Far Too Well For Far Too Long
(Or the Obligations of American Holidays)
Story by Christopher S. Bell
Lyrics by Emmett and Mary
“Screaming All the sound.
The dogs are barking loud
We drink until we find something to say
The broadcast fireworks display from another town
We can hear their singing with frowns on their faces
Inside a big city shoe
Lightening to rue the day
The newspaper promised a finale
Another shallow rally
Of Corruptible minds
Marching in lines
The broadcast fireworks display from another town
Amongst all the lights and sounds I checked my side to see if you were around
Sparklers flying like white light against the blackest sky
Calming reminding our minds
That we don’t want to die to today
We don’t want to fly into the light
We don’t want to close our eyes so tight
She misses the few
What is it we do
At the end with no one at our side?
The broadcast fireworks display from another town
She checks the skies to see if he’s around
Nobody’s around.” – Broadcast Fireworks Display
Naomi Gordon awoke late on the Fourth of July, instantly regretting that she had even bothered to set her alarm in the first place. On the previous evening, the act alone had sent her through a less than stellar period of reevaluation as she pondered what exactly having a schedule for the holiday meant. The call from her mother, Charlotte, had come at the worst of possible times, Naomi having just injected herself with a dose of lower grade heroine, her dealer Dalton Applebee losing various out-of-state sources weekly, and yet still continuing to make new friends on his trips away from the cruel spin of East Heights, Vermont.
Charlotte was simply phoning Naomi to remind her that their traditional backyard barbecue was starting at two that year instead of one as it had in the past. She then started to ask her twenty-seven-year-old daughter various questions about the summer’s pull and how Naomi was handling not only three-months off from work at Easton Middle School, but also living alone as well. She didn’t know how to respond to such a routine maternal interrogation as her knees convulsed on the blue coffee stained couch, the euphoria from the smack feeling less than satisfactory, despite the fact that it continually helped her to numb the pain.
Her boyfriend of the previous nine years, Henry Vaughn, had died in the middle of May from an overdose, and yet the inevitable question of whether or not Naomi was still okay, and furthermore how she was holding up, didn’t usually make her feel so cold inside. Possibly it was the tone in her mother’s voice; the two having not seen each other since the middle of June, after an expected fight in the middle of lunch at Morris’ Bar and Grill ensued over various mundane details and mistakes from the past, Henry still being the main topic of their conversation. Naomi smiled at the thought of such familiar discourse, her dead boyfriend most likely content over the fact that he was still getting under Charlotte’s skin, even if it was from beyond the grave.
In fact, more often than not, Naomi Gordon thought about Henry Vaughn’s reactions to all the tiny and insignificant occurrence that had managed to come together in the six weeks since his passing. Although she was still mourning in her own way, (the most prominent solution being a quick phone call to Dalton followed by a knock on his door after school finally let out) the eighth grade English teacher often found herself filling in the blanks as if Henry was still around, not necessarily watching over her, but instead still engagingly making her heart skip beats and chills grow up from under her skin like flourishing house plants. He was a permanent resident of their medium-sized apartment on 1134 Mable Drive, and if nothing else Naomi was more or less completely okay with the fantasies; their materialization usually going hand in hand with the amount of heroin she would slowly release into her bloodstream.
As the morning began, Naomi thought about what their conversation would be like not only over the alarm sounding at 11:30 sharp, but also for the entire day, the Gordon’s Independence Day picnic being the kind of occasion that would usually branched off in two completely different directions. Either her and Henry would make light of the somewhat stuffy situation, various extended family members searching for lives to vicariously live through, or they would simply make an appearance before finding a familiar hiding place somewhere in the vastness of East Heights. Once there, they would wait for the sparkle off in the distance, their eyes bloodshot and enlarged, but nevertheless content to be seeing the world with such illuminated vision.
Naomi wasn’t even sure if she would stick around for her father’s illegal fireworks display that year, the thought of walking down the street for East Height’s Country Club over-priced show, being even more of a distant concept. She was simply going to return to the fold in order for her mother to exhale, and then hopefully dodge all the remaining bodies and faces seeking approval from a little girl they once knew. Naomi was beyond sick of their sympathies and furthermore all the available words and expressions that claimed to understand, but in truth had no idea how she was feeling at any moment, each subsequent day that passed without Henry becoming all the more unbearable.
She instantly popped a vicodin after eating breakfast in front of the television set, less than amused with the scheduled programs available for the day’s refrain. Multiple movie marathons were like her prescriptions except not nearly as effective. The commercial breaks always made Naomi think about the times when her and Henry would have the majority of the available advertisements memorized to the point where they could very easily predict what was coming next, like a drinking game with mixed results. He would soak himself in false pride after winning, to which she would simply roll her eyes and refrain from any kind of argument. It wasn’t her place to complain anymore.
Naomi could feel her body slowly but surely shutting down, as she stood naked under the showerhead, only a tiny smile surfacing on her face as the medication kicked in. It didn’t feel like her fix from the previous night, a thought that made her instantly want to stop by Dalton’s house at the far end of Ash Road before dropping by her parents’ humble abode. Rational sides of her subconscious then began to speak loudly at odd intervals, yelling at the woman while still softly reassuring her that no matter what her current condition was, she would be able to handle family traditions.
However, the fact that such an Independence Day was going to be her first in a long time without Henry at her side was striking the worst of possible chords with Naomi Gordon, despite the ritualistic smile on her face from the numbness. The twenty-seven-year-old pulled the orange and yellow sundress out of her closet, spinning it around on the hangar as she thought about what others’ opinions would be on such an outfit. She had worn it three years previously to the same event with a barrage of complimentary results, and yet Naomi wasn’t in the least bit sure if she was ready to take a step into the past, despite how vital it seemed. They would all expect for her to be a wreck, and yet in that dress, she knew it would be much easier to fake it.
She then took her time to pick and choose the intricacies of her own reflection, before quickly returning to the kitchen and beginning the covered-dish process. Naomi had been volunteered to make chocolate chip cookies, a task that was already viciously pounding on her buzz, despite the fact that she had purchased a tube of cookie dough the previous evening; the idea of making sweets from scratch being the farthest from her mind. She plainly pre-heated the oven before shoving the cookie sheet in and returning to the living room couch.
Naomi then rolled a thin joint with the remains of Henry’s stash, his plants from the previous eight odd years having been harvested completely. She didn’t bother to keep them around for the next season, but instead regrettably passed the tall green remains down to her former student, Lee Fisher, as her boyfriend had specified in one of the multiple letters found in his top desk drawer. Naomi had read through all of them in the previous six weeks, solemnly checking his spelling errors while wondering why she hadn’t ever seen him writing down such intricacies before. It almost made her wonder if she ever knew Henry at all, a thought that continued to pound down on her brain as the room filled with white smoke and she settled in for further recreational desensitization.
The bottom of the cookies burned, Naomi hazily convincing herself that such a happening wouldn’t necessarily effect the rest of her day as she scooped them into a clear Tupperware container. If nothing else, she knew far too well that all of her family expected the twenty-seven-year-old to fuck up at such a minimal task, which only further proved her initial point. She was in absolutely no condition to return to such a vicious and loosely judgmental cycle.
Yet Naomi still managed to promptly lock her apartment door before driving through the opposite end of East Heights and parking behind a line of freshly washed cars stretching down Brush Road. She then quickly grabbed the tray of charred cookies and headed into the madness with a less than optimistic smile caked on her face. It didn’t last long, her soul instantly sinking upon returning to the front door of her childhood home, and wandering if she should knock, despite the fact that mostly every available guest was bullshitting in the backyard.
Naomi then saw such familiar discourse as an opportunity to sneak in unnoticed and hopefully level out in the last available safe haven she had within the artificially framed walls. She took a nervous breath, peaking into the reliably empty kitchen for a split second as she dropped the required container of desserts on the counter next to the others before quickly rushing up to her bedroom. Naomi attempted not to look at the photographs of her and Henry’s phony smiles at senior prom as well as other heightened moments that seemed blown a bit out of proportion in the previous month and a half, their relevance completely insignificant before his overdose.
Her effort to put it all out of mind failed miserably, the slightly dusty bedroom full of even more mementos making Naomi Gordon comfortably docile as she fell back on her bed. The fact that such a space hadn’t yet been turned into a guestroom for various out-of-town family members was a blessing and a curse at the same time. She could still see the eighteen-year-old Henry, stoned and stumbling over his own two feet as he sneaked in through her bedroom window. The image had aged well, making her dwell in the reminiscent qualities of the past without much hesitation. It was impossible to avoid flashes from similar warm days when she knew that such young and inexperienced playfulness wouldn’t ever resurface in the same way again.
Naomi felt even worse about such a fact upon hearing her seventeen-year-old brother, DJ, in the neighboring bedroom, going through similar motions with his girlfriend of five months, Paige Hughes. She had known the girl well enough from eighth grade English and yet an inevitable separation had occurred between Naomi and her brother upon finding out that Henry had also been DJ’s number one source for narcotics the past year. The funk that the majority of the Easton High School body went through following her boyfriend’s death made the woman wonder about his legacy in a way that she never thought possible.
Henry Vaughn had had a delicately mysterious hand in the majority of the young and corrupted minds left clean without answers that previous May; his words that managed to stick, not necessarily as true as he had predicted. The upstanding sons and daughters of East Heights hadn’t quite found another available well to tap into, the Garden of Eden having been shipped across town to Lee Fisher’s bedroom closet, a list of available clientele quickly cut in half. Henry’s successor had inherited the ability to pick and choose, and if nothing else, it made Naomi feel nervously warm and fuzzy inside. A dry spell that was a direct result of his death: it just sounded divine in the back of her head.
Not much time passed with dire bedroom contemplation, the sounds of related and seemingly frustrated teenage sexuality eventually making Naomi spring up from her imprinted disposition in the mattress and head back down the stairs. Her mother was the first face she saw, questions of the cookies’ quality the first to come forth before she dramatically hugged her daughter and then without much thought sent her into the backyard to be slowly but surely torn apart by the wolves. Her jaw eventually ached from all the fake grins as Naomi finally weeded her way through the spoiled big-breasted cousins with newborns and suggestively defunct uncles, fixing herself a sectioned-off styrofoam plate of lukewarm food and settling down at the far end of the splintered green picnic table.
She then began to chew lightly, while one perpetually tense and overly simplistic thought filled her brain, unrelentlessly making the atmosphere and mood of such a sunny day turn to absolute blackness. Naomi Gordon needed a fix and there was only one place where such slurred bliss was available. She hesitantly pulled out her cellphone, calling Dalton as she pictured her balanced checkbook, the amount of withdrawals in the previous six week seeming beyond overwhelming, even for somebody who routinely had their summers off. He soon answered in a groggy voice, Naomi putting her hand over her mouth and the receiver so as to better muffle the words. Few were paying attention anyway.
Dalton was then coming up with excuses of his own, the Applebee family also having scheduled their own fair share of crackling festivities at Crown Lake that evening. The idea of the drive instantly made Naomi wonder if was she was obsessed enough with such resolved dependency to craft falsities out of thin air in order to forward the process. Then came the creeping whirl of Henry’s death playing over and over again in her head, all the scenes from her finding him on the living room floor, to his best friend Leonard Kenny’s incessant repetition at the ceremony making such a decision all the more justified. She would meet Dalton on the outskirts of the lake at seven o’clock sharp, the new schedule fitting both their diminished family routines to the proper degree.
The hours then passed unbearably slow for Naomi Gordon as she dodged various questions from late arrivals and uncomfortable subject matter with not only her mother and father, but DJ as well. He and Paige were looking for any available head-leveler, hoping that his older sister may be holding, despite her often roundabout turns toward or away from responsibility. She didn’t validate her brother inquisition with a response, but instead quickly returned to her maroon Ford and drove away from a location that could no longer sustain her skinny form. Suspending disbelief on other people’s lives was a necessary evil in such a small town.
Naomi sparked another joint upon merging onto the highway, traffic at an all time low by that point in the day. She thought about children running through their backyard sprinklers with sparklers in their hands as they forgot to think about the future. The now was understandably easier to stomach; such manufactured images continuing to surface as the sun took its slow descent off in the distance. Crown Lake reflected every drunk and smiling misanthrope as Naomi parked in the specified lot. She then impatiently stood on the tips of her toes, looking for Dalton’s rusty dodge and then finding her available means to an end, sitting without a shirt on behind the wheel. Naomi cringed as she opened the door and sat down, passenger’s side, trying her best not to see herself from the inside out.
“That was fast.” Dalton said, lighting a cigarette without much thought.
“Yeah, well it’s that kind of day.” Naomi said, anxiously. “Now where is it?”
“Ya know, I’m starting to worry about you.” He said with a devilish smirk before pulling the promised baggie out from his Hawaiian swim-trunks pocket.
“No you’re not. You would need a soul to worry about me, and I would need one to listen.” Naomi snatched the bag out of his hand before throwing him the crisp bills and hopping out of the car. She then strutted gracefully back towards her car, Dalton starting his own engine up and slowly creeping over in front of her, before rolling his window down.
“This isn’t like the other stuff. It’s better, and I know it, so just be cool, okay?”
“What do you care?” Naomi asked, turning back as she slowly moved her blonde hair out from her eyes, the baggie keeping other various trinkets company at the bottom of her small black purse.
“I don’t want you to end up like Henry.” He exhaled a soft cloud of white smoke before ashing his cigarette on the side of the car.
“You didn’t even know him.”
“I knew him longer than you did.”
“Well then why so little regret?” Her hand was firmly stationed on the car door, moments away from jerking the sticky hinge toward her.
“It’s still a business, Naomi.”
“Yeah, and this is just another quick and easy conversation between dealer and client, okay?”
Her eyes glared into the depths of Dalton’s for longer than both expected, before she crawled back into her uncomfortable driver’s side seat and he simply sped off, back toward the festivities. Naomi didn’t think much about the encounter, their words meaningless and more random than anything else. She simply wanted to return to the dead apartment, and hopefully sink into one of the blue couch cushions, waking up the next morning with a similar need for such roundabout phrases of faulty concern between acquaintances, both her and Dalton knowing that they shouldn’t be depending so much on each other.
However, upon her return to the tacky walls lined with full-size theatrical posters, (the only seemingly vital piece of art being a canvas paining from another one of her dead lovers) Naomi Gordon decided that possibly the imprinted couch wasn’t the best location for such an experience. Furthermore, as her troubled thoughts began to slowly curb; the various medications and buzzes wearing off, the eighth grade English teacher decided that it wouldn’t be so much of an absurdity if she perhaps planned ahead for the rest of her life. Naomi set the necessities back down on the coffee table, rushing down the hallway to the still animated bedroom, and pulling the one-piece orange and yellow sundress off over her head.
She then quickly wheeled the thick black suitcase out from the back of her and Henry’s shared closet, his designated outfits still dangling from multi-colored plastic hangars planted in the far right corner. Naomi unzipped and opened the husky vacationing device, first rolling her sweat-soaked dress up into a ball and shoving it into the corner, before tugging other ragged items of clothing from their hangars and shoving them into the available space. Soon Henry’s clothes were tossed into the mix, the twenty-seven-year-old refraining from any kind of discrimination or sorting system, but rather simply cramming every loose thread into whatever space remained.
Following such scattered madness, Naomi took a moment to catch her breath, while pressing the majority of her weight down on the bag, and strategically moving all the protruding pieces of cloth away from the zipper-line. Her eyes then fixated on the clear orange prescription of vicodin that sat on his dresser next to the alarm clock. She didn’t hesitate, but instead rapidly popped the white top off, letting several white pills fall into her right hand, others to the floor like snowflakes and dust bunnies.
Naomi Gordon then began to swallow the capsules, one by one, feeling multiple lumps in her throat, and not bothering to count their number. She instead darted to the bathroom, flicking the switch on as the light flashed overhead before permanently illuminating the grimy white walls. An understated sense of joy then washed over her as she cupped her hands and drank several sips of tap water, rubbing her neck and waiting for the first stage of her rebirth to seamlessly take place.
Naomi soon returned to her living room, each one of her steps feeling heavy as her eyes focused back in on the purchased baggy, all her available tools having been Henry’s at one time; their years together all of a sudden feeling likes a passing fad. She took an elongated sigh, sitting herself back down on the couch, moments away from another familiar round of preparation, and yet Naomi Gordon didn’t bother to smoothly suck up the clear liquid that night, and furthermore inject it into her black and blue veins; inevitable interruptions occurring as previously scheduled on front pages of the press.
The first crackle of light made her tense up, followed by all the others off in the distance, seen hazily out her second floor window. Naomi could feel her entire body slowly succumbing not only to the medication, but also to the exhausted kaleidoscope of unbalanced images that were beautifully burned into the back of her retinas up until that point. She wanted to get closer to the colorful lights that weren’t relenting, although the time elapsed between each vague sound striking her ear drums was coming farther and farther apart.
Nevertheless, Naomi Gordon found the strength to pull her window open, hopping out onto the rusted fire escape and following the stairs up two more flights before collapsing on the blacktop of the roof. She could feel the warmth from sun against her exposed back as the lackluster spectacles continued to dance off of each other, blurring in the blackness before coming in clear as day again. It was a show somebody wanted her to see, Henry Vaughn having most likely watched the entire affair on the television set as he commented on the universal appeal of such reacting chemicals.
She still thought of him, though, as her eyes eventually shut completely. It was the previous November again. Thanksgiving break. The snow reluctant was to fall as the two landlocked lovers carelessly drove to New York City for plans that weren’t in the least bit explained to Naomi by her boyfriend, and for that very reason made them all the more perfect. She packed lightly, expecting a storm and yet beyond surprised to find that the weather was working in both their favors. They would smile like teenagers at each other as helium-filled commercialized faces slowly drifted past their hotel room window. All Naomi Gordon could think about was how incredibly light she felt, as if she was moments away from floating away with the rest of their enlarged grins. Henry was content to watch the highlights on channel seven, just so long as she was inches away.
“And it’s all just something to say
Something to do
Something to fake
And it’s all just someone to love
Someone to hate
Someone to taste
And it’s all just occupied space
The thrill of the chase
The look on her face
When she knows it’s much too late
To plan another escape
To blame it all on fate
And she keeps on saying his name
Placing the blame
Ain’t it a shame
When we find ourselves all alone
Bored with the day
Riding on planes
And I guess that the price we’ll pay
Talking on phones
And I’ve been feeling so strange
We never change
It’s all the same” – Corruptible Minds