Our March 2018 Bronze Medal Winner - "Past Drifting" by Silas Janzen

by - Friday, May 18, 2018


I am a writer dealing with schizophrenia, my writing often explores the lives of those who are outcast and marginalized. I started writing poetry as a way to cope with my disorganized thoughts, when I couldn’t understand the ordinary world in ordinary ways. Writing has always come naturally to me, I started reading very early and have always been interested by the fantastic, by something other in our worlds. My main hope for my writing is to reach people who themselves are marginalized, by depicting the struggle of being abnormal, albeit in a fictional landscape. —Silas Janzen

The photo prompt:

the unedited story:

Past Drifting 
by Silas Janzen

We stepped out in a strange kind of closeness, feeling our way across the pavement as the day aged under the sun. Ellie was all hands, dancing them apart and together so they were layers, contested dimensions placed dangerously high, again and again she retained her movements; as if they filled her insides with so much immateriality I felt she would burst. I stepped away from her and stood in front of the glass window, kind of lopsided—was that my way of standing? I repositioned myself again and again, and that was when Bruno came over to me. He had been holding Ellie kind of malevolently and laughing into her face. Ellie had her eyes dream-closed. This was some kind of game they played. I didn’t want to figure it out, so I didn’t look anymore. I was looking at my shoes when Bruno clapped me on the shoulder.

“Hey, Tommy. How the heck’s it going? That sure looks like, I mean, a very cheap or a very expensive place.”

“It can’t be both?” I murmured.

Bruno laughed like he had with Ellie, but drew it back so the last bit was a weird sharp in-breath of air. I dug my hands deeper into the small zippered pockets of my jacket.

Bruno was silent, considering something. I wanted to go away and not have to deal with these people. I suppose I was considering the same thing as Bruno, grudgingly I accepted that we were all the same, an organism that drifted, infecting various restaurants bars and libraries; anywhere we could sit. I found only familiar people, but that didn’t mean that any of them were my friends. Birds circulated in the tepid fall air, their calls ringing out like waves amid the constancy of traffic noise.

“You’re really simple, huh.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I shrugged.

A dive-bomb burst of a laugh. “You played the tuba.”

I blinked, looking up at the old thing in the window. I had hardly noticed it there. It seemed so obvious now. All I had seen had been what I thought I’d seen, the way I’d seen it. I was always leaving myself open like that. Always collecting people, incidents, places through my flaws. I know you think that sounds beautiful. It’s not, believe me. It’s all like making a salad you don’t actually want to eat, but you do because it’s healthy. This isn’t healthy, and it isn’t good.

“In grade-school, remember? God, you sounded terrible. Hey, Ellie, didn’t he sound terrible?”

“The worst!”

“I bet you’re good at it now. Wanna try?”

“It probably costs like a grand. I’m not going to buy it, Bruno.”

That laugh was working out of him like candy out of a gumball machine. Slow, resonant warbles drifted out like belches. “I don’t mean buy it. I mean, the guy who owns the store would probably let you try it. I don’t think it costs a grand, unless it was owned by someone famous. Come on, let’s go inside. Let’s just go inside and try.”

The whole gang pushed into the store, taking me with them as if I were driftwood and they were the ocean, and I had no say in the matter. They were always doing stuff like this. I didn’t complain, I just stood there, while the bells rung out in the store with creaking wood floors, overflowing with deftly organized antiques, set into the walls like pictures or paintings, real still-life all of them, images you could reach and touch but weren’t supposed to—this was an expensive store for things you weren’t really supposed to touch even if you did buy them. That tuba wasn’t for playing.

But Bruno was walking to the back, looking for the owner. There was no desk here. There was a set of stairs leading to the basement, the smell of rot and cigar smoke and a blur of hazy jazz music coming up the stairs.

Ellie wrinkled her nose. “Let’s get out of here, I’m not going down there, no way. Smells. I hate jazz.”

Bruno turned to me with a sly, reckless grin. He was holding himself in swooping gestures. I think he was a bit drunk. I wasn’t, I wanted to go. I didn’t want to be in on this.

Bruno pointed at the tuba, sitting there in front of the window, in front of the waning sun. “Old man’s listening to jazz, won’t notice if you blow a few notes. Come on.”

This was immensely stupid. “Bruno, I don’t...”

But stupid Bruno was already bringing the tuba over. He was bringing it over to me, and I was shaking my head and gesturing no, put it back, and Bruno was smiling and Ellie couldn’t stop laughing, and in all the excitement Bruno dropped the tuba. It made a loud sound and something broke off of it, rolling to the middle of the floor. I didn’t look to see what it was. “Jesus, Bruno,” I murmured in a fury of abject disbelief.

The jazz music stopped. Bruno was standing there, staring down at the ruined tuba. “Shit,” he murmured, his arms so slack against his sides they looked like discarded snake-skins. “I’m sorry, Tommy.”

He looked at me, and for the first time since I’d known him, he looked sincere.

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