Steve Anwyll wrote a book called Welfare and it’s coming out in November from our pals at Tyrant Books. Welfare is wholly made up of four-line paragraphs and has a cadence that is uniquely its own. A high school student leaves his parents’ home to live on his own with friends and with the help of government aid. The narrator becomes your best friend on the first page. Here’s part 1 from an excerpt of Steve reading from the book. Thanks, Steve.
Julie tells me she’ll drop me off at home. I offer to come back to her mom’s place. Maybe help with getting things ready for the reception. I have no idea about what I can do to help. But it’s as good as an excuse to stay real close to Sam.
Without turning around. And before Julie can say a thing. Sam says no. That they don’t need any help. They’ll drop me off at home. That’s the end of it for her. And I don’t say a thing.
We pull up out front of my apartment building. I get out. Bend over. Look in Sam’s window. Tell her I’m looking forward to seeing her later. She lights a cigarette and exhales. Maybe I’ve worn her down. Because she admits it’ll be nice to see me as well. But I’m not seeing the sarcasm.
Julie pulls away. I stand in the parking lot. Things are going to work out. I’m finally going to win. And when the 2 of us leave the party tonight we’ll be back in love. I tell myself this delusion as I watch them drive away.
I turn around. Look up at the ugly blue aluminum siding of the building. This place looks like shit I say. Spit on the ground. Insides not much better to look at. The floors are filthy. The super’s been letting things go. I should go down and complain. The lazy bastard.
I open the door to my hall. Walk passed all my neighbours doors. Think about how I don’t know any of them. We just nod to each other. Never say a thing. Barely make eye contact.
Things are working out well.
I go into the apartment. My roommate and Carl are sitting on the couch. Smoking a joint. I sit down. Carl passes it too me. I smile. And I’m sure they think it’s because I’m getting stoned. But I’m still floating from being around Sam.
My roommate asks me where I’ve been. I don’t think. I tell them that I got up early. Hitched out of town. Ended up at Julie’s moms wedding. My roommate chokes a little. Asks why the fuck?
‘I thought it’d be nice.’ I say.
Instantly I know it’s not the kind of lie I can pull off. I don’t have a history of getting emotional over weddings. Or anything really. And my roommate says bullshit. That there’s no way he’s buying that.
‘Was Sam there?’ he asks while passing the joint back my way.
I take a drag. Hold it in then blow out a large cloud of smoke. I tell him I’m not sure if she was. That I don’t remember seeing her there.
‘You weren’t invited were you?’ Carl asks me.
‘That’s getting creepy man.’ he says while laughing at me. Which hurts a little. I look at my roommate. His eyebrows are raised. Like he just heard something awful. A tragedy. And all I can think is that neither of them understands love.
‘Nothing is getting creepy. I’m gonna win her back tonight. You’ll see.’
‘Yeah. Good luck with that. If I were you I’d leave her alone,’ my roommate tells me.
I tell him that everything’s fine. She offered me a ride home I lie. That the whole time we laughed and reminisced about all the fun we’ve had. He asks me how I got a ride home with her but can’t remember if she was at the wedding.
‘You know how these things work,’ is the best answer I can come up with.
Carl asks me how it was. If there were a lot of bikers. I say I couldn’t be sure. That from where I was standing I couldn’t see. But when I tell him the room stunk of whiskey he seems happy.
After that we go out. Walk over to the closest beer store. Wait around the side until we convince someone to buy us a twelve-pack. When we get back to the apartment we open it up and dive in.
Carl and my roommate play video games. I roll another joint. The two of them talk about all the girls that’ll be at the party tonight. The things they want to do to them. I agree with everything they say. Just so I don’t come across as an outsider. But I can only think of Sam.
When the sun sets I tell them we should go. I’m anxious to set my plan in action. But I keep that to myself. I say that we’d better be moving. That there’s only one keg of beer. And who knows how much those drunks and bikers will consume.
They agree. Julies moms place isn’t that far. But still. In our state it takes us about 45 mins to get there. It’s in a newer subdivision where all the houses look the same. And I’m certain that if I was alone. I’d be stuck wandering these streets all night.
From the end of the driveway we can hear music. See the shapes of people dancing behind the curtains. Carl and my roommate stop. So I follow suit. I figure maybe we’re going to smoke another joint. Get loose before we go into the party.
Instead my roommate looks at me. Asks me if I plan on doing anything stupid. Like making Sam’s night terrible. And I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Who do they think I am?
‘What are you talking about?’ I ask him. And the two of them stand there under a streetlight. Looking at me like I’m a lunatic. Like they know things are going to go south.
‘You know what I mean, man. You’re drinking. She’s here. You’re a piece of shit. And then I have to drag you home. It’s not fun.’ my roommate says.
‘I told ya man. This is my fucking night.’ my confidence at a level I’m not accustomed to. And I’m not sure. But I might even be standing up straight. But instead of believing in me my roommate scoffs. Tells me that’s what makes him worry.
And my blood boils a little when he says that. So I jump down his throat and tell him to give it a rest. And if anything goes awry he’s absolved of me. That I’ll drag my own ass home.
He grumbles but doesn’t say much. Because he knows me. And he knows that this is the best he’s going to get.
The three of us walk up the driveway. Which is full of cars. Just like the whole god damned street. I’m surprised there aren’t people falling out into the yard. This isn’t a large place. Just some crummy little one floor dump. The same as all the others surrounding it.
We try knocking on the side door. But it’s futile. And I’m not sure why I suggested it. Because there’s no way someone is manning it. Waiting for guests to be checked off a list. So my roommate opens the door and walks right in.
We’re on a landing between the basement and the main floor. The kitchen is through the door to the right. I can see that it’s full of people. They laugh. They toss back drinks. Pick at platters of food off a table in the middle of the room.
And I know I’m not ready for all that. It looks like the kind of situation that’s impossible to navigate without getting stuck. Being dragged down into some awful conversation. Like listening to someone’s life plan.
So I don’t wait to see what my roommate and Carl decide to do. I make my way into the basement. Where I can’t see anyone. I hear voices and laughter. But it’s more subdued. And I picture an easier transition starting from there.
At the bottom of the stairs I turn left. And in front of me is an unfinished room. Cinder block walls. Boxes of useless crap stacked around the perimeter. People are sitting on makeshift chairs and benches. And in the middle of the room is a keg of beer in a large plastic tub of ice.
I make myself at home. Walk into the middle of it all. Grab a red plastic cup and fill it to the top with cold beer. I take a long drink off of it while shutting my eyes. It feels so good. I’m as relaxed as I’ve ever been.
I still haven’t acknowledged a single person in the room. So I take a look around. Smile and nod at everyone I know as I do. I don’t see Sam down here. But there’s no way I’m going upstairs right away though. Because Carl and my roommate followed me down here. And I don’t want them to know what I’m up too.
Those assholes and their judgment. I’ll show them. This night is going to end like some beautiful fairy tale. And it’ll have nothing to do with the recent bride and groom. They can go to hell. Today is about Sam and I and our endless love.
I drain my beer foolishly celebrating something that hasn’t happened yet. Then I pour another.
I wander about the room for a while. Looking through boxes. Getting stuck in conversations. Which end pretty quickly. And I’m so happy with the result that I don’t notice why.
Because I’m not paying attention to anything anyone says. I just grin and gulp down the beer. My mind a thousand miles away. Twenty years in the future. These shit days nothing but a memory. The rough patch before everything worked out.
And every time there’s any mild amount of disbelief in this all working out I take another drink. Drown the voice in my head. Convince him he’s being irrational. That the world is on our side.
I never think for a second that I’m the god damned fool.
There’s nothing down here for me I tell myself. Just these one way conversations. I want to see Sam. Get the ball rolling. I fill my cup one more time. Make my way to the stairs. My roommate looks at me with a cocked eye. I tell him I have to take a piss.
And I know he doesn’t believe me. But he can go fuck himself. He should worry about his own damn behavior. And by the time I make it up to the top of the stairs I’m half down my drink again. I can feel it now. I need to take a second and catch myself.
I stand there in the doorway. Watching people move around. Laugh and talk and drink and eat. There’s bottles of booze and buckets of ice and large platters of deli meat and cheese and buns and deviled eggs and salad.
It’s the answer to all my problems.
I stumble up to the table. My feet are a little heavy and I bump up against a man I’ve never seen before. He’s got a rough face. Long hair. And when I push against him he looks at me with anger. But I couldn’t care less. Not in the face of all this food.
So instead of apologizing I grab a paper plate. He walks away with his. And I spend some time piling mine high with sandwiches and salad. I drain my beer. Take a small clear plastic glass. Fill it with ice. Then whiskey.
I move up along a free spot on the counter. Lean against it. Put my drink down beside me. Ignore everyone in the room. Start shoveling forkfuls of macaroni salad into my mouth. I eat a sandwich in 2 bites.
There’s probably crumbs and salad all over me. But I don’t notice. It feels too good to be eating. I can’t remember the last time I had access to so much food. And every one of the 3 sandwiches I have has at least a half-pound of meat stuffed into the bun.
I pick up my glass. The ice has melted a little and I’m able to pull back a mouthful. I swish it around. Dislodge pieces of ham and salami and turkey and mustard soaked bread from my teeth.
Christ. It sure feels good to be alive for once.
Julie walks up to me as I’m chewing back the last half of my 3rd sandwich. I curse her timing. There’s nothing I want more than to head back over to the platter. Make another one. Just in case I don’t get another chance.
‘Hey Stan, you came.’ she says to me with a smile on her face. And I don’t take the time to think how nice it is to have a pretty girl looking at me like that.
‘I wouldn’t miss it. I ain’t seen your mom yet though. I want to say congrats.’ I tell her because I think its what she wants to hear. I think about Sam. And how now that I’ve eaten I feel like a fucking champ. I take another drink. And I feel even better than I did a second ago.
Julie tells me they left already. That all of their friends were going there soon. That there was a better place to party somewhere else. That they’d just stopped in here to eat. She points to my face. And says she can see that I did to.
I wipe my bare arm across my mouth. And when I bring it down there’s a streak of mustard 3 inches long down the top of it. Julie laughs at me. And I do to. I don’t have anything to wipe it up with so I just rub it into my arm with my hand.
‘Hey, is Sam around?’ I ask. And she stops smiling. She tells me that Sam isn’t looking forward to seeing me. That I should leave her alone. That it’s not worth all the bullshit.
And for a minute I can’t say a thing. I’m too mad. I can’t believe that Julie would lie to me like that. The cunt. As calmly as I can. Which isn’t that calm at all. I tell her to go fuck herself. And that she should watch what she says.
I down the rest of the whiskey. Go to the bathroom and take a piss. When I come back out I go back to the basement. I need a minute to think. To figure out what I’m going to do. Because a small part of me believes in Julie’s words.
It’s a little livelier than before. The beer is flowing more freely. More people have shown up. I pour a beer and go stand with Carl and Mitch and Greaseback and my roommate. Carl looks at me like he knows everything that happened already. Like he could see me fucking up through the floor.
I don’t say much. Just half listen. Laugh when it feels appropriate. I’m too lost in my head. The plan is unraveling. And if I fail here then I have to think about failure elsewhere. Like graduating. Like getting a good job.
And standing there in a room full of people smiling and laughing and drinking and talking about their bright futures I can see mine just in the distance burning down into a smoldering pile of steaming shit.
So when I hear my roommate ask if anyone wants to go outside to smoke a joint I’m the first one to say hell yeah. I say I could use the air. That I’m sick of being in this basement. Under this ceiling. I’m not done my drink but I fill another glass before I go outside.
The rest of the party is in the front yard. The last of Julie’s mom’s friends leaving. There’s no need for us to be out there. We go into the back corner of the backyard. We stand there smoking in silence. Listening to cars starting. Voices bidding farewell.
I walk away from the circle without saying a word. I tell myself I’m in a moment of perfection. That I can’t waste it. That I have to find Sam right away. That this is the instant I’ll be able to regain control over where it feels like life is pushing me.
When I come around the side of the house Julie and Sam are walking arm in arm towards me. Their heads are down and they’re laughing. And when I say hey girls they jump and squeal a little in fear.
I ask them how they’re doing. Apologize to Julie for earlier. Tell her I flew off the handle. Then I ask if I can have a minute alone with Sam. Who rolls her eyes and sighs. But agrees. Julie asks if she needs her to stay. But she shakes her head and I’m relieved.
Because I don’t know if I have the balls to say what I have to say in front of her. And when she walks away and we hear the side door close behind her I ask Sam how she’s doing again. And she just tells me to cut the shit. To say my piece.
And I let loose with it all. About how much I still love her. And how soon things are going to change. And how soon I’ll have a job. How then I’ll be the person she’s always wanted. We can have the life she’s dreamed of. And how without her my entire life’s plan will run off course.
When I’m done she stands there. And she looks hurt. Which is the opposite effect I was looking for. And when she opens her mouth she doesn’t say I love you like I imagined. Instead she asks me if that’s all I see her as. As a piece in some ugly little puzzle.
And I don’t see what’s so wrong with that.
But before I can tell her as much she looks up at me. Her beautiful eyes a little glassy with drink and smoke and what I still mistake for undying love. She says, ‘Stan, I have something I want to tell you.’
And I think this is it. She’s going to tell me that she wants me back. That in a couple of minutes we’re going to be in each other’s arms. Making out. Back in love like we were a year ago.
to be continued…