Eyrie Hours

By Stephanie A. Pushaw

Featured Art: Pulse by Rachel Ann Hall

The fog arrives at the ordinary hour, filming up the floor-to-ceiling window, threading its gray glow from the sea through the canyons with the slow precision of watercolor paint. The canyons aren’t unbeautiful, their velvety seams byzantine as brainfolds and as tight with kerneled mystery. From this height, which erases the ugly parts—the trafficky roads with their margins of hawk-picked roadkill, the insulting sloppiness of the graffiti on the rockfaces from which car-sized boulders plunge with some regularity—the canyons are soft, gentle. Every angle, opening, and balcony on this property has been designed for appreciating Nature, from the appropriate distance: above the smogline, beyond the reach of honks and sirens and gunshots, with a hard kombucha and a heated blanket close to hand.

Devon and I are in our usual spot: anchored at the far end of the glossy dining room table, surrounded by gilt-framed art of the bucolic, fussy sort her scary dad loves, watching the cursor blink its bland admonishment on the empty screen. She claims to be brainstorming. Hidden speakers leak out a sanitized stream of last month’s top rap singles, arranged in strange, lyric-bleached orchestral arrangements. A gilt-speckled mirror doubles the already spacious room. Beneath it, Devon trails her white sneaker across the edge of an alcove stuffed with unopened bottles of antique wine. Presents from luminaries, criminals, colleagues, clients; a forest of erstwhile grapes worth a year of my salary. The fat cabernet in the front of the pack has recently been turned to face its fellows; a gift from the leading man whose face is on the label, who owns the vineyard, and whose unsavory personal life has recently recoiled on him in the age-old way.

If she ever stops brainstorming, Devon and I will write a short personal essay for her USC application. But this is the part of the brainstorming process where Devon takes advantage of the flagging energy in the room and does whatever she wants. Swaddled in her latest boyfriend’s oversized sweatshirt whose embroidered logo just says Balls in lavender thread, she is showing me pictures on her phone, the matte beige tip of her artificial nail clicking audibly on the screen. The perfection of her cuticles continues to shock me: they look airbrushed, seamless, under total control. The crisis at hand: which dress do I think? For prom? The first dress, a contoured satin slip just waiting to find a coke-dusted table on which to blunt its gossamer sheen, costs twelve hundred dollars and Devon has it on good authority that if she wears it to prom, she’ll pre-empt when Florence Pugh wears it to the Met Gala in May.

Devon’s good authority is the designer’s daughter, who bums gum from Devon in Japanese class and has six hundred thousand followers on Instagram and a coke problem that’s been half-solved by several detoxes. Devon isn’t sure whether the dress is too simple, though, because she’s actually really into being a little, like, flashy at the moment, so the second dress might be better. The problem is she’s already worn the second dress, but it was like five months ago and it was only for a photo shoot that she didn’t end up posting so it practically never happened. Plus it’s only a couple thousand more than the other and she thinks maybe it looks more like a prom dress? This dress is pink and puff-sleeved and laps the floor, even with five-inch heels. It looks exactly like the Eighties prom dress my Aunt Laura had on in a mantelpiece photo when I visited my dad’s parents one awkward afternoon in my early twenties, only it’s one hundred percent latex and has cutouts right below the butt cheeks. The website assures us they’re extraordinarily subtle cutouts, but reminds us to purchase a bottle of their special lubricant with which to cover our bodies before attempting to put on one of their latex garments. A helpful popup provides an add-to-cart option for the lube, which gleams with what looks like craft glitter and comes in sixteen-ounce matte black bottles for forty dollars each. I ask Devon if her school has a dress code, and am rewarded with the what the fuck? look, unencumbered by words.

The balcony door is open a few feet from us and the wet air sidles in and settles thickly, three or four degrees south of uncomfortable. Fog, reliable as road rage, manifests here as a separate element. It is tolerated if not respected, and given cutesy nicknames: high fog, June Gloom, summer bummer. And Devon loves it; she craves the change it brings to the air, the way a few hours or days can feel like a different world, one not constantly monopolized by the tedium of sunshine. She drinks green tea just a shade below boiling and buries herself in imported fleeces and daydreams out loud about going to school somewhere with actual seasons, somewhere with sweater weather and plays and culture.

The essay’s question is: Describe something outside of your intended academic interests that you plan on studying. Devon’s intended academic interest is Business and Cinematic Arts, an interdisciplinary major favored by two types of students: freshly-arrived flyover-staters with the seventeen-year-old’s fantasy of working hard and making it big in the movies, and kids whose parents are already producers. Devon’s mother Deanne, who is on the other side of the wall from us and presumably talking loudly on the phone in her special soundproofed workroom between the kitchen and the gym, produced a ludicrously successful chain of elevated slasher films in the late-Nineties. The posters, rife with impressive gore, hang in their entrance gallery, her name in black block letters in each lower right corner.

To the question at hand we have no answers. I propose enhancing her well-roundedness score by leaping to a separate discipline: human evolutionary biology, mechanical engineering? She shares that, although she scored a 5 on the A.P. bio test without even really cheating, she’s just not able to envision herself in a laboratory, like, long-term, no offense to scientists, whose contributions to society were obviously super important and extremely vital. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the noises coming from my stomach, and Devon’s Adderall is wearing off. We decide to resume tomorrow.

Outside it’s wet, fresh, heavy: cashmere weather. Silvering air, the solemn curl of mist blanketing sky-hung palm fronds, sucking billboards into its merciful haze. I ignore my sullen, ancient Corolla, parked far from the other vehicles: Devon’s brand-new, bulletproof, black Benz; her mother’s neat white Audi; her father’s collection of cheerful Lamborghinis, lined up with the painstaking care of a child ordering his Hot Wheels by color, red-yellow-blue.

I rest my elbows on the cold white wall, its surface flushing soft with sunset. Those canyons, shimmering beneath us in the fluid dusk. From here the city looks embarrassingly ready to be owned: its splay and glitter, its valleys and scrub-brush hills, spread panting beneath us, and at the far end of it all, the flat gray sweep of the ocean. The sky’s current drama: one of those epic, overeager Technicolor sunsets, the type where to remark upon them would be gauche at best, and at worst would incur a sarcastic rebuttal, like the one I’d received from a suitemate during the first week of my freshman year. Adithi, with her tattooed eyebrows and tiny waist drowning in ripped-up jeans, going: “Let’s all comment on how beautiful it is, instead of just appreciating its beauty, thanks so much for your discerning eye, Georgia, no wonder you’re a studio art major.” From then on I avoided commenting on anything with the exception of those matters on which my opinion was directly sought. For these situations I mastered the art of equivocation. This tactic made me extremely popular and very lonely.

I’m meeting Adithi for dinner tonight, to talk about her promotion, her fiancé, and her new apartment. Driving there now, my back to the bruising sky, headlights puncturing the wetness of the evening, I consider the extent of my hunger and the lengths to which I’m willing to go to have it satisfied. There’s a girl on the radio exhorting me: give it up, live it up, her voice nicely autotuned over a backbeat with the pleasing shiny mindlessness of a Nineties hacker movie. I accidentally check my Twitter at the obscenely long red on Sunset and Beverly Glen, and the feed is full of the confirmation of the girl-band vocalist’s sudden death, whose legitimacy and cause I am trying to ascertain until the driver of the white Lamborghini behind me leans on his horn and screams something through his window at me. Instead of putting on my parking brake and pulling the nonexistent gun from my glovebox and spraying bullets at him through his windshield until he sags against the creamy leather of the driver’s seat with a bloodied white polo, I turn the radio up, wave at him in my rearview with the pout-smile combination that says Sorry! I’m just a ditz, and power through the place where the oxygenated slump of Beverly Hills retreats, into the greater, settling yellow darkness of the city.

I pull over a few blocks later, the fight button glowing a disobedient red on my control panel, give my inner child a nice head-pat, and tune the radio to a fuzzy AM station. I count my breaths. I still have twelve minutes before I’ll be late to dinner. I’m in a part of the city I drive through often but rarely patronize: questionably-zoned cannabis shops and taco trucks and psychics with neon signs in their frilly-curtained windows. The neighborhood is dark, quiet, the streets jammed with cars parked in artful parallels in a way that feels threateningly exclusive but isn’t. It’s more like my neighborhood, over on the other side of the 10 but otherwise pretty much identical: ugly square apartment buildings with stucco steps and grim, steel-railed suggestions of balconies; ground-floor windows latticed by protective iron grates; probably pockmarked occasionally by violent crime, humming steadily with the ordinary business of drugs and sex. Not safe, but not exactly unsafe either. I carry pepper spray but don’t yet own a gun.

A city park stretches along one side of the block; its gates are padlocked, its basketball hoops denuded of net, but the court lights still work. Miraculously, a space presents itself at the end of the curb. Day-bright spotlights from the park seep into my car, splash the interior in a clean white: for a second, the persistent layer of grime is blanked out. For a second, I appreciate the stillness, notice myself anchored in reality the way I want to be, whitewashed and temporarily placid. Then I see it, hanging in the shadows across the park: a phone booth, sleek with polished aluminum. I lock my car and walk over to it. It’s remarkably clean, considering its obsolescence. I have nothing to compare its contents to, but they seem pretty standard, as seen in old movies: black lacquered handset, brightly-colored stickers advising of rates and regulations, coin slot, silver keypad embossed with neat black numbers.

There are some coins in my pocket. There usually are, not out of some prudent desire to cover all bases, but because I am not the kind of person who accumulates loose change in a squat glass vase or cow-shaped cookie jar. I would like to be this kind of person someday. I am currently the kind of person who relies on the invisible reassurance of credit. It is soothing, inserting the coins one by one into their slot. Amazingly, I get the unctuous robot operator, and the smooth purr of the dial tone. I have three minutes of reverie left. I call my own cell phone, cupped in my left palm, and cradle the solid black payphone against my neck. My screen lights up in a silent, needy plea, the (323) number pulsing gently against a black background. I have one missed call from myself.

Adithi is at the Italian place, nestled in a sharp white blazer under the heat lamp, secure in the perfection of her appearance and sipping what will be her only glass of Riesling this evening. The fairly severe intracranial fog that has been pulsing at my ears since Lambo guy spiked my cortisol is mollified a little by two glasses of house red, the second of which emboldens me enough to order squid ink pasta. Past-Adithi would have ridiculed this choice, would have said something about how it’s so boringly obvious that I would order the squid ink pasta, even though just because it’s indigo doesn’t mean it’s sophisticated, and that I really ought to have ordered the aglio de olio because it’s practically the best you can get this side of Firenze, although, she supposed, given that I’d never been to Italy, I wouldn’t actually appreciate the authenticity of the dish.

But the last half decade has urged a strange transformation in Adithi. She has attained, at least superficially, an enviable degree of calmness; it looks untrained, earned, compassionate. She twirls the red strands of angel hair around her fork, and her white blazer, tenderly aglow in candlelight, stays white. We discuss her promotion, her fiancé, her new apartment. As she picks up the check, the naked lightbulb slaps the rock on her ring finger into a million blazing shards. Though New Adithi would never mention the price, though whatever her jet-owning fiancé paid for it must have been equivalent to a sand grain on a beach given his family’s eye-watering and robustly ancestral coffers, even a cynic like me shuts up in the face of something like that. It’s like the sunset: not something to talk about, but something to wallow in later, at home, in shameful, covetous privacy. Something to want and not to want.

In the parking lot, beyond the reach of the yellow glow from the restaurant, I try to access how I’m feeling; it’s blunted a little by the wine, but the ethanol’s already fading from my blood, the buzz long-gone, the shrill complaints of dehydration tapping at the seams of my incipient headache. It’s a dull ache. It usually is.

Since I had to quit my calorie-counting app, I’ve identified other sources of dopamine accessible through my phone. Most of them give me little gifts: showers of gold coins, a free reshuffling of my Scrabble letters, a squat virtual treasure chest bulging with virtual jewels. My favorite app doesn’t feature collections, though; it hits different. It’s called Shout. You make an account, and the server gives you a randomly-generated username for anonymity: mine, which is just okay, is curlyflute260. There are channels for everything: midnight confessions, embarrassing questions, true crime, fetish, curbside giveaways, movie reviews, weather. For me: the more boring, the better. I do not want to know what people thought of the latest adaptation of a former adaptation of an apocalyptic graphic novel; I am entirely uninterested in the objects people penetrate themselves or others with, whether vibrating eggs or butcher knives. The human tendency toward self-categorization makes these things easy enough to avoid if you just stay in the General L.A. channel: bland and wide and welcoming and neutral. This is where I lurk. This is where people talk about things like which hairbrush is better for coarse hair or how long they wear their jeans before washing them; where they bitch about their neighbors’ bad parking and loud parties and compare celebrity crushes; where user-generated polls ask, in earnest: The Beatles or The Stones?

Where meds cocoon me in gelatinous apathy and meditation frustrates me into a counterproductive high-pitched anxiety, the General L.A. channel offers me a handheld, 24/7 Zen retreat. I have a collection of screenshots of my favorite General Channel posts. A multi-paragraph description of the journey a turtle took around one user’s Eagle Rock garden. An earnest summation and analysis of the batting averages of Dodgers players in the Seventies versus Dodgers players now; there’s nothing like reading numbers pertaining to a sport you don’t watch to drown out the constant, dull shriek of existence. My all-time favorite: a user who dumped out the contents of a can of SpaghettiOs, sorted the letters and symbols into the correct order, and reported how many of each were present in the can.

At home, buried in blankets from which constant washing has stripped the softness, I do not google the calories in squid ink pasta and two large glasses of house red. I log on to Shout instead. My body undergoes a Pavlovian response when the familiar interface appears: simple, sleek, harmless little secrets, black text on white. Testing the knots in my neck, through the rat’s-nest of intestines, to the cramped toes twisting five-feet-eight-inches away from me on the other edge of the mattress, I settle. I relax. I copy the most recent number in my call log, and click New Post.

Title: Shout but IRL
Post: If you feel like talking, call (323) 774-7129. If I’m there, I’ll answer.
N.B.: No sex, no threats, no complaining.

In bed, the glow from the Chevron sign brushes the edges of my thin blue curtains. I can imagine it going several ways: people turned off by the horror of vocalizing their thoughts out loud rather than through the pleasantly silent medium of text will scroll right past; others will inevitably view it as a weird and unwelcome intrusion; others will write the whole thing off as some new version of a call-for-a-good-time number chiseled into a bar bathroom stall. It might peter out before it begins, nothing to mark its passing but another blip of regret to toss on the ever-growing pile. But I sleep better than I have in weeks.

Art history, Devon has decided, is a good secondary interest for two reasons: one, it proves that she is not simply concerned with the accumulation of wealth but is also concerned with people knowing she is cultured and has an acutely developed aesthetic sensibility; two, it’ll make a good excuse to study abroad in Italy. Or France. Or Spain. Or maybe one of the cooler new countries, since Western Europe is a little played-out: they probably have art history in, for example, Croatia or Iceland or Singapore. Either way: art’s cool. Art, essentially, will do.

Devon knows art. Her family knows art. The evidence is all around me: the signed Andy Warhol original in the guest bathroom, Mick Jagger’s screenprinted, hangdog face looming over the toilet; a Dali sketch dangling from an awkward nail in the laundry room; the wall-sized, insane oil paintings that keep us company while we work in the dining room. I was wrong about these paintings; I thought of them as wasted space, generic as hotel art, as impressive as a blank wall. No. There are little errata spiked throughout these countryside scenes; there are aberrations, anachronisms; there are beings whose essential shapes, whose hilltop silhouettes, feel somehow alien. Take the biggest painting, for example, the one directly opposite the balcony, the one placed carefully to maximize the amount of daily light it receives, as though, like a plant, it needs to feed on sunrays. The usual manor house with silly pillars; the usual stiff-necked soldiers, maids corseted and stuffed into hoopskirts, groomed white dogs with realistically-rendered satin bows in a sedate parade of pastels. But one of the soldiers, though bedecked in the strong lines and gold buttons of his uniform from the waist up, is bottomless and unmanned; his lower half seems reptilian, crafty, smooth-scaled and tinged-green, with claws instead of toenails on his flipper-sized feet. Or take the flower garden that surrounds the little chapel in the foreground, the riot of blooms in which a clean-looking nun is peacefully sifting through soil; where the peonies bleed into roses, the roses take on a strange, neon-adjacent glow, and a closer inspection of the scene reveals a small, ferocious bonfire in which a woman, cloaked in black and sprouting two crow-feathered wings, is burning at the stake. It’s stuff like that. Not funny, exactly. Devon’s little brother, Clive, pointed these two out to me while I was helping him with exponents the other day. Now they’re all I see.

Devon is curled in the gloom of the room’s corner where the recessed lights don’t reach; one hand swipes the screen of her phone in interminable swirls, the other teases a retired bobby pin. She’s taking a break from Adderall, and the loose muscular impulses are simmering in her again. I ask her about the artist and am favored with a brief moment of genuinely thoughtful eye contact as she places her phone with eggshell-care on the wide white arm of her couch. “I don’t know,” she finally manages, “They’ve just been here literally all my life. I’ve kind of stopped, like, seeing them? You know?”

I do.

Reptile soldier painting summons very few Google results. The artist is Dorothea Espinoza. She is very famous in certain contemporary circles, circles which are inaccessible to those individuals who do not have millions of dollars in liquid cash to spend on fine art. Her worldview, according to a fawning piece on Juxtapoz accompanied by a photoshoot of the artist wearing various couture gowns in Death Valley, the Arctic, and Miami Art Basel, seems to have translated fabulously into the type of art that is generally considered “challenging” and successfully treads the knife’s edge between kitsch and trash.

Before jumping from the ledge of her infinity pool into the vast airy canyons of Mendocino, Dorothea was selling her paintings for hundreds of thousands. Online, people speculate about her motives: they wonder in dumb italics how someone so special, so gifted, so successful could weigh the options and select death. As if it were ever that simple. As if a ledger balanced carefully enough could stop someone from acceding to a momentary impulse. There was footage of her leap, captured by the motion-activated security cameras mounted at precise intervals along the roof of her pool house; it was blurred due to containing graphic imagery, and to view it, it was necessary for one to verify that they were over 18 and had been warned about its content. I decided not to view it.

After her death, according to a Vice retrospective ostensibly concerned with her paintings but mentioning her recently-unearthed nude selfies at a higher frequency than might strictly be deemed relevant, her agent continued selling Dorothea’s paintings, and their prices inclined steeply, following the upward trajectory of her posthumous legacy. If one of the online rumors were true, she’d been convinced of an afterlife, more specifically the promise of reincarnation; the term for her final act was therefore not so much suicide as shedding an outgrown husk. Maybe she knew the way it goes for posthumous fame, thought she’d experience rebirth into the body of a fat and happy Labrador sprawled in front of a fireplace under one of her old-life paintings, now worth triple what it had been while she lived.

Although by now we know better, it’s like no one can ever stop loving tragic, wealthy geniuses. Especially if they are twenty-nine, model-hot, and prone to outlandish publicity stunts followed by lengthy reposes in various expensive clinics and facilities practicing Eastern medicine, Western medicine, and the most eye-wateringly cutting-edge flavors of talk therapy. Especially if, in a neat if unfortunate completion of their tragic arc, none of these remedies seem to do more than bat away the shadows for a minute or a week or a month; none of them seem, really, to take.

Though I’d allowed myself to imagine the phone ringing off the hook with strangers’ secrets, when I pull up to my curbside spot, it is to the same silence as before. The clatter and scratch of skateboards on an adjacent street; bubbles of music; someone’s television, leaking a laughtrack through an open window; it all feels staged, a little too generic to be real. I notice that I am feeling tricked, babyish, resentful. I stare at the phone. It rings. I pick it up: reflex. Some vestigial part of me’s still stubbornly analog. I say hello, then second-guess it, but after a beat a normal-voiced man says, “I just wanted to share something I learned today.”

“Okay,” I say, twisting the cold metal snake of the phone cord around my forearm, staring through the blue-tinted glass of the booth to the basketball court. Two men, college-aged, enter the court with an ease I immediately crave. For a second, time collapses and I’m back on my bullshit, my single-minded brain singing its incessant song of want: want that bourbon, want that benzo, want that orgasm, want that cupcake. It’s a cousin to that blunt want that courses through me now. This is a looser, more tangential, gossamer breed of want: I want their looseness in the world, their unconscious entrenchment in the moment. I want their rightness, their togetherness, the way they seem to easily expand to fit the containers of their life. I want it so heavily it births a sick little storm in the pit of my stomach. One of the men is taller than my tallest ex-boyfriend and built with the slick precision of someone who charts their exercises down to the last rep. His Lakers jersey manages to hang off him without looking artless. The other guy is shorter, thicker, looks a little like someone you’d cast as the cute nerd sidekick in a big-hearted comedy: earnest, roundfaced, potential possessor of one of those clean minds I marvel at so readily. Also potential sociopath. The never-knowing is what gets me, if I’m being honest. The gaping idiocy of trusting anyone: I do want it, what they have, but I don’t want it enough to go out and risk it. They pass the ball between them, blue-and-red in the gleaming dirty dusk.

I ask my confidant: “Just to confirm, this isn’t about your kink, right? Or murder?”

The pause lasts a little longer than I’d prefer, but the breathing tells me he’s still there. Maybe he’d been about to reveal some cannibalism fetish in direct violation of my rules, some needlessly gruesome tidbit of information that I’d rather not have learned. One of my least favorite posts on Shout was a description of why Nike Decades were worth seven thousand dollars on resale sites: because, when Heaven’s Gate had completed their mass suicide, the corpses were all wearing them, freshly-unboxed with those bright white unmarred soles. Nike had pulled the product immediately when the photos came out, and now you could cover three months’ rent, even in Brentwood, by selling a pair on eBay.

Finally he tells me what he learned today. It’s exactly the kind of information I need: nothing threatening, nothing gut-wrenching, nothing to do with bodily fluids or dismal, lizard-brained compulsions to stab and duct-tape and eviscerate. It turns out that, once upon a time, William Tunstall-Pedoe, a British programmer, fed a computer program over 300 million facts about people, places, and events that have made the news since 1900. Using its mysterious algorithms, the computer calculated the most boring day ever: a day where no major significant events took place. April 11, 1954.

It’s a nice few minutes. We aren’t super close to joy or anything, but we aren’t sulking around down melancholy, either; we’re just talking about April 11, 1954. A bland, unseasoned kind of a day; a day you could aspire to move into and buy up nice, placid, beige-coated real estate. “Though I suppose,” he says, “even if it was like generally boring, it wasn’t boring for a lot of individual people. Like people who had family members die on that day. Or people who found out their wife was pregnant with another guy’s baby on that day. Or people who lost a limb in a car accident. Or people who had a baby and now that day is the baby’s—”

I leave the phone booth feeling kind of bad for hanging up on him. But I had said, hadn’t I? No sex, no death. No complaining. None of that messy human bullshit. I stand in the shadows for a second, sizing up the men on the court. If I look creepy I don’t care; plus, I probably don’t, I probably just look pathetic, what with my detergent-bleached athleisure, my unbrushed hair, my troubled posture. The short guy is obviously the better player. His movements are oiled with the grace that only comes from practice; his heft travels surprisingly smooth across the court, evening him out a little bit. He makes four three-pointers in a row as the dark firms up around us and the courtside lights blink on.

Devon, whose generation’s mission is destigmatization, keeps me up to date on her mental health. She has active prescriptions for Wellbutrin (for depression, but also for the very kind side-effect of eliminating her appetite almost entirely), Ambien (for her chronic insomnia, which is only really bad on school nights and then also sometimes during the summer when she’s worried that her boyfriend’s cheating on her even though she knows how childish that makes her sound and obviously she will probably try polyamory at some point). Xanax as needed. She keeps all her pills in her medicine cabinet, has alarms on her phone confirming dosage and timing; she converses with ease and enthusiasm about serotonin, cognitive behavioral therapy, and obsessive compulsions.

I envy Devon. When, in the dismal and low-lit years preceding my first major psychic collapse, it was suggested to my parents that I might try medication, you would have thought the good doctor had hoisted a hip-slung revolver and shot my mother through the heart. No daughter of hers would be diagnosed with mental illness, not when everyone with a free-thinking brain in their skull knew how all that so-called therapy and psychiatric medication was just money-grubbing bullshit by Big Pharma, a gigantic pyramid scheme designed to stoke narcissism, wallowing and a relentless, inexcusable thinning of the skin. And after the thinning of the skin, of course, came progressive political theories. Better, my mother figured, to avoid it altogether. Tighten up. Toughen up. Never let them see you cry, especially when you have a mood disorder that overactivates your tear ducts, I mean really, Georgia, grow up, there’s no call for sentimentality past a certain age and I recommend you bite your tongue, pinch the soft skin on your inner wrist, clench your jaw hard as you can because, although you must of course be feminine in your presentation, your dress and grooming, you must never succumb to the garish, embarrassing displays that are the downside of the female brain; no one likes a woman who weeps. It’s so glumly predictable.

So I took nothing and spoke to no one; I practiced the techniques my mother had shown me, the ones where your nail polish is always fresh and never chipped, the one where your highlights never get the chance to sulk into the shameful revelation of their dirty brown roots. It worked for a while, until the nail techs refused to continue seeing me on hygienic grounds: that was during a bad, wildfire-heavy fall, when I was briefly unemployed and chewing my nails in a gross, incessant loop until they bled; until the salon stopped serving me free champagne after one little incident in which I’d pre-gamed the four-hour bleaching appointment, and then stopped taking my calls altogether.

I stuck with the final technique until the end: how to be thin. My mother, displaying a commitment to cataloguing, organizing, and statistics that was reflected exactly nowhere else in her life, obsessively tracked her caloric intake on a succession of legal pads which she refused to ever throw out. Being a child raised, thankfully for the most part, by screens, I counted calories on an app. The app rewarded me each day my calorie count was lower than the goal I had set for myself. I was rewarded with little golden coins, showering across my screen in a rush of glint that felt like applause; I could trade the coins for a special tea that promised to help debloat my stomach, or, if I saved them up, for a consultation with a personal trainer, or, if I really saved them up, for liposuction. When the tea came, in a glossy pink box covered in hashtags and smelling like dirt, I drank it for three days and then left it in the back of my cabinet. But I kept accumulating coins. I had over sixteen thousand of them before they made me stop counting in Inpatient.

Devon’s current Adderall fast is unwanted and inconvenient; not having yet received a prescription herself, she had been sourcing from her boyfriend for the past four months. Tarik’s dad is a psychiatrist and believes religiously in better living through chemistry, and Tarik had been on twenty milligrams since fifth grade and didn’t mind sharing. And it had all been going great until he ghosted her yesterday for Sabrina, who he only liked because she was going viral on TikTok for pretending not to know how to pronounce the word “camouflage” while wearing a silk-and-sequin camouflage tracksuit which admittedly was gorgeous and was only one of ten ever made by the sizzling-hot designer with a fake name I immediately forgot but honestly didn’t look that good on Sabrina because of her tragically flat ass. But honestly. Devon didn’t even care that much.

First of all, the Tarik thing was always going to be temporary; they’d both be going to college in a few months, and she doubted he was going to be able to get into the same schools as her, no matter how much his daddy wanted him to retrace his plodding, workhorse footsteps into the medical field. Tarik was, if Devon was really being honest with me, kind of a simp, and had just proven it incontrovertibly with this latest move. Second, okay, Sabrina had gotten famous, yes, but it was that dumb quick fame that would rise and burst like a party balloon, and plus, pathetically, she’d gotten famous for literally pretending to be stupid to make a guy like her more, which was just about the most antifeminist and cheap type of pathway one could take to the eaves of fame. Mainly Devon seemed focused on the inevitable ephemerality of Sabrina’s reverberation across social media. “Everyone gets their fifteen minutes,” I said
unhelpfully, thinking of the Warhol in the guest bathroom, of Mick Jagger scowling down at a succession of richly-clothed Beverly Hills partygoers as they went about the daily, endless process of eliminating waste. She gave me that the fuck? look again, but pretty nicely, with a smile.

Three seventy-five-dollar billable hours and ten excruciating college-essay sentences later, at home, before checking Shout I continue my quest for Dorothea Espinoza paintings. I find one listed on Sotheby’s for six million. Not knowing the trajectory of Dorothea’s work, whether the widening abnormalities in her field of vision had begun puckering the fabric of her pieces more or less frequently as her portfolio thickened, I can’t be sure of its position in the order of Things Made by Dorothea Espinoza. It could just as easily be juvenilia as magnum opus. It is certainly overtly weirder than the ones in Devon’s family’s dining room. The six million dollar painting is a sort of distant survey of our snug and familiar solar system, with the predictable line of planets and moons, accompanied by one new addition. Hovering somewhere in between Earth and Mars is a sort of planet-sized volcanic appendage, unmistakably a penis but painted in a loud mixture of violet and chartreuse.

The dick-volcano, which is wrapped with a glistening web of very small and tightly braided centipede-like insects, is spewing out an ash cloud whose far reaches threaten to engulf the vulnerable atmospheres of its neighboring planets, most pressingly Earth. The painting is called “The Birth of Hephaestus.” Accompanying it on the website is a slab of text that says:

Hephaestus was the Roman god of fire, blacksmiths, and volcanoes. This representative example of Espinoza’s larger aesthetic vision perpetuates the artist’s theme of interrogating the validity of sexual power dynamics within the framework of a neutral and amoral universe.

The air outside my window remains hot, a little golden, and the dust on my
freshly-cleaned windowsill is beginning to accumulate again in its slow, patient, inexorable way.

I consider walking to the Chevron for a tall can of light beer, or a Red Bull, or a lottery ticket. I consider what I would do if I won the lottery, or hit it big on a negligence suit in exchange for the use of a couple of my limbs: what could I make happen with, say, ten million dollars? I decide I would probably spend six million on the painting. I’d still have four million left. It would be enough for a while.

Stephanie A. Pushaw writes fiction and essays. Her work appears in Narrative, The Master’s Review, DIAGRAM, Mississippi Review, and Joyland, among others. Originally from Los Angeles, she has also lived in Scotland, Montana, Australia, and New Orleans. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. Now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Houston, Pushaw currently lives in Galveston, Texas.

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