smudge by Taylor Lewandowski
They knew without saying a word. It’d be like every other night. Layla wiped the bar top, rearranged the plastic cups, tidied up the register. The security guard, Ron, leaned at the far end of the bar. He stared at the empty dance floor. Its shiny concrete floor resembled his shiny, tattooed skull. He thought about dinner with his partner. Ron asked if they could arrange a threesome with a boy named Venus. The lights in the restaurant were so dim Ron had trouble reading the menu. He chugged his water. The partner didn’t respond. He’d just bought a Fender Mustang; he wanted to be Kurt Cobain. He imagined sculpting noise, smashing his guitar, and descending into the audience to make out with Ron. Sweat running down his back. Other men watching. “Yeah, maybe,” he said.
Two brothers carrying equipment entered the venue. They looked like twins, decked in black. They exuded no emotion. On their Uber drive, they talked about a friend’s heroin addiction. One of them said, “Let him rot,” while the other asked, “Why did I send him so much money?” They watched his Instagram stories. His pale face smiling in a casino. A woman next to him caressing his cheek and holding an empty glass.
They mounted the stage and unlocked the CDJs.
Layla’s barback, Rylie, showed up late pissed off. They had a stain across their Nine Inch Nails t-shirt. They immediately entered the back room. As they dug for an extra shirt in their cubby hole of random shit, they felt Déjà vu, as if this moment, the lighting, the poor-sized room, the last hour driving, the shitty friend criticizing their decision to fuck Miles, an aspiring make-up artist who lived in their building, all happened before in a dream or another lifetime. Fucking weird, they thought.
Ron wanted to see Venus, even though last weekend he yelled in Ron’s ear, “I know more than you know. I’ve climbed the towers of knowledge and plucked the eternal from its peak.” Ron knew Venus consumed ungodly amounts of psychedelics, especially on his nights at the club. Ron didn’t mind. He liked the smell of his breath, the tone of his voice, the slight touch of his shoulder.
Bodies spilled into the room, one by one. They first bought their drinks and departed around the shadows of the club. Red lights swirled over the first DJ, a local who played hyperpop and high-tempo house tracks. Most of the crowd leaned against the wall, shouted an observation in a friend’s ear, or criticized the DJ, who most considered mediocre, and sipped down their drink.
Layla spun around the bar, grabbing credit cards, pouring drinks, entering a state she’d often describe at parties as The Drain. Time slipped. Surroundings blurred. People became a never-ending line of requests, demands, needs. Music played, but none of it registered. She heard conversational fragments: “Who hasn’t seen Luc’s dick? I’ve seen it. Everyone’s seen it,” “Have you ever listened to Current 93?”, “I know he’s possessed,” “Miley’s art is all about self-loathing.”
Later that night, Layla would smoke a cigarette behind the building and wonder about her father, an alcoholic genius who once worked at NASA, but now lived in a trailer in Pensacola. She’d loath the fact he called her that morning, unloading his concerns over his recent girlfriend’s breast implants and abruptly hung up. She’d finally block his number and type in her notes app, “No more daddy issues.”
The person who mentioned Luc’s dick grabbed her drink and looked around the dancefloor. She tried to locate him among the patches of people moving in a lazy sway. Brooklyn thought it odd all of them were white boys with military haircuts and tight leather jackets. She thought of their grandfather who often dragged them to busted-up-DIY clubs on the south side where she’d listen to old men flip records in unbelievable mixes so loud your ears would be ringing days after—far different than this lifeless club. Brooklyn’s grandfather consistently bemoaned the present as a glimmer of the real thing. He talked about Frankie Knuckles and clubs long gone. Brooklyn found Luc exiting the restroom.
Ron watched the drug dealer he’d been watching for weeks slump through the venue, casually crossing with his sellers in quick exchanges and restroom rendezvous. He looked like a loser from the suburbs—an ignorant bro trying his best to find security in the empty desire of a flood of phone calls and frantic I-love-yous. The owner told him recently to discreetly dispose of any “business-jeopardizing entities” from his establishment. Ron loathed the owner’s bogus relaxed demeanor, especially since he knew his father was the CEO of some homophobic chain.
As the floor began to fill, Ron walked upstairs to his primary position on a special cat walk around the top of the dancefloor where he could spy the unusual paths of drug-addled twenty-somethings and self-centered morons. Ron thought of himself as a guardian of the peace. He watched the usuals enter and recognized the feeling of security return, as if these people every Saturday night, witnessing their familiar faces, created a religious tint to the evening—a sort of bond between observer and participant.
Rylie moved with Layla and tried their best to predict their every need, but they were not in The Drain. They thought about Miles and the fact he hadn’t replied to their text, which was a pic of Crispin Glover in River’s Edge they screenshot off Google Images. He looked just like Miles. They thought it was funny and hot and waited for his response. The previous night they drank Four Lokos and watched Willard. Miles loved it. They couldn’t believe it. They wished more guys were like Miles, but it was difficult to find a nice guy who looked like a serial killer.
Rylie walked around the corner of the bar and took out their phone. No message. They sent another mentioning an upcoming horror con. They thought it’d be cute if they went together. Rylie fantasized what to wear, possibly a sexy Victorian bride and Miles a pale-faced slasher. Blood splattered across his face.
“Rylie,” yelled Layla. “We need more ice!”
They returned to the bar and grabbed the ice bucket and thought about Miles’ terrible body odor. Their own awkward body wedged below his. The birthmark on his breast and the faint smell of his all-in-one shampoo. In his bedroom, which was exactly below their own, Rylie imagined he was a relative of Crispin Glover, and told him, “Please, do not stop.”
Brooklyn tracked Luc on the dancefloor. She watched him holding another guy with a septum piercing close to his chest. Brooklyn tried her best to grasp reality. She didn’t want to drink too much. She didn’t want to black out. She chugged her drink and dropped the plastic cup on the ground. She checked her phone. She couldn’t believe it’d been two hours since their arrival. She closed her eyes and imagined a framed suburban house shrouded in mist. She opened her eyes and pushed ahead. The dancefloor existed outside of time. She wanted Luc. She wanted to be the man he held so close.
Ron watched Venus enter the dancefloor. He joined the mass of people. Ron needed to descend. He needed to talk to Venus. He watched his every move. His head cocked back. His arms lifeless. His legs obscured.
Venus recognized several people around him, but he focused beyond the light. The brothers were on the stage, moving in sync. A young boy convulsed. Another shook her head in a blur. Venus thought about Bradford Cox of Deerhunter. When he was sixteen he hugged him in a small Christian college. Venus closed his eyes and felt the entirety of his self vanish. He did not want to think about Bradford Cox, but his tall body appeared. His pale face and bowl cut. Bradford told him about a panic attack in an airplane. It felt like an agonizing crush in high school. He threw up in the restroom. His heart rate accelerated. The next day, a doctor found a piece of lead painting in the back of his throat. He’d been touring plantations in Georgia and must’ve inhaled. It was unbelievable. Afterwards, Venus drove his friends back through unprecedented fog. Venus tried his best to focus on the road.
Venus opened his eyes. He didn’t feel the need to disappear. He didn’t think about death. He kept dancing. He felt close to his body. He pictured for a fraction of a second the entirety of every person morphed into one. Brooklyn morphed into him, Luc morphed into Ezra, Rylie morphed into Layla, all of the bodies in one complete flesh. Language. Gender. Biological makeup of bones, fingernails, toes, teeth, hair, the venue designed by a graduate student, its prior American Legion dive and swamp land navigated by the Miami people, all of it leveled and resurrected into an idea beyond 3D, where nothing had a name, nor a breath, but existed simultaneously.
Venus looked for Ron. He wanted to be with Ron. He needed to talk to Ron. He turned his back on the stage and squeezed through the intoxicated crowd. A man pushed him aside. He nearly fell. He gained his footing and continued against the bodies, edging closer and closer to Ron high above.
Taylor Lewandowski is an educator and writer from Indianapolis, Indiana. He has written for Bookforum, Forever Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, ergot press, and The Gay & Lesbian Review, among other publications. He’s opening up a bookstore, Dream Palace Books & Coffee, this summer in Indianapolis.