The doorknob exists… but only in some fog. I see it—and I know it is there—but the fog envelops it in its immutable shroud all the same. I feel like if I reach out to grasp it, that I’ll fall right through…
I forgot my phone.
“Fucking cunt fuck.”
I am me, and me is Penguin.
Penguin backtracks in a haste, stampeding through the rooms of his house searching for that damn phone. He should be gone—out that fucking driveway and on his way to work. Except, he keeps losing shit.
Can’t find my wallet, so I put my sunnies down to find them. When I DO find them, I can’t remember where my sunnies are… Why doesn’t he put them in his pocket?
Oh, that’s where I left my phone…
The car pulls away from the curb, shepherding a taciturn Penguin. The chorus’s hook blares from the radio speakers establishing and un-establishing itself in the present. The road proceeds forward just as it does every day: a constant, stable forever-girl.
Penguin knows that isn’t true; the road is as impermanent as he is. One day, like him, it will cease to be, but that thought can be buried along with all the others in the fog. To Penguin, the road is stability.
The same road everyday to the same work every way. The days meld together in one seamless wave, and the weeks repeat as if only Penguin feels their tides. He is stuck in some eventual riptide, the current carrying him back to his starting place again and again. Life on a treadmill: everything always returns to its beginning, only, in a different key.
Another day, another shift, another conversation. The notes come out flat.
Drink is poured.
Money is exchanged, as are blurred mumbles. Small talk with customers—regular people with regular orders. Drinks go in glasses, glasses go in hands. Money goes in hands. Hands go in the fog. Only fragments ever make contact through the density of that inoperable fog.
Last night, I sat on the couch and counted every off-white dot on the ceiling.
She’s crying—wailing at me, “Who are you? Why are you like this?”
There are twenty-seven.
Jazz stops by on her lunch break. She shakes her head—a mirthful shake that simply says ‘classic Penguin’.
“Did you forget [THAT THING]?” she asks.
Of course, I forgot. Why do you always ask when you know I’ll forget?
“Yeah, sorry. I got caught up.”
“When are you working next?” Jazz follows up.
A whisper of a frown creeps across Jazz’s face. She tries to go softly on Penn; he tries so hard.
“I need it before then… Can I swing by tonight and grab it? After work?”
There is a spider on the dash of Penguin’s car. It goes everywhere with him, travelling the roads as his stowaway companion. This spider has been to more places than most spiders could ever even dream of going. His name is Reginald.
How many hidden ecosystems thrive in the secret compartments of your car alone? Just another thought for the fog…
The day is now at its end, and Penguin is now home. There is noise emitting from the TV, but it only exists to fill the gap left by a colourless world. The world always seems dimmed at twilight, like someone came along with a syringe and drained it of all its luminosity.
“‘Sup? How was your shift?”
A shrug and a shake of the head from Penguin. “Pretty average. Some guy puked in the toilets… I pretended I didn’t see it though so Carol’ll have to clean it up tonight.”
Jazz laughs; she hates Carol. “Good. Fuck Carol.”
“Eh… she’s alright.”
“She’th a bisch.” The words roll off Jazz’s flapping tongue in a disjointed fashion, spitting slightly, as she licks a strip along her rollie and seals it. She holds it up, presenting it to Penguin. All that’s missing is the stick.
“Na… yeah… alright… cheers.”
“Guaranteed it’s not going to end well.”
“Probably not… What can ya do though? That’s Jake.”
Distant engines from hanger-on cars resonate through the air. Penguin steals a drag from the cig and feels that distinct flood of tranquil guilt.
“Where’s Lucy?” Jazz asks, plucking the ciggie from Penguin’s loose grip.
“At her’s tonight. Studying, I’m pretty sure.”
Jazz shrugs. “Right… What’s she studying?”
The brain is a gameshow wheel—a million muddy images spinning—subconscious memories and the memories of subconscious memories—all blurring through each other in rapid rotation.
“She wants to get into advertising,” Penguin says, eventually, when he remembers.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” Jazz grins, “She’d be good at that.” The grin then fades as quickly as it arrived. “She alright?”
“Huh? Yeah? I mean… What do you mean?”
“I dunno… You two just seemed kinda… different… when I was over the other night. A bit off…”
More images spin through; Penguin contemplates them and his response.
“I dunno—I guess. As alright as we can be, I suppose.”
Sleep falls upon Penguin.
A sleep heavy with the disappointing nature of those last two paragraphs.
A sleep that isn’t really sleep. A sleep laced with narcotic dreams—dreams that couldn’t really be called nightmares but are still bad all the same.
My mind operates the great big spinning wheel. The dream exists in the fog. Penguin watches it like a movie that isn’t really playing. Like feeling the wolf’s fangs rip shreds through your skin only to look down and find the wounds gushing syrup instead of blood. You understand there is pain, but it can’t penetrate the anaesthetic. The wound is there, and it is not.
Do you know you’re in a dream when you are there? Or do you only know once you’re awake?
Penguin finds himself in a room—in a dream, he supposes anyway. A room… or a series of rooms? Perhaps, they are corridors. It all bleeds together in a blended haze of dank lighting, murky walls, and shitty interior design choices.
He’s running from room to room with a dark, little girl by his side. He can’t tell if she is dark in complexion or from the morose lighting, but he knows her. At least, he knows he knows her in the dream.
He knows the girl; he knows she is broken. Her face is framed by cuts and bruises. He can fix her.
Penguin and the little girl are now taking a seat in a children’s group—a ring of chairs filled with more little girls in yet another ugly, shadowy room. Lucy’s mother coordinates the group. She is being a cunt to the little girl—saying that she should ‘just get over it’. Penguin and the girl take their leave, and the guilt washes him in its awful leaden paint: he feels older still.
The dream floats forward again. A kitchen now, as badly lit as everywhere else. The girl is now a teenager, and that means nothing. Time cannot have value in a world that isn’t real.
Lucy’s mother is cooking dinner.
“I’m so sorry,” she is saying, “I’m so sorry for treating her like that. I didn’t realise her condition.”
Lucy arrives, but it’s as some unappealing projection of the subconscious interpretation of the whole—her red hair gone, now blonde and straight. An arrow thin figure with full pouting lips. She is an attractive American woman, O.C. incarnate: utterly banal.
She’s so happy to see me… How long has it been? She kisses Penguin and embraces him. Penguin, Lucy, and the girl all share a bed now. The girl is older again; Blonde America is asleep and happy. The girl now looks more like Lucy than Lucy does. An identity-less Lucy.
Penguin rolls over to face her—the nameless Lucy. He senses her anger… Her disappointment. The overwhelming bitterness that only crushing loneliness can conceive. He opens his mouth, his words warped by the dream.
“I need you to stay. I can’t do this without you.”
What is ‘this’? Penguin doesn’t know, but there is arrogant certainty in his words. I am everything I despise.
Nameless Lucy moves towards Penguin, resolute. She rubs his cock—now semi-erect—through his pants. The dream isn’t over, nor is it now a sex dream. It’s silent, and it is loving. It says:
I want you. I need you too.
Penguin pushes her hand away.
“I can’t—not like that. Stay with me, by my side, as you are. Please. I need you too.”
He pleads. He’s pleading. She shakes her head.
“You can’t possibly ask me to do that.”
The dream doesn’t really end; they never really do. It just slips away, retreating to somewhere out of reach. There, it plays out, where you can’t see the credits roll.
When Penguin wakes, he feels more lost and hopeless than when he went to bed.
The day is refreshed—the world begins again. Every morning is like someone hitting the restart button. Each day gets compartmentalised for easier access only to be lost to the archives. Penguin gets up at noon.
He carries the dream with him into the new day; a biblical burden hunched across his shoulders, its unreal experiences bleeding into the fog of the waking hours. Coffee is made, and it is drunk. There is toast.
“I need you… Stay with me…”
Dirty laundry; dirty dishes. Nothing is ever clean, and when it is, it’s only so it can be dirty again.
“You can’t possibly…”
The silver pill tray is popped—one hundred mg… two hundred mg…
“…ask me to do that.”
These ones are shit; they’re uncoated and they get stuck in your throat.
It’s hard for Penguin to maintain focus on the seconds and minutes as the day crawls by in a jarred blitz. His chores get done in sharp intervals while the procrastinations ease by in pastel greys. In what all seems like a gross eventuality, the clothes are hung and the dishes washed. Scott drops by and his presence is acknowledged, his temper is warmed, and, finally, his absence is noted. Penguin feels the time in conscious thought alone. That is where it, alone, exists.
And then there is Lucy.
She enters; the day is marked. It is 17:52.
“Heyy.” Penguin smiles, concerned his greeting wasn’t emphasised enough. The pair kiss, a quick embrace, and then Penguin moves back to his task.
“My car’s making that funny noise again.”
“Which one was that?”
Lucy rests her handbag on the kitchen counter. “The sort of chugging one—the one that goes br-br-bru-brurr-br…” She holds her hands up to an invisible steering wheel and imitates the car’s anxious shuddering alongside its weary groans.
“Maybe you should take it to the mechanic soon?” Penguin suggests, already exhausted by the impending discussion.
“I don’t have the money.”
Penguin furrows his brow and looks up from the phone screen. Lucy is rummaging through the fridge, her back facing Penguin.
“It’s over overdue for a service, anyway. Isn’t it?”
She shrugs, more focused on the piece of cheese she’s chewing than the conversation.
“I dunno… How do I know when it is?
“There should be a sticker. Like… on your windshield or something…”
“Oh,” Lucy nods slowly, “And how much will that cost…?
“Geez, I dunno. It depends on what needs to get done. Like, more than two hundred probably.”
“Oh, well, that’s a lot… It’ll have to wait.”
A smile projected as Penguin groans inside.
“What’d you want for dinner?” Lucy inquires.
“Umm… are we cooking or just ordering?” Penguin only seems half-interested at best in the conversation.
“Well… I suppose we could cook…?”
Moving towards the fridge, Penguin opens the doors and begins sliding things around, examining the contents.
“We could make pasta?” he offers.
“What about grilled—”
Lucy’s face lights up.
“Let’s get pizza!”
“I mean… Sure.”
The TV is loud and invasive; Lucy likes the trashy shows. Sometimes, Penguin steals away for a moment of solitude in the toilet, even when he doesn’t need to piss.
“I hate Renee,” Lucy seethes.
“Renee is a fucking dumb cunt,” Penguin concurs.
The candid diary cutaway plays: Renee looks into the camera and smiles plastically at the audience. Her arrogance is palpable, even through the pixels of the television screen.
“Clearly Shannon didn’t understand JUST -howww- unfair she was being—”
In response, Lucy hisses around her slice of pizza, “Fuck-off-yoo-dumbitch.”
Penguin giggles. He takes a bite of his slice and the greasy succulence envelops his tongue. It is a genuine moment.
The TV phases in and out of ad cycles like some existential philosophy student’s wet dream. Everything spins in sync. I am the fog, and you are an extension of me. We are all the fog.
These ones are shit. They’re uncoated. They get stuck in your throat.
Penguin’s hand clenches around her throat; a measured vice to guard against her constrained gasps of ecstasy. Lucy writhes in pleasure, laid bare beneath him, cock sliding slowly to her depths. He lets go—roughly grips her thigh. She yelps, her fingers leaving long, red trails across his ribs. He growls. It’s low and guttural. Her wrist is slammed into the mattress, pinned above her head. He bites the exposed flesh of her neck, soft but firm. Their hips grind together now; they move within each other. It is visceral.
It is without.
Tonight, deep sleep evades Penguin. It moves as some oily-black concept in his peripherals; a forgotten idea from a long-since-departed medicated fever dream. Lightly, he unravels from the bedsheet, easing himself off the mattress. As he glances at the silhouette of Lucy’s sleeping frame, naked and unguarded, he feels an emotion: something unidentified.
Ian is in the kitchen when Penguin arrives; he is having an A.M. snack. Good morning? Good night? Hi, Ian? Howdy, friend?
“Yo,” Ian’s eyes are bleary red, “Can’t sleep?”
“Nope. How ‘bout you?”
He shrugs, “Haven’t tried.”
The microwave beeps—leftover Thai. Ian takes a mouthful greedily only to immediately regret his decision. Slopping from the mouth, he lets the mushy noodles fall back into the container gracelessly, his eyes watering from the pain of his searing tongue. Penguin pours a juice and sips it absently. He looks at nothing in particular.
“I am not a happy man.”
Ian nods: he is sympathetic. He is also a touch too stoned for this conservation.
“I know. But you’re getting by.”
“That’s all I do though, isn’t it? I get by. I don’t know how to stay… good… anymore.”
Cautiously, Ian tests another bite. Still too hot. He lowers the fork with a tinge of disappointment.
“I don’t think anyone ever does,” he says, morbidly, but clearly more fixated on his still-steaming leftovers.
Penguin glances over his shoulder. He lowers his voice and speaks with an even sadness. A single, sustained note.
“I think I have to break up with Lucy.”
I can’t reach myself anymore. Not through the fog.
The conversation cycles. New setting, new characters. Or not.
Jazz looks saddened— possibly surprised But, also, possibly not. Can you sense these things coming? Do you feel it trembling in your gut as the train approaches, or is the sense of imminent demise only apparent when the burning wreckage is landing on your face?
“Why, Penn? You don’t have to.”
“Because… I don’t know… I don’t have a reason. Do I need one?”
She nods. Penguin shakes his head.
“It just doesn’t feel right.”
“It’s good enough.”
“Is the sex good?”
“Is she there for you?”
“Do you love her?”
“Because I’m not good enough.”
Today is another day. Today, things happen—Penguin does things. Some stuff happens; some stuff does not. Did you know that the longest tapeworm ever removed from someone was 25 metres long? Do you know you can’t actually die of old age? Am I building tension or am I procrastinating?
Penguin watches the light disappear from her eyes. It’s so quick how these things happen, yet it’s always surprising how quickly it happens. He hears his flimsy words fall from his mouth.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It isn’t you. There’s something wrong with me.”
She enters the door. She is beaming—so fucking excited to see him. Acidic guilt rises through his chest in a syrupy bile.
She is crying. Stop crying—please.
She is leaving. She is trying.
She is leaving.
She is saying:
“I love you. It’s ok you’re struggling; I don’t care. I’ll stand by you. Please… don’t do this.”
The scenes aren’t in order. Neither is Penguin’s brain.
He has hurt her—so, so bad.
The couple lie on the bed, nose to nose, with lips just barely grazing each other. Penguin sees only Lucy in his scope of vision; Penguin is all Lucy sees. She bites her lip and feigns cute embarrassment.
“I have a confession… I love you.”
Penguin grins, broadly and beautifully. There is so much joy inside of him that it threatens to explode outwards—to burst all over her.
“Whaaatt? No way! I have a confession too…”
“Yeah…?” Lucy bites her lip again, for real this time, gleefully awaiting Penguin’s next words.
Penguin smiles. Lucy smiles.
“I saw you peeing,” he finally says with a devilish smirk.
“What! When!” Now, Lucy is actually embarrassed. They are laughing together.
“The other morning… You left the door open. I saw it from bed.”
“It was cute!” Penguin defends weakly.
Lucy is rolling on the bed, back-and-forth, blushing crimson. “Cute! What the fuck?”
Penguin kisses her repeatedly, locking her down on the mattress.
“Not cute in a sex way! Not like ‘Oh, yeah, peeing—I gotta get me some of that!’.” Penguin rolls with her, their skin rubbing against each other. It feels right. “You just looked dumb and cute.”
“Dumb and cute, huh?”
“I love you,” Lucy smiles wide, crooked, and unashamed.
“I love you too. To the moon and back.”
Penguin stocks the fridge with one eye on the bar. The seconds and hours bleed through open wounds. They trickle away to nothing in the fog.
Ol’ Jimbo comes in and orders the usual. Penguin rings it up. He gives him the usual.
I take a step out the door. I just start walking.
“Feel like it was the right decision?” Jazz asks with genuine care.
I follow a road. That road leads to another.
“What’s the plan for now?”
“Be single for a while.”
And if I just keep walking.
“I’m thinking I might travel, finally,” Penguin smiles—a real, honest smile, “Somewhere cold. Somewhere with snow.”
“How long for?”
“As long as it takes. No plans.”
I’ll make it home.
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