In the evening, in the morning, in the afternoon and late in the sleepless nights—these long, feckless, stressed-out nights—there was the ghost of Old Roy C. Yes, skinny hound-dog-faced Roy would be looking back at him with somnolent eyes from a mirror, or from the reflection in glass or silver. Death had been no kinder to Roy than his later life. Sometimes his ludic visage looked as though it were coming apart with the force of its own smile. And what did Roy want? Fake liver cancer (to cover the AIDS) queen Roy? Nothing more than to torment his past client; naught but to advise. He wanted to tell him that he could not buy love or respect. He could purchase a venue and a stage set and a position, along with any number of actors to simulate all the salient points of love or respect. But, in the end, it would all come apart because it was merely simulation; he would only be fucking himself. What he ought to settle for, according to Roy, was a bucket of chicken straight from the colonel himself. 1,832 calories. It promised to be brilliant.
My friend Casey said to me once that if you work for someone other than yourself, you’re a prostitute. I can’t remember what exactly elicited the statement, just his face: dark brown eyes earnestly wide, no trace of a smile, irrefutable sobriety in his voice. An expression of innocent wisdom. I slip the mask down, over my head, and feel sweat trickle from my brow. The van is hot. Ninety-six degrees outside, and, even parked in the shade of a tree, who knows what triple digits inside. Naturally, the AC went out; how else would it have gone?—the four of us stinking up the upholstery, cloistered in this close, sticky, air, waiting, counting down for the show to begin. Out of the blue, Scotty says, “Fuck this shit,” from the back and I recall saying the same thing to my boss, Steve-o, at the Pizza Hut on Grand Street. Darla was doing her nails beside the cash register. Goddamned Steve. He’d told me to mop out the walk-in during this, our early afternoon doldrums, and when I’d finished, I stepped back into the tile egress between the kitchen and the front counter only to find Darla texting. Steve was nowhere to be seen—probably masturbating or doing whatever the hell he did while the door to his office was closed. Ergo, time to lean. Darla lifted her gaze from her phone. The look she gave me was of disinterested enmity as she started for the back of the store. Not long after, Steve-o was staring at me from behind his walrus mustache. He wanted to know what I was doing. Well, what was Darla doing? Darla isn’t the issue, he said. That’s when I said what I said.
“Fuck this shit? It’s a little fucking late!” Joel swivels toward Scotty. Joel’s someone you don’t want to mess with. He’s always talking about how he’s spent the last seven years in prison. Casey would’ve gotten along with him just fine; depending upon your charges, being inside was laudable. Being there meant you were fighting the good fight, that you were an insurgent. “An insurgent against what?” Capital, of course. Empire. When I first joined the collective, I was thinking of Casey, of Wobblies, of my friend’s amateur ex-pugilist grandfather who had reared him, a member of the steel workers’ union and a quiet socialist. Now Innis, the guy behind the wheel, says there’s no time for this shit. The collective is counting on us. Twenty-seven people including four children, squatting in a national park. Then there’s a split second of silence among us. A meadowlark twitters loudly somewhere at the edge of the Farmers’ Credit Union parking lot in this no-horse town. I don’t know what happened to Casey—we lost touch long before now, before my stint at the university, when I’d begun reading all the post-Marxists. And anarchists. And poststructuralists and Lacanian psychoanalysts; and every combination thereof. In that protracted birdsong quiescence, you wonder, as Joel pulls the pantyhose over his head and Scotty secures his bunny mask. You wonder and think a nothingness as you draw a round into your chamber and Innis quotes Althusser, saying “In the battle that is philosophy all the techniques of war including looting and camouflage, are permissible”; and you gloss over that part where good old Louis strangled his wife to death as the van’s doors open, and everyone who is not behind the wheel rushes across the parking lot.
John Kuligowski currently lives and writes somewhere in the Midwest. His work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies over the past decade, including Word Riot, Prick of the Spindle and Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind.