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The 2016 Fiction Issue

'I Don't Know What I Did Last Summer'

A love triangle between a Danish Poet, a Danish Artist, and a cool young woman who may be a little too smart for her own good.

by Kaitlin Phillips
Dec 7 2016, 12:00am

Photos by Caroline Tompkins

Photos by Caroline Tompkins

This story appeared in the December Fiction Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

I go to a May Day party at Alex's grandmother's house in the East 60s. I wear eyeliner I bought for $58 at Bergdorf's. Mercedes, the live-in maid, says, "You look OK today." Feeling gratified, I tell this to Alex. "Is your target audience really the maid?" He pats my upper arm. His father tells me I look just great, really spiffy, like a cocktail waitress. Alex's mother tells me not to worry, her husband doesn't know what that means. Alex's grandmother pats my wrist. "Poor people make good artists because they have to imagine what isn't there." She introduces me to everyone as a painter.

Ben brings me a canapé and tells me to stop telling our friends that he accused me of stealing his knives. "I just asked you where they went," he says. "You stay at my house for a month, I come back, and all my knives were gone. I just asked you where they went."

My therapist, a Russian, is less impressed with me than I am with myself for saying "ideological traitors," instead of "my enemies."

At a barbecue, a man asks me if I really stole all of Ben's knives to sell on eBay. He cuts me off before I even get to the part where I don't know how to cook: "Neither of you tells this story in a way that isn't boring."

My ex-boyfriend emails to say that a man has emailed him to say that he saw me at a party last night. I seemed not only to be "inebriated" but to have "a spastic grasp on narrative arc." Frank comes over to give me the keys back to my apartment now that I can afford not to sublet it to him. I explain the entire situation, reading all the emails aloud, some stretching back into 2015, but he just stares at me, dull-eyed like a fish, and calls me a "one-woman information clearing house." He says I remind him of a woman he met when he was in a psych ward for suicidal ideation when he was 18. He says if he had my problems he'd kill himself. I ask him what he thinks my problems are, and he says he heard I have a drinking problem and that I'm having trouble finding a job. I tell him I haven't applied for any jobs, which is true, because I didn't tell anyone that SoulCycle didn't call me back after my interview. (In the interview, they wanted to know why I wrote no answer on two of the six questions on their pre-Interview form.

I said it was because I didn't have a favorite color, and—I lied and said—I didn't know how my friends would describe me.)

I relay everything Frank says in an email to my ex-boyfriend, and he responds within two minutes: "Kaitlin. Here's the thing. Either you're cool and smart or dumb and lame, nothing is going to change your fate." In 2011, he emailed: "You're either with us, or you're with Psychology Today."

I do a search in my Gmail. "Classic mistake" gets "1–100 out of many." I delete an email from Sallie Mae, an email from Navient, an email from ConEd, and an email from Equinox. I do not open angry, concerned, and/or confused emails from editors and/or friends who work at seven different publications, and move them into a file called: "TO ADDRESS IN THE FALL."

I email my mother and ask her for $200. She says she'll send cash in the mail. I email the man I call, in mixed company, "my estranged father," and ask him to send $116 through Western Union for "my transportation needs," and to please this time specify which country it's coming from because otherwise I won't be able to fill out the form. He emails to ask if I have free time, since I'm still unemployed, and if I do, wouldn't it make sense if I worked for him, editing the novel he just wrote in six weeks in Ukraine waiting for "Anna" to get back from an unplanned business trip. ("Not the Ukraine," says my ex-boyfriend's best friend, repeatedly, at parties, whenever I'm at the peak of my rhetorical powers, explaining just how the internet age has allowed my father to marry a woman my age trapped in Ukraine without a passport.) I email back to say that I don't have any free time.

I wake up at noon, wait in line, put the money from Western Union in my wallet, call the Danish Poet, hop a turnstile, and sit on his bed cross-legged, talking about my finances and wiping the last of "Elon Musk's molly" from LA on my gums. He recommends the same book he has been reading for the six months I have known him about reconciling with your father, even though he has yet to reconcile with his father. I like the Danish Poet because he put me in his novel, which the Danish Artist says was published to "some acclaim" in Denmark. I am described as "a feminist." In the first draft, he, "the minor poet," called me "the redhead," and the Danish Artist, "the major artist." At the time, I said it was sexist to give the two men professions and the one woman a hair color. Classic mistake.

Because he wrote the novel in Danish and has yet to find an English publisher, the only translation I have of the entire novel is what the Danish Artist emailed:

I summarize: A minor poet and a major artist are best friends. The minor poet meets a feminist at a gallery dinner for the major artist. She has been stalking the major artist for months. (True.) She was not invited to the artist's dinner. (True.) Because the major artist ignores her at dinner (Questionable), she makes out with the minor poet. The major artist tells her to choose between the two men. She cannot. They all go home to the minor poet's house, because it isn't that nice (True), and the major artist is afraid the feminist will steal something from his house (True).

She becomes pregnant. (I hope not.) She calls them both on the phone. The major artist doesn't pick up, because he is giving a lecture. (Likely.) The minor poet isn't doing anything, because he is unemployed. (True.) They raise the child together. He doesn't request a paternity test.

I tell the Danish Artist I wrote my version of what happened between us as a short story. He gets very angry and tells me he's never talking to me again. Three days later, he emails to say that if I'm going to publish it, I have to say that he's the Swedish Artist. I say, "OK," and forward his email to my ex-boyfriend, who responds: "Stop emailing me about other guys." I ask him to pay my rent. He says, "Sure, but don't tell anyone." I text my mentor and say my ex-boyfriend is paying my rent so she doesn't have to but thank you anyway.

I do not publish my version of the threesome, just in case I want to keep having sex with the Danish Poet and the Danish Artist.

My therapist draws me a chart. "After one month, you should decide whether or not to be exclusive." He draws a big heart and writes: exclusive. Then he draws a heart with a lightning bolt down the middle: marry or break up. "This is after six months." I put it on my refrigerator.

A roommate I had in 2010, from England, went to a party and said, "New Yorkers only talk about romance." A man replied, "No. You live with Kaitlin Phillips."

A woman next to me on the F train is reading a pamphlet called "Safety Tips for Living Alone." I resist the urge to trip her. A homeless woman on a computer kiosk at the cafe across the street from the Strand posts on Facebook, "LONELY!!! SINGLE!!! LOOKING FOR SOULMATE!!!!! COMPUTER FOR ONE HR."

This story appeared in the December Fiction Issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.