Issue #75

Summer 2020

Such a Bad Dancer

by Tess Gunty

I like to reject my own application for the Revolution. It prepares me for the e-mails from the Revolution Hiring Committee, in which they reject me for real. I apply every few months—submitted my first three years ago. I received my freshest rejection last week. They wrote:

Dear Applicant 1326,

We have no use for you, with your punchlines and your hair. We have no use for your wish to own a candelabra and your wish to own. We have no use for the yellow smoke in your refrigerator, or the medals that ornament your family tree, or the stuff you got every time people treated people like stuff. If your grandparents flirted via soda bar, no use. If you've flirted via slap across the face, let's talk. But your sister, her sunburn, all furred up in a messiah complex? No use. Your brother, who's like: Obedience vaccinates against murder? No use. Your uncle, his horse and baby grand, his text about your protest post? Nope. You and your protest post? Useless. We hope you can see a pattern when you see one. We have use for people who hate the word use, verb and noun.

If you're familiar with our website, you'll know that beyond the Revolution waits a future with no use for the past. The future will accept history's nice bits, obviously—the ripe cherries and the human rights. But the evil stuff will burn. After the Revolution, we'll eat as much salt as we want.

And that's not all. We also gambled your condo at the Rapture, got a couple Bitcoin.

Let us be clear: we are here for the sea sponges, the mud masks on the hippos, the genius ideas you forgot in the shower. We are here for the kid blushing on the Astroturf. Here to duel the cop inside you—come on, unzip. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. If you look like me, I'm talking to you. It's nobody's job to disabuse the abuser, but my god, how the wounded work overtime!

All this and still we'll keep the blood inside the bodies. We'll prove how easy it is.

Warm regards,
The Revolution Hiring Committee

P.S. — Although we have concluded that you are not the right fit for our mission at this time, please feel encouraged by this short note to resubmit an application in the future.

They say all sorts of filthy things in their rejection letters. When they talk like this, it's unclear who the hell is typing.

***

Sometimes I think there'd be no war if people talked to each other the way my friend Maya talked to her dog that night in Echo Park. It was last July—Charlie's garden, palomas, smoked salmon. The dog's shivering bronze coat, his muscled fear. A massive dog. He had wandered into a pile of lumber then couldn't exit, just cowered. "It's okay," Maya whispered. "We all get stuck sometimes. It's scary but I'll help you."

I know that her message wasn't complex, radical, or new. But my brain recorded it as a soundbite. Replays it all the time.

***

Nobody knows what the Revolution will look like. I've done my research, asked around. People shrug and change the subject whenever you bring it up, especially at dinner parties. Sometimes I think the Revolution is a skylit night club where everyone dances and no one throws up, where all the phones die in a final orgasmic breath and the event concludes with some agape feast of eye contact. Sometimes I think the Revolution looks like two people sitting beside a digitized fireplace, excavating some shared but buried pain. Sometimes I imagine it as great sex while a root of ginger thaws on the counter. Sometimes I picture it as an army of woodland animals overthrowing suburbia. Sometimes I see three elderly women dressed in funeral clothes, silently perched elbow-to-elbow on a bench in a public park. Physics says it's impossible to touch, and then the pandemic doubled down, said we couldn't even try, which is why I want the end to begin like it did in the womb, skin to skin, blood to blood. But for real this time.

I like to reject my own application for the Revolution. Such a bad dancer.

When I'm pretending to be the Revolution Hiring Committee, rejecting myself, I think I've got it all figured out. I wear the fake authority like a guzzler helmet at a festival in the desert, feeling special, like I'm armed with a limited resource.

***

At half past seven this morning, my cell phone rings. It's June in downtown Los Angeles, the sunshine already yelling at everyone to be happy. A single finch graces my balcony for a moment, but she's gone by the third ring.

Blocked number.

"Hello?" I answer.

First I hear static, then festive little trumpets. Then they speak.

"Hello," they say. "This is the Revolution Hiring Committee. Is this Applicant 1326?"

I gulp, heartbeat tripping. My two cats stare at me, their eyes wide, frozen on the dining table, tails flicking, sensing danger. They're overweight. I've overfed them.

"Yes," I say. "This is she."

"Good morning, 1326. We're calling to say that, upon consideration, after several meetings, we have come to the conclusion that perhaps we were wrong about who's right for the Revolution. Although this conclusion is inconclusive, we are calling to alert you of our shift in attitude. We think that perhaps the Revolution will be super New Testament, after all. Like they promised in childhood."

I don't say anything, just grip my mug of coffee. I'm starstruck. At least three voices speak—sometimes in unison, sometimes taking turns.

"What's more, 1326," they continue, "we're shooting a film called In the Town of Maceria. It's about America but nothing is like, heavy-handed or whatever, it's just a lot of tasteful close-ups on fingernails and dew. As for sound, we favor ice cracking in a solo cup of tap water—it's mostly that."

"I look forward to watching it," I say. The phrase appears in my mouth helpfully, earnest as a Golden Retriever. In the apartment across from mine, I can see a man in a bathrobe feeding a bottle to a baby, his glasses askew. In the room below him, two women sip from ceramic mugs and share a newspaper. Nearby, a man begins to scream. He is swiftly joined by car alarm. Everybody works from home, these days.

The Committee members clear their throats. "Anyway," they continue, "maybe we got it all wrong, is what we're calling to say. Maybe we do have a use for the duds and the villains. Like Mr. Cannibal, for example? His pricey suit, those sexy eyebrows, deductible gifts? Useful, maybe. The conquistadors and the tear gassers, the tweeter and the assholes who shat him into the television? We don't know. We believe in personal transformation—we're big believers, on that front. Like, when it comes to the citizen who licks his AK47 like it's a fucking popsicle? Maybe we can work with that. Shit, we don't know. We're at the end of our rope. Maybe we have use for your sister, and your brother, and your uncle, and even me. I mean, you. All you have to do is shed your skin and swap your organs and learn a new alphabet and then a new language. It's tonal. Then, after that, you shut up and listen. You ready?"

"Does this mean I'm accepted?"

"Oh god no. We aren't making any promises. We're just updating—transparency is our most cherished ideologeme, around here."

My spirit drops to my feet, as though failed by a malfunctioning elevator.

"I don't know what to say," I say.

"What do you want?" they demand, their voices now grated in desperation. "Look, we're trying, okay? We're ordering up a palmy era, but without the gunshots, without the infant octopus butchered alive then tossed in the saltwater pool for a joke. And if we want champagne, then we have to figure out how to turn down the planetary thermostat in time! Does that sound easy, to you? We need a little goddam patience." They pause again. "Point is, we might've been wrong. Stay tuned."

They hang up.

***

That was this morning, now it's night. I haven't really moved since—I've been sitting cross-legged on an inherited rug for hours, my cats circling me like sharks. My husband happened to be visiting his parents in Dublin when the pandemic began; he decided to ride it out there. I don't often hear from him. I think he found a new wife. When I reported this concern to my mother, she said, "Well, who can blame him? It's not like you've been pulling your weight." The screen of my laptop glares at me, accusing me of no work today. Useless is the cruelest adjective that both Capitalism and its antidotes can apply to you..

I don't want to think about any of the thoughts I'm having, so I pretend I'm not alone in a room, chilled but unable to close the window due to mental and physical failures. I pretend it's the eighteen-hundreds, and it's normal to do nothing for hours, because I'm a woman of leisure. I like to smell the neighbor's food and set my own table in response, I like to picture god charging the stars of our universe on long stupid cords. I like to picture god at the airport, flight delayed. I like to picture god as fingernails and dew. I like to reject my own application for the Revolution because—well, isn't it obvious?

But more than all that, I'd like to conjugate in the collective. I'd like to keep the blood inside all the bodies and lick the sweat off a good apple's skin in an electrical storm of goodwill. The truth is, I'd give my cats to sit before a chalkboard and watch a grown-up slash an answer to the answerless equation, press the chalk so hard to the green that we students can't disappear it after class, not with an eraser, not with a wet rag, not even with our tongues. I'd like to know when and where they're meeting for the Revolution. I'd like to know what I can bring.

But I am in a room alone and I can't close the window. All I have is a soundbite from Maya, to her enormous dog. It's scary but I'll help you.

He escaped from the lumber, by the way—Maya's dog. The smoked salmon didn't work, and neither did Maya's voice. In the end, what drove him out from the lumber was a fantastic roar of fireworks. You wouldn't believe how fast he ran.

Author Bio

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Tess Gunty writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, where she was a Lillian Vernon Fellow. Recently, she worked with Jonathan Safran Foer as a research and writing collaborator on his book of nonfiction, We Are the Weather (FSG, 2019). Her fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, which nominated her short story for a PEN/Robert J. Dau Award, and is forthcoming in Peripheries and No Tokens. Her story, "I Work for a King," appeared in Issue #64 of The Cafe Irreal.