“More so than the immorality of the contemporary world, it is its growing ugliness that moves one to dream of a cloister.” — Nicolás Gómez Dávila


I was stocking pints and half-pints of Fireball behind the counter when I noticed this guy walking in. He didn’t look like a local, more like an out-of-towner, one of those in-from-the-city-types. They’d been coming in more and more ever since these two brothers got tired of their day-jobs selling real estate and decided on opening up this heavy metal-themed brewery that occasionally put out concerts. This guy, he’d looked like one of those, had on a delicately frayed leather jacket in the middle of summer with no shorts, just tight black jeans and two-pound Union Jack army boots. Of course, I had to card him; I mean normally, on the weekends, none of us ever cared enough about carding anyone, but lately we’d been hearing stories about the excise police going around and setting up stings, getting kids from the local youth groups to try to buy alcohol. Apparently, they even managed to get Santori’s the next town over and now whenever they had a customer, a cop had to wait outside, standing and checking IDs. When our boss, Jayesh, had heard about this, he’d taken us all aside to tell us he didn’t want that kind of hassle going on around here, “his establishment.” He’d said he’d lose half his customers that way; what he’d meant to say was black people. Jayesh didn’t seem to like them very much, made us keep an eye on them anytime they walked into the store, and absolutely refused to hire any of our friends of that designation. They were the liquor stores most loyal customers, though—and the lotto’s, too—but Jayesh believed if we had cops waiting outside, then they would all just head on down the street to the other nearest liquor store. Yeah, a little prejudice, I guess, but I wouldn’t say racist. I just put it down to being part of some cultural difference I would never understand. Anyway, somewhere in there is why I had to card the guy.

I don’t remember if he had handed me an English ID or British passport. Either way, it turned out he was 28—four years older than me at the time—and from London. I got to asking him what the hell he was doing all the way out here in Middle of Nowhere, Northwest Indiana as I rung him up and, of course, he said he had traveled for one of the brewery’s concerts, which he had made sure to correct me was a “festival.”

“You thinking of checking out the county fair too?”

“The what?”

“Nothing, it’s a joke: we got a county fair going on.”

This was true, and the county fair being quite the big highlight for the scattered townships, combined with the influx of out-of-towners for the brewery “festival,” had resulted in our little shit-end of civilization being injected with this sort of crazed atmosphere the past couple days. It’d been obvious all through my shifts leading up to the weekend that something different was in the air. All of a sudden, people had things to do, places to go, wonders to see, and others to meet; time had ticked up a gear. I think it’d been affecting me, too.

As I handed the guy back his passport or ID, I took the opportunity to ask him what the hell he thought about Brexit: the thing had only occurred about a week ago and I figured it’d be my only chance to ever ask anyone from the actual country about it, at least in person. Well, as soon as the words had left my mouth, this guy’s eyes had done this weird thing where they raised and beamed as if I’d mentioned his deepest, darkest secret or something. Sarah’s eyes had done the same thing too, back around when we’d first met and she’d played me some Jesus and Mary Chain song. She’d thought I wouldn’t know about it, that someone that wore Timberland knock-offs from Kmart and drank cans of High Life with breakfast in the morning could never have heard of “Just Like Honey”: I don’t know, I guess I wouldn’t have either. Regardless, I told her I’d already heard the song some hundred times before and her eyes had beamed just like the guy’s; a type of thing that tends to happen around here, in places where no one really expects much from anyone.

Well, the guy from London ended up telling me that Brexit was a terrible, terrible thing to happen to his nation. He’d left by saying good on me for being informed, though; yeah, sure. Well, as soon as he’d walked out the door, Tommy, my home from college co-worker, had looked me right in the eyes from across the counter and burst out laughing.

“That guy looked like he was about to fucking cry, man. Christ, what the hell is Brexit anyway?”

“I don’t even really know,” I told him.

Tommy was a bit of a pushover that I guess tended to listen to me more often than he should have. Sometimes I felt weird about it and thought it was because he looked up to me or something; who knows. I usually abused it by asking him to watch the register for me while I went to use the bathroom six or seven times a day, digging through my jean pockets to drink my shooters of Wave. They were two for a dollar each, so as long as I paid for them by the end of the week Jayesh never really cared about how many I pocketed. On that particular night when the guy from London had visited, I’d poured two of the mini-bottles into a can of Sprite, followed by twisting off a little gel cap of powder into the brim of its mouth. The stuff was moloclom, a type of knock-off tramadol with benzo properties that a guy and I moved shipments for from a chemist named Chernoff; at least that’s how he had referred to himself online. Chernoff was some guy I’d learned about through Blulight or Erowid or some other type of message board drug site I’d visited when I was younger and trying to make sure that me nor any of my friends were going to OD from mixing one thing or another. Chernoff would ship me grams of the raw powder right through the U.S. Postal Service and my friend and I would cap it all out to sell on the streets. At first, we’d been diligent and even attempted weighing out the powder into milligrams on this cheap, meant-for-weed scale. Unfortunately, it never took long for word to spread around here and the money to come pouring in, in turn leading us to getting lazy with it all. Plus, we thought we had so much of the raw powder that we could afford to eyeball the amounts we were shoving into the gel caps with little to no effect on our bottom line. I mean sure, sometimes a kid would complain about there not being as many milligrams as we claimed, but these guys were buying painkilling benzos. After a day or two, they always forgot or never showed up again.

My partner in this business was a guy named Cliff. He was a year or two younger than me and way more connected to the streets. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were friends, but definitely acquaintances with a built-in a tolerance for each other’s intoxicated company. The thing I hated about Cliff, though, was he was cheap; some might say thrifty, sure, but too cheap to pay for a data plan was where I drew the line. The guy always had to message me over Facebook Messenger on a free signal, and usually by the time I ever actually received any of his messages, they were always so disjointed and incomprehensible that I had to more or less piece them together myself. I’m explaining this because that night in particular, he had sent me, at first, messages containing simply jumbled photos of some very obviously teenage-looking girls licking the top of a banana split. I took this to mean he was by Dairy Queen using their free Wi-Fi; great, I’d thought, thinking he was going to be at the liquor store any second now to give me my cut of the week, before moments later receiving his accompanying text reading “moloclom sundae lol.”


After work, Tommy and I usually never hung out, but that night we’d taken to ambling across the parking lot for a bit while I finished smashing what was left inside my can of Sprite, the liquor store parking lot being in one of those shared plazas with cracked blights of asphalt lit alight only by a foggy glow reading: “BEER * LIQUOR * WINE.” Eventually, we walked around to the building next door where Cliff was bumming the free Wi-Fi in the alley of the Burns-Kish funeral home, smoking Newports. A little buzzed, I’d asked him if I could have one and he told me to take the whole pack (there’d only been three left). I went on to introduce him to Tommy, saying how he was home for the summer from West Lafayette, that he’d just finished his freshman year, and that Steve, his older brother, had gotten him the job. The main reason he was tagging along for the night though was because he knew of a place where he’d said we’d be able to get rid of some product quick. Cliff had said cool and Tommy had said yeah, getting to chugging a 24 oz. while I smoked, noticing this smell in the air that I really hadn’t noticed at first but Cliff had been saying was rising all over. I told him that it could have been his clothes stunk up from his kitchen shift at Jericho’s, but he’d said no, that it had to be the funeral home.

“—like someone getting cremated or something, man.”

I mean, there had been this plume of smoke coming up from the funeral home’s top chimney, but Tommy had told him it couldn’t be, saying that we saw that smoke all the time when we went out the back exit of the liquor store to take the trash out.

“—and it never smelled like this shit.”

He thought that it had to be a dead dog somewhere, saying that he’d been talking with his mom earlier about the papers mentioning dog corpses turning up everywhere as if someone was going around feeding them rat poison, or maybe even a toxic metal runoff from the mills. While the two got to arguing, I dug one my boots into some gravel, the tip getting stuck in the strangely sooty matter. On my phone, I was juggling between text screens from a guy trying to buy and Sarah telling me how she was on her way to visit her aunt and nervous about it. I told her that she had nothing to be nervous about, but she told me no, that I didn’t know how her aunt could get after some wine.

“We gotta stop by the fair,” I said to Tommy and Cliff.




“Tommy, you good?”

“Yep, I can finish it on the way.”

The fairgrounds were some ten minutes down the road and an easy walk. Nonetheless, by the time we arrived, drops of sweat were already trailing down the smalls of our backs, staining all the way through our shirts. I don’t remember how Tommy or Cliff had felt about it, but I know once we got there, I went walking straight up toward those Ferris wheel lights with this sort of nice feeling running through me, the feeling of a dry summer backwoods night and being out, surrounded by others and whirling carnival rides, whooshing sounds and ringing prize lights. I mean, it’d probably just been the over-eyed amount of moloclom floating inside me, but hell, that was close enough to nice for me.

At the beer garden, Cliff and I didn’t bother with buying any tickets. He didn’t drink and I was carrying shooters of Wave inside my pockets. Tommy, on the other hand, bought some ten. We walked around the white-tented area for a bit looking for Cummins, the guy I’d been on the phone with. He was the type of dopehead I always thought was one night away from never showing up again, but always did. That night, he’d been performing with a live band on top a small stage inside the garden, a type of pop country music with lyrics about not being a stepdad, but the dad that stepped up. As the three of us waited for him to finish his set, it wasn’t long before we bumped into everyone from around. First, there’d been Mark Dye, who taught at the high school now, the same high school we’d gone to together where he’d gotten suspended for spreading a drawing of some substitute teacher getting fucked in the ass by this kid who would go on to kill himself.

“A., how you doing?”

“Not dead.”

“Yet, right?”

“Ha ha, only on the inside.”

“Ah, come on—”

Cliff and Mark got to talking, getting on the subject of some girl who was back in town, pulling up her Instagram, while I popped open another shot of Wave. I think it was at that point that Tommy said he was going to go take a piss. I’d just nodded at him as Mark and Cliff had joked about one thing or another, the country songs continuing to play. Later, I hadn’t been sure if it was her, but her shorts had been hiked up high enough to show the thigh tattoo of palmistry she’d gotten in the 11th grade. She was a waitress at ‘Round the Clock, Alison, with a boyfriend that worked on the railroads now. We used to mess around, the two of us, a little after high school, but never nothing serious; just memories. Mark had gone on to call her over without leaving me much of any time to protest before she joined the group. I didn’t bother with saying much of anything to her and excused myself as soon as I could. The reality was I couldn’t remember if I’d hit on her or not the last time I’d seen her at Danny’s Pub where she’d been with her ex-fiance, Nick Morelli, a druggie from a famous family around here with enough money to support his in and out of rehab habits. Since I’d been drinking for the better part of the day that time, I didn’t bother to care everyone took it easy on the guy for being so much of a fuckup, and, long story short, got drunk enough to remember and care about how he’d ripped me off $80 worth of cocaine in high school.

“I’m gonna go take a piss,” I said.

“Don’t take too long, I think the set is almost over.”

I nodded my head up and down as I walked away silently. After squeezing through backs of checkered shirts, more thigh tattoos, and cut-off sleeves, I ran into Tommy gathered in a circle of some other college-aged men. He called me over and introduced me to his friends that were also home from college. They asked me where I’d gone and I told them that I never had, never did go to college, prompting a response from the tallest one there to say that my decision was respectable because he was sure I got plenty of local pussy anyway. With an open-mouthed smile, I had told him sure, followed by a nod. The group proceeded to discuss going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers at that year’s Lollapalooza while AirBnbing a condo in the city, and I asked Tommy which direction where the restrooms in, saying goodbye to the guys after.

“—see ya around at the liquor store!”

A couple yards down some more crowds, I could feel my phone vibrating up against the other bottles of Wave tucked inside my jean pockets. I walked off to the side of the fair by the Tilt-a-Whirl, where I stopped to check to see who was calling me—Sarah—when I felt grabbed at by the shoulders; it was Alex Ledesma, an Iraq War vet I used to share a house with. He asked me how I was doing as I declined the call and even offered to buy me a beer. I told him no thanks and he asked if I was still working as an EMT.

“Not since last October.”

“Christ, it’s been that long since we had a drink together?”

Sarah sent me a text explaining why she had called, saying that she was anxious about visiting her aunt because the woman always got blackout drunk and ended up badmouthing her dad, expecting her to take a side. I tried to respond to her on the spot, but something was keeping me from feeling satisfied with anything I wrote. I guess I couldn’t really form a thought quick enough while simultaneously listening to Alex talk on and on about some night we’d gone to a strip club together in Dolton except until the end where I left, alone, to rent out a motel room that I didn’t come back from for two weeks straight.

I decided I would have to text Sarah later and put my phone away as Cliff appeared from behind to ask if I still had Zaria’s number. I told him I wasn’t sure and Alex asked him what was up, saying hello, wondering aloud how long it’d been since he’d last been out of jail. I don’t know why he’d felt like taking a dig at Cliff.

“You know it’s been way over two years, man—come on…”
This wasn’t entirely true. Cliff had gotten locked up for a couple days in May off some credit card scheme he’d tried to pull when Coop had been back in town. Luckily, some girl he’d been with at the time had been able to bond him out. He had never bothered with paying her back, though, and now she turned up drunk outside his house threatening to kill him, or me, sometimes.


Cliff rented this blue, dilapidated bungalow outside of Griffith. Around the area, renting a house was cheaper than renting an actual apartment since the few complexes that did exist required credit checks and background checks (neither of which Cliff could pass) and were designed for a certain clientele: single, young professionals who commuted into and out of the city, yet no longer wanted to be a part of the city. They were very well maintained, fenced-off buildings that, when eyed from the wild country grass hairs around them, almost seemed like the last surviving outposts of some long overrun civilization.

The three of us walked into the bungalow to find the front door bricked open, leaving only a second screen door for us to pass through, mosquitoes flying about everywhere. The house’s owner, who Cliff had happened to meet inside a town holding cell, had been willing to rent him out the place, no questions asked, in exchange for a few repairs here and there, most of which Cliff had bullshitted his knowledge of being able to accomplish, relying on me instead to walk him through, which I, in turn, had also bullshitted my knowledge of being able to accomplish. When we walked in, occupying the house had been a huddle of some four other people sitting around this L-shaped couch heating moloclom with a pocket blowtorch, its vapor trailing fumes around the house. They were all idly gathered in a living room that lacked any sort of working light fixtures, the only source of light coming from the open doors of the bedroom and bathroom. Cliff had acted as if the entire scene was normal even though it became more and more obvious the further we walked that he himself didn’t know half the people in there, muttering out loud and half-yelling at no one in particular about how much of a mess the whole place was. We walked through it all unacknowledged with Cliff’s complaints garnishing him only a few unsettling grunts, Tommy’s eyes perpetually fixed to the floor, the stained, infected looking carpet. When we reached Cliff’s room, the place appeared to be the only decently well-maintained area, though that wasn’t saying much with the piles of clothes stacked all over, a gun probably hidden somewhere. There’d been a girl lying there, too, on top the bed who had tried calling out at Cliff’s pit bull as he came running out to greet us. Unfortunately, her words had been deprived of any life, almost semi-conscious mumbles and meanders about playing nice and the dog walloped right into Tommy. As Cliff ignored the scene and began searching through the room for one thing we needed or another, I took it upon myself to let the little guy out. I walked out the room before Tommy could follow and exited out the side screen door into the backyard, watching as the pit bull chased after. Once there, in the dark and night, leaning against a little ringed fence around the land and grass, I read over Sarah’s texts while smoking another cigarette. I tasted another 50 milliliters and sent her back a message asking if we were still on for seeing each other tonight.

I stared at the rows of color-faded houses running left and right yonder, the apartment complexes shining like the city silos out west. A breath of smoke, and an empty message screen. When nothing came, I whistled and heard laughs coming from inside. Between the center mesh of the screen door, I could see Tommy trying to sit down alongside the others from before. He was trying to say hey-hello, but all he was hearing back were murmurs, that strange, drug-addled cadence.


For all installments of “Br(exit),” click here.