Short Story – Shadowplay


As I enter the party the first sight that greets me is a female face – red and wet, tears cascading – knelt over a fallen boyfriend, unconscious yet still stoically clutching a half bottle of rum. I nod to a stranger – like myself, young, male, tan – we note our shared appreciation and move on.

The atmosphere is best described as ‘insomnia approaching insanity’ as while lamps provide shards of light in distant corners it is possible to float from one room to another with a sense of anonymity. We are all ghosts it seems.

I busy myself with this observation as a bare backed beauty crosses my path, pauses, turns to offer me a drink and her hand. She is a hostess, she hasn’t always been a brunette and her parents gave her dog away when she was five. She is also a girl who possesses a wicked twinkle in her eyes, an air of almost effortless flirtation and a chest that would make an old man weep. I did not come here for this however, I refuse to play the game and so I thank her for the drink and leave her to doubt her beauty for a second, awash in self doubt until a rush of blood brings another suitor to her door.

I proceed outside to the verandah, where a balloon tied to a rail seems to draw a crowd. An obscenely tall gentleman slurs to no-one in particular that if you listen to Bohemian Rhapsody and afterward do not want to fuck Freddy Mercury then ‘I’m sorry, you simply have no soul.’ I am moved by such insight and almost confide that the previous night I found myself crying at the end of an episode of Little House on the Prairie, yet instead mumble a request for directions to the bathroom.

He smiles and mentions a full length mirror ‘laid down on the dining table for all to enjoy, you can do lines there my friend’.

I shrug and turn to find my own way, past the dining room where I witness a chorus line bent over the table. I prefer more private surroundings however and so continue on. A line of people signals the bathroom, without pause and with measured indifference to the glares and muttered remarks I stroll ahead of the queue and knock on the door. Almost instantly it opens to reveal Jade Swanson.

Jade lives off residuals from a short stint as America’s sweetheart, resulting in three films, two albums and a memoir before age sixteen. She exits with her head held back and nose pinched to stem the bleeding, yet she smiles on instinct and her rear end sashays sweet surrender. Two months later she will enjoy a brief renaissance playing a young unwed dyslexic mother of two in a primetime television movie.

I enter the bathroom, shut the door, do a few quick lines, dust my nose, a final glance in the mirror reflects a demeanor of quiet contentment and I exit on solid ground.

A few quick steps and I find myself drawn to a room overcome with television glare where three wafer thin young men share a joint the size of a cigar. They’re totally absorbed by a Western centered on Wild Bill Hickock and though it’s generally considered to be a piece of shit these three can’t seem to get enough. “I only fight those who are asking for a beating and I only kill those who are looking to die.” They nod in appreciation of something others will simply never understand. The most horizontal of them – Kirk Appleby – will go on to direct a few music videos for fledgling surf bands in the area, find acclaim as MTV’s newest and brightest before ultimately blowing a chance at fame and fortune after refusing to leave his trailer during a Madonna shoot.

The coke is starting to kick in and at this precise moment, as a cool sweat rises, Mickey Silver taps my shoulder, yet as I turn he has already begun his spiel and so I simply resign myself to feigned attention

Mickey – fan of Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, though he insists this is strictly coincidence – is causing rising concern with his growing addiction to infomercials. For a full ten minutes he regales me with tales of the wondrous powers of the ‘Mop Magnificent’ – with extendable handle and ‘a cleaning capacity beyond comprehension’. Mickey is on an Art Scholarship although I will later discover he has spent his entire grant on enough speed to get him through infomercial marathons of up to seventy two hours at a stretch. In three years time he will earn a small fortune as Proprietor of a sculpting workshop for wayward teenagers of the rich and fabulous.

Mickey’s arm cradles the waist of Gordon Little, a writer who is a third of the way through a nonfiction expose on historical figures entitled ‘Tidbits and Tattletale’. I once overheard Gordon complain that the average person was too ‘epistemologically optimistic’ and felt an almost overwhelming urge to throw him through a window, tonight however he simply informs me that Hitler’s mustache was designed to draw attention away from a nose that was ‘a little too Jewish for his liking’. Gordon will spend the next decade as assistant editor for various tabloids before choking to death on a chicken bone in an unlicensed LA diner.

I sniff once, twice, grab Mickey by the shoulder, give an encouraging squeeze signaling my retreat and move toward the living room. As I pass through the arched doorway a wave of abject terror rushes toward and up and over and beyond lies a Lazyboy with a sweet leather embrace and I sit and swivel and face a distant wall where shadows transform, each so subtle it’s impossible to tell where one ends and another begins. I recoil and swivel once more, back to the land of the people and the faces and the voices and the sly comfort of white noise. I witness the world withdraw, we are all underwater, movement effortless, sound garbled, all distant echo and wide eyed wonder. In contradiction, to which I gratefully surrender, time moves at a startling pace while all around slows to a crawl.

Hours, days, months later I stand and straighten and head for the door, as I exit a cheer rises from the veranda, followed by the sound of glass breaking … the volume falls for a moment and then the party resumes. Years later I would marry a girl also present that night, to this day neither of us remembers the other and this seems most appropriate, yet we both recall with horror the shadows on the wall.


By Jonathan H.

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