Side Effect
by Emily Behnke, 3.24am Sept 10th 2021

You are back at your very liberal college cafeteria, tearing up as you search for romaine lettuce. You turn in a slow circle, helpless and desperate and eyeing the full buffet hot and cold thinking it has to be here, when you see him across the room. George fucking W. The hapless sack leans against the back wall. He always eats standing up, and he always has the cafeteria ladies make him a special burger, and it pisses you off because he would expect that kind of treatment here. You hope he doesn’t notice you—power walk to the other side of the cafe, sit at a table and hope to god your roommate doesn’t bail on lunch. But, of course, he notices you. Saunters over with the step of a man who thinks anyone with a pulse wants him. He leans on the back of the chair across from you, says, You and me, babe, and you give him death face and wait for him to finish, but he doesn’t, just closes his eyes in a way that makes you cringe. Then he says, Let’s blow this joint, emphasizing the t, joint-ah. And you, monotone, loud, say No, George, because you are not a fucking republican. People around you stare. No one stops him, though, because he’s George W. It’s hard to make friends with him doing this. You tell him that, but he raises his eyebrows like he’s your friend, and you get up and walk away and start to wake, and even in the dream you know it’ll happen again. He has chosen you. You wake up, not with your heart pounding or with your voice hoarse from screeching in terror, but in that leaden kind of incandescent rage that forces you up and out of your skin. During a certain presidency, people make cheeky little jokes about wanting George W back and you fight the urge to kick them in their heads, to screech like a subway rat that’s seeing the light. Him? You cannot admit any of this to your doctor. But in the long-term, this medicine will be good for you. You will uncover the clocks in your apartment, will convince yourself that angel numbers do not exist. You will get down to only checking the stove three times before bed. Recovery is often an extended barter. You will be granted peace from compulsions—but you will now have George W flirting with you. And don’t bother looking it up. You don’t want to know what it means.