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When Andrew smiles his lips curl upwards, not outwards but upwards so that his front teeth are bared, stained yellow from all the coffee and cigarettes he tried to quit. His eyes remain dull and despite being a piercing shade of blue-green, the Pacific ocean pictured in travel magazines, they are ugly. The black of his pupils pollutes the iris and dirties it and his eyelids never really lift; he never looks up or into anyone else’s eyes. He stares at the computer screen or at the floor when he shuffles to his seat in the dingy office at the back of the building.

And when he talks his voice is lazy, barely making it past his cracked lips and never deviating from the same flat tone. His words roll out as if on a conveyer belt, generic and pointless but for their packaging. He wraps them with sneers and accusations, never wasting an opportunity to not laugh at a joke or to insult someone, though he does it quietly and smoothly so the words slip from his mouth and hang around before they unwrap themselves and by the time his point comes across he is leaving, his shoulders hunched, his half empty coffee mug in his hand.

Try to be friendly and he will not have any time for talking, only for telling you that your computer is too dirty for him to work with and that your password is stupid and anyone could guess it. He grunts when asked how he’s doing, and doesn’t ask you in return. He doesn’t want friends, it seems. And perhaps to a psychologist he’s a gem, someone who can be broken and turned into someone warm, if he were only to accept that whatever happened to him as a child wasn’t his fault. Perhaps to a psychologist he is Will Hunting waiting to be made brilliant.

When Andrew started high school he was tall for his age and he had hair on his upper lip. He wore a baseball cap to school every day and watched the game but never played, not because he wasn’t good enough but because his family wanted him to play, because his science teacher, also the baseball coach, urged him to try out. Kids were nice to him at first because he was big and tall, until he beat up Connor Riley in the lunch line and everything changed. After that no one said hi to him in the halls or even tried to look him in the eyes, and some kids respected him, revered him, while others were just scared. He didn’t care either way because he liked not having to talk to people. He liked being talked about.

And nobody disliked Connor Riley, the friendly sophomore who could run a five minute mile and play the saxophone, but after that day people avoided him too and nobody asked him what it was he had done to upset Andrew Culkin so much. He became quarantined, alienated, as though the patchwork bruises on his face were contagious. Everyone had their own version of what had happened, but nobody asked. Perhaps Connor had touched a nerve, had found Andrew’s weak spot. Maybe he had kissed a girl Andrew liked, or asked a question he didn’t want to answer.

Andrew slouched in the halls and smiled to himself, showing his teeth and walking through crowds of whisperers whose names he didn’t know but whose gossip he enjoyed. And after the meeting with his principal Andrew’s father looked his son in the eyes with disappointment, in desperation he grabbed the sunken shoulders and asked him to wake up, to move through life instead of just letting it tow him along. Andrew looked at his father then only to take in his expression, so he could remember it. And he didn’t say sorry -- he didn’t say anything. And his father stood there, searching for his son in those lifeless eyes before he felt the tug of his wife’s hand against his sleeve and he gave up, turned to leave.

So Andrew grew up. He didn’t go to college but got a job straight away as an IT guy at a company full of nice people who became wary of him, who tried their hardest to fix a bug themselves before they had to call him in. He hasn’t beaten anyone up since Connor Riley. He sits in his office now, playing around on the computer and thinking about the idiots he works with, smiling to himself. And even though his eyes don’t light up and his mouth goes in the wrong direction, it’s a real smile. He doesn’t want to be warm. He wants to be talked about, he wants to be feared. He is not misunderstood at all -- he makes sure your first impression of him is an accurate depiction of his character. He’s hidden himself in plain sight, so that people will spend their time wondering if they can find him. He’s a trick.

And Connor moved schools after a while so he could forget what had happened, but he could still see the bruises on his cheeks, feel the impact of Andrew’s cold, mechanical fist, taste the sticky blood on his lips, and he became the quiet boy who didn’t run anymore, who stopped playing the saxophone, who kept his eyes down and never talked to anybody. And years later his girlfriend would ask him what made him so shy, why she had to start every conversation, and he would turn to her and say, simply, that he had asked some kid in high school what made him happy.



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she-is-a-strange-duck said...
Aug. 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm
Poor Connor Riley :'( that is really really sad... MAY YOU WRITE FOREVER
 
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