SmokeLong Quarterly

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Concepts Like Brian

Story by Brooke Randel (Read author interview) June 17, 2019

Art by Lizzie Stardust

The neighbors are yelling about Brian again. Neighbor 2 told Brian what Neighbor 1 said. Neighbor 1 wants to know why Neighbor 2 would do such a thing. Neighbor 2: Whenever stuff like this happens something something something.

Here they go again. Another fight about Brian.

Dane and I have no Brian, but we have concepts like Brian. Concepts like Where is this going? and Can we talk about this? We like the type of Brians that aren’t Brians at all, but 60s-style game shows. We switch off who’s host.

Neighbor 2 has not spoken in a while. Neighbor 1 should be running out of words, or at least breath, but she’s going strong. Angry strong.

I want to call Dane, I have the urge to call him, but I don’t have anything new to say. I never do. Trouble is, he never has much to say either. We’re both too busy working ten-hour shifts in windowless labs. I miss him, I want to talk to him, but I hate our phone calls. They’re all the same. I don’t talk much, I listen; he talks. But he talks about nothing and I lose focus and he keeps going on about mundane things that happened that day and I uh-huh and he keeps going on about mundane things that happened that day and I listen and he keeps going on about mundane things that happened that day until I decide to play host and say, Where is this going?

Or he will be in a Mood and not want to talk, knowing what happens when he does all the talking. I’ll be in a Mood because there’s nothing new to say and I’ll say, There’s nothing new to say. I went to work, I worked, Hassan asked me to stay for another rotation, that’s it. And he’ll give me time to go on, but I won’t go on, so he’ll play host and say, Can we talk about this?

Neighbor 1 may have just thrown a shoe or small book against the wall. Neighbor 2’s voice is getting louder. Even though he told Brian what Neighbor 1 said at the bar, I am rooting for him. Neighbor 2 never wins.

I still want to call Dane, despite the time difference, despite knowing how the call will go. As soon as I call, I won’t want to have called, but not doing so only makes me want to call more. It’s confusing. I wonder if I am making it more complicated than it needs to be, so I pick up the phone. I call.

Hey Dane.

Hi. What’s going on?



Just listen to this.

I press the phone to the wall so he can hear Neighbor 1 and 2 go off about Brian.

Do you hear the yelling? I whisper.

Not really.

I’ll put you on speaker.

I put him on speakerphone right as Neighbor 1 shouts, You can’t tell Brian these things! What is wrong with you? I’m not going to your mom’s wedding like this.

Who’s Brian? Dane asks.

I don’t know. Who cares?

Neither one of us talks. We listen to my neighbors yell, about Brian, about the wedding, about who said what at the bar last night. It is the perfect phone call. It is activity as phone call: mutual observation, bonding. For once, it is not a story about a moment (you had to be there), but an actual moment, live, right now. We, the long distance couple, are laughing—together—at the short distance couple. Silly short distance couple! We are on the phone, but not talking about nothing, not having another conversation—dull, emotional, game show-like or otherwise.

Where is this going? Dane asks, ruining everything.

About the Author

Brooke Randel is a writer and copywriter in Chicago. Her fiction has been published in Fearsome Critters, Gigantic Sequins, LandLocked Magazine, Two Cities Review and Ropes. She is currently co-writing a memoir with her grandma Golda Indig.

About the Artist

Fanny Cammaert is a digital artist living in Belgium. She adopted the stage name Lizzie Stardust as a member of the electro group Velvet Underwear. Since recording and touring with that group, she began working in visual media. Drawing on the kilim weaving that is part of her Ukrainian heritage, her art explores the interplay of digital patterns and electronic glitches. Thematically, her work brings digital infinity into connection with human emotions.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Four

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