Fat boys walk a certain way. I ascertained this early, watching from behind the protection of a large fern potted on the steps on the side of the movie theater, my feet shifting with the sun to avoid the hot patches on the bricks and my purple plastic radio floating Bohemian Rhapsody along with the heat waves towards the anonymous blacktop of the parking lot. Hailey would walk up and order a chocolate-dipped chocolate cone with chocolate chunks--she was too old for sprinkles or brownie pieces--and nibble on the tip of the half-melted, half-not-yet-hardened chocolate shell until Cory finished his peanut butter flurry. She handed the cone to him and he took it, slurping the ice cream out in layers as he nibbled the round shell progressively lower, until he could fit the chocolate-stained cone in his mouth whole. This always made Hailey laugh, although it made me wonder if God made some people’s mouths bigger to make up for their lack of talent at football or baseball or even golf, which seemed like something that should be confined exclusively to hell. Cory and Hailey were not a couple, for no lack of feeling or effort on Cory’s part, and as uncomfortable as it made me when I started thinking about it, even at ten I knew that Hailey’s vintage halter tops and dusty daisy dukes didn’t fit with Cory’s collection of half-broken digital clocks that filled the shelves in his corner of the garage. He walked more like a girl than I did, both hips and shoulders moving slightly side to side as his feet grudgingly carried two oversize blue Nikes along the sidewalk. Hailey was the kind of sixteen that made her parents stay up even after she got home, whispering in the kitchen together with only one light on, her mother not bothering to keep her voice ladylike. She bought bottles of red glossy nail varnish with the tip money from Dynamite Diner that she hid in her bra, wrinkled dollar bills passed over the counter to Mrs. Sutton, Hailey’s mother’s best friend, who closed her eyes and pretended not to know her. (Mrs. Sutton just told Hailey’s mother to thank the Lord she hadn’t gotten into beer.) Cory, however, spent weekends in the math corner of the library and nights in his father’s garage, examining unintelligible metal pieces and reading comic books. He slept after school unless Hailey laid her palm against his window, pressed between the glass and the forsythia bushes, tapping until he stumbled out of bed. After the ice cream had turned both their hands sticky with chocolate that had to be washed off with the faucet on the shady side of the volleyball court, she’d smooth Cory’s blond bedhead down with careful fingers, combing out the gentle tangles and resting her chin on his shoulder as they talked. Once, I’d heard her ask him what he’d do if she turned up at his house when she was thirty, alone and drunk, in the middle of the night. He said he’d put her on the couch and marry her the next morning, and she smiled but didn’t laugh. The year after that she slept later and disappeared every night until the Fifth of July, when she woke him up early and they went out to the fairgrounds and later she told me he talked about astronomy. I didn’t say anything. She stopped talking to almost everyone after that weekend with the fireworks, even though at one point I’d overheard Mrs. Sutton telling Hailey’s mother the group of them--Hailey, and the three other boys--were inseparable. I didn’t know what that meant, but I’d heard that Hailey was inseparable from a lot of boys, so until I turned thirteen I thought it was a bad thing. Cory and Hailey disappeared more, and she still came home late but seemed less sad, which I was happy about but still wondered if Cory would kiss her on the top of the Ferris wheel that year, like he’d once told me he would do if she ever stopped going with all the other boys. On Monday she said all three of them could drown underneath the green bridge and she wouldn’t cry, but I knew she didn’t mean it. I didn’t want to listen to them fall in love before Hailey remembered Cory’s model airplanes and went downtown to find one of the other boys, so I lay in the dust under the bleachers, using stacks of newspapers as a pillow and waiting for the world to end.
July 28, 2013