by Emily Krauser
Did everyone break on a pilly plaid couch?
Did everyone break? Was everyone a hollowed-out apparition of their childhood self, or was it just her? Was she a narcissist for thinking she might be the only one? She both accepts and denies this possibility, her personality a spiderweb of contradictions. Everyone was a hypocrite anyway.
Nobody else at the party looks any different than usual. They wear their feelings like faded tattoos, pulsating to their uniquely non-unique energy. Did she look any different? Would they care if she did?
This couch is not the one she broke on. They look alike, as most basement couches do, left behind by grandparents or uncles, shamed into an underground existence, their solid oak frames bruising shins, their sharp nicks and dangling loose threads pure cat bait.
This basement couch is a Christmas tree of plaid, a disorienting combination existing for bachelor pads and man caves. The couch she broke on was softer, like midnight, all forest greens and navy blues. Like this one, the harsh fabric on that couch scratched, left her with minuscule cuts and raw red thighs. On the couch that broke her, she started the evening as its sole occupant. This couch is never alone.
Tonight’s party was not an active choice, merely a thing to do to fill the darker hours. Nothing has changed since high school, when basement parties were the thing to do because you were supposed to, because you had to if you wanted to be cool. A chore. But she doesn’t need to be cool anymore, at least she doesn’t think so. She doesn’t need to be surrounded by burnouts and drunks who never ventured beyond the tawdry borders of her hometown, as if they would be struck by an electric current if they tried.
This party looks like all those high school parties: cheap beer and Smirnoff Ice, packed bowls and powder-laced rolled-up dollar bills crammed on tables and dressers and countertops and windowsills, every corner stuffed with a body or broken furniture. Everyone is broken. She sips her cheap beer and sinks into the center indentation of the couch, between her best friend and the ragged fortysomething who shows up at every party, a dollar store Shaggy. She assumes every town has a middle-aged guy whose entire personality hinges on sniffing out basement parties. She nods in his general direction, imagines a meager acknowledgment brings him peace.
She shouldn’t have come back here. She should have stayed broken miles and miles away, where nobody knew she was a mosaic held together by paste and Prozac. There were fewer pilly plaid couches in the city but the same amount of cheap beer, the same amount of herself.
One last swig. She pushes off her knees to stand, allows the remaining couch dwellers to sink into each other. From the fridge she pulls out her fourth sweating can of beer and pops the tab. Swig swig swig, gulp. She nods at the former quarterback’s best friend, watches him glide towards her as she downs the beer, smiles. Inches from her face, his mouth moves, the alcohol flows through his veins. She registers the moment his eyes flutter down, studying her, pretending not to study her, and hears him ask if she wants to get some fresh air. At the couch, the dwellers fill the space she left as though she had never been there at all. She lets the former quarterback’s best friend twitch with nerves, crush the can in his hands. It’s a small tick, but she sees it, feels it. She feels everything.
She follows him outside, slices through the humid air of another Indian summer, twirls an unlit cigarette between her fingers. She lets him push her against the garage wall, nuzzle his nose into her neck, lose control of his limbs, his hands, his fingers, lets him be whatever he wants to be. She means nothing to him. She means nothing to anyone here. Another body, another drug, another Friday night. He means nothing to her. She means nothing to herself, at least not yet. Maybe tomorrow.
She’s used to this, this cracking into exquisite, enervated pieces. Everyone breaks anyway.
Emily Krauser is an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is the nonfiction editor of Ecotone and a craft beer and pop culture journalist. Her fiction can be seen in HeartWood and The Daily Drunk and is forthcoming in the Museum of Americana. Originally from New Jersey, she lived in Los Angeles for 10 years and now resides in North Carolina.