October 28, 2015KR OnlineFiction

The Men of Minneapolis are Scared to Provide

The women of Minneapolis are finding their men insufferable. Becca stands in the kitchen, not disappointed anymore, but angry, yelling at Michael to stop being so disappointing; yelling at Michael to stop being so disappointing because it’s breaking her heart; yelling at Michael to stop being so disappointing because she’s furious at him for breaking her heart. Michael shrinks into the floorboards. Somebody either says or thinks, “coward.” A door slams shut. Somewhere by Lake Calhoun, Susan repeats all of this in her own words to Chris. Some of it louder. She goes off-topic. Susan keeps saying, “I hate your poetry. Please stop your poetry. Your poetry is killing me…” And Chris tells her, “OK, but, OK—,” and he doesn’t finish his sentence. He tries again: “OK, but, but—.” A door slams shut. Across the river in Northeast Minneapolis, Adam tries easing the situation. He reaches to caress Rachel’s elbow. She says, “Don’t.” She pulls away. She cringes thinking about him touching her, even over the clothes, even the elbow. She says, “Wait, no,” she yells, “No, it’s something in between,” she snaps: “This is it.” A door slams shut. The men of Minneapolis rent a house together.

The men of Minneapolis sit in their new living room. But the room is not really new. They lived here months after graduating from college. The house is owned by Adam’s uncle—available again eight years later. “You sure you want it back?” The men of Minneapolis are each thirty years old. “The last tenants, I mean, shit, I haven’t fixed it up at all since you moved out.” They sit in their old living room. They drink cans of PBR pulled from an open box sitting on a coffee table found on the sidewalk. “This is the best,” each of them has said. “This is right,” each of them has said. They smoke weed and watch a documentary on the world’s oceans. “Dudes,” one of them has said. “Dudes,” all of them have said. “We should throw a party,” somebody says. They each thumb through hundreds of contacts in their phones. “I’ll text Laura,” Chris says. “Better not,” Adam says. “Laura’s really good friends with Rachel.” “I’ll text Jon,” Michael says. “No, don’t,” Chris says. “Always been suspicious of him and Susan.” The men of Minneapolis thumb through their contacts. “I mean, I don’t know,” one of them says. “I guess, I mean,” one of them says. “I mean.” They agree on seven people to invite.

The men of Minneapolis buy 288 beers for their party. They bury a third of them in an ice tub left by the old tenants next to the house’s garbage cans. The tub of beers sits in the center of the living room’s wooden floor. July’s humidity makes the men drink fifteen PBRs before anybody shows up. The first guest arrives early with a baby wrapped in a papoose on his back. The men of Minneapolis appear confused. “Dude, Jeff,” one of them says. “Dude.” “Dude.” “When did you have a baby?” Jeff explains how his wife had a baby five months earlier. “I know I told each of you.” The men look worried. “I know we told your girl-, well.” Jeff looks at a knock-off Van Gogh hanging on the wall. “I can’t believe the Faux Gogh’s still here,” he says in a way that truly sounds like disbelief. The men glance uneasily at the Faux Gogh. They change the subject as well. Adam offers Jeff something to drink. Chris digs his hand into the tub of ice. “Actually—,” Jeff says, he’s wondering if they have any water. Or juice. Jeff sips a glass of water while three of the other six invited guests arrive over the hour. The music is incredibly loud and metallic without enough people or furniture to absorb it. One of the guests brings a new girlfriend who sits in the corner whispering things to him that nobody else can hear. The other two guests drink six PBRs in an hour. The men of Minneapolis make small talk with them, realizing that one of them is not the Ben that they thought they agreed on inviting. They realize that they don’t know this Ben very well. Michael lights up a marijuana pipe. “Oh, um—,” Jeff says and bends forward a couple of inches to let his baby’s head peek over his shoulder. “Shit, sorry,” Michael says. “You should hit it first.” Michael hands the pipe to Jeff, who quickly steps backward to avoid it. The tub of ice has leaked across the floor for two hours. The puddle is immense and disregarded. Jeff slips back with one foot in the water, and when he tries regaining traction with his other foot, that one slides out from under him as well. Jeff tumbles backwards, moaning, frightened, neck muscles straining, until he lands on top of his baby. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” the men of Minneapolis keep repeating as the baby starts wailing from beneath Jeff. The girlfriend in the corner is screaming.

Michael wakes up the following morning and finds that he kicked in his own bedroom door hours before. Chris wakes up with his eyes stinging from the contact lenses he never removed. Adam wakes up and realizes that the other side of his bed is still empty. The men of Minneapolis sit among a hundred crumpled beer cans in their living room and discuss the empty bedroom upstairs. They intended to use it as an office or a painting studio or maybe just a place to play some guitars together when, say, inspiration struck. “I don’t know,” Michael says, feeling out the men’s thoughts, feeling out his own thoughts. “Maybe we should get a fourth roommate.” He stops. He explains to the men and to himself, “You know? Offset the costs a little bit?” Adam lifts his head from the beer tub and pulls out the last can of PBR. “You know,” he stops, “I mean,” he stops, “that’s not a bad idea.” He opens the can of beer. “I could get behind that,” Chris says. “I could always use the extra cash.” “But who would we get to live with us?” Michael says. “I kinda think we should get a female in here,” Adam says nonchalantly after drinking from the lukewarm beer. “Oh, well, that’s just a given,” the men of Minneapolis each say. “The house couldn’t handle another man,” Michael says, though he doesn’t say in which way. The men work on putting together a Craigslist ad for the remainder of the afternoon. When night comes, Adam sits on the toilet for an hour with his head in his hands. Rather than stand upright, Michael rests cross-legged on the shower’s tile floor while the water thrums across his back. Chris can’t stomach the pornography that he watches on his computer.

The men of Minneapolis spend an entire Friday night and all of Saturday cleaning their house for the potential roommates arriving on Sunday. Interviews begin at noon. Each man has shaved. Each man wears clothing they believe exudes the aura of men who are “trying” yet not “trying too hard.” The first interview goes well enough, though the men of Minneapolis can’t shake the foreboding idea in the woman’s mind that they will kill her in her sleep. “Oh, three guys?” she says. “I guess when I saw ‘seeking female,’ I assumed the roommates were female, too.” She feigns decent smiles for each of them. She lies about the bedroom being too small for her furniture. The next interviews are both better and worse. The women are always at least five years younger than the men; they secretly dread the idea of being roommates with strangers five years later. One woman sees the three men standing at the front door and awkwardly says, “Sorry,” before easing back to her parked car. Another woman is vaguely interested; she asks about the utilities, the internet bill, how chores are appropriated, but then she asks more questions, and yet more, and obviously wants—no—needs a sense of structure that the men of Minneapolis are scared to provide, no matter how much they’d like to; because they’d really like to prove themselves, they really would, but that seems like a lot of work for a complete stranger. Really, though, she didn’t seem terribly fun. But with hope nearly gone by 5:00 p.m.—the men cracking ice trays in the kitchen—a woman pulls up in a vintage VW Beetle, top down. Her black, thick-rimmed glasses abut the line of auburn bangs swiping her forehead. The dress is vintage, or made to appear vintage, or just quirky enough to seem vintage; tiny red bows are sewn onto the arms just beneath the shoulders, the hem flares out all around just slightly, making the men of Minneapolis wonder what’s beneath. Her shoes are scuffed-brown leather and gently pointed. She makes self-deprecating jokes in the living room. She laughs at their jokes. She’s the same age. She likes the same arcane music. She doesn’t think the situation is strange at all. Her boyfriend just broke up with her. Each man forgets how he’s hopelessly depressed.

The house is practically levitating. Arielle’s moved in her few belongings. A full-sized harp. An unpacked suitcase. A pet iguana named Rafael. And a bunk bed. “I’ve had it since I was a kid,” she says. “Playing harp doesn’t really pay for new beds.” The men all walk downstairs from their rooms. “I’ll make breakfast,” Michael says. “No, no, I’ll make breakfast,” Chris says. “No, no, no, I’ve got breakfast,” Adam says. The men clumsily knock into each other as they swing open kitchen cabinets and rinse the dust from their single mixing bowl. “Let me put the pancakes in the pan,” Michael says. “I don’t need any of your help. I’ve already mixed it,” Chris says. “Then I should actually cook them,” Adam says. The men awkwardly take turns dribbling pancake mix into the pan. Though none of them remember to flip them. After an hour, the men have forty-three pancakes, each burnt on one side and mush on the other. “Oh, thanks, guys,” Arielle says happily, “but I have a brunch date that I need to get to.” Arielle’s VW bug sputters down the block as the men roll up their pancakes and dunk them into day-old Starbucks. Adam swirls one in a pint of half-empty beer. Arielle is away all day. The men wait up for her. They smoke weed and watch a Ken Burns documentary on jazz. There is no clock to tell them what time it is. There is no watch. Only a blinking digital blue 12:00 on an old DVD player. Secretly, quietly, only to themselves, they blame each other for Arielle’s absence. They blame pancakes. Each man wanders back up to bed as if they were already sleepwalking. Michael sleeps. Chris sleeps. Adam smokes more weed at the head of his bed with his laptop sitting beside him. He awakens at 3:00 a.m. to the coital moans of knock-off Disney characters gyrating on his laptop, and to the black smoke billowing off his bed. The room is engulfed. Everything is black. The orange and red fire originating at the tip of the hours-old joint on the comforter cannot be seen. No fire alarms go off. “Am I on fire?” Adam says, drowsily, still slurring his words. “Why am I on fire?” “Am I on fire?” “Why am I on fire?” “Why am I on fire?” “Why am I on fire?”

Arielle returns at 3:01 a.m. with her brunch date. They see smoke billowing from Adam’s window. They say nothing. They run upstairs. They see smoke vomiting more smoke. They hear Adam yelling, running back and forth from the bathroom with a pair of pint glasses of water he’s using to douse the flames. They rip down the blanket that Adam uses as a window curtain and smother the fire. Everybody seems safe. The room smells like linens soaked in burnt sweat. Adam’s blackened bed needs to be carried outside. He has nowhere to sleep. “You could sleep on the lower bunk,” Arielle says. The brunch date glares. “Can I?” Adam says without sarcasm. Chris and Michael sleepily grovel. “Do you want my bed?” Michael says. “I don’t mind sleeping on the lower bunk.” “Noo, don’t be silly,” Chris says. “I’m totally fine sleeping on the lower bunk tonight. He can have my bed.” The brunch date audibly frowns, What? “No, no,” Michael says. “My bed will be so much more comfortable. He should take mine.” “Guys,” Adam says definitively. “I’m sleeping on the lower bunk.” Adam follows Arielle to her room. He turns to the brunch date who’s followed as well. “Oh,” Adam says. “Oh what?” the brunch date says. “Nothing, nothing,” Adam says and slowly slides into the bottom bunk as Arielle and the brunch date climb the ladder to the top. After lying in the dark for ten minutes, Adam hears the wet sound of tongues. He hears the awkward shuffling of two adults pulling down each other’s shorts on a twin bed. With his eyes adjusted to the night, Adam watches the top bunk bend toward his face, retract, and bend again, sometimes quickly, other times slowly. The brunch date moans, “What do you like?” Arielle squeals with her face in a pillow. Adam picks up his phone from the floor. He texts Michael and Chris: They’re having sex. Michael: Ask if you can join. Chris: Ask if we can join. Adam: Is this what we wanted? Michael and Chris: Yes? Adam: I don’t feel good. Michael and Chris: Yeah, pretty awful.

The men of Minneapolis are finding themselves insufferable. Chris and Michael make personal profiles for themselves on six different dating websites. “I don’t like how this sounds,” Chris says about his favorite books column. “Yeah, I sound like an asshole,” Michael says about his hobbies column. Chris and Michael take turns reading each other’s pages and editing them. “We do sound like assholes,” Chris says. They delete all of the text and leave their profiles blank aside from their names. Rather than posting photos of themselves, they upload a picture of a tree in their yard. “Has Adam put up one of these yet,” Michael says. Arielle moved out a week after Adam wouldn’t stop sleeping on the bottom bunk. “He hasn’t even bought a new bed yet,” Chris says. They hear primitive screams from the backyard. “Still?” Michael says. “Still,” Chris says. They stand at the back porch as evening blots out the day. They watch as Adam throws more abandoned furniture left by previous tenants onto a bonfire. It rises in the middle of the yard. “Hey, Adam, how about you put out the bonfire and come inside.” “You come inside.” The men of Minneapolis stare at one another. Adam pulls a flaming table leg from the pit. He swings it around and wails. The red flames trail behind his waving arms. They look like comets splitting the night sky. “Come on!” Adam roars. “Come fucking on!” He spins in place with the glittering leg smoking and glowing in circles around him. He dances with his crackling partner. “OK,” Michael says. “OK,” Chris says. The men of Minneapolis each take up a burning piece of furniture. Adam shouts wordlessly. Chris and Michael shout louder. The men of Minneapolis spin their table legs and chairs and end tables. A burning drawer flies from the mouth of Michael’s bedside table. It crashes into the lawn and explodes across the grass. The men yell. The men yell louder. Balls of fire burst through the night in whirling pirouettes. Chris whips a pair of chair legs back and forth in front of his yowling face. They each feel the heat pass their eyes with every movement, every languid, frightened advance. “To the street!” Adam cheers. “To the street!” the men of Minneapolis cheer. They run down Fourteenth Avenue with sticks blazing. As they scream past their neighbors’ homes, doors open up. Another house, another door. Another house, another door. The men of Minneapolis howl and growl and hoot and holler. Another house, another door. The men of Minneapolis let the tinder scatter behind them and light up the nighttime avenue. The men of Minneapolis run with their flames striding across the air. The men of Minneapolis run and run and run with the fire whistling above their heads. Another door opens up. And another. Another.

Eric Magnuson's fiction has recently appeared in Camera Obscura, Paper Darts, and Burrow Press Review, among others, while his journalism has been published in many magazines, such as Rolling Stone, The Nation, and the Art Newspaper.