Jacob Foster (Part 2)
At work he spends his time alternating between checking airline prices and debugging code. The dimly lit office screens backlight his closed eyes. If his workweek had a soundtrack it was the sound of petty office gossip and the noxious novelty ringtone of Jared in accounting. Jared sometimes checks on him, invading the silent sanctity of his cubicle, and once or twice they’ve gone for drinks. They probably will do so again.
Next friday came and went without a hangover, the week a sleepwalking blur of forms and code. Raja was out of town, the world silent for his curious absence. He left an “experimental” curry in the fridge with a note for Jake, and for once his squatter roommate earned his keep. The prophet of aimlessness was already out for the evening.
It would transpire that the experimental curry was delicious. Raja had always enjoyed cooking Italian and Indian, and sometimes he put on the pretension he learned from family, but Jacob knew the truth – he didn’t learn how to cook any of his signature meals until college, and only then from the internet. This fraud had never particularly bothered him until today, coupled with his roommate’s absence. He’d assumed they were going out, and had never thought to check. Pacing the apartment, he tried to recover from the unexpected blow.
-Why does that fucking bother me? He asked lowly of the audient walls, noting a long slow drip of water from one corner. He’d have to call about that. Tomorrow maybe. Or the day after. Office hours. The crushing poverty of the young white urban professional was more spiritual, more intellectual than anything else, even if they could use some extra money for beer. Imagine the future. They are begging in droves for wifi bandwidth outside the shelter. However much they get they will still hunger.
Jacob ate dinner and then stepped outside, searching for stars but seeing only the uniform clouds, the color of his ashed cigarette. There is nothing to do but watch television or surf the internet until tiredness claims him. A beer maybe, to help make liquid of his endless worries. Tomorrow maybe will be another day. And then in a moment he sees the future and recoils from it, a hiker ascending one ridgeline only to see another, even higher ridge ahead. A life is laid out before him each day no different than the last. See it all pass by and wonder what happened.
And yet his roommate for once held open a door. Imagine Rajiv Sansotta providing a solution. Europe beckons, the dream of exploring the world, he and Raja exporting their particular brand of insanity to its far corners. This would be fun. It would be an act of justified violence against the monotony of routine.
He did not know quite what prompted him to see Andrea the next morning. The change of pace would be nice, maybe.
It was not a long walk, thirty minutes past the still sleeping harbor, the restaurants still empty, the trash-strewn water the same as it ever was. Jacob tracked with blinking and hungover eyes the skylines, comparing them to his childhood notions of urbanity. They always felt lacking somehow, the edifice of his city more beautiful at a distance than amongst the teeming crowds. He waited for the light to change and he crossed Lombard Street.
Somehow, as a child, sitting by the gurgling creek out back, throwing stones into the water, the city had seemed thrilling. How could one be alone in a place with so many people? Even the glass buildings had then held a haunting beauty and standing on top of them as he surely would, he could hold a sensation of pride and achievement unlike any other. But that was an absurd childish notion. Jacob Foster walks the streets of the city as an island, surrounded by frozen tidal waves of steel and glass. He does meet the eyes of the faces coming out of the morning drizzle.
He could drive, but he begrudges this city its parking fees. The silence though, perhaps it provides a little too much time for reflection. Strange though. The city isn’t silent and yet it can be so quiet in its waterfall noise silence.
Andrea’s house. On arrival, as ever, he prepared himself for another of the great bullshittings, as Raja always called them, back in college. He had an expression between a laugh and something else when he said it, that thing Jacob Foster would come to associate with his charisma.
Andrea Rodriguez created beautiful things, and sometimes she sold them, to dentist offices and grown up versions of Rajiv. But with these things came the ceremonial preludes, alternating between excuses and justifications. Such was life in the presence of someone like her.
-Want to see what I did? You probably already know how this is gonna go.
Jacob Foster stubbed out a cigarette with a wry smile. He found himself smoking around her more often these days. Careful, or you could make that a habit. Not that I don’t come here half for the crazy lectures.
-So, Jacob, here’s the thing. Art is becoming degraded by a culture that um… has you know, forgotten itself. The mass consumption and technological… um. Reproducibility of media has made everything into something good if you just put your fucking feelings, your experiences into it. But we know that’s not what makes the greatest works. Detachment. Retreat. Those are what we need more of. The big picture… you can only see it when you’ve, eh, removed yourself. People’s personal fears and aspirations they make shit art because they’re too tied to the times to become timeless. That’s why I made this latest thing. Come and see. I like it. Maybe a bit too much.
It was a swirl of a swirl, an indescribable gouache. A heron looked out onto a sunless sea illuminated perhaps by the water, and perhaps by nothing entirely. You could lose yourself in the patterns, they way they drew together. The bird seemed to be melting or perhaps dissolving in stagnant lakewater. An allegory lurked in the shiftless edges.
-I’m worried, uh, Jake. She confessed, laying a hand on his. He looked at the gloss polished patterns in her nails briefly. I’m worried that this is the peak. She pointed at the heron. What if this is the best thing I ever make?
He paused, sliding his hand off the table, scratching his chin. The boy who has never fled far enough wants, unaccountably, to stand and flee again. He is thinking of Paris, and Rajiv’s widesmiling face when he will buy the tickets.
-You’ll make something better. We can’t peak so young, right? There’s got to be more.
-Why not? Art doesn’t work at your- convenience. Neither does life. The artist eh, dies young and everyone gets real fucking sad cause we all know their best work would have been ahead of them. Or they don’t and we all wish they did cause they only made shit afterwards.
-You’re afraid of being the last one?
-Yeah, but also of dying.
-Who isn’t? Jacob snorts.
They sipped cigarette smoke on the balcony of her apartment, passing it back and forth. They could stare out across the muddled brown brick of rowhouses together and the cloud-draped sky and the sewergrey harbor. In the distance the factories and dockyards of Canton loom through the haze.
-Its not just you Jake. The view is… objectively terrible. Used to be worse though. You um… acclimate to it over time. Maybe? Depends on the personality, I guess.
Jacob nodded, took back the cigarette. As he inhaled, he thought of college, of bumming cigarettes off Raja outside parties, of dreaming about the future. In some ways, he had to consider how little had changed since all then. From college they had slid seamlessly into their lives now. Almost accidentally.
-Have you eaten yet?
Head shaking, Jacob grins, in imitation of Rajiv. Let’s get out of here.
Rajiv Sansotta was waiting for them at Jacob’s apartment. He emerged from his bedroom, negotiating the complex ritual of smoking while shrugging on a new button down over his tanned skin. He smoothed back his hair with a gesture approximating unease. Cigarette cocked in his mouth he finished his routine hastily.
-Oh, Andrea! He said, his smile implausibly white. What a surprise.
-Hey how’ve you been? Keeping out of trouble?
-Where were you? Jake asked, frowning.
-Out. Paul and his cousin came by. You know Paul’s cousin? A knowing glance.
-Oh yeah. She was fine. That was what everyone said, anyways. He was struggling to remember the exact details. A few hazy nights a few hazy years ago. These people all tended to blend together. Leave it to Raja to keep track, or at least pretend to.
Andrea and Raja caught up briefly while Jake searched the fridge for beers yet undrunk. Andrea motioned to a cigarette. May I? Common courtesy was refreshing, Jacob thought.
-The damage has already been done, I suppose.
-Don’t worry though Jake, I’ll run down to the ATM and then the beer store. For tonight. Fells after?
-Fells sounds good, Raja. Andrea?
Andrea shrugged. Convenient for me, its where I live. Don’t envy youse guys paying the fare.
-Its not so bad.
Andrea returns from the bar with two coronas with lime slid through the mouth. Jake finishes his with practiced ease while she sips and they dance at first nervously and then with growing familiarity. Raja has rendezvoused with an acquaintance of his and they are chatting above the thunderous din of the club’s music. There is a pit of some kind in Jacob Foster’s stomach as he watches his friend.
He turns back to Andrea.
-We really should have met back up sooner. She has to nearly shout, even with her mouth close against his ear.
He nodded, half in time to the music. Yeah we should have. A man with all the coordinated grace and subtle elegance of a sweat-stained elephant shouldered past him and Jacob swore the man has left some sort of grease stain on his shirt just through passing contact. He twists away in revulsion. Tries to make it look like a coordinated move. Fails. Tries anyways. Everywhere there is something to remind him of this world he hates.
They are dancing still. Jacob fetches the next round, cans this time. Cold in his hand, in spite of the cloying humidity of the dancefloor. Too pricey. We should get more plastered at our houses next time, Raja.
Raja brightsmiling laughs, slaps him on the back, whirls back into whatever shadow and noise and color he has come from. He is gone amongst the crowd and in his place there is energetic movement and frenetic pace and all is spinning dancing blurring together the lines of light fragment and reform and he cannot keep the pace he cannot dance but his limbs his hips they sway with the music and the intoxication the wet looseness of his muscles ah this is the life. Jacob Foster has always loathed himself. Carless. Motion distracts him.
Turn back to Andrea now – she is incredibly close to him, and her lips brush against his – unexpected. He half pulls away. The club is a blur, and he feels a sudden compulsion to run.
-Yeah, it’s about that time. I think.
They stumble out into the goldorange lit street, past the bouncer and looking out into the harbor they light their cigarettes and smoke. Escape from the noise and crowd was a blessed reprieve. Everything settles. She wraps her arm around him as they stumble the step. Cobblestone strikes feet. He rises, brushes his pantleg cursing. She smiles. Watch yourself Jake. There is some intent lurking behind her eyes and there is something he wants to say to her.
There was no chance to think in there. None at all. Everything was just a drunken blur and a money sink. Fucking hell. What was Andrea saying? He tried to focus on her, and realized she wrapped her arms around him. His ears were ringing.
-Want to… um… get out of here? He thought she asked. Unexpected. Confusion. Say what should he say? He said nothing but at that moment Raja stumbled into the street. His eyes were alight with glassysmashed recognition upon seeing Jake.
-Foster my man. Paris. Let’s fuckin’ go. Right now. Right here. Andiamo motherfucker.
In that moment he could see his life stretching out before him, leading away from the child in the backwoods and onwards and onwards more of the same. He couldn’t forsee any escape. The only reason that was not a source of utter terror because he still had time. A drowning man he might have been but he could tread water for a long time. But time and strength had this way of slipping away, dying and being forgotten like another weekend with Rajiv. One day he could wake up a decade later still in the same little apartment with the same friends in the same city. Paris is his only hope left.
-What? Andrea said, and Jacob Foster stumbled away from her, helping his friend to stand.
–Shit. Um I gotta help him. Ya know. Lets get you home, Raja.
-Well, stay in touch Jake. She smiled again, kissed his cheek, turned to leave. He watched her for moments and then the tide of the crowd pressed in and he turned to leave, lifting Rajiv Sansotta and pressing his cell phone to his ear.
Jacob Foster won’t stay in touch. The next day he and Raja will sit down. They will plan their flights and their itinerary, find a shortlist of hotels. Andrea will text him. He will forget to reply. That Monday, he will ask his boss for time off.
Escape will become a certainty.