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Short Story: Everything is Awful

Congratulations. You have nineteen people at your party and all of them are having a good time. It’s not every day or for that matter every decade, or to continue the matter, for some, never at all, that one gets to “warm” a house. You have stocked the fridge with layers of public opinion’s lowest common denominator, and your fiance has already thrice mispronounced “charcuterie.” All of the furniture in your living room will grow to become things you settle for in the ten years to come, and the idea that the thing will ever be truly finished is as ridiculous as it is evasive. An hour’s stretch of greeting and thanking and laughing has left you with a dull-humming temporal headache and a gnawing sense that it’s far too bright in here. You protect your new house keys like one protects the brittle head of a newborn baby, a thing to truly be protected, and there is nothing you prefer more than the sanctity of your new shower, the only part of the place you’ve masturbated in so far. When friends congratulate you on your new reality as a homeowner, things come rushing from within you that haven’t had the energy to do any rushing at all since you knew the cutting call of a prepubescent crush. Someone’s granite installed by a previous inhabitant has been scrubbed clean by your fiancé in fear of your fury, and now dust from salted nuts nearly drives you up walls you hope to one day paint anew.

The feeling is, at best, a hope that everyone likes the place and, at worst, a yearning for them to envy you. You hope they find a seat, one like the one you are in after much fussing about with the contents of the fridge hoping to force additional spaces open, and take in the crowd like bulls in a ring of white and polished stone, and see in stainless steel a reflection of what they still have yet to become. A flat, punitive hum of excellence murmurs within you. Before you, a casement window broadcasts the dim image of your fiance and his childhood chums, chumming it up over a folding table of cups, cans, and little white balls. Shit-talkers talking shit to one another like words were as cheap as the dying day's light. The dog’s prints are pressed into the abdomens of the clothes of everyone she’s met at the door, and she’s now tired and has retired to the spare room that’s function you’ve yet to agree on. This will lead to your first real, important fight, your first seismic, concerning fight of between-the-eyes truth. The face of your best friend is light and linear like soft-falling sun on an Appalachian evening, and her smile is the Sarasota of all smiles. But real estate is rich, and you’ve arrived first. Mark it down. You will never have what she has, truly, and you know this, but you know also that having first often counts just the same as having, and you’ve had the urge to tell her this all night. She is blonde and brilliantly built. You tug at your blouse just thinking about her. You tried your best to find reasons to forget to invite her, even considering canceling the thing altogether, but your blossoming spouse mentioned her specifically, causing a pang of something emotionally nasty that made you sweat all the more. Now, she is here, leaning, sipping wine from a glass that doesn’t even yet feel like it completely belongs to you. Behind her, a speaker built to be played inside tosses tunes that you don’t even necessarily like or even listen to but that you thought might please a crowd. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be nodding along. The people in the room are friends, this means they are, each of them, people who undoubtedly see you as a friend of immeasurable value and worth. You are kind and thoughtful. The kind of friend that is “there for you.” Your friendship is the type of friendship that rouses people to write letters to you to tell you how good of a friend you are. You celebrate successes, externally, and you seldom miss a birthday. As a friend, you fully satisfy.

You call the cattle home. Your instinct is to propose a toast and you raise a glass to obey it. The tribes of your tonsils pull hard at the things you are trying to say, and you tug once more at your blouse in embarrassment. Each eye in the room locks onto you including the ones of your best friend. The man you will marry stands next to the one you always thought you would, now two lads leaving their mid-20s on a path of broken dreams and neckbeards, beads of sweat hold tight to their foreheads as you try to hold some of your own from running down your leg. Boys and girls turned men and women, wearing mostly black, and beanies, and shirts brandishing simple Japanese. Friends turned family and foe. You stand before them an outnumbered fighter. You almost say all of the things you rehearsed.

“Thank you,” you conclude, “thank you all for coming.” They throw their glasses skyward like torch-bearers trying only to see into the night. Tomorrow will be for cleaning, and forever for scrubbing to the bone.

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