New Old Friends | Alethea Tusher

I find the cost-benefit of social exertion in party-like or party-actual atmospheres (like this one) not worth all the hygiene that I’m mostly neutral about but only because Culture and not because Nature like deodorant and bras and looking pretty. Party atmosphere turns neutrality bloody, yellow, exoskeletal. It is the love child born on drugs to le sigh and le angst. It is a chip in my gut that I’m still choking on. Mostly, it’s alright—other than all the discomfort and lack of payoff.

JanJan said, “You’re asking too much of parties,” and “You’re being melodramatic,” and “Ugh.”

She said, “Friend.” I said, “No.” She said, “Friend.” I said, “You bastard.” I came.

I came and now she is talking with a bunch of people, so many people in fact that my presence is a mini skirt under a long winter coat, so many in fact that my presence is a Cake song. I am both omni-party-present and strictly located next to the phone plugged into the speaker crying out. My existence in this particular time and place only serves to invigorate and in some way improve JanJan’s mood, to, as she would say, “lift her up where she belongs.” She often says, “You lift me up where I belong.” But even aside from as much metaphorical or even unseen psychological lifting that I do, I’m not playing any overtly physical role in her dance or her being there as in being there a public figure, and I am a materialist, distant.

So, I travel back in time, steal the “ugh” JanJan used to elicit me forth into the world, bring it back into the present and harvest it in my throat like a bulge of daisies one might stuff into a corpse if she were feeling romantic and if other embalming techniques were unavailable. I make small talk, sip on something garishly alcoholic (admittedly, I do love the word “garish”, also things that are garish), and think of whimsical ways I might meet God via accidental death. Top contender: having the bodybuilder-looking-guy in the corner twirl me like people twirl little girls on the dance floors of wedding receptions, but because he is stoned, he holds my hand too tight and dislocates my shoulder. My screaming aggravates his roid rage and he continues spinning me until he breaks my arm as I swing out of one of the open windows with my limp hand politely (as it is hard to turn off the automaticity of politesse even in times of violence as, for example, when one says “sorry” after being bumped by another in a train station) shaking the depressed hand of the now-crying bodybuilder who at one point in his life, many points before this one, dreamed primarily of being a female ballerina as the tip-toe spins were the main appeal of the otherwise painstakingly meditative dance form. Pain staking is what he then inadvertently built his life upon and into. At the point of my death, he realizes in a way he had only peripherally realized previously that there are other options in every moment, although admittedly some choices are harder to see, as when one looks through endless tears at the girl he just dismembered.

I’m not dead though, and a man at the party comes up to my side and stares in the same direction that I’m staring into the void—or maybe into the unlit fireplace. I sense him more than I see him. I try to avoid looking at him as to try to avoid having to manifest the nothingness between us. I’ve produced enough dead weight words in this stranger’s living room to harvest a parallel universe of time whose mother, the moon, only says, “And you had such potential,” over and over again forever. But then the man starts talking, I think, and my eyes dart toward him like they would toward a spot of blood, to assess what is most likely innocuous but also threatening in its uncertainty and in its possibility.

So a man wearing an elephant head introduces himself as an elephant or Frank. The mask muffles his language. I’m left looking into his matte-finished pupils, dark two-dimensional spools of outer space without the technology to capture the color of supernovas or pre-supernovas. I ask him with my mouth agape an implied “Huh?” He speaks louder so that I am certain, a muffling. I shrug my shoulders, say, “Yeah, well, you know.” I think I heard an awkward person reply that way in a movie once. I find it’s good to utilize tested material, even if only cinematically tested, in these situations in every instance. The man’s body slumps into my hoped-for victory and he removes the elephant head, holding it against his ribcage under the crook of his arm and continues talking. I realize his real face is hoarse and we are hopeless.

Before I process the whole staring into the nonreflective, unreceptive visage of an elephant thing, I am presented with his mane that falls luxuriously across his neck and shoulders and down his back. I’m hypnotized until I realize I’m hypnotized and struggle against some intense ennui by skanking. I am still within a conversation’s distance of him and connect in a way that conjures immediate intimacy, something I thought impossible a moment before.

I climb in / too, all the way into the elephant. I’ve never / felt so thin as I do in the long, tender nostril. My eyes / flutter inside and close. I understand the value / (see maybe: virtue) of modesty.

He lurches forward at the waist as a means of being closer to me or as a means of incorporating my fist’s force into his body. His means is obvious. His intent is uncertain. The result is his beer flying from his mouth like water from a Floridian performance dolphin, beautifully, in a cascading arch of symbolic departicalization.

A sunburst of stardust (imagine Peter Pan’s / means of flying) supernovas (v.) from his mouth. / He is drowning and can only think one solution, / acceptance, a glass brown bottle, the fecal matte- / r of gold IPA resting the white of the eye.

When hoarseface comes up, he is neighing. I look away respectfully and catch disgust wafting from the bodybuilder, like all other faces in the room, staring at me and the horse.

Nitrogen balloons pop from my mouth / intact, floating into clear blue screaming, falling back / toward me—hands full of wet plastic and color. / I hand them to the casket of an elephant. / There is no reason for the elephant.

I leave and JanJan is waiting for me at the door holding my coat. In the hallway, I apologize with my eyes for I don’t know what and JanJan offers, “I almost slept with that guy once.”

*The title “New Old Friends” is taken from a Jeffrey Lewis song by the same name.

Alethea Tusher is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Notre Dame. She has work published in Black Warrior Review, Hardly Doughnuts, Toad, and PRØOF.