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[Fiction] Soundtrack

Updated: Jul 3

by Shannon Presby


Jenna used to say she could hear the soundtrack of anyone’s life. I didn’t really believe her. She liked to make things up, turn life into something better than it really was. 


“See that guy?” she asked.


“Yeah.”


We were sitting on the sand. It was too cold for the beach, but the rain had been unrelenting, and today was a break between storms, so she was playing hooky, and we had come down to the shore. 


The guy she was pointing at looked about sixty. The kind of guy that had once been a specimen, but booze and cigarettes and maybe a taste of combat had turned him into a thing made of whiskers and barnacles of scar tissue. 


“It’s Vivaldi,” Jenna said.


“No way, J. That guy is like Steppenwolf. Procol Harum all the way.”


Jenna shook her head. “You lack imagination.”


The sun was a cheater, a toxic narcissist that loved watching us hurt. It smacked the sand with a Hasselblad moment, a too-bright exposure of spring that disappeared the minute you tipped your head back to catch some rays.


“Want to get a beer?” I asked.


“Don’t you want to stay until the sun sets?”


I shrugged. “It’s kind of cold.”


Jenna laughed and hit me gently. “Such a baby.”


“I just don’t want to freeze my nuts off.”


But we stayed. I knew she wanted to, and I wanted her to get what she wanted, mostly. 

Barnacle guy wandered down the beach. He was wearing incongruous leather loafers. They looked expensive, and they were getting wet, and I thought maybe Jenna was right. I tried to imagine Vivaldi and him, but even with the shoes I couldn’t hear it. 

Jenna smiled and looked at me sideways. The light was in her. 


We kissed.


After, I lit up a joint and smoked it. Jenna took one hit, but she didn’t really inhale. 


“I like the smell,” she said, “and the ritual, just not the effect.”


Jenna was different. She was weird and beautiful in her wilding. She had long, dark hair on her right side and a neon-blue buzz on the left, and the light that spilled out of her was so bright and true that it made me want to push her down and hold her. 


#


When we got back to my place, Mark was tweaking—either drugs or lack thereof. He had some kind of electrical motor disassembled all over the dining room table, so Jenna and I went into my room and shut the door, and I put on some music to drown out the speed metal. 


We sat on the bed, and Jenna picked up my notebook. “What are you working on?”

I sat beside her. I didn’t try to take the notebook back even though I was kind of embarrassed.


“Nothing.”


“Nothing?”


I shrugged.


She kept thumbing the pages. She came to a page and laughed. “What’s that?” She turned the notebook around and showed me.


“A doodle.”


“A doodle?”


“A Chomp,” I admitted. 


“What’s a Chomp?”


“It’s a space monster that my friend and I made up when we were kids.”


“It’s got teeth.”


“Yeah.” 


“For what?” Jenna was smiling like we were having Sunday dinner with Jesus. 


“Biting spaceships,” I said.


“Oh,” she said seriously. Then she kissed me, and we lay on the bed and made out. I was touching her ass and tried to pull her up on top of me, but she scooted away, picked up my notebook again, and studied the Chomps.


“How does it bite spaceships? Why isn’t it killed by the vacuum and radiation in outer space?”


Jenna had a very logical mind for a dreamer. 


I kissed her shoulder and pointed to the doodle. “Simple,” I said. “See his eye?”


“Yes.” 


“That mean’s his indestructible.”


“His eye?”


“Yup. See, it’s a dot inside a circle—not just a dot.”


“Yeah.”


I nodded. “That means he’s indestructible. We called them Indo-Chomps.”


“And if it just had a dot for an eye, no circle?”


“That’s just a regular Chomp.”


Jenna was nodding, taking in the ontology of Chomps. “So those ones can be destroyed?”


“Yeah. But they’re still really, really tough.”


“What can kill a Chomp?”


“A regular one?”


“Yeah.”


“Well, spaceships, with their phasers or torpedoes or whatever.” 


“That’s it?”


“We had this other creature. Reggie made that one up.” I shook my head. “It was really just a cartoon arms race between me and Reggie.” I laughed. “I made up Chomps, so he made up his monster, then I made up Indo-Chomps, and you know, game over.”


“What was Reggie’s space monster?” 


“An Electrite.” 


“What did it look like?”


I took the notebook, found a pen, and drew in the margin. I showed it to her.

Jenna studied my drawing. “How does it kill a Chomp?”


“It shoots electricity out of its antenna.” 


“And fries it?”


“Yeah, shocks it to death, I guess. But not an Indo-Chomp.”


“What happens to the Indo-Chomp?”


“Nothing.”


“Nothing?”


“Maybe it gets stunned.”


“You don’t know?”


“It depended on the picture.”


“I thought they were just doodles.”


“Well, after a while, Reggie and I started doing bigger, more elaborate pictures on poster board and stuff, with intricate battles and egg men and eyes and fleets of spaceships and stuff.”


Jenna’s eyebrows arched up. “Egg men?”


“They’re like the plankton of space—that’s what Chomps mostly eat.” I smiled. “If they can’t find spacemen.”


“Chomps eat spacemen?”


“Oh yeah, spacemen are their favorite, like a delicacy.”


Mark started using an angle grinder in the living room. 


I was going to tell him to knock it off, but Jenna put her hand on my forearm and said, “Show me.” So I found a clean sheet of paper, and we sat at my little desk, and I drew.

It took me a few minutes. 


Jenna sat next to me, and she touched me through my pants. I got hard.


“That’s not fair.”


“Keep going,” she said.


So I did, and she unbuttoned my pants and put her hand inside my underwear.


“Oh god.” I kept drawing.


“How do they eat spacemen?” She was touching herself too.


I drew faster, scratched out a space hotel with a chute to eject deadbeat spacemen.


“What’s that?” Her voice was husky. 


“A…a…umm…restaurant.”


“In space?”


“Restaurants and bars, and if someone got too drunk, the bar rockets them out a chute and the Chomps--” I said that fast and kept drawing. She kept rubbing. “Are waiting.”

Jenna’s body trembled a little. “Where are the egg men?”


I drew a cloud of them.


“What about eyes?”


I drew some.


“They look like sperm.”


I pushed the paper away and kissed her. I roamed my hands under her shirt, and she unhooked her bra; her pants were already off. I pulled her onto the bed and kissed her everywhere, twice and more, and we fucked. 


#


Jenna had a job at a café in Santa Monica. She worked early mornings, and for a while I would ride my bike over there after I got high to have coffee and watch her. She didn’t really like it. 


“Are you spying on me?” 


“No.”


“No?”


“Should I be?”


Jenna shook her head and cleared off the dishes from the table next to mine. “Why don’t you go do something?”


“Like what?”


“I don’t know, anything but sit here following me with your eyes.”


“Okay.”


“You should draw, go back to the Chomps or something. Make a kid’s book.”


“Yeah, maybe.” 


She shook her head, and I could tell she was disgusted.


After that, I didn’t go back to the café. I went to the Starbucks across the street and really started to spy. I even had a small pair of binoculars that a buddy had given me when mine were stolen out of his truck. That’s how I saw her and Brandon.


Brandon was handsome. He looked good from every angle. He had curly, brown hair and really blue eyes, like almost fake looking, like he was wearing colored contacts, but I guess they were real. He was quite a bit taller than me and a lot more in shape. He sat at the same outside table every day, and Jenna would come and talk to him when there was a lull. 


I could tell by the way she tossed her hair and laughed that she was into him. He always had his laptop with him, and I thought about trying to lift it when he went inside to use the bathroom, but I never had a clean chance. 


I took some pictures of them on my phone, and finally after about three weeks, during which Jenna started to seriously ghost me, I ended up waiting outside her apartment at, like, two in the morning. 


Turns out I didn’t need the photos because Brandon pulled up in his Jeep, and I watched them kiss and him put his hands all over her before she got out and walked to her building. 


I rolled up on my bike as the Jeep pulled off. It made a humming sound on its knobby off-road tires even though I was pretty sure Brandon didn’t really do the four-wheeling thing. 


“Jenna.” 


She saw me but didn’t seem surprised.


I dropped my bike in the bushes.


She had her purple gym bag with her, and I knew that she must have been staying with him because she’s a planner and that’s what she took whenever she would stay with me.


“It’s you,” she said.


“Yeah.”


I didn’t know what to say. I just knew that this was it for her and me. I waited for her to say something, but she didn’t apologize or explain. She just looked kind of tired.


“Who’s the guy in the jeep?”


“Brandon.”


“Are you fucking him?”


She unlocked the front door and stood in the doorway. “Do you want to come up?”


“Are you fucking him, J?”


She shook her head not in a way that said, “No way am I fucking him,” but in the way that said, “Of course I am, and he’s a great lover and much sexier and more interesting than you.” 


“Why?” I asked.


“He’s nice.”


“I thought…” I lost the rest of the sentence because, truth is, I didn’t really know what it was I was thinking.


After a second she said, “I’m going up.”


She held the front door open for me, but I couldn’t move, and after a few seconds she let go, and the door closed. I stood outside and watched her walk to the elevator, press the button, wait for the doors, and get on. I didn’t think she could see me standing outside, because it was light in the lobby but dark where I was standing.


#


I went to spy on Jenna at the café one more time, but she wasn’t there. She quit. I didn’t know if she quit to fit in with Brandon’s schedule or if she moved into his condo or if they ran off to Bali with a case of gold and a wallet full of crypto. I also didn’t lurk in front of her apartment building, much. 


I didn’t call her either. I thought maybe she would call me. She didn’t. 


I went down to the beach and sat in the same spot where Jenna and I had watched the barnacle man. 


He didn’t show.


It had gotten warmer, and it seemed like the rains had decided to quit it for the year, head up to Portland or Aberdeen, where they belonged, leave LA to bloom and start the long roast. 


I smoked the other half of the joint I had sparked when I first woke up, but it was windy, and the cherry kept blowing off, so I didn’t really get a buzz. 


Two girls came running down the beach, wearing shorts and sports bras. They looked pretty fit, and one had dark hair but not a long as Jenna’s. 


I smiled out of one side of mouth and sneered out of the other, but they purposefully didn’t look at me. I watched their asses as they ran away. They were both nice, but one was nicer than the other. Then I closed my eyes and tried to hear the soundtrack of their lives, but it was useless. 


I lacked imagination.


All I could hear were the waves hissing at me, and gulls screaming over some stale chips, and behind it all a bunch of Jeeps with knobby off-road tires making a mess of the asphalt on PCH. 



Shannon Presby lives in Los Angeles. He is currently an MFA candidate in the University of Riverside’s low-residency MFA program, working on a weird crime novel. Shannon was an actor and has worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles for more than twenty years. He likes hiking, animals, dark forests and good brown beer.





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