like, for example, when Sophie and I were finally, after so many months of being overworked and underappreciated at our jobs, of commutes on trains that didn’t even bother to show up, of professional or social or familial obligations that all demanded prioritization over time for just the two of us, of stress and venting-that-never-really-helped and mutually incompatible time-off constraints, of seeing each other only in the brief intervals right before falling asleep or right after waking up, when we were finally, against all odds, able to get the same weekend off to go camping together upstate, to get out of the city for the first time in a serious while, to be with each other and only each other, to breathe clean air and engage our muscles—atrophied after so much inactivity on subway cars or at ergonomic desk chairs—in tough hikes up steep, wooded mountainsides populated densely with conifers through which golden light streamed warmly in the afternoon, into clearings and onto peaks from which hundreds of miles of mountains, valleys, lakes, and skies could be gazed upon, to fuck in a tent and smile wickedly about it, to visit quaint restaurants and bookstores in small towns, to fantasize about taking the room above the shopfronts, sawdusted slat floorboards, furnishing it with a bed, wooden table, bookcase, and writing desk, quitting all the industry and noise of the city for something quiet and simple and unadorned, to unwind, to let all of the stress bubble up and clear out of our bodies, to stare into each other’s deep and scintillating eyes, to drink amber beer and shoot pool in local pubs at night and be bad at it and laugh and not question at all, to know with absolute clarity that we are partners and we are in love, it all should have been enough, but even all the way upstate, we still had cell service, and Sophie received texts and e-mails all weekend just as she would have had we never left the city, some from family, some from coworkers, some from friends, at which she correspondingly smiled, frowned, or laughed loud and hard, and I empathized with the psychical blow when her brow furrowed at a work e-mail or rejoiced to see when she was happy, but maybe my eye twitched once or twice when, while her phone had absorbed her, leaving me momentarily alone, I discerned by way of a completely happenstantial glance—since these bright surfaces always seem to demand our fickle attention—who exactly it was making her smile like that, and laugh, and show all her teeth as she tossed her head back to the open sky in uncontainable joy to then settle her shining gaze again on the surface of the phone so as to rifle off with spitfiring thumbs an emphatic response, that the person sending along who-knows-what in those messages to make her laugh like that was a friend of hers named Ian—a person whose name and existence I, at one point to which I wished I could return, had been unaware of, since they met only after she and I had become partners, after we had actively spoken up with each other about it one cold bright winter day years earlier on our way to the airport, and had chosen as much, had agreed to a nontraditional partnership whose format consisted in a higher degree of sexual and romantic openness than would a relationship of a classically monogamous nature, as a consequence firstly of the fact that, at the time, we lived in different states and spent most of our time outside of each other’s company, and also given each of our respective self-awarenesses of our respective emotional and physical needs in the context of a long distance relationship, and given the fact that we had each been burned before, badly, had each suffered great transgressions of trust and ostensible love, and were therefore looking out for ourselves, had become solid with solitude, and had, since being burned, put some serious effort towards critical, incisive, unflinching introspection for the sake of really understanding (respectively) our own personal needs, and then being unafraid of expressing them fully and clearly to anybody for whom such information might be relevant, e.g., each other, after realizing that we had, together, perhaps without totally realizing it, built something wonderful, something to lose—about whom I came to learn a great deal, through the enthusiastic, unselfconscious accounts that Sophie would relate after their hangouts—completely unsolicited—in response to which I had to feign not only nonchalance, but actual interest, despite the smallest, most incipient jealousy, insecurity, paranoia, and fear poking up their bright shoots, manifesting as effectively imperceptible winces, twitches, or blank stares—like, for example, how they’d met through mutual friends on a sojourn from the city to a beautiful, sprawling sculpture park spread over an undulating meadow in the river valley upstate, actually not too far from where we were camping, wouldn’t you know, and how he was so much fun, so warm and kind and funny, just so easy to get along with, how they’d immediately hit it off, and how, though they’d journeyed up in a group of friends, the two of them split off from the group and spent the entire day in just each other’s company, smiling, laughing, discovering their easy and natural chemistry as they explored the singularly aesthetic grounds of the park and twilight fell everywhere, or how, for example, he’d had chronic back problems his entire life, and so she’d invited him to one of the advanced yoga classes that she attended, allegedly not thinking he’d take her up on the offer, but that, against all odds, would you believe this, babe?, he actually did, isn’t that crazy?, and, even more to her surprise, he was actually quite capable, really just honestly shockingly innately talented at this advanced level of yoga despite the chronic back issues and the fact that he’d never before attempted yoga or anything of the sort, or how, for example, he worked in the same industry that she did, and thereby worked hours very similar to hers and suffered professional challenges very similar to those that she suffered and was thus astonishingly well-suited to vent and commiserate about those challenges and the implications of reckoning with them, not to mention completely available for such venting and commiseration at all the same times that she was given their similar schedules, and if she wasn’t available because she had yoga, well that didn’t really fucking matter then did it because he’d just show the fuck up to yoga, too…or finally, how, for example, the previous winter, a few months after I had moved to this city to be close to her and give the two of us a realer, more serious shot, but while our relationship, it is indispensable to recapitulate, was still open, and she and I were going through a rough patch, as I’d appeared to have lost physical interest in her, or actually had lost physical interest in her, or rather, was distracted from the sexual dimension of our relationship as a result of my personal dissatisfaction with the course of my own life as well as the stress and anxiety of undergoing the massive transition to a new and overwhelming city, she invited him to a party one night when I had to work late, a party that I knew she had plans to attend with some friends, but to which I did not know she’d invited Ian, as she’d neglected to mention that detail to me, for some or no reason, nor did I ever suspect the possibility of his attendance at this party—the thought did flicker across my mind, but I dismissed it easily—since I knew the friend group with whom she’d told me she’d be attending, and knew that he had no connection to them, had never met them, but, as I would later learn, did meet them, that very night, in fact, through her, since she had invited him—had gone out of her way to do so (though she’d neglected to mention as much to me, for some or no reason)—to this party that I was, it had been noted well in advance, unable to attend, in response to a lament of his to her one night over dumplings, at a place where she and I would also go for dumplings, that he found all of his own friends boring, or, not boring, but just sort of vanilla, perhaps—they never did anything crazy or wild or over-the-top fun—and her friends, boy, you better believe this, with their insanely successful professional lives that they juxtaposed against the hardest possible partying, prodigious consumption of violently potent psychoactive, hallucinogenic, and/or amphetaminic drugs, uninhibitedly flowing alcohol, annual trips to Burning Man as well as multi-sub-annual trips to the numerous regional Burns that occurred all over the calendar and country, wild, unhinged, hedonistic, BDSM, publicly displayed, unabashed, aggressively, conspicuous exhibitionist fuck parties characterized by whips, chains, dildos, vibrators, floggers, lots of dark leather, other animal hide, metal wrought in multifarious nightmarish shapes, blindfolds, fishnets, heels, oils, lubes, salves, creams, waxes, open flames, ropes of various thickness and material, gags, anal plugs and beads, handcuffs, and numerous other instruments that gleamed when tilted in artificial light, were the farthest thing from boring, and so quite naturally he accepted her invitation to this party that I could not attend and to which I did not know she’d invited him (for some or no reason), and, at the party, in a massive, decrepit, seemingly-abandoned warehouse looming strangely in an otherwise grimy, dark, dangerous part of the city, whose interior had been repurposed and outfitted for exactly this category of extravagant, unchained, orgiastic blowout, complete with pulsating opalescent neon, blacklights, and fluorescent Day-Glo paint exploding everywhere on walls, floors, ceilings, and bodies in animalistic phantasmagoric streaks, waves, bursts, and whorls, stations to get painted, paint others, get tattoos, make wacky freeform art, pole dance, get photographed before flashing lights and exotic moving backdrops, private spaces for fucking, public spaces for fucking, dancers decked out in unfathomable insanity moving like impossibly flexible alien creatures in cages suspended from the ceiling, everyone in costume, or, as they would say, finally out of costume, and electro house dance music thumping from systems so powerful you felt it was coming from inside your own heart and yet was somehow apart from you so your heart jolted to meet and fuse with the thump music thump in the rush of it all, drugs and alcohol, dancing and smiling and laughing, the chasmal dilation of dark glittery pupils in beautiful faces glitter-dusted and sparkling, reality itself breathing, too, recognition dawning out of wide eyes, something that’s almost fear but not quite, transmogrifying into wild joy, the world pulsating and sweating bodies brushing at first then coming together and all of it with her—her, her, all and everything, their shouting to each other drowned out, made futile by the thump house thump electro thump and and it not mattering because it wasn’t about words anymore anyways but hearts thumping and eyes wide and glistening bodies together now clinging and pressing pressing into each other, dropping fast and lifting slow, pulsating with the music and and lights and breathing world until of course of course they’re kissing, making out and and and heart rates jacked way up and mouths opening eyes closed feeling only bodies pressing tongues searching and discovering and and and and such wild uncontrollable attraction given over to the thump of the bass and heartbeats magnetic hot breath exchanged in flushed exhales wanting needing to collapse into each other and be one thing to press press press press into one thing like they’re in love like totally completely uncontrollably in love and this moment and is everything and and so of course they and obviously went back and and and to his apartment and together and and and and and and and and and…
…so, you can imagine, when I saw his name appear on her phone and linked it to the joy she expressed, and my eye twitched, I tried to turn away the feeling that was already growing within me, to breathe deeply and practice mindfulness, to separate the now-buzzing feeling from my identity, my conception of self, to recognize it for what it was, a mere phenomenon, just like everything, no better or worse than anything else, a temporary component of a democratic experience of the world that had in common with every other experience the fact that it would arise and, if I let it, pass away, and so I tried to let it, to view it with distant curiosity from a hyper-evolved perspective, to bear witness to its arising and its passing away, label it, and not dwell on it, neither cling to nor reject it, but just take deep breaths and consider the entire state of affairs, everything as a whole, whom I was with, where we were in this moment, this mountainside in the river valley upstate, where they met, where they spent that day together, that first day that led to the rest of it, but she was with me now and they were just friends who’d been together on a night when I wasn’t around and she’d told me she was going to this party but didn’t tell me she’d invited him, for no (or some) reason, but that doesn’t matter, she doesn’t have to tell me, but why didn’t she?, and she’s texting him now, even though I’m right here, but that’s okay, she can text him, she can text whomever she wants, she can do whatever she wants, and she and I are partners, but maybe she doesn’t want to be anymore and she doesn’t know how to tell me, maybe she’s trying to slip out the back like this, by way of him, a padded landing, because I’m boring, it’s true, I’m no fun, and I don’t like these parties because of how anxious I get comparing myself to her friends, now compounded as a consequence of knowing that they all bore witness to this awful thing that happened, probably encouraged it, cheered them on, fearing that I don’t match up, that I’m not as interesting or fun or free-spirited, plus I work nights, I’m not around, but Ian is, and he’s willing and able to go to these parties with her, enthusiastic, even, and I am simply all-too-familiar to her in the dreary light of Sunday mornings desiccated by the archaic heating system of a shithole city apartment, and she’s exhausted my possibilities, gotten from me what there was to be gotten, and so seeks elsewhere, someone new, exciting, and open-minded, who will go to yoga with her, something she’s been trying to get me to do forever, but that I haven’t done, that I honestly just don’t have any interest in doing, and that I feel to attend would be to give over to something in which I have no interest just to appease her, or now, even worse, just to match up to him, to show her that I can be just as free and open-minded and easygoing as he is, to sacrifice some nonspecific aspect of myself for ignoble reasons, my awareness of all of which would thereby render me unable to dismiss the understanding that I’d be doing it, not for her, and not even for myself, really, but only to be as good as and hopefully better than he is, and of course being aware that I’m definitely not better than he is at the actual yoga, that there’s no possible way I could be, and so therefore spiraling and hating every second of it, and just knowing that this is how it would go if I went to yoga and if it isn’t how it would go, it would certainly be how I would make it go now whether I wanted to or not, and no, this feeling was not passing away, I couldn’t get out of it and I didn’t know how to tell her about it, what was happening to me, how I was sinking hard and fast, becoming lost to her on this last day of our trip that was supposed to be everything we wanted, needed, and had been anticipating for so long, but on which I’d become triggered by this thing that she had promised was not what I feared it was because I couldn’t believe her—how could I believe her knowing what had happened when I wasn’t there?, knowing that she invited him out, that she didn’t tell me, for some or no reason, deliberately?, it sure seemed deliberate, why wouldn’t she tell me unless she had a reason not to?, why would she tell me everything else about her plans for that night but omit that one detail?, when she and I were having issues, no less, was all of this just a coincidence?, it seemed to me that one would have to have some pretty thick wool pulled pretty far down over one’s eyes to entertain even mere hope in the possibility that it was just a coincidence, yet she claimed it was—and so here I was, lost in all of this as she asked me what we should do for breakfast and shut the camping gear into the trunk and we got into the car and I couldn’t even look at her, completely unable to trust this woman, so carefree in asking what I wanted to do for breakfast after laughing so hard at something Ian had sent her while I was right there, made to be alone as he diverted her attention, insinuated himself, as if there were nothing strange about any of it, and I just got worse and worse, became the thing I feared most to become, dour, grim, the opposite of Ian, and the more I feared this the more I became it, a violent feedback loop, no longer just fearing that he might be a better match for her, that she might want him more than she wanted me, but now knowing it to be true, because he wouldn’t be feeling this way right now, he’d just be fun and natural, easy and lighthearted, he’d brighten her world, he wouldn’t be self-conscious, he wouldn’t be jealous, insecure, paranoid, and afraid, he’d have a great idea about what to do for breakfast, an idea that would somehow be completely original, never-before considered by her or anyone else in the universe for that matter, yet absolutely perfect, delicious, affordable, local, organic, but also thoughtful, creative, and somehow good for the environment, somehow so good for the environment that it wouldn’t just be not-bad for the environment, but so that it would actually literally be environmentally and socially irresponsible to eat breakfast or any meal for that matter literally anywhere else, it was obvious that she preferred him, which meant she was lying, her mere presence with me here was a lie, because how could she ever want to be with anyone who felt what I felt, who behaved how I behaved now?, answering her questions evasively, apathetically, monosyllabically, the sense that something was wrong just now beginning to shape itself in her mind, she being unwilling to accept it just yet, defiance flickering over her face, infinitesimally thin slices nevertheless unmistakable to me, until, after a silent breakfast in town, the same town where that sculpture park was, where they met and spent that day together, and our present proximity to the location of that history was just way too much for me, she finally snapped, and insisted that I tell her what was wrong, but I couldn’t articulate myself, I was trapped inside this feeling, unable to see outside of it, see any color that wasn’t it, completely unavailable, and, at the start of this August day, on which we’d planned to visit some of the local art museums and glassblowers, she responded to me exactly how I deserved, locked herself up, shut me out, and demanded that I take her home.
So on the first fall day of the year, all blazing light and rarefied air, I walked on past my apartment to the foot path that ran along the southern rim of the city between the freeway belt and the harbor, where great cargo freighters moved along the distant horizon and made their slow, ponderous routes up into the channel. Those impossibly huge ships—their epic scale, the prodigious distances they crossed, ships from Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, massive agents of connectivity between the spatiotemporal moment that I occupied and somewhere else completely new—
Samuel Stone is a philosophy-literature-double-major-turned-fiction-writer. His work has appeared in print and online in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Modern Literature, Floyd County Moonshine, and Otis Nebula. Additionally, he has written flash fiction, art news updates, and art and photo criticism for Musée Magazine in New York City, where he lives. He currently works as an editor for Rizzoli International Publications.