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The rain falls lightly on the window as I wait for Eli to come out of his house. I turned off the car five minutes ago and it’s already cold inside. I can see my breath in the car. The soft leather seats aren’t comfortable if there is no insulation.
The platinum gray sky is distorted and blurred through the drops on the glass. Every so often the drops will clump together and roll quickly down the pane. I rub my arms slowly through my shirt, a long sleeved wool flannel with blue and black plaid. I focus on a single drop, willing it to move.
Then Eli taps on the window and startles me. I unlock the door, and as he gets in and slams it shut many of the drops fall but not the one I was watching. Small talk ensues as I start the car, but fades out quickly. Eli slumps against the window, his short but shaggy hair pushing against the glass. It’s the early afternoon, but the monotone gray of the sky erases all sense of time.
We eventually hit the downtown area of Laffotta, the town we live in. Downtown consists of a long stretch of road, Bellows Blvd. West Bellows is covered with restaurants and upscale shopping, and a couple of shopping centers that don’t really look like shopping centers. You go east and you hit the businesses you can actually use, hardware stores and fast food. There’s a Starbucks on each half.
We park in the hardware store’s parking lot. Eli gets out and I stay in the car. By now the rain is falling steadily, a shimmer of sparks through the glass. The sound of the drops hitting the car creates a nice backdrop of white noise, and when I lean my head back and can feel myself drifting off, my thoughts going gray with the sky…
Then Eli knocks on the window again and I let him in. He’s wet, his hair looks like it’s been doused. He’s wearing a black rain jacket but apparently he has no use for the hood. He’s carrying a plastic bag and I can’t see what’s in it.
He asks where we’re going and I say, “Where are we going?” and he doesn’t know either. So we drive in the rain to the nice side of Bellows and park behind a restaurant called “Terzzetto’s” which I’ve heard is really good but have never been to. There’s a sign at the end of our parking place that says “customer’s only” and I gesture to it but Eli just laughs and so do I.
We sit in the car for a while before we get out to see if we recognize anyone inside Terzzetto’s. There’s a thin blonde girl at the window with a boy slightly younger than us that I think goes to our school. Eli points to them and says “Isn’t that Sara?” but I don’t know and he laughs again, but only softly, and says “What ever happened with that?” and again I say I don’t know and he says “Well are you okay dude?” and I just mumble but don’t really respond
We don’t see anyone else we recognize and so we get out. As we walk past Terzzetto’s I look in the window at the blonde girl and I don’t think it’s Sara but I can’t really tell because her head is turned away from me. The boy is wearing a t-shirt from our school and his hair is cut severely short, so he looks mangy. I wonder if maybe it is Sara, but I don’t really care and forget about it quickly as we keep walking.
“I love this weather.” Eli says. He’s walking with his hood down and his head back, his black eyes slightly open. “Yeah, me too.” I say. He nods in agreement.
“Are we going to eat?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, “What should we get?”
“Something cheap. How about Cheese steak?”
“Like, at the sandwich place?”
“Yeah. I have one of those discount things the football players sell.”
Eli agrees to go. We’re heading the wrong direction so we turn around. The wind blows the rain against our backs slightly, so it’s more comfortable to walk. I’m wearing a light grey raincoat over my blue-black flannel and a white tee shirt under that. My hood is pulled up but the front of my hair pokes out from the brim, because I like the way it looks.
“What are you doing on Halloween?” I ask. Eli shrugs. He’s shorter than me, slightly, but bigger. His voice is clean and crisp as he says “I prefer Easter”. I used to yell a lot so mine is slight ragged, like a very loud whisper, and people can’t always understand me, especially in the rain. I ask him again, “What are you doing on Halloween?” and he looks at me and says “Oh. I don’t know dude. It’s on a Wednesday this year I think.” I nod and say that I don’t know either.
We finally arrive at the cheese steak place and inside are about twenty little kids, each maybe eleven, and they’re all wearing dark green baseball jerseys that say something in cursive across the front. A few of them are wearing their matching hats backwards and all of them are wearing athletic shorts of colors that don’t go with their jerseys and their legs are wet. I see a parent in the corner on the cell phone.
Eli says “What the f***.” and then kind of giggles. I see an empty table and I go and put my rain jacket on the back of a seat that’s at it. I stretch my shoulders and bring them around in a circle and I notice that the front of my flannel’s collar is damp.
We order our sandwiches and go sit down at the table. The kids are being noisy and the parent is talking sternly, audibly, but I notice he’s still on his phone and isn’t even looking at the kids. Most of them have sandwiches but I notice a bigger, pig-like kid who doesn’t and who looks like he’s going to cry. I see that a blonde, tan boy is holding a foil wrapped sandwich under the table and also has one in front of him and he and the boy next to him, who has dark hair and electric blue eyes, are glancing furtively at the piggish kid.
Eli’s telling me about some girl he tried to hook up with and I’m trying to listen but then our sandwiches are ready and so I go to get them. As I walk over to the counter I almost slip on the linoleum because it’s so wet from the water on the boys shoes and legs.
I sit down and unwrap my sandwich. It’s steaming slightly, and it tastes good and sweet when I bite into it. Eli grins when he takes a bite too, but the starts picking out the grilled onions. “Why are you doing that?” I ask. “I don’t like their color.” He says. But I think they taste fine and so I keep eating.
Eli continues his story about the girl but I couldn’t understand the beginning so I focus on the fat kid, who really looks like he’s going to cry. He might already be but his hair is wet from the rain or sweat and so that may be why his face is wet too. He has little hands and he’s wiping his piggish face and I can tell he’s really mad. None of the other boys are talking or even looking at him except the boys at the other end of the table with the sandwich under the table. They’re laughing really hard but trying to be quiet.
Then a kid next to those two gets up and the sandwich falls out of their hands. It slides gently on the wet floor from under the table, and I notice there is a name written on the foil. The piggish kid sees it and his face looks confused, and then he looks down the table and sees the boy with the blue eyes laughing really hard. The piggish kid stands up, quietly and quickly, and walks over behind the blue-eyed boy. The kid stops laughing, sort of, and looks right at the piggish kid. I notice that Eli is watching this too.
The blue-eyed boy is smiling but talking confidently, obviously pretending to know nothing. But then the piggish kid puts his hand behind the boy’s head and slams it down really hard, right onto the table. The Blue-eyed boy’s head shoots back up quickly except his eyes are closed and his lip is busted right in the middle and there’s blood shooting out of his nostrils, every breath expelling ropy gobs of scarlet mucus. And then he starts screaming. He touches his face and screams harder and the piggish boy is yelling at him and looks like he’s going to grab his head again but then he gets scared or something and just keeps yelling. The blonde boy isn’t doing anything, just staring at the pool of thick, dark blood that’s forming on the table and the linoleum. The parent is yelling at all the kids from the corner and he still hasn’t put his cell phone away.
Eli is grimacing and I can’t tell what my face is doing but the people behind the counter are staring at the boys and look a little freaked out and a couple of the other kids have started crying to and so we get up to leave and as I look behind me when we’re about to exit I notice the blue-eyed boy is holding something in his hand and it’s a tooth.
I look at my phone and it’s only been a half hour since we parked. Eli mutters “Jesus” a couple times and each time I say “Yeah, what the f***” in agreement. Eli asks if I want to go get some coffee, and I say I do. He doesn’t want to go to Starbucks though. He suggests that we go to the 7/11 in Matero, because we might run into someone from school there.
Matero is a little town that borders Laffotta. It’s small and has almost nothing in it but two shopping centers. In fact, it’s more of a cross section for the three main roads that connect the towns in the area, which are Laffotta, Matero, and Olera. Together they make the “Lamatera” area. Of the three, Laffotta is the biggest, then Olera, which also has a downtown, and then Matero. Laffotta and Olera have freeways running through them, but Matero is just this little disconnected suburb with a good high school and a thriving rest home. Eli and I go to school in Matero, but live in Laffotta. We’re about equal distance from both the Laffotta and Matero schools, but us and a small group of other people from our neighborhood go to Matero High. I guess we like the mascot, the cougars, better.
So we drive to Matero and go to 7/11 but no one’s there except this one kid I recognize from school that I think plays… football and is always being obnoxious in the halls. I think he’s older than us. I look at him through the windshield, which is slightly fogged because my defroster doesn’t work well, and say “That kid is fucking weird.” Eli laughs and says “Yeah, he’s so loud. He always yells weird s***.” And we laugh a little more before we get out of the car and the boy looks at us, and I can tell he recognizes us but he doesn’t wave and just goes back to looking at magazines or whatever. Eli gets two coffees from the machine and I sip mine and it’s good. We buy them but stay inside. The cashier is this big black guy, and he’s cool and talking to us about people who park badly. “I’m trying to get all the business I can, you know? And these teenagers come in here, and they can’t park for s***. Who taught them to park? You guys have been here after school? This place is full to the brim. It’s a good business location. But the parking lot is small! And these kids in their big cars, or even their little cars, they come in here and go over the line by two feet and then no one can park there and I lose business.” And we nod and agree. When we leave he smiles and says “Have a nice day!” even though the day is almost over and it’s raining really hard. We smile back and say “You too dude!”
We don’t drive away though. We sit in the car and I notice that the weird kid is still in their looking at magazines. Eli notices this too and he reaches into the bag he got from the hardware store and pulls out a pack of bright yellow zip lines, the ones people use for baby proofing. I look at them and say “sick.”
The kid doesn’t come out for another fifteen minutes and we’ve finished our coffee and are really bored. Then he does and I start our car and wait until he’s in his and then follow him as he turns out of the parking lot. He heads farther into Matero, and I don’t think he’s noticed that we’re following him since it’s dark and I can hear music coming from his car. I decide to put some music on too so I plug in my iPod and put on Phillip Glass, Glassworks.
Eventually the weird kids car turns onto a side street and we follow him onto it and then flash our lights until he pulls over. He parks and I see him lean towards his rear view mirror to see who we are and then turn around in his seat to look closer. Eli gets out and puts the zip lines in his pocket in one motion. I get out too. Eli pulls his hood up all the way and I mirror him again, and pull it tight so that my hair isn’t visible. The rain is thick and the kid is still in his car.
Eli walks ups to his window and taps on it and I laugh as I see the kid jump a little. I see Eli gesture towards the kid’s rear lights and the kid nods and gets out and he’s maybe six inches taller than Eli and at least as big. His voice is high and annoying and as he turns around in front of me to look at his lights, which are of course fine, I kick the back of his knee and his legs collapses and he falls on the asphalt.
He rolls over and his eyes are big and he’s confused. Then he laughs, begins to say “It’s slippery!” But I cut him off by kicking him so that he rolls over onto his back and then Eli kneels down and sits on him. By now the kid is kicking but not saying anything and I don’t think he knows what’s happening and I look for a gutter while Eli zips the kids hands together and then bends the kids left leg up and also connects his foot to his hands so that the guy can’t walk or get up but can kind of squirm. The rain is still falling really fast and hard.
I see a gutter across the street and so I go over to Eli and I grab the kid under his armpits and kind of drag-push him towards it. The gutter is low next to the curb and the water is running into it loud and fast. I hold the kids face above the metal grate for a second so he can register what he’s seeing and he kind of grunts and then I drop him. He turns his head so that he can breathe and he kind of flops there and the water is moving fast around him. He’s kicking with his one free leg but he’s barely moving and the street is slippery beneath him. I look up and I think I see a blind close behind a window across the street but I don’t know and Eli says “Let’s go” and so we get back in my car. But then I see that the weird kids door is open so I get out and take the keys out and close the car door and then go over to the kid on the ground and say “I’m putting these under your car” and so that’s where I put them. Then I get back in the car and we drive away.
The next day at school I’m standing at my locker and I see the kid walking towards me, or at least in my general direction. I look at him to see if he’ll recognize me but I don’t think he does and as he walks by me I see that he’s shaking and I can see the bruises on his wrists. He’s not yelling anything.
I go to the library and find my friend Rodney at a computer. I go to see what he’s doing and he’s searching for a collection of poems but he doesn’t know which one he should get. The poet is Sylvia Plath. I follow him to the checkout desk and when he asks which Plath collection the librarian recommends she says “I haven’t heard of her. Is she British?” and Rodney says she’s not, but her husband, Ted Hughes, was. The librarian nods and says, “Oh yes, I like him.” Rodney just looks at her and then we leave without any of the collections.
The sky hangs low and its gray hue is like a sheet above us but I can see it fluctuate in the wind. Occasionally I feel drops on my head but it’s not really raining yet. I go to the bathroom and in between the tiles there is graffiti, tags I cannot make out. I also see a sentence that says “Kay should drown” and then an arrow someone drew to it that says “He can’t swim so maybe he will” and someone else has written next to that “I know who you are”.
During school I write things down and hope that I can absorb them. I imagine what my teachers think of my fellow students. Between classes I put headphones on but I don’t listen to anything and when people I don’t know or care about try to talk to me I just pretend I can’t hear them. Once in class I reach up to check that I didn’t accidentally leave them on and then I realize I didn’t but I don’t know where the teacher is and I look around and all the other students in the class are sitting there doing nothing or maybe whispering to a friend very quietly so it sounds like white noise. Then the teacher says something and pokes his head out from around the computer and I realize he had to look something up that he didn’t understand from our textbook.
At lunch I sit in the quad with Rodney and Eli and the girl Eli was telling me about comes over and talks to him. She has really long, auburn hair and thin arms and legs but is also very graceful. She smiles at Rodney and me but Rodney doesn’t notice and I just wave. When she leaves Rodney looks at me and says “What happened with Sara?” and I say “Stuff.” And he says “are you cool?”. I nod earnestly and lie “Yeah.”
Then near the end of lunch a big guy with short, black hair and really white skin comes over to us. His face is also really pale, except this makes his acne stand out so much it looks like he has chicken pox. He’s wearing a light gray tank top even though it’s really cold and keeps his arms really stiff, with his hands in his pockets, and then suddenly starts yelling at Rodney. I can’t understand what he’s saying because he’s talking really fast but Rodney is just staring at him and looks like he might cry. Rodney is huge, about 6’5 and incredibly strong from water polo. He has dark brown hair but it’s bleached from the chlorine. His eyes are large and dark green, his irises so huge they seem to bleed into his whites.
The pale guy yells at him for about two minutes without stopping, and he keeps looking from his feet to Rodney as he yells. His hands and arms never move. His words are fast and vehement, but I don’t understand them and I don’t know if Rodney does either. Then when the guy stops yelling he spits over in Eli’s direction but it doesn’t hit Eli and then the guy leaves.
Eli and I look at Rodney and Rodney looks back at us and says “People are nuts.”
At home I do homework. I’m having trouble with my math and the answers or explanations are not in the back of the books so I type the equations into Google and find the answers there. Eventually I get it done and then I do my English, which is to read Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”.
I’m done with my homework by eight. I walk around my room, which has gray walls with a hint of purple, and as I walk I feel a tendon in the back of my right knee snap every third step or so. When I move my arms back and stretch my pectorals, I can feel my chest ache with the strain. I am in perpetual physical pain. My back aches when I sit up for too long, so I usually sit low in my chair, with my shoulders almost level with my seat rest. When I stretch my elbow out straight, it pops and cracks. Every time. Occasionally my jaw cracks loudly. Sometimes my left ear will begin ringing and I can’t hear anything for almost a minute.
I feel the back of my knee snap again so I lay back on my bed. My room is tightly packed with CD’s, an electric guitar, two amplifiers, an acoustic guitar, two bookshelves packed with books and a random assortment of items I’ve collected over the years and that are important to me, and a small fish tank with a single red and purple Betta Splendens, also known as a Japanese Fighting Fish.
Straight across from me is a little wooden sculpture I mounted onto my wall. The sculpture is small, about ten inches long and two inches at it’s widest. It looks like a small log. The wood is smooth and light, a creamy tan color. Carved right out of the wood, so that it looks like it’s climbing on the log, is a lizard. The lizard has not been painted; it’s just a continuation of the wood. Its tail and hands grip the log tightly. It’s head reaches out past one end of the log. It’s eyes stare out expectantly, curiously, like it wonders what is beyond the log it’s stuck on. I think it looks really good on my wall.
On Friday there’s a football game against our rival school, Olera High. Our schools are really close, less than two miles away as the crow flies. Laffotta High thinks they’re our rivals but they aren’t really. Our games versus Olera are always the important ones.
This year the game is even bigger because both of our teams are undefeated. On Friday all the football players wear their jerseys, and look really focused and don’t talk to anyone. A lot of people wear red, one of our school colors. At lunch some juniors try to put up a large sign on the fence by the football field that says “F*** Olera” but a vice-principal catches them and they have to take it down, even though he’s laughing.
Then school ends and everyone except the football players and the cheerleaders go home. Rodney and Eli ask me if I want to go get dinner with them before the game and so I do. None of us are wearing red, but I have a red pom-pom and Rodney has a “Go Cougars” beanie. The cougars are our mascot. Eli doesn’t have anything but he doesn’t care.
We get to the game a half hour early and the parking is already difficult. Parents from both schools and even just from the neighborhood are here for the game. Eventually we park and we watch as Olera and Matero students alike park around us. All the Olera students are wearing green.
We go to the game. It begins, and we score a touchdown within the first minute. The student bleachers are an ecstatic mob of red, roaring and writhing with every play. Rodney and Eli don’t want to sit in the bleachers so we lean against the short fence right next to the field, behind the cheerleaders. I see one I know pretty well, Alisa, and I wave to her and she smiles and waves back.
At halftime we’re up 28-0. Their cheerleaders do a routine, but it seems mechanical and not motivating. Our cheerleaders do a routine mostly based around dancing, a raw display of sexuality and power.
Then the game begins again. The Olera coach is fat and red in the face. Our coaches eye him disdainfully, strutting the field confidently and slapping our players on the ass.
At one point one of our players gets the ball, and as he runs down the field a green clad behemoth stands in front of him. But our player runs right at him, and smashes his shoulder right into the behemoth’s chin. The Olera player falls like a rag doll. Our player scores, and then walks back to the Olera player on the ground and leans down and says something to him. I notice that he’s subtly pushing one of the spikes on his cleat into the fallen players finger, rocking it back and forth. Then he walks away and the crowd cheers again.
We win the game. We storm the field and cheer, high-fiving the team. The captain takes his helmet off and kisses his girlfriend in the middle of the swarming crowd. I see a few Olera students, short ones with bad acne, yelling at some of our students. They laugh in response and a parent audibly tells the Olera students that “Matero fucked you up!” and the crowd cheers and laughs some more.
Rodney and Eli and I walk back to Eli’s car. On the way we see a couple of mom’s yelling at each other, really loudly. One of them is so distracted that she steps of the curb by accident and falls on her butt in the street. The other mom sneers and walks away while the woman who fell begins to cry. We walk by and see that she’s wearing an Olera sweatshirt and nobody in front or behind us stops to help her up. A girl in an Olera cheerleading outfit runs over to her and an SUV with Matero stickers on it stops next to them and rolls down it’s window and yells “Sluts!” and then drives away.
We get in Eli’s car and he starts it but pauses for a minute to say, “We lost the water polo game yesterday. We haven’t beaten them in water polo for six years.” I laugh and then remember Rodney’s on the team but he’s laughing a little too and he says, “Yeah, our captain stayed home today because he felt so awful about it.”
The traffic is so bad that it takes us twenty minutes just to get out of our spot. We sit in the darkness and can hear obscenities being yelled all around and at one point a parent says “Language please!” and it quiets down until he passes but then it starts up again. Eli plays some Odd Future and Rodney asks if I noticed that Sara was in the middle of the cheer routine tonight and I just kind of twitch my neck. I have a steadily ascending headache.
It’s too early to go home so we drive to an elementary school and sit against a wall under an overhang and talk while it starts to rain. The moon is blue above us, shining hazily through the rain. There’s a slight breeze in our direction and drops decorate our faces like glitter.
I spend Saturday morning indoors, and listen to a John Coltrane mix I burned once. I put it on and then stare out my window into the rain, and when ‘Equinox’ comes on I press the repeat button and turn of all the lights in my room. I pull up the shade as far as it goes and lie on my back on the floor and bask in the natural light coming through my window as ‘Equinox’ plays five, seven times.
Eventually my legs fall asleep and so I force myself to get up and move around. I decide to go get some coffee on Bellows. There’s a pizza place buried in the west end that serves blue bottle. I look for my parents before I leave but I don’t know where they are. So I grab the keys to our roomier green station wagon and leave.
I’ve been driving for maybe five minutes when I see Alisa walking along the side of the road I’m on. She’s walking alone, in the rain, so I pull up behind her and flash my lights. She turns around, slowly, and she doesn’t know who it is because I don’t often drive this car and I guess you can’t really see through the windshield clearly in the rain. But she walks over anyway and I roll down my window. I ask why she’s out in the rain and she says she’s just walking to “clear her head”. I nod and she asks what I’m doing and I tell her. She’s never heard of Blue Bottle, and so I tell her its just really good coffee. She laughs and says she’s always down for coffee.
“What is it? Blue coffee?”
“No, that’s just what its called. It’s just really good. Kind of expensive.”
“Oh… well, I mean, I’m always down to try new things.”
“Do you want to come?”
After a second she decides to go and so she gets in. She’s wearing blue jeans and a lightweight black rain jacket over a dark blue ‘Matero Basketball’ sweatshirt. Her hair is long and brown blonde, and she kind of slumps in her seat and pushes it all the way back so that she can put her feet on the dashboard. I pull back onto the main road.
As I’m driving she pulls her hair into a bun and watches the trees as we pass them. At one point she says “Is this your car?” and I say “No”. “Yeah,” she says, “I’ve never seen you drive it.” but then we don’t really talk for the rest of the ride.
I park behind Terzzetto’s. We get out and I lock the car, then lead us to the pizza place, which has some hard to pronounce fake Italian name like “Panacaci’s” or something. I suppose it sounds authentic, like Terzzetto’s.
I order a plain drip coffee and she does the same. We wait at the counter and observe the patrons around us, who are mostly middle-class couples having a nice lunch out. At almost every table is an empty bottle of wine, and the men sit there, moving their hands and talking, while the women sit and laugh. The waiters come and the couples don’t even glance up, they just place their empty plate on the tray or wave their hand to signify that their meal is fine.
Then our coffee’s ready and we step outside to drink it. The rain has let up for a moment but it’s foggy and misty. We stand under an overhang, sipping our coffee, and Alisa says, “Do you know Tommy Jensen?”
“No.” I shake my head. She leans in because she couldn’t hear me and I say again, louder, “No, I don’t. Who is he?”
“He’s just this guy at our school, pretty normal, but like a week ago or something he got jumped by a couple kids and they tied up his hands and legs so he could barely move. Then they dragged him next to a curb right where tons of rainwater was flooding and put him face down in it, so that he could barely breathe. Apparently he almost drowned and like nobody knows who did it! And like in Matero…”
“Yeah,” I say, “That’s fucking crazy. Did he call the cops?”
“I don’t know. Probably but I mean what are they gonna do?”
“Yeah. This coffee is really good!”
I smile and laugh. The coffee is sweet and has a nice, bitter edge. It moves smoothly over my tongue and I can feel its aefects. As we walk back to my car I feel jumpy, tense. Alisa kind of giggles at the way I’m moving and I can’t help but smile back. But I feel tense and I’m not enjoying it.
In the car I play some really slow, grimy dubstep that a friend gave me. The rain falls in sheets against the windshield and we drive all the way past the end of west bellows and onto a steeply ascending hill. We rise quickly, and as we go faster and higher the hue of the sky changes, going from grey to indigo to a dark, thick purple that swirls around the emerging stars. The rain falls faster and the purple tones of the sky grow more intense, suffocating the light around us and as I look down at the freeway next to us all I see is a hazy blur of lights streaming against blackness.
And then we’re at the top. We’re floating above Laffotta and Olera, and in the distance we can see Matero. Everything below us is a hazy blur. We’re surrounded by the night, which is quickly becoming black, and I can see the clear blue moon and I roll down my windows and we began to descend. The road is windy and surrounded by trees and as we coast down it we stick our heads out of the windows and yell, letting the night overtake us.
Near the bottom of the hill I see three dead deer. The first two are just plain corpses, Caracas’s swept to the side of the road. But the third one is a doe, small and light brown, and its stomach is burst open and one of its legs is bent the wrong way. We coast by it quickly but I imagine I can see the blood flowing down the hill all the way to the bottom, where I pull over and park. I notice that Alisa is asleep. I can’t sleep, so I get out of the car and watch the clouds completely disappear against the sky.
After a while Alisa wakes up and gets out of the car. I look at my phone and it’s eight thirty. I grumble and she says “What?” but I tell her I didn’t say anything. She laughs again and then stares up at the sky. She’s jittery and I wish she would settle down.
I don’t want to drive anymore. I ask Alisa if she wants to walk around downtown Olera, which is a ten-minute walk from where we’re parked, and she says yeah. So we get out. She looks fine after her nap, and undoes her bun. I yawn. As we walk downtown she kind of leans into me, not obviously but slightly, and I wish she wouldn’t but I don’t try to stop her and it begins to feel kind of comforting.
We walk around downtown Olera. It’s cold, but lots of shops and cafes are open. It’s more diverse then Laffotta, at least in the sense that not all the restaurants and clothing boutiques are in one spot. There are bookstores and a hole in the wall Greek eatery, where we buy gyros. The centerpiece to Olera is their theater, and we sit at a table beneath the marquee and watch people walk past. I realize I feel relaxed, that the tense feelings I had earlier have passed. Alisa comments on some of the people walking past but I just sit there and don’t do anything. I get a text from Eli but I don’t even look at it. At one point I think I see a blue-gray cat slinking behind a car near to us, but I’m not sure.
Then it’s time to go. We walk back to my car and again Alisa kind of leans into me, and I can smell her shampoo. I don’t put on any music in the car, and she slides back into the seat again, slumped down with her feet on the dash.
I let her off at her house and she hugs me, awkwardly since I have my seatbelt on, and then gets out. As I drive away from her house I put on The xx, but really softly, so that all I can really register is the bass and the drums.
That night I fall into bed, and I stare out through my blinds, which I turned so that some of the moonlight shines into my room. I lie there, and I anticipate insomnia, but without even thinking about it I fall asleep.
I used to have two fish. The other one was blue, and it lasted me about a month before it died. It spent the last two weeks of its life in one spot, forcing itself to swim up to the surface to get food. One day I came home and it was lying at the bottom of the tank, dead. The other fish swam happily and gracefully in the same water, probably completely unaware of what happened to its neighbor.
When I took the dead fish out, I removed the tank divider, which kept the two fish from fighting and killing each other. Immediately my red fish began swimming across the entire length of the tank and back. It was even happier than before, all alone in its nice clean tank. I sometimes wonder if I should replace the blue fish, but then I look at my red one, vibrant and alive, and I think, “nah”.
A month passes. My routine stays regular, eating lunch with Rodney and Eli, weekends cruising in Eli’s car, nights trying to get a good eight hours of sleep. At some point in that month the left side of my jaw starts hurting, searing up into my ear, and I think it’s an ear infection but it turns out it’s my TMJ, some joint in my jaw that can become inflamed from nocturnal teeth grinding and jaw clenching. So I start taking regular doses of ibuprofen, which dulls the pain. I buy a mouth guard but I don’t use it. Then the holidays arrive, and it’s the first week of December. It starts getting dark at five and I notice the way it stops getting truly light, how the sky just stays gray and meshes with the mountain tops and encases Laffotta, Matero, and Olera, like some kind of malicious force field.
The week passes slowly. Nothing happens on Monday. On Tuesday, the pale guy comes over and talks to Rodney, but quietly this time, and Rodney nods and Eli and I stand there wondering what’s going on but when we ask who the pale guy is Rodney won’t say.
On Wednesday I see Alisa on my way between classes, and I say hi and wave but she barely responds. I see her again at lunch and when she walks by I look straight ahead, where Sara is standing at the end of the hall. She sees me looking in her direction and she walks over to me and punches me in the arm and says ‘Hey”, elongating the “ey” sound so that she sounds stoned. We talk for a couple minutes and when we say goodbye she hugs me, but it’s so sudden I don’t respond. My back begins to hurt immensely.
On Thursday the girl with the auburn hair that Eli hooked up with comes and sits with us at lunch, and she sits between Eli and Rodney and looks at Rodney weird, like she finds him fascinating. I figure out that her name is Zoe, because Eli keeps calling her that. The whole lunch I don’t think Zoe looks at Eli once, she just stares at Rodney, who doesn’t say anything more than simple vowel sounds.
On Friday I run into Alisa again and this time she smiles at me and waves. I wave back and smile but I don’t stop to talk or anything. Later Eli asks me if I want to have some fun later and I say sure. I ask him what he wants to do, and he says “I dunno, just drive around or something. The usual.”
After school I get a text from Alisa asking me if I want to do something that evening and even though I told Eli I’d hang with him I tell Alisa I’m free. As I’m sending the text I rub my back and I notice it feels less tense.
That evening I lay on my bed trying to figure out how I can blow Eli off. I eventually tell him I can maybe meet him at 7/11 around nine o’clock, but I don’t promise anything. I ask Alisa what she wants to do and she says she’s got dance until 7:30 and I can join her for dinner after and I agree. It’s raining lightly, so I put on my gray rain jacket over a green plaid flannel. When I step out of my house I see a blue cat sleeping on my neighbors doorstep, breathing deeply, so that it’s ribs expand almost over it’s thighs. It’s not dark yet but I notice that some of the streetlights are on, casting their platinum light over the gritty, grey-black asphalt and my purple hatchback.
The dance studio she attends is in downtown Laffotta, so I head that way, taking the main road. I put on The Replacements, and I skip all their acoustic songs and stick to the more punk and hard rock influenced material. It gets boring but I don’t turn it off because I can’t think of anything better to listen to.
I get to the dance studio and park, and then get out and sit on my hood while I wait. It’s stopped drizzling for the moment but I leave my hood on and pretend to text someone, but there’s no one around so I stop.
Finally she comes out of the studio, wearing black leggings and a navy fleece. She suggests we go to a Chinese place down on the corner and grab something, so we walk down there.
We order our food and sit down. I don’t really know what to talk about so I wait for her to bring something up. She starts talking about her dance class, which is ballet, and that goes on for a while. Then she asks me if I know a guy named Keith Perry, and I don’t really register it at first and just shake my head. She describes him and once again I say no. But I notice something in her voice and I ask her who he is and she says she has four classes with him and so she’s gotten to know him over the past few weeks and she thinks he’s really sweet. I nod and reach over my shoulder to rub my back, which just gave off a twinge of pain.
We finish eating and I tell her I have to go and meet Eli. She says that’s cool, she has to go home anyway, and so we say goodbye and I go to my car. I’m feeling tense again, and I don’t really know why. I play some Black Flag and yell along with Henry Rollins as I drive to 7/11.
I pull up and Eli’s inside talking to the cashier. I go inside and say “What’s up”, and Eli laughs because my voice is even raspier than usual after singing in the car. I just shrug and go to get a coffee.
We go out into the parking lot, and it’s drizzling again but I keep my hood down. I look around at the mostly empty parking lot, at the perpetually dead grass, at the crappy convenience store, and I drink my coffee. Eli suggests we drive to ‘Top of the World’, which is a popular spot on top of a hill on the border of Olera and Matero. So I get in his car and we drive over there.
At the top there are already a couple of parked SUV’s, and there’s a couple around our age kissing on the bench. Eli parks and asks if maybe we should just leave, but I shake my head and say “It’s public land.” And then I get out of the car.
As soon as I get out regret it. The couple looks up when the door slams, and they look at me with blank expressions, not sure how to proceed. Eli is still sitting in the car. This is not what he had in mind, and I know it.
I look out over Olera, but the view isn’t as good as the one I had last weekend when I was with Alisa. The sky is just a flat grey color. I see the couple get up in the corner of my eye, and they walk past me and as they do I mutter “It’s public land” and the guy just kind of looks at me strangely as he gets into his SUV.
I walk towards the bench they were just on and sit on it. My back hurts. Eli is still sitting in his car. Then I bend over the end of the bench and vomit, orange paste with rice upon the hard packed dirt. I feel weak and I don’t know why I decide I need to get away from Eli and Top of the World so I rush back to the car as fast as a I can, which isn’t very fast since I’ve become really light headed. Eli looks at me worriedly.
As we drive down the hill we pass someone Eli knows walking on the side of the road, and Eli says “I hate that fucker” and starts to pull over but I tell him not to because I want to go home. He looks at me strangely again and I grimace because I think I might puke again. I text Alisa and tell her I got food poisoning and ask if she did too, since we ate the same thing. She says she’s feeling fine, and also that she had a fun time at dinner. I just grimace again and kind of growl.
I drive home, still lightheaded, and as I’m unlocking my door I notice the blue cat is still lying on the doorstep of my neighbor, but now it’s kind of twitching in it’s sleep.
I go inside and my parents are asleep. I take off my jacket and shoes and socks and lie on my bed in just jeans and a plain white t-shirt. My blinds are up and I can see the moon, full and azul, suspended above the hill near my house. I hear slight howls in the distance, dogs and wolves calling out in the rain.
I can’t sleep. I get up and I look out my window some more and then I open it and remove the bug screen and step outside. I’m still barefoot and I forgot to bring my jacket, but the rain is light and not really cold.
I begin to walk towards the hill near my house, and as I ascend it the howls around me crescendo. My shadow looms behind me, then to my left, then in front, swiveling as I pass under flat, grey, artificial light. I look behind me every once in a while, but there’s no one there. I notice the cat, dark blue and shimmering, about ten feet away from me. I keep heading up the hill until I get to the top, where there is a flat spot of concrete. I sit on it and it’s cool but not wet. The cat comes up next to me and sits on its hind legs, perfectly posed, looking over at the moon. The howls are slightly deafening, as if they surround me. I look over Laffotta and Matero, both of which are visible from this peak, and the fog hangs above them and the lights on Bellows and in shopping centers are hazy and distorted. As I sit, I notice that some of them go out.
Black clouds float around the moon and over the mountains in the distance. I lay my head back against the concrete and look straight up and the moon is suspended there right above me. I look over at the cat, which is still looking at the moon, and it’s fur glistens and shines. Its eyes are grey, and it opens it mouth, extending its lower jaw as far as it can go, it’s pure white teeth glinting, an iridescent tone rising out of its throat and projecting itself over the valley below us.
I stare straight out at the swirls of grey and black, reflecting the clean blue light of the moon, and then I howl too.
It’s Saturday morning and I can barely move. I can hear the rain splattering against my window, which means that it’s windy. I feel cold, not just on the surface, but slightly beneath my skin. Tremors of this chill run over my face, along my fingers, and through my stomach.
Eventually I get up. My back and shoulders hurt and there are thick, lavender colored bags under my eyes. I shower, and when I get out I stare at myself in the mirror, and I try to remember why I feel so awful, and then I remember dinner with Alisa, and I try to remember what she said, but I can’t.
I go back to lying on my bed. I pick up my electric guitar, but I unplug it, and lay there with it pressing on my chest and I strum and pick at it with my eyes closed.
I text Alisa. I ask her if wants to hang out again because dinner was so short. She says sure, and asks what I want to do, but I don’t know. She suggests we go to the shopping area of a nearby city, and it sounds like a good idea, so I grab a jacket and go outside.
The wind has died away, the air is fresh, and I feel instantly better. I get in my car and drive to get Alisa. She’s waiting outside her house, wearing jeans and a black fleece over a grey hoodie. She gets in and assumes her usual position, feet on the dash and her head halfway down the seat back. She takes her hood off and runs her fingers through her dark blonde hair, which flows halfway down her back, and which I see she has just cut in the front so that her bangs are shorter. I remember when the last time she did this, almost exactly a year ago.
I first met Alisa my freshmen year, she had history with me, but I didn’t really talk to her. Sophomore year we had three classes together, so we started talking more. I remember how I immediately felt she was a little different then any girl I’d ever met. She wasn’t a cheerleader then, but she hung out with all the ‘popular’ girls (and still does), so I had always assumed she was the same as her clique members: nice, attractive, and one-sided. Then I noticed the way Alisa didn’t ignore anyone, the way she engaged in any conversation around her. There was no surface based judgment on her part, if anything people judged her based on her looks and friends.
She would talk to me about the music I liked even though she didn’t know any of it, and I remember once I mentioned hardcore to her, which is a very pure form of punk, characterized by high velocity simple rhythms, extreme amplitudes, and unrelenting anger. I figured she’d react like most girls and kind of mock backing away, or just say it sounded interesting and then move on, but she asked for a recording of some of it. I looked at her, really surprised, and said “Really? I don’t know if you’ll like it…” she just shrugged, and with simplicity and honesty said, “I always want to try something new.”
We’re in the shopping area of the little city we’re in, which is pretty much the urban hub for this side of the suburbs. All around us are couples and younger teenagers. Alisa is leaning into me again, kind of, and her hood is up against the light rain. Her face is round, and her nose is small and sloping, and slightly turned up at the end. Her eyes are many shades of blue and green, and they’re accented by her long, black eye lashes and her black eyebrows, which strikingly contrast her blonde hair.
We stop inside a clothing store, where everything looks like it’s from the fifties and sixties but has a modern twist on it. Alisa picks up scarves and puts on glasses and spins around dramatically, jokingly. I laugh. I feel at ease here with her.
We leave without buying anything. It’s past lunchtime and I haven’t eaten anything all day, so we stop at a burger place. I get my food, and she sits across from me in the booth, stealing my fries. I tell her about when Eli and I saw the piggish kid in the cheese steak shop ram the blue-eyed boys face into the table, and she giggles, at the same time saying “That’s awful!”
Towards the end of sophomore year the cheerleading try-outs for the next year began. I’d never thought of Alisa as the cheerleader type, but she was going to try it out. Her dance skills allowed her to easily make the team.
Then one day in science class my friend Sam stated his opinion on cheerleaders, with Alisa right behind him. I mentioned that a couple girls I knew had tried out and gotten on, and he looked at me and said “All the cheerleaders are attention starved little sluts. Why would you want to be friends with them?” I tried to make him talk softer, I guess he didn’t know Alisa was on the squad, but it was too late. Alisa hit him on the shoulder and said “I tried out, and I’m just doing it to support Matero.” It wasn’t what she said though. It was the way she dared Sam to challenge her, just with her eyes, baring right into him. He just waved his hand and tried to downplay his comment, but she just turned back around.
Alisa asks how my year’s going. I say that it’s fine, I’m struggling in a few classes but in general I’m okay. She nods, stealing more of my fries. She says that Sara talks about me during cheer practice sometimes. I don’t have anything to say to that, and I wonder why she’s bringing it up. Then she says “Do you think Rodney’s gay?”
I’m surprised by this question. “I’ve never thought about it,” I say, “He’s never told me or Eli.”
“I saw him at Starbuck’s with that guy, uh, Patrick I think. And Patrick is gay, so I thought that maybe Rodney was too. He could be.”
“What’s Patrick look like?”
“Really pale, short black hair, some acne… He’s big, not really fat, but, husky.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen Rodney with him. I’ve never thought about Rodney being gay… I mean, he never really talks about girls…” And I realize that I hardly think about Rodney in general.
Alisa looks a little embarrassed. “I mean, just because he has a gay friend doesn’t mean he is too. I have a couple lesbian friends! And if he is I don’t care.”
I nod. Out the window I can see two kids our age smoking a cigarette, passing it back and forth, laughing. Their car door is open, and I can hear the Eminem song “Kim” coming from the door’s speaker, distorted by the volume.
We keep eating, but basically nothing happens. I tell her I like her bangs, and she makes a little face, imitating vanity. Then she gets a text and checks her phone. She frowns and looks back up. “I think I have to go soon.” she says.
“Oh, okay. I can drive you.” I say. She says thanks, and so we walk back to my car and I head back to Laffotta.
I stop in front of her house, and she gets out and begins walking towards her door. I sit there for a minute, then I get out too and jog to catch her before she goes inside. She turns around, and I stand there for a second, and I my stomach feels weightless and I try to figure out what to say. She stands there, looking at me anxiously and slyly, and I cringe inside while I ask if she wants to do something later, since we haven’t really had a chance to hang out in a while. “Maybe we could go to Terzzetto’s? I’ll buy, of course.”
She laughs and I blush. “I can’t tonight.” She says slowly. She’s looking right at me. “It’s my dad’s birthday. But you can text me!”
“Okay,” I say, “I will.” Then I go back to my car. When I get in she’s still on her porch and she turns to wave at me before I drive away.
A few hours later, after dinner, I lay on my bed, listening to the “Juno” soundtrack. I get a text from Eli, but I tell him I’m busy. He doesn’t text me again. Eventually I text Alisa. She texts back some kind of gibberish, and I respond likewise, and we do this for about ten minutes. I don’t want to though. Eventually I ask her if she’s free tomorrow, which is Sunday. We have a three day weekend so it’s not a school night. She’s not. She thinks she’s free on Monday, in the daytime, but she doesn’t know. Then she has to go. I stand up and turn off my CD player. My walls are gray, and I look at them, noticing where they’ve been painted unevenly and where the color is slightly off. My fish is darting from the bottom of his tank to the top. I scan my bookshelf, looking at the titles, letting them wash. Girl White Oleander The Amber Spyglass The Bell Jar Fight Club Rumble Fish Less Than Zero Child of God Brave New World Hey Nostradamus! I get into bed, still with my jeans on, and I’m cold, but I go to bed quickly. The next night I text Alisa but I get no response. Eli texts me again, and I say I’m free and so he comes and gets me. My jaw hurts and my eyes have bags again and I haven’t showered. Eli watches me yawn three times at a single red light and he laughs, with this weird tone of satisfaction. We pull into 7/11 and get out and he says “God I love Sleven.” And I just grunt in agreement. While he’s deciding whether to buy éclairs or normal donuts with his cappuccino (which is from a dispenser) I tell him about Alisa. When I finish telling him, he looks up briefly and says “I think she has a thing with Keith.” “Who?” I say. Eli stands up, three éclairs in his left hand and his coffee in the other. “Keith Perry? He’s kind of short… kind of a c*** actually.” He laughs, and then goes to buy his stuff. I walk with him and ask him what he means by “A thing”. He just says, “You know, dude, a thing. I dunno how serious. I think Zoey told me.” We sit on the hood of his car, which is wet from the mist, but it doesn’t bother either of us. “How long have they had this thing?” Eli has his mouth full as he says “I don’t know dude, a week? It could be a month I have no idea. Zoey’s definitely mentioned it a few times.” My shoulder hurts and my jaw aches and I feel that under skin chill, like my skin is a thin piece of water. Eli sees how I’m reacting and tells me to relax. “Look dude, she’s just one girl. It’s whatever. It’s not like you guys were a couple.” I nod. I see a kid with long hair, black and greasy, falling over his face to his chin, and he’s wearing tight black jeans and a black sweatshirt. He’s walking quickly, with his hands in the pocket on the front of his sweatshirt. Eli and I watch him through the window. Eli finishes his second éclair, and starts talking while he devours the third one. “I see that guy around at Matero. He hangs out with the outcasts, the misfits. They think people don’t like them because they’re weird. Have you ever tried to talk to one of those guys? They’re arrogant as f***. F*** them. People don’t like them because they’re aholes. I don’t care what color your gdamn shoelaces are, just don’t f*ing talk down to me because I don’t read your f*ing comic books.” Eli’s face is red, and he’s drinking his coffee quickly. He gets in his car and rolls down the window and puts on Odd Future. I wonder if he’s going to provoke this kid. But he doesn’t. He just stares at him when he comes out of 7/11. I don’t even know if the kid sees him. The music is loud, but the bass overpowers the lyrics and creates a thick sludge of booms and barks. I get in next to Eli and I tell him to drive, that I’m bored and need to release some tension. He smiles. I feel weightless. I almost want to tell Eli to just let go of the wheel. We’re heading towards Olera, the same hill that Alisa and I screamed on over a month ago. I look at the moon, which is cut in half, and at the top I tell Eli to stop and he does. We’re standing above the freeway, where the cars are rushing by in packs, mechanical animals with useless destinations. I see a rock about the size of a golf ball and I pick it up and throw it into the valley, where it careens towards the mass of concrete, lights, and glass. Eli watches it go and then says “You know, you could cause an accident doing that.” Then he also picks up a rock and throws it. We wait to see what happens, but nothing does, and I don’t see any more rocks but I’m not looking too hard. We get back in the car, but Eli doesn’t start it. “I’m so f*ing bored.” He says. “I’m so-o bored.” “What about Zoe?” “I don’t know what’s up with that. She’s kind of annoying. We’re not really a thing. I can tell you’re pissed about this Alisa s***, but I wouldn’t worry about it. She’s not anything special as far as I can tell.” I pretend to agree. I look at Eli, shaggy brown hair that falls over his head but stays out of his face, perfect teeth. Short but well built. Well known, not disliked. His eyes are dead, and his face is dull, and he never talks about anything unless he hates it or is sticking his tongue in it. I look at the boy who’s been my closest friend since freshmen year and I wonder what I look like next to him. I don’t know. I’ve never cared before. “There’s a party at this fool’s house, do you want to go hit that up?” I don’t think too long before I say “Yeah” and then we go. It’s obvious which house it is, because it’s almost completely dark in the front and upstairs windows, but there’s light coming from around the garage and I can hear something breaking as soon as I get out of the car. Eli laughs and I do too and we head towards the house. A truck pulls up next to us as we walk, heading to park, and a dude sticks his head out and yells “ELI! Aye this s***’s about to be a rager!” Then they keep going. Eli laughs harder and we go inside. As soon as we’re inside people are yelling at us, greeting us, handing us cans and the music is too loud and a girl is trying to tell me something but she’s too soft and her make up is smeared and I think she’s drunk. One of her flats is missing, her left one. I see Sara in a corner, and she’s leaning against the wall talking to some guy who’s looking at the ceiling and then back to her, and she’s wearing a short, stretchy black skirt, just like a quarter of the other girls. Her shirt is loose and light blue, a tank top with long arm holes, and she’s wearing a black band for a bra. She sees me and waves and I can tell she wants to talk to me but the guy is touching her stomach and she can’t get away and I feel my lips curl. Eli is gone. I see Rodney, and he’s talking to a girl, and it looks like he’s flirting, but the girl’s not really responding. I notice she’s barely standing up. I go over to Rodney, and I pretend to punch him in the stomach and I say “Ro-odne-ey!” elongating the vowels, and even though he’s completely ripped from water polo he pretends to flinch. I look at the girl, a small brunette, her mouth half open, and back to Rodney and I ask if he’s doing what I think he’s doing. He looks at me, and I can see some sadness in his eyes, but he’s grinning and I don’t know what to think and so I just say “Whatever. It’s all cool dude.” And I leave him. I spend an hour cruising from one group to the next; I don’t know where Eli is. One group is sitting on couches in a living room, talking a little, and the music is less obtrusive here so I sit down next to a guy with short brown blonde hair and blue eyes that are crinkled up because he’s high. He’s sitting there, and I hear him talking about a girl he’s hooking up with. “I’m so on this b****,” He spews, not really talking, “So on her. She doesn’t even… It’s so simple. It’s the best.” The other guys laugh, me too. He continues his passive diatribe, because that’s what it really is, and I look out this big plate glass window, brand new and warped, and see a cat, sleek and blue, inching along next to the backyard fence, convulsing with each step, the bent glass making it expand and collapse upon itself. The moon is visible through the glass, and even though I know it’s a half moon the glass makes it look full, distorting it and reflecting the lunar chunk in the sky. My attention turns back to the guys around me, and the kid next to me has stopped talking. Some other boy has started, following the same train of thought. I can’t really understand him, so I turn to my neighbor, and I ask him his name. He jokingly sticks out his hand and says, “Keith Perry!” I think for a minute, but then I just leave the room.
Right as I’m going to the kitchen I get a text message. It’s from Alisa. I go out a door in the kitchen that connects to a porch, and I close the door behind me, hoping nobody will follow me out here. I can see the half moon clearly now, and it illuminates the backyard, which is barren. The grass is dead and the hedges are uneven and there are cinder blocks stacked in a corner. There are planter boxes built into the side of the house, but they’re about a foot too high. It’s hard to see in just the moonlight, but the walls are unpainted. In the back of the yard there are pipes lined up and some rectangular holes. Something is lying in the very back of the yard, against the pipes, and I can’t quite tell what it is but it’s glistening. I look at the text message. “Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight!” it reads. “But next weekend for sure! ;)” the emoticon makes me cringe. I bring up the message menu, and click ‘delete all’, but then I cancel it and just put my phone away. The sky seems completely clear, and I realize I haven’t felt any pain in my jaw or back or knee the entire time I’ve been here. I don’t even know whose house this is. I didn’t know I’d be here tonight. I didn’t know I’d drive over the hills in Olera. Every morning I wake up, and I feel a little different. I don’t know why. I look out over the porch, and I think about how I could just forget about all of this. I could not even care tomorrow. Once I told myself that I’d clean my fish tank in the evening. I told myself this at lunch. I swore to myself that I’d do it. Then, in the evening, I was tired, and I looked at my fish tank, which was low on water and had a fair amount of fish s*** mixed in with the rocks, and I didn’t want to clean it. I knew I would clean it eventually, so why should I do it right then? Did it matter that I swore to myself earlier that I’d clean it? I didn’t know how I’d be feeling that evening. I look over the barren yard, and I notice cobwebs around the empty planter boxes. This yard hasn’t been worked on. How many times has the owner said he’d work on it? I could swear to myself right now that I’ll forget about all the bullshit I’m worrying about right now, I could promise to forget about it, to focus on my friends and my schoolwork and the things that matter in the long run. The glistening mass in the corner is still a mystery, so I walk off the porch and over towards the corner. The yard is mostly semi-dried mud, and it cakes to my Vans as I walk over, sticking to the soles and weighing down my steps. I look behind me, at the house, unpainted, ignored, a catalyst for a cesspool of people having fun, living in the moment. Then I turn back towards the corner and I see what’s glistening, and it’s a dead cat, it’s fur half gone, but in patches, from malnutrition or stress. It’s back right leg is bent at the knee. It’s mouth hangs slightly open, the bottom a fraction of an inch to the left of the top. Its eyes are half open. It’s covered in a fluid, and that’s what’s causing the glistening. There’s a cut across its chest, between its front legs, and it’s leaked across the cat’s entire torso, and the moonlight reflects off it where there’s fur, hundreds of little stars upon its body. The cat looks old, like it struggled. I think it’s the same cat I saw walking outside the living room. I look at the house again as I pick up a shovel that’s lying by the hole. I pick up the cat gingerly. It’s heavy, even though it’s a thin, small cat. I don’t just dump it into the hole, but slide the shovel out from under it, slowly, with ease. There’s no dirt near the hole, so I dig it up a few feet away and bring it back over to the hole and dump it over the cat. When I can’t see it anymore, I stop. I don’t make any promises as I walk back to the house. I spot Keith leaning against a wall in the dining room. I go over to him, and ask him if he wants to go to 7/11 with me. He says yeah, sure. I tell him I’m going right now, I’m parked outside. I get Eli to give me his keys and then we go outside and it’s raining, hard. I’m wearing my grey jacket but I leave my hood down and let the rain wash over me. Keith puts up his hood, he’s wearing a red jacket and some khakis. We get in the car and I put on NIN’s Downward Spiral, track ten. I drive fast and Keith just lets his head fall back over the seat. I don’t see any stars. My lights wash over the pavement, and I eventually slow down, about a mile away from 7/11. I turn left where I should turn right, and I drive up a sloping hill, and the moon is suspended right in front of us, and I’m not in control anymore. I’m thinking nothing, all I hear is white noise and all I see is the wash and glitter of my lights against the rain. I guess that the next track has started, but I don’t really care. We hit a dead end. There’s a trail head right in front of us, it starts where the road ends. In my rearview window I see a couple and their kid going into their house, staring at my car. I turn off my engine and my windshield wipers. Keith says he thinks they train for football up here. My lights are still on, they stretch across the trail as far as I can see. Finally I tell him to get out of the car. He laughs. He says it’s raining, “Am I nuts?” I tell him I’m not, and he needs to get the f*** out of my car. He laughs again and then I press the ‘unlock’ button and he looks at me weird but he opens the door and steps out. He’s still laughing. I get out too, and I don’t close the door and the music’s still on, and I can hear it slightly, but mostly I hear a wash of fuzz. I think the next song has started. “She let’s the insects in…” Keith is laughing as I grab the back of his hood and smash his face onto the hood of my car. His head snaps back up immediately, and he’s gripping his nose and crying even, and there’s thick, ropy, crimson worms wriggling out between his fingers. I move forward, and I can tell I’m yelling, but I don’t know what I’m saying, and I’m crying too, I think, but it’s raining and I can’t really tell. I almost slip on the wet ground as I walk back towards the car, but then I turn around and come back to him, and he’s holding a little pink object in his hand and saying, with a strained voice, “You, f***, you, my tooth you broke my f*ing tooth” and then I punch him again, in the jaw, and he falls on the hood and I grab his right leg and I twist it and hear something pop. He jumps away, pulling himself across the hood, and he stands up and he walks over towards the trail, not looking at me and I see that his leg is moving fine, but every few steps he flinches and reaches for it. I walk after him, My lights are illuminating us, and the moon looks full through the rain, distorted, it’s not clear, and neither is Keith when he’s this far away, but I can see his red shirt. I catch up with him and I push him from behind so he falls into the mud, and his phone falls out of his pocket and there’s an open text message on it and I can’t see who it’s from, but the sentences I can read as I pick it up to throw off the trail says “Do you want to get more serious? I need to know soon” and even though I think I should pause to see who it’s from I don’t because I don’t care. Keith is on his back and his mouth and nose are covered in scarlet matter and he’s shaking and gripping at the mud and I watch him, writhing and shivering and moaning and just trying to get through this evening, fearing my next move, reduced to a primal piece of meat, and I keep watching him as my car dies and the lights go off and the music stops and everything is dark, flat, navy blue.