Jul/Aug 2019  •   Fiction

David Would Have Loved You

by Kyra Rogers

Multimedia artwork by Belinda Subraman

Multimedia artwork by Belinda Subraman

The warning on the whiteboard was in Kool-Aid red marker and a veiled reference to David Foster Wallace. It was still fresh, wet with tiny bubbles at its curves and stops, at the head of my classroom right before the start of my class. I could've guessed that sooner or later one of the undergrads would pull something like this... Or could it be Professor Clark? No. It was a pissed off undergrad, probably mad 'cause I gave them a C- on what was actually a D paper. But who? I took the eraser to it but it only smeared, so I grabbed my spray and scrubbed it with paper towel until only a faded maraschino stain remained. Then the students trickled in. They'd pay.

I waited for the stragglers and then got down to business.

"Before we get started on Gravity's Rainbow, I'm just wondering—has anyone here ever read David Foster Wallace's The Pale King?" They all played dumb, and the guilty one knew better than to give himself up that easy.

Just after, Brody, a perma-baked sophomore, snuck in and sat down in the back. "You're late." I said. Brody shrugged, and I couldn't help but notice the carmine splatter on his forearm. I had to ask.

"Brody, what's that on your arm?"

"Oh, yeah, we were tie-dying before class, and I guess I got a little on me."

Sniffing around for a lead, I returned to the group discussion on the assigned material.

"What do you guys think about the book so far?" I asked.

They only complained about how they didn't like it and/or didn't get it, and I'm no fan of Pynchon myself, but I wasn't about to show solidarity with any of these neophytes. Brody turned out to be the only one with an actual question.

"I feel like the whole thing when Tyrone's having sex, it's like—maybe Pynchon's saying something about sexual energy being a way out of total subjugation to an entropic deterministic causal force?"

He'd been overdo for such a contribution to the class discussion, but today was not about Pynchon.

"Interesting." I replied.

The look on his face tipped me off. Got him. I paused class to walk over to the window and let in the warm breeze, but it didn't stop the chill spreading through me.

"Class dismissed."

Just as my blackmailer was launching out of his seat, I shot at him—"Brody, a word?"

"Yeah, Mason?" he answered.

"What do you know about secrets within secrets?" I asked.

He laughed, "Rad—What is that, some kind of zen koan?" A closer look at him told me I'd made a mistake. I sent him on his way.

"You alright?" He asked in such a way as to inform me of how not-alright I seemed.

"Just a flu, I think."

"Feel better soon, huh?"


From the classroom, I went straight home to my desk for some quality time with my dissertation, but the screen just glared mean and LED white. I scrolled through and reread it from the top.

Oblivion Revisited: Loneliness and Postmodern Literature at the Dawn of the Digital Age.

My phone chirped. It was my roommate Casey asking about our plans to see his girlfriend's band, Daffodil Sacrifice, later. I didn't say anything back, and despite my efforts, I immediately found myself knee deep in a video compilation of dissatisfied customer freak outs. Focus.

"Oblivion Revisited: Loneliness and Postmodern Literature at the Dawn of the Digital Age." Okay. So far so good.

"The chatroom culture of the early 1990's..." I continued.

God, what was I even doing in grad school?

I closed the file, took a couple bong rips, and turned on Bloodmine III: Bloodmine in Space, an MMO whose ad copy both warned and boasted of the game's propensity to curse its players with Complex PTSD. "Four out of five psychiatrists agree—a mental health hazard or your money back." In loving memory, I dedicate all Bloodmine gameplay to doctor number five, who they say jumped out the window during testing. And screaming my frustrations at well-matched Russian twelvies for the rest of the day did me good. I was my old self by nightfall, just in time to catch Daffodil Sacrifice in Laguna at Sanctum. I'm kind of into their bass player, too: Andrea, an MA in Critical Theory; a viva la raza-Sontag marsala, courtesy of Generation Z. The place was still pretty empty when I got there, so I ordered a drink and watched the opener set up. The band came in soon after, Andrea in tow.

She had these huge black boots on, and she'd shaved her head a few days before. She was braless in an army green tank top, and her non-GMO, all-organic, free range boobs were like this promise of a brighter tomorrow; not to mention her ever-growing tufts of armpit hair tempered, in my loins, what might've otherwise been a raging, throbbing personal inconvenience. She seemed to be going full-Furiosa, which should've bothered me but only intensified my longing. As soon as her giant boots were done clomping over to me, I asked, "What African warlord's corpse did you steal those off of?"

"Your mom." She purred, woozy from a script. "By the way, I listened to 'Big Red Son' on YouTube." She said.

"Oh yeah?" I contained myself, trying to match her level of chill.

"Yeah, it was bold. Must've sucked to have such true respect and deep abiding love for such a, like, reviled art form." She yawned, then continued, "Especially, in the 90s? Man, can you even imagine?"

"Pornos with, like, production budgets." I scoffed.

"Pre-sex positivity." A touch of sheepishness in this last declaration. "After hearing him read that, I kind of think he's underrated, David Foster Wallace."

"Right? But he was super famous at one point." I said. "There was this one time when I was little, we were all out in LA and got completely mobbed by fans."

"I can't believe your family's so talented." She said, which summoned the echo of my maddening trouble. My mantra of damnation jerked me all the way out of the there-and-then: She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows...

Then a man behind her at the bar stole the scene. He pulled my attention in, in the way a high-power magnet pulls in an iPhone. Everything scrambled and broke. Just when I thought I'd escaped his gravitational pull, he moved—lifted his glass to get the very last drops of booze from underneath the ice and sucked me right back into orbit. I heard Andrea calling to me in her ground control sing-song, "Hello? Earth to Mason..."

But I was on the moon in a freak, heatwave-lunatic summer. And the man walked from the bar to the bathroom, left to right. Behind him, a trail of my disemboweled, pulverized perceptual facilities. Reality smeared like murky hobo piss dragged across a dusty windshield by way of haggard, frayed wiper—left to right.

"Excuse me." I said to Andrea, and I followed the David-Foster-Wallace-looking man into the bathroom. A dead ringer.


I walked in on his atonal marimba urine-stream tinkle softening into its trickle crescendo fade-out, pure fever. I had to stop myself from touching him when I saw he was at least as real as anything else, and even a little moreso than myself. I went over to the sink and pruned. I ran some water through my hair and smoothed the sides of my dirty blond man-bun, plotting, keeping track of the him in the mirror. As he zipped up, his phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket and typed.

He noticed my staring, and before he could say anything about it I asked, "Hey, anyone ever tell you you look a little like David Foster Wallace?"

The wary look on his face changed to intrigue as he tried to place the name before remembering.

"The author." He said.

"You know him."

"Yeah, I read Infinite Jest a few years ago. Guess I never saw what he looked like." He washed his hands thoroughly. Then shook them a little before grabbing a paper towel.

"I could never finish it, myself. Too long." I said, over confident I'd get to taste the savory wicked ambrosia of his agreeing.

"I haven't met anyone else who has."

Bitter surprise.

"You got through all of it?" I asked to make sure.

"I almost wish I hadn't, to be honest." He went on, "I got no problem with long books. I read, like, Don Quixote, and I love Dostoevsky. Read The Idiot twice." He wiped his glasses on his shirt, then added, "Wallace was seriously prophetic in Infinite Jest. It's just... he didn't reach me the same way, y'know?"

Enemy. Offense taffy-twisted my pinkening face.

"Jeez. What was he, your uncle or something?" He—spitting image turned loogie essentia—joked, supplying a friendly punch in the arm.

I muscled my lips into a mirror of this man's relaxed and easy smile, which widened at my efforts. Then he got back on his phone. Prick.


I aimed to flee the country for the remotest, loneliest island monastery, but ran into Casey right outside the bathroom door. He was all hot to introduce me to some Nobody Special in digital arts, out here for the week from an Ivy League.

"You've met my roommate Mason, right? David Foster Wallace was, like, his uncle or something."

"You don't have to announce it." I said, feigning modesty.

"Man, it's, like, that's exciting, but also, y'know—sorry for your loss and everything. Infinite Jest was amazing though." the Nobody Special said.

"Thanks." I told him. "I actually never finished it." Looking at him, I could tell I'd get a hit of the good stuff this time.

"Oh, ya, neither did I." He said. "I didn't wanna say it, what with him being your uncle and everything." And we laughed. Mmm, that ambrosia.

"It is pretty long."

"You ever wonder what he'd be like now? He'd be what—fifty? sixty?"

"Yeah, sometimes..." I sighed.

"In your opinion—y'know, since you knew him and everything, you think he would've kept his hair long like that? Even after fifty?"

"He cut it toward the end." I said, then remembered the guy I'd just met in the bathroom. He wouldn't've looked like David, he would've looked more like David's son.

"For real?" He asked.

And I'm not an authority, but I think David probably would've liked this guy. Ivy League and no pretense; kind, too. "David would've loved you," I told him.

How many times will I tell this lie before I die?

"Woah." He gave me the look David's fans gave me when I'd bless them that way.

It is a wicked and dangerous ambrosia.

Then the mic checks were over, and the band came on loud and fast and slaughtered all conversation. I would've stayed, but the crowd got too rowdy, so I put up my hood and took French leave through the smoking patio out back. As I got in my car and reached for the seatbelt, chunks of Brody's comment about Gravity's Rainbow came back to me. What about the power of sexual energy?

I put my car in reverse, and just when I thought I was in the clear, a conspicuous thud... and the car jerked a little. I screeched to a short stop. Fuuhhhh—. I got out and crept around to the back of my car. I'd accidentally hit the Dead Ringer from the bathroom. He was down on the ground, a little stunned. No blood, thank God.

"Oh man, I'm so sorry," I said.

He moved to sit upright. "Good thing you weren't going too fast," he said as he took my hand. He got back up on his feet and dusted himself off.

"You're good though?" I asked.

"Running and texting in a parking lot at night... I should've been paying attention." He reached for his phone, still face down on the ground next to my tire. When he flipped it over, his shoulders slumped. "The screen's totally fucked."

"Bummer." I said, containing my mini-morsel of glee.

"I'll be fine. I can still go get it fixed if I hurry."

"G'luck! Take it easy." I said as he receded back into night. Then I headed home.

As I drove down PCH, the adrenaline from the accident drained out of me, and the rest of my passions followed. I replayed the day's events, which took on a veneer of deadened malaise: hitting the David of the Uncanny Valley with my car, Andrea's tits and armpit hair, entropy and the carmine splatter and Gravity's Rainbow, then the bleak serenity of suburban life after emotional exodus for the rest of the drive.


I was wiped. I headed straight to bed and turned out the lights, but the dark didn't help. I was still wired-awake, trapped at the show. Casey was still introducing me to that Nobody Special, and I was still feigning modesty, and the Nobody Special was still loving Infinite Jest. I was stuck confessing to never having finished it, knowing he'd do the same and feeling too good about it when he did. I was still fearing someone—the Nobody Special or some stranger emerging from a hidden corner—might rub their chin, inspecting, and say, "I don't remember ever hearing about you or seeing you around, and I'll have you know, sir, David and I were very close." I was still newly relieved that as I left Sanctum, the lie lived on, undefeated and unchallenged. Yet again, I was still there with the Nobody Special, sealing the deal—"David would've loved you."

What deal? How many times will I tell this lie?

There was no hope for sleep, so I grasped around for the lamp switch. I turned on the light to find David hanging from the ceiling, dead. His eyes were matte-dry and too open, and they stared straight into me. My body was a magnifying glass, and David was a hot, burning, hanging sun beaming through to my occulted necrosis, black humours boiling in me thick as tar, and I barfed all over the place, black humors by the gallons. I became a bruise. I tried to leave him there, but he wouldn't be left. Then he floated down to the floor and stood tall, taller—perfect giant lording over me—then dripped kool-aid red marker from pop-stigmata wounds, then was a zombie of a David, not really David at all anymore. And I still loved him. The fact of his zombie daymare-ness, or that we'd never met, or that I'd never made it through his magnum opus, or even the troubling rumors about his love life—none of it mattered.

"I know it's wrong to love you like I do," I blurted out.

He just put his hand over my face, smothering, and squeezed hard. I pried at it, but it was way too strong. He juiced me for apologies, and they came, dribbling and tripping—they stampeded over themselves, trying to get out all at once. I choked on them, needing air, but they kept up their discharge until the promise came out.

"I'll never tell the lie again."

And he turned from zombie-David back to book-jacket-David, but then he looked at me like I look at me. He hated me, so I took vengeance on him for staking claim to the secret, precious object of my contempt. I had to. Caught off-guard with no time to prepare a proper retaliation, the best I could do was to take back my apologies and the promise, and I told him he was a shitty writer and said a bunch of other stuff it felt great to say but kills me to remember saying. My fists passed right through him for a desperate moment, then he left. He took his time, too. I watched from the floor as he walked out the front door and closed it like I was a napping baby he wanted not to wake, then he locked it. Then the black-humor puke evaporated and melted into the floorboards. I grabbed a beer from the fridge, and under the acute pain of shame, popped it open and texted Andrea.

"I lied abt DFW."

She never texts back right away, so I spread myself across the couch and turned on The Purge, but I couldn't really pay attention to it. I kept zoning out. I imagined being outside on a killing spree. I imagined gearing up for it, teaming up with Casey and the look on his face when I turn on him and he starts to run. I imagined cutting off a ballsack keepsake from my Sanctum-bathroom nemesis. I imagined getting purged by David, his smile vermillion with my blood splashed across his face, my last living memory.

Then Casey walked in alone, wrecked.

"What happened to you?" I asked.

And he said his girlfriend dumped him but he didn't know why, and he asked if I thought he should try to win her back.

I knew it was awkward to confess in response. "I didn't know David Foster Wallace—never even met him. I shouldn't've said all that stuff."

He just walked past me in a daze. He patted me on the shoulder as he disappeared into his room.

Andrea texted me back. "Freak. STG." With a GIF of a baby recoiling from something.

"David would've loved you." I whispered to her text.

"Still on for Fri?" she added. I sent her a meme of Kim Jong Un's head photoshopped onto a Leather Daddy's body with a little nuke where his junk should be. I put "send nukes" under it. She started to reply but then stopped. "Fri @ 4." I typed, and sent it. She thumbs-up'd my message and by accident, I swiped-on the camera and the screen fed back to me my own oblique facsimile from below.

"David would've loved you."

How many times?