I christen you Jeff so you won’t be nameless in my fantasies. I name you after a Siken poem, after the blood on your knuckles, after a years-old broken promise. You’re a black eye bad boy, Jeff, the kind of man I always wanted to love, if I could only just convince myself of that.
You put fifty bucks on black. You’re down a couple hundred and you won’t make it back tonight. My table’s empty; I watch you from across the pit, watch Dan spin the wheel for you. Your face is the same no matter the outcome. I wonder what it would take to make you smile, Jeff.
In the break room, Dan tells me he likes roulette better than blackjack. He says he can get the wheel to land where he wants it to nine times out of ten. I think about you, Jeff. I wonder if Dan tries to land on black for you. If he does it isn’t working.
Dan offers me a sip of his Monster Energy. Dan says almost done. It’s three a.m. Last break. We both know you’ll be waiting for us when we get back on the floor, Jeff. You still have money to burn tonight.
Dan puts his hands back on the wheel and your mouth inches its way towards dangerous – you’re still not smiling, but you’re thinking about it now. You’re wearing that leather jacket that I like. You’re lighting a pretty girl’s cigarette. You’re sitting there and you’ve got that face that makes me think I could be happy with you, if my happiness were a less particular thing.
I want to catalogue what I know about you, Jeff. I want to write it all down and make it make sense, take these facts and shape them into a man. If I know enough about you then I can know you Jeff.
This is Jeff:
Jeff’s money is less important than what it can buy him. Jeff’s money buys him a cheap thrill and a bitter drink. Jeff’s hands are calloused. Jeff hasn’t been taking care of his motorcycle lately, but he still drove it here tonight. Jeff loves losing a game. Jeff hates a losing a game. Jeff knows I am one of these things, but neither of us is sure which one. So Jeff will either love me or hate me, only time will tell. It’s semantics. It’s a trick of the tongue, a trick of the light. It’s the space between loving and leaving and he is the former and I am the latter and we are both making it up as we go along. Jeff is at home in an improvisation. Jeff is a natural born agent of chaos. Jeff tells me to stop making up stories about him, but Jeff the only thing you are is a story.
You’re my night shift daydream, Jeff. You’re the pretty boy I like to watch, and I pretend how I could love you if I just liked pretty girls less. You’re an old idea, a spit out baby tooth. You’ve got a split lip and I’m more drawn to the blood than to your mouth.
You’re not what I want, Jeff. I want Jeff more than anything. Is this Jeff? I’m looking for a Jeff, have you seen him?
Jeff is an open wound Jeff is a floodplain Jeff is an empty promise Jeff is on a comedown and it’s getting ugly Jeff is a life that I’m not living Jeff is a wish I don’t want to want Jeff is the national anthem of a country that doesn’t exist Jeff is the country too Jeff is every self-destructive daydream I’ve been trying not to hear Jeff is waiting in the parking lot Jeff is knocking on my door Jeff is playing songs I don’t like on the car radio Jeff is blowing past a stop sign Jeff is telling me he missed me Jeff doesn’t know my name either Jeff says it doesn’t matter cause neither one of us is real Jeff is all my favorite colors Jeff knows I’ll never love him Jeff loves me like a broken thing Jeff is driving too fast Jeff says if we crash, this thing’ll kill us Jeff says would you even care if it did?
Would you, Jeff?
Jeff is down three hundred dollars. Dan didn’t help him win it back. Jeff is going to leave with his shoulders hunched under his jacket and only one cigarette in the crumpled pack. Jeff will be back tomorrow. Jeff is never going to love me in any way that counts. Jeff will keep for decades in the back pocket of my mind. Jeff is just a whisper. Jeff was never real. You are Jeff. Aren’t you?
Franny Mestrich is a Philadelphia-based writer and theater artist. You can find her work at frannymestrich.com, her opinions at @frannymestrich on twitter, and her blog posts about all things kitsch at kitschconnoisseur.substack.com.