I lay down on the grass in the park. I give up. The clouds part, the sky rends open. There's a group of hot girl angels pointing. And laughing. What I give up—which is everything—floats and floats. It's weightless and translucent. The hot girl angels laugh harder as it goes up. It gets smaller and smaller in the big blue sky. One hot girl angel grabs the other hot girl angel's shoulder. Their laughter has the purity of bells ringing over a large concrete square full of snow. I imagine a giant bust of a figure of the state, the features made universally vague because they ledge so much powder. As what I gave up rises— as an 'everything' rises — it contracts. The hot girl angels trace the path of 'everything' with their pointing until their fingers are still. Their skin is flushed and glowing from the inside. Holy shit. A dog comes up and smells my shirt. Hey do you see that I say to the dog. I point at the hot girl angels pointing. The dog's take-me-home tags jingle as he roves with his snout. He licks my finger. They seem pretty happy, I say. Isn't godliness supposed to be all about effort? The dog licks. Cleaning, I say, cleaning, purifying, that’s godliness. The dog has got his taste, finishes licking. Why are they laughing? The dog smells down my body to my feet. The dog seems to be enjoying sniffing and snuffing. I think of the Zen parable, when a man points the fools look at the moon and the wise man looks at the tip of the finger. Licking a finger could be fun. The sky closes up and the hot girl angel laughter fades out with it. Heaven has a good sound tech. 'Everything' is so small up there now it could be nothing. A speck of dust between here and infinitely expanding outer space. Across the park the owner of the dog yells at it to get away from me. I get up and go home. On the way I notice the green parrots, which roam the suburbs of L.A. in a flock making loud noises, pooping on cars. They seem to be going the same direction as me. When I get inside I throw my stuff down. I make a turkey melt. I lay down on the couch with the turkey melt on my chest. No plate. Crumbs galore. I don't think I believe in the reality of happiness, not in the same way I did once, only comfort seems real to me in that way now. I give up again. The popcorn ceiling of my apartment busts open, popcorn bits, plaster, dust everywhere except the melt. A hot girl angel reaches her lovely arm out of a kaleidoscopic glisterning then shimmering beyond that’s now thrillingly raw dogging plain reality through my apartment wall. The hot girl angel lifts up my turkey melt and takes a bite. She's wearing a stack of gold bracelets. Her nails have been done recently. A French manicure. Hey I say, that's my tuna melt. I'm nervous so I said tuna. The hot girl angel begins to sing. It is so beautiful, and in its own way. It devastates every idea I've ever had about beauty. I spent tens of thousands of dollars to go to a historic institution and learn about things like what is beauty and truth. I think she liked my turkey melt. The ceiling rewinds into wholeness. The singing fades but the echoes remain in my heart. I sigh. My hands are trembling. The place where she bit has hardened into solid gold. I pull the gold bite mark off and big strings of Havarti cheese stick to it. I suck the cheese off. I put the bite mark in my mouth and it fits perfectly over my teeth. The feeling is really weird. I'm afraid of what will happen if I give up again, but I know I'm going to do it. Probably sometime tomorrow I'll give up again. Actually, later tonight in bed when it's quiet if I'm being honest about how corny I am. I go and smile golden into the drug cabinet mirror in my apartment's bathroom. What else could I do? I've been trying not to think about it but today I'm scheduled for a closing shift at my wonderful job. It’s wonderful, wonderful, but I wish I worked as the operator at the Del Amo mall kiosk where you get your name engraved on a grain of rice with a machine that maneuvers a fine blade over a little vice. It looked a little like a claw grabber. I want to use that machine to give me the tiniest scar of somebody's name. A scar is more real than a tattoo. I want a scar as fine as the hair on your forearm, whoever you are, my love. I don’t know yet, and I pretend it’s a secret kept from me by my life. Something almost secret, I think, is more real than something secret because nothing secret is totally real. Or at least you have to live that way in order to live. But maybe if something is truly secret it's also kept from yourself, you don't know it, and so there are few actual secrets. Either you know or somebody else knows most things. I was only able to find that kiosk at the mall once. The Del Amo mall was once the largest mall in America. The American dream is five minutes of being the greatest for everyone. I take a shower and put on my work clothes. Then you can say you were the greatest. I put on my magnetic name badge in the way that makes a snap when the magnetic and metal strips couple through the cotton polyester blend. There is a hole in the armpit of the shirt. I'm not acting on or dignifying it with an acknowledgement. I think of the lines from Aeschylus, the one a Kennedy quoted for a real and national occasion of grief, "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." The sweat coming out of my armpit all day like that. Drip by drip, against my will, my male human McDonalds dollar menu eating stench comes to the customer, and coworker. Everything around me in the bathroom is making a trembling noise. It's a noise like when you clench the muscle inside your inner ear, the tensor tympani. I look in the mirror at my golden teeth again. I probably shouldn't be wearing them. I read my name. Gurdjieff Smith. If my name were any different it would seem fake because of Smith. Everyone calls me Gurdy, but that’s still pretty weird. I imagine being named Buddy, or Giancarlo, or Giapetto, or, if I were a girl, something like Honor. Honor would be a hell of a name to live up to, and live with, wouldn’t it? Honor or Joy or Honey or Faith or whatever, all those things they name girls. Can you imagine all the people repeating those bad jokes? And the nasty little jokes you would make to yourself? I won’t make them about you, my love, if that’s what your name is like. My own name, Smith, I guess, means to make, but the meaning’s not there. It’s just some guy’s name, or a name that says fake, false, untrue, a lie, a hiding, adultery. I read my name in the mirror until it becomes syllables. Gerd-Jeff. Smith. I can live up to syllables. Like a haiku—myself as an instance of known conventions, an observation of a passing moment in a passing season, the ripple of a dead leaf landing — and after it's adrift in chlorinated water. Sinking, sucked into the pool filter, composting somewhere, the circle of life. I'm still smiling. My parents were spiritual people. I’m quite sincere about that. Why don’t people call me Jeff? Gastroesophageal reflux disease Jeff. OR, Gird yourself, Jeff. The tensor tympani sound is getting louder. I have learned the secret meaning of my name, hah. Not everyone can activate their tensor tympani, just like how not everyone can maintain faith. The sound is like the slabs of stone being pushed up a stone ramp to build the great pyramids. I bare my gold teeth. Golden boy, I think, golden boy. I’m trying to hype myself up to myself. My face feels stiff. Gird yourself, golden boy. I wish these gold teeth had fangs. That would be cool. I walk quickly out of the bathroom and across the apartment and open the porch. The parrots that roam and nuisance Los Angeles are yelling out their squawk. Out there, the green parrots are getting smaller. They machine gun squirt shit frantically out of their bird anuses, lightening themselves for increased speed away. The palm trees in every direction are bending. They’re bending towards my apartment. The trees are almost bowing. I can hear the creak of their cores, the crackle of the dry bark splitting. Well, I say to myself, here it must come.
Joshua Hebburn edits fiction for Hobart and lives in Los Angeles.