We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Lee Matthew Goldberg’s new novel Stalker Stalked, out this month from All Due Respect. The novel finds Goldberg exploring time-honored themes of surveillance and obsession, with some reality television and prescription drug abuse thrown into the mix. Read on for a glimpse inside of Stalker Stalked.
It took a bazillion years to get into 230 Fifth Ave and I blamed Pria.
Fine, she looked better than normal. She combed her hair where it usually resembled a bird’s nest. But why did she have to wear a dress that screamed I’m going to prom? Sea green and poofy. I wanted to throw her back into the water. While we waited, I kept scrolling Magnolia’s Insta page to make sure she hadn’t left. The line didn’t seem to get any shorter.
“Popular place,” Pria said, crossing her arms. “Do you think we should go somewhere else?”
It was spring, but nighttime. I didn’t bring a jacket, but thought I looked red hot. I had one great dress. It was gold. Magnolia would approve because she liked gold. It gave me a small waist. I just had to be sure not to drink any water. Long Island iced teas all night to get me as smashed as possible.
In front of us was a gaggle of girls about seven years younger. They were wearing practically nothing, shivering in their maxi skirts. Silky smooth black hair. They were fixing their lipstick in compact mirrors. They knew they were about to get in.
Sure enough, the bouncer called them over the people in front. They glided inside, semi-charmed. I pictured pigeons attacking their skulls. Pigeons with missing toes and eyeballs hanging from their sockets after being run over. Pigeons that didn’t give a flying fuck anymore. They went for the girls’ eyes.
“Lexi,” Pria said. I’d forgotten I’d left my apartment with her. Or even what we were doing. The sidewalk slanted and I lost my balance. Sometimes my blue heavens did that, made things swirly.
“What?” I asked. I needed a drink.
“The bouncer’s calling us!”
She was shaking my arm. Oh, thank the dear lord Jesus. I gave the bouncer an eye-fuck as we walked past, like he’d been smart in choosing us.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been out like this. Another world. When we got up to the roof, there were so many people. Overwhelming at first. Terrible music thumped, bleeps and bops. Pria moved to the beat like she was cool. She looked like she was squeezing out a turd.
“Pria, stop,” I said, because everyone was watching us. Girls that could be models, towering over us in spiky stilettos. Guys with muscles showing off, blowing kisses. “Let’s get a drink.”
I yanked her to the bar. A bartender on her cell took my order while typing with her other hand.
“Wow, you’re such a good multitasker,” I said, and she glanced up only to scowl.
“Long Island iced tea?” Pria said, taking a sip and sticking out her tongue.
“This’ll get you drunk for the least money,” I said, and nodded until Pria nodded too.
“What’s this music?” Pria asked, taking another sip and swaying.
“Who cares? Let’s selfie.”
I gave duck lips as I snapped a few, making sure that I got a good shot off the rooftop and not really Pria. Still, she smiled so wide.
“Why don’t we dance?” she said, because enough people were dancing. More like bodies melding. Girls grinding on guys. A couple was kissing so intimately I got a rush from just observing.
I went out on the dance floor and imagined all eyes on me. I kicked and swung my arms like I was a showgirl on crack, absorbed by the music, the beat my everything. Until my neck was thick with sweat. I laughed and hugged Pria when the song ended.
“Girl, are you so wasted?” I asked.
“I drank half,” Pria said. She gave a shrug and wouldn’t let go of my hug.
“Chug!” I held the glass to her lips and made her drink it down. Some spilled to the floor. “Pria!” I scolded.
“I couldn’t drink that fast.”
“Can’t you do anything? I’ll get us more drinks.”
I didn’t care. I’d finished mine and thirsted for another. I started to head away.
“Wait.” Pria grabbed my arm. “Lemme come with you.”
“Pria, let go.”
She was digging into my arm. “Don’t leave me alone.”
I wrenched out of her grasp. It was bizarre.
“Promise you’ll come back?” she asked. “I get anxiety.”
I didn’t answer yes or no because I couldn’t make that promise. If I saw Magnolia…bye, Pria. Besides, I caught a guy eyeing me once I left her. She was dragging me down. This guy was older, not my type, but still…
I slinked over to my prey. Flirted by giggling, touching his wrist, and suggesting he buy me a drink. He had red hair and too many freckles but it was worth the free booze. He ordered me another Long Island and I told the bartender, “Make it extra ginny.”
“Gin drinker?” he asked. He had a round face and a mustache, pervy in the way I guessed he owned a van with tinted windows. He started talking about the origins of gin, how it evolved during the Middle Ages from an herbal medicine and became popular by some stupid king. I took my drink and walked away. Part of me wished he would get out of his seat and stick a knife to my throat. But I remained unharmed. I was on the prowl for Magnolia. In the picture she posted with Char in front of a wall with neon lights behind them that said Hot Kiss in the pinkest pink. They had to be in their own private section, observing the peons. Across the bar, I caught Pria staring at me through the crowd, honing in, her upper lip trembling. I turned my back to her and took a sip.
Over in a roped-off section sat Magnolia the Magnificent, her blonde hair made into a thick braid, her lipstick so dark it looked like blood, sky-blue eye shadow and a dress that matched the hot pink neon sign as if she planned it. Char was next to her chatting with a Greco-Roman sensation of a stud, his pecs bouncing. A suit and tie bro was talking to Magnolia, animated with his hands, but she paid him no mind. She needed me there to liven the party.
I casually danced over, swirling around, Sexy Lexi bursting out. With the right combination of Long Island blue heavens swimming in my bloodstream, I could be perfection. Beautiful. The music less crappy than before, ramping up for our encounter. A song about the world ending in fire and ice. I gave a wave in Magnolia’s direction to test out her response. She didn’t balk.
And then I was close to her, just the rope between us. Let me inside, I whispered, as if subliminally she’d listen. Open up her universe. Her pretty in pink existence.
“Magnolia.” No response. She didn’t even tilt her head. She stayed watching the crowd. I noticed she was being filmed, a man with a small camera catching her every move. Char cackled behind her, got her attention. The two laughed at a picture on her phone. I moved closer to see. A blog post of Bella walking out of a bathroom with toilet paper attached to her high heel.
“Share it,” I heard her tell Char. The frown had left her face, eyes sparkling.
“Magnolia,” I said again, louder this time. I could feel a rage building, squeezing my fists tight. Hear me, I shouted from deep down. Someone listen. My blue heavens like paste in my guts. “Magnolia!” I said, leaning across the rope, halfway in their sanctuary.
“What the fuck!” Char said, shaking her head, her hair flopping around like a lion’s mane. “Uh uh, what’s this nonsense?”
“We know each other,” I said, poo pooing her away. I turned to Magnolia. “From outside Café C’est Bon, Virginia’s Slims.”
Magnolia’s expression glazed. She stared through my soul. Devoured.
“You know this heifer?” Char asked.
Magnolia didn’t even take a second to think about it. Didn’t even give me that. She said “No” so fast—as if she was afraid to say “Yes.”
“Honey, do you see this rope?” Char asked, pointing with a sharp fingernail. “That means private section.”
“You gave me a Virginia Slim and I said my mother used to smoke them?” I continued, desperate. “And we talked about you being the queen.”
“Her pupils are the size of quarters,” Char said, cackling. “Girl, lemme get on your train.”
“No thanks,” Magnolia said, pushing me with her limp wrist. I didn’t move.
“We don’t want your drugs,” Char yelled, in my face. “Fly away.” She flapped her hands like they were two birds.
“I’m not—” My mouth froze, unable to make more words. “I want to hang out with you.”
The girls collapsed in each other’s arms, their laughs like needles. I felt assaulted. Magnolia whispered into Char’s ear, and Char said: “Yes, you have to. It’ll make it on the show.”
Magnolia cleared her throat. “You don’t see, do you?” she said to me, close enough to smell her lip gloss, bubblegum sweet.
“I see,” I said, my heart thumping.
“No, you don’t.”
It was hard to hear her over the music. She had to whisper in my ear. Since she was being filmed, I pictured this on the show with subtitles so everyone could know our private conversation.
“You will never be on the other side of the rope,” she said. “Look at you.”
I gazed down, my gold dress seeming duller in the light. A hole in the armpit, a curl of hair breaking through from forgetting to shave. My hair full of knots, skin blotchy and pasty.
And then they were done with me, the experiment completed. I almost thrust myself over the divide and choked her senseless, popped off that big balloon head from her tiny body. She gave a final half smile and waved goodbye.
I stood, drenched. Frozen but shaking. I didn’t know how long I stayed there, but a giant man in a gray suit escorted me away. He hurt my arm. I was left by the door.
“That didn’t happen,” I told myself, out loud. I needed to remove it from my mind. Otherwise it would destroy. I’d fling myself off the roof deck, never taking flight. With small steps, I teetered to the edge, cast a glance over at the sidewalk below and thought of how it might feel to hurtle into the night.
“Lexi, Lexi.” Pria appeared in my sightline, a blob of lipstick on her front tooth, smelling like underarms.
“Pria,” I said, hugging, lost in her nest of hair. “Let’s get out of here, please.”
She stroked my back, nails scraping against my sensitive skin.
When we got outside, too many people were trying to hail a cab. This guy started talking to Pria and I, shirt open showing his lanky body with a gold cross necklace on display. He had long hair and a thin curling mustache like a pirate.
“Uptown girls,” he kept calling us. “You’re my uptown girls,” he sang, off-key.
“You’re annoying,” I said, giving him a light push and thrusting my hand in the air as taxis whizzed by.
“Your friend is mean,” he told Pria, who didn’t refute. “You’re not.”
“Let’s get you a cab too, you should go to bed,” Pria said to him, acting like Sober Sally.
“I’m Luke, I am your father,” he said, and Pria laughed.
“It’s ‘Luke, I am your father,’” I said, through my teeth, balling up my fists.
“I can be your daddy,” I heard him say to Pria. When I turned around, he was slobbering over her neck.
“Let’s get you a cab,” she said again, trying to wiggle away from him.
“But you’re so exotically beautiful. You’re a siren of a sea, a mermaid on a rock,” he continued.
“Pria, push him away. He’s a creep.”
“Excuse me,” she said, as he wrapped his arms around her.
“Get off of her.” I swung my purse like a morning star and whapped him in the back of the head. “She’s not interested in cretins.”
I could see Pria giving a slight smile.
“All right, all right,” he said. “Chill, chill.”
He wasn’t moving away so I gave him an extra push to the ground. He landed hard on his ass as a cab finally stopped. I wanted to be by myself, but couldn’t leave Pria on the street with a predator. As we got inside, he cursed at us and I gave him the finger. Pria did too. She could be cool sometimes when she wanted to be.