Alan Rossi

The ex-mayor’s daughter is moving to Chicago with Mason. I dated her for a year. Then she got in a car accident and blamed me. I was sitting in the passenger seat. We’d been arguing about food or maybe money. After the accident she said, How do you fuck shit up when you’re just sitting around?

I don’t know, I said. I think you’re deflecting.

Do you try to say stupid things? she said. Or do they just come out?

Later I said, I’m not sure but I don’t think I ever want to see you again.

That seems pretty non-committal, she said.

She asks everyone to call her Kayla. That’s not her real name.


I’m at Mason’s apartment because I’ve been told to be at Mason’s apartment. We’re sharing some pot. In the afternoon, the ex-mayor’s daughter will come over. She will have on jeans and a t-shirt. Her hair will look nice. She has this kind of reddish-brown hair that makes me feel like no one else could possibly have such hair. My hands remember the curve of her stomach down to her hips. I don’t want to talk or be around either of these people, but here I am. It’s Kayla’s idea that we should all be friends.

I’m already friends with Mason, I told her.

That’s not what I mean, she told me.

When she gets to Mason’s, she says, I don’t like that here. She points at my bag of pot. You two are too old for that, she says.

It’s true that I love her a little for saying things like this. Her face is puffy, make-up smudged. She’s been crying. Mason goes over to her and rubs her back as if comforting a sick dog. She has called me fucker with tears in her eyes and I’ve put my hands in her hair and set her head in my lap. I sit on the sofa and pretend not to watch them. My dad’s in jail, she says.

I have to stare out the window. Traffic moves soundlessly on the highway. I want to be moving soundlessly to some very definite place.

Kayla says, I need to talk to you later. She speaks to me like we are still in a relationship. No, I want to say. I might actually say this. I say things people cannot hear.

Later we learn the ex-mayor needs us to post bail.

I’m going, Kayla says. You can both come if you want. I’d like it if you came. She looks at me when she says this.

Mason taps his chin. I want to punch him then her then him. I want to walk through his body like I’m a ghost. I want us all to lay down in a bed and rest.

I’ll drive, Mason says.

Let me smoke a little opium first, I say.

Don’t, Mason says.

He’s kidding, Kayla says.


Kayla once told me: We need to be more spiritual. Together. We need to look at our lives more closely. We need to start with the smallest thing.

I don’t know where to start, I told her.

Good, she said. That you don’t know is a start.

Maybe my job, I said. Maybe I need to stop being a waiter and working odd hours and only thinking about food and not thinking about, you know, important things.

Maybe, she said. Maybe you can just start smaller, like trying harder? With me?

Yes, I said. I think I can do that, if you try harder with me.

Maybe we can start together, she said.

Maybe, I said. That was a long time ago now, last summer. We were eating this delicious frozen yogurt. We must’ve been happy.


In the car, Mason and I speculate about the ex-mayor’s crime:

Stole from the treasurer, he says.

Sex with an intern, I say.

Public nudity, he says.

The ex-mayor’s daughter takes a swipe at Mason. The car swerves. I like him; I like them both right now. Is this what I’m supposed to be thinking? I think in a fatherly voice, She is going to ruin you, my friend. Kayla’s face in the rearview is very red. Stop, she says. Both of you.

No more fun, Mason says.

Does this look fun? she says. Are you really having fun?

No, I say.

My mom left him tonight, she says. That’s why.

Killed his wife, I say. Kayla’s eyes glare at me in the rearview. Now I kind of hope Mason will ruin her. It would be okay with me if both of them ruined each other. I picture them as ruined beached whales, together, both of them ruined and beached and being swarmed by birds and insects. I insert myself into this fantasy as a fish, bony. In the front seat, Mason lets a hand rest on Kayla’s leg. I picture cutting off their hands then surgically repairing them. Endlessly doing that. He lets his hand rest there, simple, and soon her hand is on his and is picking at a scab.


The ex-mayor lets Mason sit up front. He grabs my shoulder in the backseat, tells me his name, Randall, and shakes my hand. He is still drunk and happy. He has no idea who I am.

You have no idea who I am, I say to him. He doesn’t hear me. We’re on the road again.

She left and I got soused, Randall says beside me. And then I went to the Carlisle’s house for the pool.

The ex-mayor is overweight and southern and has a full head of hair. He runs his hands through his hair. It reminds me of Kayla destroying my record player. She sort of fixed her hair after she destroyed it and it was impossible to be angry. You remember the Carlisle’s? Randall says, touching his daughter’s shoulder.

Yes, dad, she says. I remember them.

The ex-mayor leans back. So I climbed their balcony, three stories, and jumped in the pool, he says. I so rarely follow my impulses. I’m a very reserved person. Turns out Jim thought I was burglarizing the place.

Dad, Kayla says. Please, they don’t want to hear it.

I want to hear it, I say. I say it so that I seem like someone who has interests in other people.

I’m all for it hearing it, Mason says.

Kayla is smiling, it seems, at me.

There’s nothing more, the ex-mayor says. He makes a huffing sound. His body shifts. He could kill a man like me by weight alone. I want him to kill a man or a penguin by weight alone. Like accidentally sitting on a tiny man or penguin. Mason has his hand on Kayla’s neck, underneath her hair, his fingers moving in small circles. I once put my face in Kayla’s hair and breathed in. It was like breathing in some other world. I used her hair to make mustaches on my face. She took me to the waterfall, got us cooled down in summer. Then she would say she had to leave and leave or sometimes she would break something. She broke my violin. She smashed it on the porch outside my apartment. I’m hoping she does the same thing to Mason.

I say, Who are you people? It’s something I heard on television.


You have a pool story, Mason says to me. He saved a grandmother from drowning. Jumped in before the lifeguard could even whistle.

What happened? the ex-mayor says.

Nothing, I say.

Tell it, Kayla says. I like that story. Mason’s hand is again back on her neck and she seems to lean into it. I wish I was in a calm nightmare where everyone is a paper-cut-zombie.

I saved this grandmother caught in a slide catch, I say.

She got stuck in the current coming down a slide. But when I jumped in and got her, she said, Get your hands off me. I’m the coolest grandma around. She was fine, is what she told me.

The lifeguard, the ex-mayor says. People don’t appreciate.

People only want to see what they want to see, Mason says.

I don’t understand what that means, I say. In that context.

That’s it, the ex-mayor says, leaning forward, slapping Mason’s shoulder. That’s it exactly.

The rest of the car ride is quiet. I cannot look at any of them after telling the drowning grandma story. I want to be called The Lifeguard.

When they drop me off Kayla says, I want us to really get together another night. I still have to talk to you.


That night, I walk around. I walk to the gas station and buy a soda. I imagine Mason coming to me and saying something about how Kayla is insane, but in a good way. I imagine a future with a bluegrass band traveling the country. But I don’t have my violin anymore, I think. I don’t know any bluegrass music. A man on the sidewalk is walking his bike somewhere talking to it, saying, That’s not going to work because she won’t believe you. And if she don’t believe you, that’s not going to work. I walk on the other side of the sidewalk. I like the way the streetlamps make the trees look fluorescent green. I imagine telling Kayla that I very much want to destroy her wardrobe, telling her this very calmly, then producing a sledgehammer. It’s fair, I would say. You broke a lot of my stuff. I want to tell her I still don’t want her around me anymore, but I very much would like to have updates on her suffering. Just kidding, I would say.


The ex-mayor invites us to his house. I bring a new girl named Claire. Randall wears a perfect suit, his hair is slicked back, his shoes are glinting. He’s wearing pink socks. It’s the pink socks that let me see some heartsickness still has him. Mason brings a hookah with cherry flavored tobacco. My new life will be like this house, which is all hardwood floors and enormous windows. Claire asks what type of wood the floor is and bends down to touch.

The ex-mayor keeps asking if the air seems stale. Let’s open some windows, he says.
Let’s get some airflow in here.

Kayla tells us he’s been on some new depressive medication. It’s messing him up a little, she says.

We get the windows open. The house cools down. I wait for rain. Kayla and Claire talk. I had already forgotten I brought her.

What do you do? Kayla says.

I work at Mary Black, Claire says. I’m a radiologist.

I couldn’t work with sick people, Kayla says. Everybody seems so sick already just in real life. Then you realize they’re sick in this other way.

I get to help them, Claire says.

Well, not you, Kayla says. That’s the doctor’s job. But I see what you’re saying.

I want to hold Claire’s mouth closed, or electrocute her, a small zip, every time she speaks. The ex-mayor orders Mason and I to make drinks. We drink a lot of drinks. The ex-mayor plays his guitar and sings and then makes me play a guitar. No no no, he says to me. A D A. Then E. From the fucking top.

Kayla asks me to help her in the kitchen. This is the part where I have to make a decision.

I want you to tell Mason he can’t come to Chicago, she says in the kitchen. She is cutting strawberries in half. There is red strawberry juice on the counter.

I don’t think I can do that, I say.

Yes you can, she says. And I know you want to.

I really don’t, I say.

I’m going to go upstairs, she says. Then when I come back down, you go up.

No, I say.

I go back out to the family room. Claire doesn’t know where she should be, so she keeps sitting down, then standing, then looking at books. Mason grabs a videocamera and begins recording.

I’m going to sell this tape, Mason says. Ex-mayor smokes hookah in house.

Ha, Randall says. Ex-mayor parties with youth culture. Get over here with me, the ex-mayor says to Claire.

Mason keeps the video camera aimed at him. The ex-mayor pulls Claire into his lap. She laughs and tries to squirm away.

Ex-mayor in affair with younger woman, I say.

Ex-mayor with girl who could be his daughter, Randall says.

Dad, Kayla says coming from the kitchen. Let her up.

The ex-mayor stands and carries Claire to the sofa I’m sitting on. I have no way of communicating this death-feeling I have to anyone.

Mason and Kayla go upstairs. We can hear them arguing. I want to lie down in the middle of the room and tell everyone to be quiet so that I can hear them arguing. I want to feel them breaking stuff above me; I want the house to break apart above me. I wait for Kayla to come downstairs. Claire falls asleep on the sofa. The ex-mayor’s glass gets empty and filled. He asks for more and I give him more. He almost falls out an open window when he sits in it. He lets his guitar crash to the floor, clanging. He begins sobbing. I can’t play Van Morrison stuff anymore, he says. He was my wife’s favorite.

Then he says, Ah, who could blame her?

Then he says, Do you think I did a good job as mayor?

Then he says, What do you think of Mason?

Right, I say. Yes, I say. He’s perfect, I say. We’re all perfect.

His eyes are lazy, his face worn out. You’ve got a very pretty girl there, he says. A very pretty and understanding girl. Don’t do anything to ruin that. I’m projecting, I know.

He’s a big man, but he’s a husk. A breeze could take him away.

I’ll find out what I need to find out, he says. There’s nothing I can do about any of it anyway.

Alan Rossi’s stories have appeared in The Florida Review, Ninth Letter, The Journal, Hobart, Juked, the anthology Forty Stories from Harper Perennial and other places. Currently, he works at an independent bookstore and adjuncts at a local university in South Carolina.