“You’d love Karla,” she said. “She’s extraordinary. She wakes up in the middle of the night and writes poetry.”

The artist type, driven by inspiration. Creativity rules over everything—its power magnificent, a prodigy to behold. Karla awakes in the middle of the night and writes. Does she keep a pencil and pad on her bed stand? I guess. For a moment I think I also should. Does she have a bright bedside lamp? I don’t. I consider purchasing one.

I would like for Donna to talk about me (in my absence, all right) as she does of Karla. She cannot. I don’t have such a glamorous profile, though I am a wannabe artist myself. Of the minor kind. With a too composed, restrained attitude. Discipline in my case commands inspiration, not the other way around. My artistry is and will remain provincial, domestic. I’m not possessed by the sacred fire. How I wish I were.

I’m expecting to meet Karla soon. I long for, but also am afraid, of acquainting this girl Donna praises and strongly wants me to know, hinting at some affinity the two of us might have. The idea embarrasses me. I fear our juxtaposition could only reveal how pale an imitation I am.


I shall be surprised. After trumpeting Karla for a week Donna shows up with Petra, about whom she hasn’t spoken a word. Petra enters our universe matter of fact, as she exits the passenger’s door of D’s car, thus emerging from the place that will be hers from now on (it was mine until yesterday).

Was Karla a screen? Just a cloud of smoke Donna puffed around to conceal the fact she was getting a girlfriend? She is not that foxy. Not consciously, at least. But I never get to meet Karla, suddenly forgotten, disappeared, though the myth of her has dug a crease in my soul, setting an ideal I’d never be able to reach.

Petra is no one I could even hope to resemble—yet I like her, perhaps because of the chasm separating us. She is reason itself. Calm. Reflective. Scientifically minded, perfectly complementing Donna’s eccentric geniality.


Donna and Petra have claimed the main bedroom. Suddenly I’m exiled form the king size bed D and I used to share for companionship, for long chats until we’d fall asleep, to keep warm in winter. Not for sex. I am hetero and Donna hadn’t yet decided. Now she has.

I feel strange, a bit shattered. To play cool I start sleeping with the dog. The big German shepherd (namely Donna’s, but she doesn’t care any more, gladly abdicating ownership—and responsibility—in my favor) must have noticed the vacancy. Before I realize, it is cuddling at my side. I don’t stop it. Its presence comforts me. More than all it helps my dignity. My abandonment is less evident if the place next to me is obtrusively occupied.

I don’t feel uncomfortable while referring to the dog with a neutral pronoun. I don’t deem gendering always necessary or respectful. On the contrary, allowing the animal to maintain its privacy is more appropriate, more delicate.

I could use some privacy as well, by the way. How do I stand the sound of Donna-and-Petra’s lovemaking beyond the dry wall? Do I wish I could join them? Not sure, and I am not invited. I harmonize the rhythm of my respiration with the dog’s breathing. Our shared inhaling and exhaling lulls me to sleep.


On the night when the three of us drink ayawaska, we collapse (just on time) on the same sofa. A large one, dark and battered, pushed against a wall of the damp and impersonal beach house belonging to… no idea. Donna as usual has organized it all. She has keys. This place must belong to someone she knows.

We have sat at a round table in front of three tall narrow glasses, filled to the brim with a muddy liquid smelling and tasting foul. We have smoked a few joints to fight nausea, to make sure we’d hold the disgusting brew in our stomach. Before we start laboring on our potions Donna gives each of us a conk shell. She’ll explain in a minute, she says between giggles. Sharp, shrill, nervous laughter always contours her speeches, like quote marks.

The conk shells were sent by the brujo who provided the drug—little freebies on the house. They are talismans we should steadily hold in our fist, to make sure we’ll come back from our journey. After all, this shit we are religiously sucking is called “the drug of death”.

Wow, we are sipping it with such compunction, such eagerness, such delight—the three of us, so different. Donna the transgressor, the irreverent, the crazy. Petra the old and wise—is she twenty-three, twenty-four already?—poised, rational, soon-to-be-doctor, whose sole weirdness is to be a lesbian in a time and place when such preference still calls for stake burning. What am I? I can’t see myself and no one sees me at the moment. Sitting face to face, Donna and Petra only have eyes for one another.

On the sofa, where we’ll be plastered for twelve long hours under the effect of the strongest psychotropic on earth, Donna is in the middle. She has already inserted her fingers in our mouths (mine and Petra’s) as she invites us to do the same—explore gums, palates, tongues, teeth, no matter to whom they belong. Identities are becoming more blurred by the minute. I comply, and why not? Our trio starts to mingle and melt.

Then in a smooth, painless way, I realize this hors-d’oeuvre is pure courtesy. Though we are eating chips from the same bowl, when the meal will arrive I shall obviously keep to my plate. Is this only my assumption? Am I getting it wrong? Would I be welcomed, indeed, if I wished to share more? I will never know. I discreetly roll away, crumpling fetus-like on my end of the couch, squeezing the shell in my palm. I will take my journey alone, and survive.

Soon the carrousel sweeping my senses is so wild, I lose awareness of the couple entangled besides me. With hindsight, I dare say their sex was on the tender side. A sigh. A concavity.


On the night when we take acid—a simple routine, not comparable to the smashing yage-induced delirium—Donna and Petra pick the guest room and I get the king size bed, for some reason. I am facing an uncurtained glass door opening to the back patio. The moon shines—fastidious, revealing.

The dog is there of course, but doesn’t hop at my side. It waits on the floor nearby, squatting once on a while then resuming an upright, alert posture, always staring my way. I know, because whenever I leave my hallucinated reveries for a scrap of here-and-now I meet its eyes, glaring, phosphorescent—two more greenish moons. The dog is aware of the fact I’m not my “normal” self, and I need surveillance. How comes? What does my body emit? I wish I were this sensitive, this perceptive.

Tonight—with the usual thin wall between me and the couple next door, with the dog choosing supervision over coziness—I feel cold and forlorn. Neglected? Not sure. Cut out, scissored around the edges.

And I make up my mind, or else the dog does… something leaks out of its body, brain, soul—wiser, more mature than what I am able to produce. In the morning I pack my suitcase, leave a goodbye note and take off. I have decided I’ll quit fooling with drugs, at least for a while.


Before I came into the picture Donna had lived with Katriona. I am not sure what the nature of their relationship was. Actually, Donna’s living arrangements before my time and Petra’s also implied a trio of sorts. A certain Tod was involved.

Now she talked about him with disgust—a crook, a drug dealer, he had put the girls in some trouble. Katriona had to travel abroad in order to solve the problem. Slowly, in bits and pieces, I learned she had gone to purchase a stock of cocaine, needed to pay the debts due to Tod’s misgivings.

With Tod out of the picture, Katriona overseas, Donna must have found herself in a vacuum—a strange place for her gregarious temperament. That is when she had reached out to me. Was she attracted? I don’t think so, but we were compatible. She wished for an easy follower, ready to accommodate her foolishness, her desire to try it all, push boundaries, make a life of her own devising. I needed her edginess, her lack of concern, beautiful immorality, to help me overstep all remains of my decent upbringing.

We started hanging together on a regular basis, then living together. Then the book arrived in the mail. Donna was in heaven.


We had locked ourselves in the restrooms of the college from which we’d be soon kicked out. We had an exam one hour later. Donna carefully peeled off the book inside cover with the help of a small pocketknife. A thick layer of sparkling powder appeared. I had no idea of the quantity of money lying under my eyes. Donna did.

Katriona had made it! She had managed to purchase, hide, send over what would pay for the debt she and Donna had contracted. She must have taken huge risks, all alone in the distant world where she had ventured. In vain. Donna and I snorted the bounty in less than a week.

I must say in my defense I knew nothing of the story behind the snowy banquet we shared. Donna generously offered, I was happy to oblige. I learned way too late about Katriona’s despair, Donna’s bitter regrets. She had been unable to resist, she said. Was she ever?

Did it matter? I’m sure Donna managed to make it up to Katriona, resourceful as she was. Affluent. The black sheep of wealthy old aristocracy—her family had disowned, not disinherited her. Donna would pay back.


When we had just met and we drove together a lot, scanning the town outskirts for a cheap place to live (I didn't know she could have bought a castle) we listened to the radio non-stop.

A pop song was relentlessly aired—a recent hit, nothing special. Quick pulse, hammering beat, endless echoing of a catchy fragment of tune. I remember the title—“Feel No Pain”—that was also half of the lyrics. When we listened to it (at least twice a day) D took on a pensive and moody look.

Once she said: “This song made me stand the psychiatric ward, and get out of it”. Her statement left me perfectly cool. Being treated for mental something wasn’t rare an occurrence, with our lifestyle and the amount of illicit substances we used. I didn’t ask what she exactly… what for… I wasn’t curious. I felt fine about a roommate with a slightly psychiatric past—even proud, since she had overcome it. Kind of a war veteran, was she? She had survived thanks to a song.

Her point left a mark. After a lifetime I still catch myself judging music with her statement in mind. “Yes, it’s good but... would it sustain me through a mental breakdown? Show me the way out?” I weigh many things (art, poetry, friendship, romance) on the same scale. Not much passes the test.

And I hear Donna’s voice, with the nasal resonance due to her cleft lip, her malformed palate, the painstaking reeducation she had endured as a child. I had not known until she mentioned it—the scar on her mouth was minute, almost invisible. A small dent, kind of sexy—a muffled sensuality in her tone. Efforts and humiliation seemed unreal and remote. Sometimes she hinted lightly, ironically, at what she had gone through.


On the night when we drank yage and she inserted her fingers in our mouths, prompting Petra and me to do the same, was she exorcising something, visiting an old battlefield, blessing it with some sort of holy water? I didn’t realize at the moment.

On the night of the drug Donna princely shared—as she had shared thousands bucks worth of cocaine—I had an out-of-body experience. I stood up, walked to a side of the room clear of furniture, lowered myself to the cool tiled floor and performed a yoga posture—the star. It implied my hands and feet touching, all my energy cycling. A strong, revitalizing ritual.

As I assumed the pose I looked back at my body slumped on the sofa—a limp shell. And my body, on the sofa, looked at the star of myself shining across. Perhaps I longed for companionship after all. Starved for some kind of dialogue. Perhaps I didn’t want to be alone.


After I packed and left I never saw Donna again. No bad feelings, no hurt, though I don’t recall which pretext I gave for my desertion. I don’t think Donna cared—she had found her landing. Petra momentarily anchored her, while I broke loose like a kite. Rather I flew like a blinded canary, bumping into whatever obstacle I met.

A thousand years later, I have learned how to wake up and write. In the middle of night, I mean, Donna. Now I can follow inspiration as it takes the lead, uncaring of reasonable limits. While growing old I have grown wild. I could meet any Karla you might have in store—boldly, without a blink.

Still, when I switch my lamp on and I grab my pen, I don't think of that wonder girl of yours. I have never met her, you know? I hear the thick nasal tone of your voice instead, your laugh of self-irony, self-defense.

Let me tell you. I have crossed rivers of sorrow on narrow bridges, thanks to several songs of the cheap kind. Strong obsessive pulses, easy melodies, a few biting words, and that’s all. Feel no pain. Feel no pain. I think I don’t anymore.






Toti O'Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Fiction SouthEast, NonBinary Review, OVS Magazine, and The Adirondack Review.