by T. Sean Steele
Devon and I were not at the shop.
We were at a party. The party was in a dimly-lit bar. The dimly-lit bar was in a place everyone kept calling an association. But we were not fooled.
Tall people in nice clothes and colorful socks talked to us. We tried to make conversation.
“I’ve got these muscle twitches in my left arm,” I said to somebody. “I’m eating bananas to get them to stop but so far it’s not working.”
“My teeth are so freaking dry,” Devon said to somebody. “My upper lip rides up and gets stuck above my gum.”
We reconvened and determined each of us still had plenty of conversation fodder. Devon could show people their pictures of River Phoenix where they had the same haircut. And I could show people the giant mole on my back that meowed when you poked it.
But first, a bathroom break.
“Scum,” Devon said to people as we walked to the bathrooms. “Jobs shouldn’t be real, etc.”
I pretended to pee then waited in the hall outside the other bathroom for Devon to finish. I took out my phone. It wasn’t a bad thing but I was in a rut where I was either hanging out with Devon or calling my sister. I never even had anything to say when I called my sister. I just described exactly what was happening with me.
“Hey, what’s up, me and Devon somehow ended up at an association. It’s a party for a friend of a friend of a friend so technically it’s Devon’s fault we’re here but I’m not giving them a hard time about it. Somehow it’s related to the Peter Hills movie they starred in even though that was in their dream. Um, hold on, some dude is trying to talk to me. I gotta go.”
It was an older man, with jowls. He kept rubbing the jowls. They made a squishing noise. He had important information to tell me.
“I rub my jowls because I don’t have teeth along the sides of my mouth. Only front teeth for me. A blessing in disguise because I’m able to do this.” He rubbed the jowls with his palms ferociously. “The inside of my mouth rubbing against my empty gums feels wonderful. I cannot get enough. Mmm!”
“Is this the important information you had to tell me?”
“The association lets me do what I do with my cheeks like I do because they think it’s like all the other strange things they get up to here. But it isn’t the same. For instance people have their way with other people here. Yes, it’s true. They have rooms for it. But I don’t need a room for this. I don’t even need other people. I only need my hands and my cheeks. And my toothless gums. And saliva.”
“Is that the important information you had to tell me?”
“Oh. Right. In this area they’ll give you a menu but it only has expensive beer. There is another bar three hallways away where you can get a two-dollar beer.”
I tapped my temple and said, “Noted.” He smiled. There was blood between his teeth.
When Devon got out of the bathroom they grabbed me by the shirt.
“Ah! Listen. My future wife walked out of the bathroom a few seconds before me. She’s someone from the movie set. I’m sure of it. Which way did she go?”
“Back towards the party, but…” I tried to explain to Devon about the cheap beer, which was in the other direction, but I got caught up describing the jowls. “Big fat jowls…extra saliva…he knew where the beer was.” I said something along those lines. It wasn’t enough to mean anything to Devon. They still had me by the shirt and pulled me back towards the party.
Devon’s future wife was sitting alone on a lounge chair, looking right at us.
“Hot damn hot damn,” Devon whispered. “Come with me.”
“OK,” I said.
We sat down across from Devon’s future wife.
“Hi. Remember me?” Devon said.
Their future wife said nothing. It was impossible to know if she remembered Devon or not.
Devon squinted at their future wife and took a gamble. “Isn’t this place stupid? Everyone is dressed exactly the same except for their socks.”
“So? You two are dressed exactly the same,” said Devon’s future wife.
“Hnngh,” I said, realizing she was right.
“That’s different,” Devon said. “It’s not a class thing like it is with these jokers.”
They kept talking. It turned out the party was being held for the woman’s twin sister. Tonight was her birthday party.
“But! That means! It’s your birthday tonight, too!”
“Oh,” said their future wife, bored. It was clear this woman had a whole life we did not know anything about.
More talking. Devon was laying groundwork for a long-term relationship so I politely stopped listening. I also stopped listening because I had the feeling Devon’s future wife was beginning to tease us. Her left arm twitched. Her lip rode up over her front teeth. A waiter came up and asked if we wanted a drink. My heart raced. Devon reached for the menu but I smacked it back down. I stood up. “There’s a bar somewhere else in this building with cheap beer. I’ll find it and bring back one for each of us.”
“You can’t carry three glasses of beer,” Devon said, getting smaller as I walked away.
Maybe they would be in bottles, or cans.
I took a wrong turn, maybe?
Now I was in something that looked like hotel hallway. The floors were carpeted and the walls were pink and lined with brown doors. If I closed my eyes I could hear small deep grunts behind each door. “Huh. People are having their way with each other in these rooms,” I thought to myself. “It’s just like the man with jowls said.”
On cue the man with jowls stepped out of one of the rooms at the far end of the hall. He was dressed in nothing but a towel around his waist. He had two extra jowls hanging down the sides of his torso. Also he was soaking wet.
“Hello friend,” he said. “We’re playing pool in there. Want to join?”
“Playing pool? Don’t you mean swimming in a pool?”
This stumped him. He looked back into the room and frowned. Then he pulled the door shut and walked towards me down the hall.
“I’m acting on your important information,” I said.
“About my cheeks?” he said happily. He began rubbing them again.
“No, about the cheap beer. But I think I took a wrong turn.”
He rubbed his cheeks faster. He was going to start bleeding from the mouth again, I knew it.
“No wrong turns for you,” he said. “Just because this hallway doesn’t look like the last hallway doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Things don’t necessarily get closer and closer in appearance to the thing you’re looking for. Sometimes they get further and further in appearance. Sometimes things look as bleak as they’ve ever been, they can’t possibly get bleaker, but in reality you’re right up against perfection. It’s just one step away but you can’t see it.” He kept rubbing and his jowls started to fall away from his face. They peeled down his neck. Also the skin on his nose and forehead loosened. While all that skin was falling off, he got to work rubbing at the jowls on the sides of his torso. “It’s like my movie,” he said. “Everyone who has seen the dailies is telling me to kill myself. But I stay confident. I know I’m right up against what I want. I just need to get into an editing bay.”
All the skin fell away. The old man was Peter Hills. He was naked but then picked up the old skin and used it as a towel. He wrapped it around his waist.
I came back with the three beers. Now there were two future wives sitting across from Devon. They looked exactly alike except the one whose birthday it was had fifteen moles on her face.
“It’s the only way to tell them apart,” Devon said.
I gave each of them a beer.
“I know all about telling twins apart,” I said. “My sister made a clone of herself. It died and I buried it in the woods.”
The twins had a brief conversation amongst themselves. Devon and I huddled together and agreed to spend only a few more minutes in this place. Suddenly Devon was nervous that the woman was not their future wife after all. No, the more they thought about it, the more they knew the woman wasn’t. They had been thinking of someone else. How confusing. It was bad enough people had actual twins when they also could make you think of other people entirely.