A Party Already

Matt Rowan

The idea of it wasn’t quick to be gotten rid of. I’d been invited to a party, again.

Suffice it to say, after some internal debate, I attended.

I’d brought a balloon, because they say this is what custom dictates, the kind of thing one must do. I brought with me a baguette, as well. Bringing the baguette had nothing to do with etiquette. People at the party will want to snack. Bread could be a part of snacking.

It made for a strange ride on the elevated train, a balloon in one hand and a baguette propped up against my shoulder like a rifle. I sat primly, in a way that indicated I wanted not to be in any way approached. Occasionally I felt my nose twitch, which arched one side of my mustache and then the other.

It wasn’t long before a gang of two street toughs took an interest in me. They asked me about my baguette. They asked if I thought it was a rifle or something. I said that of course I didn’t think that. I was not a cretin, after all. They took my baguette from me. One of them broke it over his left thigh and tossed the two parts of baguette to opposite ends of the train car. In response, I thought, “If I had done that, these people would be outraged. But when it’s a street tough, there is no outrage.”

Another of the street toughs removed a switchblade from his pocket. He aimed it threateningly at the balloon. “I’m gonna pop it,” he said, making a jabbing motion.

“No, leave the balloon,” the street tough who’d destroyed the baguette said. “The balloon isn’t part of this.”

“Yeah,” said the street tough with the switchblade, pocketing it again.

They left the train at the next stop, both shaking their heads at the enormity of their shared experience, the powerful drama. It had been overwhelming. I could only imagine.

Don’t mind them, a familiar voice in my head said, they would not have hurt you.

I tussled with a man on the street corner, when I was only about half a block from the party. We tussled absurdly for too long. I never relinquished my grip on that balloon, though.

I can’t even remember what started the tussle.

I think had something to do with my annoyance. I was already annoyed by what I’d experienced on the train, the lost baguette. The man on the street corner seemed to have something to hide. I was determined to get it out of him.

I asked, “Well, what have you to say for yourself?”

He seemed surprised, as though he had nothing to say to me, a perfect stranger. He looked around, as though maybe I’d been castigating a different person than he. But, realizing this was not the case, he said, “What did I do?”

I indicated to him that he should know, he did it.

After a silence I said, “Nothing, I suppose. I suppose you did nothing. But I wanted to be sure.”

And then I had a strange impulse, a familiar but strange impulse, and we tussled.

At the party, I sat on the couch. I still had the balloon but was giving real thought to letting it go, now that the time seemed right. I let it go and it went straight up to the ceiling, which was fairly high by the standard of most average home’s ceiling heights. It struck the ceiling and bounced off of it a few times before settling. The balloon was completely out of reach. Unless there was a very tall person at this party, and I didn’t believe there was. It would have to be an extraordinarily tall person, and I knew there was no one like that in attendance, such a rarity it would be.

I realized soon after letting go of my balloon that this was not the party I’d been invited to, and in fact, though I’d made a cursory greeting to my hosts, I had not determined whether they were people I in fact knew, in any sense of the word.

I hadn’t wanted to come to this party and now I felt a strange compulsion to stay, as though the real fun was going to start the minute I left. Everyone was looking me over with eyes suggesting they were working up the courage to tell me it was not my party to attend, and that they’d prefer I go.

“Where would I go? I have nowhere else to go. Plus, you’ll notice the problem of my balloon. Unless you’d like to keep it? I can’t get it down from the ceiling. You understand my predicament.”

And then I heard the song that had been dogging me for weeks, stuck in my head:

Brain worms, they’re in your brain
Got to have them,
They tell you thiiiinnnnggggsss

The brain worms had wanted to party, and so this explained what I was doing, here. One of the hosts had retrieved my balloon and was preparing to hand it over to me, when my legs were taken from my control.

The brain worms wished to dance, likewise.

My legs moved mechanically but rhythmically, as I felt the brain worms dictate how I should be. How I should party.

People at the party were mostly really unhappy with me, but the brain worms wouldn’t be denied. I danced on into the night, feeling really fatigued. It was almost torture.

The lights had been turned off. The party’s hosts had gone to bed. They told me to lock up when I was finished dancing and “carrying on.” They said that, “carrying on.”

They said to leave the balloon.

Matt Rowan lives in Los Angeles. He founded and edits Untoward. He’s author of the collections, Big Venerable (CCLaP, 2015), Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013) and another, How the Moon Works, forthcoming from Cobalt Press in 2020. He’s a contributing writer and voice actor for The Host podcast series. His work has appeared in Gigantic Worlds Anthology, Another Chicago Magazine, Split Lip, Booth Journal, Electric Literature, Necessary Fiction and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others.