*Featured Image: by Martine Mooijenkind
Teeth like a busted old fence. Hey man. You like to party? There must’ve been some kind of town fair the day before. The streets were a heath of carnival paraphernalia: creased beer cups and putrefied popcorn piles, cotton-candy funnels collapsed to impotence—puke. Carnies hastily took apart the last pieces of the last rides on earth you’d ever want to ride, eager to get off to the next Shake-n-Bake party. I was sitting on a curb, a few hundred miles from home, with concrete dust in my shoes, wearing a stolen windbreaker, when Kent walked up with his hands stuffed into the front pockets of his crepey brown jacket. He stopped and looked at me through bent wire-rimmed glasses, vacant eyes, a grin slit atop his rodent chin: You like to party? I was fifteen. I said yeah.
I was in the kind of love that puts a rock in your heart and stuffs your eyes with cotton, but you hold that rock and that cotton. Because that’s all you’ve got. No one understood our relationship—friends, family, no one. Any time it came up, I could see them fighting back smirks and condescension. So when do you see her? I don’t. Then what’s the point? It’s special. It’s deeper than that. A real connection? But how? I’d met her on Myspace, back when being in an online relationship seemed weird to most and parents still didn’t know what the internet was. Two-hundred and twenty-two miles were between us, but I didn’t care. We had our crack in the wall, and we’d whisper through it every night. First love, at distance. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. All we had was absence.
I was sitting on my bed thinking of her— the girl, my girl, when my mom opened the door and—Shut the fuck up! Then get the fuck out! Are you fucked up?! No fuck you. It’s done. You’re done! I’ll show you done! –You don’t even get it do you? —shit. A swelling black bubble of bile popped: acid rage—I smashed, belted the cracked wall behind me into dust, then ran out into a cold, wet night, away from the screaming and the yelling, away from the trap of being away from her, and towards the hope of being with her. Two-hundred and twenty-two miles. She didn’t even know I was coming. I had seven dollars. A t-shirt. Expectations.
I fell asleep against a tree, sometime after car-hopping myself into some warmer clothes. I was far from home, and I woke up freezing, understanding how a person could die like that. Then I sat there for a while curled up in a cold, dark night belly, its walls swollen with sad promises pressing me to get up.
I walked though to a pink and grey morning, to a gas station that smelled like bright ice and diesel fuel. I tried to catch a ride with some trucker but sorry kid, company policy. Someone bought me a coffee, but I couldn’t make the machine work so I just panicked and broke down and walked out with a cup full of crème. There was a cop somewhere. I tried not to look. I had to be careful. Just head East. I walked some more, about thirty or forty miles, and got stopped for hitchhiking: My name? oh. . . ah—Kyle Fitzgerald. I was just playing around. You can’t be doing that kid some piece of shit might grab you up and… I know. I know. I was only joking. Okay. Get out of here. When night came back around me, I lay down in a construction site on a pile of pink insulation and played with the clasp on the little blue braided bracelet she’d given me that one time.
Barking dogs and Czechoslovakian screams wake me up. I spend a day in the city jackhammering a sidewalk with immigrants, and by the night’s end I’m gliding into her town in the backseat of this Czech couple’s car. She didn’t know I was there.
The town is small and bright—a fluorescent tink on a dot in a nowhere like anywhere. I wander around some more, trying to use my heart as an astrolabe. I sit down on a greasy curb and look around at the flickering carnival lights. Hey man.
I’m sticking the beers in the fridge, already feeling her tomorrow kisses on the back of my neck. Kent’s rambling on: I threw the mattresses out cuz—you know—they was all over with cum and—piss. And I got some girls to come over. And I don’t really like the music, cuz I like to just sit back and enjoy it. But all I’m thinking about is those promised tomorrow kisses and that I’ve only got to deal with this guy for a night and that at least there’s beer. So I’m cracking a can top and looking over the fridge door when the creep shoe drops like hard lead plate—he’s naked, standing in the little living room tossing a brown-cotton bathrobe over a body that looks like a beached blowfish, and there it is: a cock like a sweet potato in a sock. Ice water, down the back of my neck. I do a little cost-benefit analysis. Nothing’s really happened. I don’t run out of the place, because I don’t want to fuck up those tomorrow kisses, the ones I came two-hundred and twenty-two miles for. And where would I go? Plus I could take the guy if I needed to. So I sit on the couch and he sits in his chair and we start to talking about music and that sort of thing and why I’m out there, and I’m starting to think the guy’s not a pervert. He’s just old and weird. And when we were walking to the liquor store he did tell me about how he was almost raped, which let me slide in a little deal about how I’d fuckin’ kill someone if they tried me like that. But not fully confident in the security of that ward, I figure I’ll set about establishing a vibe of don’t-fuck-with-me. I say to the guy You wanna see somethin’? And I take one last heavy drag off my cigarette, open my hand, spit in it, and grind the lit butt down into my palm like a pestle into a mortar, cherry just sizzling out. He gets all bug-eyed. Dahmn mhan you’re hard-core.
Old Milwaukee’s Best.
Beige rails—pulverized mystery pills
and miscellaneous pieces of
table debris and lint.
He falls over the table. I help him into a chair.
I’m in his bathroom. A cast-iron tub. I drop a little orange bottle into the sink—What’s going on in there?
Oh, Nothin’ man.
I wake up on a little couch. I think I dreamt of her. It’s today. All those tomorrow promises—today they come true. Uuoogh. And I can’t wait to be near her. Uhhoo. And we’ll be together. Uh. And I think if I get her pregnant, then we’ll get to be together, and no one will keep us apart, because I love her so much—Ughoo. When I look over, Kent’s laying back like spoiled turkey on his gray grease-smeared Lazy-Boy: robe open, legs spread about, thick flesh in hand—that jaundiced slit of a grin. Hey man you wanna help me out with this? NO. –Paralysis. I turn away to the back of the couch. A little rubber-band ball. It doesn’t matter, because today’s the day.
I take a bath. He takes a shit. Right in front of me.
Kent asks me if I want to get something to eat, and we walk to this little restaurant in town to get some food. While I’m there, I use their phone to call her—her dad picks up and doesn’t sound pleased. He lets me talk to her. I tell her I’m there. I hang up. My guts and my hopes fall through the floor. This little pink and white and lavender dining-room becomes a nauseating blur. Let’s go.
I’m walking back with Kent when three cars pull up and I’m grabbed by a heavy radiator of a man with a thin mustache and shoved into the front seat of a cop car.
The police station. I sit in little mirror-room for half the day waiting. A cop lets me call her and she tells me a detective from my town called her dad three days ago. I tell her something—I love you, I’ll find a way, I. . . .
My family arrives, and everyone crams into the tiny reflective room. Mom. Dad. Aunt. Uncle. This cop. Another cop. Utter strangers and the people who raised me. At some point, I lunge at some blur. Then I’m pressed to the ground with a knee on my shoulder, and a few heavy hands are putting shackles on my feet. Can I see her at least? –Are you fucking kidding me?
I’m sitting in the back of a moving car at night, not quite falling asleep on the hard middle hump seat. My aunt’s tapping down on her Nicorette. The yellow sodium lights glip by over my head—each one a marker of increasing distance, a series of signs each indicating foreclosure.
Tubes and tanks and crepe-paper beds. You’re about to be admitted. Please take off your clothes and put them in the bag. —My little blue bracelet. The one thing I had from her. Never. — He pulls some latex gloves on and shakes up a can of mace. I prepare for it. Then my old man comes into room. I concede. I undo the little clasp. I hand it away.
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