THE TIME WE CELEBRATED BONNIE’S BIRTHDAY
We spent the last two hours of Bonnie’s birthday drinks talking about shitty men and didn’t think to apologize to Bonnie about it until after we got kicked out of the bar, long past closing time.
The bartender had tried to wait us out. Our group had become way too terrifying and annoying to approach. Our faces were red and our eyes were red and our auras or spirits or vibes or whatever were reddest of all. A dank, singed red that dimmed to black.
Although the bartender was extremely built, he wore his bounty of muscle like an old woman carrying too many grocery bags. He sighed and leaned against the bar and we ignored him.
Phyllida had been sketching on a napkin with meticulous and confident strokes. She seemed exactly like a real artist as long as you didn’t look at what she was drawing. “It needs a really long handle,” she said. “For leverage.” On the napkin was Phyllida herself, as a stick figure with scribbled hair like black hay, standing on a beach and holding an enormous fork. At the end of each fork tine, she added eight stick figures, who were being shoved helplessly into the surf.
“Ta da!” She pushed the napkin in front of us. “The drowning fork! For all your drowning-more-than-one-man-at-a-time needs. Eight men maximum. You don’t have to use all the tines. But it’s such a waste if you don’t.”
“Motherfucker, I’ll take fifty,” Devon said, slapping her wallet down onto the table.
We cackled, some of us actively trying to screech like evil witches because it was funnier, and the longer we cackled the more we just felt it was the exact right way to laugh — not laughing because everything was so joyous and unblemished but simply because you were all bitches in hell together, so why not laugh, why not understand that everything contains at least one tiny nugget of its opposite, why not find a socially acceptable way to shriek with rage in public?
After the bartender finally kicked us out, we lumped together on the sidewalk, awkward again. The spell was dead and our faces were melted candles. In our bodies the joy-poison had evaporated but the poison-poison had leached into our marrow. Most of us had work or class tomorrow, and worst of all, tomorrow was more than technically today.
Bonnie was the only one who looked alert. The birthday girl, she of the scary freezing blue wolf eyes. In everything else she conceded to softness and prettiness, but her eyelashes she painted black and jagged. Each individual lash each day — that was how you achieved the look. She took so freaking long in the bathroom, where the light was best.
“Sorry, Bonnie,” I said.
“It was pretty downer there at the end,” said Nina. “Sorry, I feel like it was my fault.”
“No, yeah, sorry I got so intense!” we somehow all managed to say as one.
“Shit, my wallet,” said Devon, and went back into the bar.
Meanwhile, nobody said, Haha, dang, isn’t it bad enough that rape and assault and abuse and harassment and boyfriends doing the emotional psychosexual whatever equivalent of sticking their beefy hand into your brain and wearing it like a baseball mitt or a puppet so they can just really move it around and infinity et cetera happens to so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so many of us, and we can’t even talk about it without having to apologize afterward?
Not that I had said much tonight! But of course I’d apologized too. Because even though Bonnie smiled and said she didn’t mind that her birthday drinks had been taken over by dark tales and infernal anti-man machines and despairing laughter, we knew she did. She liked it when things and people were happy, and when they weren’t it was as if they were being unhappy at her. To her. She was plenty sympathetic to a point, and past that she’d start to bristle and talk about wallowing and pessimism and —
“— you get back what you put in,” Bonnie said. “Just between you and me. I wouldn’t say this to the rest of the group, and of course I respect what they’ve been through, but there’s also such a thing as deciding to stop being a victim. Yes, remembering and talking about all the wrongs, that’s important for … healing, or some such. But you can’t stay on that same old subject and expect to be able to get anything new out of it.”
We were walking back to the apartment together. I decided to not respond. Facing the prospect of arguing with Bonnie was like, you were starving and in front of you was a long, long table full of cakes. But if you ate even one bite, then you’d have to eat all of the cakes, the whole goddamn table of them.
That was just how Bonnie was. She would not ever change. She was always how you expected her to be, which wasn’t really something we’d take as a compliment for ourselves, but it could be pleasant to know someone else like that.
Besides, she could be a great friend in the classical sense. Back when I’d been going through a hard time, she had invited me to be her roommate in her giant apartment, even though she had no need of a roommate, and only charged me a tiny bit of rent. In return for her generosity, I did not discuss this hard time with her in any amount of detail.
The street was busy, lots of bars, lots of people out, so in some ways you were more generally unsafe but the unsafety was thinned and spread out. The block was like a Halloween parade where everyone wore their costumes on the inside — slavering B.O. werewolves, droopy amnesiac ghosts, vampires coldly intent on doing it.
The next morning, we woke up depleted and dried out and dire. Those of us who were close friends texted each other, Was I okay??? and unfailingly responded, You were great!!! (Which was a double lie: No one had been okay. And no one had been in any state to accurately judge.)
As for what we had talked about at the end of Bonnie’s birthday drinks, we psychically decided to never bring it up with each other again and to forget that we ever knew about:
— the time a man, a doctor at the college campus clinic, was feeling our heartbeat and/but cupped our boob and lifted it once, subtle and unmistakable —
— the time a man had followed us onto a subway car to ex-pound on our beauty and ignoring his request for our phone number caused his perspective to immediately flip as if by evil magic, and he darted from slimy kindness to incendiary outrage, shouting directly in our face like it was the next best thing to hitting us but who knew, any moment he could start doing the best thing, and meanwhile everyone on the subway car made like they were in fucking Derry, Maine, and looked straight ahead —
— the time a man secretly removed his condom during sex —
— the times we didn’t want to but we did —
— the times we didn’t want it that way but we did it that way —
— the times we wanted only some of it but we did all of it
— and so on.
THE TIME BONNIE WAS DREAMING
There we were at the bar. Too many people who didn’t all know each other as well as they should crowding a corner table. We looked like a bunch of different species of birds eating something off the sidewalk together. Big birds, little birds, beauties and sad sacks, pecking away at invisible crumbs without touching or fighting or acknowledging their shared plane of existence, like their eyes couldn’t even see each other — only the food.
In this situation, Bonnie was the food. Bonnie was having birthday drinks and she had gathered us here to sheepishly celebrate, since she’d reached the age where if you called yourself old, some people wouldn’t correct you and some people would get mildly offended.
Bonnie was late, as usual. She was chronically late and never apologized for it, maybe because she always looked super awesome, and truly she did, so she imagined that that was a fair exchange for the lateness, even for us.
While we waited, a few of us started discussing the list. Some time ago, a list had been released online of not-famous men who had done bad things to women, mostly of a sexual nature. Some men at the table started shifting in their seats, as if fidgeting done just right could teleport you to a distant land in which you felt not so implicated. Or they sat there like Easter Island heads, with equally as much to say about shitty men.
The door crashed open and Bonnie ran through the bar, stopping short at our table. Her makeup had sweated off into patchy plum and black smears under her eyes. Her hair was stringy and stuck to her cheeks. She did not look super awesome, but sometimes we looked like that and it wasn’t such a big deal so we weren’t going to make it one. Perhaps we could ask about it later, once we were all safely drunk.
“Happy birthday!” we said.
“Is today your real birthday?” someone said, as they stood to hug her. Bonnie accepted the hug but gave nothing in return, her arms wilted by her sides. She didn’t answer at first. She was busy peering around at all the wrong things, the ceiling and the bartender and the drinks on the table and our feet, like this was one of those kid puzzles where you had to spot the differences between two similar pictures. Her gaze was weird, fractured. She wouldn’t look at us.
“My birthday,” she said too loud. “Yeah. My birthday. First of the month. Rabbit, rabbit.”
“I think you’re supposed to say ‘Rabbit, rabbit’ first thing in the morning, like the second you wake up,” said Nina. “Otherwise you don’t get the good luck.”
Scott said, “Jesus, is it already next month?”
“I know, right?” someone said.
“I didn’t mean that it was next month. I meant today is the start of a new month. Which is this month.”
“Yes. I got that.”
Bonnie listened along, as we all were whether or not we wanted to be since the bar was so quiet you couldn’t even grant the mercy of pretending not to hear. Then she lifted her palm. “HOLD THE MOTHERFUCK ON,” she roared. “Stop messing with me. Stop lying. I’ve been saying it all day; this shit is not funny. My birthday was last week and we all know it. You guys even did that conversation again. Like I could ever forget such a stupid-ass dumb-ass fucking conversation!”
“Whoa, calm down—” Scott said, valiantly trying to sound more worried about Bonnie than he was offended. He stuck his arm out to put around her and she shoved it away, tilting off-balance. She propped herself against the brick wall of the bar and surveyed us from a cold and judgmental distance.
“I do not appreciate it, and I do not see the point of it,” she said, voice wobbling. “This prank. You got my parents in on it, and you did something to my phone and laptop, you made it so that—” Bonnie broke off. She shook her head like it jangled and ripped something out of her purse and threw it at nobody in particular (it hit Scott on the thigh) and ran out of the bar. Scott silently showed us what she’d thrown.
Some of us left. Some stayed, got more drinks, marinated in concern, and theorized luxuriously. Shit got near convivial. I wasn’t Bonnie’s closest friend, but I was her roommate friend — her roommate-mate — so I was the one who went out after her. Even though I had no idea where she’d gone. Bonnie was not so much a woman of routine.
I decided to go home. With great relief and a tiny amount of surprise, I unlocked our door and found a trail of ankle boots, jacket, purse, phone, keys, dress, leading straight to Bonnie’s bedroom. Of course. I could picture it exactly — Bonnie on her birthday, treating herself to a pregame that got so out of hand it became neither pre nor game, then showing up to her actual celebration surreally out of her head. Sure.
When I knocked, Bonnie responded immediately. “This is all a dream,” she said in a shouty voice. She sounded like she was in a play, an amateur one with fake British accents. “Do not come in.”
“Are you okay? We were worried.”
I heard her bed creak and tried again. “Do you want your phone? It’s out here.”
“Fuck my phone,” Bonnie yelled. “It’s fake and so are you and so is everything. Quit talking to me! I need to concentrate on waking up.”
I left her to it. I gathered up her things and piled them outside her door and I texted some people that Bonnie was fine and sleeping something off and I dicked around on my phone and saw that a famous man — one who had spoken out passionately against the sexual depredations of other famous men during the most recent outcry (for the sexual depredations of these other famous men had first come to light in the 1970s and ’80s, unfortunate timing if you wanted a critical mass of people to actually care) — was discovered to have been really, really not one to talk and I brushed my teeth and decided I deserved not to floss and then it was like half the blood and adrenaline and energy in my body swirled down into a drain somewhere with a loud abrupt gurgle and I oozed my way to bed.
The next morning Bonnie was gone, room tornadoed and big suitcase missing. A few days passed with no word from her, so I pondered calling her parents. I had no kind of relationship with them, but I could probably get their info from billing statements. I didn’t do it. Bonnie loved her parents and wouldn’t want to worry them and Bonnie hated her parents and didn’t want to rely on them any more than she already was, which was basically 100 percent, and due to both of the aforementioned she loathed showing any kind of weakness in front of them.
A few days after that I got a text from Bonnie admonishing me specifically to not call her parents, and I responded and told her that I hadn’t but I almost had and if I had I would have done it days and days ago and where the hell was she? No response. Well, if that was how she wanted to play it. Meanwhile, I could have the place to myself. Fine.
THE TIME WE TALKED SHIT
“Still no word?”
Just a few of us left at the bar, dejected and alone together like we’d been stood up but in a polyamorous way.
“Do we think she forgot?”
“Her own birthday?”
“Or found something better to do. Not to talk shit but … Bonnie can be like that.”
“I have sympathy for the congenitally rich. You know how basically everything worth doing sucks initially? Well, maybe if you never get training in dealing with bullshit, you risk becoming the kind of person who just bounces from thing to thing to thing and sooner or later everything seems boring and totally without reward or meaning. And then comes the ennui.”
“I have sympathy for myself.”
“Ennui isn’t Bonnie’s problem.”
“Right, she would actually be very happy if everything was only nice pleasant surfaces.”
“Yes,” we all said. And then we were off to the races.
“She’s so pissed off when everything isn’t happy and nice! Infuriated even. Which is kind of at odds with being someone who loves happy and nice stuff, you know?”
“It’s not … not tyrannical. But she’s not one of those tyrants who, like, loves suffering and pain. She does truly love it when people are happy. Especially her friends.”
“That’s not the same thing as helping someone be happy.”
“What it comes down to is she was born a certain way — you know, a white, rich, cute way — and acts like she had anything to do with it. It’s a sickness.”
While the others were talking, Phyllida quietly asked me how I’d been. She was the only one there who knew even a little about the situation I’d had at my last job. The man I had met there, who in fact still worked there. His name had shown up on an online list of un-famous bad men, and nothing had happened to him, the same nothing that happened to so many other men. This was a nothing that could sometimes be filled with gaseous excitement and horror and alarm and puffy thought bubbles containing phrases like Somebody should do something! all of which never became solid and eventually leaked out, leaving nothing behind and resulting in nothing.
Phyllida looked into my eyes and picked up the cutlery on the table. “I would stick him with this fork.” Oh, she was so nice. Why weren’t we closer?
Wait, it was because of the time I went to Devon’s birthday party and saw Phyllida talking and laughing gaily with the man, even though I knew she knew. Maybe they had only interacted for a few seconds, maybe Phyllida needed a professional favor. Maybe, caught off guard, she’d been accidentally polite to him. It happened. But this incident sure did make me not want to tell anyone else about it, because if I saw them being friendly with him later, I would have to slink off like a dog giving birth under a house and tend my grievous wounds alone. I knew that now. And sure, yes, of course: Even without telling someone the story, there was a chance I’d see them being friendly with that man, which would still hurt, but not nearly as much. This way, at least I wouldn’t be certain that they had chosen rapists and politeness over me.
I knew I was asking too much, but I didn’t want to ask too little. What was the correct amount, allowing for how much people fail? We fail so hard. All of us do.
Smiling past Phyllida, I watched Nina draw on a napkin. I called out to her and she looked up. “What’s the latest on your ghost problem?” I asked. The details were harrowing, sad, disgusting — but she was always ready to talk about it. We were the only ones who believed her. We had all been at that Halloween party.
Derrick interrupted us. He lifted his phone like a pack of gum in a gum commercial. (Put it away, Derrick, nobody can read a word from here anyway.) Apparently Bonnie had gotten back to him. She said she was fine and that everybody should leave her alone.
“Is she okay?”
“That’s all she said? What a bitch!”
After that, we all went home, full of a guilty, binge-eaten feeling of having talked that much shit about our friend, at her actual birthday celebration no less.
Nearly a whole week passed, and still no Bonnie. I was eating granola standing up, wearing only an old and obscenely baggy thong, when I heard a key in the door and I sped over to an armchair with a crumpled coat of Bonnie’s on it and only had time to tuck the coat under my armpits but I was still excited to see Bonnie at the door and say, Dude, where have you been and I’m only wearing your coat like a tiny assless sandwich board because you caught me in my worst underwear, until the door opened and it wasn’t Bonnie — it was two well-dressed sixtysomething people who had already been having a bad day and here I was to worsen it.
Luckily, because I was mostly naked, they first thought I was Bonnie’s secret girlfriend, so when they learned that I was, rather, Bonnie’s secret roommate of whom they had never heard, they were so relieved and distracted that I found a brief opening in which to lie my face off.
Sometimes people with money didn’t want to give it to people who needed it extremely badly, like how they didn’t want to offer sympathy or belief to those who had been victimized, as the act of needing was inherently thirsty, plus there was the way situations that caused you to become needy sometimes could render you disgusting and un-whole so the idea of joining forces with you was just, blaaaaarrrrb, and of course joining forces was what happened when money, sympathy, and belief changed hands.
So I hoiked up my posture a couple notches and pretended to be a novelist (zero evidence of visual art in this apartment, so words it had to be), highly experimental (I didn’t want it to be easy to find my books, since they would in fact be impossible to find since they didn’t exist), with most of my work published in Chinese (which I wasn’t but they wouldn’t know the difference but also why had I even added this level of obfuscation?), in residence at a university nearby whose apartment roof had caved in over the, ah, living room. I had met Bonnie at—
“—at, at an event, a p-party after a salon. When I told her about how disruptive the noise from the workmen was, the dust and the disruption, she offered me a room in her place for the time being, and it has been such a godsend. I wouldn’t have been able to — do my work, if it wasn’t for Bonnie and her generosity.”
Not bad, not bad! Cultural capital, the implication that I didn’t need money, this apartment, or anything at all, a foreignness that was not real and therefore nonthreatening. (Oh, that was why I’d done that.)
The parents relaxed, smiled subtle WASP smiles, and let it go. Bonnie’s mother had a smooth white bob and was fat and tall and graceful, clad in a whispering computer-gray silk blouse. Thready webs of chain and gem blinked against her neck, fingers, ears. Her bling felt oceanic, as in naturalistic yet unutterably vast. All that was dark and grotesque about her soul was contained in the bulky handbag dangling from her right elbow. Bright orange-brown this handbag was, crisscrossed with straps and black chains and waxy twine.
Bonnie’s father wasn’t nearly so interesting-looking.
“Do you know where she has been?” I asked.
They told me that she showed up at their house yesterday, completely frazzled, telling a wild tale about a week that was repeating over and over again. Her mother said, “Bonnie told us she’d traveled to New Zealand to check if it was last week there too. Though she chose it randomly, she ended up really enjoying the place. Except for the fact that it was also still last week there.”
“Which is to say this week,” her father said.
They had tried to calm her down, even as she insisted she had lived this week many times, listing off news of sex scandals and murderous police and mass shootings as if she were bringing precious communiques from the future and not just delivering the same old easy guesses absolutely anybody could make, so they fed her dinner and offered her benzos and put her to bed, thinking she would have to stay with them for a while — thinking facilities, thinking inpatient/outpatient, thinking medication, and so on — and when they checked on her in the morning she had fled.
As they searched Bonnie’s bedroom and peeped very quickly and apologetically into mine, her mother said, “I am not unsympathetic, you know. How could she prove her story to us? It would be next to impossible. Should we tell her a secret so massive that merely through her repeating it back to us in the next iteration we would immediately believe that she was telling the truth, that she had indeed lived this week before?”
“And what if the week didn’t repeat?” said Bonnie’s father, scrolling through his phone. “We three would then be forced to march into the future together, bound by the hideous secrets Bonnie now knew. All for nothing.”
I said, “I mean, why do they have to be massive and hideous secrets?”
“Still more horrible,” continued Bonnie’s mother, “would be if she were correct, and were somehow able to prove this to us, and keep proving this to us — that she, our daughter, Bonnie, has been doomed to live the same week over and over again. Pulling us hel lessly along with her. Cursed to remember, blessed to forget, or the opposite, or both.”
Her father said, “What monstrous knowledge to bear.”
“We cannot and will not believe her,” they said.
I brought them back to the door. They gave me a phone number to call in case I heard anything. They also told me I could stay in the apartment as long as I wanted. I opened my mouth to say thank you and Bonnie’s father said, “Oh, yes, and since you’ll be taking over rent while Bonnie is away—” and soon named a number so big it should have been written on a piece of paper and slid across a desk. But no. This number was said aloud.
I stood so tall my skull risked detaching from my spine, and smiled like a medalist. “Of course. Thank you.” I was still wearing Bonnie’s coat like it was a strapless minidress on a paper doll, though very much unlike a paper doll I had a back half to me too.
Around people like Bonnie’s parents, you were allowed to acknowledge when you weren’t being perfect but you could never, ever be embarrassed. When I had shown them down the hall into our bedrooms, I walked backward stewardess-smooth.
Once they were a safe distance away, I slammed the door shut and slumped into the armchair. The rent on this place, which they already owned, would be impossible. I did not have anywhere else to go, of course. How about if I temporarily shrunk myself into a bean? It would be so nice to be a dried hard tiny thing, fallen down into the spoons and forks and forgotten for maybe one, two years. But as a tiny bean I’d still have a future. I could still return to life or lifelikeness, once enough time passed and there wasn’t so much bullshit to deal with. Maybe nine, ten years.
The fringe on the bottom of the couch moved. Bonnie poked her head from underneath, dragging the rest of herself out. I was glad her head came first and not her hand or foot, so I didn’t need to scream.
She hauled herself onto the couch and coughed. “You got resources, kid.”
“So do you,” I said, guiltily remembering the shit-talking from the bar.
“I have to get sensible,” she said. “I should have known it was no good going to my parents like that. What a waste of time.” She laughed. “If such a thing is possible. They wanted to make my entire last day so tiresome. I had to sneak out in the night. Came here and napped under the couch because it felt safer. I was right.”
“Usually I don’t lie like that.”
She shrugged. “Lie all you want. Lie big. I can tell you it does not matter one bit.”
This was the strangest conversation I’d ever had with Bonnie.
“They just scared me. Your parents are a piece of work. Pieces of work? No. Them two together make one piece of work.” The strangeness wasn’t all on Bonnie. I was definitely tangoing with her.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You won’t have to pay the rent.”
“You’ll tell them you’re here?”
“No. I mean it’ll just be last Wednesday again soon.” Then another shrug, one lagging so far behind her words that it split off into its own separate statement. Dust billowed and settled on Bonnie again and she looked like an ancient, badly damaged statue of someone youngish, like her basic composition was at odds with her present circumstances, and despite the smooth jaw and round cheeks and slight scanty feathery decorative lines in her forehead and under her eyes you knew she had been around and around and around for eons and would be still and would be still and would be still, beyond all reckoning.
“Very soon,” Bonnie said.
I stood. “I’ve got to get dressed,” I said. I had become very frightened. “I’m super late. Rest up. Okay?”
As I sped down the hall, Bonnie’s thin, sweet voice floated behind. She was singing a line from that song, the line that went, “Let me see that” — her voice going flannelly and nearly cracking — “thawwww-awwwwwwww-awwwwwwwng …” And a final desperate and strangled, “Baaaaby!”
A tossed-off and funny and completely regular thing, a tune in the genre of roommate giving you shit for being such a beast at home — but it did not make me feel better. I was still filled with a very bad form of terror, the kind where you didn’t know what or why. So how would it end? Bonnie’s singing had been the saddest, most yearningest music I had ever heard. You got the joke but the dirge, that was the point. That was what remained.
THE TIME BONNIE DIDN’T GO VIRAL
When Bonnie canceled her birthday drinks the morning of, we didn’t think anything of it. The excuse was plausible. Also, no one really wanted to go out on a Wednesday anyway.
Turned out she was spending her time making a weird, baggy, rambling video of just her sitting in her room, looking super awesome, making predictions of the things to come in the present week. Like that the actor many of us loved would be revealed as a leering terrible date who expected sex as his due and took no for an answer only temporarily before starting up the sex stuff yet again until he took no for an answer only temporarily and so on until the woman gave up. Kind of like when your cat jumped back onto the counter so many times you stopped putting it back on the floor, except with having your boundaries totally ignored during sex. And no cat.
(This had probably happened to many of us — it definitely happened to me — but it was all pretty confusing stuff people didn’t usually care about, and to boot Bonnie wasn’t describing it clearly at all, so nobody knew what the hell she was talking about in the video until the next day, when the actor’s name did actually appear in the news. But we figured that she had just found out early somehow. She did know some celebrity-adjacent people.)
Certain sports teams would win certain games, she guessed correctly. That was a little impressive, if you cared. Wildfires. Firings in the White House. Something that the president would say in a few days, which sounded indistinguishable from everything else he had said before so it meant nothing to us and was like a cat jumping onto a counter so many times we stopped trying to stop it or even pay attention to it since we couldn’t stop it. “Is Bonnie being politically humorous?” one of us said.
It was harder to go viral than you’d think. Or, rather, it was pretty easy if you did a kind of bare minimum, and Bonnie had not.
Other than some of us texting each other with WHAT DID I JUST WATCH, the video did not catch on with the world at large. I tried to avoid Bonnie (easy, because I had work and she stayed in her room most of the time), because the stinging harsh glow of what was surely flourishing mental illness emanating from the video really freaked me the fuck out. Not that I was proud of that. I wasn’t not proud either! I’d had to survive! Growing up, I had been left largely in the care of my schizophrenic aunt for seven years and I became decent at spotting crazy and crabwalking delicately away from it before it could touch me even as I lived in close proximity to it.
For all that nobody cared about Bonnie’s video, it had apparently reached certain shadowy governmental agencies. One morning the doorbell rang while I was in the shower and Bonnie was in her room, and the agents couldn’t even wait for five seconds before kicking in the door. My towel had somehow vanished from its hook, so I grabbed a jacket of Bonnie’s that had been stuffed and forgotten in the space between the door and the wall and wrapped it extremely partially around myself and ran out into the living room, where three men and one woman wearing suits were walking Bonnie out of the apartment.
“I’m going away for a while, and I won’t be in touch. But I promise I’ll be back!” said Bonnie, dragging a suitcase. When did she have time to pack? “Bye!” She sounded cheerful. Then she and the agents left and I was alone with the busted door, a small puddle forming around me.
The rest of Bonnie’s predictions ended up coming true. Nobody cared.
I turned the corner into the dining room and jumped. There was Bonnie at the table, shoulders so slumped she resembled a tombstone.
“It was awful,” she said. She looked like she had been up for hours already. “They weren’t the ones to help me. Not at all. I was so wrong about everything.” She stared down into a full mug of coffee that I could tell had gone cold.
“Did something happen?”
She glanced up at me and made her face go calm. “No. I had a bad— dream. I had a bad dream in which I was interrogated a lot and then they were going to open up my skull and look at my brain and maybe fuck with it a little. Good thing I ran the clock out on that.”
To hide my relief, I picked up her mug and reheated it in the microwave. “Good thing it was all a dream,” I said.
Bonnie said, “I know you don’t understand but I appreciate you listening. I just have to lay low this week. I have to be sensible. No one else is going to save me. No faith in family. No faith in institutions.”
I had never known Bonnie to talk like this. So depressed and …
gnomic? But then I remembered it was her birthday, so perhaps she was mourning the way all women of our age were supposed to mourn the precipitous vanishing of our worth, like, Whoops, time to grow a personality, which the world will also devalue! Bonnie had always been devastatingly confident — but who knew, it could have been the kind of confidence that only flourished within highly specic parameters and withered time-lapse-fast without.
“Hey. Don’t be too sensible. It’s your birthday! We got those drinks tonight.”
Bonnie groaned and the microwave beeped.
Later on in the evening Scott said, “I didn’t mean that it was next month. I meant today is the start of a new month. Which is this month.”
Bonnie closed her eyes so she could roll them, but we could still see it.
And later on in the evening, when the talk turned to shitty men and the list full of them and our lives full of them, Bonnie, who had gotten quietly wasted, said, “Men men men men MEN. Can they not be the only subject of conversation left in the whole entire world please? Can we please just talk about something nice?”
But that was Bonnie for you.
THE TIME BONNIE CANCELED
Her email read, BIRTHDAY CANCELED! I’ve decided to embark on a new adventure. Arctic Circle expedition, BITCHES. I leave in an hour, therefore no time to get drunk with you jokers. I’m drunk
THE TIME BONNIE ASKED FOR ADVICE
She said, “What would you do? Hypothetically.”
We were a little surprised. Bonnie didn’t usually go in for these kinds of conversations. She thought these topics were nerdy meaningless masturbations for super dweebs. Stop acting like life is a Star Trek movie, it’ll never happen! she’d say. Sometimes she substituted a Star Wars movie for a Star Trek movie. Then again, we’d been discussing the list of shitty men, about which she seemed very oh, this again, so maybe any interruption would do.
Phyllida would improve herself. Read books, learn languages and musical instruments and complicated choreography that didn’t require too much muscle strength. “Also, I would punish those I deemed deserving of it. They would be in a hell of my own making, unaware they would be doomed to relive these torments again and again. It would be a long time before I tired of this.”
Scott would travel and spend all of his money as quickly as he could. We politely overlooked the fact that Bonnie already could do this, sometimes did do it.
Devon would quit her job and just do nothing. If you were living the same week over and over again, it meant you weren’t aging, so time no longer had you propped up on its handlebars, propelling you forward no matter what, as you spit out bugs and tried not to slip off. No, time in this scenario was chill as hell, willing to stroll with you around a track and have a stoned, circular conversation nobody would be able to retrace. How wonderfully relaxing, and so very necessary when everything had been so apocalyptically stressful. “I would get to know my friends better. Though I would keep far away from most of my family. For them, duration and repetition would not be improvements.” But Devon relented, a little. “I might give it a shot if I got really bored. In a literal thousand years.”
Nina would try to save everybody.
We would wear elaborate disguises in order to spy on our friends and see what they really thought of us; we would binge-eat; we would sex-marathon; we would try new hairstyles; we would get three dogs; we would get teardrops and ice cream cones tattooed on our faces; we would get five cats; we would do every drug; we would not garden.
Sure, I made my contributions. But this was the only thing I said that I really meant: I said that I actually hated this hypothetical conceit. When you dug right down into it, it was odious. Because you could do anything you wanted, you could do absolutely whatever, and nothing would ever, ever, ever, ever be allowed to change.
Bonnie looked placid. “Yes, what then? If it just starts over again and again and never stops no matter what.”
“You make your peace with it,” said Derrick. “You have to relinquish your attachment to time as it was.”
Scott said, “You said a week, right? That’s lucky. That’s where it’s at. Way better than a day. In a week, you can really get somewhere.”
THE TIME BONNIE CANCELED
Her email read, Hi, assholes! Birthday drinks are canceled. Giving you tons of warning so you don’t end up meeting anyway to talk about me behind my back because that’s like your favorite pastime.
IN OTHER WORDS, I HEARD EVERYTHING. Is that really what you thought of me? What is so wrong with choosing joy? Well.
You got your wish. The longer this week goes on, the more familiar I become with it and the great grand repeating shittiness we’ve gotten ourselves into. Thank you so much, losers! Now I’m depressed just like you.
1. We had no idea what she was talking about.
2. It did still sound like Bonnie.
THE TIME BONNIE WOKE ME UP
She burst into my room without knocking.
“I think I got it! Do you remember this time?” she gabbled.
I squinted at my alarm clock. “… time?”
At this, an utter devastation settled over Bonnie. A flat, matte, no-expression gray exoskeleton that turned her head and picked up her feet and walked her out of my room.
THE TIME BONNIE WAS MEAN TO US
Bonnie raised her glass. “Here’s to the nights I will remember with the friends who always forget,” she said, and downed the whole thing. We sat still. If we did or said anything, she would predict us again, mimicking us in that horrible sarcastic voice.
“Go,” she said, and we ran out of the bar.
THE TIME BONNIE CANCELED
Her email read, I’m just really sick of you all. Sorry.
THE TIME BONNIE SMELLED BAD
Something was wrong. Bonnie wouldn’t get out of bed. She didn’t shower. I brought her food but she’d only pick at it. When I asked her what was wrong, or how I could help, all she would say was, “Look. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to get it up again for yet another seven days of the same old, same old, same old.” I had never seen her like this.
Another man, another bad man
First a bad man
And then or simultaneously
And then this man is actually not that bad, or even bad at all, because if you haven’t seen him be bad to you, he cannot ever be bad, fuck an object permanence
And then any punishment is far too big, you can’t just take away his human rights by not reading his books or not watching his movies or not voting for him or not being pleasant to him at cocktail parties
And then where will this end, maybe men should never talk to women ever again because of course it is preferable to cease all interactions with about half of humanity if the alternative is to think or worry about one’s behavior for longer than 0.000002 seconds
And then sometimes bad men apologize, sorry you admired me so much, sorry the rules changed on me, sorry I don’t remember doing that because I was addicted to alcohol and drugs but I remember you being into it and sorry you changed your mind, however I am not sorry for being so kinky
And then bad men disappear and reappear
And then we forget and they reappear
Or is it more like they reappear and it makes us forget
Onto the next, onto the next
“I think this news cycle is really upsetting her,” I told another friend of hers. We sympathized.
THE TIME BONNIE BOUGHT ME BREAKFAST
One morning Bonnie knocked twice on my bedroom door and came in without waiting for a response. I didn’t like her coming into my room, because she often gazed at my furniture, my clothes, my shoes, with a xed, sweetly neutral expression that I knew was pitying and insulting. Sure, my things weren’t nearly as nice as Bonnie’s, but I also didn’t think they were so bad you needed a poker face to look at them.
This time, she didn’t do any of that. She said, “Call in sick to work. I want to show you something.”
“You know I can’t.” Although — did she know? Currently, I had a pretty good temp gig at a duty-free-shopping company, entering the names of makeup products from large binders into a computer database. Near the end of my stint they discovered I had entered all the names incorrectly, because I had been trained incorrectly. So they hired me for another round to x the mistakes I had made, which was really nice and humane and understanding of them.
Unfortunately, because I’d finally been doing my job right, I would be losing it soon. I had no idea what was happening next.
“It doesn’t matter!” Bonnie said. “Okay, no, wait. I’ll pay you five times what you usually make in a day. And I’ll buy you breakfast. Let’s go out!”
She looked down at me with the hauteur of a much older, much more professionally accomplished woman. “You know that I never lie about money or food.” She placed an already written check on my face, and when I started sputtering, she said she’d go wait in the living room.
After I got ready and called in sick, I came out and found Bonnie sitting primly on the couch, her eyes closed. “Let’s go!” she said, standing. Her eyes were still closed. Now that I was next to her I saw her lids were covered in something clear and crusty. “You’re about to ask what’s up with my eyes. I superglued them shut,” she said. “Is it dry?” she asked herself. “Yes. It’s dry. So, you can see that my eyes are completely closed, right?”
Oh, were they ever. I was backing away very stealthily when Bonnie said, “Stop backing away not that stealthily. I know you have this whole thing about being allergic to crazy because of your schizophrenic aunt who raised you, and it’s fine to honor the child who had to come up with coping mechanisms and protect herself somehow, but you’ve got to get over it. Sometimes shit is wild beyond all reckoning. Sometimes people are extremely weird and oftentimes literally crazy, but they’re not all the time trying to be crazy at you! So get over it. Oh, and you’re also not so normal yourself.” She put on a pair of black sunglasses. “Look, you’re going to say, Says the rich white hot girl with the happy childhood, which is not wrong. Although you did meet my parents. Oh, shit. Wait. You didn’t this time. Anyway, you’re right, but I’m still right about a tiny bit of it too. Do you want to come get your mind blown or not?”
“I wasn’t going to say hot,” I said.
We laughed for so long I forgot to ask how she knew about my aunt; then we went out.
Though she couldn’t see at all with her eyes glued shut, Bonnie didn’t need my help out of the building. She picked up a toy that had fallen from a stroller and gave it back to the child. She complimented a woman on her shoes, in convincing detail. She bought a newspaper and told me what was in it. She took out her phone and told me what everyone was talking about. She stood on the street corner and asked me to let her know when it was exactly 8:00 a.m., and when it was, she pointed straight ahead and said, “Red car, black car, blue car, blue car, cop car, hot guy on a bike, hot guy jaywalking.” (Though I disagreed about the hotness of the guys, if you took Bonnie’s tastes into account, this was all accurate.)
And all with her eyes superglued shut. I checked them again.
They looked even more awful in daylight. “Bonnie,” I said, feeling equal parts wonder and foreboding. “How are you doing this?”
Late that night we ate popcorn and watched a reality TV show — at least, I watched, while Bonnie listened, her eyeballs wiggling under her lids — since the other things we wanted to watch were created by or starring known rapists and gaslighters. “Wait, him too?” I said.
“Check your phone,” said Bonnie. “The news just broke.”
For a moment I was surprised that Bonnie would give up on something she really wanted to watch because a Bad Man™ was involved with it, but the fact was that she was no longer the same Bonnie I had known. “All this shit, all it wants to do is continue and repeat with only slight variations,” she intoned. “Care or not care, it doesn’t make a difference to the loop I’m in. I only can’t stand to look at his fucking face. If you see it the way I see it, it is too encrusted with the dark knowledge I have about him, a layer for each week I’ve been through. Layers and layers and layers and layers.”
Bonnie started reciting what would happen on the reality TV show right before it did, which was getting pretty old, so I asked her if the whole week started over again at midnight.
“That’s right,” she said. “Midnight tonight. Tuesday is the last day before it turns over. I love and dread Tuesdays. Though I am looking forward to this superglue being vanished.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier in the week?”
“I have.” She couldn’t see the horror on my face, but she reached out and patted me on the arm. “Well, you know, this time I’d thought of the superglue trick and it seemed fun, but I wasn’t about to have my eyes glued shut for a whole week. It did blow your mind, didn’t it?”
I thought. “You know …” I said. “I’m a person. A real person.
Even if I can’t remember anything.”
“I know.” Bonnie exhaled. “Sorry. At first I was really jealous of you all, but once I started being able to prove, you know, my whole deal to people, I began to see how terrifying it is. To finally get to see the truth of what’s been happening, and then to understand that it will eventually be wiped away and started over.”
The problem with a Bonnie who was focused on the dark, scary side of things was that someone else had to pick up the positivity slack. This was not my greatest strength. I considered the me I was now, the being who had been shaped by living through this week, who would be destroyed once midnight came. Sure, Bonnie could re-create a very close approximation of this current me by behaving the same way next time, but that was almost worse somehow. No. It was definitely worse. I said quickly, “Is there, like, a magical phrase you can say to me that will hurry things up so we can get the show on the road quick next time?”
“Not really. And there’s not a magical way to hide and transfer knowledge; otherwise I would be able to show you that you should try therapy, like, even once. Funny that you mention magic, though. I’ve recently been delving into the dark arts, mostly to see if there’s anything that’ll help pull me out of this time loop but also because I was trying to help Nina with her ghost problem.”
I wondered what recently meant to Bonnie. “You know about that? Oh, I forgot again. You know about everything. Did it work?”
“No,” she said simply and sadly. “It is such an unfortunate truth that shit doesn’t happen to you based on what you can deal with.”
“Poor Nina,” I said. God, Bonnie really had changed! How many times had I had this thought today? And yet I couldn’t stop thinking it, when everything she said and did kept revealing her newness, and each time in a new way. I checked the time and inched. “Oh, it’s about to be midnight,” I said, feeling robotic with dread. “I’m just going to distract myself from ontological terror and tell you that next time, please figure out a way to prove it to me from the get-go, and then give me some money so I can stop going to my job and have a nice whole week of fun. What do you say?”
“I could do that, and I have. It’s futile, though.”
“Wow, I’m not used to this dark-sided goth of a Bonnie. I’ll miss her and yet I also totally won’t.” It was hard to talk. My teeth were chattering.
It was about to be midnight.
One more second.
THE TIME BONNIE STAYED BACK
She whispered into everyone’s ears, setting off tiny explosions of shock and awe and gasp, but when she reached me, I just said, “Don’t.” I didn’t want to know what she knew about me already, whatever I told her even though it wasn’t me who told her. (Yes it was no it wasn’t.)
“No need,” I said. “I believe it.”
Bonnie nodded and sat down again. All of us were rapt. “I’m in a sharing mood this time,” Bonnie said. “Please, anyone, feel free to ask me whatever you like.”
Here are a few of the questions I can still remember. We had a lot.
Q: How do you remember so much stuff if you can’t take anything with you?
A: Good question! This has all been hugely taxing for my memory. I learned the method of loci from Rhetorica ad Herennium and other texts. The first thing I do when I wake up is type as much as I can remember. Like, in a total frenzy. Good thing you’ve only heard me banging on that keyboard once! Ha ha. Another thing I do upon waking is order a bunch of books and stuff so I can have it all shipped to me as soon as possible.
Q: Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
A: No. Before my optimism died, I had always held out hope that I’d be able to escape the time loop eventually. I didn’t want to jeopardize that by killing myself, and I was scared. Then I died by accident, so that answered that. But I would never do it on purpose.
I hate the dark in-betweens. They last longer when I’ve died.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories?
A: So many! This is going to sound cheesy. Becoming closer with many of you. You don’t remember, but we got close, like wearing-each-other’s-hair-in-our-lockets close. You are all such incredible people. Even you have your moments, Scott. The dark-magic cult that formed about me, I’m not going to say it’s a favorite memory — it was more interesting, but very, very, very interesting.
Oh, and I had so much amazing sex. That is, I had an enormous amount of sex and so much of it was amazing, but of course a whole lot was mediocre and embarrassing and some of it was terrible. I’m not a god or anything. Sometimes I can’t know when a bad thing will happen, or I won’t be able to stop it, and though my body gets reset my mind does not.
Q: Do you want it to stop?
Q: Why do you want it to stop?
A: First of all, I’m sick of it. In some incalculable, untrackable way, I am old as fuck. Second, and this is the selfish reason, there’s a limit to how much I can improve all by myself. I mean, just because you live the same week over and over again doesn’t mean you’ll be that great or smart. I’m proud of how awesome I got, but I think I’m hitting a wall. Third, I have lately [we wondered what lately meant to Bonnie] been troubled by the feeling that this span of time is being used up somehow. That it is degrading and fraying in some intangible way and there will be devastating consequence. Like it’s going to just poop out. Can’t you feel it? The way everything feels so tired and busted and sad, and it’ll lurch forever but it also can’t go on like this forever? [We all nodded.] I’m scared.
Q: Whoa. I thought I’d just been depressed.
A: Yes. You are also that. I am concerned that whatever is happening to me is coming to an end but not the end I sought. I’m worried there won’t be any future. And I really wanted the future to happen, more than anybody — [Please, Bonnie, we said] — okay, fine, I want it as much as anyone else does, and to think that I won’t get to see it, that none of us will—
This was around when Bonnie stopped talking. She had a look like someone who had run full force into a glass door, like: Aaaaah! And like: OUCH. And like: Well, of course. I did know that door was there.
She got up to leave, telling us that this week was going to be very busy and it was important to get it just right, so please don’t do stupid shit expecting it to be undone. Please. When we tried to ask her one last thing, she blew right out of there, leaving the question to twist in the air and plummet to the floor in a crumpled ball.
The question was: Why you, Bonnie?
We never stopped wondering and we never found out.
Bonnie decided to throw a giant party at our place. It would be on Tuesday night, the last night of the week, because everything in Bonnie’s week took place on the exact wrong day. “People will come,” she said. “I know how to get them here. And I deserve a real birthday party! In a sense, I’m like a million years old.” I asked her if she kept count and she shook her head, saying she was bad at keeping numbers in her mind, but that had to be a lie.
Such terrible things happened this week. Huge startling ones and small boring ones. But in other ways we had a wonderful week. We remember it still.
Isn’t that nice? Isn’t that fucking major?
At the party, which everyone did attend — not that we doubted Bonnie more than just a little bit — I spotted the man I knew at my last job. The Man. But not really The Man, not really deserving of capitals, because there had been a few in my life but this one only happened to be the most recent and I was maddest at him. Most recent also meant that I had thought I’d become old enough to respect myself and to be able to foresee every future event (was I expecting too much?) so that I wouldn’t keep saying yes to a man when I wanted to say no and thus pave the way for me to say no to that man and have him still do what he wanted and leave me totally confused, knowing that something was very, very wrong. Thus when all of that nevertheless came to pass I got really mad at myself and additionally mad at him for making me mad at myself, and, of course, I was mad at myself for being mad at myself.
My fingertips sizzled.
The time was after midnight. Bonnie wasn’t here anymore. I felt it, like she told me we would. She said she had had a sudden flash of insight, or maybe not so sudden because she had been thinking over it for years, and now she knew what she had to do. It had taken her so long because it was a weird solution and one that made her quite unhappy. “Only at first. I feel much better about it now. Nobody should be sad for me,” she said. When the time came, Bonnie was going to allow the future to move ahead. The way it would move ahead was if she stayed in the past. It wasn’t too hard to do, more a matter of intention and perspective than anything else. You didn’t even need dark magic. Well, some helped. “I wish I could be there. To see it,” she had said. “But I love you all and I’m sick of you all and I’m sick of power and power is sick of having me.”
The man was talking happily to a young woman, as if he deserved to stand in the light. Amazingly, he truly did think that he was a nice person. I could have pondered that riddle for endless weeks of Bonnie time. It was like he was afflicted with anosognosia, a condition of not believing you have a mental illness because you have a mental illness, which was a major trouble of my aunt’s, who I really had loved. I had been afraid of becoming like her and having no one ever believe anything I’d ever say again, but that already came to pass anyway. This man wasn’t ill. He was just a cowardly sex criminal who was wrong about so many things, such as the future we were entering.
As I crossed the room, people made way. I called his name. He glanced up, looking so unafraid that it made me want to pull him into fifty pieces. I lifted my hand a little, and he stood taller. He might have straightened when he saw me. Also likely was that a horridly strong cackling force might have frozen him in its thin-fingered grip and lifted him high on his toes.
He might be compelled to tell me and this room full of people what he did to so many and who he was and every tiny detail of what went on in his mind. Forget punishment. Or, for that man, having to tell the honest truth, clean of self-preservation and self-regard, would be punishment enough. Or, there could be more punishment later. No need to decide yet. At that moment, all I wanted was the truth that had been denied me so long. Might it be denied me now?
Excerpted from A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, to be published by One World, an imprint of Random House LLC, on February 5, 2019. “Now Wait for This Week” by Alice Sola Kim. Copyright © 2019 by Alice Sola Kim.