All + One
BY ANDREW MANGAN
Look at the snow falling all around her. How it takes its time, not pouring like rain, but slowly, gently, indirectly drifting toward the earth. Look at her and him, there, running around, in it, the snow. How full his smile is as he chases her.
“It’s all sad as hell, you know. Really, truly sad as hell.”
For all his life, Loren hated Boston. He hated how they talked. Baw-ston. How they mispronounced his name. Law-ren. A different name entirely. He hated how they indiscriminately slung around words like qw-eehh and re-tah-did, and how this reflected how little they cared about anyone other than themselves. It was a town, Loren thought, so introverted and self-obsessed that they couldn’t even get his name right. That was if anyone ever noticed him. For almost all his life, Loren was alone, and he blamed Boston for it.
You noticed him almost immediately. It was difficult not to notice him. He was a big guy. Bigger than most. Far bigger. Rounder. He must have been a solid three hundred, if you had to guess. But that did not seem to be negative. No, because he was a nice guy. Friendly. Personable. Nice. Nice—not the precise word a guy in high school would want you to use to describe him, as if you were calling him your brother or something. Something “far too platonic,” whatever that could mean. But, of course, he’s not at all like your brother. Your brother’s not a nice guy, treating his girlfriend like shit, getting her pregnant at eighteen. No, Loren—this guy—was Nice. Far more than the Average Teenage Male.
This you know. This you have noticed.
It seemed odd to Loren that “as hell” had become a generic and too-commonly-used semantic intensifier. Like: “dumb as hell” or “funny as hell” or “good as hell.” Especially odd that anyone ever chose to use it in a positive context. Loren thought of hell, though he did not believe in it, as utter loneliness. Not the clichéd, cloying, sentimental, Hallmark kind of “loneliness.” But more like a hugging someone and feeling nothing at all kind of loneliness. A loneliness like a birthday card in which the only special and unique and thoughtful part was nothing more than the signature at the end, hidden, after the lame joke. Loneliness like a vacant house. Loneliness like moving to a new city and being afraid to go out and meet people and hang out at terrible, humiliating clubs, not even to hit on good-looking people but instead just to meet and actually talk with someone, anyone, but then, rather than going out, staying in and watching late-night TV and eating Cheez-Whiz and crackers kind of loneliness. A dark, lonely loneliness. Loneliness that really brought out some truly fantastic and notable levels of creativity from him, but which also made him want to, literally, seriously, non-hyperbolically, want to die. As in: Loren Octavio Newton-Ellis, aged forty-six, self-employed, at home, a home lacking a water cooler, more than partially balding, sort of unsure about most things, to be honest, was lonely as hell.
“Dude had, against his will, been a remarkably fat child, if I’m being totally honest. Really, truly, vastly overweight. Like, we’re talking: he would need a goddamn motorized scooter to get around by the time he turned thirty. If he made it that far. Like, I’m saying, if he didn’t do anything about it, no woman would want to climb that peak, you know. But it hadn’t been his fault exactly. More so his mother’s. Used to tell me that she made him so damn fat. Sugar- sprinkled butter bread since he was old enough to chew solids. Bread like fucking training wheels for donuts or something, you know. Goddamn, he was fat.
“But so, like, whenever I saw him at our reunion, the Ten-Year one, the one people actually show up to, not the Five-Year one that’s only populated by those fat yearbook girls no dude fucked except on a dare or whatever, you know, the girls who had organized the whole ordeal. But, yeah, whenever I saw him there, goddamn, he’d lost like a solid hundred. Literally: a solid fucking hundred. As in: went from probably pushing three-zero-zero our senior year to maybe more like a sturdy one-ninety, ten years post. Actually, math’s off. That’s more than a hundred. Could’ve lost more than a hundred, I don’t know. Didn’t ask him. Anyway, what I’m saying is dude lost a metric fuck-load of weight. He stormed his decent-sized, sort-of-athletic frame through those gym doors all confident and looking to fuck forlorn tail and that kind of shit. Came alone and everything. That’s how you know someone wants to nab old high school tail. Really wants to prove something to the chicks who’d tormented him or rejected him back then or whatever. Dude—Loren, if I didn’t mention, can’t ever remember to mention people’s names; really, truly, terrible with names, if I’m being honest—but so dude somehow scored this killer girl to go to prom with senior year, but then goes about showing up all alone to the reunion. Lest you forget: with way less in the way of poundage. Way less fat and totally alone in coming there, ten years post. So no doubt he was trying to score some past pussy or whatever, you know. Some girl-who-got-away pussy, you know.
“Dude was total shit with the chicks. Honest to God—and I’m starting to attend church again nowadays, really trying to, you know—but honestly, way back when, Loren really probably ate away his female rejections. As in: a super-high donuts-to-dames conversion rate. One female rejection, one custard donut, you know. Every time a chick’d say, No Way In Hell, Fatso, or some shit, he’d probably go back to his mom’s house and like he’d eat away those feelings or whatever, you know. Sort of feel sorry for the dude. Real sorry.”
You are not the type of girl who smiles all that much. It’s not that everyone tells you you don’t have a good smile. It’s not that you lack that positive psych-reinforcement or have received any negative comments about your smile. No, in fact, it’s just quite the opposite. Great Smile, has been something thrown at you much of your life. By potential suitors as much as those platonically inclined. In fact, most of them have told you: Smile More. Which you think feels like a command. Sure, it’s said in a positive light, with the person telling you to Smile More probably even smiling as they say it, like it’s some type of compliment. But, of course, when you get down to its syntax, it is nothing more than a command. A command that you should Smile More; that smiling is something you should do regardless of your internality; that your smile is so unmistakably great that if you don’t use it like the nuclear-grade weapon it is, then you’re some type of prude or bitch or, even if they are feeling so presumptuous, cunt; that if you don’t behave in the exact way they desire, you’re doing something wrong. Smile More is that type of call: for you to forgo your feelings for the desires of those around you. That your autonomy doesn’t actually matter all that much. That you don’t actually matter all that much. Except for, that is, your smile.
“Except for that one chick. Somehow he’d enchanted this one chick, that prom chick, despite his being so damn fat and all. So, I assume, they weren’t much more than friends, which really must’ve pissed in his cereal, you know. Who am I kidding, no way dude ate any cereal. Fucking donuts all the way. But so yeah, senior year prom rolls around and he comes charging in with this hot-as-fuck chick tagging along on his arm. All confident and shit. Crazy confidence, this one had all of a sudden. Chick we’d all never seen before, but still allegedly went to our school. She never seemed to smile. Had that supermodel sort of look on her face. All disaffected or whatever. But, I mean, still. I mean, picture this shit: this dude, Loren, fat-as-all-hell, strolling into the gym prom night with this fine-ass chick. Our jaws—I shit you not—were on the floor. Spilling goddamn fruit punch out of our mouths. Waterfalls of fruit punch.
“Though, but, like, none of us ever saw them kiss and he’d never say he fucked her or got head or even fingered her or anything, which I mean, what girl would have let him do that to her? The fat and all. Like fucking a beanbag chair or some shit. Three spare tires. But yeah so anyway, we all just assumed he’d scored some pity date from some girl in exchange for tutoring her in math or whatever.
“But, really it was fucking magic at the reunion. Weight Watchers. 24/7 Fitness. Fasting, maybe. No clue how he lost all that weight, but, shit, he looked halfway decent, you know, and this ain’t coming from some queer, you know.”
Before the prom, Loren would describe her to his small group of friends in detail, never dropping her name, not wanting them to go off and tell her the feelings he had, because, as per The Rules of the Game: if a girl found out you liked her, she couldn’t possibly ever like you back. So, he never told anyone her name in the likelihood someone might happen to know her. Only ever called her “This Girl.” As in: “This Girl is really something far-out different and special and really seems to like me for me. Like she likes who I am. Like she sees past, like, all my... well, this and everything.” He would spend an hour merely talking about how she would talk to him. The conversations they’d had. He would mention that This Girl could’ve been—though she wasn’t at all—as fat as him and as acne-ridden as him and he’d still love her as much, because somehow some girl—This Girl—actually not only acknowledged but actively enjoyed his presence.
You decide to sit down when you read:
NEWTON-ELLIS, Loren O. Age 48, of Boston, passed away on August 18, 2012. Loren is survived by his mother, Patricia Newton of Norwell, MA. Visiting hours will be held Tuesday, August 21, 2012 from 4-8 pm at McNamara-Sparrell Funeral Home, 30 Central St., NORWELL, MA. For more information and guestbook, please visit...
“I guaren-fucking-tee that he got all lean and cut and athletic and good-looking for her—that prom chick—now that you got me thinking about it. Hadn’t really thought about this in quite some time, you know. He was looking for that girl, you know. Ah, ah, ah, shit. What was her name?
“Anyway, same thing happened at the twenty-year reunion, too. Dude had greyish hair then though. Fucking twenty years on and dude still looking dapper in an older-dude sort of way, and clearly—now looking back, clearly, can’t believe I didn’t think of this before—clearly dude’s still obsessed with this girl. Love or whatever, maybe. Obsessed, yes, absolutely. But shit, you know. Yeah, that’s rough. Real rough. Showing up twenty-goddamn-years later and still no chick. Not really knowing if she died or got married or whatever. Shit. That’s what it means to be alone, you know. Some real Murphy’s Law shit. Worst thing that could happen to him did, I suppose. Feel sorry for the dud— Loren.
“I feel sorry for Loren. I really do.
“I’ll tell you again, lady. It’s sad as hell.”
You and Loren had—after having grown up down the street from one another, after going to kindergarten with one another, elementary and high school and senior prom, too, after that May, after going to other schools, after deciding and trying to keep your friendship alive via telephone, email, even the occasional handwritten letter, attempting to keep up correspondence of at least one phone call or letter, electronic or not, per week, but after you got a boyfriend who seemed sort of like a nice guy and after he didn’t meet anyone else, but instead let his jealously and resentment and other puerile things ignite inside him and took up non-social-but-not-100%- antisocial activities, and you felt intuitively through certain phrases he would say or write that he was not all that happy for you, to which, when you would respond, trying both to be kind and understanding but then later more tough-lovey, shifts in emotion to which he would by no means become more outwardly vitriolic but just less attentive and talkative in their letters or calls, which you, also very intuitively, too, picked up on and only became more tough-lovey and maybe in some instances, just plain old tough, to which he responded by not responding, to which you didn’t either, respond, as it were, after all of that—
The bare trees towered, their calligraphic limbs above everything else in the field, their shadow painting the snowy ground in hard and rigid and impermanent and contrasting lines. This shadow painted itself under and over the children as they played around in the snow and tossed the snow up into the air like heavy, wet dust, the snow falling back down to the earth, covering the earth again, and everything continued to look bright bone-white because of this. The children ran and ran around, chasing each other, and the younger, fatter child lagged behind in pursuit, and the taller, older, skinnier child ran ahead, free of care and worry and not thinking about shadows or snow or anything but the short, fat kid chasing her; and the nearby creek’s water was being drank, rather devoured—if water can be devoured—by two deer and the deer looked up at the children as they ran and ran around under and over the shadows of the trees—their black-grey sketches on the snow—and the short, fat child looked even fatter than he was because the short, fat child’s mother had bought a black, marshmallowish Gore-Tex jacket for him to wear as he ran around and around in the snow, trailing, chasing, pursuing, and never ever catching the taller, skinnier, older child—the girl—but just chasing her around for the fun of it; and the deer looked up and watched them running around, throwing snow up into the air, wondering if there was anything to worry about, a threat posed of the children, but deciding that, No, No Threat, None At All, and continuing to drink from the frigid creek. The sky started to spit more white onto the ground—already so many inches—probably close to eleven unpacked inches of snow—fluffy and white and bright and painful to look at for too long, too reflective of the light behind the grey sky that spit down the white at the children and the deer and the field and the creek and the trees with their shadows; and the taller, older, skinnier one kept having to slow down so the shorter, fatter one wouldn’t feel as if he were fighting a losing battle or placing dead last or losing as badly as the short, fat kid actually, in all reality, in truth, with absolute veracity, not 95% confidence but a full 100% confidence, clearly and obviously and empirically and without a shadow of a doubt that he was, indeed, losing as badly as he was; and the taller, older, skinnier one’s father was off in a cabin somewhere, alone, not caring about his daughter, who kept having to slow down but not look like she were slowing down so that the boy would think he stood some semblance of a chance, despite never standing any semblance of a chance, but wanting to imply to him that he did and had been and would be—standing a chance, that is—wanting to imply this because she had been taught by her mother, almost as loving as the boy’s mother, that the chase was what kept everything interesting, and that without the chase, things got dull fast, so fast, way too fast, and that the chase inherently built desire, because if you keep something away from someone for long enough, they will want it at an inversely exponential rate, but not saying exactly so in such terms, the girl’s mother never having been all that good at the whole school or education or learning thing, No College being repeatedly checked on all census forms, and but so but the child—the girl—was running and slowing down even though she felt in her small, young mind but older, skinnier body that the chase was fundamentally pointless and meaningless and that she should just let the boy catch her and stuff snow in her face and maybe kiss her and play with her and love her and that the short, fat, and slightly younger boy was good enough and that the chase wasn’t all that important and that sometimes it made no sense and felt fake and pointless and terrible and that she should just fall to the ground and let the boy stuff the snow and kiss the kiss and just be with her and so then but like you know maybe perhaps maybe she did.
Andrew Mangan is presently attending Colorado State University in pursuit of his MFA. He previously graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he interned at The Missouri Review. He currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.