Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from our favorite emerging writers
Thank you for joining us for the latest addition to our Intimacy series! I'm pleased as punch to share Gracie Bialecki's Recovery, a beautiful story about art, relationships, and letting your past go.
We also wanted to share that our upcoming fiction chapbook Late Stage is coming out in January 2022! Visit our store to preorder yours today.
- Derailleur Press
We came by plane then boat, sun-drunk by the time we made our way to the villa. We pulled bags up worn stone stairways and down ancient alleys, arriving with the nonchalance of those who have done this before, who know what to carry and what to leave behind.
I’d arrived from Ibiza with only a backpack. The flight was so easy there was no reason to say no to Elliot’s invitation. At school, he and his friends were called The Intellectuals — studying philosophy or art history and dabbling in esoteric drugs. He’d been the one who organized lavish parties, which had grown from dorms, to rented Victorians, to his family’s island home. His twenty-seventh birthday was an excuse to throw another, and of course, he would. I was a year younger, but had already had enough brushes with the twenty-seven club to value survival over revelry.
Elliot and I were both in Europe but he hadn’t seen me in years, and he was inviting the person he’d known — the party girl-turned-DJ who spun night into day. Still, his email was an unexpected gesture, and I took it as a sign of something shifting. Elliot didn’t mention me mixing, because we were friends. Friends who gathered on islands.
We spread from the villa’s foyer into the living room making introductions. I met women who looked like models because they were, and their boyfriends who were as witty as the women were beautiful. There were more of Elliot’s nouveau European friends than I’d expected, and Cal was the only one from school I knew. He was his usual buoyant blonde self, and when we hugged, he ran his fingers down my arms.
We divvied up the rooms, and I took the front one with a four-poster bed and matching vanity table, where a different woman would’ve made herself up. The last time I saw my dad’s wife, Laurie, she gave me a basket of lotions and creams — insisting her regimen would restore my youthful luminosity, as if anything topical could turn back my twenties.
Cal ended up in a tiny room off the kitchen. “Leena,” he called. “Come see the servants quarters.” I was halfway there when a taxi driver pushed through the front door with two huge suitcases, followed by an aggressively fit girl in yoga clothes.
“I’m Kendra,” she said. “Do I know you?”
For a second I worried I’d met her in a forgotten nightclub, but shook my head. “I don’t think so."
She flashed a rhetorical smile and looked around. “So, where’s Elliot?”
There’d been talk of going swimming in the afternoon, but Kendra insisted on getting liters of mineral water and fresh fruit first. We were a group of nine now and I imagined us going nowhere — the couples cooing behind closed doors, Kendra lost at the market, never seen again.
But everyone was ready at the agreed hour, and we made our way to the sea. The men flung towels over their shoulders, and the women were tawny in transparent dresses the breeze blew through. I wore my new white suit under the white dress I’d bought after my Ibizan friends told me black was depleting my chakras — for months I’d stuck out like a punk witch in my endless dark tees and cut-off jeans.
Elliot was easy to spot at the beach in his typical round glasses, now with a little mustache to match his Cambridge Ph.D. He was sprawled out with other friends, and our villa crew joined them — some spreading their towels, others plunging into the clear water. I waited for everyone to settle before taking a spot on the outskirts.
Kendra opened a bottle of organic sunscreen and asked Elliot to help with her back. He obliged for a second then flitted among the group, smiling and pulling people together. There were a few more old classmates, but the rest of the group were friendly strangers, all vaguely academic. One went for a round of beers and as I shook my head, he shrugged cheekily — a gesture I couldn’t read. But when he came back and asked where I was from, my answer made me so happy it felt like a lie.
“I flew in from Ibiza.”
“Ibiza,” I said louder. Cal must’ve heard because he looked over and smiled.
“How long have you been there?” said the beer drinker.
“Almost a year.”
I’d been on tour for three years before that, and the few times we’d stopped in New York I always found a way to spend the night with Cal.
“So, no more tours?” Cal leaned in and asked, but he really meant no more Dev, and I loved him for not saying that name.
After long, sun-wet hours we dispersed then gathered, emerging from marble showers, calling down and coming up to the terrace with fresh ice and more glasses. Out at dinner, we ordered one of everything because it was easier that way. I asked for a liter of Pellegrino and poured it into my wine glass, tensing for the question no one asked. Cal was at the far end of the table, leaving me ensconced by strangers.
At the end of the meal, the paper tablecloth was covered in breadcrumbs and rich sauce, red rings from the dripped wine. We were generous, never greedy, following Elliot who gave with the freedom that comes from having more.
I’d never been to a dinner like that, never been part of a boisterous group who filled half the restaurant. It was easy to pass the stewed lamb or fork more broiled eggplant onto my plate, but I kept checking my neighbors. Timing my bites to theirs like there was a secret to all this ease.
Taking the steps up the cliffs back to the villa, the ocean spread around us. The first stars were appearing, and I was struck with a feeling of watching my life rather than living it. Back at school, I never imagined myself visiting islands with The Intellectuals. Back then, I never imagined myself doing anything without Dev.
At breakfast the next morning it came out that Kendra was a personal trainer, a wellness coach, she corrected. I tried to tell if the models thwarted her business plan as she chattered about how diets were really lifestyles. We were having coffee with bread and the fruit she’d bought at the market, and I interrupted to thank her.
“You’re welcome,” she said, then leaned forward. “So I heard you’re a DJ? Right?”
“And you play all over the world?”
“I usually play where I live.”
“In Ibiza? What’s it like?”
I reached across her for another hunk of bread. At the end of the table, a movie producer and his designer wife, Mara, were back from their morning jog, wearing matching shorts and massaging each other’s calves. When we were on the road, Dev used to shunt the fangirls and their inane questions to me — What’s it like? You play all over? Where’s Dev?
“Ibiza’s nice,” I said, then got up to make more coffee.
“Elliot told me it’s a bit choppy,” Cal was saying when I came back. “Might be better to hit the northern beach.”
“Right then.” The producer stood up and stretched. “We’ll head out in a bit.”
At the beach, the group shared stories of vacation islands over bottles of rosé nestled in individual icy totes. I pretended to doze on the hot sand –– their commentary drifting around me. Crowded with locals, too rocky, no lobster that far south were levels of discontent I’d never fathomed. My sunglasses and white dress draped over my head were the safest way to disengage.
What could I say about my family? That my mom died in a hit-and-run when I was twelve? That Dad switched from Grey Goose martinis to endless plastic handles? I couldn’t tell them about hating the smell, hating watching his hands shake in the morning as he topped off his orange juice.
Those bad years blur until the day in middle school when Dev opened the front door and appeared at the dinner table like he wasn't a stranger in black jeans and a Rolling Stones tee. It was late fall, just after Dad and Laurie’s hasty wedding, and now that the house was packed with her furniture, it felt even less like home.
Dad met Laurie at a work function, and the vagueness of that phrase defined their relationship. They’d never mentioned her son. No teenage boys should’ve been pushing through the front door, but that’s exactly what Dev did — slipping off his backpack and sitting down next to me, moving so fast he still carried the smell of cold.
Back then, Dev was part of a DJ collective with the slogan: Leap and the net will appear. Now it seems a childish thing to print on album jackets and t-shirts, but when I first heard it, the words stuck in my head. Leap and the net will appear.
Dev’s dad had custody but traveled for work, and I loved the rush of Dev appearing, of never knowing when he might. One night after he was over for dinner, I was doing the dishes and listening to him, Bill, and Laurie have a talk. We’d started calling them by their first names, like neither of them were our parents. Laurie got into the vodka too, our eyes slipping past each other’s as I watched her.
Leena can come to my shows.
I stopped the water. Dev had said it with such certainty that it wasn’t a question — it was a new reality. And even as I waited, I knew that Bill and Laurie would agree, relieved to have their burdens out of sight.
So I started working the merch table at thirteen, wearing long sleeves undernearth band Ts, imagining the day I would take the leap — tell Bill and Laurie to fuck off, and then never come home. Imagining Dev getting famous and me traveling the world with him. We hated winter and he told me about the places he’d play — Barcelona, Croatia, Ibiza. I nodded wide-eyed, though I had to find it on a map. Ibiza, I’d whisper, holding it close like a prayer.
The next morning I woke up early, poured myself the remains of the coffee, and went up to the roof. Kendra and some others had burst in late last night, filling the villa with their clumsy footsteps, but my intuition told me she was a morning person and I couldn’t face that early banter.
I walked to the roof’s edge and sat with my legs dangling over. The others would’ve unfurled into yoga poses or done rhythmic breathing exercises, but all I did was stare at the ocean. Imagining its waves as a sea of people, the villa a stage perched on high.
There were footsteps behind me and when I turned to face the intruder, it was Cal. I smiled and swung my legs over, and he sprawled on his back next to me. We didn’t say much, just lay with our heads together, bodies star-fishing across the tiles. We started kissing and there was a comfort in the chaste pressing of our warm bodies. He tasted like coffee or maybe it was me.
When we came down, Kendra was in the kitchen with a large quantity of fruit salad. “I was thinking of doing yoga on the roof,” she said. “But then I got distracted. Were you guys–”
“Stretching mostly,” Cal said.
Kendra eyed us and went back to slicing. Cal had been perfectly himself all week — flirting comfortably, neither of us contriving to sneak off and sleep together. Our relationship had started by accident on a table in the music library and never officially ended. I didn’t have a chance to say bye at graduation — Laurie had been demanding brunch, and Bill was grilling Dev who’d shown up late, reeking of last night’s party.
We’d been at The Intellectuals’ self-proclaimed rager. I was already wasted but Dev kept pouring, and the night dissolved into weird flashes — Elliot’s little sister dancing in tiny white shorts, me stumbling into the pong table, Cal giving me a Solo cup of water, Dev’s eyes snaking to catch mine. All while a mediocre playlist kept looping through the same electro-pop. Then later, Dev’s hand on that tiny white-jeaned ass, pushing her into a dorm room as he turned and looked at me.
The next morning on the quad, Dev had his arm around my shoulder, using me as a buffer for Bill’s tirade. Of course, I’m here. Leena’s the tour manager. Gotta rep the crew. I didn’t know if Dev had invented the position or if his label knew and approved. He’d gotten big enough to have a U.S. tour, and this would be his first one world-wide. I didn’t ask questions, had my degree in music, and was ready to leap.
We're gonna make it to Ibiza. Ibiza, baby. Dev pulled me closer, and I tried not to inhale, waiting for him to step away and the smell of vodka, sweat, and pussy to lift.
It was no wonder we went nowhere when we started out half-dead. We did loops across the globe, sometimes with the illusion of circling — Berlin, Paris, Stockholm — other times in senseless scribbles — London, New York, Istanbul. Dev’s manager booking gigs as if to test my ability to get us there.
The drugs made sense when our bodies were in one country, brains in another. The first year or so, coke turned us into professionals who demanded sound checks and levels, but then Dev started popping pills, his eyes daring me to take some as he passed the bag.
In the beginning I’d zip them away in his backpack, but when he came radiating off the stage I wanted to be high with him, bass pulsing from the stage through my bones. I wanted to be lost in that endless now, ready to spend our lives at the club. I wanted that instead of worrying about load-out, getting the gear to the hotel, or going straight to the airport. On enough drugs and the right music, there was no next day.
I’d never leapt. I’d climbed foolishly high until I lost my grip and tumbled down the cliff of my expectations. And there was never a net — only a hard ledge I clawed my way back from.
By mid-week, we had swapped northern beaches for southern ones, the terrace apéro had replaced dinner, and we needed gelato on the way to and from the bar. Kendra worked through her bottle of sunscreen, religiously reapplying, and I wondered if her nighttime routine involved more creams than Laurie’s gift-box. I nursed icy glasses of Pellegrino-lime, easy to brandish as the cocktails kept being offered. Body language was more effective than words, or so I told myself.
We’d been on the island long enough to adopt Elliot’s favorite corner store where I bought sparkling water and Mara went for cans of Fanta. One time, her husband called her a sugar addict and joked about her being in recovery. Behind our sunglasses, I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me.
In the beginning, I’d flaunted my sobriety. I’m clean, I’d told anyone who asked, I’m making music. And when my Ibizan friend mentioned her energy healer, I’d brushed her off. What I didn’t tell anyone is how I still lose it when I spread my decks across my apartment floor. How I sit there sobbing for hours, unable to turn off the image of a teenage Dev who’d crouched on the floor with me, who’d taught me everything I knew.
The group partied with practiced restraint, staying out late and laughing about it the next morning. I kept expecting wasted days, only rolling out of bed for dinner and more wine, but we maintained our routine. Hiking across rocky hills to remote coves, packing fruit and water, managing everyone’s essential needs.
But they’d gotten progressively drunker as we approached Elliot’s birthday, and despite my ersatz beverages, everyone besides Cal had shoved booze at me. At the bar the night before the big party, the guys tore through bottles of ouzo. When an Intellectual came over with a tray of fresh shots, I said no, but he put one in my hand. I left it on a table — it was my fault for never announcing who I wasn’t. But if I’d made it this far, I could keep going. I had to keep going.
The group dispersed after the toast, and its leader sidled up to me. I was sure he’d say I was lightweight, ruining the vibe. But he pulled me close and asked, “So what do you think of Kendra?”
“Harmless,” I said, “though flying from LA’s far for a birthday?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he slurred, conspiratorially. “She’s nothing more than his mom’s trainer. Then Elliot mentions he’s having some friends on the island and boom, she shows up.”
I looked over at Kendra dancing with Elliot. He was keeping a polite distance, clinging to his hosting affect. Reality was so clear sometimes, the drama of human relations hopelessly obvious. Elliot would never fuck Kendra, and a part of me wanted to tell her, to save her by kicking down her fantasy.
“So the party tomorrow?” I asked, changing the subject. “Who’s DJing?”
“Heard they booked an island friend, don’t be jealous.”
“What does he play?”
“We have a saying here,” Elliot interjected, trailed by Kendra, “don’t worry about tomorrow until it’s today.’”
“Isn’t today today?” Cal asked.
“Parallel structures of time,” Elliot said, and they murmured intellectually.
When Cal decided to head back to the villa, I went with him. It was still early enough to get to bed before the sun was up, but we were both hungry so I opened the fridge and started hacking out shards of watermelon.
“We can do better than this,” Cal said, pulling out cheese and tomatoes, slicing and arranging them while I toasted leftover bread. There was a domesticity I wasn’t used to, and then there was the physical sensation of eating. On the road we’d called the single meal of the day dinner, laughing at the time it appeared, the form it took.
Cal and I sat at the corner of the table, platter and plates laid out. The bread was warm enough to melt the cheese and tomato juice oozed over our fingers. Faint light filtered through a layer of cloud, somewhere between the end of the night and the break of dawn. I stretched my legs into Cal’s lap and he ran his hands along them.
When we’d finished and I was doing the dishes, Cal came up behind me and slid his hands around my hips. I pressed back into him and he kissed down my neck. Life on the island was already so surreal that even as he reached to turn off the water and lifted me onto the counter, even as I wrapped my legs around him and he carried me into his pantry bedroom, even as he peeled off my white dress and we were fucking, loud and reckless on his rickety bed, even then, I could barely believe it was happening.
I couldn’t sleep after, though it was gray and cooler, a morning for staying in bed, so I went up to the roof. Out over the ocean, a few rays of sun cut through the layered clouds. The sky had been like that all those months ago in Ibiza when I left the hospital — streaks of sunshine after a rain that washed the ground fresh. I can still hear how my suitcase wheels had hit the sidewalk cracks, and I'd thought about making a sample, mixing it into a recovery track. It took awhile to get to the apartment my angelfriends had found for me, and I opened its door not knowing what to expect. I’d never had an apartment of my own — now there are plants in pots, a table full of gear, two rooms with white walls I pay for myself.
I’d lived there for months until Bill finally emailed. Haven’t heard from you or Dev. Are you alive? Please confirm. When I confirmed, I didn’t ask about Dev, and Bill didn’t mention him. I know I’ll never go back — we’re better scattered across the globe, letting the ocean keep the peace.
The night of Elliot’s actual birthday, I put on the silver sequin top I’d packed not knowing if I’d wear it.
Kendra gave a yelp when I walked out of my room. “I didn’t know we were dressing up.”
“It’s party time,” I said, sparkling as I waved my arms and headed to the terrace. A few couples were leaving tomorrow, and this was our final villa extravaganza.
“Your shirt is the perfect Eurotrash,” Mara said, touching the sequins as I sat next to her.
“From an airport in Croatia.”
“You wear it well,” Cal added.
He poured me a glass of Pellegrino and we all cheersed.
Hours later I was dancing on the beach with Kendra when the guys dashed past, stripping off their clothes and disappearing into the inky sea. I unhooked my shirt but Kendra hesitated.
“How can we get naked next to them?” She watched as our models glided into the water.
“Just be yourself,” I said, spouting the pseudo-inspiration she probably used on her clients. “Everyone else is taken.”
“But they’re so beautiful,” she insisted, “like rare birds.”
“Subsisting on the nectar of Fanta,” I said, crushing the slim can Mara had bought me, and heading towards the dark expanse. At the edge I hesitated, night air clammy on my skin, feet lost in the wet swirl. Cal waved and swam over.
“Take the plunge, it’s easier once you’re in.”
I shivered and waded towards him. “It never gets easier.”
By the time we were out and redressed, the DJ was playing Euro electro and the crowd was shuffling, caught between talking and dancing. Our group started getting low and ridiculous, circling our arms around each other. It was either us or the DJ, but the dance floor teemed as he turned up the bass.
I noticed he didn’t have a posse, not even the requisite girlfriend, and when I motioned towards the bar, he nodded thirstily. I ordered an impulsive Redbull along with his beer.
“Now we start the real party,” he said as we clicked cans. The first sip of the Smarties-sweet caffeine rushed through me as I scanned his set-up. He had a second set of turntables, enough gear for us to go back-to-back. “If you want, I can–”
He gave me a thumbs up. “Yes, yes, you’re a DJ. We can do it?”
He said I was a DJ like it was something everyone could see. Maybe it was, I thought as I plugged in. We got the party popping for hours — through the sunrise with a six a.m. drop we all earned.
By then The Intellectuals had picked up Elliot and were bouncing him in a pseudo crowd-surf. How many cheers, hugs, and remixes until we’d celebrated enough? I wondered if I was spinning for him, falling into the role I was expected to perform. But I couldn’t fight what I wanted to do. Couldn’t leave the place where I belonged.
“The party’s where you make it,” I shouted, not realizing I was imitating Dev until his voice echoed in my headphones.
We’re in Ibiza, baby. Dev waving his hands, bobbing as he spun knobs. The party’s where you make it. Dev shirtless, stumbling in those harsh morning hours when the sun turned unforgiving. Dev with that little kid look he’d get looking for someone, maybe me, in the crowd.
Ibiza, baby. Ibiza, we kept saying, when he headlined Space. Dancing on sand worked my calves and rubbed my feet raw, but I'd done it until I couldn’t feel anything. Dev had been deep into his K phase, was even wraithier than usual, and I was drinking recklessly and blowing whatever he offered.
After his set ended, the last thing I remember was us by the sea. Him laughing, splashing and pushing me into the ocean. Take the plunge, leap and the net…
Of course I did — the water slid over my body, its sensation heightening the drugs. As I swam out my legs kicked through something viscous. The sea was thick and holding me, and I ignored the voices from the shore. We’d made it to Ibiza. Ibiza, baby. Dev had kept his promise. I was floating, weightless, when a burning spread through my body. I flailed, gasping, breaking under the pain. Dev must be watching, I thought. Dev will come. Leap and the net.
But it was the women from the club, haggard angels, who were sitting there when I woke up in the hospital. I’d seen versions of their sinewy limbs in every club — agelessness with a lightness to them, like they knew exactly where they were supposed to be.
Maybe someone warned me and I didn’t listen. Maybe Dev convinced me to go in while he stayed on shore. He never showed up to tell what happened. The water had been full of jellyfish, Man O’ Wars. No sane person…the doctor said, and I blinked back at him.
By then Dev and I matched sickly — our hair long and lank, bones sticking out of our hips and knees. We’d been in Istanbul before Ibiza and gotten bands tattooed around our arms. I can never remember why. Dev’s was thicker than mine because I got nauseous, was reeling so bad the tattooist refused to keep going. Take her home, he’d said as he was bandaging me up. As if home was a place we could walk back to, as if home was ever that simple.
I took a cab back alone, still surprised at how easy it was to take care of only myself. When I’d left Kendra was circling Elliot in the water, closing in like a baby shark. His smile was sunk into his face, worn from a week’s use. Cal had gone home with everyone else hours before, catching my eye and waving goodbye. I couldn’t tell if he was resigned to the distance. Even if I got rid of Dev’s ghost, he’d still have to compete with my music.
When I passed Cal’s room, he was breathing heavily in his half-bed with the door ajar. I paused, unsure of the invitation. In all our years, I’d never instigated…But he stirred, and I darted to the roof.
I sat looking out over the island, the villa my serene DJ booth. I couldn’t say if this night was better or worse than making it to Ibiza, if the drugs were cheating or transcendence, if an ocean plunge was rebirth or insanity. Was I more alive then than I was now? I kept trying to decide, re-weighing what I’d always carry.
It was hopeless, and I started crying as I imagined Dev’s skinny arms next to mine. Dev next to me at the dinner table, on the customs line, in the green room. Dev during the months I bled into him — pulling his charger from the wall, setting up his gear, spinning while the crowd grew. When what I wanted was for him to lead, to follow him the way I had for so many years.
Now I don’t know where he’s playing or what he’s taking — he never returned my calls, never came back for me. But when I walked into any club, I still looked for him mixing. I kept waiting for the world to bring us together, waiting, knowing that I couldn’t wait, knowing that it was over.
I took out my phone and deleted Dev’s number then all our messages. I erased my browser history, reset the dictionary so it wouldn’t write his name. I had to get back my mind, had to recover what was mine.
There was a clatter on the shaky ladder and Kendra froze when she saw me. “I wanted to be alone.”
“No one wants to be alone.”
She looked at me, my splotchy face.
“Are you okay?”
“Do I look okay?”
She rubbed her glittered eyes. “You look beautiful. Every woman in the house is beautiful and then there’s me.” She walked over, hesitant, wary of the edge.
“You’re beautiful too.” I grabbed her wrist and pulled her down. “We’re all magnificent jellyfish.”
She shuddered at the thought. “Are you drunk?”
“Sober. I don’t do that.”
“Alcohol is empty calories, anyway.” She sighed, staring out at the horizon. “Elliot went home with an island girl.”
“There will always be an island girl.”
“Why did he even invite me? I flew across the world–”
“C’mere,” I said, surprising us both by hugging her.
“What happened to your arm?” She pointed to my faded blue band, more a dirty scar than anything.
“It was a bad decision. I wasn’t well.”
“I hate wellness,” Kendra said, crumpling her face in her hands.
She was soft and smelled of coconut oil, her whole body lush and toned. The houses were luminescent in the last of the moonlight. The sky more purple than gray, coming into its color. I felt Kendra’s breath on my neck as she lifted her head. “You know Cal was checking you out when you were DJing. I think he’s into you.”
It was obvious and still, I was here instead of his bed. The sun was rising and Kendra and I were crying freely. Downstairs the villa was sleeping — the couples kings and queens in their four posters, Cal a pauper in his pantry. But soon I would join them, I promised myself, push Cal’s door open and slide into his cool white sheets.
“We’ve been fucking all week,” I said, smoothing Kendra’s hair away from my lips. “We’ve been fucking for years.”
Gracie Bialecki is a writer and literary coach who lives in Paris, France. Her work has appeared in The Atticus Review, Monkeybicycle, and Epiphany Magazine where she was a monthly columnist. Bialecki is the co-founder of the storytelling series Thirst, a poetry editor at Paris Lit Up, and the author of the novel Purple Gold (ANTIBOOKCLUB).