Everything is lucid and precarious. Faces form like footsteps across a trampoline. Please don't let it turn out to be that you're a creep.


by Stephen Van Dyck

I drive upwards, I trudge in white mud. We are in the middle of a vast expanse. He stands motionlessly in a yellow-orange haze with a blank white cloth fitting tightly around his waist and upper thighs. I wheeze and squint at him, leaning my head toward him and refocusing, because of the haze. He is nodding. My vertebrae pull a little farther apart so they can touch better. "It means we have fun and we touch," he laughs. Rotating my neck to lock my eyes with his, he blinks back, nodding. I look over and hunch more to study the patch of evaporating puddle twenty feet ahead. The asphalt is a thick rubber like the sort used in McDonald’s playgrounds beginning in the early 1990s. My fingernail catches between the edges of rubber and plastic. He stretches back, tugging the cloth’s drying glue, his skin now a flat orange, the wall speckled in black and yellow and increasingly green towards the corners. I get up to pour myself a cup of water.

If you’re going to ask me about inches, I’ll have to show you in miles. I say that to him. He removes a farm. "How about now?" He takes out two mountain ranges and a national park. "How about now?" He pushes a toe between two of mine. "I’m not interested in things you really mean." I pull my toe out.

He’s playing coy again, but who could blame him? The salt flat is soft and endless between two indistinguishable mountains, one of which we are walking down. He moves with his legs hitting the ground in quick succession, galloping down the steep path smirkily, less giggling and more of his typical Bratz doll expression, bouncing every eight feet, gliding over boulders, disintegrating, spraying widely into a dusty billow. A warm wind starts to pull through.

I know we’re always laughing for different reasons. Sometimes the distortion between them vibrates through the wind. I have to rethink my trust in him.

It’s interesting how we make things in assortments of colors so we can’t tell what’s really on them. A ladybug is red, and suddenly I’ll be terrified of Formica. The fjords are slippery, and we’ll be fighting over noses. A delicate film of metal hides us from exposure. We’re on our way to a museum now. All I do is wet my finger to clean fibers off a rusted crag. He moans while the bacteria are already tonguing the scrape. Some obese Lenin-era Russian-styled lady is naked and pushing her husband’s corpse in an oversized stroller through the bicycle lane. Her hair dyed red and in a beehive, her wrinkled face overly made up, she looks widely into my eyes and makes a licking gesture with her tongue, just trying to be funny and then walks by. I think it’s important to acknowledge others.

He opens the door and places his bare feet on the concrete. We’re at La Cienega and Wilshire, and he suggests we need to go somewhere for fresh air so he can breathe. We’re walking now, among the tall pastel boxes in varying degrees of robustness, some with crisp windows, others tattered and rotten. I’m in front of him, going down these giant metallic stairs, his hands resting on my shoulders, feeling my stepping through their tensing. The last stair at the bottom is so big, someone left a rope so we could rock-climb our ways down. Past ten-foot-high mouse holes there are dust balls that could form tornadoes. "I could be someone else here and neither of us would know it." Billy, Bobby, Buddy. I’m overanalyzing. I start reminiscing about smokestacks.

His hands clasp mine as they rise, which pulls my chest closer to his. The hills are rounded and rowed, folding into each other without creasing. He releases one of my hands, and then I twirl three times before he catches me. He sets me down onto my back and lands nearby me.

It is deeply dark, no stars, no blue light, no hum from branches. We are in public. He rips apart the vacuum-sealed sediment and takes out the crank-like pipe to match the gears together. He hands me a card and keeps one for himself, putting away the extra ones. "We’re looking for penises in the shapes of states." Something glimmers from an old hook in the ceiling panel, and my heartbeats grow speedy. We swerve and I fall into his shoulder. The joints in my hands are tired, and my bladder is approaching full. He doesn’t pay much attention to my bumping into him, expensive as it may be. "Ooh! There’s one in the shape of Oklahoma." We look down at the same time at our maps and he stamps his.

If he likes my type then he might like me. I don’t want someone only for "love"; I have a number of scenarios that could work. In the produce aisles, the apples are always polished. If we’re going to dance, I want to hear it. I want my value.

There are men of all sizes around me, each standing about a foot apart, their corners touching and different red and orange fogs mixing. A shiny torso appears, its head completely concealed by the fog, my eyes feeling swollen trying to focus on a blind spot. 6'2" 160 pounds. 20" screen. No hair, no pores. Lips, teeth and tongue in tact. "Pleasure to meet you." Do you believe in the asteroid belt? "I’m into it." The question is ignorable, what with so many people whispering around us. I don’t like his shoes, and I can tell he knows too much of noble gases. I grow anxious and hide my chisel. I drive back onto the road to find a freeway.

My hand feels along the gravel now. His arms are wrapped around my chest, his hands interlocked at my ribs, the weight of his abdomen on my pelvis, his feet skidding behind me as I crawl. "I wonder if we’ll find the Ambassador Hotel." I pout my lips and return my attention to reading the pebbles. "Why do we still chart out places?" he says. His chin looks cleft now, and his jaw is growing wider. "Almost everything is located in New Jersey anyway."

"Why do people lie to each other and say they’re over forty?" I’ve never known the point. Everyone died in the 1980s. "We are orphans." I shovel more dirt out and the tires are starting to show. The next time I see my grandmother I crawl around on a shelf in her linen closet, curling up in a ball. I give her a hard time; I tell her she’s a phony. She tells me it’s not her decision to be capable of acting.

I look at him, he looks at me. It is late afternoon. We’re watching Anna Nicole Smith’s dog running down a gravel path, ten seconds passing before each time its legs touch the ground. I’m reliving her life decisions minding that she was a Scorpio. We both hum, trying to match the timbres of each other’s voices. We don’t say anything, but we stop. Then we think about where the land has been and where it is going. First we’re chewing it up, then we’re secreting it, leaving small balls of grout. Now I’m concentrated on his spicy sweat blending with the tundra’s freezer-burnt scent. We stand in the shadow of the only cumulonimbus cloud.

The exit ramps are appearing at an accelerating speed, each offering me a different direction. All the wigs I could feasibly fit on my head at once, for a steal. Arms pushing shoulders off carousels. Jiggling breasts with chunks of fruit surgically installed in the middle. Green walls and yellow-green spaces. Olympic-size pools full of babies in synchrony. Grab bags of salmon-colored dough balls and bakelite cubes and fake pencils. Faster freeways and more exits. My own customizable city blocks. Lips you don’t kiss, eyes you don’t look back at. Yellow flickers and red shadows, blue fogs and yellow beams.

He and I are lying on a large flat grassy plain with small mammals and few obstructive trees. In the distance, there are majestic snow-capped peaks that contrast with the muggy noontime sun. "What about making a third person out of the two of us?" I remark. A woman in a shoulder-padded business suit appears, her lips very pointed and glasses sitting at the tip of her nose. She gives a list of names, favorite colors, genders and birthplaces. Then he says Connecticut is probably his favorite option from the last list, because someone else already wrote it in the blank, and it gives him the right feeling. "Let’s get lunch first," he says. The woman gives us complimentary beads and suggests meeting again at her parking space at the Crenshaw Wal-Mart, then takes off. We forget about her soon after.

If you’ve been talking to him, he’s not here right now because he’s been launched out the window and through the fog, catapulted beyond the San Gabriels, looking down over the same house repeating for miles on the other side. In a bed of oysters does the ugliest have the pearl, or is it the pearl? Maybe they all do collectively, or maybe he should stop looking for one. When he washes the deodorant off, he immediately goes and reapplies it. When the door is latched, I know not to bother checking if he’s in there. My sarsaparilla sarsed, my jawbreakers broken into half-moons. He’s indulgent and I wouldn’t be shy to watch him eat. The many planets and suns swell to dimness and hang low in crisp tones around our heads and I purr like a cat.

He wraps my arms over his shoulders like I’m sobbing on his neck or looking down his shirt. He walks backwards one step, turns at an angle, then takes the other. He grabs me from the forehead to push off of him, then as I descend he grabs my hands from above my head and flings me back up. I wind around so I end up facing away from him, my back against his chest. The creosote is crunched between my feet. The ringing noise from the animals is louder because we got closer. We start to ring too, until we’re all ringing a chord, and then the notes glissando into unison. We’re frowning about the coincidence because it was a coincidence.

Whenever I hear that song about "waiting on the world to change," I think about the San Andreas Fault and our viewing parties from the lookout point. Stucco crumbles so well, and we cheer and butt heads like it’s the Super Bowl. I massage the bottoms of my feet on viscous rock material to be polite.

He’s looking to be brought to that split-second moment between day and night. He’s looking for someone to relieve the embarrassment of his honesty for sharing that information to everyone. For this reason, he holds the cantaloupe in his arms when we walk to the check out, and he serves me some after I’ve brushed my teeth.

The spiny quills of dead sagebrush are stuck to my socks. From the canyon edge I can see a metal pole emerging from beneath the salt flat. This is hours before the sunset and its burnt plastic odor are both supposed to end. Now half the LA skyline has peered out, caked in nourishing dirt. The yellow fog also rises, smelling sweet of lemons and pine. I worry about getting a parking ticket for having left my car in there.

When he has important things to say, I am sitting in front of him cupping my ears and with my legs close together. When I’m more interested in the troposphere, I’m already blindfolded in an empty room. He is naked and I’m wearing a nylon jumpsuit. I’m grabbing on tightly to one or two penises in each hand, and with them he drags me around the room. Blue or yellow, any color or flavor, it doesn’t matter. After that we walk to a cafeteria to go fill our stomachs.

Driving through valleys toward the Hoover Dam, looking over the steering wheel I watch several people swinging on a body. I climb on. I can hear all of its memories as we go back and forth, rapidly spoken as if the audio was edited to remove pauses. Four miles southwest of Cal Nev Ari, Nevada, he’s massaging the nerve endings and prostate, unsure why neural systems and solar systems aren’t skeletal systems.