by Shaun Terry

Home recording studio

Hugo was walking back and forth along the floor, unwittingly causing the wood to creak as he stepped. “First, I find a song that strikes something in me. Or, you know, not always. I mean, I feel like I could sample anything, really. Maybe not anything. I dunno.”

“You always start with a sample?” James asked.

“No, not always. I don’t have to. I’d say I do it half the time? No. Maybe like two thirds of the time. You know, it all depends.” Hugo spoke more loudly than normal. He smiled a lot and gesticulated in big, flowing motions.

After some quick, careful consideration, Hugo’s eyes got big and he snapped his fingers. Snap! “You know, I get into these moods. Every six months or so, I go back and listen to my beats and they all sound like shit. I mean, not all of them, but most of them, and usually there are obvious things that I was consistently doing wrong. There’s so much to this, you know? You have to learn so many things, but there are also so many ways to do it.”

“I see,” James said. He gently grinned.

“Like, I’ve learned all these styles. What I really try to do is to take the best and beat them at their own style.”

“Beat them? Like who?”

“Well, you know—”

“I don’t know. Who are your favorites? Who do you most admire?”

“Dr. Dre, J Dilla, Flying Lotus—”

James’s back straightened. “Wait! You mean to tell me you try to outdo those guys?!”

“Well, I’m not saying that I’m better than them!”

“Hugo, you’re fucking crazy, man.”

“Whatever. I’m just trying to do my best. I mean, my beats are pretty good.”

“Hugo, I constantly hear you working on them. Honestly, it makes me a little crazy, but I don’t complain because I want you to feel good about something. They’re good. You’re not Dr. Dre.”

Hugo’s neck and back lengthened. “I know that! Look, I’m not a narcissist.”


Hugo glared at James. His voice lowered. “Look. I think that if I just knew how to market these things, I could make a career making beats.”

“You think so? Why don’t you market them?”

“It’s just not my thing. It’s boring. I like making beats. I’m not a salesperson.”


“Well, I also don’t have all the tools, you know? And I could use some training. I could grow so much faster if I were properly trained. There are things that I know need work.”


“But my beats are pretty good!”

“They’re pretty good, Hugo. Maybe you’re right.”

“I dunno. I think so. Who knows?”

“Maybe I could find some way to help you or to get someone to help you.”

“Yeah! That’d be great! We could work together, Jim!”


Hugo plopped into the recliner across from Jams. James was sitting on the old, decrepit couch, not moving, before his body stiffened and he grew erect: “Hey, you know Michelle called.”


“On the house phone. I guess you gave Michelle my number?”

“Really? I didn’t even know we had a house phone.”

“Oh. Well, Michelle called.” James turned his head toward Hugo. “Well, who’s Michelle?”

“I wonder why she called. She’s an ex. I keep thinking that she hates me, but she never really seems to hate me.”

“Why do you think she hates you?”

“Maybe I don’t. I dunno. I’m just scared. I get scared.” The distance between Hugo’s irises widened, as though he were looking far off into the distance, far past the wall that impeded his view. “We had a pretty good relationship. The end was really stupid and it was all my fault, but I didn’t fuck it up. Well, no. I did fuck it up, but not in my usual way.

“I mean, I didn’t cause a giant disaster. I just walked away. I kind of just ignored her. I think I started dating someone else. I’m sure that happened. I don’t know why I would’ve intentionally chosen loneliness. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, she was so good to me and she was really into me. For some reason, she really seemed to forgive me and to understand me.”

“So why’d you end it?”

Hugo cocked his head to the side, his neck stiff like a branch that had broken and fallen at an angle from a tree after a storm. He enveloped his head and neck with his bent arm as he massaged the back of his neck with his fingers. “I don’t really know. It was too perfect or something. I remember that she’d made fun of me for some little stupid thing. I don’t remember what it was. It was entirely innocent and I was just being stupid. I knew it at the time, but I couldn’t avoid this terrible feeling. It was like my whole body was some toxic element. I would shake, you know? You know how sometimes my hands quiver?”

“I thought that was just when you were hungover.”

Hugo’s neck straightened as he looked at James. “Yeah. Well, not just.” He looked toward the floor. “She’d made this stupid joke, and I felt like she was gonna leave me. I’d always felt like she’d leave me, but this was like a big, meaty corpse on the pile of reasons why I was scared she’d leave me.”

“You’re such a poet.”

“Well, I’d always been scared of her, and then she’d said this thing.”

“But why were you scared that she’d leave you?”

“I dunno, man. It’s just how I am. I’m scared that you’ll leave me, but not as scared and I don’t care as much about it. No offense.”

“No, no.” James’s mouth formed a downward-facing crescent.

“It’s just—I dunno. All the women eventually leave. My mom always left. She started leaving me when I was very small. I’d cry for her, to her, wanting her. All the time. When I was like two or three, I’d cry for what felt like hours at her bedroom door. I’d lay on the ground and shove my squishy little child hands under the door and wiggle my fingers. But it didn’t stop there. I did that for a while, but even as I got older, I’d go to my room and I’d cry for what felt like hours. I’d run away. Well, I wouldn’t really, but I’d try to. I’d announce that I was gonna, but no one cared. My mom would insult me and tell me that she couldn’t wait ’til I was old enough for her to be forever done with having to deal with me. She wanted to abandon me in a more absolute way. When I was really small, at one point, I even—or maybe it was at several points; I don’t remember—well, I basically intimated to her that I was feeling suicidal. Of course, I did it in a bratty, shitty way, and I think I was just kinda copying It’s a Wonderful Life, but you know her response?”

James slowly responded, his face like clay, “Tell me, Hugo.”

“She basically just defended herself. I told her I wished I’d never been born, and she just blamed me for what was going on, yelling at me, and she walked into her room, crying, leaving me stunned, shocked! I went to my room, and felt even more alone.”

“And you didn’t kill yourself.”

Hugo stared into James’s eyes. “I didn’t kill myself. But everyone leaves me, James. I’m the common denominator. I realize that. Whether the situation’s abusive or healthy or whatever. And when it seems too good to be true, maybe I don’t want to go so far down the rabbit hole that it’s completely traumatic when they finally do leave, so I guess I’m fucked. I can never be with someone who’s good to me. I guess I can’t really be with anyone.”

Hugo and James sat, silently in thought, not looking at each other.

Hugo suddenly started speaking, again, loudly: “But it’s not like I’m an angel, and I don’t trust my choices in women.”

“I’ll say.”

“You remember that girl I told you about?”

“Yeah. I mean, well, which one?”

“Damn, James. This shit was really awful. I was thinking about it the other day.”

James slapped his hands on his knees. He looked like a king in the wrong chair. “Hugo, who are you talking about? What are you talking about?”

“You know that time it got really bad?”

“Okay, Hugo.”

Hugo stared at James for a moment, his mouth agape. “Well, she would kind of verbally assault me and then run away. When I would respond, she would act as though I’d done something terrible to her. She’d tell me that she knew that she was a monster, but the moment anything happened between us, she would cry to her whole family and every friend about how I was abusing her.

“This was actually the girl who’d raped me.”

“Raped you? And quit saying ‘girl.’ But rape? Did she penetrate you?”


“Then, don’t call it rape, Hugo. That’s kinda fucked up.”

“Whatever, man. I said, ‘No,’ she didn’t respect it, she forced me inside her. It doesn’t matter. It’s not germane to the story.”


“You see, she would erupt in these very short-lived fits of rage, manipulation, and abuse, but then she would want to run away. I eventually began to insult her. I said terrible things. I became terrified of what I’d become, the things I’d started to say.

“It seemed to me like she viewed herself as a victim. I mean, this much was clear. I think that what really happened was that I started to view her as a victim. She couldn’t see herself being empowered. We’d talk about how she might view herself differently, but she would resist: ‘It’s not that easy.’ Well, maybe it wasn’t, but she didn’t want to try, either. She was more comfortable being the victim, so eventually I gave her what she wanted until she became the ultimate victim in some sense.

“I don’t mean that I killed her.”

“I know, but I also don’t think that’s ‘what she wanted.'”

“I guess you’re right.”Hugo’s mouth went sideways. “She started talking about how we were Twin Flames. In some way, she was encouraged by the abuse we both experienced. She was giddy about it. So I think I just complied with this idea of abuse, while also proclaiming that I wanted to marry her. I really did want to marry her, but I was also terrified of what we’d become.

“I guess we both thought that the intensity meant something other than that we loved each other and that we were intense people, abusing each other. I guess we were both really monsters.”