#FF073A (NEON RED) by Brenden Layte

#FF073A (NEON RED) by Brenden Layte

Its buzz calls you to the window. You’ll have trouble understanding why it gets hot and hurts so much, yet you’ll keep bringing your finger right up to it, paper widths between you and a pain you can’t put words to but can’t help but want. Everything is so big, so far away, but you’ll have managed to prop yourself up on a chair, your fingers incandescent as they reach through metal grates to the glowing tubes. The grown-ups will all be yelling and unsteady. The carpet will be covered in ash and the room will be full of smoke. You don’t usually see or hear them like this unless you’re home with your door closed and they think you’re sleeping. You, waking from dreams of dinosaurs, exploring deep in the ocean, worlds where Care Bears and Popples are real, listening. Them, crashing in just before the sun comes up, their voices filling the apartment with life and yells of happiness and eventually ones of sadness and anger. Their illusions just as self-soothing as your own.

It glistens on the surface of the canals around you. You’ll be unsure if the ripples are in the water or in your head or just in a part of your head and trying to figure out what difference it makes will just make things more confusing. The damp cobblestones will glow and glimmer, dancing in the lights—beautiful, but seeming to avoid your feet. In your unsteadiness, you’ll look around to try to latch onto something. You’re not sure what. Something that can make your feet feel like part of the earth. Something that can make it seem like you might not slip and fly off into the sky. You’ll catch a door opening and then one closing, each framed by ionized gas. You’ll get glimpses, pieces of the night around you, pieces of people you can’t quite see, before you’ll have to avert your eyes again. The ground will shift again, or you’ll have a misstep, or maybe both, but either way you’ll stagger. One more stumble and you know you’ll fall and fall and fall.

It casts a reddish-pink reflection across the resin-drowned covers of 40s pulp novels that cover the bar. “This is it,” it reads. The crumbs on the bar will feel good as you crunch them under your fingers. There’s something satisfying about breaking them down into dust. It’s not about strength, but completion. There’ll be a cowpunk or maybe an alt country band playing in the corner of the room—who can really tell the difference—and taxidermy animals will surround you. Your friend will be coked-up and telling you something right in your ear, but from a place that you’ll know you can’t get to even if you try. Or you’ll be alone, your anxiety voice louder and more boisterous than usual. You’ll let your nervous glance finally linger on a dead raccoon in a baseball uniform, crimson streaks barely illuminating the dingy fabric, and think that you could probably use a cigarette even though you really shouldn’t. 

It casts a backwards welcome across a chipped cream-colored coffee cup, the flicker from the projected words “OPEN 24 HOURS” warmer than the drink inside. The diner will be on the National Register of Historic Places, but despite that honor everyone will be drunk or high and you’ll have an omelet, home fries, and a chicken parmesan sandwich in front of you. You’ll be on your fifth cup of coffee because, even though it’s 4 in the morning, you’ll only have stopped getting high for long enough to work up an appetite and you need something to keep you from crashing too hard or else you might put your head down and pass out right in the eggs. Despite everyone being well into a come down, there will be a stillness to the table, a comfort that only comes from people you can be your most human around. Or what you’ll think is your most human. You won’t know it yet, but this will be the last time you’ll ever be together with all these people.

It sparkles off shards of glass on the wet sidewalk so that they shimmer like sequins on an old Christmas decoration. You’ll notice a spent casing next to a half-flattened pizza box. Rain will fall through a broken window and puddle on Formica booths. Your bus will slowly stagger forward, an ambulance stuck in traffic ahead, unable to break through. The people who are supposed to take things like this seriously will just be standing around by now and joking—letting the lights, the rain, the lives flicker however they happen to. You’ll be resting a bruised and swollen eye against a foggy window, tired, just wanting to get home, absentmindedly watching them. One will look over and you’ll briefly make eye contact. You’ll think that you recognize shame or a moment of self-reflection, or, if not that, at least self-awareness, but he’ll break the contact, slap the uniformed shoulder across from him and go back to laughing. 

Brenden Layte (he/him) is an editor of educational materials, a linguist, and a writer. His work has appeared in places like Entropy, Lost Balloon, Pithead Chapel, and The Forge. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and tweets at @b_layted.

Art by Steve Anwyll @oneloveasshole