“Breakers” – Fiction by J.E. Reich

Birthday - Marc Chagall, 1915
Birthday – Marc Chagall, 1915

“There are two things one is absolutely forbidden to write about: writers and bars.” We love how J.E. Reich’s  “Breakers” doesn’t give a flap about such silly rules– and that’s just one of many reasons why we chose to include this story in our Summer 2014 issue (FLAPPERHOUSE #2, currently procurable for only $3 US).

{ X }

I WENT ON A DATE WITH A WRITER WHO WAS LITTLE MORE THAN A RACKETEER. At the exhibit showcasing the works of the long-dead artist who had once been in exile from an old country, he read the descriptions of the paintings and wrote down one word from each on his uncalloused palm.  He was merely borrowing, would save these words for later. I tried to catch them while I drifted from painting to painting of women and bouquets, levitating upwards.  Exuberant, one might have said, or maybe exhume.  They fluttered and crumpled each time he closed his palm.  The rituals of creative types are only a few degrees away from felony.

Afterwards, we went to a bar, where the writer told me that there are two things one is absolutely forbidden to write about: writers and bars.

I told him that when I was a kid, I used to drink my mother’s aromatized vermouth straight from the bottle and never even blinked; how the burn would wear the silk recesses of my throat, to sever it from the inside-out.  I was a young drinker: twelve, thirteen.

Erode, he said.  It would erode your throat.

Yeah, okay, I mean, it would erode it, I guess.

A date between two men or a date between two women might as well take place on an analyst’s expensive chaise.  Here are the ways in which my life has been harder.  Let me count them, let me hold them up for you to see, let’s both feel bad together.

His username had been HexameterMe; his online dating profile had listed his occupation under Creative/Writing/Art.  So of course, I asked about it.

Well, yeah, I freelance. He paused.  The dark mahogany light of the bar dimmed for the exchange of ambience.  A stout, unlit candle stood on every table.  I also work for an agency.  I database for them.  I database during the day.  So he, too, wanted to be his better self.

{ X }

On the way to somewhere else, I told the writer that my father had gone to school in England with Emma Thompson and the boy who had starred as the lead in the movie adaptation of Oliver!; that it was unfair to name me Oliver, too.  I was expected to be filled with song.  I wasn’t even sure if I even had one song.

At the next place with the plastic blood oranges, we played Fuck, Kill, or Marry, including ourselves and two leading men in our lineup.

Fuck you, kill the first, marry the second, I said, even-keeled.  The writer fucked the second, married the first, and murdered me.

Don’t take it personally, he said, I just wouldn’t want to miss out on once-in-a-lifetime.  When I objected that I could indeed be that once, he said, I have a feeling that you’ll be in my phone contacts for at least a little while. 

My tongue curled at every sip of beer.  I didn’t remember the color of his eyes, but I wanted them to remind me of volcanic glass.  I thought of the dim curve of the subway train and the insensate lull of sleeping alone in my own bed.

The artist whose paintings we had seen had outlived all of his friends, killed by gas, or tangles of wire, or snow.

{ X }

I wanted to go to another bar, this one was getting too familiar, so we trammeled down Museum Mile to settle on fare at an accent-less Irish grill, our hands stuffed in our pockets, thinking about how we were not touching.  Or maybe he was thinking about the book I was sure he was writing, or the descending newsfeed on his slumbering phone.  We walked under a long wind of scaffolding that went on for blocks, and had the affectation of a buttressed cathedral hall.  I looked for crumbling gargoyles.

When the scaffolding abated, breaking off at the end of a block jammed with penthouses, we were met by a slick line of caution tape, warding us into the avenue.  A hunking firetruck blocked oncoming traffic.  Despite the congregation of emergency vehicles, the officers and paramedics were in groups, gossiping and cakewalking between each other.

A corpse was on the ground, shards of glass twinkling around him like ancient funeral wares.  His face was washed in a deadened blue, eyes closed.

Did you see that?, I asked the writer.

See what?  I turned and pointed as an EMT crouched and veiled his head before taking out the body bag.

It was a form of artistry, how little there was to be done.

The writer halted, turned back, looked, turned forward again.  He blinked twice with the surety of a camera shutter.  Maybe he hadn’t fallen from very far up, maybe this was a third-story affair, he noted.

You didn’t even get a good look, I said.  And then: there was a lot less blood than I would’ve imagined. 

The writer kneaded the hair on his chin; he hadn’t shaved that skein of frost.  Then there was an onslaught of questions that burgeoned like tumors, things like why, and where, and how.  He wanted to tease it open.  I wondered if he was the kind of writer who would leave me shards of poetry on scraps of paper folded in two, tucked in books I wouldn’t read for years.

So did he fall or did he jump?  There’s definitely a bit more tension if he jumped, said the writer.

I’m not really hungry anymore, I said, cradling my stomach, like a homeless army veteran plagued with rotgut.

That’s okay, said the writer.  In his pockets, he gripped and ungripped his hands.  We can always just sit and talk.

{ X }

The cab revved and stopped, leaning towards the whims of the world.  The writer said something about the artist whose exhibit we had seen; I hadn’t even known that the writer knew who the artist was.  The corners of his mouth were wet.  Every morning, without fail, the first words from the artist’s lips were a prayer for the dead.

What’s your favorite word?, I asked the writer.

Tactile, he said, his fingers curling into the meat of my thigh.

{ X }

Before I never saw him again, I asked the writer what he would use the words for, the ones fading on his palm.

To make something better, he said.

 { X }

1618026_10100174312129021_1287941414_oJ.E. REICH ’s fiction has appeared in LIT Magazine, Armchair/ Shotgun, Everyday Genius, Vol. 1 Brooklyn,  gigantic sequins, and other publications. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010 & 2012, and is a former writing fellow of the TENT: Encounters with Jewish Culture program. A Brooklyn resident, Reich is an editor for Medium, a contributor for Thought Catalog, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Dot, and is working on her first novel.  Her novella The Demon Room, published by Thought Catalog’s e-book division, is out now.

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