As Much A Living Person

Alissa Nutting

No earlier than noon we began strolling down the Leideseplein with our pasticcio elixir, a thick brown juice steeping twelve hallucinatory smart shop mushrooms like tea bags inside a thermos whose tank had, of late, become as indiscriminately hospitable as some of the city’s finest working girls, agreeably welcoming whatever providentially appeared into its vessel: free and bitter hostel coffee, leftover dregs of Heineken brewery bottles, a dash of orange juice, a long string of maple syrup from the pannekoeken diner. We ambled about the city, attracting displeased looks for our loud Americanisms, our poor and slovenly dress, our undisguised marijuana cigarettes. A moldering cloud of smoke followed us like a shadow and mixed with the odors of our recent travels and stagnant hygiene so that its smell was an independent and legitimate member of the group, as much a living person as any one of our various selves. Kennyboy, a product of the deep south, a blonde and drawling optimist who needed little more than luck and sunshine to be fully immune to all of life’s perils, insisted that we go take a tour of the house, “C’mon man, I read that book for real,” he added, “in my sixth grade. Now how many books can I say that about,” he questioned, philosophical, “that I’ve read them?” A faction of carnival beads swung from his neck like a pendulum, a subtle reminder that we had three days five hours seven minutes left in Amsterdam’s bizarre and liberal playfield: plans had to be decided upon, options scrutinized. Just hours ago Kennyboy had bought a trade paperback of the diary at a bookstore. I’d watched its black and white cover portrait turn colors from the blinking charms on the end of Kennyboy’s jewelry: four sets of breasts with small red lights inserted deep into their middles, nipples alit like Rudolph’s nose every two seconds, flashing on and off to allow the green glow within the plastic marijuana-shaped ornaments to concomitantly shine. “Maybe someone at the museum can sign it,” he said, “the book.” Limon took a long swig of the thermos, brown and black flecks of debris washed out upon his teeth, “I hate to break it to you if you didn’t make it to the end,” Limon added, “she’s very dead,” I agreed, “it was a long time ago.”
Shunning the attic, we plotted towards the Van Gogh museum and posed as sober tourists, our camouflage seamless till Limon licked at a ridge of thick paint upon a canvas. “It looked alive,” he insisted, “yet dormant. I woke it with a kiss like in Sleeping Beauty.” When a robust and dutiful security officer showed our group to the door, Kennyboy nearly left the diary on the museum bench he’d been sagging against. I was able to grab the book, the old photograph on the cover is very genial, it is hard not to feel like she is a relative, old photographs usually are of relatives: aunts, uncles, distant cousins. As we took a tram back to our hostel Kennyboy introduced three brightly colored pills into my palm and I opened the book and randomly began to read while my brain began with the fireworks, All I can think about with friends is to have a good time the book said.


We were not the only Americans in our shared hostel room. There was a rowdier duo of men than we, two muscular and competitive specimens whose shirts told jokes of a sportive nature, i.e., IT ISN’T GOING TO SUCK ITSELF. When they entered the room it was nearly dawn, one absentmindedly vomited as they argued whom their shared prostitute liked best. A great stir commenced and several guests evacuated their bunks, I proposed we join the exodus but Kennyboy saw a window of opportunity, “Wait,” he insisted, Limon began to smoke a joint which somewhat helped the room’s bouquet as the nonvomitous friend led his unlucky compatriot towards the bathroom, there was lots of oncoming traffic from the compatriot’s mouth, “Bro,” his friend kept saying, “Bro this is uncool,” and when they were safely inside the connected bathroom Kennyboy jumped like a sugar glider from his top bunk bed to theirs and removed a large amount of cash from their backpack. My mouth opened slightly but Limon was pulling me from the room, “Do you have everything?” he questioned, my only possessions were the book, a wool cap and an extra sweater, my passport and bills were safe within the stitched-in pocket of my hooded sweatshirt. I grabbed fair Anne and we left, Kennyboy leapt from the bed and ran forward, out the hallway, out the hostel, out the front door, Limon was not in such a hurry. “I demand a full refund,” he stated, pounding his fist against the front desk countertop, he smelled heavily of marijuana. The desk clerk raised a pierced eyebrow, she was half listening to Limon, half watching a techno video play on the wall-mounted television. “The Neanderthals you’ve forced us to room with have puked all over the bedding and carpet, I simply cannot be asked to stay in this establishment, if you transfer us to another room it is inevitable, since you clearly admit riff-raff no questions asked, that the same thing will happen once more, and I demand the payment I gave you be returned, for I was under the assumption that I was giving money in exchange for a good and a service, a safe, clean bed and a place to quietly sleep.” Limon wore a pair of small round sunglasses with holographic eyeballs printed on each lens, his tie-dye shirt had a ripped opening along the side of his ribs that seemed ready to display Christ’s mortal wound. “I am sorry our establishment did not meet your standards,” the girl mumbled, eyeing Limon’s fingernails. He had been frequently digging into the thermos, fishing around for the larger pieces of mushroom to snack on. “I’m afraid I can only return your previous night’s stay,” to which Limon made a noise of dissatisfaction but extended his palm outward. He promptly took off his patchwork hat, placed the bills inside and returned it to his head, then made a quick and sudden u-turn away from the front desk back to the common area, where an a la carte breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches was being served. The majority of our former roommates were sitting there, around the table with coffee, eyeing Limon as he layered a substantial amount of mustard onto bread. “How can you eat,” a large man remarked, looking ill, “how can you eat after seeing the vomit,” he was a European but his accent and features were vague, he flicked at a mole on his face. “I certainly cannot,” Limon assured him, “these are just for later, thinking ahead, preparation is of the utmost,” another woman was trying to figure out the difficulties of car rental and tried to approach me for assistance. I quickly took out the book and opened it, burying my nose inside, It is strange to live with a person you don’t know, I read, I had the urge to chuckle but of course could not, not under the circumstances, not knowing this girl had so horribly died.


Our search for Kennyboy was not fruitful, we looked all up and down the Vijzelgracht until we were back at the Heineken brewery and decided, two pills later, to pay and enter. “Did we mean to come here?” Limon asked. Uncertain, I assured him we had. Inside we embarked on a tour with a group of Japanese businessmen, the guide suggested we all step onto a platform and watch a short movie concerning a day in the life of a beer bottle. At some point during a simulation of the manufacturing process the platform came alive with vibration and movement to increase realism, we had to feel and experience what glass bottles of beer feel and experience. Limon and I were at a handicap and seemed unable, due to an abundance of sensory information, to remain standing up. Limon dropped to his stomach in an attempt to find his sea legs. This alarmed the Japanese businessmen, I was easily embarrassed on their behalf and encouraged Limon to stop grabbing their ankles, “He is only looking for some support,” I explained, “structurally,” and soon the lights around us erupted in a rainbow gyre, a disco atmosphere meant to mimic a party the beer bottles had been taken to after their purchase. This was the last straw, I joined Limon on the floor of the platform, “Don’t go,” we called to the businessmen, cultural barriers prevented them from understanding that nothing was truly amiss. The wild orbits of the simulation platform began to extract the change and miscellany from my pockets, Anne Frank’s text landed on the ground and proceeded to lightly bounce. I stilled the coins with my knuckled hand and considered how she was dead and I was alive, alive so close to her place of former hiding, being shaken like a bottle, I began to pass through pages and watched as the multicolored lights highlighted key affirmative sentences in the book: I always feel so strong and as if I can bear a great deal, and also, I feel so free and so young! “How can you read at a time like this?” Limon questioned, There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, “Am I urinating?” The overhead lights came on and the platform seized up and stopped, “did my urine break the ride?” Limon whispered, but we did not let our fears nor our appearance, Limon’s appearance rather, I hate to say the wetness was prominent, deter us from heading to the sample bar. Limon quickly surmised that he could remove his sunglasses and get a third drink, only two were allowed, on the grounds that he would not be recognized without them. Yet he was incorrect. When we left we had the misfortune of running into the masculine duo from the hostel, now recovered from their night of debauch, “Play it very cool,” I advised Limon, “we’ll calmly tell them we don’t know Kennyboy, that we have no idea where he’s even at, the last part is completely true,” but when I turned I saw that Limon had already begun to flee, in fact he had a very advantageous head start, and the victims of Kennyboy’s thievery had seized their eyes upon me as a more readily obtainable target. I started running, cutting down every side street imaginable, weaving in and out of narrow pathways filled with shops and construction. Even after I’d ran for quite some time I dared not look back to see if I had lost my captors, I continued running even faster when I saw it: The Anne Frank Huis, I remembered her summary of the attic, I don’t think there is a more comfortable hiding place in Amsterdam.


But I did not want to go inside, I immediately took the rest of the pills in my possession for courage. I had also read the book around middle school, though I was not in Kennyboy’s class, and had fantasized, at the time, about being Jewish and in hiding, had seen persecution as a game. There were many guests as I entered, I had not eaten in some time and the pills were fast-acting, I began to feel a numbing almost instantly, around my nose or another central area of my face, the stairs were so narrow that I had to turn sideways, a guide was going on about words I couldn’t quite grasp, perhaps she was speaking in another language, no, I was sweating and secreting more than I meant to, it began to feel like several people were staring so when we reached the top of the attic I opened her book and pretended to read, this was a justification for my being there, I decided, if I was looking at the book no one could question me, except a man did, “Are you alright, son?” he asked, for a moment he was actually my father,

We all live with the object of being happy, I told him, quoting, hoping these sage words would dismiss his interest. There were photos of her everywhere, even in healthy times she looked very delicate, very small and frail, very unlike a strapping and muscular adolescent in uniform, a male drunk on bravery and slogan who had found his life over in battle. Around me hung explanations of how the theater of war had admitted these civilians as equal meat, how the pregnant were slaughtered like enemy spies, how knives spilled open the bellies of infants like sacks of rice. “Your nose is bleeding,” a man said, and I instinctively opened the book and pressed its pages to my face. “Thank you, I’m going to go have a seat, breathe in and out,” I sat down on a narrow wooden bench that had no back or arm rests, I could only hunch over towards the ground, and this, oddly, was when the nausea started, when the reeling began, it seemed I was in danger of people’s limbs, at least that was my sense of things, I looked down at the book and the blood was everywhere, I have now reached the stage that I don’t care much whether I live or die, I began weeping and the vomit was only secondary, all of this was cathartic, I wept and wept. It was minutes before a uniformed trio approached me. They were wearing rubber gloves and insisted I follow them, I did, I acquiesced and went where I was told to go, outside to an ambulance. In the vehicle there was a bed covered with paper and I pressed against it immediately, the blood on my face and neck was drying and it felt quite tight, the nurse above me was beautiful with a full hypodermic needle, “For calm you,” she said in a heavy accent, I reached towards her bosom but felt a great stick and when I woke up I was in a hospital room and Kennyboy and Limon were sitting in nearby chairs, both looking at a magazine with great interest, its cover image displayed a woman fornicating a goat. When they noticed I was awake they rushed over and unhooked my intravenous drips, Kennyboy reached into his pocket and displayed a large bag of mushrooms, “You don’t have any time to waste,” he insisted, we were due at the airport in seventeen hours, I pulled on my pants but kept the hospital gown, it was cleaner than my previous garment. “I met some chicks,” said Kennyboy, “they like Americans. They will hang out with us and we hardly have to pay them,” “You know they were going to give you a catheter,” Limon told me, “but I assured them you’d wake up soon,” and I had woken up, I’d been saved, And as for us, we are fortunate.

Alissa Nutting received her MFA degree from the University of Alabama, where she served as Editor for the Black Warrior Review. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, Fence, BOMB, the fairy tale anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, and many other journals. She is the author of the short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (Starcherone, October 2010). Alissa is currently a PhD candidate at UNLV, where she has received Cobain and Schaeffer Fellowships in Fiction. She is fiction editor of the literary journal Witness and managing editor of Fairy Tale Review.