Fiction ยท 03/18/2009

Life Would Be This Way

To Courtney, being even remotely cognizant of the possibility of one’s obsessive compulsive disorder seemed an indicator of obsessive compulsive disorder.

She thinks she has obsessive compulsive disorder but doesn’t. Or at least she thinks she doesn’t. It was probably just loneliness, a way to count away the time.

Matt has hair all over his body. His hairs clog up the drain. While brushing her teeth, Courtney obsesses about the hair: not just ‘hair in the drain’ as an abstraction but each individual hair in the drain. She can separate each one in her head.

Foam drips from her well-brushed mouth onto the floor. She imagines slipping on a puddle and cracking her neck.

“One two three four five six seven eight nine this is boring,” she thinks. Courtney does not suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, she does not think. She cannot even count to ten.


Each friend was sick of their life, their dull jobs, their new cell phones which do not transcend. Inhaling and exhaling was like eating and going to the bathroom. The redundancy of in and out.

“I feel like I’ve seen our lives before,” David says.

“Relax bro,” Matt says.

Matt’s salary is not competitive, which causes him unhappiness. He is the type of person who needs to distinguish between his ‘day job’ and who he really is. He played a rapist on Court TV once. “I do screen,” he says at parties. Every morning he makes his penis turn hard and purple in the shower while Courtney brushes her teeth.

Courtney turns the oven on to make sure it’s on so she can turn it off. She turns off the oven. Because she didn’t ‘feel’ it turn off, she turns it on again, so she can, this time for sure, ‘feel’ and know with certainty that it’s really off, when she turns it, the oven, off. Just to really make sure, she turns it on again. Now that it’s on, for no reason other than to make it possible to turn off, she turns it off, with uncertainty. She has desensitized herself to the on/off dichotomy. Unable to ‘feel’ or assess its status, she stays in the apartment for another week, until it burns down with her in it, which reminds her: she needs to buy anti-flammable skin gel to cover her entire body. She will as soon as she leaves the apartment.

The oven is on.

Matthew is a financial analyst. He is not Matt, who is a struggling actor. Matthew’s salary is competitive. He leased a German car that smells like leather on the inside. Everything on his desk is at right angles. His stapler is parallel with his stapler remover. Matthew ponders and soon realizes that a stapler remover would remove a stapler, which is absurd yet possible.

“My stapler is next to my staple remover as there is no such thing as a stapler remover,” he thinks. He taps his stack of post-it notes, arranged in the color spectrum.

The economy is modeled after physics: thermodynamics, entropy, big-bang. Imagine a lake with a drain at the bottom. The rocks stay in the lake, the pebbles stay on the drain. Only sand and sediment go through the drain and into toilets. Flushing forces the sand and sediment back into the lake. The only difference is now there’s fecal matter everywhere. The brainstorming sessions were not working. Pricks with ties. The Fuji bottled waters were good though.

Matthew looks at a pie chart. Something is 17% of something. It’s purple.


Every day after work it’s to the same cafe and the one sofa that is always empty, so they sit in it. Matt orders a latte, bites into a stale biscotti, and picks up an issue of GQ. He rubs his face with a cologne ad. Courtney brushes non-existent crumbs off her pant leg.

David, prone to melodrama, puts his face into his hands. “What is wrong with us?” he says.

“—-?” asks Matthew. His anti-depressant medication causes dry mouth and he cannot afford to waste saliva on words.

“We are like that fucking show,” David says.


“Forget it.”

Matt smells like Dolce & Gabbana now. He walks over to a woman and leans against a counter. The woman’s eyes become more and more narrow. She crosses her arms and inhales with a restraint that can only be indignation. And the body language is not good. He comes back looking defeated.

“I’m gonna,” he says, “like, masturbate five times tonight.”


Then Lisa comes in with her acoustic guitar and plays a really bad song about children in Africa.


The friends were becoming more and more concerned that their lives were like a very popular television show. It all seemed so familiar: the eccentric furniture, the perennial self-affirming haircut, the slow swelling in the face. From dry humping to cereal for dinner, it wasn’t fun anymore — the continual self-induced trite drama of their small lives. The post-college thrill of living in the city had lost its charm. Others were getting married, having babies, while their ceiling was still painted with stars. They felt threatened by time. It had melted like Dali’s clock, the one mounted on foam core and stuck to the wall with double sided tape.


David digs a hole in the park. He is looking for bird bones. A homeless man without any teeth gums a cigarette. Jennifer hops on one leg, anything to be seen.

“Look at me,” she says.

“I’m looking for something,” he says.

David is not happy with his trowel. He considers returning it, but fears he lost the receipt. David does not find any bones. He needs to dig deeper.

They moved in a month ago. Jennifer still can’t go to the bathroom when he’s around. She only wants him to know half of her. Morning light slants through the window like some cereal commercial.

Jennifer did yoga. David did the robot. Life was okay.


Matt stares at his medium-sized purple penis. —Should I water the cactus? —Is the universe an oval? These are questions Matt asks himself. Matthew is working late tonight and Matt has the apartment to himself. He goes to the fridge, takes out two avocados, and makes a large bowl of guacamole.

“Fuck,” he says aloud.


“There’s no tortilla chips.”

The conversation ends there. Matt abandons the guacamole. He considers going to the corner store to get some tortilla chips but decides not to. He sits on the couch and gets hard again. This month he is focusing on ass. Nobody loves him. The guacamole turns black.

“Matthew,” he thinks.

Matthew has been leaving the office later and later. The economy doesn’t sleep, and neither does Matthew. The anti-depressants are not working. His mouth is so dry he cannot swallow.

“—-,” he says.

Something is 45% of something. It’s orange.

He turns off his monitor and looks out his window at the long avenue below: two tendrils of light, red and white, the cars coming, the cars going. He thinks of all the arbitrary destinations people assign themselves, the blind pulse of unclear goals, the constant moving away from where one is. From his fortieth floor office, the muted honks sound like seals.

It hurts so much to say, but he does it anyways.

“So no one ever told you life would be this way,” he says to the window.

Finally, the syllables are out, the orphaned component to something that actually makes sense. He can see his face in the window, slightly transparent in the night. A little cloud a breath appears, then disappears.


Jimmy Chen’s writing has appeared in Juked, elimae, Thieves Jargon, failbetter, among others. He lives in San Francisco, California. Read more at