Late Capitalism with Ollie and Milena
by Will Mountain Cox
“I don’t have my camera.”
“Use your phone.”
I reviewed the images I’d been saving behind my eyes. Milena sitting with Ollie curled between her legs. Ollie sitting with Milena kneeling next to his feet. Ollie and Milena with their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
“How do you want us?”
Before I could answer Milena was taking off her top and Ollie was matching. The tightness of Milena’s top peeled away from her torso. Ollie’s loose shirt slid off with only a light pull. Milena pushed Ollie’s jeans to the heels then stepped out of her own. Ollie stood and threw Milena on the bed. I pulled out my phone from my pocket and tried to focus the camera.
My hands were shaking. I swallowed hard and watched them touch, the touches rough as fighting. Milena forced herself on top of Ollie and turned back to me. With her left hand she had Ollie by the throat and with her right she grabbed me by the waist of my pants.
Their angles were perfect. Bends and crutches and arms wrapped through their open spaces. I tried to take a picture but Milena pulled me down with them. I dropped my phone and heard it hit the floor. I wasn’t concerned. I was in bed with Ollie and Milena and Milena and Ollie.
I felt my clothes coming off and halves surrounding me. The joy was too much to watch with my eyes. I closed my eyes so I could feel the experience. The images in my head ran sprints from the drugs. I could feel myself convulsing in rhythm with the images. Animals. Animal toys. Russian-toy animal dolls, splitting in half and fitting back together mismatched. Halves inside halves inside halves. Dog halves in my ears. Giraffe halves in my mouth. Duck halves in my throat. Cat halves in my chest. Human halves in my lower half.
I felt each of their halves against me. In my head, I took pictures of what was happening since I couldn’t watch. Together they felt amazing. I wanted the feeling of it ending. But the feeling wouldn’t.
“I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Don’t worry, just enjoy it. Sometimes you can’t when you’re high.”
I could hear the sympathy in their voices and the sympathy morphed their faces in my mind. Sympathetic expressions mixed with animal faces. Exciting and understanding animals. Animals purring, petable and never running away. They were correct, if the feeling of ending never came, then the feeling of this new experience could go on forever.
The hope was bacterial and highly contagious. Hope on the hands spread onto shoulders. Hope on the lips laid across cheeks. The heat of the bar beading hope at the temples, the sweat evaporating and getting on the windows, fogging up London with hope. I saw through my viewfinder all the jaws grinding under smiles, mouths mouthing words like, ‘we,’ and, ‘yes’. The faces without worry-lines trenched across foreheads or dug around eyes. The images perfect for taking.
Ollie and Milena had invited me for a lock-in at a pub near their house called The Cannon. It was a Thursday night and it was England’s General Election. They explained that a ‘lock-in’ was like a party requiring commitment to being in or out of locked doors. A ‘General Election’ was like a Presidential Election without the presidents. It was against my rules, seeing Ollie and Milena on a weeknight. I’d said I couldn’t come, but Ollie and Milena insisted. They said it would be an important moment for photographing youth. I rushed home to change my clothes, grab my camera, and meet them before the doors locked.
The Cannon was hip and dim, full of mirrors and black leather benches. Covering the benches and reflected in the mirrors was a full crowd of young people being loud with excitement. In the back of the pub, on a black leather bench, under a pink neon sign that read, ‘Don’t ask and never tell’ in cursive handwriting, I found Ollie and Milena sitting wrapped in each other. They spread apart to make room for me.
“We bought you a beer.”
I sat in the space they made. Ollie fished in his pocket and pulled out something small. He held the back of my head with his right hand and put two fingers of his left hand in my mouth. Whatever he left inside me felt exciting and destructive. Milena held up my beer.
“What was that?”
“A bomb. You need to catch up, the results will be in soon.”
“About an hour.”
Their seats were directly in front of the single television. In the distortion of the pink light, Ollie and Milena looked wired with more skull than normal. I could tell they’d been at the bar a long time. There was a mixed smell of beer and sweat in the space between their bodies: a good smell.
The television made statements I didn’t understand, which Ollie, Milena and the bar either mimicked or refuted. The statements used complex words: ‘constituency,’ ‘mandate,’ ‘coalition,’ ‘home-county.’ I tried shaping the words into a logical conclusion but couldn’t. Ollie and Milena spoke to people sitting on either side of us, debating which statements were plausible and which statements were idealistic. After the vocabulary came the math, the quantum statistics voters gain in the run-up to an election. I could hear the pub becoming a computer, spitting out averages and probabilities. The numbers confused me. I didn’t know what they implied for people my age.
“What do the polls say?”
“Polls are basically illegal in England.”
“So it could go either way?”
“It could, but I think we’ll do it this time.”
I tried seeing the election in ways I understood. First the colors. On the television, superimposed over a map of the country, were red and blue seas with small pockets of yellow and green. I knew the reds and blues meant disagreement and that the yellows and greens meant greater differences.
Second were the two repeating faces on the television, old in different ways. I understood they were the candidates. One was eerily similar to the claymation satire of a human being. His face was twin to the kind and hopeful chickens from Chicken Run, the first film ever to inform me of England. The other face was the incumbent. His was the definition of every secretly violent stepfather. I knew who the bar had voted for without having to ask.
Last, and most helpful to my understanding, were the bodies filling the bar and moving around me. Groups of threes and fours passed between the television and me, right to left, their bodies looking hopeful, disappearing into toilets together. After long absences, the bodies came out from the toilets energized, all hands and shoulders and nodding foreheads, touching and colliding, even more hopeful. The same bodies passed me from left to right, the paths of their movement crashing into the bar, buying drinks in threes or fours and passing them around, sharing. I watched the drinks slide through mouths and throats, entering bodies, the mouths of the bodies unable to stop talking, even while drinking, the throats stretching and bouncing from side to side. Everything going up.
I could understand the foreign election with symbols like that: bodies similar to mine, celebrating anticipation. I was fluent in that contagious hope, the screams and the rubs and the hugs, all pleas for a future that was perfect and kind in its mystery. Perfect, to me, felt like two beautiful bodies on either side of my own.
I tried thinking back to another time in my life that I felt as perfect. Nothing, not the compliments or the accomplishment, felt as nice. I could have packaged the feeling of waking up inside a long Sunday morning between Ollie and Milena, talking about our ideas under the influence of the dream that was the previous evening. Then I could have sold that feeling to myself who already owned it. I guess that’s what luck is, the craving to consume that which you have in abundance. I wanted whichever outcome could guarantee my future as that feeling. I could tell everyone in the pub wanted the same for themselves and for me.
“Locking up. You’re either in or out.”
A tall boy with silky black hair stood on a chair to make himself taller. I could tell he was the owner of the pub from the way he made his voice sharp with forced authority. He looked young, as young as the rest of us, and I could see the same manic excitement in his face as the crowd he was serving. When he yelled about the doors, the bar began feeling smaller, the freedom of movement shrinking in proportion to the shrinking freedom of time, the long-freedom moment of unknowing reaching its conclusion. With the doors locked and the windows closed, the heat of the hope was like liquid in the air, produced by everyone, getting on everyone, immobilizing the bar with its thickness.
“It’s almost 10:00. They’re going to announce first reporting soon.”
Ollie and Milena went quiet with the rest of the bar. As they studied the television hung in the air, I studied their faces. Smooth. Tight. Perfect. I held up my camera on their faces then turned the camera on all the faces of the bar. I wanted photos at the exact moment of result. Like a climax.
Through the viewfinder I could see the jaws and the mouths and the hope. Through my ears, in the world outside the viewfinder, I could hear the television repeating ‘labor, labor, labor.’ The muscles in the faces began flowing upward and inward, conducting in the heat of the hope. I saw the mouths mouthing their yeses and we’s. I saw the hands on the shoulders and the lips on the cheeks.
And then the words changed.
The words ‘Tory’ and ‘conservative’ and ‘reporting’ and ‘mandate’. The words repeating and getting louder. The faces in the viewfinder turning back from where they were going, the muscles convecting. I set down my camera. Those were not photos I wanted to take.
Ollie and Milena were standing.
“I need to get the fuck out of here.”
I stood to follow. The crowd, still connected by hope, had the same reaction. There was a pileup at the locked doors. In the moment of pause, I looked back at the television and couldn’t understand. The screen was flashing blue, the traditional color of my country’s youth. The owner, in his long, silky hair, tried to prevent the leaving but had no conviction. A strand of his hair fell in front of his eyes. He unlocked the doors after a few quiet demands and the crowd from the pub spilled onto the street.
London had lost its sound. Gone were the polite screams, replaced by loud thinking. Ollie and Milena walked quickly, without asking the other where they were going. I followed, away from the pub, under the Overground, in the direction of their house. In the silence of the city, I looked at its buildings. The orange bricks were brown and the grey stones had cracks at their angles. Paint was peeling off window frames. Weeds were reclaiming their lands. We passed other groups, everyone trudging, looking in the eyes but not saying anything. Just walking in tragedy.
At their apartment, Ollie and Milena threw open their door and walked straight through it, directly to the back garden. The ground where the grass should have been was covered over with small stones. Ollie and Milena laid themselves on the stones like it was comfortable and each lit a cigarette on their backs. The garden was surrounded by a high wooden fence. Hung from the fence were nylon lines to dry clothes in the sun. The scene should have been romantic, but instead of cotton sheets billowing, the lines were hung with t-shirts and underwear drying in the dark. I sat down between them and worried.
They took a long time to answer.
“The fucking country happened.”
“But what about the blue?”
“Blue’s conservative, red’s labour.”
The smoke from their cigarettes was getting on their clean clothes.
“What does it mean?”
“What does what mean?”
“It means five more years of absolute shite.”
“Five years. Jesus, we’ll be in our thirties.”
“They’re gonna sell off the NHS.”
“And the public transport.”
“They’re going to sell off the whole fucking city, the scum.”
“How are we gonna afford to live here?”
“London’s going to become all bankers and consultants. A city full of gits.”
“Forget us ever buying a house.”
Ollie was picking up stones and throwing them at the fence. Milena was picking up stones and letting them fall on her chest.
“Jesus, I still have 30,000 pounds in student loans.”
“Yeah, well so do I.”
“What do you mean? No you don’t.”
“What do you mean what do I mean? Of course I do.”
“I thought your parents were gonna pay that off?”
“How could so many people have voted for them. It’s not even a coalition.”
“And the Scottish. What were they thinking?”
“They were thinking of the referendum.”
“Fuck their referendum.”
There were so many intricacies I couldn’t comprehend. So many problems I had no idea how to solve. I wanted to pull Ollie and Milena closer.
“Do you guys want something to drink?”
I stood and walked from the garden into the kitchen. Through the kitchen window, Ollie and Milena looked like kids, tired but still playing in the rocks. Their lips were moving, only a little, and not in time with a good conversation. I knew they were stating facts.
There was a shop at the top of the road and I left the house and walked toward it. The white fluorescents exploding from the doors hurt my eyes from a full block away. Through the doors I could see racks of candy and I knew there would also be chips and cookies and ice cream inside. I felt a tragic need to buy treats for the kids in the garden so began to walk faster. I passed through the doors, their motion detector dinging my entrance. I stood motionless in front the rack of candy.
The treats were different than the ones I’d grown up with. Different names and different shiny packages. Peanuts where the nougat should have been. Caramel where the peanut butter should have been. I had no idea, based on my own childhood, what those candies meant. I wanted to buy Ollie and Milena the candies filled with their happiest memories and not the candies that had, at one tragic moment and now every time after, made them sick. I tried to imagine Ollie and Milena as children, their hair curlier, their knees scabbed, their soft arms full of imagination. I wanted to know how those kids had imagined this exact moment, when their parents had handed them a candy and asked them what they wanted to be, older, but without including the realistic caveats of failure. I wanted to buy the candies that were forward-looking in the past but I knew candies were too dangerous, since they could just as easily be backward looking sweets of regret. I forced myself away from the rack and went to buy beers; three cans of the cheap Polish.
In the garden, Ollie and Milena were sitting up, silently staring at the sky running above their country, looking like they were wishing. They had each taken off their shoes and their socks and I could see their toes. I handed them the beers, which they immediately cracked and took long sips out of.
“How are you doing it?”
“Me? Doing what?”
“I don’t know, surviving. Making enough to live here?”
“Just the photography work mainly.”
“What like, commissions and commercial and that. That pays enough?”
“I hope it will.”
“Must be pretty fucking nice.”
“Your work will hit soon. I can feel it.”
“Doesn’t feel that way right now.”
“I’ve only been able to make consignment on my clothes. And no one’s written back about Ollie’s scripts.”
“You’ve just got to be patient, right?”
“I’m just not sure I can handle this restaurant shit much longer.”
“Eleven quid an hour ain’t gonna go very far after tonight.”
“What did you do, before photography started to pay?”
“I had some money saved up?”
“Saved up from what?”
“From a job.”
“What kind of a job?”
“I did some consulting for a while.”
“Who did? You?”
“Yeah, but just to save up some money.”
“You were a fucking consultant?”
“Well, you’ll fit right in to London then.”
“How long did you do it for?”
“I don’t know, a couple years.”
“Yeah, for a while after college.”
“But I quit to focus on the photography.”
“How much had you saved before you quit?”
“I don’t know.”
“Bullshit. Of course you know.”
“I really don’t. A few grand maybe.”
“And Uni? Paid off?”
“Well fuck us then. We had no idea you were such a little professional.”
The bomb in my stomach was wearing off and I was starting to feel cold. I touched my stomach with my hands and felt a pain running through me.
“You guys want some tea or something?”
I walked inside to the kitchen and felt better away from the questions. I filled Ollie and Milena’s kettle with water and listened to it beginning its rumble. Through the window I could see their outlines. The outlines rocked back and forth and I could tell by the rocking they were speaking intently. It was too dark to lip-read but through the open door to the garden I caught them saying each other’s names. The heat from the boiling kettle fogged the window then snapped off. I filled three mugs with spoons, tea bags, and water. I took milk out the fridge and splashed in the right amount, the amount Ollie and Milena had taught me. Holding the mugs with my pointer fingers, I carried them outside.
“You know Ollie was offered an advertising job last year and didn’t take it.”
“You didn’t want me to take it.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you should have taken it. It was a good job.”
“Fuck off. Why don’t you get a real job then?”
The tea wasn’t helping. I wanted the subject to change for anything else. Tomorrow night would be the weekend and I didn’t want this weekday to ruin it.
“What are we thinking for tomorrow night?”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
I began to unlace my shoes. I had the desire to touch my toes with Ollie and Milena’s toes so that they would laugh instead of talking.
“Maybe we should just move back to my house.”
“Ha. No way I’m moving to fucking Norwich.”
“It’s better than Hull.”
“There’s no way we’re moving to my house either.”
“We could move up to Manchester. It’s cheap enough up there.”
The idea of Ollie and Milena leaving London put a final knot in my stomach. I stopped unlacing my shoes and had to lie down on my back.
“Isn’t there any way you could make it work in London?”
“I guess it just depends.”
“On everything. The government. Rent. Work.”
“What do you care anyway? You have to leave in a few months don’t you?”
“I was thinking about staying.”
“I don’t know. I’ll find a way.”
“Yeah well. Good luck with that. Not sure what’ll be left here worth staying for.”
Ollie and Milena’s words were making me think of home and in thinking of home I knew the three of us were sharing the same emotion. By leaving home and living the life we wanted somewhere else, we’d taken on the responsibility not to fail, not in our own eyes and especially not in the eyes of our past ideals. We had a responsibility to those old ideals not to go backwards because going backwards meant a double failing, of ourselves and the old ideals we’d have to meet up with back at home; the ideals whose human forms looked objectively similar to us, who convinced us to leave in the first place, to save ourselves from the pain of home. It didn’t matter where backwards was, the location would hold people who wanted to hurt us just as much as we would want to hurt ourselves for returning unsuccessful.
I checked my phone and it was later than I thought.
“I need to head out guys. I have a shoot in the morning.”
“You’ve got a shoot?”
“Well, good luck with that.”
“Tomorrow night, yeah?”
Will Mountain Cox lives in Paris, France. His first book, With Paris in Mind, was published by Relegation Books in November, 2019. His writing has appeared in Profound Experience of Earth, For Every Year, and alei journal, and he has been the featured poetry reader at New York University and Goldsmiths University. ‘Late Capitalism with Ollie and Milena’ is an excerpt from a novel, in progress.