Shelly Oria

The Difference between Gary Last Night and Tonight
An excerpt (part I of III)

We wanted to un-gary the moment, only to re-gary it later. This was not about ego. There was no need for food in us, and the time was late, maybe even later. But we felt the way nannies do when taking toddlers to the playground, saying to the child, Trust the other small humans. Some of these kids are evil, they might scratch your face, or worse. But trust, go and play, because a face unscratched is a life unlived.

We did not want Gary's face scratched. That was the last thing we wanted. You are missing the point. Try to pay attention.

When the fight broke, we shielded Gary's body with our own. This action was misinterpreted by some, but we couldn't let misinterpretation stop us from doing what was right.

Were you there both nights? We suspect you were not. We certainly didn't see you. You are here now and that's not nothing, we are not saying that it's nothing, no one is saying any such thing. But please remember that we were there both last night and tonight; that is something for you to respect. Saying 'please remember' means please become a member again. Do not forget that. And try not to misinterpret, misjudge, mislead--there should be none of that on this island. That is, after all, why we came here.

Remember when we raised our voice? We know you heard us, heard our attempt to stop the needless violence. It's the same Gary, we yelled, the same man. Our voice was pure, smoke-free. But no one believed us.

You came here even though the sun will soon come up and we are all city people, allergic to exposure. We appreciate you; there is no reason to feel unappreciated. But you didn't have to come, no one asked you to come, no one said Please come with us. Remember that.

As our skin reddens to the touch of sand, it is hard not to have regrets. If only we didn't stand by for as long as we did tonight, perhaps we would all be home now, in bed. With or without Gary, but home, and safe, instead of here on this skyless land.

And standing by wasn't the worst of it. We encouraged Gary to speak. Go on, we said. Ignore them, we said. It will be okay, we said. And we believed that it would be okay, didn't we? We believed it would probably be okay.

Then the hissing got louder and many people were shaking their heads. This is bullshit, someone said. Gary looked at us, and the fear in his eyes was spreading to the rest of his face. His eyebrows went up and down, his nose twitched. We nodded at him. There is no point in denying it now, and we know that you saw us. We said to Gary once again with our eyes to go on. I'm Gary, Gary said, but his voice was unstable and there was a short pause between the I'm and the Gary. A man standing next to us asked, What did he say? The man was bearded and hard of hearing, and of course Gary tonight, unlike Gary last night, was soft spoken. I'm Gary, Gary said again, and it was clear he was about to cry.

It was at that moment that we realized this man might not be Gary. Gary from last night had no tears in his sockets—of that we were sure. This almost-crying man, we knew now, might be another Gary, or maybe not even Gary at all. For all we knew, this was Bill, or Steve. Or worse.

We were trying to piece the puzzle of Gary, yes, but it had nothing to do with Gary the man. It had only to do with an idea, with what we hoped Gary could do for us.

We wanted Gary to teach us how to ride a bike, which is to say we craved to know how to be wholly alone and still moving.

Shelly Oria was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Israel. Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Quarterly West, cream city review, and fivechapters among other places, and won the 2008 Indiana Review Fiction Prize among other awards. Shelly curates the series Sweet! Actors Reading Writers in the East Village and teaches fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and Pratt Institute as well as privately. She will be a MacDowell Fellow in 2012.

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