“Frank & Martha & Craig”
by Dan Nielsen
Frank felt a cold coming on. After class, he stopped at Walgreens for generic Nyquil. He bought the orange kind because he had to stay awake to meet Martha at the bus stop.
Martha hadn’t seen Frank since he’d moved from Racine to Milwaukee. Taking the bus was a drag, but there was a party, and later she’d see Frank’s apartment and meet his roommate, who was supposedly cute. The plan was to crash on Frank’s couch and take the bus back in the morning.
Martha liked to dress for parties, so she wore her best skirt and heels.
Craig was leaving work when an email arrived from his boss: Gang! We met our quota! Drinks and pizza tonight at my place!
Craig stepped out of his cubicle. Others had just received the same message. No one seemed too happy about it.
Frank, feeling worse than before, dank all the Nyquil, and then whiskey mixed with honey and lemon. He laid down. His eyes closed and stayed that way.
Martha stepped off the bus. Frank wasn’t there. She called him on her cell phone. There was no answer. She texted: WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!?!
Craig had never been to his boss’s place. He didn’t know that part of town very well. He drove until he felt close enough to ask for directions, but everyone he saw looked crazy or dangerous. He noticed a pretty girl standing alone and pulled over. He leaned across the seat and rolled down the window. Martha, feeling threatened, walked away as fast as she could.
Craig felt bad. He considered following and apologizing, but that might make it even worse.
Martha kept walking. The neighborhood improved with each passing block. She felt safe now. She didn’t know Frank’s address, or where the party was supposed to be, but neither could be far, or else why would Frank have told her to get off at that particular bus stop? She tried the phone again. Again, no answer.
Craig stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. All he needed was to get back to where he’d been and make one correct turn.
Martha saw a balloon tied to a lamppost. She wondered if this was the party. Then the same car from before pulled up to the curb and Craig got out. Craig looked at Martha. He smiled.
“Hey, I’m sorry if I scared you back there. I was only asking for directions. And now it seems we were going to the same place. Hi, I’m Craig.”
“Hi, I’m Martha.”
“Are you with someone, Martha?”
“I’m meeting a friend, but I’m not sure he’s here.”
“Well, let’s go in and see.”
Martha knew immediately that Frank couldn’t be there. Some of these people were really old, and the music was Billy Joel.
“Craig, I think I’m in the wrong place.”
“Me, too. This is just a dumb work party. I had to make an appearance. Do you want to get out of here? Martha, do you, by any chance, get high?”
“Yes, and yes.”
It struck Martha as weird that she was now voluntarily getting into the car that she’d run away from less than an hour ago. But it felt alright. It felt even better when Craig lit a joint, took a hit, and handed it to her.
They drove past the university. There was a full moon. There were kids everywhere. Martha decided, right then, to quit her job at Cost Cutters and move to Milwaukee.
“Craig, I just decided to move to Milwaukee.”
“You don’t live here?”
“No, but I’ve always wanted to, and now I’m going to.”
“I’m glad you’ve made that decision, Martha.”
Martha saw a Cost Cutters.
“When I move to Milwaukee, that’s where I’m going to work, Craig, Cost Cutters.”
“Where do you work now, Martha?”
They were still laughing when they stopped in front of an apartment building. Inside the apartment Craig got beers and lit another joint. He put on some music. It was the best music Martha had ever heard.
They finished their beers. They had two more each. They finished the joint. Then they were kissing on the couch.
Suddenly, Martha sat up straight.
“What is it, Martha?”
“I forgot all about my friend! I have to call him to make sure he’s okay!”
“Yes, you should do that. And while you’re doing that, I’ll make us some popcorn.”
Frank picked up on the second ring.
“Frank, thank God, what happened to you?”
“I don’t know. I guess I fell asleep. Sorry. Are you okay? Where are you?”
“I don’t know where I am. I’m in some guy’s apartment. He seems okay, but I’m really stoned and a little drunk, and I’m feeling kind of paranoid.”
“Tell me where you are, Martha, and I’ll come get you.”
“I told you, I don’t know where I am.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “Describe the street and the building.” Martha described the street and the building. There was a pause. Frank said, “Martha, describe the couch.”
“The couch?” Martha said. “I don’t know. Brown? With one of those Indian print things over the back? The kind you like?”
A bedroom door opened. Frank stuck out his head and waved.
“The Night We Killed Steven Spielberg”
by Hannah Sloane
It’s a humid summer. The damp clings to the sidewalks, turning the asphalt into molten lava. It drenches our ankles and calves and necks and backsides and pushes our hair up, up and away into unintentional beehives. It transforms New York into one gigantic armpit with eight million human ants trapped beneath its sweaty clench.
We see them on the balcony, laughing and drinking. We buzz up and say we’re friends with Sam (there’s always a Sam). It’s our fourth party of the night. The men wear boat shoes and button downs and too much navy. Their girlfriends are chic and impossibly dainty, they accessorize with Pucci handbags and Hermès headscarves and their fingers and necks glitter and dance with family heirlooms. I inhale the scene, my indignation fluttering into self-pity. I want to be you, I almost cry out to all of them, to any of them.
“It’s a Ralph Lauren commercial,” I say to Jen. I try to sound unimpressed.
Aside from the wealth it’s just like every party: there’s vodka and beer pong and inebriated whoops and desperate dudes.
“So how do you know Sam?”
His eyes bulge, they’re large and bright like an insect in a Disney movie. He has moles, lots of them. I feel like a nurse working in a cancer clinic just looking at him. His eyes glaze over. He sways inadvertently. He’s ripe for manipulation. I could contact him in a month and say I’m pregnant and he’s the type who’d pay for my pretend abortion. Jen tried it once and he demanded a paternity test. I must play a better damsel-in-distress I guess.
“Through Emma,” I lie, glancing around for Jen.
I’ve gone. I pass a bedroom with a couple fucking inside, the door deliberately ajar, they both glance up and smile cheerfully. I find Jen in a different bedroom. She’s actually inside a closet groping a leather jacket, sniffing it, checking the label, a Chanel handbag draped across her left shoulder. I drag her out before she’s caught.
The bathroom’s heaving with smokers. Some chick’s talking about her periods. No-one’s listening. We sit cross-legged on the white tiled floor next to someone impossibly good looking. He has sandy hair, a perfectly chiseled face and very white teeth.
He shakes my hand politely and I try not to gush.
“I thought you said you knew Sam?”
It’s bug eyes again. He’s onto me. I must look crazed, psychotically alert, like my uncle at weddings checking out the all-you-can-eat buffet and everything in a skirt.
“Not Sam. We know Samantha,” Jen says calmly as she intercepts a joint.
She gives me that look: Let’s do this. I stare at my phone.
“Shit, Steven Spielberg’s dead.”
It’s predictable: horrified gasps, iPhones emerging like guns from holsters.
“Nothing’s coming up?” menstrual chick asks.
It was easier before Google News and Twitter, newsfeeds and push notifications. People believed us. These days we have to pick someone believable, teetering on the brink of fallibility.
“My friend works at a precinct in the Hamptons. They just got the call.”
“How did he die?” Sam and his pearly white teeth ask.
We’re hoping it goes viral, that we can actually kill a celebrity. We hop from party to party repeating the same lie, making identical rumors pop up on multiple newsfeeds, encouraging it to swell and intensify and acquire a following. In 2011 we made Kevin Costner die from an overdose for ninety minutes. We love it when a press office has to issue an official statement denying rumors. In these moments we’ve won, we’re as powerful as them.
“Uncle Stevie’s dead?”
And for the first time we notice the unremarkable chick by the bathtub. She’s in a vintage strapless dress made for someone with bigger tits. It keeps slipping and exposing her tiny chicken fillet breasts. She’s sobbing hard, she can barely breathe.
Chicken fillet’s friends are tapping into their iPhones. Newsfeeds are being updated. It’s like 2011. Meanwhile Jen’s eyeing up the Gucci sunglasses by the sink. She’s a pro. She yawns and reaches deftly and they drop silently into her handbag. I feel Sam’s fingers graze my lower back. He’s tip-tapping my skin like it’s a family piano he can practice scales on. I catch his eye and we both grin guiltily. I want to lean close and whisper something funny and watch his dimples wake up. I want us to hold hands. I want us to kiss chastely on the tree-lined streets below. I want him to hail me a cab and pay the driver and text me goodnight and court me and after many, many dates (I’d wait, of course) I want him to wake me up by stroking my hair and telling me the coffee’s almost ready and there’s cereal and some leftover yoghurt and possibly some toast or we could just go for brunch and I’ll make a joke about needing more time before I can possibly make a decision as big as this and he’ll chuckle and kiss my forehead and say: what did I do to deserve you? Except my name isn’t Blair or Chelsea and I don’t get my hair blown out at Bumble and bumble and my parents definitely won’t know his parents and I don’t live in a desirable neighborhood. He would see all of this on our first date, immediately, the moment he asks where I went to college and I stumble and stutter and make a lame joke about the college of life. And that would be that.
Jen and I should leave. The ugly chick’s wailing. She’s red and hot and melting. Her face is smudged, smeared. It reminds me of candles left on a birthday cake for too long. And then I remember it’s dad’s birthday next week. I should send a card, but I won’t. It’s a waste of time. What would be the point?