She had decided her name would be Alice. From now on, anyone she met she would introduce herself as Alice. She was thumbing threw a blue book for expecting mothers when she came to the name, quite quickly since it was at the beginning of the alphabet. Alice was truth. Alice was noble. She made sure to forget her old name as quickly as possible. She pretended she had amnesia, her entire past became a blur and she woke up knowing only that her name was Alice. She smiled. This would be a bright new day.
The room Alice was in was cold and gray. The walls were cracked and nothing hung on them except for one small poster of a skeleton smoking a cigarette. Alice looked at this and grinned. Probably cancer, she said to herself, then made a comment about how stupid her jokes were to herself. "Alice, you have a horrible sense of humor. Oh Alice. Alice Alice Alice." She said the name over and over to herself. It fit her. Of course she was truth and nobility. She smirked at the slight irony in the name, and then nearly became depressed by it. There was no lie in renaming herself. Her original name had no connection to her. Very little had any connection to her.
It was dark outside, it was still night, and small lights wizzed by the window. In a building across the way, people were awake, a light was on, and music was playing. Maybe she would go over there, knock on the door, see what was going on. "What's your name?" they would ask, and she would stand up tall, with a cigarette hanging out of her skull, and answer, "Alice." "Where are you from?" She shrugged, "Does that really matter? I'm from here. Where else is there but here?"
Alice remembered riding on the freeway, sitting in the back, staring up out of the sunroof, lying on her back.. An annoying beeping sound continuously told her to put on a safety belt, to sit up straight, to be more cautious. She watched the clouds go by, and the wires and the tops of trees. That memory was real. She could keep that. It was poetic. It was apart of the world. The freeway had since been demolished. It was out of date and falling apart. The powers that be built a better freeway. It flew into the future. It was sleek and elevated and ready to survive the apocolypse. Alice's father had lectured her numorous times about the oncoming apocolypse. This wasn't true though. Alice's father died before she was born. But if he had been alive, he would have lectured her about the oncoming apocolypse. He would have also named her Alice.
Her hands rubbed against a near empty bottle on a small table. She put it to her mouth and finished it off. Memories successfully fell away and reconstruced themselves. She sat down in boredom and kicked off her shoe. She threw the bottle against the wall and watched it shatter. This was something she liked to see. She tried to kick off her other shoe so that it would break the window. Her aim was off, and the shoe hit the wall. She stood up and put them back on, began humming to herself, and imagined singing infront of a small crowd in a dingy basement where everyone was near death or dying. Alice wasn't sure if there was a difference between the two, but it sounded good in her head. She said to herself, "I want to be with the near dead and the dying."
The music from the house across the street became louder. A car drove by. A lamplight flickered and went out. The moon was full but obscured by clouds. The stars were muffled by the city lights. Everything outside glowed orange. There were screams and yells. Alice left her room, left the house, went out into the street.
She stood there for a moment. She had watched cars drive by at 80 miles per hour. They wouldn't even see her. She wondered if the people across the street had anything to drink. She put a cigarette in her mouth, lit it, and said to herself, "Might as well." There was nothing to do. A car drove by. It didn't hit her. She had survived another second. She wondered if there was a name in that little blue book that meant "survive".
"We don't die," she smiled at a tree with the moon behind it, with a fake sort of optimism that she convinced herself was real. "We aren't born dying, we're born surviving. See there, I just survived. You," she was talking to the tree, "you aren't falling on me. I am surviving. It's like that song says, you know." She hummed to herself, and walked into the yard of the house with the lights on and the loud music shaking the window panes. They had some ugly lawn gnomes in the front yard, which was horribly underkept and filled with weeds. Boxes full of garbage and old children's toys were strewn about, and a hose let a trickle of water snake out onto the cracked sidewalk. She watched the water follow the path of a crack in the light of the exposed bulb next to the door. She kicked over a garden gnome and laughed. "Fucking ugly things." Alice picked it up and carried it to the door like a baby. She wondered if they would even hear her knock. She couldn't even hear her own footsteps. The music had become increasingly loud. Alice yelled, "Shit music," as smoked curled out of her mouth and mixed with her breath in the cold night air. Her voice didn't exist though. The neighborhood was abandoned and empty. She had arrived at the Inn, and inside, baby Jesus was playing the guitar. She laughed at this thought. "Baby Jesus playing the guitar."
She pounded her fist on the door, but nothing happened. Muffled words flittered into her ears. Something about a helicopter crashing into your backyard and the grass burning turning churning to ash. They had good rhymes. Grass and ash sort of rhymed. Burning turning churning. Yes. Very good rhymes. She used the gnome as a mini battering ram and clunked it's head against the door. She then said something else to herself which she couldn't hear, and turned the knob and walked in.
There was a mass of people inside, and the volume jumped up to heaven. The house was small, a band played in the kitchen, and the mass of people bobbed up and down like an ocean, the sounds bounced off all the walls, echoed around, slammed against the bodies and pushed them around, pulled them up and pushed them to the floor. A man with black glasses and a microphone floated above the crowd, his nose scrapped the ceiling. He was no longer singing, simply screaming. People behind Alice climbed up onto a couch, she entered the fray of people, rubbed against them, smelled their stench that seeped from the wooden floorboards that moaned with their thudding feet. A blast of feedback caused some screams from everyone. Alice saw a man standing quietly next to the fireplace. The heat was hellish, sweat ran down her cheeks and her back. There were people with their shirts off. A girl walked by with her face covered in metal. Two bald girls were rolling around on the ground. The man next to the fireplace looked at Alice, then looked away. The man with the microphone had made it back down to earth, a girl was singing now, her voice ringed and spit, and the entire room seemed to be composed of liquids and the stench of skin. There was a place to stand near the fireplace, a place where Alice's shoulders wouldn't become someone else's shoulders. She found herself climbing over a chair, there was a man sleeping there, coats piled up on top of him. He had a button on his shirt that said, "Save the World". The world couldn't be saved. The apocolypse was coming.
Alice stood next to the man at the fireplace. A coolbreeze wafted around her knees. The music stopped, the entire house seemed to breathe a sigh. "Do you mind if I stand here?"
"Why would I mind?" the man asked. He was young, about the same age as Alice. Nearly everyone in the room was about her age. This was her generation. These were her people.
"Why would you mind?" Alice asked. "Because I smoke."
"Why are you carrying a garden gnome?"
Alice looked down and realized she was still craddling the gnome. She laughed. "Yeah, I don't know." The cigarette stayed smouldering in her mouth. She didn't bother getting rid of the ash in any sort of orderly manner. She was burning down forests with her randomly falling ash. Some people in the band began talking about politics. "I enjoy the company of a gnome."
The man smiled a bit, "Don't we all."
"I mean, what the fuck do they do!" one of the band members shouted. "They sit around in their fucking smoky rooms, all wired up and as doped up as we are, cramming all this shit down our throats, and it don't make no fucking sense! Does it make any fucking sense?"
"What is he talking about?"
"Politics, I guess. I don't know. I'm not really paying attention."
"What is the government but an instrument of subjugation. We fucking sign over our lives to pay for their toilets. We sit around in nicely lit rooms and listen to the blabber while their robotic fucking clones go out and steal food and shoot babies!"
"Yeah, they don't really know what they're talking about," the man said. "I've heard them before. I think they think that the government is run primarily by robots and clones, though from they way they talk, I think they think that robots and clones are the same thing."
"Ahh." She looked at the firey band leader. He was attractive in an ugly sort of way. His shirt was off and his face was off balance and assymetrically, and his hair didn't seem to understand gravity. Alice thought this was funny. "His hair doesn't seem to understand gravity."
The man laughed, "No. I suppose not. You know, you're going to burn your lip."
Alice looked at the cigarette dangling from her mouth. She swallowed it merely to see if it would shock the man she had named "Fireplace guy" inside of her head. She decided to call him that, "Thanks, Fireplace Guy."
He studdered without saying anything for a moment. "You're welcome,Gnome Girl."
"And we're fucking mind fucked, and we're zombies wandering through the fucking hallow malls, buying this, buying that, so we can fund these mother fuckers and their wars! And what are these wars for? Oh, oh, to have more people to brainwash and steal from. We live in the biggest fucking empire in the world, our blood is being drained, our brains are being sapped, and we're being turned into mindfucked drones. We're the fucking worker bees to fucking super robots!"
Somebody yelled, "Fight the robot!" and some people cheered to that.
"So, do most of the people here believe these guys?"
"Huh? I guess so. I don't know. I'm supposed to meet someone here, so I haven't really been talking to any of these people. The person I'm meeting, they haven't shown up yet."
"They probably won't."
"Why do you say that?"
He shrugged. "Pessimism."
"We have to burn off our shackles and take back this city. It's our fucking city! We don't need to be gluing our eyes to fucking flashing screens, licking the dicks of corporations and salivating over other people's saliva. We have our own fucking saliva! We don't need to buy more! But that's what they want us to do, man! They want us to buy more and more and fu-KING MORE!" Everyone cheered as if something triumphant had just happened.
"I should get up there and give them my take on all of this," Alice said.
"You have a take on all of this?"
"Not really, but I could make one up. It sounds like he's just making one up."
"That's often what it sounds like."
"And this next song's about just that. It's about us walking around in mazes, searching for our own fucking shadows so we can buy it, when all we have to do is fucking turn the lights back on. They've turned them off, they've pulled the wool over our eyes, but we'll fucking light the fires to see again! We'll burn fucking cities if we have to!" And the guitar started, a low thudding bass and a loud beat drum. An electric screech caused everyone to whiplash their heads around, fling their bodies into each other, and they lost themselves. The sea bagan again, and the guttural words reverberated and manipulated the spine of every single person in the house.
"I think I'm going to leave," Fireplace Guy said, before the music became to loud as to kill any words coming out of any microphoneless person.
"Can I come with you?" Alice asked.
"With me? Um, why would you want to do that?" He seemed a little taken aback. A fourth grade shyness surfaced and his feet couldn't quite feel the earth. She could see this. She tried to emulate what she thought was a comforting smile. She figured she was partially successful.
"I don't much like it here. I mean, if you're just going home, I guess I'll go home too, but if you're going somewhere and you want some company" she trailed off as the noise became to loud to talk by. Fireplace Guy nodded and shrugged, and the carefully lipped that they should go outside.
The cold air made her sweat ice cold, and she dropped the garden gnome and shuffled through her pockets for another cigarette. She was a little disapointed there wasn't anything to drink, or if there was, she hadn't seen how to get to it. There were many brain cells she knew she no longer needed.
"I guess, um, we could get some food. I'm kind of hungry. But, if you think I know where," he laughed a little, "if you think I know where more parties are or anything like that, sorry."
"No, I just, I don't know. Maybe it's kind of weird." She lit her cigarette and put it in her mouth. This time she didn't just let it dangle. She inhaled, pulled it away, wrote words with the pen of the cigarette and the ink of the smoke, and put it back in to inhale again. "Does this bother you?"
He shook his head, "No."
"If you want to go eat, I'll come with you. I'm not a whore or anything. You're not getting lucky. You don't need to be nervous."
Fireplace Guy laughed. "I'd be more nervous that you were going to try to kill me or something. Pesimism again."
"I won't do that either."
"Do you have a place in mind?"
"To eat?" Alice thought about this. She did but she didn't. She wanted him to know of someplace to eat. She didn't know where she was. She didn't have anyplace to go. "I'm not really from around here."
"Oh. Okay. Well, the only place I can think of this late is the gas station up the street."
"That's fine. We should start walking. It's a bit cold."
They walked along the sidewalk as a car drove by at 80 miles per hour. Everyone survived. Alice smiled, "Do you realize how often we survive things?"
"Like, everyone moment of everyday, we're surviving something. We just survived that 80 mile per hour car. It could have had a blowout, the driver could have lost control and ran over us, and we'd be splattered from here to Kingdom Come."
"I guess so."
"Can I ask your name?"
"Aden. Aden. That means fiery or something. You are fiery."
"Yeah, that's a good description of me," his voice floated out with his breath and disappeared into the air. He had a way of talking that put no weight to any words, as if he thought nothing he said was important. Either that, or he was especially tired, walking half-asleep. Possibly it was a combination of both. "What's your name then? Not Gnome Girl?"
"Ha, no." She paused and practiced saying it in her head. This was the first time. This would make it official. Her pause lasted a little too long.
"Well, are you going to tell me."
"Alice," she smiled. "My name's Alice. It means truth."
The gas station was a white beacon in the orange streetlight glow of night. A car, which at one point had probably driven 80 miles per hour and at any point could probably explode, sat next to a black pump. A man in a long coat stood there, his car door was open and a tube ran from the gas pump to his vehicle. Alice couldn't see his face. His hands were in his pockets and his breath hung around his neck.
"Maybe you shouldn't smoke at a gas station," Aden suggested.
"We will survive. That's what we do."
"You really think that's true though."
Why not?" she took the cigarette, put it out in her hand and ate it. Aden looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Alice was always entertained by this, and tried to imitate that. "My brother use to always do that to me. He would raise his eyebrow like that. When I was little it freaked me out. It was like in cartoons, you ever notice how cartoon character's eyebrows float above their heads sometimes. It freaked me out. I thought my brother's eyebrow was going to float above his head."
"Why do you eat your cigarettes?"
The two of them walked into the gas station store, a tall woman was working their, her eyes half closed, her fingers tapping on the countertop. She was staring straight ahead, but not really looking at anything. "Do you think it's weird I swallow my cigarettes?"
"It can't be exactly healthy," Aden smiled a bit. The smile went away. He didn't seem capable of maintaining a smile for very long.
"I'm testing the limits of survival."
Aden began pouring himself a drink out of a dispenser into a large cup that could easily double for a hat. "These things really are excessively big," Aden commented. Alice looked at her reflection in the glass doors seperating her from the refridgerated beverages she could not legally drink. She took one out anyway, opened it up, and let the liquid slosh its way down her throut. She imagined the canyons it would carve in her esophogus, and then wondered if her esophogus was the correct thing to be imagining. "Where's the esophogus?"
"I don't know, somewhere in your throat." He was making a hotdog. The gas station store had a small area where one could construct their own hotdog, and he was taking advantage of this. "You want a hotdog? I guess it could be on me." He niceness seemed a bit strained. Alice wondered if he didn't really want to buy her a hotdog, or if buying her a hotdog just made him nervous for some reason. He struck her as a slightly nervous person.
"I'm carving canyons in my throat. My esophogus too." The tall woman working their didn't seem to notice. She might have been sleeping with her eyes open. Aden looked at Alice and raised both his eyebrows. "Um, is that open?"
"Uhuh. I can't legally buy one, so I'll just drink it all in here." Aden looked at the tall woman and nearly laughed at her oblivity. "There's cameras you know."
"I'll be long gone before they tell anyone anything."
"You want a hotdog?" he asked again, this time a bit more relaxed.
"Sure. I don't really have any money, so I hope you don't mind"
"No, it's not a big deal."
"I'll owe you or something."
"Is there anything special you, you know, want on the hotdog?"
"Just a hotdog with ketchup, fiery Aden," Alice watched her reflection walk by the various beverages. She glugged down her drink, and gently set the bottle on the floor. The tall women remained in oblivion. She took another out of the freezers and continued to slowly drown herself.
"Fiery. Is that really what my name means?"
"I think so. I don't remember. I think so."
He went up to the tall women to buy the hotdogs. "Excuse me"
She snapped out of her catatonic state and Alice hid her drink casually behind her back.. She felt light on her feet, and had the slight desire to return to the house and participate in the wave pool that shook the floors. Then she remembered the heat, the stench, and the annoying political rants and opted not to.
"I wonder if there's anywhere in here where we can sit and eat?" Alice looked around. She pocketed a few candy bars and waved at the mirror in the ceiling that she was sure was a camera.
Aden sighed. It was a well practiced sigh. It made Alice want to sigh as well. She could be the type of person who sighed a lot. Maybe she was. She returned his sigh.
"Here's your hotdog. I don't know where we could sit down. It's pretty cold outside. I'm very good at stating obvious facts." He momentarily smiled again. Alice did as well.
"Tall girl there probably won't mind if we just stay in here and eat. I think she's near dead or dying anyway."
"Near dead or dying, huh? So she's not surviving?"
"I don't know. Maybe there's someplace else we could go"
"I don't live far from here. My roommates might be home. I don't much like them, but"
"Let's go there."
Aden nodded. Alice began to take note of every move he made because it seemed like something worth doing. People moved all the time. They nodded and cracked their knuckled and scratched their chins. "That's funny how people nod."
"So, let's go to your place."
"If it's okay."
"Yeah, it is." He headed for the door. "I hope my roommates aren't there."
The two of them were outside again, the smell of gas hit them like the stench of skin and Alice soaked it in almost joyously. She kicked an aluminum can on the ground and took a bit out of her hotdog. "Pretty good. What's wrong with your roommates?"
"Oh, they're just amazingly stupid."
"I don't know. Just, I don't know. Imagine people sitting around all day, you know, with little joysticks in their hands, staring at the television screens, I don't know, and the place always has this smell, because they're always in there doing whatever the hell they do, I don't even know, and I swear they don't leave unless they're leaving to get more of whatever they have that smells so badly."
"They have permenant ass-prints on the carpet from sitting in the same spots for so long."
"That's funny. How many roommates do you have."
"Just two. They might not be there though. This time of night, actually, is about the only time they're not there."
"Who were you meeting at that party or whatever it was?"
"Hmm, what? Oh, that. Yeah, just a friend of mine."
"And they didn't show up?"
"I guess not. Maybe I should have waited longer."
"When were they supposed to be there?"
He shrugged. Everything had a noirish black and white quality to it, but with an orange nighthorror tinge. The breath lifted out of his mouth like in a movie, and his hotdog seemed atmospherically out of place. Alice thought this about hers as well. She threw it onto the ground.
"Why'd you do that?" he laughed a bit at her hotdog tossing.
"I felt the hotdog was atmospherically out of place," Alice smiled a fairly genuine smile. She forgot herself for a moment, then tried to be more mysterious and brushed away her smile. "Yours is too. You should eat it quickly. The large tub of soda isn't helping either."
Aden grinned, and it to was alarmingly unforced. It lingered longer than others had. He finished his hotdog and took a sip of the drink. "Atmosphere is important."
"Why didn't your friend show up though?"
"I don't know. Sometimes people just don't show up. Probably forgot. Maybe they got struck by lightning."
"I'm sure they survived."
"Do you really think that whole surviving thing is true? I mean, explain it to me, um, Alice."
Alice wondered why he chose that moment to say her name. A tingle went through her skin. It was the first time anyone had ever called her that, and it felt perfectly at place.
"It just seems," Alice began, pretending to be philosophical, "that we do a lot more surviving that we do dying. I was reading this short story in this magazine, and, oh, what was the name of it? Well, anyway, it was about death, I mean, it was almost more of an essay than it was a story, but it had characters in it and everything. Like, there was this old man, and it was pretty bizarre, because he was talking to all the things in his house, like the couch and lampshades and such."
"And who wrote this?"
"Oh, some guy. I don't remember his name. It was a good story though, and it got me thinking. Because the main point of the story is that we're born dying, and that's all we really do, and that's why life is pointless, because no matter what we do, we're just going to end up dead, and so this old guy is talking to all his furniture, and he's talking about all the things that he's done that only they've seen, and apparently some of them are kind of remarkable, I mean they are, like, the old man talks about them and they're pretty remarkable."
"Well, the stories sort of weird, so I guess the old guy built a time machine but then he broke it because he was afraid of what it may do."
"A time machine. That's funny."
"But anyway, none of these things matter because he's just going to die, and even the things he did that other people saw, they don't matter, because all those people will die too, and eventually, everyone will die, so really, who cares what comes out of the human race?"
"And you don't agree with this?"
"Well, it's not so much that I don't agree with it, I just think the story leaves something out. We spend a lot more time surviving than we do dying. We're surviving right now. We could die, but we're not. The ground could open up and swallow us, but right now, we're surviving the potentiality of the ground opening up and swallowing us."
Aden laughed at this. Alice liked that he laughed. "We're surviving every car that passes by. We're surviving pyschos in the street who want to disembowel us. I," she lifted up her drink which she had been atmospherically holding to her side, "am surviving a night of slightly excessive drinking and smoking. Which reminds me," she took out another cigarette, put it in her mouth, took out her lighter, and lit the cigarette, all with one hand.
"We're surviving. I guess so."
"Yeah, we spend all this time surviving, and we only die once. The amount of times we survive far outnumbers the amount of times we die. We only die once." Alice liked the sound of that, and Aden seemed to lift thoughts out of her mind.
"That should be the name of a movie, We Only Die Once. Actually, it probably is."
"But," Aden, almost purposely and with a slight grin, destroyed the quiet nighttime ambiance with a loud suck of the straw, said, "that one death sort of negates all of the surviving. We can survive a million times, but once we die, that's all. We don't need to die more than once because death finishes it's job in one try. Survival becomes a failure. In the long run we don't survive. It's like a lot of little victories over the course of one large defeat."
"True, and that's why I'm not saying I disagree with the story," Alice spoke as if she had thought about the points he made, but she hadn't. It didn't matter though. Her thoughts were beginning to mush together and make a convulted amount of backwards-sense. "But still, we forget, we live through all these little victories, maybe we should appreciate them."
"Are you generally this optimistic, or is your specific mode of survival," Aden motioned his head toward's Alice's drink, "is it making you chiper than you usually would be."
Alice smiled again, became conscious of it, then stopped, then let herself smile some more. "Chiper. That's a funny word."
"That's why I used it."
Silence plodded along between the two of them, and the gray-orange night atmosphere returned to perfection, as Aden let his arm hang low and a slight amount of liquid dripped out of his cup, leaving a breadcrump trail that would disappear in moments. Alice lifted her drink to her mouth and survived the apocolypse. This was something she wanted to share with everyone, but Aden was the only one around.
"I have survived the apocolypse, Aden the fiery one."
"That's good to hear. I once survived a bicycle accident."
"I've survived quiet a few things." Ideas swirled around in her head. Her mother tried to shoot her once. Her mother was a drunk. Her father was insane. Her brother had floating eyebrows. She was raped at a young age, had a baby, had an abortion, became suicidal, and that never really wore off. She ran away from home, she hitchhiked, she was picked up by a trucker with no front teeth. He could have been a serial killer. He could have torn her apart limb by limb. "I was in a car accident once."
"We're almost to my place." They had entered a squarish area of gray blocks of windows and doors. In between the blocks were areas of dead grass, a plastic playground stood in the middle of each one like an island of red and blue and green, but under the lamplights and the cloud-muffled moonlight, everything looked the same.
"I used to live in a place like this with my parents when I was a kid," Alice made it up as she went along. "We had a little playground just like that one, but it was metal instead of plastic. My brother threw me off the top of a slide. I broke my ankle."
"That's a shame."
Alice looked at him, "Minor details."
Aden lived in room 124. There wasn't any light on in his room, and a sigh of relief curved his entire body slightly. "I don't think anyone is home."
"Could they just be alseep?"
"I don't think they sleep." He fumbled with he keys and Alice wondered why she was going into his house. She was a bit hungry, maybe he had some food she could eat. And she had nowhere else to go. Of course. She had nowhere else to go.
"I don't need to come here," Alice spoke. Nobody said anything until the fog of those words was well above their heads. "I mean, if you don't want me to."
"Well, I don't plan on going to sleep for a while, and you didn't seem to like your burger"
"Hotdog, yeah, what did I say?"
"Oh. Ha. Well. I mean," his nervousness returned. Alice wanted to say something to calm him down but she was a bit nervous as well.
"I just don't really have anywhere to go," she finally managed to say. It hurt to say it, but the words felt as familiar to her as her name. He said her name. It was something to hear it again.
"Alice, do youneedsometo call someone or anything, I mean."
She wondered if she could fake tears. She wondered if she needed to. She knew she was too strong for that. She could sleep on the streets if she needed to. The warm sun would rise and the brightnewday would begin. The cold would be left at her feet, she would walk through the foggy morning sunlight and find something or someone or somewhere to go. But with every word she said she felt the heaviness of truth.
"No. I can go. But, well, I don't want to be a bother."
"You can stay here. I mean, overnight, if you have to. You can stay." The nervousness was gone. She prided herself on having a good eye. She internally smiled at her luck. Most people in the world weren't this nice. But maybe they were. Part of her wanted to hug him and another part of her wanted to walk away.
He opened the door. She turned her neck and saw a truck drive by, its headlights lit up a streetsign, the telephone wires glistened and everything fell dead in the nightlamp glow.
"Actually, no, I think I'll go." Alice walked away. She didn't look back at Aden. He said something and she put her head down. It went something like, "I hope you do okay." Ther was legitimate concern in his voice. She wasn't sure if she deserved that. She walked on to find the apocolypse.
bryan e. ©2003