by Matt Runkle
Our vacation choices included the Vatican, the beach, and a forest with light coming down through the trees. The catch in each case was that our hearts would feel at home there, and the pain we’d feel upon leaving would be dire, and then the only way to soothe it would be to bring a mouth up next to our chests—a human mouth—and have it suck the poison out. These choices were not really choices, you see, they were demands, and they collectively took the form of a rattlesnake.
This was in the time before humans, long before expectations. And because we had yet to consider ourselves human, we were gods.
The vacation we decided on—and this wasn’t my first choice—was the Vatican. This was long before the Catholic Church had moved in and so, as you can imagine, we had a blast. I can’t even remember what happened there, and in a way really, I’m still there, or at least I wish I was. Our divinity had such a specific sense of place.
When it came time, we were both pretty loath to leave. Valerie in particular pitched an anger fit. I wasn’t very happy myself, but then I’d been pretty thorough when we read the brochures. Valerie, from the beginning, tossed hers aside and went off to chat with the hookers who were waiting to be booked.
There were a couple of incidents of note, both on the plane ride there and back. On the way there, I thought about the brochure, and how its vagueness made me feel like I was learning something, how it was clear about the consequences, but how it didn’t even tell me what the Vatican was, or where it was, or what the whole concept of a city- state meant. I thought about my sister Valerie, who at this time was uncharacteristically sedate. I thought about how she could just as easily be my sister as my wife. I placed my hand on her knee and watched it creep higher, and before I knew it, like a cloud, the stewardess hovered above us with a look of disgust. As I’m sure you can imagine, from then on out, I began to know just what to expect.
On the plane home, I was mad at Valerie, and had purposefully gone to find another seat. As I looked out the window, I thought about how I’d never felt so alone, and how that aloneness was then poisoning my heart. I looked at the man next to me, who was typing furiously, and whose serious face I longed to press against my breast. Then I looked out the window. We were flying over the forest then, the one where the light comes down through the trees. Strangely, though, at this time, the sun having long since set, the light was streaming up in shafts from below.
This wasn’t an illusion, I was blinded. To this, more than anything else, I can attest.
The forest floor, apparently, teems with energy—so much energy, at times, it generates a white-hot heat. A heat that, needless to say, can burn. It was then that I felt transcendent in the sense that I felt human. I also felt—through luck, pure luck—I felt like we’d made the right choice.
Socialites is trying to capture the humanoid sort of disconnect of the publicly rich, their simultaneous ignorance and omnipotence, and the naive way in which they're debauched. The Vatican seemed like an ideally vague sort of setting: an architectural posture at eternity, a symbol of dogma with seediness seeping from beneath, a richly historical tourist destination here stripped of every last historical context. What sort of knowledge did the narrator find there that made her finally feel human, and that caused the laws of the physical world to behave in such startlingly different ways? I'm currently working to present this text visually by adapting it into a letterpress printed broadside. I want to create a medieval sort of feel by using colors like brown, red, black, and white. And because light is so important to the piece, I want to collage with strips of found paper: sun-bleached cardstock, the gray haze of the photocopier bed, and rows of embossed circles like dressing-room vanity lights.
Matt Runkle is a writer, cartoonist, printer, and book artist. Socialites will be included in a collection of his short fiction forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press. He is also printing a broadside of the story as part of a queer print portfolio exchange for SGC International’s 2014 conference. His writing has appeared in The Collagist, Beecher’s, Monkeybicycle, Wigleaf, and on BOMBlog. The third issue of his zine, RUNX TALES, is available from Quimby’s.