Julia likes to wrap her naked self in the plastic flowers of my shower curtain when we finish getting high. Marigolds dot her body like pox of sickness, one covering her mouth so I can’t see her tell me she doesn’t love me, can’t, won’t, refuses to, so don’t bother asking.
I put on some Queen, Freddie wailing in the speakers of an old Hi-Fi. The cassette catches, comes undone, and so I have to pull it out, pencil-wind the tape back to where it should be, pop it back in. Julia says I’m in a purgatorial state of pretension: not quite committing to vinyl, but not going modern either. She kicks my dog when he gets too close, then bends down so the marigolds are covering his eyes. Says she’s sorry. Kicks him again when he gets too close.
The partners I’ve had since Julia spell out Julia, like J U L I A, but then there was Amanda at the end, after Alexandra, so it ended up being J U L I A A, like I was an overzealous texter or something. I insist it was an accident, but Julia isn’t buying it. She wants to know if they came, if there were kinks involved, if I still talk to any of them. I tell her I’ll plead the fifth and boil us some tea. Earl grey, our favorite ever since Amélie. And what do you know? There’s another A name.
When my dog starts to growl, she picks him up and locks him in the shoe closet. I tell her I wish she wouldn’t do that. I’m always finding things I wish she wouldn’t do. When I say this, she drops the marigold curtain on the floor. Pulls me down on top of it, this manufactured garden. Freddie’s talking about the queen being fastidious and precise, and my buckle’s catching. I take this as a sign from the universe, but Julia takes it as a challenge. Always has.
You can almost hear the fuck whimpering to itself, going to its happy place. My dog barks, then whines, then pads at the shoe closet door. Julia finishes too-loud, quivering into the curtain. Freddie’s asking for someone to save him. My buckle doesn’t catch this time. Julia kicks me off the curtain with one bare foot and burrito-rolls herself up in it, tells me to come over and do the Spider-Man kiss. I know the one. I go to let my dog out of the shoe closet, but she zombie-grabs my ankle, pulls me into Spider-Man kiss position. I appease her: a peck, nothing more, then let my dog out.
It occurs to me I’m now at J U L I A A J. An image of a snarling alien creature with this name, purple fangs bared. Or is the spell broken? Has the hangman won, and we’re blank again? Freddie’s insisting that we are the champions of the world.
I rewind the tape while it’s playing: another old game of ours. Both of us chipmunk along with the voices. Julia stands, wraps the curtain around her like it’s Dracula’s cloak. She’s got another joint dangling from her lip, lights it as a reverse guitar solo blares. The cherry glows. Smoke rises up and leaves stains on the walls, near the ceiling, as if this is the world’s largest bathtub and we’re underwater together. She asks if I want any, but I say no. The tape stops rewinding. I press play. Freddie asks—pleads—is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Nicholas Olson earned his BA at Columbia College Chicago. He lives in North Carolina, where he’s writing a novel and wrangling a cat. His work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Literary Orphans, decomP, Corium, Thrice Fiction, Eunoia Review, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Oblong, Foliate Oak, Every Day Fiction, The Open End, and Flash Fiction Magazine.