birds, puffy pillows and dough. That’s the state of affairs in the Host’s home, Peeps.
And the kids are freakin’ it up a little bit too. Three-year-old girl refuses to drink water. Water! Her mother had to bribe her to take the smallest sip from her paisley pink cup. It’s the only card the little girl’s got, and she’s already playin’ it like it’s her last. The older boy, seven or eight I think, just waltzed in on me when I was takin’ a snooze. Middle of the night, just comes waltzin’ in. If the little dude didn’t scare the pants off of me (not that I was wearing pants), I might have invited him to hang for a bit. Warned him or somethin’. Oh well. Pray to the beer gods for me, Peeps! FreeJK out, yo.
More than usual, Marty fought with his pillow those first few nights, unable to settle down for any restful stretch. The only night he fell asleep before 1 a.m., he was woken up a few hours later by Felix, his seven-year-old insomniac—the human rooster Marty and Claire used to joke, back when they joked—his face inches above Marty’s.
“What are you doing? What’s wrong?” Marty asked in an urgent whisper.
“Uncle Jake said the ‘F’ word.”
“When I woke him up.”
“Felix. No. Please don’t wake anyone up. Especially Jake. He really needs a reassuring place to stay.”
“But it’s almost light out!”
“No, Felix, it’s not. There’s no light in sight!”
Marty stumbled through that first week, fighting through meetings in more of a stupor than usual, while Claire ground her teeth to nubs at night and darted through her days at work and at home. Marty hoped the weekend would help them all relax, but Claire wasn’t there yet.
“What is he doing down there?” she kept repeating, more an incantation than a question. “Find out what he’s doing down there, Iwanttoknowwhathesdoing!” Then in her creepy-calm, edge-of-the-ledge voice, “Please remember what I asked about dinner.”
Jake had declined their first few invitations to eat with the family. He said he ran on a different clock, and didn’t eat until after midnight most nights. He’d just help himself, if that was all right. Marty thought it was just as well, less disruption to the family routine. Claire took it a different way, reading disrespect and indifference. When she spoke up again about getting Jake to the table, Marty knew he had to take the case to the basement.
Marty went downstairs and hovered outside the door, hearing the hollow clanging of laptop keys as he wondered whether to knock or just let himself into his own room in his own house. He knocked, waiting while Jake did-not-rush to open the door. Then just a crack. Marty was about to barrel into the frame when Jake opened it all the way. Marty stumbled into the room and fell into his leather chair.
“You’re eating with us tonight,” he said.
“Listen,” Jake responded.
“It’s not a choice!” Marty fired back, before sighing in a middle-aged effort to compose himself. Jake cracked a beer and snapped the cap into the mesh-metal garbage pail with impressive accuracy. Marty noticed the fortress of beer bottles around the desk, shielding his laptop. He sighed again. “Just think of it as lunch or something,” Marty said. “If you eat dinner at midnight, then six, six-thirty is just another time to eat, right?”
“Not how it works, bro.”
“Then make it work, bro,” he snapped, stamping his stocking foot on the carpeted floor. Marty let his hand run over his face. He leaned back in his chair and sighed for the third time in as many minutes. “Any beer left in that fridge?”
Claire worried herself about that night’s dinner. Marty knew enough not to mention it, but it sparked something devilishly warm inside of him, dropping a nodding smile at the entrée. “Yummy,” was about as far as he could go, adding “Special meal,” just soft enough for Claire to ignore if she chose to, and she chose to.
Marty couldn’t remember the last time Claire had made lamb, and he couldn’t remember the last time she went to the butcher to buy meat. When she garnished the lamb with mint leaves and set the steaming plate on the Parisian trivet, Marty should have known his brother would be a vegetarian.
“Why don’t you eat meat?” Felix asked once everyone was seated.
“I just can’t help thinkin’ about their eyes,” Jake said, “when they’re babies…”
“Okay!” Marty said, standing. “Have you lost your mind? Or are you just a dick?”
“I want something else,” Felix declared. “What’s a dick?”
“Felix!” Claire barked, before turning to Marty, her eyes retching red hysteria. By the time she turned back to her son they had softened to a bloody yolk. “I have chicken nuggets, Felix.” Then to assuage her still-skeptical son: “Chicken nuggets were never… babies.”
“I want nug-nugs!” Rebecca cried.
Felix jumped out of his seat, “I’ll get the nuggets!”
“Felix, stop,” Claire stated, her hands clutching the arms of her chair. “Felix. I said no.” Then turning to her daughter. “If you want nug-nugs, you have to drink water.”
“I no want water, I want nug-nugs!”
“I can get ‘em!” Felix insisted, shaking his seat back and forth. “I can!”
“And I said no,” Claire repeated, projecting a tilted head toward her son.
“I can get ‘em!” Felix screamed at capacity, releasing his chair to thump and rock.
“Jeepers Fudruckers!” Marty screamed back. “Inside Voice!” Marty was pointing at Felix who narrowed his eyes and began creeping toward the kitchen.
“Back to the table, now!” Claire yelled at a paralyzing pitch. “Back. To. The. Table,” she repeated in her don’t-make-me-repeat-myself-a-third-time voice. “One, two, three. If I get to five you’re going to your room, Felix. I’m serious now. Four!”
“Come on buddy,” Marty said, leaning back in his chair. “Don’t make her say five. No one likes five.”
“Do I get four and a half?” Felix asked, still in the kitchen but closer to the dining room.
“Felix,” Claire warned.
“Fine,” he said, darting back to the table and launching into his seat.
“Nice jump,” Jake said to Felix, who immediately dropped back to the floor to do the chair jump again.
“Felix!” Claire shouted. “Back in your seat now! One, two,” she began, before Felix returned to his seat.
“We do not encourage running and jumping in the house,” Claire said into her plate, too worked up to look directly at her brother-in-law. “It’s not safe.”
“Right on,” Jake said, smiling at his nephew. “I think I finally get why kids hate math. Every count leads to a punishment.”
Claire didn’t ask Marty to invite his brother back to the table after that first dinner, but she did push him down to the basement. She wanted a liaison. A surveillant.
“Conversations,” she clarified. “Not therapy,” responding to Marty’s claim that he wasn’t qualified to rehabilitate anyone. “You can have conversations with your own brother. Your only brother,” she threw back at him.
Marty’s efforts to talk to his brother always followed the same basic course. He would knock on the basement door and wait for Jake to arrive, peering out through a suspicious crack before welcoming Marty in. After the small talk waltz, Marty would ask the requisite what-are-you-doing-with-your-life questions, which Jake would answer with an assortment of concocted aspirations—animal mime, toe wrestler, cardboard tube fighter—defending each one until Marty’s questions ran dry and the conversation moved farther away from anything Marty could possibly report to Claire.
DBC Entry: The Chronicles of FreeJK
So I extended a little carrot as they say (keep your dirty minds in check here Peeps). My bro’s been houndin’ me with so many questions, I had to give him something. So I made up a little tale and he swallowed it deep-throat style (my bad, couldn’t resist). Anyway, my bro let it drop that he heard I had a little romance, once upon a time. I guess my pops let that one slip. So I told him it ended, get this, ‘at the cold hands of honesty.’ I was havin’ a little fun. Said my lady looked me dead in the eye and pulled a line straight outta Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith. (When he said he had only seen the original three, I got a little irritated and pressed on.) According to my semi-tall tale, she said ‘How long will it take before we’re completely honest with each other?’ Same thing Padmé asks Anakin to get him to admit that he dreamt about her dying in childbirth! If he could tell her that, I said to my lumpy ole bro, I should be able to say anything, right? I told him it was like a sign or something. (I didn’t remind him that Padmé dies anyway and Anakin turns into Darth Vader.)
Anyway, I was feelin’ a little devilish, so I said we broke up after I copped to (here it comes, drum roll please) ‘a healthy commitment to masturbation.’ Yeah, sex with my ole lady was all right, I told him, but I had to admit that no one got me off quite like me. Not sure how I kept a straight face, especially when he started looking around the room like he might spot some soiled spot on the rug. I was about to tell ‘em it was a joke, and my relationship was none of his damned business, but then he leaned in to tell me a little somethin’. Said he had a dream about masturbation the other night but woke up before he got off. That is, a dream that he was fantasizing about sex! I laughed like a hog in heat. Beer shot out my nose. He really thought we bonded, poor guy. I kinda feel bad about the whole thing, but it’s for the cause, right? I may be a lost soul, like my doughy ole bro says, but I’m a lost soul with a cause. Just a product of my age, Peeps. Aren’t we all? FreeJK out, yo.
Over the next week and a half, Marty was downstairs almost every night, but their conversations never turned as personal or as revealing or as brotherly. On the weekend, Marty brought down more beer, but the gesture seemed more like an obligation than an act of thoughtfulness. Was he expected to restock the fridge every few days? Jake wore some version of the same outfit every night—gray fleece sweatshirt and long thin corduroys—and the basement had taken on a different smell: not bad just yet, but not the same. The change was unnerving to Marty. Riding a wave of impatience, he asked again about his brother’s computer project.
“Must be something important,” Marty added.
Jake shifted in his seat, appearing to contemplate whether or how to respond. “You know, you ask me all these questions, but you’ve hardly told me squat about you. Other than you can’t even consummate a relationship with yourself. Why don’t you tell me more about those dreams of yours, bro? What are your dreams? Where are you now, Marty?”
At the end of most nights, whether he was talking to his brother or not, Marty would slip into the bedroom as quietly as possible, but the effort to be quiet—the cerebral strain involved—was enough to wake Claire up. On a night when he felt thwarted at every turn, Marty pushed open the door and braced himself for the worst.
Claire was still awake, reading on top of the covers. She was in her blue silk nightgown, her leg exposed to the thigh. She put her book down, her head angled into the soft light of her bedside lamp. She hadn’t looked so calm in years. “You know I’m trying, right Marty?” she said.
Her eyes were soft, matching her sleepy pillow voice. Marty was reminded of how things used to be in the BC age—before children: her careful confidence, her tenderness. But as a true product of his age, he steeled himself against sentimentality and stuck to his defense. “You put my brother in the basement, Claire,” he said, walking to his dresser. “You claimed it was so we could bond, but come on.” Then out of nowhere, as if his brother had cued the line himself: “‘How long will it take before we’re completely honest with each other?’ You’re trying to punish me, Claire.”
“It’s not about you,” she shot back in her whispery yelling voice, eyes straining against emotion. “I thought you wanted to spend time with your brother. I thought you wanted to help him. Isn’t that what this is all about?”
Marty shook his head in response, eyes on the brow of his dresser.
“Okay,” Claire continued with a quick nod, “if you think there’s a selfish reason here too, maybe you’re right. Only it’s not to punish you,” she said, rubbing her hand into her wrist. “I thought if you weren’t in the basement with your brother, maybe you might be with me. Maybe you wouldn’t just disappear at the end of every day. I never see you. That’s all you seem to do.”
Marty knew what he could say in return. Hadn’t she asked him to go to the basement? To gather information from his brother? But something stopped him. He moved back to the edge of the bed and sat, his eyes falling to Claire’s bare thigh—still so supple, still so firm. “I can do more now,” he said, reaching for Claire’s knee, exercising a remarkable ability to put aside any tensions or humiliations for the possibility of sex.
“What? No!” Claire said, squirming away from him. “Why does it have to be all or nothing with you? Sex or silence. What about conversation? What about support? What about trying to give a hungry hippo shit about what happens around here?”
Marty let out an airy laugh. “I think I give plenty,” he said. “I go to work everyday. I come home. I support…”
“I made lamb for your vegetarian brother!” Claire interrupted. “I put snacks on his bedside stand! I sprayed the basement curtains with Glade! And you act like I’m an intruder with some insidious agenda!”
“What do you want, Claire?” Marty sighed, leaning off the edge of the bed.
“I want him to leave the house. He’s always here. It’s not healthy.”
“Where do you want him to go? And please don’t say to work.”
“Anywhere. Take him to a bar or something, I don’t care. It’s not like you’re here even when you’re here,” she said, yanking the sheet over her legs. “Maybe he’ll tell you something real if he doesn’t think his enemy is sleeping upstairs,” she added, sliding back toward the headboard.
Marty knew he should offer an olive branch here. Assure his wife that she wasn’t the enemy. But all he could muster was “Okay. I’ll see if he wants to hit the bar.”
Marty was in a deep sleep when Felix woke him up that morning, the three o’clock darkness all around them.
“Why does the night take so long?” his son demanded. “Why does it always take so long?”
Jake shrugged when asked about the bar. It was a Thursday night, and Marty had said in front of Claire that they would go around the corner. But when they got in the car, Marty had his mind set on Jamaica Plain. “I think you’d like it there,” he said, affecting a benevolent tone. “I know a good pub.”
When they got to the bar, Marty gave his credit card to the bartender and carried tall draughts to a table by the window.
“Right on,” Jake said when they settled in. “A tab.”
Marty’s plan was to loosen his brother up with alcohol. Get him to talk while imbibing a bit himself. It would all be guilt free, as long as he came back with something to report.
The banter remained light as the beers continued to flow, the alcohol loosening the reins on both of their inhibitions. It was less noticeable in Jake at first, until the server stoked the fires of vanity.
“Another round for my brother Mar-tay,” Jake said to the smiling server.
“And another round for my brother Jay… Kay…” Marty followed, feeling as light as he had in years.
“FreeJK, yo!” Jake shot back.
“FreeJK?” repeated the server, turning to look directly at Jake. “You’re not… FreeJK?”
Jake raised suave, squinty eyes to the light, unable to hide the stupid thrill of recognition. “You heard-a me?”
“My whole house,” she answered. “We’re like obsessed with your blog. Is that your brother?”
“One and only,” he answered, turning to face a ghostly confused Marty whose expression was enough to wipe the cocky charm from Jake’s face. “But no need to get into all that now,” he said. “Just the drinks,” trying to wave the topic away.
“You got it,” she said, turning back to the bar.
“You have a blog?” Marty asked once the server had left. “That’s what you do on the computer all day?”
Jake let the question linger as Marty leaned back in his chair.
“You’re telling me the guy who doesn’t own a cell phone is an online personality?”
The complexion of Jake’s face changed when Marty took out his smart phone. “And all along I assumed you were billing porn to mom and dad’s credit card. Or running a pyramid scheme or something.”
“Glad you thought so highly of me,” Jake said, eyes on his brother’s phone. “Ah, listen.”
Marty paused to look up, stealing his father’s smirk straight from his brother’s face.
“I probably can’t ask you to just, you know, lay off the whole internet search?”
“Your choice,” Marty answered. “I’ve been asking about your grand computer project for a while. Looks like now’s the time, Mr FreeJK Yo.”
Jake raised his hand to summon the server back to the table. “We’re gonna need a pitcher, I think. And a few shots.”
“You two are havin’ fun,” she smiled, her wide lips not lost on either of them.
After downing their shots and sipping their beers, Marty opened his hands to instigate the conversation.
Jake leaned over the table. “Okay,” he said. “So, it’s like this. You happen to be sitting with one of the founding members of DBC,” he began. “In fact,” he followed with a certain pride, “I write the most popular blog on the site.”
“Well that clarifies things,” Marty said, taking a sip of his beer. “Except one small thing. What the hell’s The DBC?”
“Just DBC. Not The DBC. And it’s an organization. Dependents By Choice. We’re a network. And there’s a few of us who keep up a regular blog.”
“Dependents By Choice?” Marty said. “What kind of… bogus… bullshit is that?”
“It’s not bogus, and it’s not bullshit,” Jake replied, as serious as he had been since he arrived. “We’re products of the system. We’ve got a mission.”
“A mission to willfully leech off hard working relatives and friends?”
“Not all hard working,” Jake said. “Look at you.”
Marty let a hot hand slide over his face, unable to see the humor just yet. He shook his head. “I don’t get it. What kind of mission could you possibly have? Or are you still trying to figure out your whole freeloader philosophy?”
“We’re well past the mission stage, bro,” he clarified. “We’re an established organization. An innovative group making a real statement to the masses. We take our cues from like Ghandi and Martin Luther King and the Freegans and people like that. It’s no joke.”
“Come on,” Marty countered. “If anything’s a joke, this is a joke. Or it’s the serious mission of teenagers and twenty-year olds. But you’re thirty. What are you the elder statesman? Like Frank the Tank?”
“We’re college graduates, bro. All of us. College grads who have vowed to remain dependent. Some have never paid for rent or food in their lives. The Inviolate. They have a special place in our institution.”
Marty shook his head, pouring himself a sloppy glass from the pitcher.
“We’re a diverse group,” Jake was compelled to add. “The situations vary, but they all point to the same thing: we live in a dependent age, bro. An age of avoidance. No conflicts, no complications. Just medications and playdates. Keep the kids on the teat. That’s the name of the game. Our independence has been taken from us since the day we were born. Can’t even get the chicken nuggets by ourselves.”
Marty put his beer back on the table and let an exasperated laugh sputter out his nose.
“If the powers-that-be insist on takin’ care of us, then we need to let ‘em,” Jake continued. “We’re naming this thing, Marty. We’re sending a message.”
“By living at home with mommy and daddy?”
“Not everyone lives at home. Some have parents or guardians or whatever who pay their rent and give them an allowance and stuff like that. I think I’m one of the first to move in with a sibling. You should be honored.”
“Claire’s gonna throw up.”
“Let’s focus on tonight, then bro,” Jake suggested, leaning back in his chair. “Just you and me here tonight. Give us time to process it all.”
Marty should have gone home after Jake disclosed his ambitions to be ambitionless, but when he received Claire’s text—Any break thrus?—even Marty, who may have been the butt of the DBC joke, couldn’t bare to go home. Claire’s next communiqué came a half hour later—In bed. Please do not wake me up. Marty replied with a Nite luv and ordered another round of shots. After last call, when the server, Stacey, invited them to her house, Marty was happy to reluctantly agree.
“My housemates are gonna freak,” she said, leading them down the street to her apartment, just a short stumble away from the bar.
More than Marty could have imagined, Stacey’s housemates did freak. They were welcomed as celebrities—“FreeJK and The Host”—and plied with drinks and joints. Marty tried to affect an air of cool detachment, but he was drunk, and it was too easy to embrace his celebrity status, at least for the night. Young women were flirting with him; young guys were bringing him drinks and knocking his fists. Marty got belly laughs when he told about the intern who cornered him in the employee lounge just before she quit, hissing about the evils of advertising, how advertisers put emancipated women on highway billboards and used computers to make women look more emancipated.
“Not sure this is what Lincoln had in mind when he signed the Proclamation!” he roared, rolling over himself, gasping and snorting as he hadn’t done in years. Even Jake had tears.
“This whole night…” Stacey added through snorts of her own, shaking her head, no intention of completing the sentence. “I can’t believe you turned up at the bar,” she said directly to Jake.
“Not my money,” Jake replied with a certain pride.
“Your blog is like, so funny,” Stacey continued, barely registering Jake’s response. “Every post, we’re like: ‘Who is this guy?’ What were you saying the other day?” she asked one of her roommates. “Loser with a cause?”
“A loser who thinks he has a cause,” her roommate corrected. “That’s the best part!”
“How do you think this stuff up?” Stacey asked, shaking her head with admiration and disbelief at Jake, his face frozen in a half-smile.
After the laughter had died down, and Marty started to teeter on the edge of consciousness, one of the women pulled him toward her room. Jake grabbed his arm, asking if he knew what he was doing. Suggesting that maybe they should just go home.
“Out of my hands,” Marty replied with a long, sleepy grin. “My turn to be taken care of.”
“Not how it works, bro. The Host…” Jake started, shaking his head at the sound of his own words. “Host’s already, you know, chosen his path.”
“Tonight I choose d’pendency,” Marty slurred, stumbling back toward the bedroom. “This is the night. Just you and me here tonight,” he said as a warm hand drew him into the dark, shutting the door, pulling him down.
The swarming, blaring sounds of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” jarred Marty awake. It was light outside. His clothes were in a bunch on the floor. He was naked in a bed that was not his own. He leaned off the edge and grabbed his phone in a clammy hand, trying to stifle the sound of Claire’s special ring. He stumbled into the hall and fumbled his way to the bathroom. Elbow on the sink, he lowered himself onto the toilet seat, the insufferable song threatening never to end. But when it did––finally, resolutely––it was replaced by a grave and demanding silence. Then a fierce light. Missed Call: Claire. He pressed the cold edge of the phone into his forehead and closed his eyes. Where am I now?
DBC Entry: The Chronicles of FreeJK
So a new turn in our twisted tale here, Peeps. I had a sort of epiphany, I guess you could call it. Happened this morning on the silent drive back to my bro’s pad. We were in a 35 mph zone, cruising along at 40 or so, when this cop car passes us doing 50-55. No lights, no sirens. Just driving. That’s when it hit me. It’s not just dependency, Peeps. But false parameters and empty threats. Contributors to the dependent age, no doubt. But it’s a national, societal thing I think. An epidemic, maybe. Read it, Peeps: ‘Speed Limit 35’. Just don’t go over 50! ‘No Parking Any Time’. Unless you throw on your blinkers and you’re just running in for a second. Or think about family-speak. ‘If you don’t come here right this second, I’m leaving the store without you!’ How many ‘rents have every really left their kids in the store? Maybe two? Now how many ‘rents have threatened their kids with abandonment? Read it, Peeps: All of them. It’s what we do. And that’s not it! Time’s all out of whack too. Think of the home-place. ‘You have five seconds to get to the table! One (two-three-four) Two (two-three-four) Three… Three and a half…’ No wonder we need meds to keep kids in their seats! Words no longer work. They’re no longer real. How can we have fidelity in our lives when it’s not in the words we use or the signs we read or the laws that are meant to keep us safe?
But what the hell can we do about it? Truth is, I don’t really have the answers. I don’t know if it’s better to be a loser with a cause or some lackey who gets sucked up into the system. Aren’t they slaves to the same thing? Don’t the people in middle always end up getting squeezed?
Dios mío, Peeps. Might be time for me to move on. After last night, I might not have a choice. But for now at least, I just need to lie down. Take one last ride on the leather couch. Sink into its soft hide. Cover my head with a styly accent pillow. Block out all that screaming upstairs. Inside Voice, please. Inside Voice. FreeJK out, yo.
Bio: Aaron Tillman is an Associate Professor of English at Newbury College. His short story collection, Every Single Bone in My Brain, will be published by Braddock Avenue Books in 2017. He received a Short Story Award for New Writers from Glimmer Train Stories and won First Prize in the Nancy Potter Short Story Contest at University of Rhode Island. Two pieces of his flash fiction were nominated for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions of 2015 anthology, and his novel was a finalist in the 2016 Molly Ivors Prize for Fiction. His stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Madison Review, Arcadia Magazine, The Carolina Quarterly, great weather for MEDIA, Prick of the Spindle, Burrow Press Review, and elsewhere. He has recorded two stories for broadcast on the Words & Music program at Tufts University and another for Functionally Literate Radio. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle, Studies in American Humor, Symbolism, The CEA Critic, and The Intersection of Fantasy and Native America (Mythopoeic 2009).