July 26, 2017

Thomas ran out of his room and didn’t stop until he ran out of breath. His clouded eyes made out a stone wall next to him, and his clouded brain told him to sit. He slumped down, head in hands, but that only allowed the pain he was outrunning to catch up to him and begin pounding its fists inside his chest as punishment for trying to get away. He could think of nothing to do to make it stop, nowhere to turn.

“Looks like somebody could use a friend,” said a consoling voice. “Mind if I sit?”

Thomas looked up at the hazy face of Phoebe from his election committee. He wiped his eyes and tried to smile.

“Cheer up Thomas. It’s only an election,” she said, placing a hand on his knee. “It’s not like a jaguar shark ate your partner. That would be my kind of luck.”

Thomas looked into Phoebe’s face but couldn’t tell if she was making fun of him or not.

“You don’t know the movie?” asked Phoebe, incredulous. “I thought for sure you’d be into Anderson like the rest of the guys in the election committee. Don’t tell me you’re a Coen head?”

“I – I don’t know what you’re talking about Phoebe. It – it’s not the election. I don’t care about that.”

“What is it then, if I might ask? You flunking out? Join the crowd. Everything’s turning to maggots for me too. I’m probably on sudden death probation by now. That’s from ‘Rushmore’.”

“I just found Cherry with Pono. In my room.”

“Oh,” said Phoebe. “Talk about getting stabbed in the back with lefty scissors. Well she’s made her bed, now she’ll have to lie in it. Oh sorry Thomas. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say. My advice is to just forget about her then. Cause in the end, she’s just another dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant. That’s from ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’.

You know Thomas, my boyfriend split on me recently too. Actually said I was too negative, that I never had anything positive to say. So I told him I’m positive he’s an asshole, and that I hope he chokes to death on his optimism. The vultures are everywhere Thomas, sucking the marrow right out of my bones. What’s the point, I’d like to know.”

“Maybe you have exceptional marrow,” offered Thomas, trying to be positive.

“That’s not the point Thomas. The point is I have nothing left. That’s why I’m thinking of becoming a nihilist. If you can’t beat em, deny the reality of their stupid little lives.”

“But why would you want to deny reality before you have a chance to understand it? Like what’s the reality of me and Cherry right now? Poof, gone, so obviously there’s stuff I need to figure out. Reality’s kind of like the plot of a movie, but first you have to understand the main character, what he or she wants, and then the other characters, and what they want. Because everybody wants something. But the director doesn’t make it easy to do that, cause that would be boring, so he puts all kinds of confusing obstacles in there to trip over, but not too many cause he still wants you to stick around to see the next scene, and so on till the end of the movie. Don’t you want to see what happens in the next scene Phoebe?”

“I know what happens in the next scene Thomas. And all the other scenes. They’re just diversions to keep you from thinking about the pointlessness of it all. Like an Anderson movie. See he gets it, that’s why his movies don’t make any sense, they only make you think they do. Or like the party that Stone’s having. That’s actually why I’m here. He sent me to find you to tell you about the little party he’s having just for us in the election committee. He’s over at that red house on Allen Street. You’ll come?”

“I don’t know. You guys all seem like such close friends. I’d feel like an intruder.”

“Nonsense Thomas. We supported you for President, didn’t we? You’re the guest of honor, you have to come. And it looks like you could use a little diversion among friends.”

Thomas tilted his head back and looked up. A beautiful autumn afternoon sky looked down, bold white clouds with dark highlights playfully shape-shifting against a deep blue backdrop. They seemed as alive as ghosts in a haunted mansion. He wished he could float away and join them. One cloud in particular caught his attention as it slowly morphed into a beautiful face, complete with piercing blue green eyes. Cherry Pickens was smiling at him. He gasped, shook his head, and said “you’re right. Let’s go.”

A short walk later Thomas and Phoebe stepped through the overgrown shrubbery surrounding the tiny backyard of the small neglected ranch house Stone and Martin were renting.

“Thomas!” shouted Stone above the electronic music pulsing out of a back door. He came immediately over and threw his arm around Thomas’s shoulder. “So glad you could make it. Care for hit?” he said, holding out the joint he was smoking.

“No thanks,” said Thomas.

“Geez Stone,” said Phoebe. “You ever not high? Can’t you handle reality like everyone else?”

“And this from the phony nihilist who tries to deny whatever reality she doesn’t like. Which is pretty much everything. No wonder you’ve got one foot in the grave and three feet on a banana peel. Get it Thomas? That line from ….”

“He doesn’t know what you’re talking about Stone. He’s not into Anderson.”

“Oh. Well getting high can help with that. Pot enhances reality, just like an Anderson flick does. Combine them and you get like, triple the reality. But I think you’re just jealous Phoebe. Look at my life. Heck, look at this place. A lot of people would give their right arm to live here. Anyway Thomas, I was just about to fire up the grill. There’s beer in the cooler, and ….”

“Call that beer, Stone?” said Jay from a nearby chair. “You should’ve gotten Smuttynose Homunculus. It’s this unbelievable golden Belgian ale from Portsmouth New Hampshire, not bitter at all. A bit hard to find, but I know where you can get it. It’s absolutely the best. Next time, ask me.”

“Sure Jay. But next time you have a brilliant idea, how about whispering it to me first. Otherwise it makes me look like a Day-Dream Johnny, you know?”

“Ha,” laughed Jay. “That’s from ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. You know it Thomas?”

“Sorry no,” said Thomas.

“He’s not into Anderson Jay,” said Phoebe.

“Oh,” said Jay, turning away to follow Stone over at the grill.

“Thomas, over here,” called out Martin, sitting with Robin at the picnic table.

Thomas walked over. “Hey guys,” he said. “Nice party.”

“It’s a crappy party Thomas. But settle an argument for us will you? Robin says that human nature is mostly cooperative, and I say it’s mostly competitive. What do you say?”

“I don’t know,” answered Thomas. “I suppose it changes depending on circumstances.”

“See Robin,” said Martin triumphantly. “He won’t agree with either of us. That’s his natural competitive nature coming through.”

“No it isn’t,” said Robin. “He doesn’t want to offend us so he said the most inoffensive thing he could. That’s his cooperative nature coming through.”


“Cooperative. Martin, you’re such a geek,” said Robin.

“No, I’m a nerd,” said Martin, “but a lot of people make that mistake.”

“Is there a difference?” asked Thomas.

“Is there a difference, he asks,” said Robin. “There’s a tremendous difference Thomas. Geeks are more literary-philosophical chic and into the Meta side of Anderson, like the ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’. Nerds are more literary-technical chic, and into his Para side, like the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’.”

“Wrong as usual Robin,” said Martin. “Geeks identify with Anderson’s hip whimsical expression of other-worldly normalcy, like in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’, while nerds relate to his hip whimsical expression of other-worldly nostalgia, like in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’.”

“Nobody here is a geek or a nerd,” said Stone, barging into the conversation. “The problem is, nobody is really cool enough to get us. They’re all like possums at a raccoon party.”

“What movie is that from?” asked Raven, taking a seat. “I don’t recognize it.”

“That’s from my movie Raven. I just made it up.”

“Anderson is gay you know,” said Raven. “You people are missing the whole gay theme in his movies.”

“He is not Raven,” said Phoebe.

“Is too. It’s a fact that most people are either openly gay, secretly gay or wish they were gay.”

“Just cause you are doesn’t mean that everyone else is Raven.”

“Well, he’s at least bi then.”

“Possums at a raccoon party?” questioned Martin. “What are you saying Stone, that other people have prehensile tails and hang around in places they’re not welcome?”

“No. I’m saying they’re primitive, slow, and unaware, not like the raccoon who really understands his environment.”

“Then why do you always see them both squashed on the road?” said Martin. “I don’t think either of them understands his environment too well.”

“Do you always have to be so confrontational Martin?” said Stone. “Besides, roads aren’t part of an animal’s natural environment, so that doesn’t count. You don’t see many humans squashed on the road, do you? Anyway, it’s time to eat. How many hot dogs does everyone want?”

“Did you get the Woodson and James Skinless dogs this time like I told you?” asked Jay. “They’re the absolute best but you gotta know where to find them.”

“Did you ever have them Jay?” asked Stone.

“Well, no,” said Jay. “Not exactly.”

“How about that beer you mentioned before. You ever have that exactly?”

“No, but I read fantastic reports about them both in ‘The Discerning Consumer’. That has the best reviews of ….”

“How do you like the music Jay?” asked Stone. “Is it the best? How about the snacks I put out? They meet with your approval? Don’t you see how envious of my life you sound?”

“Smoke another joint Stone,” said Jay. “Who needs reality?”

“And I suppose you have the best reality too?” snapped Stone.

“See Robin?” said Martin. “Competition rules, cooperation drools. Right Phoebe?”

“Who cares?” said Phoebe. “What’s the point anyway?”

“I’ve gotta go,” broke in Thomas suddenly. “I just remembered something I had to do.”

“What gives Thomas?” said Stone. “You just got here. This was supposed to be a party for you, to help make you feel better after the election. That’s not a very nice way to show appreciation for our friendship.”

“You see,” said Robin, “there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbarous slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Bye Thomas. See you around.”

“That won’t make any sense to him Robin,” said Phoebe. “He’s not into Anderson.”

“I think it makes perfect sense to him,” said Robin, watching Thomas go. “It’s the reason he’s leaving.”

Bob Lorentson is an environmental scientist, musician, and author of many short stories, poems, two and a half novels, and other miscellany.  When not working, writing, or trying to reduce his carbon footprint by taking ever smaller breaths, he enjoys hiking, biking, and kayaking, which he finds to be great ways to stimulate story ideas. He lives in rural Connecticut with his wife and two sons.


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