Prose / Short Story

The Current Market by James Curtiss

There was a time when coke was much cheaper. But that was after all in the 90s; and what’s more, its rise in price is nothing compared to what taxes have done to smoking. Two when I started, seven bucks is the going rate for a pack of smokes in Ann Arbor.

But coke is still more expensive. It’s in demand, and its popularity has jacked its cost as opposed to when I was younger. Because for awhile it was just out of fashion: around 2000, every jack-ass in metro Detroit was ingesting MDMA.

And thank God the latter is “out” now. But the point here is that drugs are a business; and accordingly, their price and saleability will rise or fall depending on various factors. Just like with writing, narcotics are bound by a “current market” that affects both buyers and sellers.

Because books are a business also. At the end of the day, getting published is less about talent than it is about trends in the market. And I know from bitter experience: since finishing school, I’ve been a barista with a useless degree who’s tried to make it in writing.

And then there’s the market for jobs. Presently shitty, that and the other two markets I’ve named just sent me a message in flames.

***

And so I guess I should start with my love-life. Because all of this began with a break-up; and when it did, I had foreseen it coming about as much as the Aztecs expected the Spaniards. Just off work, I had come back home to discover a note that ended a two-year engagement.

But I won’t get into specifics. There’s no point, though if a certain person is reading this they can rest assured that I hate them. But I’d done my best to be decent: while tempted, I had refrained from vicious phone calls or texts and stayed out when she came for her things.

And nor had I asked her for money. Because we’d shared a tiny apartment; and jointly, the two of us had been able to honor our lease and save for our never-dawned future. Horrifically poor, we’d been pooling our tips from our barista jobs to get married and go back to school.

But I was suddenly heart-broke and hungry. It was the rent, which I had only managed without her income by skimping on clothing and food. And she didn’t even leave me the sofa: though dually bought, she had taken it along with the second-hand bed that we’d gotten from Salvation Army.

But as I’ve said I didn’t get ugly. Because it wouldn’t have made her less shitty; and at twenty-nine, it’s not like it was the first time I’d ever been dumped though it was a first for broken engagements. While devastated, I’d long ago learned that getting nasty would just make things even more awful.

Because prolonging things is pointless. It just hurts, and it’s not like arguing once you’re through makes either party feel better. And so break-ups are really like Band-Aids: though initially worse, the pain of immediately ceasing all contact is less than a protracted removal.

But learning that wasn’t easy. Because my love-life tends to be stormy; and as a result, much of my teens and early twenties were squandered in senseless fighting. Time after time, I was involved in ugly break-ups and their subsequent screaming more than I care to remember.

And this was especially true of one girlfriend. We were off-and-on, and over a period of close to four years we were notorious in downtown Ann Arbor. Because oh my God had we battled: though just verbal, our disputes were legendary for their public nature and mutual exchanges of venom.

But she’d eventually moved out to Cali. Because she’d wanted to break into movies; and logically, she had left Ann Arbor for Hollywood to try to make a career there. Gone for six years, she and I hadn’t spoken a word since we’d fought on her way to the airport.

And I’d assumed that she was gone forever. But it just goes to show that you never know and she’s about to enter this story.

***

But first let’s discuss my milk-crate. Because I was bereft of even a sofa; and pathetically, the only place where I had to sit was a crate that I’d grabbed from an alley. Though uncomfortable, it had nevertheless earned a place in my heart while I sat in my empty apartment.

Because the crate was all that I had. I was broken, and matters were worsened by the frigid weather that had turned me into a shut-in. Because I’d been left in a Michigan winter: bitter cold, the ice and snow had kept me inside unless I was going to work.

And so I’d had plenty of time for thinking. But I hadn’t just dwelt on the break-up; for furthermore, as I’d sat on my crate I had also examined just how the hell I had got there. In sum, in addition to my heart-ache I had further grappled with being an out-and-out failure.

Because I hadn’t published my novels. I’d come close, and more than one agent had taken me on while praising my talent and promise. But I’d been doomed by the “current market”: already used, said expression is my least favorite term and is far from done in this story.

“I’ve never read anything like these,” one said. “But I’ve shopped them around and they’re just too wild when it comes to the current market.” And my other agents said likewise; for evidently, being original and entertaining are negative features for novels.

And I’d thought about changing my style. I’d even tried, and had experimented with writing more subdued things just to see how I liked them. But my efforts were painfully futile: just not me, my more-contained scribbling was unfulfilling and the worst sort of vacuous bullshit.

And that’s why I was saving for classes. Because I’d felt like I should’ve been published; but quite clearly, there was no way in hell that was going to happen if couldn’t adapt to the “market”. Soundly defeated, I’d decided to quit and get a degree that would actually earn me some money.

Because I’d loved my ex-fiancée. I was a chump, and hadn’t seen obvious warning signs that presaged her ignoble departure. And hence why I’d wanted to wed her: a total dumb-ass, I was accordingly determined to gain employment that would allow for a house and some children.

Yet instead I was stuck on my milk-crate. But I wasn’t all by myself though; for every night, I had made cheap whiskey my boon companion until I’d pass out in the bathroom. A shambling wreck, I had increasingly started to talk to myself as I drank in my snow-bound apartment.

And I really hadn’t given a fuck then. I’d just stopped, and my lack of concern about anything at all is about to affect this story. Because I was about to have some new roommates: some old friends, they were still into things that I’d given up for almost half of a decade.

***

Because I’d come to hate that apartment. But I couldn’t find someone to sublet; and meanwhile, I had passed four lonely and drunken months while I’d drank alone on my milk-crate. Though spring had come, my heart hadn’t mirrored the reawakening that was taking place all around me.

But in May I’d got out of my lease. I’d caught a break, as a friend of a friend was moving to town and was looking for a place with his girlfriend. And I was jealous that they’d seemed happy: like a prick, I’d left them my crate and a cryptic note that said “I’m sure that you’ll need this.”

And then I’d moved in with some buddies. Because in college we’d lived in a co-op; and afterwards, I had kept in touch with the three of them though it was rare for us to hang out. While I liked them, part of the reason was that they still did drugs while I’d evolved into merely a drinker.

Because for a spell I’d been too into downers. I love them, and at around twenty-five I’d given them up after gradually easing my intake. Because they just turned me into an asshole: though not an addict, I was prone to mood-swings and invariably broke as a result of my over-indulging.

But my roommates had never stopped using. And to my surprise they were pretty big cokeheads; for as I said before, back when I was young it was out of style and could be practically had for nothing. Though I enjoyed it, I had always preferred taking opiates and lesser versions of speed.

And I still hadn’t given a fuck then. I was lost, and it had seemed as if I would never be able to restore my heart from its pieces. And so it’s not surprising what happened: almost every night, I started doing coke along with the whiskey that I’d still continued to pound.

Because what was there to live for? I mean, I was an abject failure with a shattered heart and I’d sincerely wanted to die. At rock bottom, I wasn’t about to “just say no” to a short release from my sorrow.

But the price had pissed me off. At eighty-a-gram, it was twice as much as it had used to cost back in both high school and college. But I could afford the seller’s market: while expensive, the quantities I purchased would last a few days and my rent was only one-fifty.

Two things hadn’t changed though. Because drug dealers are always tardy; and secondly, I’d started to tire of getting high when at first it was nothing but fun. Like an idiot, I hadn’t remembered that me and drugs have never made a good couple.

But nonetheless I’d kept snorting. I was a mess, and the brief reprieve of doing a line was better than just drinking whiskey. And I’d mostly felt like a moron: hating school, I couldn’t believe that I had planned to go back for someone who’d proved so worthless.

And so I was as done with school as with hoping. But then the girl who I’d fought so much reentered my crumbling life.

***

Because she’d texted me out of nowhere. I was stunned, and she’d said she was in town and she wanted to know if I was free to grab a martini. And I almost hadn’t responded: given our past, I wasn’t inclined to meet up with a girl who’d I probably just get in a fight with.

But in the end I’d texted her back. Because it’s not like I had been busy; and furthermore, if I have an Achilles heel it’s a pretty face and hers is remarkably lovely. In all my life, I have never kissed a face more perfect and for me that’s a hell of a statement.

And it was like I’d stepped in a time-warp. We’d met up, and she was just as beautiful as I’d recalled her being and if possible even more so. But one thing was markedly different: having grown up, there wasn’t any reason for us to fight and for once we hadn’t bickered.

Because the two of us had just got older. And she’d had a rough ride also; for as we talked, I’d heard about some horrible exes and her frustration with life in L.A. Feeling trapped, she could only attain the most menial jobs when she’d wanted to be a director.

And to me that was simply outrageous. She has a gift, and her student films had blown me away as much as her incomparable visage. And so we definitely had something in common: sick of trying, the two of us had felt like our respective fields had ignored our deserving talents.

But we’d had more than just that in common. Because like me she’d nearly got married; and at thirty, she as well yearned to settle down and maybe even have children. While we sat there, she’d further talked about how nice it would be to just have a couple of dogs.

And then we’d gone back to my shit-hole. But rather than providing a lurid description I’ll skip ahead to what matters.

***

Because she’d just been in town for a funeral. It was the next day, and after it was done she’d returned to L.A. and the low-entry job that she hated. And for me it was back to the counter: with a scripted smile, I’d served up mochas and cappuccinos to legions of non-tipping assholes.

But I hadn’t gone back to partying. Because the two of us were constantly texting; and as we did, I had begun to feel the wildest hopes while we’d messaged back and forth. For the first time in months, it had seemed like there was a reason to get out of bed and incentive to not be a waste-oid.

Because I’d fallen in love all over. Just like that, I’d once again adored her and her texts in response had showed that she had the same feelings. And I’d vowed to get it together: having reconnected, I was going to try to get clean and sober and convince her that we should get married.

And the first part was surprisingly easy. Because I was sick of coke and the bar-scene; and also, I had cut back on smoking and started to jog while I hacked up a river of phlegm-globs. Black and green, they were disgusting to look at and I’d coughed them up as I panted and wheezed on the sidewalk.

But I’d had to do more than get healthy. I was broke, and I clearly had to have more money for the sort of life I’d envisioned. And again school wasn’t an option: not for me, I had instead resolved on a desperate plan that I’d sworn to see to fruition.

For why couldn’t I finally get published? And it was true that I’d failed beforehand; but now, I was much more experienced with dealing with agents and knew how publishing worked. On a mission, I had drawn encouragement from the praise I’d received in my prior but glowing rejections.

And she hadn’t tried to dissuade me. We talked every day, and whenever we did she would criticize L.A. and mention that she wanted a puppy. And she was looking for work in Ann Arbor: as an alum, she’d been hoping that contacts in the film department would help her get a position.

And for awhile I’d thought it would happen. Because this time I knew I’d get published; and moreover, my sense of destiny was only increased when I’d immediately landed an agent. Wowed by my books, he represented some best-selling authors and assured me I’d be joining their number.

Because they were just too good not to publish. They were “fresh”, and he was fully convinced that they would breathe new life in a highly moribund genre. And for a moment I’d truly been happy: clean and sober, I had daydreamed away as the girl asserted that she would surely get hired for something.

But then everything began to unravel. Because my agent grew strangely silent; and depressingly, the girl was rejected over and over for jobs that she had applied for. That old culprit, the “current market” had re-reared its head and led to a freeze on hiring.

And I hadn’t seen what was coming. I was dumb, and had deluded myself that I would sell some books and thus meet both our expenses. And hence why I’d gotten the “puppy”: an animatronic pug, I’d got it off EBay and was going to mail it as a joke that would cheer her up.

But that’s when I got the message. Because I’d given the pug a test-run; and when I did, it had taken three steps before shooting out sparks that rapidly turned into fire. To my horror, it had wagged its little robotic tail even as the flames destroyed it.

And it was more than just a malfunction. It was a sign, or something I’d known for the past few months but foolishly hadn’t acknowledged. Because the flames were the same as markets: while they consume us, they turn all our hopes and dreams to ashes and don’t care if you just want a puppy.

And the next day my agent had dropped me. Drunk and coked-up, I could only cackle when he blamed the market and said I should just keep writing.

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3 thoughts on “The Current Market by James Curtiss

  1. James Curtiss currently resides in Ann Arbor. When not writing, he plays various instruments in numerous bands throughout his home state of Michigan.

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