She’s standing in line at the Tesco’s with a basket of groceries, she scrolls Facebook, and then Luke is dead. Already was dead. Has been dead. She’s dropping her basket of groceries and mumbling apologies and pushing past British people and Luke is dead, except when and how and that’s stupid and maybe it’s a joke. She’s moving through the sliding glass doors into the rare London bright, folding her body into the Saturday afternoon jostle of Bethnal Green Road, the sun’s glare competing with the dead Luke clues on her phone and Luke is dead, actually for-real dead, and it’s so !!! you almost want to laugh: poof, that’s all, folks, what? She’s pushing the heavy door of the nearest pub, a gloomy old-geezer paradise, while across an ocean and a continent in Los Angeles, Luke, her Luke, is—
Not exactly her Luke. Was for a sec. Young guy. Fun. Pretty pockmarked face, paisley silk shirts, louche posture, frizzy curls, deepwater eyes. Luke still smokes! Luke drinks too much, Luke makes silly puns, Luke giggles like a happy seal, Luke obsesses about vinyl, Luke obsesses about girls, Luke forgets deodorant, Luke’s dead—
Luke is right there, on the scratched wood of the pub table, next to her half-gulped pint of lager, the same way he’s been right there since they both left New York—as a name on her screen: Luke. Luke’s right there, inside the rectangular box, the same way he was last—week, month? When he said that thing. That one thing, that thing that struck her as kinda embarrassing—the kinda thing that yes, okay, shit, he’d been saying a lot—
She scrolls. There:
Luke: Everything I thought would wear off…just hasn’t.
She thinks, huh. Luke—on purpose—de-Luked the world?
Whoa, girl. Slow that roll. Probably just your run-of-the-mill car crash. Senseless. LA is a hellscape. Or cancer. Stage four at first scan. An air conditioner fell on his head. A tornado carried him off to Oz. It was Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe—
She drinks. Luke drank.
Clues. Yes. Get the clues—
Luke stopped posting six weeks ago. Hmm. Well, London is distracting, grad school is distracting, loneliness its own kind of pathetic distraction—
The most recent Luke quote on her screen, the Luke quote that made her know about the dead Luke, isn’t from Luke at all but from his mother:
Tell your mothers you love them. I was taken from my loving Moms too soon.
xoxo love Luke’s Mom
Dozens of notes to the dead Luke:
Hey, buddy. Remember that time we thought we ran out on our bar tabs only to realize the next day we’d been paying cash for every beer we drank? Love you, always.
Tears rolling down my face now. I'm so sad and so mad. I'm so mad I can't stand it. I wish I would have went to LA that time to see u like I said I would. Why didn't I go? I'm sorry. Do u forgive me?
I can’t beleave your gone.
Though Luke wouldn’t have minded that. He was kind, kinder than her. He’d have liked it. Luke wouldn’t have minded, either. He’d have “liked” it.
Two empty pint glasses next to Luke now.
She will miss Luke. She already misses Luke—his ease with people, his comforting stink, his terrible pool game—has got used to missing Luke, has made peace with it: LA is far. Really, she will miss Luke. He’s the one in her pocket.
Or maybe nah. This hot knotted feeling isn’t about missing either of them. Because who cares about her sitting there doing “missing,” in the face of Luke’s deadness. It’s more about the fact of the dead Luke in an outside way—the deal of it, the thing of its wrongness, in a way that has little to do with her personally. Besides the fact it collapsed this one Saturday that was probably going to suck anyway, like all the other Saturdays alone in this grey city with nothing to do—
A link to a memorial page. An obituary outlined in unsightly flowers. No why or how, anywhere. Posts like this though:
Still don’t know what happened but rest in peace man.
Back to the bar for a packet of crisps. Nostalgic ones. She met Luke over salty snacks—in a Greenpoint bodega, way after midnight, both drunk and reaching for the last Doritos. Nancy Meyers remixing Harmony Korine. Luke’s round cheeks shining fluorescent as he pleaded, wheedled. His elation when she relinquished. They killed the bag together on her front stoop. Went back for Pringles.
Three weeks of sloppy kisses on Brooklyn’s better park benches, gyrating in basement dives, attempting to climb unclimbable trees. She left to follow her dream in London (ha), Luke moved home to LA. Loosened by Wi-Fi, they got closer. Became long-talks friends. Zero-mutual-friends friends. She can message his mother for answers, yeah right: “Hey Mama, how did your son die? Did he kill himself? I feel like he did!!!”
She exhales a lungful of stale air. Feels self-conscious. Sitting in the pub in the middle of the day having Visible Emotions, a whole slew of emotions, a slaw of them, a grief salad, in full view of crusty old English blokes, all of whom are much closer to death than she is, God knows—
Are they? God knows.
It’s all so dramatic. She’s being so dramatic. It’s laughable, really. She should have paid for her groceries and gone home and made lunch and done her laundry and processed it all quietly. Normally, like a normal. She’s barely talked to Luke in months. Maybe this “Luke’s death” thing isn’t even a thing. Why does she always have to make everything into such a big dramatic—
But Luke was dramatic. Death is dramatic. It’s the kind of dramatic British people hate.
The thing to do, she knows, is go back to her flat, lie in the dark, listen to some Orange Juice or Adam Green in Luke’s honor, look at pictures of them together and feel the icky stuff flow through. Do some tears. Be glad it’s Saturday and press on. Lights on. Homework. A stiffness in the upper lip.
Or the thing to do is go be dramatic. Be a dramatic crying American everywhere.
An empty bourbon glass on the bar. The afternoon sun hot on her pale hair, the pale stones of the pavement undulating beneath her feet. London’s endless grey bollards and graffiti. All quiet in the East End now.
On Brick Lane, she ducks in an Indian cornershop and hands over pound coins for cold samosas in a paper bag. Swallows them in big greasy bites while walking. Tasteless cardboard ballast.
Art is the thing. Art is the modern substitute for religion, for sure.
Inside The Whitechapel Art Gallery stands her favorite tree in London. It’s not a tree. Just a glass of water on a high shelf calling itself “Oak Tree.” Thing plus name of other thing equals art. She enjoys that. She stands below “Oak Tree” gazing at its splendour and thinks of transformation. Doing the gazing-at-splendour and thinking-of-transformation feels good, right, mourning-appropriate. Having a Response To Art.
She checks her phone. No one has texted her, because she has two friends in London and they’re both in for-real relationships, where they do emotional support and activities.
That’s okay, she has “Oak Tree.” “Oak Tree” is the Thing.
She would like to hurl “Oak Tree” at the wall, but just for the split end of a second and then meh, that seems so outsized, sad. Anyway she loves “Oak Tree.” Anyway she always wants to throw glasses at walls and watch them shatter, so what?
In the back of the gallery, a cordoned-off nook. There, on a screen, a giant wasp undergoes the throes of death. Perfect! It’s huge, this wasp. Blown up a thousand times. Drenched in watercolor. Spasming from its perch on a stone in the water. Beating wings roar like jet engines, thrust sexually. The big small thing is working so hard at not dying.
What would it have been like to have sex with Luke? They came so close but never did. Sweet or dirty? Funny good or funny bad? His dick: a poem or a pleasant comic strip?
She turns around. A normal turn.
The force of the blow is the first thing. Then the sharp pain above her eye, then the wildness in the man’s scrunched amber ones. His face is so close. He jerks it back, face shocked, then confused, then afraid. Of her?
He’s loping off, this guy, running. She’s dimly aware of screaming after him, haranguing his plaid back.
She is seeing the picture but not understanding. Forehead wasn’t there, then was. He fucking head-butted her head. Why?
She touches her cheek. Fingers come away red. Gallery attendant is staring now. Following her at a distance as she wanders. Looking to corral her, but frightened of her. This guy too! She is a beast, a horror film.
Cradled by the hard plastic of a folding chair. Gallery attendant eyes her while phoning. Her eyes continue to leak. Red wetness mixing with clear. Head dropping into hand. Shoulders shivering, then spasming. A feeling inside of the face. Dreadfulness with no sayable name. Here come the tears, doing her. What a terrible thing to lack control, how disgusting to weep with no clear thoughts.
Or a blessing? A for-free cry? Pass Go, collect a forced catharsis?
In the ambulance, two pretty EMTs joke, clown, ask a million questions. Turns out tears are no match for pleasantry. She gets the sense it is all okay, she’s cool, this day is fine. Their hands are all over her, professional hands, but she wishes she’d showered before going to Tesco’s. How strange it is to be touched. To feel current through the human circuit.
Royal London Hospital is a smash-up of the old and the new. Vast and then cramped, glass and then cinder block, thin mattresses, drunks. A nice Pakistani woman glues her eyebrow back together. Then she is free to go. A simple open-and-shut art gallery head-butt. No stitches. Doesn’t even have to give her name. Socialized medicine is no small miracle. Luke.
Outside, the sky has given up, gone blush. She considers her reflection in the window of the BMW dealership. Below her eyebrow, a slim crescent of red. The too-round face with the too-big nostrils and the too-short hair. Well. Luke liked it.
Music spills from the open door of The Rhythm Factory. A fine establishment, if she recalls. Luke-worthy. Going in there wearing laundry-day jeans and stinky top with no bra and fresh eyebrow glue seems impossible. Drinking booze post-head-butt seems unwise, but what other options? Go home?
Inside The Rhythm Factory, she squishes onto a black leather sofa. Fondles a large glass of white wine, civilized wine that costs more than seven pounds and thus seems funereal, the booze equivalent of a smart black dress. She drinks. Luke drank.
There’s a cute boy in a scratched leather jacket standing at the bar, holding a Manhattan. He’s a Luke-esque boy, a boy Luke may have liked or hated, although Luke hated no one. She can ask this bizarro Luke to go home with her. To write Luke on his hand in Sharpie and hold her all night, even though if real Luke were here she might not want his hand on her bare flesh. This boy might say yes. There are weirdos. That might be a Thing. Or a way into newness. Tomorrow she can get a tattoo, that’s a Thing. A picture of a cassette tape on her ankle with an L on it. Gross. She can throw her phone into the Thames and say “Good-night sweet Lukie, my sweetest angel” and then facepalm and dive in after it.
After the wine she is hungry. Ravenous. Craving funeral-baked meats, but the bar only does nuts and olives.
Back in line at the Tesco’s with a basket of groceries, she scrolls Facebook. Her eyebrow throbs, it’s difficult to focus. This is good.
Here he is, Luke, three weeks ago:
Everything I thought would wear off…just hasn’t.
This Luke, a week before that:
**NOTE TO SELF**
Keep your head up buddy, you're a good person, people like you...
The last Luke direct message to her, sent a month ago at 3 a.m. in LA:
Hi girlie! How’s London? We need to talk I misssss yooooouuuuuuuu
She never replied. Her brain says, Luke de-Luked. A physical feeling attaches itself to the thought, zips through her chest, and then she’s looking at the ceiling and inhaling and shaking her head. She imagines to others she looks mildly aggrieved. Irritated American Chick in line at the Tesco’s.
Someone left a satsuma in the magazine rack. It goes into her pocket.
She is thinking death comes for us all and then laughing at herself because duh.
The cashier is speaking about rewards cards. She is nodding, but mostly she is having the feeling of being alone at the bottom of a hill that a large ball is rolling down.
But maybe not. After all, she did the art and the head-butt and the makeshift bar funeral. Now she will go home. Put the veggie sausages and mash into the microwave (save the satsuma for breakfast). Eat alone at the plastic table, wash face, brush teeth, crawl under duvet, turn out the light, put the laptop on the empty pillow and watch videos of Bob Ross painting landscapes until drifting away into nothingness. No thoughts. Just trees. Just dabs and whorls of paint, becoming trees.