gary joshua garrison
we all look alike
When we lost him we rendezvoused in the parking lot. Many of us leaving behind the good portion of a drink and feeling sorry for it. All of us drunk on something. Longing for the low thump of music and the warmth of the sweaty barroom.
This, back when I hardly knew anyone’s name. Except for Anna, who was our boss, short and soft and prettied by a long face and milk-skin that smelled like laundry and mashed peaches.
But they were all so pretty out there in the rain. All of these strangers with steaming cheeks and cigarettes, patting my back for no reason, or because I was the new guy, because I might have been the worst off, my body loose and lost, heavy like a child underwater.
From the parking lot, the bar was all neon signs and cars whining down Colfax. The rain summer-hot.
When we finally came together a girl opposite me took charge, terrified. He’s going to get killed, she said, He’s going to get run-the-fuck-over. She pushed her hands through her hair, the white and purple shock, pulling at it like mad.
He’s not a dog.
Fucks like one, someone else whispered.
What’s his name, again? I asked. I was trying to get to know everyone. Anna had called the night a work retreat—something about bonding—and picked me up at nine because we lived on the same side of town. And who are you?
They talked like this had happened before, like it was endless: the well drinks, the stall drugs, the hysterics and turquoise rain.
While we bickered with thick tongues the girl with her hands in her white and purple hair divided us up into pairs and sent us off down different streets, to the dark corners, to save her boyfriend.
He’s probably looking for food.
I saw him leave with the legs.
That vocal-fry sorority girl?
With the shooting star tattoo.
I bet their bones’ll clack when they fuck.
Dipshits, Anna said, slapping the back of a head, Quit rug-burning your dicks and help find him. She pushed the small of my back and we started down Park Ave. Far enough away she laughed, doubled over smiling, her palms against my ribs, fingers locked between the bones. What a disaster.
It wasn’t raining anymore, but my socks were soaked through and the whole city sparked up under the deep green of the post-storm. And I don’t know who reached first, but her hand felt warm in mine. And I felt happy, because she was prettied, with her long face and her small white teeth.
While she talked, told a story that made me laugh, I looked her over, looked to find some clue of age, or heart, or anything that could be mine. What I knew was to someone across the street we looked the same. What I knew was I could feel the post-storm in my bones, something electric, something humming out through the pores of my skin. What I knew was she felt it too.
What you need to understand is that Stacy is jealous, Anna said. I had forgotten what we were supposed to be doing, the whole absurd idea lost on me. We were just out for a walk, and doing it beautifully even, and I was feeling all the great parts of the memory already. She knows he left with some girl. It’s who he is, she said. From time to time.
Which one is he again? I asked and she laughed.
James, she said. The stick figure. She held out her hand, palm up, like you would to catch rain or an infant from a fire escape, and the hair on my arms stood up. We all look alike. But you’ll know us soon enough. And she turned, looked right into my face, and dropped her hand, just like that, her palm empty.
We talked a lot more after that, walking crooked down the street. She told me about the songs she wrote on her keyboard and I asked her to sing for me, but she said she didn’t sing like that. Not like you think. A different kind of song.
And we walked until it was later and the houses were darker and the trees were heavy, dripping leftover rain down our necks, until whenever I saw a garbage can I kicked it over, for no reason at all, and Anna would laugh and we would float for a few sweet seconds.
And because of all that, we never meant to find James, but we did, a half-world away, by happenstance, crawling out a third-story window, grabbing hold of a gutter. Truthfully, we were never really sure that it was him. Truthfully, it was just a man, naked and pale and boney, and the chest of a woman, her arms too, maybe. And the shouting. And a second later another man, larger, and dressed, and swearing, leaning out the window, grabbing at James’ hair.
I couldn’t make out the words, but Anna pushed herself against me and I realized that it had grown cold and that her body was remarkably warm.
Then the naked man fell—my heart with him—in that sickening sort of way, and the naked woman screamed, and the dressed man ducked back inside and everything went still after the slap.
And before we did anything, I reached over and felt the way Anna wasn’t breathing, pressed the palm of my whole hand against the bare skin of her heart.
Years later, we’re strangers again, married and not, divorced and not, opening another bottle of wine in her apartment and making quick, senseless love. With the lights off and the windows covered, the darkness is endless. She crawls from the bed to the radio, finds something soft beneath the static, something different than you think, and returns to me—her weight a ghost in the mattress—swells into my marrow, until our selves twin, until my hands are fumbling over the soft undersides of her skin searching for something, some warm pulse, that short heaven of my body in her grip. And at the threshold I reach up along the arc of her chest, that ghost above me, until I find the chords of her neck, the angles of her long face, and I feel her shift—all of her leaning, in that post-storm, into the still and quiet beyond the both of us.
Gary Joshua Garrison’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in or is forthcoming from Southwest Review, Gigantic Sequins, The McNeese Review, Word Riot, and The Adroit Journal. He lives in Tempe, Arizona, with his wife and two torpid cats.