“Still doing okay, miss?”
Pizza Pie nodded and forced a toothless, polite smile. Did it look like she was stealing products? Was standing in the skincare aisle this long drawing attention to her skin? Was she the only one who wished for veils to be culturally normative? Was that insensitive to think? She would wear a ski mask, but it would surely make her look suspicious and would probably irritate her skin even more.
In all honesty, she didn’t trust any of these products in front of her or believe any of them would do anything to her skin. She was, however, a firm believer in the power of placebo. What did pizza-skinned people do in like prehistoric times? Were ancestral pizza-skins just unconcerned with what they looked like? They probably didn’t even have mirrors, she realized. But surely they knew. Surely they could feel that their waxy cheese skin was different?
Though he detested all the impressionists, Garot had a special hatred for Claude Monet. “Monet’s sluggish rivers and lifeless flowers represent the extent of man’s capacity for cowardice and mediocrity,” Garot wrote in an unpublished 1909 essay. For years, he sent long letters to Monet, demanding that the older artist stop painting; Monet never responded. On July 10, 1910, Garot boarded a train to Giverny with a loaded gun, intending to kill Monet. The gun, however, went off in Garot’s pocket, wounding him in the thigh. Garot refused treatment; the wound became infected, and he died on July 18.
A gang of us used to hang downtown by the old fountain whenever the city actually bothered to turn the water on.
The fountain had been there long before any of us had bothered to exist. A three-tiered urn sat in the middle, decorated by pucker mouthed fish that spat ribbons of water into the air. Sculpted faces surrounded the earthen colored rim, little horned men with eternally fixed grins.
We pilfered loose change from the rusty depths. A nearby vending machine kept us fed. I was forbidden to have sugar at home, but the fountain was a lawless place.
When we weren’t throwing rocks at the abandoned green house, we took pleasure in harassing the foot traffic that filed endlessly in and out of the Public Works building across the street.
Sometimes a security guard would try to chase us off, threatening to arrest us for loitering. But we knew the alleyways and the back streets. Evading the overweight, middle-aged man in his sweat-stained white uniform was never a problem.
Winded, the guard bent at his bloated ponch, hands gripping knees.
‘Don’t—let me catch—you little—pricks.’
As if he ever could. The young are quick. The law is slow. We didn’t need school to figure that much out.
Whereas a writer once wolfed the news through a mask of their own tenuous citizenship, shaking hands with the catering (readerships either mostly gone or barely present), transposing their vague sense of revolt at being born over a byline or two so the page might be mistaken for something human (salt through a premature gill), muckrakers (meaning ninety-nine percent of journalists / propagandists swaddling the public since moveable type existed) have successfully reduced the language to a torporific quelling via whichever political dither inspires frowns. While the celestial debris above this planet sits heavier with our clickbait, anyone arty has had to marry their scraps (fair enough), yet, those with the savvy to pedal through the squall and into some just promotion, are now, it seems, using their leashes to masturbate too vociferously. One assumed a social crutch of left wing bric-a-brac-met-with-journalistic-knowhow had been fairly accountably stamped in place since, perhaps, the civil rights era, allowing a vague, ultimately unnecessary, quarter of a muse to back one’s reaction against the system (as the impetus to versify, long ago, involved any ratio of genitalia). Free speech can demand a lethal amount of alimony from her go-between exes (execs), and deploy it, right genital or left, to stomp out art. Those pundits who profit under the guise of literature are easier to diagnose than ever before. The only reason that responsibility has fallen to commenting trolls (and mentally ill poets, as bad as the truths we inadvertently correct) is because the internet is a real career-ender if any uncouth sentiment gets saddled with your name. Asocial libertinage is no longer a property of the left, if it ever was. The right has no use for niche kinks because money is not a factor. Politics cousins its light-hearted countercultures, swapping ass-cheeks twice a century: the old villain of the religious right went over to the new inverse of the same moralist hysteria (Jerry Springer’s audience stumbled through the hive to take charge of Twitter, a democracy on stilts) camouflaged as the (politically correct? buzzword offense takers) left, and the censorship became somehow worse, an amorphous void that can judo all your defenses into a populist bracket of privilege versus victimology so complicated it makes you miss the unintentional advertising of: “this godless book, this evil satanic filth!” My adult undergarments are curiously alight anticipating the body of Baudelaire’s work being condensed into an emoji (stand the pyramids on their point; may future archeologists spit on our hieroglyphics (how do you black pill someone who already used their prescription to overdose?) – no worries, any immoral or nefarious supposition will be considered as passé in a hundred years as the metered line is now). Good thing I squat all day in a subterraneous ectoplasm of my shortcomings on playback, because, concerning this soon (hopefully) forgotten generation (of which I almost partake): I aim to effectuate the meanest and most sublime revenge against the contemporary crossing guards of lit, figurehead whistleblowers to their own bloat, one and all, for reasons both psychotically personal, and intending to certainly not save my expired darling (the spectral and delicate Madame Artasia McAestheticia), but to provide a gnarled tunnel for the six or so of us who miss her dearly, a dumbwaiter to the casket we all envy and belong within.
We buy double-journey tickets and scan them at the gates, beginning our descent under Moscow. The escalator runs for what feels like a hundred metres down, affording a survey of droves of Russians rising to the street. We plunge down past huge light bulbs, cell-phone ads, people going up: smoking-hot blondes with Louis Vuitton bags, frumpy matrons with quaint hairdos, military, a Tatar family, a man and his screaming kid.
I grip the steel railing as the doors shut on the lime-green eastbound line. The dirty grey car screeches to full throttle, goes faster, faster, almost whistling like a kettle, runs obscenely, hellishly fast, the sparking metal wheels overclocked, slaved to their mechanical limit. A Tatar girl smiles at me and looks away, again and again, as the train jolts and slows, gliding to a halt at Сре́тенский Бульва́р. I’m imagining this scene twenty years back, or maybe this train car exists in a multiverse. We almost forget to change to the blue line, but we switch and ride to Партизанская.
Back at the surface, a beige shepherd dog lies by a war-torn man with one eye and a cart of bottles and magazines. Chad winks at me. Yesterday at the Armoury we discussed whether the Westernization of Russia would strip its women’s femininity. Whether lining up is anathema to Eurasian culture. I don’t know if I can stand four hours on the train with him. It kills me, I’m realizing, how such a knob gets slobbered with so much attention.