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**CURRENT PRINT: 318: Installment 25 features "318," by Birmingham's Nadria Tucker, the story of a stripper's daughter in prep for a beauty pageant and so much more. Also: "Big Doug Rides Torch," a short from Chicago's Jonathan Messinger's new Hiding Out collection.
**WEB: SLIP Charles Blackstone

Charles Blackstone

Charles Blackstone is the author of the 2005 novel The Week You Weren't Here. He lives in Chicago, and has had short fiction published in The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Bridge, and The Evergreen Review. Visit him here.

Trey missed his ex-girlfriend Julianne like a jonesing addict and thought about her constantly. He kept finding her in Bridget, the girl he was now seeing. He did double-takes when Bridget would ask him, in a too-familiar cadence, if he wanted to see a certain documentary at the campus cinema or accompany her on a shopping expedition to replace a mislaid black turtleneck -- she didn't obsess over missing clothes as tenaciously as Julianne did, just quietly accepted the loss and set about finding a replacement. And yet the paths felt well trod, as though mapped out with his own Doc boot prints. When she spoke, she sounded exactly like Julianne, addressing him using her voice and breath and words. He'd have to take a second to prepare, to remind himself of Bridget's name, of everything that had transpired, of who he used to be when he was in love with Julianne, of who he was now that he was with Bridget, before answering.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

But this morning, he slipped. He was already awake when Bridget reluctantly cranked the day's ignition, sat up in bed, reset her scrunchied hair, squinted as she reached around for her between-contacts pair of glasses. Trey kissed her and said he was hungry. She stood, hugged him, and asked, "Do you want to go sit," referring to the dining hall, "or just grab something on the way?" Before he could answer, she turned away, began to stack books and shuffle papers. It was Saturday and they were blowing off their homework. They had plans to spend the day checking out an exhibit of British punk photography at a gallery in downtown Durham and, late last night, had discussed getting an early start.

While Bridget was out on the lawn having a cigarette in the dark, the phone rang, and Trey decided to answer it. What the hell, right? It was Joey, and he was calling for Trey, to ask if he wanted to join him and Julianne for brunch. Though it'd been a while since they'd all hung out together, like old times, Trey declined, since he'd already made these plans with Bridget. He regretted turning them down. He thought about that conversation for a little too long afterward, and it was still on his mind this morning. Next thing he knew, the syllable of his undoing tumbled down his brambled tongue--


The way Bridget stopped straightening her desk, immediately whipped her body around and looked at him head on made him certain he'd said enough of the accursed name loud enough for the slip to register as a slip. Her stare obviated any argument that she was the one to mishear, to mistake the tiny sound for any number of other utterances.


She bolted for the bathroom. He chased her but wasn't quick enough. She locked the door before he could even reach his hand to the knob.

"Bridget," he shouted. "It was a mistake. A fucking mistake. It's early. I haven't had coffee yet. Come on."

It was true that he wasn't thinking clearly. With very little sleep last night, his body was exhausted but his mind fully alert, panic endorphins coursing through him. The longer he waited for Bridget to emerge, the duller he felt himself becoming, and so he lit a cigarette, hoping the nicotine would jumpstart him a bit. He could faintly hear a Roxy Music song coming from a stereo in the adjoining room. When it ended, he switched on the TV, found a rerun of the Rolanda show, an interview with Tonya Harding. Trey wouldn't admit it to anybody, but he kind of thought Tonya was hot, in that trashy way and would do her over Nancy Kerrigan any day of the week. Figure skating was lame, though. Only gay guys really got into it. A woman in the audience asked Tonya a question that made her weep, and Trey lost interest, checked out the other five dorm channels. Nothing. Bridget still hadn't come out of the bathroom.

"We're going to miss this fucking exhibit," he yelled across the room. "Is that what you want? I'd rather go study geology if this is how it's going to be."

More nothing.

Trey's jeans had fallen below his waist. He lifted his shirt, revealing three inches of plaid boxers, and hiked the denim up, considered tightening his belt by a notch, but then remembered that while this notch was too loose, the next one up was too tight, left his kidneys gasping for air, bound him like a middle-aged disappointment-hunched insurance salesman resigned to a life of melodramatic Meatloaf albums and polyester pants. He pictured himself like this for a moment, then imagined Julianne observing him, cracking up like it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen. Where was she right now? She'd know how to get him out of this.

"I think I'm out of my head enough to kick the door open," he called over. He heard no sobbing, no nose-blowing. No water running. Did she flush herself down the toilet?

He approached the door and tried the knob again. This time it gave, and the door opened, revealing Bridget sitting on the floor, arms around her legs, hugging herself, rocking back and forth as though in a trance. He moved in quickly, hovered before her, and tried to pry her hands from her shins. They were as if cemented in place. "Come on," he said. "What are you doing?"

She spoke then. "I think I'm going to be sick." Her voice was weak and her mouth wet, sloppy with spit and mucus.

Trey moved back and lifted the toilet lid. "Try to throw up."

Her head found its way to the bowl. She wretched, sputtered, hacked, choked, but nothing beyond a thick string of drool came, stubbornly clinging to itself until it couldn't hold on any longer.

"Did you take something?" he asked. She didn't respond, so he repeated himself, this time a little louder, a little less friendly. "Did you take something, Bridget?"

He looked to the medicine chest for signs. It was closed. There were no uncapped bottles on the sink. There was no envelope with traces of powder. "I really don't feel like doing this," he said. "I don't want to play this game. Goddamnit, Bridget, you're scaring me. OK?"

She'd managed to return herself to the corner of the tiny bathroom. The ugly light and mildewed tiles closed in on him. To what extent was he responsible for her just because he put his dick inside her occasionally? Was he supposed to wait this one out? Inevitably, Julianne would come back any moment and he'd have to deal with not only the challenge of returning Bridget to consciousness but also explaining that I accidentally called her Julianne and she fucking flipped out. He sank to the floor and rubbed his face, trying to keep his hands over his eyes against the light.

He wasn't 100 percent sure, but he thought he might have passed out for a minute or two. He was so lightheaded from exhaustion and malnutrition that he was surprised, upon shrugging himself back from whatever he'd lapsed into and looking at his watch, that he hadn't actually been out of it longer. He became aware of a rustling beside him and began to focus again. Bridget was rising to her feet. She stood in front of the mirror, put in her contacts, took on her reflection face to face, seemed to blanch a little, and quickly turned on the faucet. She splashed her face repeatedly with handfuls of water. The water went in every direction, some splashing Trey. He didn't attempt to blot his forehead.

"Do you want to tell me what the fuck that was all about?" he said.

"I'm sorry," she said vacantly. She seemed tentative about being apologetic -- embarrassed but reticent, as though she'd just passed out in the street and been rescued by a stranger. "I think I had some bad Benadryl or something. I felt like I was going to puke, but then it passed."

"Bad Benadryl?" Trey just gaped at her.

"Yeah, I don't know, I think it was like sitting out in the heat or something."

"You freaked out."

"It just like hit me and cut through me, like a lawnmower. Yeah, like a lawnmower. I feel like I've been hacked up."

"You ran off, Bridget. You got mad at me, don't you remember? You weren't having a fucking allergy attack."

She just stared at him like she really had no idea what he was talking about. Could she have blacked out?

"I think I'm going to go back to my room," he said. "I don't really feel like going downtown. Is that cool?" He didn't mean to be insensitive, but he just really couldn't be there any longer and didn't want to say anything he'd regret, the risk of which grew exponentially with each additional minute he hung around. Better to just walk away before there could be additional outbursts. "Maybe you could use the rest. You know?"

"I know what you're doing," she said. She stepped over him and out of the bathroom. He brought himself to his feet and quickly followed.

"What am I doing?"

"You don't want to spend the day with me, so you're concocting some shit about me needing a nap or whatever. Just admit it."

"That's not true, Bridget. I was all set to do this with you."

"Go be with Julianne and Joey," she said. "That's all you've been thinking about since you got up today. How soon you could go back to your sick love affair with them."

Trey was kind of shocked she was saying this. She'd never let on to feeling excluded before. It was true, anyway, that he felt sad thinking of them having scrambled eggs and toast with strawberry jelly and coffee and cigarettes without him. He chose Bridget over his two friends, but she must have sensed that it was only temporary. This couldn't be the first time she realized just how important they were to him. They were everywhere, in everything. Something about imagining the world through Bridget's eyes, as weird as it was, as uncomfortable as it was, made it all make a little more sense.

She returned to the bathroom. Trey could hear running water and it comforted him. He turned the TV back on and started to lose himself in a Dennis Miller Live repeat, so much that he almost didn't hear the room's doorknob turning. Right before it ceased, he slowly arced his head to see Julianne. They looked at each other without speaking for what felt like an incredibly long time. Julianne turned away first, began to pull the door shut. Trey watched it screen her out, frozen in place, but didn't want her to be gone. He rushed over to the door, threw it open, and leapt into the hall, but she had already descended the stairs.