In Kathy Acker's Florida
By Spencer Dew
Under the wilted roof of an eponymous tiki bar, a paunchy and uncoordinated band sings covers.
A vacation far away…
Your girlfriend continues to make a point of not looking at you.
I don’t want to lose your love tonight…
You have to agree with that. You have to agree because there is nothing else.The burnt couple from Michigan slurs through another rehearsed fight on the dance floor. You sense that everyone is here as an only option, the defense.
When your girlfriend orders another round of drinks, she looks at you, makes a gesture toward a smile.
She is cruel just up to a certain point, the precise calculation of which implies such familiarity you cannot but find it comforting.
“Maybe you’re dying and you don’t care anymore,” says Kathy Acker, in Florida, which is where you are. You tongue the text like a sore tooth. The statement requires tinted glasses. It stings, like suntan lotion in your eyes.
The next song is a version of a song you used to know. You feel some semblance of what you felt back then, or you feel some hint of what you wanted to feel back then, or you feel neither of these things, but you are on a vacation, so you try.
Your relationship is the history of this effort.
It is not love that keeps you together, but fear of the alternative.
All her screaming ends, eventually, fading off into incoherence. There is always the assurance of her passing out, the assurance of her amnesia.
This cycle of rage and forgetting lends some perspective to the nights you sit up, alone, watching the walls. It would be so much worse alone, devoid of all the worn theatrics.
Here, you sit on the balcony of your rented room and watch the blackness where the waves should be.
You hear them, though their cashing is more of a fizzle, like static on a television once the signal’s gone dead.
While she sleeps off the memory of all the things she said to, you can see the world in all its thickness, its dull threat.
You are so numb you can feel it. The numbness permeates this place, a numbness you can reach out and touch. “The only thing you can call your life.”
Acker’s voice comes from different corners, in different registers. Now graveled, now in a honeyed purr. Torch singer, mob boss. Paraplegic senator, soldier trying to forget the war.
Maybe you saw this in a movie once…
Just shy of dawn, the darkness shifts, deepening before it spills away, ink in water. There is the sound of someone vomiting out by the shore.
You put on sandals and pick your way across the grounds. You study the arrangement of chaise lounges around the pool, its surface rustling, illuminated. You run your fingertips over the broken fiberglass teeth of the fake shark hanging by the shuttered smoothie stand, by the souvenir stall selling shell necklaces and T-shirts. You walk past exactly one dozen signs telling you to smile, that your movements are being monitored on closed-circuit television, for the security of all guests.
The last storm took the bottom half of the Chevron sign, leaving only a naked glare, illuminating the sideways palm trees, their roots like fists, stacked between the gas station and the highway.
The cashier puts your bottles in bags. She has a name, tattooed, in cursive, on her neck.
Maybe you stop off at the ice machine. You are always making trips to the ice machine. Maybe you only visit the ice machine later, after your girlfriend is awake enough for her first drink of the day, watching something on television that you have both seen several times before.
“Hurting me takes the place of sex these days.” The situation and Acker seem to quote each other.
Maybe it’s a hard morning for your girlfriend. Maybe she punctuates her expression of this by throwing something at you that used to be full of rum.
Maybe you get a bowl of dry cereal in the breakfast room, alone, where there are manikins in the corners, on disc-shaped platforms, posed to approximate sports stars and other celebrities.
On one of the first mornings of your holiday, you and your girlfriend sat here, sober, over coffee. She said she wanted to ride a glass-bottomed boat, to bake her skin as bronze as one of the manikins. You said you wanted to learn the names of the different species of pelicans, to write an autobiography in mystery novel form.
In mock spontaneity, you took turns saying that you loved each other.
In the room she shut her eyes tight and put your dick in her mouth. You watched her hair and willed yourself not to think of anyone else.
Maybe our elaborate acts of removal from ourselves make us most truly what we are. Maybe our attempts at forgetting define us, the way we compromise with memory and the present.
Maybe the next night at the tiki bar she will squeeze your hand and remind you of something that one of you once said. The string lights draped along the bar will blur together and the smell of dead fish will blow in from the harbor and the cover band will slouch onto the stage.
Everything will seem sticky and warm, like the blanket that was wrapped around you, when, as a child, you had a fever…
Numbness permeates your head—a braided numbness, thickening with each drink.
Hold this jellyfish to your ears and you can hear the sickness of the sea, its nauseating churn, its soothing pulse.
There is no pain, you are receding...
Your girlfriend makes a point of either looking at you or not. You reply in kind.
Spencer Dew lives in Chicago. Recently his work has appeared in Opium, Rain Taxi Review of Books, Sightings, and Thieves' Jargon. His last story in VerbSap was Lines For Kate.
Song lyrics featured are from: The Outfield's Your Love and Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb.
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