Richard Chiem / Cities
CHLOE IS DISTRAUGHT and momentarily she considers starving to death on purpose, driving fast in her car with no headlights turned on. Palm trees sway in the breeze above the dark wooden fences surrounding the house and large estate. She has the sense she has never been here before. She turns and waits, trying her best to relax her face. She swears the road was glistening in the dark when she was driving on the way over. Chloe nods: the drug inside her pleasantly nods, her eyes glaze and space to Jesse uphill, who is unrolling his window down and getting out of his car. Jesse in his red board shorts watches her as she silently takes off her blouse, unbuttoning from top to bottom and unhooks her bra and she drops them both at her heels holding eye contact with him in the wind. She says, I don’t know you. I know Alyssa. You don’t know me.
There are people jumping into a swimming pool behind the house: sounds of muffled splashing, muffled laughter, sounds of girls screaming. There is smoke coming from behind the house. She asks, Are you having a party or something, staring at his crotch somewhat light-headed and pale in her face. She is transfixed by a small hole in his board shorts. If only there were no boundaries. She is thinking, If only. And then Chloe faints. Jesse hopes that he knows her. He brushes her hair from her eyes, covers her with his jacket from the car, and asks if she is okay. She is still breathing. The party vibrates from inside the house. He is thinking his roommate must be having a gala. There is a little green in his eyes in the light from the driveway, she can see when she regains consciousness a few minutes later. Jesse cannot remember what he ate this morning or why he woke up this morning or what song was playing on the radio, but he remembers feeling peaceful imagining a basketball game in his head instead of paying close attention to the road driving home fast as though enlightened. Chloe is topless in Jesse’s arms, her warm thighs on top of gravel, claiming she has regained consciousness. Jesse is wearing a wool sweater and board shorts. Chloe, for a moment, opens her eyes and says, I don’t understand what you’re wearing.
ALYSSA WALKS SO quickly out the door candles nearby flicker and blow out, and a few faces from the party turn to watch her leave. She is a young model, performance artist, Japanese woman. She hopes the walls are thick and soundproof when she leaves, since she spies the musicians pacing around the backyard, setting up instruments, passing a spliff around to each other. Without knowing for certain why, she does not like for things to get too loud inside the house. Each of the rooms, upstairs and down, are occupied with strangers: people meeting people for the first time, or people being quiet and not really talking, only surveying the scene, silent expressionless no name wallflowers. Everyone who arrives is attractive. There is a room upstairs filled and filled with hundreds of black balloons blown up by willing young guests here and a man lying face down on the floor, crying alone for a few minutes. Alyssa’s record player is turned on, the volume knob on maximum. It is as if there is no ceiling, so many black balloons cloud together. The man arrives to weep and later leaves the gathering alone. In the next room, with a thin wall in between, there are standing video cameras and exotic dancing. Sometimes all the girls appear naked and focused together in one frame, in the right soft lighting, all with vacant expressions and blank faces, standing shoulder to shoulder and other positions. Alyssa is having a wake for a friend she barely knew, a woman whose name was also Alyssa, found overdosed in an art gallery.
Alyssa has been hearing her name all day, shaking every person’s hand, feeling more and more unsettled. Her stomach has knots although her eyes are attentive. Jesse is at the door, carrying Chloe in his arms. He seems to be taking care of her, Alyssa thinks. On the porch all the lights are orange to keep away insects. His face is dark and contorted when Chloe wakes up again in his arms having cotton mouth, still getting a rush off the world. There seems to be music playing in every room, everywhere there are people in the house. Alyssa sometimes feels she lives in a dangerous place, going to answer her door. She feels scared but happy when she sees her roommate, Jesse, coming up the driveway. It takes her a few seconds to do anything else. Often, nights can go so fast this slowly with all these common friends, these people she keeps meeting and running into, although she is never cruel or scared or judgmental in public, she starts over and over again for everyone.
WHEN CHLOE CAN move again, awake in Jesse’s arms, nothing really changes in her eyes, the gleam of light inside her pupils does not move. For all intents and purposes, she does not plan to say much or look away. She mumbles, her body is warm everywhere but cold in her hands. Alyssa says, I think she took a lot of acid just an hour ago. She had never done acid before, I don’t think, says Alyssa’s soft voice. Alyssa touches Chloe’s face and warms her hand and leans down closer. Immediately, they rush her through the front door upstairs down the hallway in search of a vacant bedroom. All the guests at the wake are waving at them, some are lighting candles or not saying anything, some are punching the hardwood floors over and over again, making bloody hands and knuckles. Some are taking time to look at what they’ve done, clenching and clenching fists after they punch the floor, shaky and forlorn. Jesse says, Everyone here is so crazy. Alyssa says, Everyone here is heartbroken, Jesse.
Alyssa brushes Chloe’s hair. She has these eyes that don’t believe in anything. When they move past, Alyssa shepherds the attention in the house in her path moving through the small crowds following the pale movements of her lean black dress. She says, Maybe you can help her. Maybe you can talk her down from her high. Alyssa walks ahead but turns her head and looks back when she’s talking. At the edge of his room, a laptop is turned on and recording everything from his work desk, to a live feed broadcast on the Internet. Alyssa is surprised with the eerie acoustic of an empty room and turns to see her recorded image on screen. She asks, Is that always on. In the moment, which swallows her whole, she admires his need to smoke and barely listens to his answers. Jesse says, Yes, it’s always on, lighting his cigarette. I am becoming Internet famous.