The Sock Gnome

You should know when the occasion calls for snark, no one should have to tell you. Certainly not one of Brooklyn’s skyrocketing photographers, even if he had been married to you for three years. You should know when to remain aloof. You should know that, when you’re basking in the glow of artistic wit, trying too hard sends the wrong message.

That might have been why Julianne was the only person at the gallery opening dressed like a grown-up: black cocktail dress, new black pumps (pointy-toed, painful, $675 at Barney’s), and an alligator clutch that she had to wedge under her arm to hold her crostini and fig-olive tapenade because Waldo, too busy working the crowd, wasn’t about to offer to take it off her hands.

Everyone else wore their print dresses and hoodies and scuffed shoes and swiffy hair, and there were too many pocket flasks. There were handlebar mustaches and, for a short time, a monocle. No one was looking at the art. Julianne should have known. She had lived in the city long enough. It was an age thing, even though some people there were older than Julianne. A few were critics, or they thought they were. Most were adjuncts, or hangers-on. Julianne might have been the only one with a dental plan. The wine wasn’t being drunk. People shared cocaine in the bathroom, and there was a tomato patch in the courtyard for those who really needed a bathroom.

The artist was Damien, one of Waldo’s art-school friends. Julianne liked him, even if he was another hip little twig. Unlike the others, he wasn’t out to suck off Waldo all the time. In fact, he had bloodied Waldo’s nose twice—once after Waldo cracked that homo paintings could reliably serve as flexible loft décor, and another time when Waldo called modernism “the barbed wire cinching the nuts of the twentieth century.”

Damien’s paintings had razor wit and were executed flawlessly, but Julianne sensed some hesitation in the timing. She felt compelled to ask if he had ever thought about working on a larger scale, cautiously tossing out the suggestion that while celebrity wreckage (Natalie Wood, Frances Farmer, Amy Winehouse) might seem like a hot subject now it wouldn’t age well, and there might be room for more of him, and he didn’t take it like an uptight asshole when she said this. In fact, he told her he appreciated the critique. That kind of candor is hard to come by in a crowd like this, he said, circling his finger.

Everyone else talked to Waldo as though Julianne weren’t there. She was accustomed to this. Women put his arms around him and Waldo corralled them like they were being pushed off a platform by the wind. Oh my god! How long have you been in the city? And then: Oh hey, have you met Jules?

And the women, for lack of anything to say, would compliment Julianne on her shoes. “I could never get away with those,” was one way they would put it. “Not with my ankles.”

To which Julianne wanted to reply: I know, they’re for people who eat food.

But even the mice ate, eventually: with the cocaine, everyone was wired tight and wanted to rage. They piled into Ubers and ended up at an Italian place in Williamsburg that served wine they actually drank this time in glasses the size of hurricane lamps. The waitstaff bumped out of the kitchen with steaming plates of ravioli for everyone, even though no one had ordered anything, and by the end of the night Julianne was positive she had paid substantially more than her and Waldo’s share of the bill.

That was around the time everyone stopped understanding English, in particular the ambiguous question, “Have you seen my husband? We have to work in the morning.”

At work, at least, she was in Manhattan, and she was among adults. They were corporate lawyers, so there were protocols. There was a dress code. Julianne had Evie to listen to her horror stories over mesclun and mimosas. They had their millennial intern, Coco, to keep them in the loop.

“Sweetie, you should’ve texted,” Evie said. “I’d have bailed you out. We could’ve talked about all the great TV they were missing until they felt uncomfortable.”

They were taking an early Friday lunch at an open-front bistro on West Broadway. When Julianne mentioned the flasks, Coco rolled her eyes. “Everyone thinks they’re at an audition,” she said.

“You went home with the prize they wanted,” Evie said.

That morning, Julianne had awoken with her prize snoring in her ear and his erection poking her lumbar region. She waited for Waldo to wilt, then had a fight with her sock drawer. Lately, her socks seemed to be vanishing to the point where she only had one of each.

Waldo slept like a man with no place he needed to be. The streetlights were still on. The trains were starting up. Freight got moved, news uploaded, squirrels rained acorns onto garbage lids and our hero was bailing on his classes, too spent to manage the fragile egos of undergrads.

The office was not without its own challenges. There was the mommy bloc to contend with. Julianne could count on them to spill about health problems, vacations, suspicions of spousal indiscretion, and progress on condo renovations. Photos got flashed on phones. Slate showers, open floor plans, preschoolers in Black Flag t-shirts.

Julianne had no photos of her cat, Ethel, on her phone, or of Waldo, for that matter. There were a few of concerts she had attended (Coco hooked her up) and launch parties and cocktails she had enjoyed, but she worried that sharing these would come off as passive-aggressive.

Consequently, Julianne acquired a reputation—not entirely unearned—as a good listener. One of the mommies—Renee or Nikhita or Karla Jean—had told her this once. Julianne wasn’t sure it was a compliment. She took it to mean she didn’t interrupt with questions or turn the conversation back to herself. If people could come to her with their problems, that meant that she carried herself like someone who didn’t get worn down by her own.

Instead, Julianne became the go-to person in the office for fun things to do in the city, because she lived in Brooklyn and went out to cool places with that photographer husband of hers, tried the new shuffleboard parlors and pinball rooms and roller discos and played croquet in Prospect Park. For a while, Julianne had a following. Being married to a photographer meant knowing other photographers and ending up in their photos. The mommies saw her. They got on Brooklyn Based or some other feed and there she was, a shuffleboard tang in one hand (“I’m terrible at this game, but it’s such a blast!” the caption quoted her) and a sixteen-dollar martini in the other.

Edie and Coco kept it real for Julianne, which was nice for those times—such as that morning—when she could sense people watching her. This was happening more frequently lately. At the ninth-floor Starbucks she sloshed her drink and burned her hand. Later, after dropping a sheaf of papers, she came up quickly and whacked her shoulder on the corner of the open file drawer. Julianne bruised easily. The skin beneath her sweater sleeve was the color of a pomegranate.

Then Melvin from IT asked her if she had gotten dressed in the dark.

The staff at Mazur Whiteside Schiff & Ferris tended to accept Melvin’s lack of polish. It was understood that he lived on Staten Island with his mother and probably hadn’t seen many opportunities to cultivate himself. Between his gimp leg, his water-tower frame that you had to arc your path around, and his constant need to be acknowledged, he gave off the vibe of someone who would suffer a tragic end. Heart attack at the wheel of his custom van, en route to D.C. for one of his cosplay conventions. Rollover on the New Jersey turnpike. Police say the charred body of an unidentified male dressed as Link from The Legend of Zelda was extracted from the wreckage.

Melvin’s colleagues tended to be delicate with him because they didn’t want his last memory to be an unhappy one.

Julianne was waiting at the elevator. Friday, no clients on the schedule: she was wearing jeans and flats. Melvin pointed his cane at her feet, where she wore one pink sock and one blue with orange stripes. In the chaos of the morning she had given up looking for a match. “Look who’s a trendsetter!” he said. She looked down at her feet and covered her eyes as though pretending to be embarrassed. Melvin was wearing stretch pants and a Hawaiian shirt.

Julianne’s birthday was on Monday. It was on Saturday, during what was supposed to be her party, when Waldo revealed his crisis of art.

Photography was dead, he said. It died when cinema cannibalized itself, and they spit on the corpse once everyone started Instagramming their noodle bowls.

“We’ve killed the distance,” he went on. “It’s all whores and no clients. There’s no now and then, just this perpetual now. These kids in their uncles’ clothes turning up like cellar mice. They know they’re gonna be seen, they’re gonna be tagged. That’s why everyone looks like an asshole now.

“There’s no off button anymore, but the off is precisely what you’re after when you take a photograph. That vulnerability, that accident—that’s the victory. The transaction is fucked forever once we’re stripped of the petite mort.”

He was in a sportcoat and jeans, standing atop a movable bench in the brick-lined terrace behind a bar in Redhook. For ten bucks you got four cans of Genesee and some ice in a metal pail. Waldo had his hand around a bottle of Maker’s. The boys and girls listening to his monologue were more sober than he was. They sidelonged at each other, shrugged, mouthed okay. They had their phones out.

“So long as it’s all digital,” he said, “there’s no such thing as a line anymore. Where is the smear? Where are the fluids? Blood does not stain in pixels. Nor piss, nor shit, nor bile. Decay is not discrete. What we perceive is not discrete! It is a mesh of these fucking signals, all conspiring to design the brain’s illusion about what we’re supposed to see. It’s all a slop. We should want that slop! What are we running from?”

“It’s false permanence,” someone said.

“Right there!” He pointed at the wrong person. “My boy. There you go.”

By the next day it had gone viral: Waldo Zinczenko, adjunct at Cooper Union, who at the age of twenty-six already had been interviewed in Vulture and Artforum, shown at the Danziger Gallery as well as in Philadelphia and Boston, and written up in the Voice and Brooklyn Rail and Art in America, pronouncing his medium of choice dead as a fish in a can.

It might have made sense when you broke it down, but since it was the Internet, nobody wanted to do that.

What didn’t make sense to Julianne was what exactly a photographer was supposed to do for a living with photography off the table, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t stew in his own ripeness in the apartment that his hot attorney wife paid the rent on.

On Monday, her real birthday, she went to the office. Waldo was too hung over for birthday sex or even to make French press; worse, the string of vibrations from his phone hinted that the fallout from his meltdown was trickling in. Cooper Union’s Dean of Fine Arts instructed him to cancel his classes for the week; she would be driving down from Vermont that afternoon. On the train, Julianne read Tumblr comments from people who hadn’t even been at the party as far as she could tell, but were certain that they were the hipsters being implicated; in detached lowercase they insisted that the real shit was being smeared by hotshot elitist profs with middling gallery shows who had let the digital age expose their mediocrity. Julianne fought the urge to reply that, apparently, journalistic ethics were dead, too, and in the meantime she’d love to see what kind of cutting-edge work they’d been turning out, but she got distracted when a total stranger—male, bony face, round glasses, white shock of hair like the color had been dripped out of him—touched her shoulder and, in a gentle voice, told her he just wanted to wish her a happy birthday, then disembarked at Columbus Circle.

The firm didn’t bother with birthdays. If they liked you, there might be pastries, or offers to meet up for drinks. You certainly shouldn’t expect a bar of 70% fine dark chocolate, like the kind Julianne found in her top left drawer, which had been locked overnight.

She PMed thanks to Evie, who denied putting it there, and then later gushed apologies for forgetting Julianne’s birthday, OMG, grab a drink later, hon?

Wherever the chocolate came from, it took the sting out of the day’s second major discovery, which was that even corporate lawyers read gossip blogs. Julianne intuited this from the sympathetic tone of the emails that trickled in (“Hey J., I know you’ve got a lot on your plate today . . .”), the unchattiness of the barista who Sharpied Jul on her cup, and the way all three mommies poked their heads into her office without any of them seeming to have a question.

It wasn’t until lunchtime that she heard from Waldo via text: happy bday ummm guess whos been shitcanned wheeeee.

They got married for the irony of it. The ceremony was held upstate at Julianne’s uncle’s goat farm, where the party could go barefoot in the one field closed off to the goats. There were tiki torches and a flamenco band, which allowed the bride and groom to show off their eight weeks of dance lessons until it started pouring, when the festivities were hastily moved into the barn and the party camped out among the hay bales and rusted machinery, soggy clothes peeled off, the ground ripe with the terroir of goat shit.

Julianne was reminded of this ambition from her husband over the next few weeks. Waldo took on odd handyman jobs for absentee landlords in Park Slope and, at the same time, got long-abandoned chores done around the apartment. Last year’s Christmas lights were taken down from the terrace and thrown out (no longer working; suicidal squirrels would leap from the oak in the courtyard and gnaw on the cords), the built-in bookshelves repaired and books neatly shelved on them. The shower was scrubbed, the fridge cleaned out. The stove had four working burners again.

Cooper Union had covered itself on the legal end pretty well. The moment it was suggested that free speech was not a concept recognized in the university system anymore, the administration came back with numbers: the cancelled classes, the lousy drop/add rate, the inbox of complaints about the rock-star adjunct showing up too hung over to work the slide projector.

Waldo wasn’t heartbroken. “Blurry pictures of stoplights. Naked roommates curled up in Adirondack chairs. Barn doors. Brick walls. Golden tint on everything. They spend three thousand dollars on equipment to produce the same shit as everyone else.”

The media fiasco wasn’t over. The glossies still had to chime in. Angle said Waldo Zinczenko was “the last person in Brooklyn, or anywhere, to lecture the public about ego getting in the way of art”; Finish wondered if Waldo’s monologue was “the dying words of an artist finding himself out of ideas.” Flat Rate, a newish zine (run by “brats with money,” per Waldo) still looking for its niche, decided the affair merited a gushing four-page editorial:

“His declaration of the obvious in characteristically stentorian fashion, bacon-wrapped in clichés to boot—Genesee, sir? Really?—only lays bare the paucity of risk that has plagued Waldo Zinczenko’s career since his first show at age 20 at S & S Gallery—a show, we need not be reminded, given him as a favor to Zinczenko’s professor at Clark, Jack Bennington.

The image as art is not going anywhere. It will always be up to the artist to make it new and relevant. It is hard for us not to read Zinczenko’s comments as his attempt to eschew that responsibility, a slipping out the back door and down the dark alley of moral abandonment.”

Smoke Bomb reminded its readers that even Eggleston and Goldin probably doubted their relevance on their best days, they just didn’t whine about it to get noticed—an insinuation that the whole thing had been staged.

To protect his sanity, Waldo unplugged. Julianne would be his filter. It got so that he was hard to find during the day. He’d be up and out the door before Julianne awoke. On a couple of occasions she left work early only to find that he wasn’t home. Things were rearranged. In the kitchen Ethel rubbed her face on the corner of Waldo’s toolbox, crusted in paint and sawdust.

The apartment looked new in the daylight and smelled of work having been done, thin hints of sawdust and urethane. It reminded Julianne of the first day of school, that clearheaded feeling of things having been reset. It also pointed out an irony: for as many artist friends as she and Waldo had, they had very little art on the walls. She had money. She could have offered to buy one of Damien’s paintings. No wonder they thought she was a snob.

And Waldo: all this free time now, full of piss and vinegar. He wasn’t even drinking anymore. He must have announced this decision when Julianne was half-asleep, because he reminded her of it when she offered to make him a martini while they waited for sushi delivery. He closed his eyes to indicate that she was being unsupportive.

If Waldo was burning off the extra energy by cheating on Julianne, he at least was considerate enough to hide the evidence. His ex-students were fair game now. To cheat was a project to manage, and the guy loved his projects.

She went into the bedroom. Normally it was the messiest room, scattered with laundry and linens and thick with a human musk. It had been aired out. The floor was bare. Waldo had made the bed. The dressers were organized and polished, the mirror shined. The closet was ordered. The hampers were empty.

The rug by the bed had been moved. Julianne shooed away Ethel so she could lift up a corner. One of the floorboards stood out pale, out of texture, like a road stripe. She put weight on it with her stripe-socked foot. The old board had creaked like a barn loft for as long as Waldo and Julianne had lived there.

Julianne got on her knees. She ran her fingers lightly over the new board, reclaimed and sanded pine that left a grit that made her think of pencil sharpeners. She fingered the finishing nails, set in tiny and neat, forming a line along the center of the board.

“Motherfucker,” she said under her breath. She sprang from her crouch and headed back to the kitchen. Ethel’s mews of distress intensified. Julianne opened the toolbox and rummaged through the screwdrivers, socket heads, and sandpaper wedges. She took out a hammer and carried her adrenaline back to Waldo’s office, motherfucker, and in the middle of the floor she got on her knees and set upon working out the nails with the claw, a harder task than it looked given how cleanly set in they were. She had to dig into the wood until the head of each nail was pressured up just enough so she could wrestle it out with the claw, motherfucker this was hard, and by the time all of the nails were out the board stubbornly remained stuck in place somehow, so she jammed the claw between the slats and pulled. The board, rather than coming up as one clean piece, split lengthwise, but at that point what was done was done, so Julianne kept going, digging in and yanking wherever she could find a seam.

When the board was out, she set the broken pieces aside and peered into the space, but there was nothing there. In fact it was curiously clean: no dust, no lint, no mouse droppings or insulation shreds or wires, none of the kinds of detritus one would expect to find beneath a floor. She ran her hand along the inside.

“Motherfucker.” Her wrist and elbow ached from the contortions they had made. She could hear murmuring from beneath the subfloor. The new couple. Waldo already knew their business. He mentioned their names once but Julianne hadn’t been paying attention. From their voices they seemed like one of those couples who spoke at the same register and you wondered which one had made a project out of the other.

She hooked the hammer into the new hole and set upon pulling up the adjacent boards. When the next two boards split like the first one, Julianne did away with all pretense of caution; the nails, probably driven by some 19th-century immigrant, were more reluctant to be pried out of place, but when her adrenaline took over Julianne forgot the cramps in her arm, and the suckers gave.

With each upward tug she expected to find some new clue, a hint to treasure, a section of the rebus, but other than the occasional penny or sliver of newsprint, all that turned up was empty space. She was running out of floor to kneel on. If the joists hadn’t been there the hole would have been large enough for her to jump in and hide. But the thought to do so never occurred to her, not even after Waldo called out behind her, “The fuck are you doing?!,” his voice cracking like a man losing his shit, which gave Julianne a diabolical sense of satisfaction, and she stood and turned around with the hammer very comfortable in her hand and hooked it over her shoulder the way a lumberjack might a hacksaw.

“Well? Where are they, Waldo? What the fuck did you do with them?”

Melvin was cracking peanuts out of a paper bag, leaving the shells on his desk, and looking at something online he shouldn’t have been, from the way he jumped when Julianne tapped on his door.

His office was in the server room, near the central elevators, where nobody had to deal with him.

Friday before a long weekend: Julianne was wearing an above-the-knee skirt with a light sweater over a tank top. The moms were away, so there wouldn’t be any slights to put up with. Julianne’s calves could score points in the courtroom once in a while. Her core was gym-solid. Her hips hadn’t been thrown out of whack by childbirth. She was through apologizing for this.

“Did you try a restart?” Melvin asked over his shoulder.


He turned around. “Oh. Hey.”

Melvin’s cane was leaning against the partition. Julianne picked it up and swung it like a baton. She slid it down her arm, caught the hook in her hand, and began high-stepping in front of Melvin’s chair, at least as much as the confines of the server room allowed.

She sang: “Hello, my baby! Hello, my honey! Hello my ragtime gal! Send me a kiss by wire, baby my heart’s on fire!

“What are you doing?”

“It’s the Michigan Rag,” she said. “Everybody likes the Michigan Raaag!

He smiled at last in a way that indicated he was glad she was there. “That was one of their best shorts,” he said. “And they never used the character again, except as a mascot.”

She braced the cane behind her head with both arms hooked over it, pillory-style. “I’m here to thank you for the chocolate,” she said.

Melvin bit his lip. Julianne’s work was audits and paper trails, phone tracings and offshore accounts. Rarely so face-to-face.

“I narrowed it down,” she said. “Evie would never talk to you. The people in HR don’t have souls. When you set up the new email client you used our birthdays for the default passwords. You know everyone’s birthday.”

“I hope it made a bad day better.”

“Everyone kept looking at me like I was supposed to explain. He’s my husband. He’s an egotist. I don’t control him.”

Melvin took a handful of peanuts and offered some to Julianne. The bag was still warm.

“My birthday was Saturday,” he said. “You want to know what I did? My mother made a chocolate cake, and I ate three pieces of it, and it was delicious and I felt like I was five years old again, and I hated her for doing it. So I screamed at her until she cried.”

Julianne walked over to his chair. He dusted the shells out of his hand, thinking she wanted to give him the cane, but instead she lifted her leg and straddled his lap, hooking the cane behind his head. His breath was short and smelled like ripened cheese.

They went to an art-deco diner in Chelsea. The waiters didn’t acknowledge them, instead holding in a cluster at the rear while slurring about film auditions and gazing at their needle bruises. Julianne looked across the table at the top of Melvin’s head.

After a few minutes, Melvin said, “I don’t think we’re going to get served.”

They joked about it on the walk back.

“I’ve got three studios interested in my screenplay!” Julianne said. “I need to finish it!”

“I need to save my creative energy!” Melvin said.

“This weather has been so terrible for location shots.”

“I can’t get funding! It’s such a hardship!”

“Oh my god.”

They went back to her office. The floor was quiet. Safe with the door closed, he sat in her chair and watched her undress.

He ran his finger lightly over the bruise on her shoulder, and she flinched. “Sorry,” he said. “What happened there?”

“Me being clumsy.”

“You’re in a lot of his photos,” he said.

“Not so much anymore.”

“He likes them younger now.”

She narrowed her gaze. “What else do you know?”

“You buy a ton of shoes,” he said. “And you like baiting libertarians into arguments on HuffPo.”

“They’re so afraid of humanity. They’re terrible people.”

“You’re up to Season Five of Walking Dead. You’re starting to get into tennis but you don’t know many of the players. And you read Scandinavian crime novels and rate restaurants on Yelp depending on what kind of apps they have.”

“And you know I like chocolate.”

“And makeup from Sephora. Nordstrom. Something called Refinery29. Other than that,” he said, “you’re a mystery.”

She arrived home hoping that Waldo would smell Melvin on her. She wanted a fight. She had rehearsed lines on the train.

Instead, she found the apartment crawling with young people she didn’t know. Three girls were on their knees, doing lines off the coffee table. One was in her bra. Julianne thought about the razor scratching the finish.

Other people were stretched on the floor with legal pads out, laptops open. One girl was leafing through a giant dictionary. Julianne stepped around them. Music boomed from the wall-mounted speakers.

Damien cornered her and said into her ear, “He’s a tyrant. I can’t work like this.”

“What’s he doing? Who are these people?”

“He insists I don’t know anything about message. You wanna tell that prick that my Frances Farmer painting sold in less than twenty-four hours?”

Waldo appeared from the bedroom. “We’re rebranding,” he said.


“Taking my narrative back from those punchers who wrote about me.”

Waldo’s head glistened with sweat. Julianne expected to find more naked people behind him. Instead he gestured to a fully clothed couple sitting cross-legged with laptops on the bed.

“Dale and Rayna. They live downstairs. They’re in advertising.”

They waved at Julianne. She didn’t wave back. She went out to the terrace for a cigarette. Her eyes ordered Waldo to follow.

“Just to be straight: which one are you fucking?” she said when they were alone. “Or are you fucking both of them?” She lit her cigarette, exhaled a jet into the night.

He looked at her like he had been assaulted. “Jules, I’m not.”

“This Rayna, our new friend? Is she the one who’s been going through my shit?”

“What? No. We’ve been through this. No one’s going through your shit. This is the first time they’ve been here.”

“Awfully cozy.” She was fiend-smoking, with deep, quick, drags. She would want another when it was finished. “I want them gone.”

“You’d like Dale and Rayna. Let them stick around. They’re sweet in that they have no idea. We need friends who aren’t goddamn sad artists. Aren’t you bored?”

“You were finding plenty for me to do.”

“Which reminds me. Vicente said he wouldn’t evict us for the floor. I gave him some coke and he thanked me for putting it back together. You should smoke that in here, it’s freezing out.”

Instead she shivered in the raw, waiting for the scene inside to evaporate. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a gray squirrel peek its nose out from the hole where the orange brick had eroded. It wriggled out further, extracting itself like a miner, and had something in its mouth, pink like a bubblegum wrapper. The creature skittered like a firework along the railing, its claws hard on the metal, and Julianne recognized her pink striped sock, one she had worn just a day earlier, trailing like a streamer on a handlebar.

When the squirrel reached the corner it leaped, sock and all, the two or so feet it needed to reach the branch of the oak that touched fingerlike down to their level from its height in the courtyard. Fearlessly the animal completed the jump and continued along the branch, stopping and starting. It darted up into the leaves and disappeared.

“I’ll be fucked,” Julianne said to herself. She looked around to see if anyone else had seen what she had seen, as though that meant anything. Waldo had already retreated inside. She snuffed out the cigarette.

Back in the apartment, Dale and Rayna were showing something on the laptop to Waldo. He finished with them and turned around.

“Also,” he said to Julianne, “we’re moving.”

“What? Where?”

“Where everyone isn’t a fucking art project. I don’t have a career here. Your office is downtown. We used to be so much better at getting ahead of things.”

“I like living here. Our friends are here.”

“They followed us. They’ll follow us again.”

“I don’t want to live in Manhattan.”

“Of course you don’t!”

“Not Queens either.”

“Fuck Queens! Where’s the message in that? Why not infect them where they live?”

“Who’s they?”

“Look at me. Westchester.”

“Eww, what? No.”

“We can make it work! Listen. We can’t spend our lives in cold apartments that used to be warehouses and pretend we’re happy anymore. Irony is over. If the elite want to be envied for their materialism so badly, why not call them out on it? We can do so much more with it and embarrass the fuck out of them. Seriously, this is going to be the most baller thing we have ever done.”

Waldo grabbed her face and kissed her, in front of Dale, Rayna, and the strangers. Julianne responded with her tongue to keep him going. His bristles bit her cheeks. She remembered this. She flashed back to the farm and the goat terroir. Electrified by the knowledge that people were watching. The lens capturing her. She remembered the way her husband could make her forget where she was.

He pulled away and said, still smiling, “I wuff you, baby.”


“I wuff you.” He put his hand to his face.

“Why’s he swelling up like that?” the girl in the bra said.

“The fuck ith wiff my mouff?”

“Oh, shit! Waldo! I had peanuts. Oh, shit!”

Waldo backed against the wall and put his hand on his throat. “I can’t bweef.”

From the back of the room, Damien cackled and said, “There’s that beautiful face we know!”

Julianne stood transfixed as Rayna rushed into the kitchen and, without needing to search or be told, opened the exact drawer where they kept the EpiPen. She darted back into the room, yelling at Julianne: “Are you damaged? He’s your husband. Don’t you care?”

Waldo’s face was purpling. He stumbled past the cocaine girls and collapsed onto the couch. The girl with the dictionary began to dial 911 with her phone and another girl told her no, don’t, pointing to the coke.

“He’ll asphyxiate!” the girl said.

Rayna raced back to Waldo and jammed the EpiPen into his thigh. “Stay calm,” she said. With her other hand she held his wrist for a pulse, while continuing to glare at Julianne.

Julianne looked around the room at the strange young faces and they looked back at her, tense and confused. A wave of euphoria came over her, the way it does when you get the joke before everyone else.  

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