In the car, coffee splashes down your wrist, so you rummage through Adrian’s glovebox for a napkin, then find his ninety-day supply of Percocet. You’re on the way to his brothers, were looking forward to his wife’s spaghetti. Now you ball the Dunkin’s napkin in your fist, your sleeve stained and soaked. You’ll say, “Who’s the fuck are these?” Narrowing your eyes at Adrian, rattling the bottle by his ear as he keeps driving, disaffected and dopey.
Adrian will be like, “Babe, relax.”
You might say: “You promised you were done with pills.”
When Adrian has nothing to say, fume into the napkin like it’s an oxygen mask, inhaling flakes of hardened jelly. “What’s wrong with you?” you’ll say, though it won’t make him flinch. When Adrian’s high, he’s Adrian, but he’s automated, buckled into that It’s a Small World ride where the animatronic dolls smile back, some evil man profiting off that technicolored sea of false nostalgia. Jerk the wheel. The car swerves scary-close to a BMW as it blows its horn and who cares—with Adrian driving, you’ll both die anyway. “Cut it out,” Adrian will say, but you can’t. Empty the pills into your palm then start hurling them at the windshield. A symphony of snaring pops, like when a truck’s tarp whips stray pebbles at the glass. It’ll only make Adrian laugh, cause’ you’re being such a cunt.
Who gave you all this anger?
Sometimes you fear what’s wrong with Adrian might just be what’s wrong with you. You’d never admit it, but on occasion, you get over-served, cross into darkness, and, according to Adrian’s morning report, morph into a monster with discount chardonnay breath. Crying with your head between your knees because Adrian doesn’t want to give you a family. Adrian claiming, he never said that; a valid point, but all you know to do’s ignore him and resume your raging.
What do you even want?
A new-build in some treeless subdivision that reeks of 401Ks and Jesus? Your last-resort husband in a church boy button-down, palming your belly for the obligatory photo-shoot? A plastic shine to your injected forehead, your eyes ringed with red-eye and terror?
It’s Adrian you want after all, every time. Ninth-grade dropout with an impressive, restless IQ, running his business from his car, closet, and coffee table. Counting twenties, cracking jokes, as fluent on his feet as a speedbag comic. Immune to some sucker’s lung-crushing nine-to-five, dodging consequences by the sheer force of his personality. When you first met, you couldn’t get enough of all that anarchy. His crooked canines, his cocky disregard. The way he could talk to anyone, except God. A skill you feel you’re missing. So prone to long pauses, to losing your train of thought.
In another life, you roll down the window and toss the bottle at the shoulder’s guard-rail, your heart hammer-twitching like when you try too hard to meditate. You thought you’d been reasonable, giving Adrian so much unsolicited head and freedom. Uppers you could tolerate; Adrian requires Adderall to reel in his ADHD vortexes, and who actually gets addicted to coke besides hillbillies and pricks on Wall Street?
So, stick your head out the window, feel the suicidal rush of the expressway, the white noise of cars cutting past. Think of all that velocity, how many times we could die but we don’t, switching lanes at top speed in machines made of metal and glass. With your tangled hair at the mercy of the wind, shout, “Let me out at the Speedway,” and Adrian will be like, “What?”
Your feet will hit the pavement before he comes to a full stop.
Gasp, “Sorry,” when you dash past the lady with the alopecia, angel wings chest tat, and Big Gulp. Consult the chardonnay between the High Life and Gatorade. You don’t recognize your reflection in the glass. How you could use the adrenaline Adrian puts in you, if only you knew where you were going. If your mom wasn’t dead, you’d call her, and she’d pick you up, no matter what. You’d talk till midnight in your childhood kitchen, divulging your fears: the limits of Adrian’s character, how he sort of reminds you of dad. How dumb your dreams are, you’ll never have a family. She’d say, “I’m your family,” then tuck you into clean sheets, but you’d feel even worse, like her baby.
So, check into the Travelodge and smack at the glass until the Cheetos fall from the slot. Watch the ice melt in the bucket in front of the muted, psychotic news. All you want is someone to belong to. Someone who belongs to you. So, you backtrack, thinking, maybe I’m heartless. Too exacting. Who do I think I am—some kind of prize? Try and fail to resist your phone, crushed by sleepless fits of loneliness. The impersonal hotel sheet will lighten, an eerie violet, birds cawing their mysterious politics.
At ten am, you’ll wake to a text from Adrian. Come home.
You could also just close the glovebox and do that thing to Adrian’s ear, looking at him like an indoctrinated teenager on a commune, the way the photographer captured at his brother’s wedding. It’s who you really are, in the end. Sick with love for Adrian. How this one time, at Home Depot, some nerd stuttered an apology after bumping into Adrian. He had a slat of wood on his shoulder and breezed past, squawking, “Get out of my way!” in the voice of your favorite reality show lunatic. The nerd blushed, caught off guard, then started laughing.
Without Adrian, who’d rip through all the monotony just for fun?
So, forget the pills and apply for a credit card. Rip open the mail, activate it, then take Adrian to lunch, pushing it across the table inside the overt womb that is the Cheesecake Factory. At over-priced delis, purchase three pounds of short ribs for recipes that call for one; throw away leftovers. Crouch in the cake batter aisle on Adrian’s birthday, losing whole hours, wrapping what cannot be wrapped, the collector’s item you ordered on a whim, a signed football.
At times, as a kid, your mom would resort to serving bread and butter for dinner. It didn’t stop her from shopping. Her killer eye trained on merchandise, scoring steals at Goodwill like used Docs in mint condition. How she skidded, wheeled the cart into the next aisle like it was Supermarket Sweep. Anything to make you happy. The more you look in the mirror the more you see her, tense and over-zealous, your frantic eye-contact the equivalent of a question.
So, pay for a room at a masculine hotel whose stained-glass greenhouse has been transported from a European children’s hospital. In a room that resembles a first-class parlor suite on the Titanic, chew Adrian’s mushrooms till it’s four am, till the two of you are just one hydraulic heart with a set of flapping lungs. Your sex like the choreography of a Missy Elliot video. With your ass in the air, your lips will be over here, on Saturn, and your hand will be over there, on Jupiter. You’ll think, how am I doing so much at once?
Come fall, you’ll be chopping a mountain of apples for a last-minute pie as Adrian emerges from the bedroom, his face drained of health. Smile in heavy make-up, feeling like a pill is stuck in your throat. Adrian will say it’s “the flu” …so knock over the counter medicines into the cart. Name brands. Store brands. Kleenex. Mentos. Six kinds of tea. An accordioned stretch of scratch-offs. In the winter, a snowboard. In the spring, tickets to Dave Attell. And when he comes home late, you’ll say, “Did you have fun?” You’ll say, “Sorry,” when he misses the trash and chucks a bottle cap past your head. And by summer, when he cuts himself on a grinder in the overgrown backyard, you’ll buy him Band-Aids of every size and shape as well as clear ones that look like giant patches, in case he wants to look at his wound.
If you’d had a real dad, he’d have taught you to swallow your fear when the bear comes. He’d have told you not to run—to back away slowly in the opposite direction, your escape route. But what if you can’t register a threat? What if you know the bear, and have been scared so many times that there’s nothing left to protect? So do what you do, pretend the bear’s not there, remaining perfectly still, letting it root around your tent as you play dead.
Put the bottle back where you found it, un-finding it, a covert Percocet on your tongue.
There’s a war going on inside you, but you feel just like a stroke victim.
And if you’re being perfectly, you spilled that coffee for a reason. That glove compartment was asking you to open it, the feeling like turning around when you sense someone behind you; that’s how you knew Adrian was on pills again. You warned him you’d leave him if he relapsed, but when it happens, just like you knew it would, you feel no pain.
So, let Adrian drive the drive he always drives to his brother’s, all the midcentury ranches, their dark, peaceful hedges reminiscent of the seventies, of a time when a man could kill a person and get away with it. No DNA or technological traces, and still, the world seemed safer.
Adrian will pull up to his brother’s, a life-sized Monopoly house with its overhanging eaves, its façades of natural stone. You’ll cross the driveway littered with crushed pastel chalk and the garage’s Velcro sneakers and rain boots. The kitchen will be warm from the stovetop and commotion, Adrian’s niece crashing into him, her smile a Hitler juice mustache. She’ll hang onto Adrian’s leg as he wades towards his sister-in-law, kissing her cheek while she stirs the spaghetti sauce. Adrian’s brother behind her, a coffee mug to his chest. Time freezing as Adrian beams, tossing his niece up into the air. Help with the breadbasket, line the placemats, sit down to eat. Above the table, ten feet high, a pale, despondent balloon clings to the skylight. From the skylight, the balloon seems to survey Adrian’s girlfriend. To the balloon, she looks diminutive. Her voice tinny, like a whisper.
Take the bowl when Adrian passes it.
Spoon out the sauce, it’ll taste like poison.
Shut up and eat the spaghetti.