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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Yash Seyedbagheri (Read author interview) August 30, 2021

Photograph by Yuyeung Lau

We awaken to the whirl of hangovers and dump trucks on Mondays, detritus being carried and crushed. The possibility of different weeks, of maybe being able to add instead of subtract when we lay out budgets on cheap beer-stained notebook paper in tired scrawl. Maybe one of us will get a good roofing job, a good crowd at the lodge and the Dirty Flame Bar in town. Maybe, in our more fantastic moments, some talent scout will discover our long-buried piano talents, when we could play Glenn Miller standards and Tchaikovsky waltzes, and some Patsy Cline in between. We take to the showers because showers are a clean slate, a chance to drift, a moment to ourselves, before we step out into the expanse of dirt and country road, our porches a little lopsided, ravaged by time, by one thing following another, but still, something our own. Off we go, our hands prepped to build, to construct, to destruct half the time, another home or barn falling, another space being cleared, another classroom half-empty, arms gesticulating into empty spaces, whiteboards marked with ghosts of puerile penises past in black permanent marker, a distraction from the causes and effects of revolutions, limiting reagents, and the use of humor in A Confederacy of Dunces.

The beer truck rumbles up to the lodge with its A-frame and cobalt blue roof and the Dirty Flame on Wednesdays, a pink and purple abomination we love. Always in the morning, it seems. Bud and Miller logos are emblazoned on the sides of the trucks half the time, but the Fat Tire people come up too with their red-and-blue labels and promises of real amber ale. The trucks carry the possibility of nights at the Flame, beside the jukebox, that one night we’re released from homes down country roads that curve and end, that the forest eats up. They unload the possibility of swaying bodies and words slurred, shame left behind for once. Fantasy is drawn from its place in the closet and dolled up. We discuss the what-ifs of our lives around pink and purple jukeboxes and pool tables with hints of puke without being called too sentimental, exchanges of things that might have been. Self-made businessmen, TV show hosts, even kings on occasion. We pontificate, gesticulate, and occasionally puke until the night darkens and the stars stab and poke at us, telling us of the coming mornings, and we slink into our vehicles, exhaust sputtering up country roads that aren’t long enough for once. We tumble into bed and relish that tenuous space, the firmness of mattresses, the tenderness of sheets.

Discounts at the local market on Thursday. A chance for us to listen to the oldies rising from hidden PA speakers, Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Platters. We meander about the aisles, picking up and putting back things we cannot have. Tilapia, coconut shrimp, even lobster of all things. Of course, we settle for Michelina’s TV dinners, Lays potato chips, onions, Vienna sausages, an occasional steak, Diet-Pepsi, and of course Bud Light, although six-packs go too fast, and the buzz takes flight into a place beyond consciousness, beyond the cathedral pines and the spaces of living rooms with broken bookshelves and plastic tables. But still, there’s a little piece of something good, carrying those clinking bottles out of the store. Cans, not so much, aluminum things crushable, easily disposable, easily forgotten. But at least we’re stocked, loading and unloading, smiling as half-empty pantries fill again, dust banished to the margins. We order things not by health value, but by volume, giving our spaces a certain elegance. Our papers are full of subtraction signs, but not all the way full.

By Sunday, half the food’s gone, more papers are filled up with arresting minus signs and amounts and things we’ve forgotten and broken. Another pump broken, a toilet clogged, unseen things taunting. We drive to the dumpster, our Silverados and odd Subarus full of trash, bursting at seams, country on the radio two chords over and over. Dogs die, wives leave, someone loses, something that would be funny on Monday. The dumpster is piled high, a sociologist’s dream. Cat food, old mildew-ridden toilets and sinks, occasional Amazon packages, cracked buckets, Bud and Miller spill out, along with frayed jeans that cannot be patched, ripped shirts too, with almost nothing to catch them. Just another load tossed, another item released, another vehicle sputtering away, stalling, sputtering, another load dangling over the edge, but not falling, a load suspended between dumpster and earth.

About the Author

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program. His stories, “Soon,” “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.

About the Artist

Yuyeung Lau is a photographer from Guangdong, China.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two
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