Excerpt: ‘The Stag' by Sam Pink

 
Art by Casey Jarman

Art by Casey Jarman

 

I live in a small town in Michigan, close to a reception hall where I work weddings.

My apartment is on the outskirts of town, by a large field of lavender, which has just begun to die.

Behind that, it’s woods and wet-lands, with fallen trees, small areas of marsh, signs about poison ivy, and some random work-out stations made of wood and metal.

I’m there now, doing pull ups before work.

The sunlight is golden on the trees, leaves changing color, air beginning to cool.

Tonight I have to work a 300-person wedding.

But that’s tonight.

For now, I’m free.

I hop up and grab the pull up bar and do ten pull ups, hop back down.

Blood is moving through my body.

I look out across the large, bright field.

A rustling reveals a family of deer running away, into the clearing.

A large one and three smaller ones.

Boo!

They disappear.

They go somewhere else.

They’re gone.

***

I arrive at the reception hall two hours before the guests.

‘Hey hey,’ I say to my boss, in the main room.

He’s straightening the place settings at long wooden tables.

He says hi, looking very tired.

‘What’s goin’ on, lavender man?’ I say, referencing his lavender-colored shirt. ‘Check out lavender man, everybody.’

My coworkers laugh.

My boss smiles.

I tie a black apron over my black button up shirt, and black dress pants.

All black.

The point of all black, in addition to just being the uniform, is to remove me/us as much as possible.

In the dimly lit hall, wearing all black makes me, basically, a shadow.

Designed to create the illusion that the environment is serving them.

That I’m not really there.

Just hands in the air.

My bootstok tok in the large empty hall as I take a look around the room.

A rug and a couch off to the side of the main table, the main table lined up in the middle of the room.

There’s an antique dresser behind the head table.

‘Nice, very nice,’ I say.

The event planner runs around with various candles and plants.

Boxes of glass things.

Gold cursive cards to mark tables.

Hanging glass orbs with electronic candles in them.

Chandeliers.

People on ladders hanging a big banner of ivy with lights in it, over an arch.

There?

Right there.

I help my coworkers place silverware.

Steak knife then butter knife on right, salad fork then dinner fork on left.

Order.

A process.

The silverware is spotty.

Everyone’s tired.

Bartenders set up glasses, mixers, ice, wine bottles, and cases of beer.

Photographers survey the room.

The DJ sets up speakers.

We move tables just slightly.

Huge, heavy tables built by Amish people in neighboring towns.

Chairs, stacking and unstacking.

I look outside at a silo, around which are chairs and a small tent thing from yesterday’s ceremony.

Emptychairs on green grass beneath blue sky and white clouds.

Yesterday’s ceremony is today’s task.

‘Two families will become one tonight,’ I say, in an evil voice, to my coworkers.

They laugh.

‘Who’s on “Living Ottoman” duty tonight,’ one says.

It’s a joke we made up.

Living Ottoman.

I right-side water glasses and polish them, base then rim.

‘No, but, I just hope everyone enjoys themselves tonight,’ I say. ‘That’s what I’m here for.’

My boss smiles, straightening some knives. ‘I can never tell if he’s being serious or not.’

‘I’m being serious right now, Lavender Man. It’s our job to help aid in this union. If that’s not what you’re here for, you get the hell out right now.’

I continue polishing glasses.

Looking out the window, there’s a few crows.

They’re waiting to fly me back to the woods.

You’re so beautiful, I think.

Boo!

***

In the kitchen, everyone hustles.

It’s steamy.

‘Wuddup Shane!’ I yell, to the dish-washer. ‘You doing good?! You doing fucking good?!’

The dishwasher smiles. ‘Shit, you see very well I’m on top of it. Rogue agent.’

At some point he’d begun referring to us as ‘rogue agents.’

And at first, I didn’t understand.

But then, I did, and I think he did too.

Rogue agents.

Sometimes he’d say it while putting his back against mine, doing a two handed/guns up motion.

I liked Shane.

He had gray teeth and looked anorexic.

He lived in the trailer park by my apartment complex.

Same look on his face always, only his mouth moved.

He listened to music through a portable speaker.

Some type of music I’d never heard.

Sounded like music for a videogame, with an eastern/dance tone.

Like, unless you were riding a horse made of shadows, through a forest in Romania, on the way to kill a werewolf out of revenge, holding an emeralds word—your eyes red and lightning filled—I’m not sure it was appropriate.

But that’s what rogue agents do.

Live outside the rules.

‘Rogue agents,’ Shane says, nodding.

We bump elbows.

‘Rogue agents,’ I say.

Shane smiles.

‘Bro, if they don’t sort the knives tonight bro,’ he says, suddenly serious, ‘I’m gonna snap, man. I mean it.’

Sometimes people forgot to sort the sharp knives from the other silverware.

And Shane has been stabbed many times.

He has survived many, extremely-minor stabbings.

He often displays the bandaids on his hands to prove it.

‘Shane, I’m gonna tell those mother-fuckers what to do, and they’re gonna do it. They will all submit. I can’t have an injured rogue agent.’

He holds up both hands, fingers splayed. ‘Bro I got stabbed so many times, I’m gonna snap.’

And he’s serious.

He’s totally serious.

‘Don’t snap,’ I say.

‘Bro, I’m gonna have ta snap. I’m serious. Fuck it though. Tomorrow’s my mom’s birthday,’ he says, lifting up his backwards hat and lowering it again.

Says he’s taking her out.

‘Nice, I hope you have a good time.Tell your mom happy birthday.’

He says theywill have a good time, and tells me about a deal happening at the place they’re going.

‘That’s a hell of a deal,’ I say, raising my eyebrows. ‘I wish I was going with.’ Then I stare off for a second. ‘Alright, you ready for this shit man?! You ready for this?!’

‘I’m ready!’

More servers show up.

We stand around listening to the plan from the lead server, who has written an itinerary on a whiteboard.

Strategies for the evening.

The process.

Guests come in at.

Ceremony at.

Cocktail hour at.

Speeches at.

Dinner served at.

Dancing at.

Last call at.

Sparkler send-off at.

Guests out at.

Vendors out at.

Done.

Victory.

Sleep.

‘Gonna be a long one, kids,’ says the lead server. ‘Pain death murder kill, et cetera.’

‘But to aid in eternal love, what is pain?’ I say to the group.

Sandy laughs.


This above is an excerpt of a piece from Issue 43 of The Lifted Brow. Get your copy here!

Sam Pink is the writer of The Garbage Times/White Ibis (Soft Skull Press, 2018). His forthcoming collection The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories will be published by Soft Skull Press in winter 2020.

Casey Jarman has served as an editor at the Willamette Week and The Believer in San Francisco, written for Nylon, Next American City and Reed Magazine and provided illustrations for Portland Mobthly and Lucky Peach.