(Nobody wants to read more than five pages online. That’s the only reason I broke the story into two parts. That question seemed like a natural place to break the story in half. Read Part 1 here.)
Part II of “Some Skinhead Shit”
“We could go ask around and ask some people at the party if they were interested in participating in some of that shit, but what exactly do you mean by ‘some skinhead shit’?” Laurence asked, talking his way out of some inexplicable violence that he wanted no part of. That wasn’t really his thing.
“I mean do you two guys want to get into some shit,” the skinhead’s voice began to pitch sharp as his eyes flared up. “I’m talking about some skinhead shit!” His words were connected like some sort of train at full speed.
Just then, Stephanie opened the door to her bedroom, and the two darted off and away from the incessant recruiting practices. Inside her bedroom was something of a VIP lounge within the party. A different kind of smoke filled the air, patchouli incense and bong exhalation. It was a master bedroom with two twin beds. Laurence looked at those twin frames, unmade and probably smelling of sweat. He wanted to crawl into one of them and smell the pillows. If he could split himself in two, he’d give one to Elizabeth and one to Stephanie. (If you write long enough you build habits, that’s what this is about. Sometime it’s good to break them and force yourself to write differently—that’s how you grow as a writer. This can be done by giving yourself some sort of a constraint, by putting barriers in the way of your habits. As a student I came across the group of writers called Oulipo [Ouvoir de Litterature Potentielle/ Workshop of Potential Literature]. Raymond Queneau was a member. They did all sorts of literary experiments. Unfortunately, these writers and their experiments are rarely discussed in classrooms. They are simply alluded to. Part of this blog is a closer look at Oulipo and the idea of potential literature.)
Since moving to Chicago he saw Elizabeth less and less, because of all her hours spent in class and at the library. And then there was Stephanie. She was always out at some bar spending her tips on cocktails. She would always joke with him about how sad she was, yet somehow she always seemed happy. And she could talk. Her stories were always a dramatic affair, and they were told with arms flailing and eyes alight. Stephanie seemed to be so much more in love with life.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was all school, preparing for another exam, reading another case study. His one true love, the one he moved to Chicago for, never seemed to be around. And when she was, all she could talk about was school. What was he suppose to do? He got tired of waiting around for her. He was tired of her being tired and not wanting to go out. It was either stay home with her and watch cable or go to a bar and be in the world. Laurence was only twenty-three. There was so much to do. If he was honest with himself, what he saw in Stephanie was the lifestyle he wanted. If he had her, she could take him into the world he wanted. (Compare and contrast the two girls. Which will he choose? Typical.)
That’s also why he loved David, who was his ticket to living a sinful life in the big city. Because of David he was standing in Stephanie’s bedroom. David, who grew up in a strict Christian household, had fallen a long way and relished his sinful life in the city. Laurence had never experienced that lifestyle because he met Elizabethfreshman year and didn’t really want it for himself. He liked David’s stories. They were carefree and part of him wanted to live that way. (The story’s losing steam.)
“Look at that.” David checked out a woman about ten years older than them wearing a light blue dress. “God, would you look at that! I can’t keep my eyes off her. I’d love to roll that.” Without hesitation David walks over to her with a bottle of Stout. David watches as she takes it and they begin to make small talk. “Come over here, Laurence,” David said. (Why do this experiment? For as much as writing instructors talk about revision and editing, few seem to offer in-depth instruction on manipulating a manuscript. It’s labor intensive and time consuming. Most instructors don’t have the time and energy to work with a class of twenty students. But if you want to write, you need to seriously consider the multitude of revision options. And I don’t simply mean—fixing typos and cutting the fat. You need to be able to think about the potential of each and every story. Think with flexibility. Where can you expand, cut, slowdown, dramatize? How can you make a text more humorous, less melodramatic, melodramatic to the point of satire? Etc, etc, etc. Think about it.)
“Can I help you buddy?” a man asked as he wrapped his arm around her and introduced himself as her husband. His arms were as big as Laurence’s legs, and he had a goatee that one would find on a member of a motorcycle gang. Laurence watched as David started to get very nervous, thinking back to the night he talked with someone’s wife and how he had to escape through a kitchen and run to the Brown Line station inLincoln Square.
“Want a beer?” David handed him the last bottle of stout. “Look I came here with my buddy Laurence. We’re sick of not meeting other people. If I wanted to just talk to him, we could’ve stayed home. So what’s your story?”
The couple told their story. She was a real estate lawyer who just opened her own practice, and he was the chef at a restaurant in Logan Square called Lux. “I’ve been there. I had your beef jowl and black barley, charcuterie plate, and the frozen soufflé.” Just like that they were best friends. David had this way with people and could talk himself out of any situation. Stephanie came over with half a joint. Laurence didn’t typically smoke pot, but when it came to him he took it and sucked it hard, pulling it deep into his lungs before passing it on to the chef. It came around a second time. Then they took a shot of whiskey and then all started smoking cigarettes. (While writing exercises are always a bit avant-garde, the end result should be pragmatic. Every professional writer will work with an editor, or team of editors, to revise a piece for publication. Writers need to be able to listen to editors and make appropriate changes. Writers also need to know how style and substance are related.)
Laurence’s blood became a little too rich and he passed his comfort zone into an unfocused state where the room felt slippery. He went out of the bedroom to find the bathroom and joined the line in a narrow hallway that connected the bedrooms with the living room. The skinheads had hijacked the radio and sang along to some sort of crap rock from the seventies or eighties.
After Laurence took a piss, he made his way to the living room looking for a bottle of something, anything to keep the buzz going. But everything was empty. He had no idea what time it was, maybe eleven, maybe two. The skinheads were singing, “Don’t stop belieeeevin’, Hold on to the feeeeeelin’”. Laurence just started laughing at their horrible taste in music. Then the skinhead leader walked over to him, grabbed Laurence by the shirt, and threw him against a bookshelf. “You think this is funny?”
“Actually I do, bro. I was in college once too, bro.”
“Bro? Are you calling me bro?”
Laurence started laughing out of control. “Yeah, man. You fucking love Journey, therefore you must be a bro deep down.” The skinhead starts punching Laurence. One, two, three…then from the other side of the room, the chef ran over and punched the skinhead. One shot was all it took. The skinhead was out cold. There was blood dripping from his face like a leaky faucet. The skinhead looked dead, limbs blown out and collapsed against the dirty hardwood floor.
“Stephanie, sorry about this,” the chef said. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” He indicated to David, Laurence and his wife. They walked down the narrow stairwell into the night. There were a few heavy snowflakes falling and the sidewalks were covered with a bit of slush. Laurence could smell his blood and Mexican spices from the taqueria on the corner.
“You two are heading back to Lakeview right? Let’s split a cab,” the chef said as he flagged one.
“What the fuck was that about?” the wife asked from the front seat of the cab.
“All night he kept asking if we wanted to get into some skinhead shit,” Laurence said. “He just wouldn’t leave us alone.”
“Well that’s probably a good thing,” the husband said.
“Show them,” the wife says from the front seat.
The chef took off his coat and part of his shirt, revealing some hateful tattoos covering his chest and arms. “I fucking hate skinhead shit. There are things I regret and things that I can’t change about myself. Those were just some fucking kids trying to be something they’re not.”
Laurence noticed a bubble of skin next to his ribs, a scar of some sort. It definitely wasn’t from working in a kitchen. (Fin, the end, done. But one more note. Let’s stop writing homogenized prose. Let’s find out what’s possible within the text. Let us tell engaging stories.)
Jacob Singer lives in Chicago and is the editor of Hysterical Realism, a webzine dedicated to exploring the genre of fiction typically associated with Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, and Thomas Pynchon. His work has appeared at Handshake Media, Chicago Foodies, and Euskal Irrati Telebista (Basque Radio and television).