fiction Issue 27

The Joy You Feel

by Richard B. Simon

Light Music Photograph 13 by Roger Camp

Content warning: This story contains graphic depictions of sexual violence. If you prefer not to read it, please return to Issue 27 to select another piece. To find out why we like this piece, read the Issue 27 editor’s note A Season in Isolation

Put it in your pocket don’t forget your keys you don’t need your keys, ding dong. Don’t call yourself ding dong that’s what they’d call you. They got big and you are nothing. It’s a duck hunting jacket. Deep in the deep pocket built for dead ducks. 

Keys smokes matches put on your boots tie them too tight untie them. Take the boots off, start again, pull wool socks up tight. Put the boots back on and tie them good. They’re all stretched out already slipping down. Can’t have that. New socks. Start again. Start again. Take a deep breath. Breathe. 

Stretch up to the ceiling like Dr. Marina says, get big like a bear now touch toes. There’s the eviction letter on the floor in dust and hair pick it up pick it up later stand up straight. Take a drink of whiskey for the walk. Two drinks. Put the flask in your klepto. Take it out. Set it on the counter. Put it back in your klepto. They’ll stop you and search you can’t have that. Set it on the little walnut entry table. Put on your hat, pull its black wool down to your rims. You don’t need a hat leave it no tuck your hair up into it. Out into the hall. Lock the door. This is why you need your keys, ding dong.

Don’t call yourself ding dong. 

Down the stairs and out the gate make sure it latches. Down the dirty red brown marble stoop. Don’t look back. 

Walk or take the bus? The bus will be too fast. 

Walk. Clear your head. The walk takes forty-six and one-half minutes. Walk past the corner store the butcher shop the DJ shop the coffee shop, Brinks and Howdy drinking beers out front.

Keep walking. 

Where you running off to? Hot date?


Who you going to see?


Your old band, huh?

Big of you, man. 

Fuckers put you on the list?

Keep walking.

You’re not on the list. 

They don’t know you’re coming. 

No one knows you’re coming. 

Watch the car pass and another right behind it, electric. Driverless. 

Walk past the old warehouse space on the fourth floor of what used to be Subversive, when you were a person and the world was whiskey, glowing tubes, cloth wrapped wires, guitars and laughing, grass, big glass factory windows over the bridge, sing it out with brothers beers guitars and drums, squeeze rage confusion loneliness into the neck, the steel sash grid, the island, the old abandoned prison, the birdman, the sharks into nickel wound strings, agitate magnetic fields hot rodded pickups through the pots and out the jack the coiled patch cord through distortion wah reverb tubes glowing orange hot current and transconductance in perfect balance through copper coiled in the weight of thick black transformers, copper coils around cardboard diaphragms, rattle the paper cones their powder coated punched steel baskets, hum the silver grill cloth, shake the atmosphere with squall with whine with searing bend, rattle the walls, fill the high ceilings with power chords the rafters I beams dissonance. Shake together, all together, all your feelings in the half-lit darkness almost taste it

flush the heat of failure

Shake it off.

Light Music Photograph 26 by Roger Camp
Light Music Photograph 26 by Roger Camp

Past the supermercado past Burrito Bassosexto check the time. Slow down, have a smoke, get there once they’re well onstage a few songs in. Look at that couple walking their overcoats woven together, arms in each other’s pockets each other’s coats, leaning together on three legs walking their secret licking digital vodka from each other’s assholes gang of fresh-faced coders drunk on the street for the first time laughing, laughing. Three girls turn to watch them pass, one checks her phone. Another, worried, steps into the street like she is on film a movie from the old time like she’s looking to flag a cab past Chick’s One-Thirty you’re on last, drink and drink the nerves away piss your pants onstage midsong don’t stop playing till it shorts out your wah. Black out. Past the alley the old queen kisses your neck, chills run down you his moustache like pipe tobacco they’d never let you live it down

Put your hand in your duck hunting pocket touch it don’t touch it hold it tight. Quit drinking quit smoking quit playing get a tech job move up. Run a crew run all the crews the light is changing. Walk. Walk slow and steady. Walk. 

Watch everyone get bigger, their tech money girlfriends, their old money wives the lucha libre shop its racks of masks metallic white and green and red their hollow eyes your black shadow cross their sequin crosses their flaming barbed wire hearts. The family homes with their iron gates. Cross the big wide streets.


The light is changing. Cars veer, blast their horns. Walk slow and straight. Feel it its weight its heat its cold.

Step over piss and broken bottle to the filthy curb the homeless camp nestled around thick concrete footing the blue-grey iron riveted leg, blue tarps, dirty tents, cardboard boxes, shopping carts. Cut through chain link fence the loops of concertina wire the bloodstained, rusted strings the bridge cables and everything falls. Polish the fifty-nine they’re making you audition for your own fucking band the freeway roars above you, roars. Take a drink new strings shine silver the band you started with them truck hits steel plate—flinch—they made it you’re going to make it. Take a drink quit your job take a drink tell your asshole boss to fuck himself. Congratulations, take a drink you’ve given up everything ding dong they are humiliating you again. Take a drink. Polish the fifth. Get into the Falcon lay it on the white leather back bench. The freeway roars above you. Look up into its guts its girders its pigeon spikes and nets. It roars the river.

Light Music Photograph 39 by Roger Camp
Light Music Photograph 39 by Roger Camp

Play man hunt in the woods around the river far from houses. Have to shit. Hide and hide and lean against a tree take a shit they find you shitting squatting grab your pants still down they mock your run your throw your long red hair, call you girl and faggot, beat you fight them wrestle them scream and cry to get them off your shirt up over your head your jeans around your ankles shout no, beg they swing you swing you soar they throw you, bellyflop the sting, sink, the weight of frigid river pins you to the gravel mom learning you died like this. Open your eyes the sand in perfect focus minnows darting crayfish hunkers on his hinges grasping down behind a rock hunker down beside him river rushing gravel rolling leave your body, rise something grabs your hair your nape and pulls you out, breathe, a fist wrapped all the way around your arm below your shoulder. Thigh deep he carries you out cradled in his moustache, his flanneled arms. Sets you on your feet on the shore. Cry in your nakedness, hyperventilate, you’ll have your vengeance when you’re he wraps you in his flannel, his duck hunting jacket, the river roaring past 

the freeway fills your ears under the river of grey painted steel, the last vestiges of exhaust from old cars, their engines breathing coal and fire amid the electric whisper the lonely silence

of all these years working not working eating sleeping shitting drinking pissing cleaning not cleaning cooking not cooking playing not playing paying bills not paying living and not living, dying and not dying, listening seething feeling breaking waiting

waiting to get the call

The sky is orange black, the fog still lit in sodium out here, no LEDs out here. Not yet. Down the hill, past the loading dock the service counter, pick up the 71 from that guy in Ohio grimed in cigarette smoke, cut its strings off strip off the chrome, scrub rust from the bridge with plastic scour pads, fingergunk from every fret with alcohol swabs, polish the finish with a piece of old tour shirt, make it yours, sign for the vibro, sign for the vintage reverb can, sign for the pedals, harps in every key, the roboloaders zip in and out the selfdriving semi moving their records their t-shirts their signature guitars amps pedals sticks, tickets for their fan club for their super secret club show where the mighty return to earth for just one night. Clench your teeth pull out a smoke stop walking strike the match draw the powdered taste of sulfur the techie market its wheatgrass juice fountain its no cashiers its robot barista whirring twelve dollar coffees in degradable bamboo cups Kathunk 

Light Music Photograph 26 by Roger Camp
Light Music Photograph 26 by Roger Camp

polish the fifth and drive across the city cranking Rory from the tape deck wired in bolted below the dash. Pedestrian he pops out of the way jackrabbit hit brakes imagine thunk your grill your engine block liquefying his body into rubber limbs slow down, ding dong take the wrong one way street and circle, eyes skipping in their tracks and try to breathe and hold the broad white hood between the lines. Turn around the church. Turn around the car dealer. Turn around the giant crater where they’ve torn down an entire block. 

Swing into the studio lot cut it quick around Romero’s little german sport wagon too quick too tight the chrome rear fender snags, think: back off slow down stop get out. Stomp. lurch forward his quarterpanel rips his rear door pops, squeal down its flank mash chrome into the concrete wall slow motion lash into the nylon belt

Squeeze eyes shut grit teeth clench fists the taste of disaster feel it in your hand. Its strength. They’ll hear you feel you.


Past what used to be a warehouse, a woodshop, a baseball bar and now a block-long plywood wall, four stories of stick construction and coming soon a battery of million-dollar microcondos, and blocks ahead the sign the neon arrow

Need to shit 

manhunt in the woods far from houses by the river hide and hide and hide and hide they 

catch you shitting 


hold you down immobile laughing they egg him on he he pokes your asshole with the broken stick to knock the shit off stick it in they laugh they stab against your asshole and then the shit as lubricant it he laughing he pushes it in scream he pushes it in deeper feel the little knots inside you the broken end perforate you as he it in and out you scream and nothing can not breathe they laughing he pushes it in forever it     you they laugh he shoves it in laughing its like a tail a faggot tail they laugh they grab you arms legs jeans around your ankles laughing swing you out and kill you to the    river they 

Stop, lean against this brick wall, breathe.

Close your eyes the hardcore club that enormous big fat metalhead his scraggly teenage whiskers spikes out from his leather vest meat cyclone flinging arms and legs his meat and bone a wrecking ball they push you flinch reel back the crowd pushes you heart pounding forward drowning rage amoeba hits you knocks you to the concrete floor they pull you up before you’re stomped and everybody surges in, you cock your elbows, onstage sinews taut contorted mouth spits drops of rage into the kids amped up on speed caffeine and cigarettes, girls heads half shaved, black lipstick eyes in black she calls you hippie kisses you, feel it, feel it in your pocket. Out front lean against the brick police cars whirling red and blue and bottles breaking the joy you feel

someone walking toward you

drive the van south into seattle the rest of the band asleep in a line of traffic bumper to bumper riding draft a semi taps its brakes and swerves into the left lane, twist the wheel stay on its tail, glimpse what it what you swerved to miss the two right lanes of traffic stopped completely dead, in front of those two cars a lump a mass of limbs and flailing arms and legs and hair writhing reaching blocking someone walking toward it

passes you

stretch up like a bear and breathe, walk past the park, imagine going there instead, lay in the grass look up into the sky, imagine fireflies and bats, stars and meteors, aurora rippling, feel the earth tug into its green pubic hair, into its crumbling skin, its flesh warm with decay, rebirth, its rocky bone, its molten iron core. 

They are accumulating like spiders, keep walking. 

Light Music Photograph 51 by Roger Camp
Light Music Photograph 51 by Roger Camp

Down the empty block, the abandoned gas station coming soon another bourgie coffee shop, another yoga bakery, another hipster clothes boutique with hundred-fifty-dollar shirts. Past the line of cars, the last warehouse in San Francisco. 

stray guitar licks echo down the block

The graying are still out front smoking. 

The wall plastered with flyers pop stars ads for rackmount servers


Bass and kick drum thrum the plate glass window this song you wrote the tiny checks pile up in hair and dust

marquee their secret name your insides wrench

The bouncer grimaces his baseball hat his scrappy beard. Drop your head avert eyes hold your ticket up Jill takes it stamps you waves you in unknowing blast of heat and sweat and steam whiskey and beer.

They are onstage, strangers, like you never knew them flush flush chest the heat and neck 

squeeze through 

don’t even look 

get a drink pay cash stand at the back still barely room push up between the soundboard and the stage somebody grabs you by both shoulders moves you out of the way

touch it hard and hot in your pocket fingerpick it play your lead across it, what you’d play right here

somebody says it’s him it’s not him he wouldn’t be here it is him shhh maybe he’ll play

don’t sing along don’t crunching all in synchrony don’t romero singing your lines don’t relf betraying you james his drums you pilgrimaged with him to san luis obispo this other guitarist you’ve never met this music this song this flowered melody across the dark foreboding grunt the shifts in time this music born in your cells

finish your drink chomp ice set the glass on this table right here, someone will come get it set your glasses on this counter right here, someone will come get them, put the keys on this table right here why not knock a bottle over smashes on the floor no one notices crunch the glass beneath your boot right here they’re rocking hard, bodies thrashing all in synch make your way through them without touching you’re a million miles away 

deep down in the pocket

slip between these big haired girls 

this bronson with the biker vest

burning your hand your hand burning

front and center behind these kids their cratered cheeks their greasy hair their white t-shirts this redhaired faggot

feel it in your hand its iron grip this melody you wrote 

reality warp around you echo cavernous the lines streaming away from everyone stream away from you the river of neutrinos photons quarks and strings 

everything a tiny string vibrating

vibrating romero romero he did this to you they all did this to you

caesura in the quiet part the swish of snare this pretty lead

the amps the lights the smell of tolex, sweat, beer, whiskey, vapored grass a whiff of cigarette

it’s iron in your iron grip time slips into the slipstream it the center of the cosmos it romero two magnetic poles

his pirate patch 

his mirror eye

take off your hat it drops the floor 

take it out time bends aaround you time and space iinflection point in history

the light catches it you raise it silverwhite and glistening purple in the stage light 

the lights go hot and white the spot on you the disco ball above like gravity the people part like sheaves of wheat it you romero it between your arm is straight the gleaming steel his mirror eye

he sees you

they see you

they all see you

they all see you now

Richard B. Simon is an American rock journalist and writing professor. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Juxtapoz, Relix (where he is a contributing editor), at Addicted to Noise, MTV and, in Chicago Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. An expatriated New Yorker and exiled San Franciscan, he is currently living as a climate refugee in the Pacific Northwest.

Roger Camp is the author of three photography books including the award winning Butterflies in Flight (2002, Thames & Hudson) and Heat (2008, Charta). His work has appeared in numerous journals including The New England Review, Phoebe, Folio and the New York Quarterly. His work is represented by the Robin Rice Gallery, NYC.