VINCENT AND ALICE AND ALICE (an excerpt)
In the apartment I lived in before this one with Alice, the landlord deducted two hundred dollars from my deposit for water damage. He sent the reduced security deposit with a bill highlighting Windows left open during numerous rain showers, troubling. I wasn’t surprised because he was paranoid and materialistic. He wore his car keys around his neck on thick twine. When he unloaded bags of fertilizer from the trunk of his car one summer he locked his car, only ten feet away, each time after he placed a bag on his shoulder. But I don’t think he was that strange. Everyone knows that landlords are the devil’s semen.
“I’m starving,” says Alice.
As she makes tea next to the stove I flip her sandwich. It sizzles when some cheese drips onto the pan. With the spatula I wrist-flick the cheese out and into the garbage. I have moves when it comes to pan frying. I don’t use a spatula to turn over the sandwiches, I use the fucking plate.
“Nice,” compliments Alice.
As the cheese melts, the rain stops. What just happened between being outside with Alice and the bathtub with Alice? Maybe another glitch in my gate. Don’t question it, just be happy with your happiness. Just move forward. But I keep looking at her expecting some problem, like her arms twitching into static as she pours tea. In some way, everything is normal. I shake the pan a little.
“Almost ready,” I say.
My phone lights up where the sun doesn’t touch the counter and it’s Alice calling. I stare. Alice is calling and Alice is next to me. I turn and smile and then go back to my phone, which like always is on silent.
“Who’s that,” Alice asks, and I don’t know why I say it, but I say it, I say, “Alice.”
“Very funny,” says Alice.
The screen rings bright 518-944-4139 with Alice in New York, a picture taken shortly after we got married. We were up early and walking the city when everyone else was asleep. She’s standing against the closed rolling metal doors to a bodega storefront, a painted mural on it with a baby tugging on a river in a jungle. I took about a hundred pictures until Alice said, walking to me every few shots to check my work, it was the right one. I haven’t seen this picture since the divorce, the paperwork question, but here it is. Mercifully, it stops. Then she calls again and the picture comes back brighter than ever.
“Can we eat?” asks Alice standing over Alice calling. “I’m so hungry I could eat a baby.”
“What? I’m hungry.”
“You said a baby.”
“Yeah,” she shrugs. “I thought, what would be the absolute hungriest a person could get.”
“It’s ready,” I manage to say.
“A horse isn’t hungry. Now a baby, that’s hungry. Could you imagine?”
She takes a cup from the cabinet above the counter where my phone is still illuminated with her name, number, and picture, but doesn’t notice it, just takes the cup and fills it with water and goes out to the living room and clicks on the TV, which sounds like more news, another fire, more destruction, residents are leaving, too much sadness for one person to absorb.
Finally, the call goes to missed and I delete it. I have no idea why Alice would be calling me because she doesn’t need anything from me. It must have been a mistake, but twice, two mistake calls seems impossible. Maybe another glitch between PER and my reality, the film momentarily blown back by my memories of Alice.
From the living room: “Someone vandalized The Falafel House.”
“The Falafel house!”
I’m a total mess. My ideal life is complicated.
She knows I’m hiding something so we get into an argument. Another downfall in our marriage was that I kept secrets. I never told her about Sarah. I never told her about napping in my car during my lunch breaks. I had days at work where I didn’t do any work, but if Alice asked me to take out the garbage or wash the dishes after work I said I was too tired from work. I never told her about masturbating in socks.
“Is something going on?”
“Nothing,” I say, “just tired.”
I remember once at the A-ville museum we were looking at World War I posters. They had this exhibit for one week only, and those who were bored or liked war went to admire the intricate line-drawings. One poster was about female spies and the headline read: “Silence Is Safety.” A snake-shaped woman in a trench coat blew cigarette smoke into the words. Alice pointed and turned to me and said, “That’s you.”
“Because you’re tired?” Alice pries. “Or because you want to avoid me? I think you want to avoid me. You shut down when you have to talk about anything real.”
I’m not thinking clearly so I say, “None of this is real.”
During arguments I like to stare at the floor. I sit on the edge of the bed waiting for Alice to respond and concentrate on a line, a thin trench dug into the hardwood when I attempted to move the dresser by myself. At work, Courtney told me when her boyfriend dumped her for a cashier at Target she rearranged her apartment as drastically as possible, as a way to erase Chad. She suggested I do the same. It wasn’t a bad idea. But I only managed moving the dresser which created this dig in the wood.
Alice is gone.
There’s this sound, a thumping against wood, in the apartment with me. Maybe it’s Alice leaving because of what I said. The gate slamming shut. It doesn’t make sense, I feel like I’m re-creating scenes from a movie I’ve seen years ago, but I sweep my arm under the bed and I search the closet, pushing my hanging shirts against the wall. I peek out the bedroom window and across the strip of grass dividing the houses. One of my neighbor’s shirtless kids is at his window pointing a gun at me. I look toward the backyard but I don’t see Alice.
I enter the hallway and call her name.
In the nine o’clock hour the apartment is dark and dreary after another storm, but there’s still light left in the sky, a last line of day clinging to the underside of clouds. The thumping gets louder. It accelerates as I walk into the kitchen.
There’s one weak light on above the stove, it’s part of the ventilation system, and Alice is sitting on the counter next to it, banging the back of her head against the cabinet.
“Don’t do that,” I plead.
“Then tell me what you’re hiding,” she says.
“I’m not hiding anything,” I say. “Everything is fine.”
She hits her head faster and harder. It’s so dark in the kitchen, even with that weak little light on. There’s a terrifying tempo to the way she’s striking her head on the cabinet and it’s painful to watch.
“Come on,” I offer, reaching out to grab her, but I don’t actually move forward. I have good intentions, just no good action. Add it to my list of holes in my bag. I thought I was doing better. “Alice, please.”
“What’s going on?” she says. “What’s happening with me?”
This time I do move forward. Breathing heavily, she rests her hands on her knees. I take another step forward. She places her chin on her chest and in a spring-loaded movement her head shoots backward, cracking the cabinet’s center and breaking it from the hinges.
But she doesn’t stop there. Her rhythm is pure violence as she continues, faster, harder, her facial expression tranquil as her hair moves around her shoulders, faster, harder, the storm breeze coming in as she destroys everything behind her, the cabinet’s contents tipping out like an earthquake or wraith-like reckoning sweeping the air.
Eyes open, fixated on me, she has no reaction with each hit, cups rattling off the shelves and cracking on the counter. I lunge forward and grab her by the shoulders and she convulses backward, her mouth frothing with yellow poison.
Her skull bounces off the counter’s edge as she slips toward the floor, as I fail to hold her.
“To the living room, anywhere, let’s go, you’re real, okay?”
Onto the floor calling me a liar, saying she deserves better, head crashing into anything that will break with her force. She dents a floor tile and blood splatters outward like a firework. Calling me a loser. Someone with only a past. Telling me to leave her. Telling me to divorce her.
Do not control the gate.
I pin her to the floor.
Let the gate guide you.
Her head rests to the side as if falling asleep.
Do not confront the gate about its plausibility.
I don’t want this anymore.
Do not attempt to escape the gate.
But I have nowhere else to go.
Do not question humans inside the gate.
But I have no one else to concentrate on.
I run and grab a towel from the bathroom. Back in the kitchen, she isn’t here. Where she sat on the counter it looks like a grenade went off. The splintered cabinet door is on the floor leaning against the stove and most of the cups and dishes are broken or badly chipped. Smeared blood leads from the shelves, to the counter, and down and across the floor.
I search the apartment.
A buzzing sound is coming from the bedroom.
The gate opening back up, the gate shifting, the gate so imperfect.
I walk into the bedroom.
Alice is asleep in bed with no sheets. She’s curled up in a fetal position and shaking. Quietly, I walk over and inspect her head and find not one cut. I run to the kitchen again and everything is fixed and in perfect place like nothing happened.
Documenting the gate by video or photo is prohibited.
Fuck the gate.
Vincent and Alice and Alice is out July 9th from Tyrant Books.