Packed White Spaces

Packed White Spaces

I’m riding the elevator up to Corinne’s and Allen’s 10th-floor apartment with a bottle of $3.99 wine from TJ’s tucked into my armpit. They are hosting a party to commemorate the purchase of their new Washer-Dryer unit, which I assumed was a joke when I read the Facebook invite, but nah, this is exactly the kind of dumb shit they like to do. They are my capital-W White friends who wear Sperrys and say “sketchy” to describe pre-gentrified neighborhoods, who live in one of the capital-N Nicest apartment units among our peers, because of Generational Wealth.

The Washer-Dryer lives in a nook next to the front door. When I enter, I bump into several guests gawking at the machine’s sleek, stainless steel beauty. Allen is removing white leather pants from the Washer. A crowd bends forward, blocking my view; I’ll say hello later. I elbow my way past someone and they nearly drop their wine glass. Sorry sorry, I say, excuse me, so sorry, and I hold my cheap wine high above my head like the visual beep-beep-beep of a semi-truck reversing, until I reach a break in the group. Around the room I see a few familiar faces from college and a lot more who are strangers. Four years of an Elite Education and two seasons into a new phase of life—I still don’t know how to navigate these packed white spaces. Not without Alejandra holding my hand. Not without Alejandra talking shit and laughing about them in the corner. I feel instant isolation. I’m all too aware of my presence, my casual clothes. How everyone is fitter than I am. In this space, I’m wondering if it’s related to Money: Does Money have the power to stave off weight gain from fast-food dinners or a family history of diabetes? Does it cancel out the effect of a 2AM diner run for disco fries and syrup-drenched french toast?

I find Corinne in front of a Cheese Platter, not eating. She is all arms and perfume when she pulls me in for a hug, tight enough to collapse the last six months of distance between us. You made it, she says, and then we’re making small talk. There’s nothing interesting about catching up with a friend. Even a good one. I ask about work, and she asks about the movies I’ve seen, though I haven’t yet gone to one since my move. The prices are so high I’m intimidated my experience won’t match the cost. She wants to know how I’m enjoying my big New York City “adventure,” which I loathe. “Adventure” is what white people use when they want their lives to sound spectacular. The truth is, it’s all so mundane. I buy groceries. I sometimes eat them, I mostly let them rot. I go to work, then return home in the evening and pretend to sleep until it overtakes me. Wake up. Do it again. But Corinne is talking about Life and Vacation and Taking Out a Mortgage on the very apartment we’re standing in. I shrug, smile when appropriate; I try to remember if we would have been friends without Alejandra introducing us.

I lob off a chunk of Parm with a Tiny Knife and laugh to myself. Corinne stops to ask what’s so funny—she is in the middle of describing why she and Allen chose this specific model of Dryer, something about its high-heat, high-speed, high-efficiency—but it’s not funny on its own to tell her that Alejandra once said it felt like the two of us were getting a full-ride to a Prestigious Liberal Arts College just to learn about the difference between Manchego and Mahón. Now, Alejandra’s face and scent blooms in my memory, gets my heart thumping. I ask Corinne if she’s heard from her at all.

Oh, you know, we text, Facetime every few weeks, she says. Her voice lilts, suggests are we actually going to do this? Not out of annoyance. She’s feeling out if I can handle more good news about Alejandra. It was Corinne, after all, who had purchased the fine Champagne we drank to the point of blackout the night Alejandra and I kissed on the quad our junior year. She had been most encouraging and excited for us. For that adventure. I uncork my wine, nod my head to let her know it’s okay. She’s loving LA, Corinne says, and getting really into the activist community there. Crushing it, like we knew she would. What else can I say?

I, of course, know all of this. Alejandra and I are mutuals on Instagram and Twitter and still Facebook friends, though neither of us have posted anything there since graduation. I choose to recklessly scroll. I’m not being stalkerish, not intentionally, but the algorithm has a way of reminding me how much Alejandra loves her life. Her new boyfriend. Her new friends, Mexicans and Salvadorans and Puerto Ricans and Guatemalans, who all love to go out until 3AM on weekends and dance. So much dancing. She loves the mountains; she hikes now. Goes to the coffee shop in her neighborhood for an almond croissant every other day. My feed blinks alive with so much Alejandra content, always at the exact moment I’m doing something unimportant, like standing on the edge of a subway platform not fantasizing about death but wondering what it’s like to be truly missed.

More people gather around the Washer-Dryer. Allen is at the center of the group, holding up the white leather pants. See, he’s shouting, no damage. None! They’re as good as new, even better.

Steam rolls up from the pants, whirls around Allen’s face. A stench of dead cow fills the room.

High-power wash, Corinne says only to me, and one motherfucker of a heat setting. She winks, and I take a swig of wine. You’d think those pants would be ripped to shreds, she says. Hell, I’ve thrown in dresses. It blasts off the sweat and grime and leaves the fabric totally intact. How cool? Corinne puts on her wildest smile and looks around at her other guests.

I’m a bit shaken at the sight of the pants, the cleanliness of them. I spotcheck my jeans and hoodie. There are probably stains I can’t see. Sweat inside the legs, a ring around the collar. I feel hot with shame. I might pass out. I regret wearing this hoodie.

I ask Corinne where I might find the bathroom. There are no defined doors other than the front. All the walls, all the surface details are blindingly white. Minimalism at its worst.

Ah, Corinne says, that’s the one thing I’d change about this place. She points into a dark hallway. The bathroom is through our bedroom. She then downs her wine and tells me to make myself at home. I mean it, she says.

Their bedroom is bathed in so much natural light I worry I’ve wandered outside. But, oh, what a view. They sleep in a King-sized Bed and own a Reading Chair, wedged in between two Oak Bookcases. I sit on the edge of the bed, drink more wine until my lips go dry. The Duvet cover is Soft beneath my fingers. Wrinkle-free. Alejandra once told me that Allen fucks Corinne one way: doggy-style. It’s the detail I come back to whenever I wonder why Allen and I never crossed the bridge from friend’s boyfriend to actual friend. We shared a $200 Bottle of Macallan the night before graduation, but ask me, have I ever looked him in the eye?

The wall next to their bathroom door is adorned with eight Blown-up Photographs in Black Wooden Frames, spaced apart into a perfect grid. Scenes from their life that don’t seem particularly noteworthy, but here they are, large, on display. I’m surprised by the inclusion of one from freshman year: Corinne, Allen, Alejandra and me, soaked in our tye-dye t-shirts after serenading. I think I knew I liked her then. The attraction was immediate, but I didn’t think it would become love. And how could I know that it would break? I pull the Frame off the wall. There are tears in Alejandra’s eyes, the kind that hit during late-night study sessions when we were consumed by blissful delirium. The Frame’s backing is loose; I slide it off, remove the photo. I fold it in half, then in half again and again, and again once more until it’s a compact little memory that fits inside my hoodie pocket. The blank space left behind on the wall is haunting, a violent gash. I’d swap in a different memory: the last time Alejandra and I laughed that hard together was shortly before the end, in a taxi headed back to school from the train station. I had been so drunk I kept telling the driver I loved him, he was a life-saver, I loved him so fucking much. The snapshot doesn’t exist, but it would look like this: Alejandra, her head out the window, howling into the wind.

After leaving the bedroom, a stranger backs into me and doesn’t apologize. I drop my bottle, which shatters, and the wine splashes out with a mission, catches me good across my hoodie, like a bloodstain, a wound. The room goes horror-movie quiet. My instinct is to yell, to tell the guy who bumped into me to watch himself. I fight it. I don’t want to be the angry brown guy in the room. Then Allen is at my side, hand on my shoulder, pulling at the hoodie.

It’s all good, Allen says. This is perfect.

I’m struggling with the zipper. I fear he might break the fabric clean from the teeth. Everyone is watching. Allen says again, It’s all good, then the hoodie is his. We’re all here for a reason, right?

I’m left standing in a black shirt, pocked with holes. It’s still a perfect fit, I’m convinced, not ruined enough to discard. I cross my arms over my chest, relieved when everyone turns away, and hurt that no one continues to stare.

Allen tosses the hoodie into the Washer’s drum. Everyone gathers around to watch and I don’t say anything. This will take less than five minutes, he says. Watch. Allen turns on the Washer and I still don’t say anything. It fills with water quicker than any machine I’ve used. The fabric twists and turns over itself, into itself, becomes separate then whole. When the cycle ends, I push past Allen, grab my soppy hoodie, reach into the pocket. No photograph. The ink ran, streaks of tye-dye and hair and sunlight staining the inside of my pocket green and black. I climb into the drum. There’s room enough in here for me to shut the door and die. I fish around, run my hands along the interior until I’ve gathered all the bits I can. When I back out into the room, Corinne hovers over me, looking confused, concerned. I ask her to open her hand, then I sprinkle the photo’s wet remains into her palm, let them rain down in fat clumps. A full picture we cannot make, but the scraps are still worth keeping.


About the Author

Christopher Gonzalez's (@livesinpages) writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of publications including Little Fiction, The Nation, Best Small Fictions 2019, Wasafiri, and Lunch Ticket. He is a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels