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It was a BMW. Funny how he noticed, when the horn was blaring and there were lights everywhere and the throbbing in his ribs. He laughed a little to himself, there buried in the hurt and all the lights that were fading… fading into darkness and then the laughter left and there was only the searing pain, the pain that came sometimes in that moment before sleep when he knew that the dream was coming, the bad dream, and he had to stay awake, had to wake up, but this time the sting wasn’t in his mind. It was in his body, crept softly up his spine, brushing nerves, letting them fill with orange fire, then shattering them into smoldering crystal fragments. He might have screamed, but he had swallowed his voice.
Anthony stood at the corner of the street, mousy brown hair long and uncombed. It kept falling in his eyes so he brushed it away, tucking it behind his ears even though he knew it wouldn’t stay there, and crossed. He didn’t wait for the light to change. He never did. He wasn’t sure where he was going. He did know where he was, and he knew he had a home. Somewhere. But when the doctors let him out, when they opened the door with all those silly little half smiles, they meant only we think you’ll survive out there. They let him out and the sun was in his eyes and there was unfiltered air poking with tickling, painful fingers in the dark place under his earlobes, and he knew there was a space in his mind that was empty, a tidy little hole where there used to be something important, something vital. As he crossed the road he glanced back at where the building was, the building with the shuffling, sad-smiling doctors and the bouncing, even sadder-eyed nurses lined up against white walls. The golden hair of one stood out stark against the whitewash. For a moment it was coming back, and he turned to her nearly hungrily, knowing she knew, knowing that somewhere inside of her everything was waiting to come pouring out and fill that neat gap in his brain right to the brim. But she just smiled back at him without really seeing.
As he walked, his feet felt the pavement. Each roll of heel and toe against concrete measured the height, the dips, the jagged bumps. They carved themselves into his mind so that he knew if he ever felt this ground again he would recognize it and then he’d know where he was, which was comforting because being lost meant not knowing where you are and if you don’t know where you are then how do you know that you exist? So he walked across this place where he would always be gangly, long-haired Anthony, and his feet remembered.
He slept that night on a bench. Something in his mind told him to sleep where he was away, off the ground, and, even though he knew the ground was his friend, he obeyed the voice and slept on the paint-chipping bench even though it was brown and wood and pressed strange sleeping marks into his arm. He swathed himself in newspaper, because the voice told him that to sleep uncovered was to open a gateway to the devils and even though he wasn’t sure the devils were evil he draped yesterday’s stock numbers and next week’s horoscopes over his long body.
It was the car that woke him. The engine whined and the tires skidded across the pavement. For a moment he remembered, and he saw the faint image of a horrified man screaming curse words behind a sheet of glass, but then he sat up and the memories fell away like the newspapers that dropped to the floor, the black and white cast-off skin of a snake. The car screeched to a stop at the corner, and a man got out, trembling and calling.
“Anthony? Anthony! Is that you?”
Anthony looked up at the man, bewildered because this man knew who he was and the man was crying and Anthony didn’t know what it meant.
The man was bending over him and his arm was reaching down and Anthony shrank away from it because being touched wasn’t good. Being touched meant being owned, like when he touched the turtle’s back, the turtle at the building, the white place, and the nurse with the golden hair smiled and said yes, yes he’s yours, and Anthony was grinning because touching it made it his and now he had something that was his and that was good, it was a good thing. Two days later it didn’t move in its bowl and Anthony cried and the nurse said it died, don’t worry, sometimes things die, they have to, or else what would happen, huh? It’s ok, she said, and Anthony didn’t want this man to touch him because touching meant owning and owning meant dying and death was bad, bad, he knew that.
The voice was quieter now and the hand was still reaching out and it touched him now and Anthony screamed.
“Sh, it’s ok. Don’t you remember me?”
Anthony looked up at him. In the light from a street lamp he saw the face and he gasped because it was his face, because this face had his nose and his eyes but not his chin and mouth, he saw now. So that was all right, and the man said he was Anthony’s father and Anthony believed him but didn’t trust him so he wouldn’t get in the car. The man had to drive slowly down the street and Anthony walked, carrying yesterday’s stock numbers but not next week’s horoscopes because the future just isn’t like that and you can only trust the past. The past and numbers, because they never change. He came to a house, small and white with green shutters. The man led him in and the bed looked kind of familiar so he fell asleep in this half-known house while the man, the half-Anthony, looked at him, even though Anthony didn’t like being watched falling asleep.
The next day the half-Anthony tried to talk to him, but Anthony didn’t want to hear about this man being his father because if he didn’t know it himself then how could he trust him? So the man stopped trying and today Anthony got in the car because you can trust people more in daytime, he knew, but not why. So they drove to a store and the man kept glancing at him and saying stupid things like “you’ve grown”, and “need to get a nice polo for you, you’ll be comfortable then,” but Anthony didn’t like stupid words so he put his feet on the seat and stuck his head between his knees and rocked back and forth moaning because that’s what you do when someone is hurting your brain. The man stopped and said “sorry, sorry, I’m just not used to this” and then they were at the store and the man was saying how maybe it was a bad idea, how coming back here wasn’t a good thing, but Anthony didn’t know this place so he got out and walked into the store.
There was a girl behind the counter, and she had golden hair like the nurse so Anthony liked her. He smiled, but now she was going pale and now she was crying and then she was trying to hug him and say “sorry, sorry” but that was what the half-Anthony had said and Anthony didn’t like it so he pushed her away and moaned. The man came in and now Anthony noticed a bell that rang when the door opened and it was loud and tingly and hurt his ears so he moaned again. The half-Anthony looked at him ruefully while he hugged the girl and now he was talking to the girl with golden hair and Anthony was remembering the nurse, the nurse crying and a doctor was walking her away speaking in a quiet voice and Anthony knew it was like that, he knew he hurt someone and now they were going away and someone was saying “it’s ok, it’s ok” just like the sad doctors always tell people in the building dressed in white.
Then the girl’s sobs shuddered more quietly in her throat, but she was still pale and her golden hair was limp in the bun and Anthony touched her hair. He pushed it behind her ears because it reminded him and he wanted to know and when she looked up at him with teary eyes suddenly it all came rushing back and he stumbled backwards, no, no, it’s not like that, I’m sorry, and now he was shouting and the girl was crying again and the man was calling for help.
Then the doctors were there, and the nurses, but not the one with the golden hair, and Anthony just looked at the girl and he smiled, sad, and he said in whisper that he knew she didn’t hear because she wasn’t looking at him, she was crying on the half-Anthony’s shoulder and Anthony whispered “it’s ok, it’s ok” just like they always tell people in the white place because he knew he was going back there. But now that tidy little hole was full up and overflowing and he remembered a single day, a day when the girl smiled up at him through dewy lashes and he bent down and kissed her. But then she was shouting. He had done something, they were in the store, and she was pointing a manicured nail at him, telling him come back, come back, we’re not done here but he stormed out and then the car, the BMW, and the lights… The raucous tinkling of the bell buzzed in his ear. The doctors were herding him out and he knew that the girl loved him, that she always had, and he wondered, suddenly, if he loved her, too. And then he was being put in the back of a car and it was a BMW and then he was crying, crying because he never did and because he knew if they turned the corner there would be a gangly, long-haired boy crossing the street, but it wouldn’t be the Anthony who knew the pavement in his feet.