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Laura Palmer’s Bar and Grill

Story by Andrew F. Sullivan (Read author interview) June 22, 2015

Art by Alexander C. Kafka

A girl with a clear plastic bag over her head walks down the gravel shoulder of some rural highway. One heel is broken and her shirt is torn along the left shoulder seam. A roadhouse sign blinks in the distance, a sputtering beacon just asking to be snuffed out. Cell phones with shattered screens and melted batteries flicker in the ditches, flashing lost texts, old words. I love you. I miss you. Come home.

It begins to rain. The girl stumbles through a parking lot full of broken windshield glass. Inside, the bartender has not removed the electrical cord knotted tightly around her purple throat. Under red lights, a band staggers across a stage in the back corner. They slur and stomp their way through Crystals covers, stripping away Phil Spector’s lush excess, leaving behind some rough truth. The microphone is taped to the singer’s broken left hand.

And it felt like a kiss.

“You should sit down,” says the woman with a heavy puke stain down the front of her blouse. “No one really tells you at first, you know? How it is.”

The woman takes the girl’s hand. Her fingernails are perfect, but vomit clings to the rise and fall of her thin chest.

“I can show you, if you want. It’s not like things get any worse. Not really.”

The bartender nods as they slip back out the back door. The vomit woman leads the girl with a clear plastic bag over her head into the trees behind the roadhouse. Ragged plastic shopping bags linger in the branches above. The trees lead to the shoreline of a massive lake. Huddled shapes bob along in the gentle waves, following an unseen, persistent current. One black garbage bag washes ashore, splitting open to reveal long blonde hair, a red dress, a slit throat, a smile filled with capped teeth.

“Don’t touch her,” the vomit woman says. “We all have to walk the first part alone.”

More bags begin to wash ashore under the drizzling sky.

“I’m cold again,” the vomit woman says. “You need a drink. I need a drink.”

They follow the shambling procession through the trees, diverting up toward the roadhouse while the staggered bodies head toward the gravel shoulder. Phones twit and bleep from the underbrush, full of unanswered questions. Where are you? What happened? Call me back when you get this.

The back of the neon sign does not sputter. The girl with a clear plastic bag over her head follows the vomit woman down a rickety set of stairs into a basement. A blonde woman sits alone at a table in the back. She is draped in flowing, clear plastic sheets.

“They gave me my name,” Laura Palmer says. “They gave me a name, and so I built this.”

“Why?” The girl finally speaks.

“We all need somewhere to go,” Laura Palmer says. “After.”

Laura begins to peel off her plastic layers, begins to melt them over a candle, filling the room with smoke. She is done speaking. She is starting over again. The girl with a clear plastic bag over her head follows the vomit woman back up the stairs.

“Do we have to stay here?” the girl asks.

The vomit woman watches the women, the girls, the remainders dance with one another, watches them rattle off into each other in spirals, in lines, in perfect circles. “No one else will remember. We are here to remind each other. Maybe to stay a little longer,” she says. “Until it is easier to be like this.”

“To be like what?” but the words are drowned out as the broken-handed singer struts into the crowd under the red house lights, the lights that do their best to disguise handprints on throats, bruises on thighs, scars laced through flesh like old, invisible ink.

The girl with a clear plastic bag over her head stumbles backward toward the door, pushes it open into the cold drizzle, leaves a red and beating heart behind her in the roadhouse. She treads past the shattered phones still bleeping and pinging for an answer. Where are you? Who is he? Are you angry?

The girl kicks off her broken heels in the thick sand, surrounded by black garbage bags. She ventures out into the cold water, wading until it is lapping against her chest and then she goes under, begins swimming down through the dark. She swims until there is a square block of light. She swims until the light becomes an opening, swims into buzzing static at the bottom of the lake.

She wakes on a cold street. It is not a real street. The soundstage lights are too bright, the pavement too clean, too perfect, too gentle on her back. The bright yellow lights hurt her eyes, feel like they will melt the bag onto her face. Two men dressed as detectives in heavy coats step away from her for coffee, for small talk about ex-wives and alimony and the possibility of a second season. Their voices are drowned out by the clatter of scuttling PAs and crew members.

“That’s all for Victim #2, let’s wrap it up for the day.”

Someone finally pulls the clear plastic bag off her head, but the girl still can’t seem to breathe.

About the Author

Andrew F. Sullivan is the author of WASTE (forthcoming Dzanc Books, 2016) and the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP Books, 2013), a Globe & Mail Best Book. Sullivan no longer works in a warehouse.

About the Artist

Alexander C. Kafka is a journalist, photographer, and composer in Bethesda, Maryland. He created the cover image for Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems by Diann Blakely (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His work has also been published at All Things Fashion DC, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, Juked, Vice, The Washington Post, The Writing Disorder, and many other periodicals. He has been on the documentation team for the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo and is a contributing concert photographer for DMNDR. Kafka studied fine-art figure photography with Missy Loewe at the Washington School of Photography and portrait photography with Sora DeVore at Glen Echo Photoworks.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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