If, Through Loose Ends
by Kendra Jeong-Espinosa If, through loose ends, we could resume Unrav'ling defects from the loom And soften as the shuttle mends--- Then save for me a few loose ends! Should ringlets 'bove the brow displace And settle on a lover's face: Such charm, to beauty, only lends--- Framed sweetly by those few loose ends! Through fibers, should a path appear, By trailing---shown what happened here--- The source from which it all extends, Then weave my future with loose ends! If pulling threads should guarantee A sound suspension of ennui That purpose warps and naught transcends--- Then, please, leave me a few loose ends!
Kendra stopped bartending and addressed her visitor. “Shu, you got the angelfish?”
“Yeah. Stole it from your brother. I’ve been running around with a nasty-ass fish in my inventory ’cause I love you so much.” The fish occupied a square between a 2019 original Angsty pancake poster in alright condition and a completed worksheet on the point-slope formula that couldn’t be turned in once he aged up. And plants, many of those: he couldn’t be assed to count how many orchids were bouncing around in there—at least 99—but knew exactly how many bunches of parsley he had, which was 34. Originally the fish was from Willow Creek, within shouting distance from the storefronts if lake water didn’t muffle the sound; and weeks ago, betrayed by the promise of a snack, found itself trapped in its own marine-edition Tiny Living situation where it witnessed things it didn’t want to.
Wyatt was already seated. He’d been helping Kendra come up with a list of the least problematic Reggaeton songs well before Shu had arrived. Or rather, listening to Kendra and contributing media analysis when he could. When Shu arrived he clammed up and stared straight forward. Not that there was anything to look at. Before the meeting, she’d moved the poledancing tentacle out of the living room.
“Put the nasty fish in my fridge if it bothers you.” A suggestion he couldn’t follow without awkwardly pushing past her, given her position at the bar.
“It’s not gonna matter. I know it’s there. And it doesn’t decay.”
“And you got the—“
“—Yeah, yeah. And also the painting that caused my parents’ divorce.”
“Literally 100% the vomiting-sun painting’s fault.” She decapped the cream cola bottle and took a compulsive whiff. It smelled better out of the bottle. Not much effort went into making a cream cola; it was still her favorite drink even though she always had mixers on hand and kept her bar stocked with five kinds of homemade bitters. “But I kinda get it—something about it ticks me off in a way I can’t explain.”
“Where do you want it?”
“There’s an empty space on the wall in front of Yuggoth’s bowl.”
“There’s a lot of empty space. You want—“
“Side facing the stairs.” Looking forward, Kendra made a karate-chop gesture toward the stairs.
“Okay. Takes a sec to kick in.” Shu stepped over Yuggoth’s bowl to get in position. Waving his hand caused the painting to appear on the wall in front of him. As he approached the sofa, Kendra noticed—but didn’t mention—that Wyatt suspired and moved to the armchair. Shu occupied the position on the couch closest to Wyatt. If Kendra didn’t know better she’d think he was trying to tick Wyatt off.
She settled next to Shu, gently, so as to not spill her cream cola. “Any ideas on the music from either of you?”
Shu sank further into the couch. “Kenny, for fuck’s sake. This was your idea. You get to pick the music.”
“I don’t know. I was hoping you guys could help me.”
Wyatt leaned forward, still keeping distance between himself and Shu. “So when you’re asking about the music, how much of the message are you hoping to convey in the medium?” A bit wordy, as Kendra expected. Here’s the deal. The base impression of Shu Wyatt’d gotten from rumors was as an eternally dopamine-sick party boy with one hand leading the charge off a cliff and the other in everyone’s pants. But tension hadn’t yet dissipated after the second of Wyatt’s awful parties, during which Shu, first of all, settled an argument about the pronunciation of ‘dishabille’ while using his pocketknife to fashion a red Solo cup into a swan—or at least heroically trying to—and then, fifteen minutes into Wyatt’s prepped monologue to Olivia Spencer-Kim-Lewis on why she needs to watch Synechdoche, New York, dropped in and sold her with “oh yeah, stuff happens that isn’t supposed to and it’s funny.” She tried to remember whether S.-K.-L. was the only one of Wyatt’s crushes Shu had slept with. That swan stayed on Wyatt’s coffee table until a week before Harvestfest. “Opera for gravitas? Heavy metal for emotional consistency? Or the ironic route: you want to put on a pop song that sounds like it has fitting metaphorical implications but isn’t meant to be dark?”
“I thought about it, you know, and I think I want Katamari Damacy vibes. You know, I want something so bizarre in the background that when people hear about what I did, they’ll be like ‘fuck that’s insane,’ and then their friend will say, that’s nothing, you have to know what she was listening to when she did it.”
“So, nonchalant,” Wyatt said.
“Exactly that. I want the kind of thing you spend hours planning but it sounds like you just hit shuffle in your music library and just ran with it. I want the music version of that sexy-hobo hipster look where you look great in a cardigan over some PJs but the cardigan, and the PJs, each, cost §500. But it’s paying one-k simoleons to look like you can pull any old crap off your bedroom floor and still look good.”
“I still think some pop ought to do it. I mean, I’m thinking you can pick anything well-known enough and ruin everyone’s association with the song forever. Maybe with like a hidden meaning, or one line, so it’s a bit too fitting as long as you look hard enough. Just a sliver of intentionality, yeah?”
“Got anything specific in mind?”
“Uh, like I said, you could make anything work for this purpose as long as the mood’s divergent enough. You could go for ‘It’s My Life,’ stave off the criticism early.”
“That’s an idea.”
“You know—you know, I’m looking at the lyrics and it doesn’t fit perfectly. But that’s the point. You’re picking something that will keep the audience guessing. And this one, the progression of the chorus, the jab of irony at the end—and you could interpret ‘commit,’ arguably, in a way that fits the situation—the battle with the self and its desires, themes of freedom and fear. But you consider the general context of the song, break-ups, and then”—he gestured as if he were flicking water off his fingers, palms facing up—“eh?”
“Yeah, man, I got it. That’s what I’m going for.”
“Or maybe ‘Don’t Speak.’ For some reason, No Doubt’s been on my mind lately. But—nah, maybe I just think it fits because I’m seeing it from the perspective of someone in the room when it’s happening. Wait, wait, no. ‘Bad Girls.'”
“Pussy Riot or M.I.A.?”
“I was thinking like M.I.A. but whatever works.”
“Damn, Wyatt. You know the M.I.A. one is a religious experience. I can’t not put myself on pause and watch the video the moment it comes on.” Please take a breather here, as Kendra is doing, to appreciate how awesome that video is. She turned to Shu. “Street Oedipus, you’ve been quiet. You got anything?”
“Seems like Wyatt’s got it covered. Why not just use the Katamari soundtrack if you’re so in love with it?”
“Hah! You know that point where you roll up an animal or person and it screams and then you look two minutes later and it’s stopped moving?”
Shu shrugged. “I’ve watched Gen play it like, once. Have you thought about meme music?”
“Oh god I—that’s—that’s fucking horrible. I love it. Whatcha got?”
Wyatt tagged back in. “Meme music like ‘Ultimate Showdown’ or like ‘Crab Rave’?”
“Meh. I’m not feeling ‘Crab Rave.’ Anything recent and popular’s gonna sound too planned. And ‘Ultimate Showdown’ just calls attention to itself. You have to stop whatever you’re doing until it’s over. Like a show tune, you know? Shu?”
“I can’t get anything to pop into my head except ‘Let Me Borrow That Top.’“
“Oh my Jesus—for the love of fuck, Shu, what’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“That’s so fucking stupid I’m completely in love with it.”
“Really?” Wyatt made the same face Kendra did last week when she was stuck in the checkout line behind a woman in a pillbox hat buying seven 45-oz tubs of margarine. “Really?”
A phantasm of Bernard popped into Kenny’s head, face obscured by a column of black smoke drifting off his immolated suit, fingertips melting from the bone, his eyes black as he recounted how he was now banned from every Yankee Candle in the tri-neighborhood area plus MagProm. “Look, you want something truly disturbing, you have to act like it’s not disturbing. You can scream at the sky about how everyone leaves you, or you could throw it out there like ‘yeah my mom pushed me out a window once’ and then just skip off. The second one is so, so much worse.”
“Hold up.” Shu took Kendra’s empty glass. “I’mma wash this in the bathroom sink.”
Kendra was still holding on to her empty glass, and continued doing so after Shu had reached the stairs, sprawling her body over the couch arm and generally looking like a mother whose appearance is contained to the prologue of a movie, where the vague child-stealing forces of evil were destined to win however tightly she clung to the babe, and the last we saw of her was in a shrinking first-person view being swallowed by the void. That’s what happened when Shu reached the banister. She cursed the heavens and turned to Wyatt. “Been a while since I thought about that channel. What was it? Mid-aughts? Remember when Margaret Cho got in on it?”
“She’s in this one too.” Wyatt angled his phone toward Kendra. “See? That’s Margaret Cho.”
Kendra leaned in towards his phone and confirmed that Margaret Cho was, indeed, in on this one too. In this instance she was colluding with a ninja in hopes of convincing the antagonist and her cheerleader entourage to temporarily part with an item of clothing. It’s worth noting that the antagonist wasn’t wearing this item of clothing at the time, as the ninja said shortly before Cho’s entrance.
Wyatt retracted his phone. He continued to mess around with something onscreen, leaving Kendra to examine her nails and become more aware of the growing heat in her core. Heat or weight. Something to keep her stuck to the couch and trapped in her head.
She heard Wyatt gasp. “Oh shit. ‘I’ve already been to heaven. After five minutes I was like, let’s go.’ That’s actually perfect. That’s what I meant by slivers of intentionality.” He waved his phone not so much to show Kendra the lyrics per se but to explain where he got them from.
“Oh shit, I forgot about that part! Bit optimistic if you think I’m going to heaven.”
“Maybe it takes them five minutes to vet you. Five minutes at least.” The gesture was small, but Kendra assumed the upward shift in gaze meant Wyatt was now looking at his phone’s status bar. “Actually, how long do you think this’ll take?”
“Probably a few hours to get going.” Kenny could’ve checked the time on her phone’s own status bar but chose not to. “Ah, right. You’re thinking the song’s not long enough?”
“Yeah, it’s going to last, what—three or four hours? Do you think the song’s gonna end before it happens? You wanna come up with another song or just loop it?”
“Oh, guess we should figure that out now. Huh.”
“Okay. Hear me out. I kind of love the idea of the music stopping by itself and then one of us drops everything to restart the video. It’s like, really? That’s the problem they’re gonna focus on?”
“That’s rich. Almost too rich. It’s already gonna be hard not to d— to fall over laughing with that playing in the background.”
Wyatt scowled at his phone. “Yeah that’s my problem with it, too. Like I get what you’re going for and I have to admit it’s funny, but it’s not like you’ve done this before. At least consider something that goes with the mood, because otherwise it might get damped out and you’ll lose the drama you’re going for. Maybe ‘Killing In The Name’?”
“What, and be irreverent next time?”
Shu reclaimed his seat. “Next time. Oh my god, Kenny.”
“What? Next time can’t be as bad, and I’m not going all-the-way all the way. But if what Bernard says is true, I’m probably not going to be in as good a mood then.”
“Okay, here’s a time-saver. Don’t take Bernard at face value. He’s trying to fuck with you. When I was little he convinced me he invented reading. I think he was seeing how far he could push it. And he had me thinking a baby half-brother or -sister was on the way for like, I don’t wanna admit how long. My dad clued me in eventually.”
“Man, I buy that. Fucking Bernard. But that’s not what this is. He was being serious that time.”
“That’s just how his face is.”
“I promise you he was being serious.”
“What does it matter what Bernard says? This is all speculation.” Wyatt had flipped his palm upward on the word ‘matter.’
“Who else am I gonna ask? He’s the expert.” Her gaze wandered toward the empty spot on her accent table. “Shoot, it just occurred to me. If there’s a next time, that’s uncharted territory. Is it like spicy food? I mean, does it get easier or harder the more times you do it?”
“Huh.” There was a readiness with which Wyatt took to topics lacking facts to prove him wrong, and Kendra wasn’t unfamiliar with that preparatory utterance. “Is it like taking a bit of your health bar each time or are you building a tolerance?”
She widened her eyes and jerked her head left. “Guess we just don’t know.”
Usually facts—such as the correct pronunciation of ‘dishabille’—ended a conversation, while speculation prolonged it. Not now. It only worked if the participants had theories to share. And here, no one wanted to address the main event out loud. Even Kendra herself chilled at the thought, the horripilation conflicting with the burning dread in her gut in a way that made both worse. But if she kept herself distracted just enough, faked it just enough, she’d be golden. In and out of the red. Her aim now was to keep it moving.
“Hey, Shu. What color is fear?”
“I—don’t know.” He looked to the left. “People don’t really talk when they’re afraid. And if I hear a sound that scares me, it’s angry or tense. Red-to-orange. Because it’s not the sound that’s frightened.”
“Uh? Either of you care to catch me up?” Wyatt asked.
“Shu and his dad do this synesthesia thing where hearing sound makes them visualize color. The hue is based on the emotion they associate the sound with.”
Wyatt’s abrupt eye-pop implied this was a better topic than Kendra’d expected. “Holy shit! That’s awesome! I read about that in Psychology Today. What color am I saying now?”
Shu could have received an orchid every time he heard that and he wouldn’t have noticed. It’s still above the threshold. “It was yellow-green when you were talking about Psychology Today and fuchsia-ish when you asked that question. It’s usually fuchsia when someone’s messing around or telling a joke.”
“So you can tell how someone’s feeling just by the tone of their voice?”
“No, it’s just what we think they’re feeling. That’s how I didn’t get that Bernard was fucking with me.”
Having nothing to contribute, Kendra began to fall back into her bodily discomfort. She leaned forward, supporting her torso with both hands, as if to exhale the heat from inside her while bathing her shaking hands in warm breath.
“You alright? Having second thoughts?” Of course Shu would notice.
“See, this is the kind of thing where I’m expecting to have second thoughts. I’m prepped.” Her pitch rose, as did her hands. “But I have to keep going or I’ll never reach my dream! Did the purpose of every kids’ movie fly over your head? Do you hate dreams, Shu?”
“I’m sure there are ways to go about it without—“
“—I need to know. Because the option is there. It’s”—she brought her hand to her temple, fingertips only so as to not get her rings tangled in her beanie again—“not just about the poetry for me. I thought you, of anyone, could understand. True novelty. True connection. We’ve been over this.”
He refused to meet her gaze.
“If you came to talk me out of it, it won’t work. You leave, my lifeline goes with you. Understood?”
Shu nodded downward.
Wyatt took the silence as his cue. “It’s like throwing a finger to the universe. Ironic because you might as well but it’s not a nihilist statement? Or at least nihilist for the opposite reasons people are usually nihilist.”
“Cool, brah, you can write the post-mortem essay.”
Shu still hadn’t looked up. She may have heard him swear to himself. “What did you want us to do?”
“Ah, that’s the thing.” She rose to address them. As she delivered her plan, she stared at a patch on the ceiling. “I was hoping one of you could help get me started, then I’ll do a bit of legwork on buffs—by that I mean I’ll make a Boiler Room and stare at that fucking sun painting until I’m ready to smash it—and we’ll take it from there. Maybe storm through the house to see if there’s something else; Shu, you could cook something if you’re in the mood. Splitting up social interactions so you two aren’t in danger. I’ve got some potions on hand to neutralize it for you two because under no circumstances are you to use Beguile, Shu. So let’s get this thing moving. Wyatt, you’re in charge of the music.”
“Copy that.” He went back to his phone.
“You know your own strength, right?”
He hesitated. “Yeah?”
“Shit, I let the video sit too long and I’m getting an ad again. I’m muting it. Hold on.”
“And you have no misgivings about getting into fights to club music. God, if this song could even be called that. God. Shu. You are fucking nuts for even suggesting it.” She chuckled at the ceiling before turning back to him. “I need you to slap me.”
“Kenny, what the fuck? I thought we were just supposed to bring shit and hold the evil painting.”
Wyatt mumbled. “Dream-hater.”
“Just like, one. To start things off.”
“Is it really gonna work if you’re expecting it? I mean, you asked me to.”
“Okay, they let me skip the ad but I forgot how long this intro is. It’s still on mute. Hold on. I’m finding where the actual song starts.”
“How the hell would I know? I’m banking on suspension of disbelief; I’m still not sure you’re gonna do it. Saying you’ll do something isn’t the same as actually carrying it out.”
“And you’re sure this is what you want. Hundred percent.”
“Yes!” Somewhat louder than she intended. But that was alright; that would save her some time, put the odds in her favor. She wouldn’t let him see her shaking. “You’re gonna do this right now, Shu? Make me drop everything to comfort you? Really? You think you’re the one who needs reassurance right now?”
“And—got it! Okay, music’s ready.”
“Alright. Wyatt, hit it.”
Wyatt unmuted his phone. Onscreen, a young woman holding a black shirt reacted incredulously to a ringing doorbell.
“Shu.” Said in medium blue.
Let me borrow that top.
Author’s note 4/10/21: I just learned there’s a patch released 2 months after this chapter where they added a ‘Scared’ emotion, and now fear is the color of Kendra’s hat. Devs? Are you out there? The fuck you ruin my prologue for? Ahahaha.