Act One

A Rip in the Canvas

Ever heard of a guy named Lucio Fontana?

He was an artist, mid-twentieth century, famous for stabbing and slashing the canvases of his paintings. The kind of artist who inspires certain people to say stuff like, “Hey, my 4-year-old could do that, so she should be an artist too!” I first discovered Fontana in Professor Allen’s class on performance art, and something about his work stuck with me. Rip a painting, put a big gash in it, and it transcends its flat existence, becoming part of the three-dimensional universe. The rips allow reality to seep in. They don’t interrupt the art; they become the art. The rips are beautiful.

Until the rips split your burrito and unleash a glob of reality onto your pants.

“There’s a breach in the hull!” shouted Josh.

“Beautiful,” I muttered.

Neal swallowed a bite and shook his head. “Edible burrito glue. You know it’s a good idea. We could have prevented this.” +According to Neal, this would be a cheese-based adhesive specifically designed to repair tortilla ruptures. I remain skeptical.

“Proper training on tortilla engineering would have prevented this,” I grumbled, wiping my jeans with a brown paper napkin. “I’ll need a fork to eat this now.”

“Don’t whine, it’s still delicious,” chided Josh.

He’s right. There was nothing to complain about; it was the best night of the week. It was burrito night.

Every Thursday through Sunday, our favorite burrito place in the Highlands neighborhood stays open for 24 hours. We would congregate every Thursday for a late night meal. None of us remembered how the tradition got started; its origins remain mysterious. +Not really. We just got hungry one week after running, and lo and behold, there were burritos. I imagine many traditions began simply because someone was hungry. +Thanksgiving, for instance. It felt like we’d been doing this our whole lives, and most of us were unwavering in our weekly devotion. We gave no consideration to how late we stayed up or the calories we consumed. We’d let our future selves bear the weight of our decisions. On Thursdays, we were alive.

We were kings.

I finished wiping up my mess. “Sorry, guys.”

“Rude,” huffed Zack. “You interrupted Bill.”

Bill was in the middle of a story when the burrito incident occurred. He’s a photographer, and he claimed that he’d just turned down a chance to take photos of the Antichrist.

“Dude, seriously. He might be the Antichrist. He’s all into achieving godhood through like mental training and protein supplements,” said Bill.

“Sign me up,” I said.

“No way, dude. His website is like an outline for world domination; he believes he’s the Messiah or something. Too weird for me.” Bill lowered his voice. “He’s got these evil blue eyes that slice through your soul. He wasn’t happy I turned him down. He’s going to sacrifice me to Satan.”

“Well I’m proud of ya, Bill,” said Zack, slapping Bill on the back and punctuating it with that weird, reverberating tongue click. Zack taught high school choir, and I liked to imagine him pretending to be a metronome, keeping time with his percussive tongue.

“You know, Bill, since you didn’t take his headshots, maybe he’ll never gain power,” mused Josh while trying to steal my queso. Josh also teaches, though just a substitute until he found a permanent gig. In the meantime, subbing allowed plenty of time for shenanigans. Josh and I were shenanigan enthusiasts. +This mostly involved trying to infiltrate local ad agencies.

I blocked Josh’s maneuver. “He’s got a point. You might be a hero.”

“We’ll erect a statue in your honor,” said Neal, a political science major with a rather un-American dislike for peanut butter. +If he were to run for office, he should probably keep that quiet. Nobody gets in a fight with Big Peanut Butter and wins.

So this was the main cast. There were other supporting players, several of whom were there that night. In fact, the crowd was larger than usual; we had to drag a few tables together. And at the far end sat a girl I’d never seen before. I didn’t know it at the time but she was about to become a key part of the following events.

Destiny had joined us for dinner.

Actually, her name was Taylor.

She was a friend of a friend, and she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She wore a dress with a floral pattern. I caught myself sneaking glances at her throughout the night, and it didn’t take me long to realize how pretty she was.

Her hair flowed like a mocha cascade that split at her forehead to reveal eyes like galaxies. She seemed quiet, but she laughed at a higher percentage of our jokes than most girls would. Our eyes met and before I shifted away I thought I saw her give me a slight smile. The confluence of her furtive smile and the wave of salsa crashing on my tongue led to a single conclusion:

I was in love.

Cut to a scene of us walking hand-in-hand down cobblestone streets in the hazy light of a French New Wave afternoon. A shot of her flowered dress twirling as she dances in a wheat field. Close up on her face. She looks up as she brushes the hair out of her eyes. She smiles with equal parts innocence and mischief as she leads me deeper into the field. She giggles and puts her arms around my neck. Her lips look so soft. I bring my face closer to hers, drawing constellations between the freckles on her cheeks and—

Taylor didn’t have freckles.

The girl in the daydream wasn’t Taylor. It was Her.

It was the girl who had first played this part in my daydreams, the girl for whom I wrote the script. She was also the girl who hadn’t spoken to me in weeks.

Tuning back in, I caught the end of Neal’s idea of starting a literary movement that wrote only in Spoonerisms.

“Sounds postmodern,” said Josh.

“It’s not post-modern, it’s Most-Podern” smiled Neal.

Various vowel sounds of approval.

“We should write a manifesto!” I gasped.

“I think you mean Fanimesto!” Zack pounded the table for punctuation. +We came dangerously close to actually writing that fanimesto. The world was not ready.

I snuck another look at Taylor. She had to think we’re idiots.

We weren’t serious, of course. We would debate the merits of Neal’s proposal and then forget about it before our queso gets cold. The ideas themselves were rarely the point; it was the constant pursuit of new ideas that drove us. We were a flock of birds, startled by every passing car, shifted by every air current, and attracted to every shiny thing we saw. The point was to stay airborne. The act of flying itself is what formed our revolution.

Ooooh a revolution! I want to play!

I could almost hear Her talking next to me with a grin on her face. I’d invade Russia in winter to see that smile again. I try picturing her wearing a tricorn hat. Good Lord, she would be so adorable. We have to take it to the streets! she would shout. It’s time to act! It’s time to—

“—take the party to my house!” sang Zack.

At Zack’s proclamation, the whole flock stood up and migrated towards the exit. I looked back at the table as I walked out. I missed seeing Her at that table.

I’ve had to learn to live without you, She whispered. Months later and the words still haunted me.

On the way out we finalized plans for the New Year’s Eve party the next night. Or rather, cobbled together something resembling a plan. I found out Taylor would be there. Maybe I’d talk to her tomorrow.

Hi Taylor, I don’t know if you remember me but—

Yeah! You got burrito guts on your pants.

I’d forgotten about that. It doesn’t matter, I’d laugh it off and ask her if she’s heard of Lucio Fontana and of course she has because she was intelligent and cultured. Our conversation would flow unabated for hours until the ball dropped. We’d smile at each other. I’d walk her to her car well after midnight and the air would be pregnant with electricity as we’d fumble toward a hug. She’d smile and her eyes would whisper that I should take courage and I’d bring my face closer to hers and—

Now it’s Her again, hijacking my daydreams with a memory from a year ago. Her face looked cinematic in the monochrome light of the streetlamp. We shivered in the cold rain but we didn’t care because the kiss made it worth it.

Josh walked up and read my mind. “So I asked Her if she was coming to the party tomorrow. She said she would think about it.”

I sighed. “That means no.”

Josh let out an empathetic breath.

“Did you know I took Her to see a movie a couple weeks ago?” I asked him.

“How’d that go?”

“Not as awkward as I expected. She even hugged me.”

I followed cars with my eyes as they left the parking lot. “And she hasn’t talked to me since.” +She also received a call from her mother during the date, and when asked what she was doing she said “just hanging out with some friend.” I’d met her mother several times. Brutal.

We stood in silence for a minute and watched our breath condensate. “I could say something about new years and fresh starts but I’ll spare you,” said Josh.

“Thanks,” I muttered. But maybe he was right. Maybe it was time to let go.

“Boys of Summer” played on the radio as I drove home. The steering wheel was my keyboard as I played the synth part and wished it were warm enough to roll down my windows. Don Henley and I were about to belt the chorus when my phone rang.

It was Bill.

“Dude,” he sputtered. “Taylor!”

“Taylor, the new girl tonight?”

“No, not her. The building!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Dude, listen.”

“I know where to find the Gargoyle.”