Carter considers drowning himself in aftershave after slipping and sliding his way out of the shower. He takes a deep breath, picks himself up, and performs a meticulous inspection in the mirror. His hair is okay, his shoulders look decent, his abs are average, his shave looks fine. Everything, he feels, looks okay. Even after the shower, he looks tired. Worn. His lips sag into a frown, even though he is not upset. It has been an extraordinarily long day, and the sun is finally setting on his chances of charming Yasmin at the party today. Yasmin, the herald of spring, the queen of all things divine. After sustaining a mild panic attack, he flings all his clothes onto his bed, combing through them like an agitated groundhog. Thoughts race through his head, foremost of which is the effect that each article of clothing will have on the love of his life, on the light of his existence.
So many possibilities, he thinks. The dress shirt his mother considers “cute” on him? The blue-and-white raglan he lost his virginity in? The polo t-shirt he had stolen from his wealthy friend Cameron, who certainly did not miss it? The turtleneck? He mutters a prayer as he pulls out an oversized tank top, designed to hide the elegant layers of skin that—temporarily—enclose his abs, as a block of marble might hide the exquisite sculpture within.
There! The green V-neck t-shirt. A marvel of fashion. Crafted by a masterful hand—or machine, whatever. Simple yet elegant, veiling just enough of his torso to secure a chance of scoring at tonight’s party. The V-neck is slightly curved, to display a semblance of masculinity, but not too much. Girls like guys who look a little bit like them these days, he thinks. The sleeves fit his average shoulders perfectly, as if to say, ‘I’m not skinny but I’m not insecure enough to get buff.’
The voice of his gym partner Fred echoes in his head, telling him he only thinks so to feel better about his muscle mass, or lack thereof.
‘Hurry up, dipshit. Let’s go!’ Wasi, Don, and Andrei batter down the dormitory door, startling Carter. The slam of the door yanks the marrow out of his bones, reminding him of the jolts he had experienced as a child when his parents walked in on his personal experimentations.
Four Wasi is wearing a simple shirt with Levi’s jeans while Don has donned a leather jacket to go with his maroon long-sleeved Burberry, even boasting a pair of corduroys and a belt with no visible brand logo on its buckle. It seems he is going for a modest look at today’s party. Carter narrows his eyes and sees that Wasi’s simple shirt is, in fact, simply Massimo Dutti. He scarcely bothers noticing what Andrei has put on—his clothes hardly matter when his sexual presence before women is practically hypothetical. Andrei announces that alcohol has been procured and the night is now ready to pop.
‘Bro, come on. We need to pregame for Trappy’s,’ Wasi tells Carter as he pulls up his pants. Oh, fuck. He had completely forgotten that a good portion of the party is pregame for those who plan on arriving at Trappy’s Club, blind drunk later in the night. Vicky, the other love of Carter’s life, famed across the university for her peerlessly proportionate breasts, will also be there. Carter perspires at the very thought.
‘Dude, are we moving or what?’ Wasi snaps. He slaps Carter’s bare back as he changes, and proceeds to empty Carter’s ordinary cologne onto his own shirt. Don is already vigorously discussing his father’s tie collection with Andrei. The latter grunts in response whilst admiring himself in Carter’s mirror. Wasi is practically bouncing where he stands, and feels no shame in deriding his friend for his lateness. ‘Cart, I swear to fucking God, if I don’t dip in some mad pussy tonight ’cause I’m late to the party, and if I’m still anxious for the big gala speech tomorrow, I’ll burn your shitty dormitory to the ground.’
‘You live here too, dude.’
‘Yeah, only because I’m saving up funds for my stock portfolio. I don’t plan on staying here forever like you airheads. I could easily crash at my girlfriend’s place. At the rate the market’s going, there’s gonna be a fuckton of douchebags dicking around with their money, spoiling it for the rest of us.’ Wasi sniffs another bottle of cologne as he speaks. ‘Or so my dad tells us at the dinner table.’
‘Right,’ Carter sighs, wondering how much Wasi’s comments actually reveal about the state of the market, or his knowledge of it.
He moisturises his hands and they leave immediately after, choosing to keep the dormitory unlocked. All their keys are inside so that the first one back has the option to lock it. It was a wise choice, considering the last time, when they had returned from Trappy’s and had had to endure the sight of Don mid-fellatio. Nevertheless, it stands to reason that the option for any one of them to bar the others from entering while relentlessly pounding on (or getting pounded by) a sexual partner, is tremendously important.
Andrei’s car is at their disposal. Inside it, pressed up against the warm thighs of his friends, Carter’s hands go sweaty again. His mind propels itself into a faraway future with several parallel timelines. Some of them include Yasmin, some Vicky, and some featured no women altogether. And in the deepest recesses of conscious thought, a select few alternatives, which he fears to entertain, include both.
They arrive at the building. Andrei warily parks his car, taking care to measure the space between the vehicles in front of him and behind him, just like his father would have wanted. Carter remembers meeting Andrei’s father once, at a grocery store or something. The man had bought frozen macaroni pasta with chicken. Horrific.
As they exit the car, Don lights a cigarette. ‘Put that shit out,’ Wasi tells him. ‘You know the fucking Nelly twins don’t like the smell of darts. As long as we’re at their party, we’re keeping it eco-friendly. That means recycling the booze bottles, puking in paper bags, not plastic ones, and definitely. No. Smoking.’ Carter rolls his eyes. A few feet away on the pavement, a blonde girl is lost inside a bin, letting out loud and discomfiting retching noises. Andrei, meanwhile, has begun work on his bottle of cheap vodka. Wasi and Carter stride up to the security-controlled door of the building as Don draws in half of his cigarette in one drag. Wasi takes the lead in speaking into what Carter understands to be the “buzzer thing.”
‘Yeah, we’re here for the party in 3B? We’re friends of Vonn.’
Carter rubs his hands on his jeans. There is a slight pause on the other end.
‘Sorry, we don’t want pussies,’ followed by raucous laughter. Mildly trippy R&B is playing in accompaniment. Carter blinks. He considers retorting with a witty remark centred on the voice’s probable willingness to let them in had they been female, and therefore, possessing—
Never mind. The moment passes.
‘Yeah, okay, whichever Chad this is,’ Wasi replies, firm in his speech, ‘Alright, you’re waved. Is there anybody sober?? Preferably Vonn?’ No, of course not, Carter says to himself. His gaze returns to the girl on the pavement, who has risen from the bin like a vomit-smeared phoenix. Her hair is a nest. As she walks with some difficulty towards their spot, a bottle is hurled to the pavement some distance from her, a crash that Carter feels in his bones.
‘Who the fuck you calling waved?’ a shirtless apparition bellows through an open third-storey window. The four boys turn their heads and Andrei screws his bottle cap back on. Carter hopes to God that the guy falls. Please, oh, please. But no. The dolt simply staggers back into the festering decay of society that is engulfing 3B, and the party begins to pick up—with Yasmin in it.
Wasi turns to the other three and the phoenix girl, who has now joined them, as another, more sober individual appears at the window. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll handle this,’ Wasi says to them. Carter stares at his friend. There’s nothing to be handled: The Devil is gone.
Turning back to the figure at the window, Wasi cries out, “Look, man, we’re friends with Vonn. Could you just let us in?’
‘I just did.’
‘Oh.’ Wasi hadn’t heard the beep of the “buzzer thing”. The boys—and the girl—take the stairs. Their steps are out of sync, like a choreography gone wrong. Carter adopts a steady jogger’s pace, juxtaposed with Wasi’s jump-four-steps-at-a-time footwork, Don’s self-assured stride, and the drunk girl’s deliberate, existentially contemplative walk. Andrei elects to hang back, as he has only just made new friends on the pavement to share his vodka with.
The lift opens to spew out more drunk party-goers just as Carter reaches the third floor. George Gershwin fills the lift as they exit. Vonn and Shawn Nelly’s door opens to let them in and the world-weary voice of Polo G strikes Carter’s eardrums like a torpedo.
Inside, the apartment is large and the party is like most parties at eleven o’ clock in the evening. Carter greets the few people he pretends to know and retreats back to safety by Don’s side. Wasi has just exited the bathroom after having called his girlfriend, an aspiring human rights activist from Spain currently studying social policy in the year below them. He then proceeds to the table and snorts two lines of what appears to be powdered milk, offering some to nearby strangers he has just encountered.
Carter, weaving his way around bare breasts and fake Adidas accessories, notices Yasmin comfortably seated on a couch in the living room, beer in hand, surrounded by several young men, all of whom are meatier than him. Her beer would have to be lager, he knows. Her hair effortlessly falls on her shoulders, because she uses deep-condition masks that the other girls can’t afford and heats her oils before applying them. Carter takes a few sips of his pathetically-made rum-and-coke and pretends to check his phone, aware of his dangerous proximity to her. He can hear her exasperated sighs, the flick of her hair as she turns her head in boredom, and he gulps his drink too quickly which makes him cough like a beast.
He cannot fuck up now. He feels a whole lot of eyes on him, piercing and scouring..
The human gaze, he believes, is an interesting phenomenon. It holds everything it observes in relation to the self. Carter senses a power dynamic arising between every one of Yasmin’s prospective men and himself. While his gaze towards Yasmin—who is now staring at him as he is lost in thought, expecting him to do something rather than stand around silently—is one of objectification, the gaze of her side-dicks towards him hints at assessment, like a little less-than-alpha male watching his opponent’s every move attentively. Is he a match for them? Is he more? Is he less? Possibly the most intriguing element of this struggle is that Carter seeks to become one of them, a soldier, perhaps a general, in Yasmin’s legion of side-dicks. It is, in the end, an endeavour of vanity meant to determine the worth of his current self. Hopefully, he will disdain his former self and others like it in favour of a newer one that is far more subservient to his queen’s wishes. Helen of Troy before him, and he a Greek hero who will perish needlessly.
Mad pussy, Wasi’s words echo in his head. He must spar with his foes in order to become one of them. Can he truly join the few who succeeded and not the many still swiping on Tinder? He will never know unless he takes up his banner, snaps out of his trepidation, and rides out to the field of duty, a field of gods, kings, and dying men.
‘Yasmin! Hi, how’s it going?’
‘Hey. Carter, right?’
‘Yeah, just Cart’s fine. How long you been here?’
‘Long enough. I’m waiting for things to get interesting.’ She smiles, rolls her eyes and gets up.
It is now almost midnight. Somehow. Perhaps all that time had passed while Carter was staring blankly at his Twitter feed in a corner. In her crop top and bright red palazzos, Yasmin is altogether terrifying and incendiary to Carter’s eyes. She is about to say something; Carter knows it, because he is too obviously staring at her lips. Embarrassed, his eyes quickly dart around, and catch Wasi on the other end of the room getting lime licked off of his neck by two girls he does not recognise. He is also fairly sure there is a guy close by trying to get in on it too. Wasi’s expression is one he has witnessed before. It is precisely the expression depicted in the sculptural ensemble ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa.’ Carter is happy for Wasi, though he also ponders upon his own chances of scoring tonight.
When Carter turns towards Yasmin, she has already left. He looks around, panicking. He is thrown off his script now, which had a carefully-organised list of possible scenarios with Yasmin by the night’s end. All of it has been thrown into disarray. Utter chaos reigns. He notices her and hurries behind her, asking whether she wants a drink.
‘No thanks, I’m good,’ she replies, smiling dismissively. Carter helplessly stands there for a moment, his socks too wet for his liking. He turns to the army of men Yasmin has left behind. They are no longer looking at him. The music has changed now; somebody has put on Tom Odell, a strange choice for party music, especially after midnight. Carter’s glass is empty. It is also noticeably imperfect—there are cracks, fault lines, running down one side. Small cracks, hardly perceptible to someone who is not looking. Why on earth is he holding a cut whiskey glass instead of a solo cup at a college party. Then, he downs it all in one go.
An age passes as Carter gets through his next drink while trying to create miniscule whirlpools in it. He is now seated in the kitchen, surrounded on all sides by couples kissing aggressively. It feels like they will ransack the drawer of kitchen knives and slice through each other’s faces any minute now. Perhaps, then, they will own each other completely. Carter’s drink tastes like vodka with cranberry juice, without the cranberry juice. A drunk dissertation student is sitting on the stove and rambling incessantly that, despite the fact that his ass is on fire, he is just trying to enjoy the night. It is only decent that Carter responds with uninterested grunts. Don rescues him. Carter blinks; it takes a moment for him to recognize Don when he is enjoying himself—his clothes, his personality, his smile, all begin to change. Don is only slightly tipsy, carrying a tray with assorted snacks and desserts on it. He asks his friend how he is finding the party. Carter smells a little Captain Morgan on his breath, perhaps accompanied by a great amount of Sambuca and just a drop of Jägermeister. It takes him no time to relay his failure to Don with a stoic composure. They could always communicate openly.
‘Fuck it, bro. Chill out. Here, have a brownie.’
Carter knows it’s a bad idea. Don shrugs and pushes one into his own mouth anyway. Time is now immaterial. Wasi, on the other hand, is making love to the carpet as his female companions watch in utter fascination. There is a couple repeatedly hurling each other onto the light switch, thrusting the apartment into freeze frames of young (and occasionally old) men and women in compromising positions. Carter often considers dropping out and pursuing a career in blackmail with the help of his trusty smartphone camera. The dancing is minimal, but then nobody really knows how to dance well. Carter reckons he can move better than all these genteel scum.
And not even very genteel.
Don, after having disappeared for a half hour, emerges from the mass of exposed, sweaty flesh in a fully-torn Burberry t-shirt. ‘People are leaving for Trappy’s.’
‘What?’ Carter yells. Why does Don look like he was assaulted? Carter puts his hands on the sides of Don’s face to hold him in place as everything else spins around him. For a split second, Carter knits his eyebrows. He bets Don has been getting more action than him, despite being gay. Or is he bisexual? Because that would make sense.
Is that homophobic?
‘Trappy’s. You coming?’ Don chirps.
Carter nods, or at least thinks he does. He somehow makes it downstairs with a very loud girl—a terrible singer—at his elbow. The mass emigration crams up the main exit and Carter is forced to stand in place as numerous fights break out ahead of him. Or was it just one great fight? He’s not entirely certain. He is, however, completely calm. Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? The refraction of light may only occur when the refractive index of a medium differs from another. Beethoven’s Bagatelle no. 25 in A minor was actually written for Therese, and not Elise.
While he makes sure his brain is still functional, Carter finds himself standing outside Trappy’s. The line comprises more or less the same people who were at the party with him. The bouncers are checking IDs. Oh fuck, he’s forgotten his. Rookie mistake. He is better than this, he really is.
He is momentarily distracted by the fact that his pupils can move under his closed eyelids and begins to move them around frantically. Now dizzy and faint, he counts to five (or six?) before opening them again. He blinks again.
This. Is. Not. Trappy’s.
He is in the front seat of Andrei’s car, who drives while puffing on a fat joint. He always rolls well. 2000s alternative music is playing on the stereo, which immediately begins to assault Carter’s nerves. Outside, the whole town seems to be roistering on the streets tonight. He blinks multiple times to make sure he’s not hallucinating, and more importantly, that he’s still alive.
‘Where the fuck am I?’ he screeches.
‘Fuck me, holy shit. Chill your ass out, man. There’s an ice pack on the dash for your face.’
Carter touches his face and his hand recoils from the variety of bruises that mar it. It feels like he has taunted fire.
‘Andrei, what the hell happened? Why is my face fucked? And do you even know where you’re going?’ Carter says as he sees the same street go by on his left a second time.
‘I’m figuring it out.’
Carter slaps his palm against the stereo, thinking that it will make the music cease. Andrei finally helps him with that, attacking him with the glares of condescension that peaceful stoners often give to those who disrupt their sanctum. Andrei races over a speed breaker. There is a thud from the back of a car, followed by a frustrated cry of pain. Carter looks back.
‘Yeah, I forgot to mention, Wasi’s coked out and drained of all semen in the boot, calling his girl.’
‘Yeah, yeah, but—what happened?’
‘Well, you bought E outside Trappy’s, and no shit they didn’t let your ass in when they saw you. Still, you kinda pushed past the bouncers and got lost in the crowd inside. Then, I’m told, since I was a safe distance away, you tried dancing with Vicky, that chick you liked, before they hauled you away.’
Carter snaps to attention when he hears Vicky and sits up in his seat. ‘Was I good?’
‘Bro, you kinda puked all over her.’
He slumps back.
‘We’re pulling up to my uncle’s house right now. I think Don’s getting head again in the dorm—or giving. I don’t really know.’ Andrei wipes off the three uniquely-coloured layers of lipstick from his neck with his knuckles. So it is true. Even Andrei scored. Carter feels his diaphragm grow heavy as he contemplates the end of times. ‘Just a heads up, my uncle’s kinda mad,’ Andrei continues.
‘Like mad that we’re so fucked?’
‘Nah, dude, he’s literally insane. If you think the night’s been crazy so far, wait till you meet him. Might never leave his house, lowkey.’
Carter concentrates on rubbing the ice pack over the bruised side of his face. A silence falls between them, with only the occasional sounds of ‘No, babe, I swear!’ from the boot of the car.
The next five minutes of the car ride are calm, virtually serene. Carter does not remember when he took the ecstasy, but he can still feel the high. The car ride feels like a ship sailing steadily on a turbulent sea of broken beer bottles and abandoned shoes. The hazy, greyish sky does not carry the stars that were meant to guide them. ‘I got myself in this mess because Yasmin didn’t work out,’ he murmurs. Andrei, engrossed in his exquisitely-rolled joint, does not respond. After a moment of silence, he whispers, ‘Just looking for something real, you know?’
Carter wonders how he loses control so easily each time a night-out does not end the way he wants it to. The brilliance of Wasi is that he loses control regardless of what happens—especially when given the opportunity to cheat. Just as Zola had his joie de vivre, Wasi has his joie de infidélité. There are no holds barred for him, nor will there ever be, probably. Carter, on the other hand, can only match his friend in his hedonistic tendencies when a girl like Yasmin turns her back on him, when alcohol fails to divorce him from the shivering in his head, or when his friends look at him like he is an alien at a party.
The car drifts towards two girls furiously kissing each other on the pavement. Carter begins to stare. One of the girls looks familiar. It piques his interest. Now that he pays more attention, they both look quite familiar, almost as if he had married them both in his head time and time again. Is that—?
His eyes nearly propel themselves forward like cannonballs. ‘Bro, is that Yasmin? And—And Vicky?’
Andrei strains to focus his own bloodshot eyes on the pair. ‘Holy shit, it is.’
Carter’s skin suddenly feels pricked in a million places. He lurches forward in shock after what he has just seen, and everything falls apart like dominoes around him. Reality implodes on itself in a whirlwind of glass, and he is suddenly in a far tighter space, being choked and thrown about.
Carter’s eyes begin to water, not because he is crying but because the drugs are pulling him deeper into their embrace. Every time he opens them, he sees a different image, an obscure polaroid: a monstrously crooked streetlight; strange countenances oppressing his face as he is carried on a stretcher; Wasi, twisted on a similar stretcher with phone still in hand but as still as a painting; rather large wine stains on everyone’s clothes. Andrei is in the ambulance alongside him, singing a song by Afroman unfamiliar to him. But Carter is too exhausted to really think about any of these images. They are just images, after all—photographs. He cannot feel a thing. He cannot hear a thing. The night is a maelstrom, and he a sailor, somehow chartering courses that leads straight into disaster every time. His ship has gone down on this occasion, as it has many times before, but he knows he will sail again and the same sea will be waiting to engulf him tomorrow.
Carter decides it is time to relinquish command for now, and he shuts his eyes. He does not know whether they can see his smile, as deep and red as the stain on Wasi’s t-shirt.
Armaan Verma is Junior Editor at ALMA MAG. He is the author of Glorious Greeks: Meet the Gods and Undoing of the Thieving King.