jacqueline and jacqueline
Jacqueline stumbles, grinning slightly, and then grunting grotesquely, though aren’t all grunts basically grotesque, and before she can find any answer to her sudden inquiry, she catches herself on a flagpole which, up to this point, she had never noticed before, despite having walked this sidewalk on various and numerous and many occasions.
“Jacqueline,” Jacqueline says, watching her friend barely keep herself from falling and possibly hurting herself. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going? The city is, after all, a hazardous place to be.”
Relying perhaps a little too much on her heretofore unknown flagpole for support, Jacqueline flutters her eyelashes and burps – mostly just to do something – reliving the flavor of the roasted red pepper hummus and coffee she had enjoyed at lunch.
“Yes, Jacqueline,” Jacqueline responds, “I, more than anyone, am aware of the perils and pitfalls of city life.”
“And yet what?”
“And yet, Jacqueline, you are the one who has just stumbled over who knows what and embarrassed both me and yourself in the process.”
Jacqueline laughs splendidly.
“Oh, Jacqueline, are you embarrassed? I didn’t even realize that you were capable of feeling embarrassment. You’ve always seemed so above it all, above everything.”
Jacqueline scratches her head and muses for a while, her gaze drifting, floating up, up and away, past the midrise brick facades, sloped roofs, and skyscraping spires to the grayness of the sky on this delightfully overcast and cold late fall day. She thinks about mint tea and Archie Shepp records and Ann Quin novels and oversized cardigan sweaters and midcentury armchairs and Hal Hartley films and snow covered parks in the dead of winter and lazy days strolling up and down city streets, cutting through narrow alleys too small for cars, Greek food and diner French fries and on and on, completely lost, separated from the moment, living in her head, a warm and fuzzy feeling cascading through her body as if she had just submerged herself into a nice hot bath.
“Jacqueline!” Jacqueline barks, finally releasing herself from the sturdy security of the flagpole which had done so much for her.
Jacqueline, so very far away from everything, cannot hear nor does she give a response of any kind to her friend’s testy calling of her name, the rude tone lost on her, just like the passing cars and saxophone wailing and change cups rattling and rising far off cackles and jackhammering and all the other myriad of sounds common to the seasoned city dweller. For her, at this very moment, none of it makes any difference.
“Jacqueline! Snap out of it!” she says, nearly shouting, stepping closer to her friend and farther away from the flagpole. “Wake up, will you?”
As quickly as she had disappeared into herself, she reappears, back into the present, reality. Her friend stands before her, annoyed, shaking her head and stomping her foot in a strange and unreliable rhythm.
“Are you speaking to me, Jacqueline?” she asks her friend innocently, unaware of how long she had been away from reality.
“Yes Yes! Of course I am talking to you. Who else would I be talking to?”
“You could be talking to anyone for all I know. I wouldn’t put it past you.”
“I said Jacqueline, didn’t I?”
“Doesn’t mean a thing.”
“Not at all. You could have just as easily been talking to yourself.”
Exasperated, “You think that I was standing here on this street corner calling my own name, talking to myself?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you, Jacqueline.”
Shaking her head, “You really are something else.”
“Let’s forget it.”
“I nearly fell, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Are you okay?”
“Depends on what you mean by okay.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“I’ll be whatever I want to be.”
“Don’t make me suffer so.”
“Who, Jacqueline, is making who suffer?”
“Who is making whom suffer.”
“Give me a break, will you?”
“Jacqueline, let’s not start.”
“Whose starting? Certainly not me. You can’t accuse me of starting. I’m not starting. Are you starting?”
“I’m definitely not starting.”
“We should find a bathroom.”
“You have to go?”
“When did that happen?”
“All of a sudden.”
“All of a sudden?”
“Just like that.” She snaps her fingers.
“Since I don’t want to be considered nosey, I won’t ask whether it’s number one or number two.”
“I appreciate that, Jacqueline.”
“It’s the least I can do. But just for my own edification, if I had asked said question, would you have been inclined to answer?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Glad to know.”
“But don’t ask.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I still need to find a bathroom asap.”
“All right. Yes. Well. Let me see here.” Thinking, racking her brain. “Let me see. Let me see.”
“Let’s just walk.”
“Yes. If we just start walking, we are bound to find something. Aren’t we?”
“Do you think so?”
“If you say so.”
“I say so.”
“Stands to reason.”
“Then let’s go.”
“That way.” Pointing.
“Now I have to go.”
“I can’t help it. I didn’t make it happen, it just did.”
“Come on, we’ve got to find a bathroom.”
Sometime later. Relief. A nearly simultaneous feeling of ease, a kind of spring in the step which often comes directly after finally emptying the bladder, the frantic and arduous search for an open bathroom, one which is not merely the domain of the paying customer but free and open to all, the release cathartic, liberating, and peaceful. Public facilities a civic duty, necessary, helping others to help oneself.
She – that is Jacqueline – finds the sidewalk wonderfully quaint, fresh air, nostrils flaring, eyes fixed on nothing in particular, searching, finding, moving on, and searching again. A day to and for themselves and in the middle of the week no less. What a glorious thing. The stars aligned. An opportunity not to be easily passed up. All the bleary eyes of those hustling and bustling to and from work, responsibility, the daily grind, etc. And they – that is, Jacqueline and her good friend Jacqueline – without a single care or obligation, no place to be and no one to please but themselves. A day to do whatever delights them. Ah, pleasure, glorious and lovely pleasure. Leisure time, the only thing truly worth exulting. Work a burden, a millstone, the thing which causes so much misery, anxiety, fear, and stress. A society obsessed with the so-called virtues of work, a collective madness which neither Jacqueline nor Jacqueline have ever fallen for. To loaf or not to loaf, that is not really a question, but loafing has become something of a way of life for them. The closest thing they have to an ideology or a purpose. Why, oh, why anyone would think differently they cannot say. A society and culture of exploitation until the grave, an early death, a painful life, the fight to simply stay afloat, to make ends meet. The daily grind. The grand rip-off. Screw it. Not for them. They know better. They loaf. They cherish their leisure time for all that it’s worth. No other way to be. At once a lifestyle choice as a confrontation, a provocation to all that their United States has long endorsed and cherished and mythologized and espoused and praised for no other reason than to keep the powerful and the wealthy powerful and wealthy. The con. The long can. They refuse to participate.
A day to themselves, of leisure, a day off becomes an extra-long weekend, which morphs into an extended holiday, which turns into a full-fledged vacation until eventually becoming a way of life. Living how they want to live, sleeping whenever and how long it pleases them to sleep, wandering the streets in daylight and under the cover of darkness, afternoon movies and middle of the night coffees, reading all day in bed, people-watching on park benches, stress evaporating, even as the bills pile up, though they merely set these aside, tear them up, and eventually simply throw them away. A life of loafing, the loafing life. Time passes, yet they don’t seem to notice or care, one day bleeding into the next, the weekend no different than the weekday. Every day is a day of life, to live, to do, to be, to see and feel and experience the wonders of the world.
Once she had thoroughly torn the newspaper to bits, Jacqueline popped a sugar cube into her mouth and hissed with the fervor she typically reserved for television game shows, politicians, and people who say “could care less” when they mean “couldn’t care less.” The east side of the room felt, paradoxically, more western than eastern while the western side felt a bit more southern, whereas neither the northern nor the southern sides of the room had any particular feel at all.
“I’m asleep,” Jacqueline said, even though her eyes remained wide open and she seemed more than alert. “I’m asleep. I am asleep. Can you tell that I am sleeping? Sleeping without actually being asleep at all.”
“It’s funny how you can say something like that with a straight face,” her good friend, that is Jacqueline, responded as the last piece of torn newspaper left her hands. “I admire your ability to speak so clearly and without laughing.”
“Did you even hear what I said, Jacqueline? I said I’m sleeping. Fast asleep. Dreaming. Do you see that?”
“I see, sitting before me, my dear old friend Jacqueline, saying and doing exactly what she always says and does. This is all that I see.”
“You only see what you want to see.”
“You have no authority on sense. None at all!”
“And what authority, exactly, do you think that you have over any subject at all? Whatsoever?”
“I, my dearest and oldest friend, am a veritable expert on a wide range of subjects.”
“Such as? For example?”
“Myself, for one.”
“Oh, but you see, you are quite mistaken there, cher Jacqueline. That is the one subject for which you know the absolute least.”
“So you say.”
“You are awfully talkative for being asleep and dreaming. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Would I say?! Would I say?! Wouldn’t you say?! Wouldn’t you say?!”
“How often can you repeat yourself?”
“As often as I like. As often as I like. As often as I like. As. Often. As. I. Like.”
“So it seems.”
“So it is.”
Jacqueline’s eyes misted over in a kind of splendidly opaque way, as if the central heating was telling her something, giving her something to do, a moment to latch on to; the purpose of the day, the week, the month remained obscure if not completely unknowable. The attack of the wayward words, the frozen solid glare coming from every direction, the tables covered with spilt coffee, the chairs scrapping against the floor, and the lights dimming, weakening, suddenly calling out to both Jacqueline and Jacqueline to understand something, a realization, an epiphany or at least a momentary revelation which will allow them to leave, to go, to do anything else, be all that they might, though that could very well be nothing at all.
“Jacqueline,” Jacqueline said, “will you buy me a coffee and a muffin?”
“Excuse me?” her friend said, cocking her head sideways, incredulously.
“Buy me a coffee and a muffin,” Jacqueline requested with an air of superiority, a sense of entitlement, a no-holds-barred way of thinking, of living, of being.
“Why, my dearest and oldest friend, would I do that? Especially when you are in possession of all your faculties and are as able-bodied as I, if not more so. Tell me why I would do what you ask considering all the facts I have laid out in front of you?”
Shrugging. “Why not? Don’t be difficult. Can’t you just do it? Can’t you just do something for me? Is that so much to ask?”
“Well. Actually. As a matter of fact. Now that you mention it. Indeed. After all.” Stop. Start. Over. And. Over. “I just don’t quite understand why. This is the sticking point for me.”
Sighing. “It’s always something, isn’t it? Why do I even bother?”
“Yes. Indeed. Why do you bother?”
“You’re a bother.”
“If that is the case, then what does that make you?”
“Nothing at all.”
Stubbornly insincere variations on minor and insignificant disputes, petty, unimportant, yet taking up more than a fair share of the days and the nights and often whatever temporal state lies between that. Just that. Only that. Relentless. Not so much damaging as pointless, although not so much pointless as consuming. All encompassing. The desire of both Jacqueline and her dearest and oldest friend Jacqueline to make absolutely every mundane moment into an epic confrontation worthy of argument, dissection, endless discussion, and passionate debate indicates a lack of concern for the oppressiveness of daily life with its routine, its inevitable pains and traumas, misfortunes and anxieties. Their concerns grow, stretch, and morph with each passing day, before their eyes, as they occur, in a kind of wild and free form improvisation. A sharp movement to anarchy, nihilism, or perhaps more accurately a general antipathy toward the society, the so-called civilization which had given the world racism and the holocaust and climate change and nuclear bombs and sexism and machine guns and television and junk food and so on and on. For what, if anything, had given them purpose up until this moment? If they had not decided to abandon everything, thrusting off the shackles of conventional life, embracing leisure, loafing, and the mundane and pointless, then where would they be now? Who cares? Neither Jacqueline nor, incidentally, Jacqueline cared or gave this notion even the vaguest thought for they strive to live in absolute freedom, doing absolutely what pleases them because, as far as they can tell, the world has taken so much from them, exploited, ground down, ridiculed, and humiliated. Not just them, of course, but they, at least, had the wherewithal to move away from it, to free themselves, to live a truly alternative life.
A knock is a sinister thing indeed, especially in the middle of the day, as they – Jacqueline and Jacqueline – sip vodka tonics in front of an open window, reading books so large that they find them difficult to hold, though these two heroes of the modern world go forward, as always, delving deeper and deeper into the obscure and satisfying world of ideas, intellectual inquiry and artistic experimentation, which remains so very ignored in their society, in this world, and yet they appreciate the struggle, the frustration, and the work that such books of such size require of them because, they have often remarked, why shouldn’t they be expected to put in the work? Then again, there is that knocking on the door which dawns on them, taking them out of their intellectual daydreams and into a reality they find increasingly difficult to recognize, let alone comprehend. But who, oh, who could it be knocking so surely upon their famous chamber door?
Reluctantly. Suspiciously. Bated breath. Rising, slowly, deliberately, one eyes the other who shrugs the shoulders and again another knock and again confusion and, so far, no action has been taken, nothing resembling a plan or an option of an even basic grasping of the situation at hand.
A key in the lock, from outside someone trying to come in, to enter their sanctuary, their private residence without an invitation, but who? Who could do such a thing? And do they – whatever nefarious person they may be – actually possess a key to Jacqueline and Jacqueline’s apartment? And how? And why? And to what end? Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion…
And so the door swings open only to reveal the sweating and balding pate of their landlord, the one and only Mr. So and So – no great reveal after all – who has, at every turn, refused to fix problems or address issues or even return their pleading phone calls. This landlord, who like so many other landlords, cares not for the well-being of his tenants, nor even the condition of the property, which he owns and rents out to city dwellers such as our Jacqueline and her great friend Jacqueline who have and probably always will rent because, as they often observe, ownership is bondage.
“Oh,” the landlord says, smirking and twirling a set of keys on his outstretched index finger, standing in the doorway, “so you are here?”
“Yes. Of course we are here,” Jacqueline says.
“We live here, don’t we?” Jacqueline adds for emphasis.
“But what,” Jacqueline continues, remaining fixed in place, “are you doing here? Who told you that you could enter our apartment, uninvited?”
“We have rights, you know!” Jacqueline puts in, to make her displeasure known.
“Oh,” the landlord, Mr. So and So says, still smirking grotesquely. “So, you have rights, do you?”
“Of course we do.”
“And we know them too.”
“Oh, yes, we are well versed on tenants’ rights. More so than you are it seems.”
Mr. So and So chuckles heartily, in a way entirely inappropriate considering the situation at hand.
“And what about my rights?” he asks.
“What about them?” they respond simultaneously.
“I think, as the owner of this property, that my rights are pretty important and, I would say, outweigh your rights. Don’t you think?”
“I’m not sure I agree with that.”
“No. Not at all. Who told you that?”
“Just like a property owner. Nothing matters but your rights. Yours. Yours. Yours. Your property is more important than human beings.”
“Despicable. How can you be so greedy?”
“Yes, that’s the word for it: greedy. Greedy. Greedy. Greedy.”
Mr. So and So shakes his shaky head and sighs heavily, keys jangling in his hand, the city continuing outside completely unaware of what is happening right now in this typically average apartment in the middle of an unremarkable day.
“Well,” he says, “it just so happens that you haven’t been paying your rent.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do I hear you right?”
“What are you saying?”
“Oh,” he continues, “are you surprised? Taken aback? Had you been under the impression that you had been paying your rent for the last three months?”
“Not at all.”
“We weren’t paying it on purpose.”
“It’s not that we are surprised to hear it, just can’t believe you’d bring it up.”
“Tasteless. Absolutely tasteless.”
“Yes, Jacqueline, that’s absolutely correct. Very tasteless.”
“Can’t believe you asked.”
“Don’t you know it’s not polite to discuss money?”
They laugh and then sit down in their respective places near the open window and stare at Mr. So and So the landlord wondering when he will leave already, practically trying to will him out of their apartment through their looks, giving him the evil eye, the stink eye, and every other eye in between.
“So, you admit that you haven’t paid your rent?” he asks, not catching the hint they have been giving him through their various looks.
“Yes. Of course.”
“We admit it. We weren’t really hiding the fact.”
“No. Not at all. It was all pretty much out there in the open.”
“Oh, yes. Absolutely. No doubt about that.”
“You don’t find this to be a problem?” he asks. “You are not concerned that you haven’t paid your rent?”
“Of course not. We don’t have the money.”
“That’s right. No money. No pay. Simple as that. Nothing to it.”
“You have no money?” he shouts, stunned, falling backwards, gripping the doorframe with his free hand to keep himself up.
“Nope. Not much anyway. Some.”
“That’s right. Just enough to eat and go to the movies and drink coffee, but certainly not enough to pay rent.”
“Especially considering the astronomical prices you charge. Absolutely criminal.”
“You expect,” Mr. So and So says through clenched teeth, “to stay, to live here, without paying? Do you think this is right?”
“We have to live somewhere, don’t we?”
“We can’t live on the streets, can we?”
“Oh, no, that just wouldn’t work.”
“No, no, not at all.”
“We are very comfortable right here.”
“Oh, yes, very. It’s not much but its home.”
The landlord, Mr. So and So, is ready to blow his top. There is practically steam coming out of his ears and his face is turning red like in a cartoon.
Struggling to get the words out, “How…dare…you…you…think…that…you…can…live here…without paying…who…do…you…think…you…are…?”
“Don’t get so worked up.”
“Not good for your health.”
“Oh, no, not at all. Don’t want to get your blood pressure up.”
“You’re not a young man. You’ve got to take care of yourself, don’t get so worked up. Go sit down. Relax.”
“Maybe take a nice hot bath.”
“Oh, yes, that’s a wonderful idea.”
“Always makes me feel better.”
“I might do the same. That sounds nice.”
Jacqueline stands up to go.
“Don’t move!” Mr. So and So shouts. “Stay right there!”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Your hot baths in this apartment are over,” he says. “Do you hear me? Over! You’re through!”
“You can’t tell us what to do.”
“That’s right. Who do you think you are?”
“Who does he think he is?”
“Just like a greedy, capitalist pig. Thinks because he owns the property he can do whatever he wants and boss us around, tell us what to do.”
“You can’t tell us what to do.”
“Maybe not, but I can kick you out.”
“Oh, no,” he says, “you don’t pay, you don’t stay.” He chuckles at his childish rhyme and then turns serious again. “I want you out! Immediately!”
“Pay or get out!”
Mr. So and So storms off, leaving the door wide open.
Shouting down the hall, “Were you raised in a barn?”
Shaking her head, “I just don’t understand people these days.”
Closing the door, locking all the locks, latching the chain, “Sometimes it feels like the whole world is going crazy.”
Sitting down, making herself comfortable, crossing her legs, finding her place in the book, “No wonder the world is in the state it’s in.”
Heading down the hall toward the bathroom, “I think I will take that bath after all. I mentioned it and now I really want to.”
A cold night. The city streets. Jacqueline buttons her coat up to her neck and wraps a knitted scarf around her head and face, while her best, truest, and oldest friend Jacqueline rubs her gloved hands together and folds her legs closer to her body hoping to warm them. They are both wiggling on the cold pavement, leaning back against the brick wall of the abandoned factory building, the sound of police sirens wailing, footsteps coming and going, the El passing overhead, sending vibrations through their bodies, while their teeth chatter and their ears burn from cold. Jacqueline moves closer to Jacqueline, who allows her friend to nestle up against her, both wishing they had had the foresight to have at least grabbed a blanket or two before getting kicked out of their apartment. Instead, they had focused on grabbing as many books as possible, which are now stacked up all around them for they refuse to get rid of their books. Just because they have to live on the streets does not mean they have to let their intellects suffer. Above all, ideas matter to them. Even though they cannot eat ideas or warm themselves on the spines and crumpled pages of their books, they do take some solace in knowing that even homeless they read more books in one week than the average American reads in an entire year.
“Jacqueline, I’m cold and hungry and if I shiver any longer I might very well knock something loose.”
“I, too, Jacqueline, am cold and hungry and shivering, but you don’t hear me complaining about it, do you?”
“I can hear your teeth chattering.”
“That’s to be expected.”
“I suppose you are right.”
“Even though it is quite cold, I still prefer the winter to the summer. No question about it.”
“Yes, yes, Jacqueline, I agree with you wholeheartedly, but then again I do wish we had at least a blanket to wrap ourselves in.”
“To live life to the fullest, we had to make sacrifices which most people are completely unwilling to do. We have chosen not to work jobs we hate or compromise our ideals in order to survive.”
“I know we have, and I do not regret any of it, though I do still wish that I had a soft bed to sleep in.”
“In a time of crisis, of upheaval, such as we are currently experiencing, we have to stay strong and stay vigilante. Wouldn’t you say so?”
“I would say so, yes, but then again I would say almost anything at this very moment because I can barely think straight.”
“Thinking straight is what we are trying to avoid.”
“You remain the voice of reason, Jacqueline.”
A cold wind rips through them, whistling in the hollows of the dilapidated building, sending litter and debris flying through the air, down the sidewalk, hurtling passed our brave heroes, who have grown accustomed to the whims of mother nature and the realities of life on the street. Now that Jacqueline sneezes, Jacqueline then coughs and all at once they realize that living just the way they want to has consequences. An individual is not truly an individual at all, but merely a cog in the machinery of the state, of a society, which seeks nothing more than to control and to conqueror every individual.
“How unfortunate that this is the society into which we were born and raised and must now suffer our fates within.”
“One in which money and power matter more than people and health and safety and life?”
“That’s it exactly, Jacqueline. Oh, how I long to be nothing at all.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Absolutely nothing. I have no goals or ambitions, no purpose other than to be, to live, to think, and to observe.”
“Is that asking so much?”
“Apparently, it is.”
“And yet, somehow, I never really thought it would come to this. I can see now that I was wrong, that society truly has no problem letting us and others live on streets.”
“We have to play their game, live by their rules, do what they tell us we have to do. You can see what happens when you choose not to do that. When you choose to live a different way.”
“But I can see no other way to live, Jacqueline. Can you?”
“Must we suffer so just because we are different? Because we think and feel and act in the ways we see fit? Have our lives really turned into such a tragedy?”
“It appears as if they have, my dear friend.”
“Yes, well, as you say, it is a tragedy after all.”
They would never weep for themselves or for the injustices and inequities of this world, but they would stand on street corners and scream and shout and demand better of people, who mostly would turn a blind eye or shrug or simply ignore them, treating them as the misfits and outcasts that they had now become, no matter how much truth they spouted, no matter how much sense they made.
Joshua Martin is a Philadelphia based writer and filmmaker, who currently works in the library at Saint Joseph’s University. He has had pieces previously published in Ink & Voices, The Free Library of the Internet Void, and Paragraph Line. His films have screened at various film festivals including The Pineapple Underground Film Festival, New Filmmakers, Film Al Fresco, Views from the Underground, and The Shooting Wall Film Festival.